Nathan’s Review of A Necromancer Called Gam Gam by Adam Holcombe
Expected Publication: 30 May 2023
Series: Book 1 in the Chronicles of Gam Gam
Genre: Cozy fantasy
A grandmotherly necromancer seeking resolution for her past with the help of her loyal entourage: an undead cat and a spectral knight.
A girl on the run from the Eternal Empire for the mysterious power she possesses.
When a chance encounter pulls them together, Gam Gam will do what it takes to protect Mina from the rogue sergeant hounding her–including raising the dead. As long as they’re dressed for the occasion.
Review for A Necromancer Called Gam Gam
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A young girl on the run from an unknown (to the reader) threat. A kind elderly necromancer named Gam Gam, her skeleton cat named Nuggest, and their ghost companion. Intense action sequences. LOTS of yarn. A story of empathy, resilience, and the pain of letting go. In just a short little novella, this is what you should expect from A Necromancer Named Gam Gam. I requested an ARC of this from the author, Adam Holcombe, on a whim. I knew nothing about what to expect, but I am so glad that I started this journey with Gam Gam. Not only should you pick up this book, but this is also an author to watch out for.
I’ve heard this book described as a cozy fantasy. Is this book considered a cozy fantasy? I’m not sure what the “line” between a non-cozy and cozy fantasy are, and Gam Gam definitely has many of the cozy elements readers have been craving recently. There are cute skeleton cats, lots of knitting and crafting, and an overarching aura of security, connection, and togetherness. As I mentioned earlier, the book does tackle some pretty grim themes, but Holcombe deals with these issues with care and a depth rarely seen in cozy fantasy.
While Holcombe wades around in the cozy fantasy waters, he masterfully steps around many of the issues inherent to the subgenre. Too many cozy fantasies want to tackle serious issues and genuine emotions without tackling the pain and the heartache. Look at any TJ Klune novel – they are deadened by their use of serious social ills (queerness, colonialism, death) without fully engaging with those ills. Holcombe doesn’t do this. He allows Mina to grapple with the ethics and realities of her situation; she wants her father back but also understands why there are ethical and magical constraints that make that an impossibility. The sense of loss, reunification, and then loss again pervades the novella as we follow Mina through her unpacking and “repacking” her grief.
What resulted was a total gut punch of an ending. And not in an edge-lord, grimdark kind of way, but rather the gut punch that only results when the reader has a full emotional attachment to the characters. This is a short novella, and the way in which you fully connect to Gam Gam, Mina, and the others is real and genuine. Under the immense amount of yarn, action sequences, and evil sergeants there is a true heart. A heart that beats with real life as much as this story is about the pains of death.
Recently I have found myself pulling away from the cozy fantasy genre because I started to find it all so….derivative. It felt like so many cozy fantasies stopped being about anything, stopped engaging with the real world, and were just chasing some trend. A Necromancer Galled Gam Gam doesn’t fall into any of these traps. It’s cozy and heart-felt without being superficial and emotionally manipulative. If this is what the future of (at least some) cozy fantasy is going to be, then I absolutely cannot wait to dive back into the genre.
And speaking of diving back in – outside of everything that I have said here the biggest compliment I can give Holcombe’s work is that I want seven more Gam Gam books right now. Whether we get more Mina or just Gam Gam and friends (or really, just a standalone novella starring Nugget the skeleton cat), I’ll be on board!
For if there is one criticism I can make of Gam Gam it is that I wanted to see more of the world. Not only is there a greater world of necromancy (and other magic) that Holcombe teases us with here, but there is a whole fantasy society hiding just beneath what Holcombe explicitly told readers here. I have a lot of questions about what this world looks like and how it functions. But honestly, if Holcombe decides to never really get into that – if he focuses only on the emotional core of this quirky band of character that is all I need.
Concluding Thoughts: A cozy necromancy fantasy that doesn’t shy away from the tough emotions that accompany death, A Necromancer Called Gam Gam is an exciting new entry into both the death-magic and cozy fantasy subgenres. As much about life as it is about death, in a short novella Holcombe endears us to a wide cast of characters you cannot help but love. Throw in some fun action sequences and this book is a real winner.