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Literature / The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth

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I wonder if it's a horror story?

The graves lay silently before me. The sleepers within the quiet earth did not rise up to speak to me, and I was grateful. This was my family now, and they made no demands I could not meet.
The Bone Key

Mix M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, psycho-sexual themes, a heavy dose of The Statement of Randolph Carter, and what do you get? A series of short stories chronicling the necromantic mysteries of one Kyle Murchison Booth. Taking place in an ambiguous between the wars setting in an equally ambiguous American city, this series by Sarah Monette follows the adventures of Booth (just Booth. No one calls him Kyle), as he relates his supernatural mishaps in anxious first person. Read along and watch the world fall apart all around him.

The series of shorts are all collected in The Bone Key, with the exception of the most recent five, four of which have been collected into limited run for-charity chap-book called Unnatural Creatures. The author has said that she intends to release another, larger anthology similar to that of The Bone Key when she has written enough short stories to properly fill it.

The Bone Key

  1. Bringing Helena Back
  2. The Venebretti Necklace
  3. The Bone Key
  4. Wait For Me
  5. Drowning Palmer
  6. The Inheritance of Barnabas Wilcox
  7. Elegy For A Demon Lover
  8. The Wall of Clouds
  9. The Green Glass Paperweight
  10. Listening To Bone

