In a book about necromancers, you better believe that death is going to make an appearance somewhere. Descriptions of mortality and violence show up a lot throughout the story and pack a huge punch in terms of setting a dark tone for the events.
Check out the scene where Sam has his first (forced) necromancy lesson with Douglas—the spirits Douglas raises to torture Sam all died "a violent death. Their throats were slashed, or they were sliced open like gutted fish" (19.167). Wow. Gross. There's also a lot of graphic descriptions of veins being opened and Douglas's dungeon being smeared with blood. Again, pretty disturbing stuff.
Surprisingly, though, a great deal of this book is also hilarious. Pitting themes of death and darkness against humor is a bit unusual, but the tension between the two only serves to engage us even more.
Probably the clearest example of this happens when Brooke's head arrives in the mail at Sam's apartment. We initially feel the shock and trauma of Sam receiving the package, but when Brooke opens her mouth and starts talking, the scene takes on a completely different tone. "Ow, cut it out you guys!" she exclaims. "Really Sam, you don't just drop somebody's head" (4.90). If you were laughing hysterically during this scene while simultaneously wondering if you should be laughing at all, you're not alone.
It's pretty obvious that this book has all the ingredients for a classic horror story—including zombies, werewolves, and necromancers—but it comes with a couple of twists.
First, the paranormal world depicted in the book isn't necessarily evil; in fact, our hero himself belongs to it. Rather than having your average Joe battling deadly creatures and mutants, Sam actually is a necromancer. While most horror stories focus on a normal person pitted against dark forces, the conflict instead is largely internal. "I needed to accept what I was," Sam says at the end of the book. "What I am" (31.110). Sounds like pretty much every teen ever, right? Which brings us to the next genre.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is classic young adult lit. It's often told by young adults, it's definitely written for young adults—hence all the young adults in the story—and, despite it's various beasts, it also tackles some pretty classic young adult stuff. You know, like identity, motivation, direction, inter-species sex… Okay, not so much on the last one. But you know what we mean.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is a play on Elton John's pop hit "Tiny Dancer". Obviously, the story doesn't have much to do with the 1970s or Elton John. Still, McBride's decision to parody the song in her book's title points directly to the story's darkly satirical nature. Making a connection between a feel-good 70s classic and necromancy is about as comedic as the links between necromancy and the real world that create so much of the book's humor.
Is there a chance that the title could also be referring to Bridin and Sam's relationship? Sure, but it's more likely that it is simply setting the tone for the book's paranormal dark comedy.
If you felt like this book ended with a lot of stuff unresolved, don't fret—the story of Sam, Ramon, Bridin, and the rest of the gang continues in the sequel, Necromancing the Stone, as well as "Death and Waffles," an Ashley-centric short story published on Amazon Kindle. Still, the ending of the first book does leave us with an awful lot of questions.
How will being a were-bear affect Ramon's life? Will Sam move into Douglas's mansion? Is Douglas really dead? We're pretty confident that these and other questions will send you flocking to the library or your local bookstore to get Necromancing the Stone and find out.
Still, the end of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer does give us resolution in terms of Sam's basic internal conflicts. He's reunited with his mother, who tearfully makes multiple apologies for hiding his true identity from him, and comes to terms with the idea that he never has been, nor ever will be, just a normal guy. We even get the added bonus of seeing Sam inherit Douglas's position on the Council along with the creepy mansion and his newly acquired phenomenal powers of necromancy.
Sam may just be an ordinary fry cook trying to get by at the beginning of the book, but the story ends with ordinary being the last word we'd use to describe him—and the stage set for more extraordinary adventures.
Seattle, Washington: Grunge Capital of the World, Gateway to Alaska, home of the Seahawks, and of course, the center of the northwestern United States' paranormal underworld. McBride may claim to have been raised by wolves in the Pacific Northwest, but we're willing to bet that there's more to the selection of Seattle as the book's setting than mere author biography.
For one thing, Seattle's laidback lifestyle provides a sharp contrast to the world of werewolves and zombies lurking in its midst. Sam says:
You can pick any spot in Seattle, close your eyes, spin around, and odds are pretty good you'll be pointing at some sort of coffee shop, hut, or shack when you stop. (4.82)
Sounds like a pretty normal place, not to mention a great city to grab a latte. Not only that, but the weather's nothing to write home about either. "If you've lived in Seattle for any length of time, you carry a jacket," Sam explains. "You get used to the moody weather and give up on umbrellas" (8.1). Moody weather, eh? Seems kind of fitting for a necromancer community.
The mundane nature of Seattle as an external setting provides a perfect foil for the bizarreness going on in the paranormal community. Amid the relatively normal setting lurks a den of werewolves, Douglas's enormous castle with its torture chamber of a basement, and regular, average people who leave their homes one day to become fodder for Douglas's experiments and manipulation (not to mention zombies and disembodied heads). Seattle might look like a pretty everyday place, but beware the darkness that lurks under the surface.
