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Necropolis
Xina Marie Uhl
Publish America paperback $21.95

review by Amy Harlib

Necropolis, a first novel and a delightfully different fantasy adventure set in an invented world, reflects the author's scholarly interest in ancient history. Uhl's imaginary city-state of Eretria and its environs, analogous to Mesopotamia, Syria and Greece at the time of the Roman invasions - presents a refreshing change from the medieval European milieus that dominate most of the fantasy genre. In a highly skilled, spare, pithy and lean prose style, the author manages to depict a complex multicultural, pre-industrial civilisation with colourful customs, institutions, markets, temples, belief systems, a long history, literature, mysterious magic users, etc. Much of this detail, conveyed in the epigrams at the beginning of each chapter, charming excerpts of poems, historical records, and fragmentary bits of cultural odds and ends - demonstrates a literary technique here used with great effectiveness and sly wit.
   All this serves as the backdrop for an endearing quartet of protagonists and an exciting plot rich in exotic magical mayhem in the service of political intrigue, as salt-of-the-earth, working stiff types get caught up as pawns in power plays by cynical, scheming, and ruthless ruling elites. Gilas, an imprisoned Councilman who still retains while in jail, certain status and privileges, (obtained also because of his knowledge of arcane arts), contrives to get Conyr, a prison guard, drawn into a political intrigue. Because of a favour owed to Gilas, Conyr saves the life of a political prisoner named Dru and hides the injured, amnesiac man in his quarters where he is tended to by Conyr and his dearest friends: the still attractive widow Jesra (who works as a tavern wench to survive), and her feisty teenage daughter Val. This unlikely foursome ends up fighting for all their lives when exotic agents, both mundane and magical, of Cyra, the city-state warring with Eretria, strive to capture Dru and use his sorcerous gifts as a tool (to be discarded later), in order to awaken and attempt to exploit the supernatural powers of the dread Old Ones, ghostly but powerful spirits of the ancestors who dwell in the eponymous Necropolis. Dru and his caretakers, now his friends once they've gotten to know his pleasant personality, acquire eccentric allies in their struggle to survive: a dog, Echo, later proven to be more than he seems and Gilas, who wants to get his governing council position back and depose the power-mad Zelos, who put him in prison for opposing his dictatorial plans.
   To arrive at the satisfying conclusion, the reader enjoys much excitement both adventurous and sorcerous as events force the protagonists to cope with a bang-up necromantic showdown in the subterranean lair of the Old Ones. Along the way, the narrative reveals all the grandeur and squalor of the Eretrian culture and the characters are shown to be fully fleshed-out and sympathetic - even the antagonists and their hired assassins and wizards are given plausible motivations and vivid personalities.
   Necropolis distinguishes itself for its original story that makes heroes of ordinary people caught up in the conflicts of the higher strata of their societies (Dru's extraordinariness is only revealed gradually while he stays friends with Conyr, Jesra and Val even after regaining his health, memory and power). Regular folks who rise to the occasion but never lose their common sense and street smarts make for memorable literary creation along with the colourful background, intriguing magic and a clear ending in a book of under 300 pages. For a yarn told with this much wit, invention, suspense and economy, a sequel would be welcome - if only to spend more time with the lovable Dru, Conyr, Jesra, Val, Echo and even the ambiguous Gilas in their fascinating, vibrant world.
Necropolis

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