So here’s my honest opinion of this novel:
The writing, in terms of stringing words together into sentences, was done well: no wonky punctuation, no bizarre grammar, no confusing misspellings. The author did misuse the word decimate (twice), but that’s a rather small issue, especially as it had no major bearing on the plot. (I’d rant about that anyway, but Harry Dresden did it better in Ghost Story. *g*) The sentences never went clunk, which automatically puts this novel above many others in terms of quality.
The plot wasn’t gosh-wow startlingly unpredictable (and I don’t necessarily want that, anyway), but it wasn’t trite and boring, either. Necromancer Awakening is a solid, readable story in that regard.
The characters… It’s the sort of thing that most readers aren’t going to notice, or care about, but I found the protagonist Nicolas being an archaeology student to be the most unbelievable aspect of that character. My guess is that it was a detail written in so there’d be a reason for it to be ironic that he’s afraid of dead things (and that to complicate his life when he has to deal with dead things all the time anyway), but not all archaeology — or even most of it — is about dead things. Pot sherds and petroglyphs, kid. 🙂
(My own clone-sibling is an archaeologist, so I really have had a very up-close secondhand view of what is involved in this field of study. Archaeology is one of four fields of anthropology — along with linguistics and cultural and physical anthropology — and at least some universities require all students to study all four fields. So I kinda expected Nicolas to have more knowledge of the cultural stuff and not be so clueless when it comes to facing an unfamiliar culture. Also, an archaeologist who studies the artifacts of previous cultures would have no reason to mess with dead bodies — problem solved, at least in Nicolas’ mundane life.)
Otherwise, though, Nicolas a believable and reasonably relatable character. He was written as just geeky enough, without the author making him some kind of uber-geek who quotes Star Wars and makes RPG references at every opportunity, appropriate or not.
I didn’t like the ‘wise old man’ character in this novel, especially at first. All that refusing to answer the protagonist’s questions and then insulting him for being ignorant? Not cool. On the other hand, I don’t think I was supposed to like that character… Or his brother. I hated that guy, start to finish. Too crude and petty. That, though, is a matter of personal taste. I wouldn’t say the novel is badly written because I dislike a few characters. ‘Sides, some readers probably like the rude-and-crude old necromancers better than the trying-to-be-a-nice-guy Texan kid who plays the lead role.
I do think that a lot of things in this novel — from details of setting to characters’ emotions and motivations — were glossed over too much, or left out. This is not an argument in favor of bloat; a lot can be said with very few words, if they’re the right words. (I’m a Zelazny fan — in case you didn’t know that already — so I know a thing or two about what an author can do with just a few words.) Think of it as a sign that I liked the setting and characters, though, because if I didn’t like what I saw, I wouldn’t complain that there wasn’t more of it.
Overall, Necromancer Awakening is not a great novel, but it is a good one.
Rating: recommended for readers who enjoy medieval-ish fantasy fiction and want something that is most definitely NOT a trite rehash of LotR or whatever.