by Joy Ralph

Finn Fancy Necromancy is one of those deceptively simple works that proves remarkably versatile. From one angle, it is a light urban fantasy novel with a diverse and accessible cast of characters. From another, a murder mystery, and a delayed coming of age story. Looked at from a third angle, it is meditation on how seamlessly power can corrupt even as the wielder has the best of intentions. It’s also a Gen X nostalgia piece and a worthy evocation of areas of the Pacific Northwest. As advertised, it’s a quirky read, but the underpinnings are solid.

The story centers around Phinaeus “Finn” Gramaraye, who, after being framed for attacking his au pair with dark necromancy, has just returned from 25 years of banishment to the realm of the fae. Finn has the magical ability to communicate with the dead—at the cost of shortening his own life in the process. He is one in a long family line of similarly abled humans, with his grandfather, in particular, a significantly powerful practitioner. Finn attempts to simultaneously prove his innocence and readjust to a world that has changed a great deal since the 1980s. His reintroduction a quarter century later is complicated by yet further plots to frame him for murder and reinstate his banishment. He has allies in his non-magical friend and next door neighbor Dawn, as well as his younger brother Peter whose powers are still latent, if not nonexistent. The rest of his family is less convinced of his innocence, and they vary in their degree of help accordingly. Along the way we meet gnomes, sasquatches and more of the fae, as the circumstances around Finn’s situation are revealed to be more complicated than initially imagined.

I picked the book up as a light read, and it fills that category well. It would be an ideal novel to read on an airplane: engrossing enough to keep your mind off how you are hurtling through space in a glorified tin-can that stays aloft through dint of strong engines and invisible science, easy enough to follow that the inevitable distractions of cabin announcements and the drinks trolley don’t destroy your pursuit of the plot-line. It’s a fairly classically formatted mystery set in a world like ours that contains magic and magical creatures.

Still, I found myself wondering about certain things. Why are the non-magic users the nicest and most reliable people, while anyone with a modicum of magical ability seems to range from socially awkward shading to clueless jerk, to outright genocidal maniac, on a gradient that matches up reasonably well with the strength of their powers? Even if it wasn’t a deliberate choice of the author, it’s a fantastic and subtle commentary on the old saw that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It also introduces some tension around Finn, who is powerful enough to suffer the taint of corruption but who may be able to save himself through love and the help of good friends. He is guilty of rude and ill-thought-out behavior, but much of that seems to stem from his mental and emotional immaturity due to the lengthy banishment he endured. The question of his fate will reside in the choices he makes and the company he chooses to keep.

Finn’s sense of possibility is inspiring, and his bewilderment at how much things have changed is poignant, and I expect most Gen Xers will recognize the seeds of both in recalling themselves at that time.

Another aspect of the novel that delighted me was the loving homage to much of 1980s pop culture. Finn is banished from the earthly realm as a young man in 1986, and on his return 25 years later his expectations regarding technology are woefully out of date. He envisions a return to Commodore 64-type computers and computing, not iPhones and a ubiquitous internet. The chapter titles are all references to 80s pop songs I remember fondly. Finn’s sense of possibility is inspiring, and his bewilderment at how much things have changed is poignant, and I expect most Gen Xers will recognize the seeds of both in recalling themselves at that time.

Finally, Henderson deserves praise for his evocation of the Port Townsend and greater Seattle area, where the novel is primarily set. Port Townsend and Fort Warden are places I view with faintly rose-colored glasses, as the site of my most pleasant memories from high school. The descriptions in the novel took me strongly back to those times more than once. I could easily visualize the interior of the Marine Science Center at Fort Warden during the scenes there, and the trip the characters make to the Experience Music Project is both hilarious and accurate—on the counts I’m aware of, since I can’t vouch for the presence or absence of any crypts beneath. Finn Fancy Necromancy is a fun read, and if you’re acquainted with the areas of Western Washington it takes place in, it is even more delightful. I look forward to the next books in the series: Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free is due in 2016, and Smells Like Finn Spirit in 2017.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I’m acquainted with Randy Henderson as a fellow member of the Rainforest Writers Village.

Joy Ralph grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Having spent most of her life along the I-5 corridor, she is reviewing works from authors with a connection to the region. She tweets as @cithra.