The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington

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The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A fruity fantasy that crams every bad-taste element in, but needs a lot more force to bring them across in the early stages.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 480 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1841499123

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It's the 1500s in Europe, and two women are being transported against their will across the continent. One, an African Moorish beauty is being delivered to the King of Spain as ransom payment, but she and two servants are to end up in the home of a mighty necromancer instead. Elsewhere, a Swiss soldier taking a young witch to those in charge of the Spanish Inquisition finds his cargo is even more dangerous than he thought.

The story that constantly spins around those plot strands holds no simple summary, save for an elan that allows the author to include anything he can get away with, including lesbian necrophilia, a clap clinic run by Paracelsus, cannibalism and a host more. And that, believe it or not, is a problem.

It's a long book, but not too long to form a problem. But too much seemed too slow, and too pointedly quirky - the major and minor characters here are put through so much, and the whore/madame is deliberately the sweariest character in fantasy fiction, purely because Bullington could make it so, which all seems just too easy.

However sharp the language, and whatever the inventiveness shown around the plotting, I spent too much time forsaking this for the football - an idea that would have been anathema when reading his first novel. It's only the latter third, where the witch is seriously under threat, and the main protagonists are settled as people and not as devices for inspiring black humour, that I satisfactorily felt positive about things.

You don't normally get a four-page bibliography citing specialist literature in various languages in the back of a fantasy book, but then they don't normally try (and succeed) to put one so deeply into a realistic Renaissance world of sex, reanimated corpses - and sex with reanimated corpses. The welters of fruity language, foul events and frivolous fantasy(/ies) are all selling points for this sophomore novel, but for me they seemed surpluses, and didn't conspire to beat the length and immense detail to fully grab me as I expected.

I must thank the publishers for sending me a review copy.

For fantasy set much more recently with a strong sense of oddball humour, we enjoyed The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar. For the real deal on mediaeval witch-hunts, try The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village by Thomas Robisheaux.

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