A very good book. Surprisingly for a story which effortlessly includes necromancy, cannibalism, necrophilia and the horrors of war it's characters have a basic decency, yes, and kindness. There is a lot of plot and my only complaint is that I would have liked a bit more.
It's the mid 15th century. Awa and Halim are African slaves assigned to accompany the beautiful and vain courtesan Omorose to Spain as a gift for the Spanish king but en route they're shipwrecked and kidnapped by an ancient necromancer who seeks to teach them his unholy arts. Following a series of events (including lesbian zombie rape and cannibalism) Awa foreswears her necromantic abilities and finds herself on the run across Medieval Europe. Pursued by a zealous member of the Inquisition, she has 10 years to find a book to free herself from a terrible curse. Her only allies are Niklaus Deutsch (a mercenary and artist), Dr Paracelsus (a doctor interested in Awa's necromancy) and Monique (a lesbian Dutch mercenary). But the more Awa tries to escape her fate, the more she finds herself forced to draw on the very necromantic powers she wants to abandon and death seems to await her at every turn ...
Jesse Bullington's second novel is an exuberant, sweary dark fantasy rich in Medieval detail that carried me from page to page. It's easier to empathise with the main characters than in THE SAD TALE OF THE BROTHERS GROSSBART (although Awa's naivety did annoy me at times and Paracelsus and Monique are little more than caricatures) and although the pace did sag at times, the story was such that I kept reading on and I would definitely check out his next book.
With her unrequited crush on the arrogant Omorose and her refusal to force the dead to abide by her will, Awa's as much a moral anchor as it's possible given the nature of the novel. I enjoyed her growing friendship with Deutsch and Monique but the description of her as being "clever but stupid" is an excuse to contrive her motivation to fit the plot and the blasé way she trusts people she really shouldn't did irritate me at times. Deutsch is an equally interesting character, a committed and gifted artist who murders men for money so that he can better praise God with his art, he's devoted to his wife but fascinated by Awa and her abilities. Monique and Paracelsus were less well drawn, although I did enjoy their scenes.
It's not a perfect novel - the pace sags at times and sometimes relies on contrivance to keep moving - but I did enjoy it and will check out Bullington's other work.
After reading Bullington's retelling of the morally defunct Brothers Grossbart, I pre-ordered this without hesitation & counted the weeks until its arrival. Despite a level of excitement which reality often finds difficult to satisfy, The Enterprise Of Death effortlessly surpassed my eager expectations.
Take heed, oh reader, of the the quote on the cover (aptly from The Guardian), which warns us that this is "not for the faint hearted"! Forget blushing heroines & dashing heroes, Bullington's vision of the past is accurately squalid & remorselessly blood-soaked, populated by Machiavellian warlords & amoral opportunists, not to mention supernatural horrors aplenty. The most horrific of these is a deranged Arabian necromancer who kidnaps a Moorish girl & her slaves, dragging them up to be his unwilling apprentices. Here Bullington's dark imagination runs riot as the necromancer devises novel & disturbing ways to torment his young charges with his living-dead servants. Then fiction & reality blur when Renaissance artist Niklaus Manuel (whose work adorns the front cover) is hired to deliver one of the unruly apprentices to the Spanish Inquisition. Along the way, they encounter other historical characters, such as the occultist Doctor Paracelsus.
Those familiar with Bullington's prodigious debut will not be surprised by the dark tone of this novel. Nevertheless, I was still astonished by its extent, as shocking acts aplenty were performed - including some horrific enough to make even a Grossbart shudder at such mecky business! But this isn't merely a gore-fest by any means - Bullington emphasises the psychological torment that results from vile deads & fleshes out his characters nicely; even ones which don't have any flesh to speak of. The strength of this book lies in the authors' ability to breathe life into the past & make the incredible utterly convincing. Despite grisly descriptions of the undead, little is more horrific than the madness & cruelty possessed by human characters. Further, the human world is shown to be virtually devoid of any righteousness; powerful institutions being morally defunct & settling matters by force of arms alone. Tapping into a very modern zeitgeist, a few characters have a personal sense of morality & even they are capable of thrusting it aside to pursue their own self-interests.
One marked difference between this book & the Grossbarts is that here, the language used is more contemporary, with characters using many a modern turn of phrase. This perhaps conveys the story more smoothly but possibly at the cost of some authenticity. But as sacrifice is a running theme in these pages, it seems only fair for the author to make just one when his characters are forced to make so many...
The Enterprise Of Death was singularly difficult to put down. It felt a little soap-operatic in places but nevertheless still intrigued. Bullington wove a Bardic spell on me more powerful than any of the magics unleashed by the witches in his book.
For those not easily shocked, it is hugely recommended. For those easily shocked, it is hugely recommended, as it will confirm their opinion that modern literature is brutal, uncompromising & unafraid to lay bare a world that is morally defunct.
Jesse Bullington is one of those authors that's like Forest Gump's Box of Chocs. You're never quite sure what you're going to get but the odds are it'll be something gooey, delicious and with the authors sense of humour probably with a wicked twist of something like Chilli. Presenting you with something that's so good but just so mind-blowing at the same time. What unfurls in this his latest title is a story that the reader will love, he knows how to twist your point of view and he also knows how to do it so well that it's a revelation each time he changes direction. Add to this a great understanding of pace, a masterful building of characters and a whole host of the weird and wonderful makes you wonder if he's not Terry Gilliam's Love Child.
All in I loved this book and when you add to it that this is only the authors second title its probably going to surprise a few readers that he's not been around for years. Definitely an author to watch as this Monty Pythonesque author flattens you with his writerly giant foot.
Jesse Bullington writes with a gloriously uncensored and unreserved style. He turns into a novel the kind of warped and twisted ideas most of us would recoil from just in thought form!
Therefore if you are about to hit the buy button, do so fully warned of the potentially deeply shocking material within! As in the Brothers Grossbart nothing is off limits here. Depravity both sexual and moral, religeous sacrelidge and if further warning was needed, know the front cover of this book is an actual scene from the story! If non of that is likely to have you scribbling a letter to your MP then you just hit the buy button! because this is entertainment at it's most outer limits.
Bullington, to my mind has actually invented a genre here. There are some fantasy/ magical elements, there are I suppose some horror elements. But also a lot of laughs and some meticulous historical research. For all the above 'fantastical' elements this work also manages to ooze authenticity. It oozes with quite a lot of other things too!
I'm sure other reviewers will give some pointers as to the plot if that is your wish, I won't. I always think with this type of bonkers book, it is a ride best enjoyed without route planner. But if you enjoyed 'The Brothers Grossbart' or maybe 'Horns' by Joe Hill. I think you likewise enjoy this rather macabre tale!
Loved this book from the moment I began reading and then it kept me on my toes all the way through, immediately searched for Jesse Bullington's other book The sad tail of the brothers Grossbart, both are slightly on the dark and disturbing side that somehow keep you wanting more, a great read.
Joyfully filthy and lurid. Joyfully dirty, fetid, sweaty and sweary.This is a captivating adventure story in the style of a sort of grubby, supernatural 'Candide'. You can positively taste the pleasure of the writer rolling the words around in his head before spreading them across the page. Delightful.