Book: “The Bone Witch” by Rin Chupego
Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, March 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: copy from the publisher
Book Description: Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.
Review: First off, thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review! It now has a loving spot on my bookshelf, so that should give readers a clue about my thoughts on this book!
A young Tea has just learned she is a Bone Witch, a rare Asha who can raise and control the dead. Her kind are especially needed for their abilities to raise and banish daeva, fearsome beasts who will escape their graves on given intervals and rampage the countryside if they are not put back to rest. But an older Tea is the one telling us this tale, and through her we see that life has not been what she had expected when she first was trained. The elder Tea is banished, living on a forlorn beach surrounded by monstrous beasts, and she has her own plans. With these dueling perspectives, Chupeco weaves together a world full of magic, mystery, and darkness, and one girl’s story that has already happened and is also about to begin.
My first point of praise goes to the narrative set-up of this book. I love stories that are told from a past/present point of view. Through the elder Tea, we get a sense that things have gone wrong, but we don’t know why, how, or what her plans are now in response to those events. The younger Tea, whose story takes up the majority of the book, is as new to much of this world as the reader and through her we see innocence, wonder, and fear of what her growing abilities really mean. Both narratives draw from the other, dropping little clues here and there that tie neatly between the two, but also raise more and more questions. The elder Tea is definitely not rushed in her story-telling, or willing to simply give the end away. There were excellent surprises planted throughout both storylines, and it was exciting seeing how they interconnected.
The world-building was probably the strongest point in this book’s favor. It’s been compared to a fantasy version of “Memories of a Geisha” and this is spot on. It did walk a very fine line of being almost a little too close to that book for my taste at times. Some of the characters involved, the miserly older woman who runs the house, the successful and beautiful older Asha who is in the prime of her abilities, and Tea’s own slow rise from servitude towards a spectacular debut. However, the magical elements and complicated history and politics of this world did enough to pull the story away and into its own place. I absolutely loved the magical system of this world, especially the way proficiency in these magical arts combined in a variety of ways. Asha are not only excellent performers who serve as entertainers (here’s where the geisha-like comparisons come into play), but they are also warriors, healers, and politicians.
Tea, as a Dark Asha, or Bone Witch, walks a slightly different path. Dark Asha are rare, and, while their abilities are the most necessary of them all, it is not surprising that the common people fear them. Through Tea’s experiences, and that of her mentor Mykaela, we see the fears and superstitions that they must deal with, all while performing the challenging and necessary work of the land.
So far we have a complicated past/present narration style, a magical system that has intricate workings and specific challenges for our main character, and a geisha-like system that incorporates entertaining, fighting, and politicking. On top of all this, there is also the world itself, made up of many different kingdoms each with their own cultures, ethnicities, and views on Asha and the ongoing fight with the daeva and the Faceless who control them. One of my biggest criticisms comes in this part. If ever a book needed a map, it was this one. There is simply too much to keep track of in this book to expect readers to navigate the terrain as well. Even by the end of the book, I was still confused about the layout of the world and how these various different kingdoms worked together.
With all of these details, this book is definitely heavy on descriptions and works with a slower pace. I love immersive writing like this, but I do think the book will have varied responses based on this fact. There is action, but in small bursts slotted between pages of the average day for Tea learning to be a Dark Asha. It’s not until the very last part of the book that the action really picks up, but when it does, man is it exciting!
And, since the second book is coming out shortly, you’ll have a safer time reading this one now than earlier, as the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. By no means are all of the mysteries resolved; if anything, I had even more questions at the end than I did at the beginning, and it felt like the story was cut off right when things were really starting to get moving. I’m fine with that, since I can pick up the second one right away, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re scheduling your reads (doesn’t everyone schedule their reading order??)
So, while all of the complicated elements of the world and story did leave me confused at times, the strong central character and the huge set up for book two were more than enough for me to thoroughly enjoy and recommend this book. If you’re a fan of fantasy with a darker twist, definitely check this one out.
Rating 8: Immersive and detailed, there is no loss for world-building in this book. If anything, it’s overwhelming!
Find “The Bone Witch” at your library using WorldCat!