Nicholas Valiarde is a man of several parts, or roles. One is that of disenfranchised nobleman, bent on revenge for the execution of his godfather, Edouard Viller, who was falsely accused of the capital offense of necromancy by the scheming Count Montesq. Another is that of the master thief Donatien, legendary criminal of Ile-Rien. These two roles collide when Nicholas encounters ghouls and a sorcerer known as Doctor Octave in the cellars of a duchess's house while carrying out a robbery. Sinister forces are at work in Ile-Rien. Citizens have gone missing, corpses have turned up vivisected, bones have washed up in the sewer gates. All the evidence points to a necromancer at work, very probably someone with access to the books of the infamous Constant Macob, believed dead for over 200 years. As he investigates, Nicholas and his misfit friends uncover a plot that leads them into a series of escalating confrontations with the evil creations of Macob, as the necromancer schemes to gather enough power to return to life. The setting echoes with the lively sounds and sights of turn-of-18th-century France, with a mesh of dark magic woven throughout. In her third novel, Wells (City of Bones; The Element of Fire) continues to demonstrate an impressive gift for creating finely detailed fantasy worlds rife with many-layered intrigues and immensely personable characters.
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Sequel to The Element of Fire (not reviewed), its backdrop resembling a 19th-century Paris that within living memory was occupied by the Unseelie Court. By day in the city Vienne, in the land of Ile-Rien, Nicholas Valiarde is a modestly wealthy art importer; by night, evading the attentions of the tenacious and capable Inspector Sebastion Ronsarde, Nicholas becomes the thief Donatien. Either way, his vast and intricate plot to destroy his mortal enemy, Count Rive Montesq, is reaching a critical phase. The villainous Montesq arranged the execution of Nicholas's beloved mentor, Dr. Edouard Viller, on the false charge of necromancy. But Nicholas finds his plans are being disrupted by the mysterious spiritualist Dr. Octave, who appears to be using a device invented by Viller to contact the dead. Worse, Octave is backed by a hidden but extremely powerful sorcerer. Nicholas's own sorcerous helper, the opium addict Arisilde, inexplicably falls into a deathlike coma, while his other assistants, ex-Guards Captain Reynard and actress Madeline, continue to probe the affairs of Montesq. As Nicholas strives to keep ahead of a ghastly and lethal Sending, he learns the probable identity of his adversary, a sorcerer named Constant Macob. Problem is, Macob's been dead for 200 years . . . . Splendid plotting and characters and agreeably varied magics; not as compellingly original as City of Bones (1995), but thoroughly engaging nonetheless. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.