Serena’s Review: “Silver in the Bone”

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Book: “Silver in the Bone” by Alexandra Bracken

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Netgalley!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Tamsin Lark didn’t ask to be a Hollower. As a mortal with no magical talent, she was never meant to break into ancient crypts, or compete with sorceresses and Cunningfolk for the treasures inside. But after her thieving foster father disappeared without so much as a goodbye, it was the only way to keep herself—and her brother, Cabell—alive.

Ten years later, rumors are swirling that her guardian vanished with a powerful ring from Arthurian legend. A run-in with her rival Emrys ignites Tamsin’s hope that the ring could free Cabell from a curse that threatens both of them. But they aren’t the only ones who covet the ring.

As word spreads, greedy Hollowers start circling, and many would kill to have it for themselves. While Emrys is the last person Tamsin would choose to partner with, she needs all the help she can get to edge out her competitors in the race for the ring. Together, they dive headfirst into a vipers’ nest of dark magic, exposing a deadly secret with the power to awaken ghosts of the past and shatter her last hope of saving her brother. . . .

Review: Here I am, still getting sucked in by the covers with hands holding up swords. Not to say that I was swindled by this book, just that I’m a sucker for marketing, even when that marketing is starting to reach max capacity, I’d imagine. However, with this books focus on Arthurian legend, which, of course, heavily features a fabled sword, I guess I can give this one a pass on not just cashing in on the trends. But enough about that, let’s get into the review!

While devoid of any magic herself, Tamsin has grown up in the world of Hollowers, those adventurers who seek out and raids the highly warded crypts of ancient sorceresses. But after she and her brother were abandoned by the Hollower who raised them, she’s had to forge a life for herself however she can. And while participating in a dangerous world that she can only halfway understand would be more than most would choose, Tamsin has another goal: saving her brother who is struggling with an ever more debilitating curse. So when gets wind of an incredibly rare relic that could be the answer to her brother’s curse, Tamsin will do anything to claim it for herself, even going so far as teaming up with the boy who has been her rival for as long as she can remember.

First of all, I want to note how surprised I was to find that this was a contemporary YA fantasy story. I mean, I guess there were no clear indications one way or another, but that cover image sure does look “second world” fantasy to me! The average modern teen isn’t walking around with delicate, silver hand bracelets like that, that’s for sure. So I was fairly taken aback to start this novel and be immediately confronted with cell phones, cars, and the like. I do wish the marketing (either the cover or the book description) had made this more clear, as I had to work hard at the beginning of this read to recalibrate my expectations. It wasn’t an obvious attempt at misrepresenting a book, but I do think the overall affect obfuscates the kind of story readers are actually getting.

Preferences, of course, always lead my to picking up the “second world” fantasy over a contemporary story, so on one hand, I was glad that this book essentially forced my hand into something I wouldn’t typically read. And, overall, I do think it was a fun read. The book is absolutely brimming with new ideas and magical concepts, many of which I thought were very original and intriguing. However, the sheer number of fantastical elements also began to overlap one another in ways that I think began to confuse the issue. I was never quite clear on the history of the sorceresses, or some of the basic details about how their crypts were set up. I think it was meant to read as a combination of something like the tomb raiders of Egyptian burial sites and Arthurian legends. But as I read, I became more and more distracted by some of the details. Just how many of these sorceresses were there? How did they all manage to create these elaborate, curse-riddled hiding places before their deaths? How is there still such a thriving “business” in the raiding of these places? And on top of these questions, there were the curses themselves, the magical items, the potions, the portals. It was just a lot. So, while there was never a lack of ideas, I do think that the story could have used a good polish. A few fewer ideas that were more developed and fleshed out would have been preferred to the overwhelming number of ideas, all of which were very loosely explained.

I did like Tamsin as a character, especially in the first part of the book. I thought her history, her relationship with her brother, and the cobbled together life that she had built for them was interesting and full of nuance. She’s clearly not a perfect character, trying to hold together her small family through sheer force of will, sometimes to the extent that it’s clear she doesn’t fully understand those she loves most. I also really liked the idea that she operated in a magical world that she, being nonmagical herself, couldn’t fully see or experience. Unfortunately, the book chooses to “solve” this problem for her fairly early on, and I thought this was a big turning point to the negative for me. I would have vastly preferred to read a book that held true to that original premise rather than setting up this entire concept only to “magic potion” (quite literally) the entire problem away.

However, I did enjoy the reading experience itself. While I had questions about some of the fantasy elements and was disappointed by the character turn for Tamsin, I thought the pacing and plotting was very solid. It was a fun, fast read, and I think it will appeal to a lot of YA fantasy fans, especially those who like contemporary fantasy. I liked the way the Arthurian elements were woven throughout the book, and I thought for a topic that is very, veeeery well-covered, this book did a good job of standing out from a very crowded room.

Rating 7: Perhaps suffering from a case of a few too many ideas, this book still stands out as a fun, unique contemporary fantasy story that tackles the Arthurian legend in an interesting way.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silver in the Bone” is on this (and others like it) Goodreads list: YA Releases April 2023.

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