Book: “The Bone Maker” by Sarah Beth Durst
Publication Info: Harper Voyager, March 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Twenty-five years ago, five heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. But victory came at a tragic price. Only four of the heroes survived.
Since then, Kreya, the group’s leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower and devoted herself to one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But such a task requires both a cache of human bones and a sacrifice—for each day he lives, she will live one less.
She’d rather live one year with her husband than a hundred without him, but using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. The dead are burned—as are any bone workers who violate the law. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs: the battlefield where her husband and countless others lost their lives. But defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility. Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.
Five warriors—one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one stuck in the past, and one who should be dead. Their story should have been finished. But evil doesn’t stop just because someone once said, “the end.”
Review: Sarah Beth Durst has always been a bit of a hit or miss author for me. When she’s on her game, I really love her books. But there are others of her titles that have really not worked for me. So I never quite know which one I’m going to get when I pick up a new book by her. But this one, with its interesting premise and its focus on an older woman as its heroine, sounded like something that would be right up my alley!
What was a day of triumph to the nation was a day of horror to Kreya. While she and her four companions were successful in the heroic mission they set out upon, to take down the viscous bone maker Eklor, Kreya lost her husband in the process. Now, years later, Kreya is living as a recluse, desperately working forbidden magic to buy just one more day with her lost love. When she seeks out a method to work this magic on a more long-term basis, she discovers horrors that she thought were long ago settled. Now she and the others must grapple with the reality that their story may not actually be finished, and they’re not sure they can win this time.
This book checked two boxes of interest for me. Recently, I’ve really been enjoying stories that look at the “after” of heroic tales. Veronica Roth’s “Chosen” was one of my favorite reads last year and dealt with this very topic. While both that book and this one essentially present the same story, that the first “ending” wasn’t really the end at all but simply a pause on everything, they each tackle the topic of what life is like for these heroes in what they think is the end. While this book is mostly Kreysa’s story, Durst also offeres insights into the other heroes who fought alongside her. Through them all, we see the various methods each is using to handle an entire lifetime after such a momentous start. You save the world in your twenties…then what? Not only is the resulting PTSD and trauma something that must be carried afterwards, but the sense that one’s biggest moment in life is already behind one has to play with the mind. I really like the variety we see between the heroes and how they are all coping, nor not coping, with these challenges.
The second point of interest is its focus on an adult heroine. The book never specifies Kreya’s or her friends’ age, but we know their fight happened 25 years ago and that Kreya was married at the time. It’s like that she’s in her late forties or older. It’s always refreshing to read a book that focuses on older characters. By necessity, their lives look very different than the young adult heroes and heroines we so often see. Instead of new love, it’s often an established relationship or a second love. Instead of the challenges of coming into one’s power for the first time, it’s managing a life that has already contained a multitude of defining moments. Kreya and her friends have lived a quarter of a century’s worth of life since their grand adventure. During that time they’ve built lives and come to terms with the events of their youth. They also have to face these new challenges as the people they are now, not the people they were when they first fought their foe. There are both new strengths and challenges that come with taking up the mantle of heroism again later in life.
I specifically enjoyed the established romance between Kreya and her husband. We see all the strengths that have been built into it over the years of loving the same person. But there are also some unique challenges that come along with this. Specifically, of course, the fact that one member of the marriage has been dead on and off for the last 25 years…but it also speaks to the way that relationships grow and change alongside the individuals in them.
The only ding I have against the book is that the world-building and magic system are kind of simplistic and lack detail and depth. There are some cool monsters that live in a particular forest, some magically-operated cable cars, and a few other things. But none of them are described very fully or really made to feel like they are part of a fully-realized world. However, it was also clear that the focus of the book was meant to be largely about its characters, so while the world wasn’t very complex, I wasn’t necessarily feeling that it was lacking while I was reading. Fans of Durst’s work are sure to enjoy this, and fantasy lovers who prefer a more mature hero and stories focused on the “after” of the heroic journey should definitely check it out!
Rating 9: A very enjoyable, fast read that highlights the fact that no hero’s journey is every really over.
“The Bone Maker” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2021.
Find “The Bone Maker” at your library using WorldCat!