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Book: “Crown of Bones” by A.K. Wilder
Publishing Info: Entangled: Teen, January 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Raise. Your. Phantom.
For fans of epic fantasies and sweeping adventures, this ensemble cast will immerse you in a world of unique magic, breathtaking action and unforgettable characters.
In a world on the brink of the next Great Dying, no amount of training can prepare us for what is to come …
A young heir will raise the most powerful phantom in all of Baiseen.
A dangerous High Savant will do anything to control the nine realms.
A mysterious and deadly Mar race will steal children into the sea.
And a handsome guide with far too many secrets will make me fall in love.
My name is Ash. A lowly scribe meant to observe and record. And yet I think I’m destined to surprise us all.
Review: “Fans of epic fantasies and sweeping adventures”: count me in! This one has been on the backburner for a while, but it finally showed up as available as an audiobook from the library so I jumped on it right away. I’ve struggled in the past with some of the audiobook readers that are often chosen for YA novels, and while neither of these narrators were terrible, I still struggled a bit with this book in that format. Both narrators didn’t change their voices or inflection style for different characters, so there were times where I was confused about who was speaking, etc. But on to the review of the actual book!
Ash has always dreamed of being a Savant, an individual with the ability to raise a powerful Phantom that possess unique abilities. Alas, her time came and went and no Phantom appeared. Instead, she’s devoted herself to the life of a scribe, providing support and friendship to the heir of the kingdom, Marcus. His Phantom, though powerful, has always resisted his control. So when he, Ash and a group of other Savants set off on a journey to gain more knowledge and control over their Phantoms, he has high hopes that he can finally come into his own as a true Savant. But along the way, they fall in with a mysterious sailor named Kaylin. Through him, they discover that many forces are moving in the world and perhaps Marcus’s Phantom will be more needed than ever. And Ash…she, too, will be needed.
One of the first things I noticed about this book is its pace. This is a high-action, fast-paced book. The narrative jumps from one action set piece to another with a sort of frenetic energy, and I whipped through the audiobook in only a few days. So from that perspective, the book is very readable and energetic. But once I got done and was able to catch my breath, I did find myself questioning more and more aspects of the rest of the story.
Because it moves so quickly, the story never allows its character to really breathe. The book description sets this up as Ash’s story, but the narrative is actually divided between her, Marcus, and the sailor Kaylin who arrives later into the story but still has a few chapters devoted to his POV. With all of the action and adventure, there’s a lot of room for character growth, but instead the book seems to just jump straight into another scene. It never felt like any of these three characters were truly reacting, absorbing, or being changed by these major events. It was incredibly frustrating, as there were some real character arcs that were hinted at for each of these characters, but we never delved deeper than the very surface level reactions. Ash, for her part, also existed in the background of a lot of the story, which I found particularly frustrating. And we never really were given much to understand Kaylin’s shifting loyalties throughout the story.
The world-building and the magic system were very unique and interesting. This was probably the aspect of the story that held it most together for me. The various ways that the Phantoms could use their powers was intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing them in action throughout the story. But there was also just SO MANY different magical elements added to this story that, again, it started to feel like none of them were sufficiently explained on their own before another thing was added. I don’t fully understand the Mar people or their motivations. The titular “Crown of Bones” was referenced here and there, but again, I don’t fully understand how that is playing into the mythology of this world. There was just so much, but none of it felt like it was organically weaving together or building to a fully-realized world.
Overall, this book was a bit hit and miss. It was a fast, enjoyable read. But on reflection, much of the character work and world-building felt shallow and as if several opportunities were missed throughout. I’m curious to see where the second book goes, however, as a few “reveals” (these were obviously telegraphed from the beginning of the book, which I also thought was a strange decision) might lead to some interesting changes in the narrative. Fans of fast-moving fantasy stories might want to give this a shot, but it’s definitely of the “beach read” variety of fantasy.
Rating 7: Exciting and fast-paced, but missing the heart and reflection that truly makes a story land with its readers.