One last thought about setting: could Seattle's rich musical heritage have anything to do with McBride's choice to name the chapters after songs from the 1970s and 80s? We don't know for sure, but it's possible that the hometown of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain had something to do with what she did there.
The subject matter is entertaining, captivating, and often hilarious, but that doesn't mean reading Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is a total breeze. While Sam is the book's primary narrator, the story also shifts to different characters' perspectives to add dimension to the story. As a result, things get can a little hairy when trying to keep everyone's names straight and reminding yourself whose head you're in. The narrative is also super detailed, so resist the temptation to skim through long paragraphs—you just might miss a crucial clue to the puzzle.
The horror-comedy has been a unique subgenre of the horror film probably since Ed Wood, the King of Awesomely Bad Movies, graced the silver screen with his masterpiece, Plan 9 From Outer Space (Note: We use the term "masterpiece" loosely. If you don't believe us, check out the trailer). Evil Dead 2, Shawn of the Dead, Young Frankenstein, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show are just a few examples of movies that take classic stories of zombies, monsters, and mutants and infuse them with a little comedic genius (and music, in the case of the last example).
If Hold Me Closer, Necromancer were to be made into a movie, it would make a fabulous additionto this dark comedy movie night lineup. While it might deal with raising the dead, just imagine how scenes like Brooke's head coming in the mail, Ling-Tsu the Zombie Panda, and the epic battle of werewolves, lawn gnomes, and tiny flying dragons at Douglas's place would look on the big screen. This is some seriously funny stuff, guys.
Not convinced? Even the book's final line seems to point to the fact that we aren't supposed to take the story completely seriously: "My name is Samhain Corvus LaCroix, and I am a necromancer. Now, if only I could say that with a straight face" (31.111-112). Sam can't even take this tale completely seriously… and it's his freaking life.
When big black birds show up in literature, it's generally not a good thing—especially when it's outside your hospital window when you've just given birth to a necromancer. We partially have Edgar Allan Poe to thank for this; after all, he was the first person to write a totally creepy poem about a talking raven and things that go bump in the night. True to its literary roots, the crow Tia encounters in the process of naming Sam is a super bad omen.
Tia isn't totally sure what to make of the giant crow, but it definitely freaks her out. "This particular crow," we're told, "gave her a bit of the willies. It was so big, and it just kept staring" (12.104). Not only that, but a bunch of his friends show up a short while later, and it's probably not Tia's wish for the big moment of naming her son to feel like she's in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
To combat the potentially evil significance of the crows, Tia gives Sam the middle name Corvus, the genus for crow. Maybe it seems superstitious, but as Tia rationalizes, "Samhain was already starting out at a disadvantage, and he certainly didn't need angry omens on top of that" (12.109). Her thinking seems to be that it's best to own it when it comes to the crows, than hide.
The interesting part is this: When Tia introduces the gang of crows to Sam using his newly adopted full name, all of them immediately flee—except for the giant one that was first to show up. This bad omen truly exposes the depth of the challenge Sam will someday face as a necromancer—the binding may have suppressed his powers, but the potential for his discovery will never entirely go away. He is recognizable to this crow as a kindred spirit, and that means it's only a matter of time before others (ahem, Douglas) sniff him out, too.
Whether it was the rabbit's foot you got out of a vending machine at the mall or your smelly socks you refused to wash because they'd get you an A on your math test, you've probably done the lucky charm thing at some point. The difference between your rabbit's foot and gym socks, though, and Sam's medicine pouch, is that his is a matter of life and death.
Tia made the pouch for Sam when he was a baby to protect his necromancer aura from being visible to others, especially Douglas. "Most medicine bags protect," she explains. "Yours was more like a shield" (14.11). So the medicine pouch symbolized protection from Douglas and the spirit world, as well as reminding us constantly that Sam's someone who needs this protection.
It's meaning goes deeper than this, though. In reality, it can also represent Sam's relationship with his mother and how, despite keeping secrets from him and being a little freaked out by his power, she's loved him all along. According to Sam:
My mom had made [the pouch] for me when I was really little and kept having nightmares […] She'd tied it around my neck, telling me never to open it because that would let all the magic out. (4.68)
Obviously, there was a lot more going on than just Sam having nightmares, but the pouch still reveals Tia's desire to protect her son from the evil around—and inside—him. And it makes it clear to Sam that while she may have avoided him physically over the years, she's always cared.
You better believe that blood's going to play a pretty critical role in a book called Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and it definitely makes a huge appearance in the story. Douglas drains some of Bridin's blood for his experiments, Brooke gets dismembered, there's major necromancer-on-werewolf carnage later in the book, and Ramon becomes a hybrid were-bear as a result of contact with bear blood. Even though it's billed as a young adult novel, this is still a pretty violent book.
