“If you ask me, people simply can’t resist the temptation to pay mind to those who they despise, even when not doing so would cause their opponents to wither in obscurity” – The Coffin King, The Lich: Or, Confessions of a Witch-King
In literature, tabletop RPGs, and video games, a lich is an undead creature of fantastic power that wields its magic over life and death. There aren’t many monsters whose names can excite and strike fear into the hearts of an audience steeped in the traditions of swords and sorcery as much the lich can. So when I saw that indie author Adam Vine had published what he calls a “novelette” entitled The Lich: Or, Confessions of a Witch-King, I did what any self-respecting fan of fantasy would do and grabbed it on Kindle immediately.
Vine doesn’t disappoint those who were drawn into his story by the promise of arcane adventure. Many scenes crackle with dark magic unfettered by guilty attempts of the modern fantasy writer to make his setting or his magic system ‘realistic.’ The wizardry is unabashedly impressive and exciting. But mere spectacle is not Vine’s ultimate aim. The Lich is a story as much about the right to and the difficulty of governance as it is about slaying a monster.
So what’s this book about?
One needs to tread carefully in order not to spoil a tale that takes only an hour to read, but I’ll give it a shot. The Lich is, as its alternate title suggests, told from the viewpoint of the titular character, who spends much of his time discoursing on his rise to power. Necromancy and chthonic rituals abound, but so do some demons from our own world: false flags, vindictive and needless wars, the persecution of intellectuals, and the suppression of free speech. The sins of the lich are in large part also our own sins. Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, The Lich shows that holding onto a kingdom is infinitely more difficult than gaining one.
As you can guess, this is a dark book. The innocents that populate it undoubtedly suffer greatly, a fact made so much more resonant by Vine’s talent at characterization. The cruel, gloomy fates of people we’ve met only pages before pains us so much because Vine so deftly realizes them as soon as he describes them.
The world at large in The Lich writhes in pain as well. In one devastating detail, we witness its citizenry trading in locusts, the only abundant source of food left available to them. With a sentence here and a turn of phrase there, Vine manages in this small scrap of a story to build a reality fuller than that of many novels I’ve read. As at least one great author has said, omit what you can in a story as long as you know what you’re omitting. The story will be better for it, because the reader will feel something even if she does not understand it. Readers of The Lich will feel the desperation in this universe as surely as they will feel the heat of the spells cast by the undead wizard, even if Vine doesn’t spend a hundred pages on worldbuilding.
The Lich: Or, Confessions of a Witch-King is available now on Amazon Kindle for $0.99. Buy it for a quick and harrowing read of dark fantasy about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Nosey Robot will be speaking with Adam Vine in the near future about his full-length novel Lurk and what else this exciting young author has in store for us.