Unnatural Creatures

  1. The Replacement
  2. The World Without Sleep
  3. White Charles
  4. The Yellow Dressing Gown

Works not currently in a collection

  1. To Die For Moonlight
  2. The Testimony of Dragon's Teeth

This series provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Guardians, in this case, but it's a given. This story is written by Sarah Monette, after all. Compared to her other works, Booth gets off light.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Kyle's definitely interested in men, as seen with Augustus Blane and Ivo Balthasar. His attraction to women is a little more unclear, although there's certainly strong Unresolved Sexual Tension with Claudia Coburn.
  • Anachronism Stew: Mostly avoided because of how nebulous the setting is, but one thing's for sure: Booth's a few decades too early to be named Kyle.
  • Artifact of Doom: So many.
  • Back from the Dead: What else do you think a horror story called Bringing Helena Back is going to be about?
  • Blue Blood: Booth has "the sort of genealogy that passes in America for aristocratic," although he prefers not to think about his past and the Simmonses probably took all his money.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Brockstone. Booth seems to regard his old boarding school with more horror than ghosts, demons, and evil sorcerers.
  • Brown Note: The driving force behind the plot of The Yellow Dressing Gown.
  • Buttmonkey: Booth.
  • Came Back Wrong: Helena, although Booth isn't certain whether she's a Damaged Soul or really a Monster from Beyond the Veil. In addition, and while Booth is obviously biased, going by his memories she wasn't very nice even when she was alive.
  • Celibate Hero: Light on the hero. Heavy on the celibate. Or at least until he meets Ivo Balthasar.
  • Crapsack World
  • Creepy Basement: Between their basement and the stacks, The Samuel Mather Parrington Museum has this in spades.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Miss Coburn in spades.
  • Death by Origin Story: Booth's parents.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Booth's father was apparently a nice and loving man until he kicked it, and left him with a pair of abusive caretakers. However, Booth believes that his mother, Thekla, loved him only as a reminder of his father, as in The Bone Key. Still, compared with his guardians, the Siddonses, Thekla is an angel.
  • Dysfunction Junction: This trope, consisting of Death by Origin Story parents and abusive legal guardians, has left Booth unable to make lasting connections with other people, speak with any degree of confidence, or brave any kind of prolonged social interaction.
  • Downer Ending: Most of them. But none so much as Elegy for a Demon Lover. By contrast,The Wall of Clouds ends pretty well for most of the sympathetic characters, and White Charles is more bittersweet than downer-ish.
  • Evil Elevator: The Wall Of Clouds
  • Evil Is Not a Toy
  • Evil Sorcerer: Booth could easily become one, if he doesn't watch himself. This is something of which he is eerily aware.
  • Eyeless Face: Wait For Me.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Madeline Stanhope in The Venebretti Necklace.
  • Gothic Horror: Influenced by rather than straight-up is, but when taking major inspiration from M. R. James, it's inevitable.
  • Haunted Fetter: The Venebretti necklace is this to Madeline Stanhope's ghost.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Booth and Blaine. Kind of. Not really.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Helena from Bringing Helena Back and Ivo from Elegy for a Demon Lover.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Poor Booth and Blaine.
  • Inhumanly Beautiful Race: Incubi, judging by Ivo.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Booth has literally no friends, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the occult.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Drowning Palmer.
  • Lovecraft Lite: Arguably.
  • MacGuffin Escort Mission: Booth goes on one in The World without Sleep.
  • MacGuffin Title: The Bone Key, The Venebretti Necklace, The Green Glass Paperweight, Listening to Bone, and The Yellow Dressing Gown.
  • Magic is Evil: It certainly hasn't made Booth's life any easier.
  • Magnetic Medium: Booth. Ghosts, ghouls, incubi, vampires, witches... you name it, Booth meets it.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The Bone Key and The Green Glass Paperweight.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The titular Venebretti Necklace.
  • Necromancer: Hmm, I wonder.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Ivo. The child in Listening to Bone is just trying to get home. White Charles sinply wants to die. The vampires in The World Without Sleep are bloodthirsty only in the most literal sense.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The stacks.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: No touching at all, if Booth can help it. Notable exception in Elegy For A Demon Lover.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: The Venebretti Necklace.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The World Without Sleep.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The ones in To Die for Moonlight. Their living conditions and attitudes seem more like thost stereotypically associated with hyper-repressed dysfunctional families than with a pack of instinct-driven wolves... most of the time.
  • Plot Armor: Being the first person narrator, Booth will probably survive every story until the last one, the emotional trauma he incurs while doing so notwithstanding.
  • Recurring Extra: Emerson Starkweather, the prickly manager Booth's museum, is usually mentioned in every other story being a Bad Boss to Kyle.
  • Recursive Canon: The new introduction to the second edition of 'The Bone Key' includes a lengthy discussion covering each short story, written by the current senior archivist of Rare Books at the Parrington Museum, now that 'Dr Monette' has released the 'Kyle Murchison Booth Papers' to the public.
  • Reformed Bully: Downplayed with Barnabas Wilcox. He's still pompous and pretty self-obsessed, but he's at least reasonably cordial with Booth, compared to the active malice of their childhood interactions.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Used several times, but The Green Glass Paperweight and The Venebretti Necklace stand out.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Though one of the driving ambitions behind this series was an attempt to fix the myriad of problems (notably racism and sexism) found within Lovecraft, almost all of the female characters are still evil ghosts. With notable exceptions— The Venebretti Necklace (sort of), The Replacement (which could be interpreted as specifically addressing the issue of having an endless string of female victim/ghost characters), and The World Without Sleep— the series tends to score between a 1 and a 4 on the scale, depending on the story in question.
  • Succubi and Incubi: Ivo is an incubus. If you've read the story's title— "Elegy for a Demon Lover"— you have a pretty good idea where this is going, but it's made more heartbreaking by the fact that Ivo isn't coldly and deliberately stealing Booth's life force. In fact, part of his demonic instinct is an all-consuming love, and the only way to end his immortal parasitism is by essentially inflicting fatal heartbreak.
  • Supernatural Fiction: Well, duh.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: What strikes Elazar Siddons in the backstory to The Green Paperweight.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Booth bitterly regrets reading some of the books he has, and worries what will happen when his vow not to put that knowledge to use fails.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: Where Booth got the knowledge he so regrets having. In one case, it's apparently so bad that Booth refuses to reveal the name of the book to the reader.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: The Inheritance of Barnabas Willcox (duh) and The Bone Key.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Booth sure hates and is jealous of Helena, huh? Good thing she's definitely evil.
  • Was Once a Man: The Venebretti Necklace, The Replacement. Arguably inverted in White Charles.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Booth certainly couldn't tell you. He feels it in Elegy for a Demon Lover... but contact with an incubus gives you amnesia, and he's forgotten the affair by The Wall of Clouds.
  • Wham Line: At the end of The Green Paperweight, Booth refutes Henry's assertion that the death of Mr. Siddons was an accident. He knew what he was doing, and given what an Asshole Victim Siddons was, it's hard to blame him.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Ivo's are "not merely vivid blue"; they are "intense, blazing, as if they were lit from within," "full of fire and darkness," and in possession of "opalescent brilliance."
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: You look like you've just ran up three flights of stairs to avoid seeing a ghost!