We could say a lot about each of these individual incidents of bloodiness, but the most important overall symbolic punch that blood packs is that it's the key ingredient for power and control, which is a major theme of the book.
Take Sam's necromancer lessons, for instance. Ashley tells Sam that while his own power should be enough to raise the dead, a blood sacrifice is necessary for maximum efficiency. It "depends on the necromancer," she explains. "A strong one can get by with very little blood. He won't need as much of a power boost, but the offering should be there" (21.23). Sure enough, when Sam uses his own blood in the ritual, he's able to raise Ed, a higher-level zombie entity, from the dead, which kind of ticks Douglas off.
Blood is more than just a life force in this book. It's directly connected with power, over the living and the dead alike. So while it's not a symbol for the squeamish for sure, it gets the job done in Sam's battle to defeat his enemy.
What could possibly make finding out that you're a necromancer any worse? Discovering that your body is coated entirely in a creepy, blue aura—which is exactly what happens to Sam when he meets Douglas at the Woodland Park Zoo for their initial meeting.
When Douglas enables Sam to see the auras of living things, he notices that Douglas, the zombie panda, and even himself are all coated in an "icy blue […] broken up with shifting, swirling lines of blacks, grays, silvers" (8.71). In other words, if Sam could bust out in song to share his emotions, he'd probably tell us, "I'm blue."
So what's up with the blueness, huh? Easy. Blue represents the connection a necromancer has to the world of the dead. "You're not like everyone else, Sam," Douglas explains. "Necromancers are linked to death […] You are one of the ties that binds this world to that" (8.78). And while nobody else can see it, the blueness makes this super clear to Sam.
But that's not the end of the story. The quality of the blue aura can also represent the power the necromancer holds. Take the scene where Sam raises Ed from the dead, for example. Sam describes that while his circle is "a dimmer electric [blue]" and Douglas's is "a vibrant ice color," Sam's shade of blue is ultimately "richer." At this point, Sam's powers are still bound, limiting the scope of what he's able to do—but the richness of his aura seems to demonstrate that his power, even in its suppressed state, is greater than Douglas's.
And, of course, his ability to raise Ed proves this to be true.
For the first few chapters, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer looks like any other first person novel narrated by its protagonist. We get Sam's observations about the world, details about his life, and his own unique perspective on the bizarre events that unfold the night Douglas walks into his life. Just when we get comfortable in his head, though, McBride pulls something crazy—and suddenly, we're in Douglas's head. Then Sam's again. Then Bridin's. Then Sam gets abducted and Ramon becomes our point of view character.
Wait a minute. What's going on here? If you feel totally confused and kind of disoriented, let us try to help with that. While it might be easier to focus on the story if we saw only Sam's view of the events, there are a lot of places Douglas and Bridin can go that Sam simply wouldn't. And by following them, we get a much clearer, fuller look at the world Sam is up against. Since Sam is an outsider in the paranormal realm, we need these other characters to shows us the ropes when it comes to the rules of zombie, werewolf, and necromancer society.
The use of mixed point of view also lets us in on how other characters are reacting to what's happening to Sam. Check out the part where we're in Douglas's head as he's staking out Brooke's house before he kills her. We get an inside look at what exactly Douglas wanted when he ambushed Sam at the restaurant:
The little parasite had to be lying. How could he not know? It wasn't like necromancy was a power one could ignore. (3.7)
Because of the point of view shift here, we know long before Sam does that he's a necromancer and Douglas is out to get him. Isn't dramatic irony the best?
Sam begins our story extremely unsure of who he is and his place in the world. He's dropped out of college and is living the life of a fast food worker. He senses that there's got to be more to his life than this, but isn't completely sure what that looks like.
There's no life complication like having a scary guy decapitate your friend and tell you that you're a necromancer. All of a sudden, Sam's problem of identity is magnified—big time. He must now simultaneously investigate his hidden past while avoiding Douglas's evil intent.
Blood! Carnage! Tiny flying dragons! Lawn gnomes! The epic battle between the werewolves and Douglas's minions for Sam and Bridin's lives makes for one heck of a gripping (and somewhat comedic) climax. As if that isn't enough, Sam kills Douglas while on the brink of being destroyed himself. It's about as climactic as things get, Shmoopers.
Knocked unconscious after the Douglas killing episode, Sam wakes up in the werewolves' hospital to learn that his struggle is finally over. Douglas is dead, and what's more, Sam has a better sense of who he is now that the powers he was unaware of are unleashed in his body. Bonus: He gets Douglas's creepy house, which could come in handy for video game parties with the gang.
Before he can begin his new career in necromancy, though, Sam has one last thing to do: He must return Brooke's head to her body and reunite her spirit. He sheds tears at her gravesite as he prepares for the ritual, but learns shortly after that she will be one of his spirit guides who will protect him in his new life. It's not goodbye after all. Yay. Oh yeah—and Ramon is also now a were-bear.