Okay, picture this: You're going about your daily routine—work, school, watching cartoons on the couch, whatever—minding your own business, not really looking to rock the boat or do anything particularly extraordinary. Then, out of nowhere, this weird dude steps into your ordinary life and informs you that you have a superpower. And like any great superhero, this power comes with a deadly arch nemesis intent on destroying you.
How would this change your life? Would you keep going to your average daily job and watching cartoons? Would you embrace your destiny? In all honesty, we think we might need a nap.
Sam might begin our story as just a plain old employee at Plumpy's, but there's a lot in store for him as he tackles his new challenge of being a regular dude by day and a necromancer by night. A college dropout, he may not have high hopes for his future at first, but is about to realize his dormant potential in his quest to destroy Douglas.
Let's face it—when it comes down to it, Sam isn't a huge fan of working at Plumpy's. He's not amazing at customer service and he's "caught the grill on fire a few times" (1.79). In fairness, Plumpy's may not be a huge fan of Sam's.
But there's one thing about the job that keeps him there, and that's his fabulous group of friends. With his best friend Ramon, the feisty, sexy Brooke, and Frank, who could be the twenty-something version of George Costanza, even the most mundane tasks become fabulous. They play Potato Hockey out back at the restaurant, as well as something called Guess What I Put in the Fryer. Nothing like endless creativity.
Since Sam's friends are a pretty important part of his otherwise boring life, it makes sense that Douglas would kill Brooke and then threaten the rest of them as a way to manipulate Sam into joining the Dark Side. Even after Douglas tells Sam about the power and fame that comes with being his (soon-to-be-dead) necromancing protégé, Sam's not really interested. His main concern is what will happen to the people closest to him:
If I didn't do what he wanted, what would happen? […] There was no way to know where he'd strike, and no way to guess what I could do to keep everyone safe. (9.22)
In the end, Sam's fear for his friends' safety propels him further into investigating his necromancy roots. Getting your friend's reanimated head in the mail has to be a pretty scarring experience, and for Sam, it's enough to make him declare war on Douglas by searching for answers—no matter what the cost.
Few people in their early twenties know exactly what they want to do with their lives, but this lack of certainty seems to be worse for Sam than most people. After one year of college, he quit due to a lack of interest, and now feels like nothing in life has ever "grabbed him." "Most people feel lost after high school," Sam reflects. "Sometimes I felt like I'd never been found in the first place" (4.60). Yeah, dude's a little lost.
As it turns out, there's a good reason for Sam's lack of connection with, well, anything: the binding of his powers that Nick and his mother put into place at his birth. While you might think that getting a baby's paranormal powers out of the way is a good move, it's actually disastrous in Sam's case; Ashley describes it as being "like they cut a piece of you off" (21.42). Like it or not, Sam's necromancy powers are deeply tied into his identity, so much that cutting them off leave him with no direction at all.
While finding out he's able to raise people from the dead is super painful, weird, and bizarre, the cool thing is that the knowledge gives Sam back the piece of himself that was missing. "No wonder I'd always felt lost," he says. "I actually was. The knowledge was terrible, but in a strange way, it also felt good" (42.43). He once was lost, but though it's dark, at least now he's found.
Along with the whole necromancer thing, Sam also has his share of parental dilemmas. For one thing, his mom never told him about his powers, which is kind of frustrating. She also kept other "little supernatural details" (12.9) from him, like how she's actually a witch. But it doesn't stop there—she actually admits that she's afraid of him because "the power inside you […] is worthy of my fear" (14.25). Ouch. Having your mom tell you she's freaked out by the necromancy powers you only just now are finding out about can't be a good feeling.
It doesn't stop with the mommy issues, though. Perhaps the most significant scar Sam bears is that his biological father, Kevin, abandoned him shortly after his birth, which he actually wasn't even present for. Sam explains:
I was angry at the abandonment, but it was an old anger—the calcified pain from when my life was broken. An emotional bone spur. (16.3)
Ouch, right? His mother remarried a really nice guy named Haden, and Sam actually considers him to be his real father, wanting nothing to do with Kevin. But in a major bummer moment, early in their marriage, Haden passed away. Having been rejected by Kevin and lost the only real father he ever had, it's no wonder Sam feels out of touch.
The point of all this is that Douglas showing up and telling Sam he's a necromancer is really the best thing that could possibly happen to him. He gets answers to a lot of questions—why his mother has always had trouble touching him, why he feels out of place in life, and even a piece of the picture of why Kevin packed his bags. Maybe it sounds odd to say that black magic has healing powers, but in the case of our protagonist, it certainly seems true.