Guest Author Blog: Five Death Magics I Have Loved

Saint Death’s Daughter author C. S. E. Cooney runs down her top five death magics…

Guest Author Blog: Five Death Magics I Have Loved

Fantasy author Sharon Shinn once told me that all authors have a “thing” they write about. “Your thing,” she said, “is death. And what comes after.”

Okay, fair. I grew up on Beetlejuice and the Addams Family and Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, so my sense of the macabre and my sense of humor are often indistinguishable. When J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure,” I wanted to know what happens next.

Thankfully, in a fantasy novel, we can know exactly what happens next. My book Saint Deaths Daughter is basically a necropalooza; my protagonist, Lanie Stones, is a little in love with Death—who loves her right back. Soon, Lanie and her uncanny sorcery will be joining the august ranks of necromancers, undead armies, and awesome death magics that flow through the genre like a dark river to the underworld.

Speaking of death magics: behold a list of types I love, have occasionally borrowed from, altered, or expanded upon…

Big Bone Energy

This probably goes without saying, but the necromancer Harrow in Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, is super badass. Give the girl some bone chips, and she can build bone armor (like, she makes herself a literal exoskeleton), bone weapons, and whole bone armies (“skeleton-constructs,” to be technically correct), among other things. Powerful thanergy like Harrow’s looks absolutely wicked, but of course comes at a high personal cost.

Tolling the Dead

I’ve recently come to a love of D&D, by way of the show Critical Role. My most recent experience of “undead bells,” therefore, is the “Toll the Dead” cantrip (thank you, undead warlock Laudna; you’re the greatest; I want a Form of Dread that drips black ichor like yours). But long before Marisha Ray’s hilariously macabre Laudna, there was Garth Nix’s Sabriel and her bandolier of bells, which both control the dead, and lay the undead to rest. Sabriel’s bells will haunt me forever.

Hourglass Eyeballs

I encountered Raistlin Majere, as one does, in the Dragonlance chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I immediately fell in love with him, the nasty rascal, because I was a teenager and because, well, he had totally boss hourglass eyes that saw the effect of time on all creatures around him. This recalls Lady Amaltha in The Last Unicorn crying, “I can feel this body dying all around me!” only Raistlin saw it happening. There’s a similar scene in Patricia A. McKillip’s incredible book Winter Rose, when Rois Melior sees her family at the dinner table through the eyes of Corbet Lynn, and watches them wither away. Always super chilling!

Post-Mortem Interrogation

The art of interrogating the dead, or receiving information from them willy nilly, is a fine old tradition in fiction and film and games. I love a crime-solving medium! I’m a big fan, for instance, of the medium Annie, played by Cate Blanchett, in The Gift, and Mysterium is my favourite board game. Most recently I adored Thara Celehar in Katherine Addison’s The Witness for the Dead. He lives modestly, loves the opera, and occasionally chats with the recently dead: sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because he can’t help it. Because of this, he finds himself compelled to act on behalf of those who no longer are alive to act for themselves.

The Undead in the Shed

In Ilona Andrews’ The Edge series, the protagonist Rose’s younger brother George has trouble letting go. Young necromancer that he is, when he finds something dead, he keeps it alive with his own life force. This includes many forest animals, pets who’ve passed away, and Grandpa Cletus, who needs to be kept out back in the shed lest he bite the wrong human. This recalls some of my favorite “pet zombies,” as in Shaun of the Dead’s Ed, and the titular character in Fido (one of my favorite zombie movies!).

Saint Deaths Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney is out now from Rebellion Books.