Published by: Sourcebooks Fire
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: Magic and identity reappropriation for a teenage girl.
Plot: Let me be clear: I never intended to raise my brother from his grave, though he may claim otherwise. If there’s anything I’ve learned from him in the years since, it’s that the dead hide truths as well as the living.
When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.
In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha―one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.
Review: I do love me some good identity stories and especially when it involves the power of reappropriation. You know. There’s a word that a woman can only call herself. Another that black person can only call themselves. A chicano…and I can go on. For me, that word was queer. It is a word that for my lifetime, and for lifetimes before mine, it was not just used as a slur but as a hate cry. As in the thing that is called out before a hate crime is committed. Or, any violence. But there was a thing that happened the first time I experienced what it was to be surrounded by a group of people — both men and women — who called themselves queer. It was an in your face assertion of who we were, a reclaiming of our identity. And there is something quite amazing of taking something considered undesirable — ugly, even — and making it our own. My own. This reappropriation was about turning something that I was once quite afraid of being labeled as into something I am proud of.
This idea is at the heart of The Bone Witch.
Tea, the main character, and a young teenage girl from the country, is surprised when she learns that she is a necromancer, a bone witch. And she learns this during her brother’s funeral when she accidentally raises him from the dead. Shortly after this life-changing event, she is whisked off by another bone witch. Lady Mykaela is glamorous and kind, smart and elusive, a life-saver and a life-changer. One thing Lady Mykaela is not: ashamed. More than that, she convinces the young Tea that there is power in embracing perceptions from others where she is the hero and the anti-hero, where she is celebrated and endures prejudice. Also of interest was the similarities of the Asha to Geisha. They shared similar dress, make-up, hair, ability to navigate political waters. However the Asha were also healers, warriors, purveyors of magic. Considering how Geisha are trivialized, even this is a reappropriation. Had this been explored further, it would have been a fantastic book.
Likewise, this book could have been A Grand Adventure. Chupeco had created lore of Ashas (witches), heartstones (a person’s literal heart that changes color and can be read by an Asha, Deathseekers (the male equivalent warrior-only version of an Asha), Faceless (hidden, powerful enemies), daevas (dead beasts brought alive and whose besoans allow Tea access to powerful magic), and world of no less than eight cultures to travel through. There was even the promise of a cultural shift as a talented young dancer, aspires to be an Asha despite being a boy. It is awe-inspiring. Magical. Wondrous.
Alas, the story never really comes together.
The story is told in two perspectives. One moving forward in time, starting when Tea raises her brother from the dead and goes through her training to her formal presentation and slightly beyond when a thing happens. The second takes place with Tea in exile on a beach after a thing that happened. It may or may not be the same event but because the first perspective doesn’t tell the story up to Tea’s exile and the second perspective never provides the missing information as a back story, I’ve ended the book with one big Huh?
In fairness, the book is laid out to be a series and it could be that the main purpose of Book #1 of however many books it will be is to build up the world. I happen to be one of those readers that doesn’t mind a good cliffhanger. What I don’t want to be is confused. Which is exactly what I am.
Would I read another Rin Chupeco book? Absolutely. She has magnificent style and a wonderful imagination. Would I read the rest of this series? Doubtful.
What you might not like/doesn’t work for you: The adventure part of the book doesn’t start until chapter 24 out of 31. There is an abundance of description regarding the preparation of an Asha and an extraordinary effort is put into describing their hua (Geisha-like dresses). This seemed odd given the possibilities extending Geisha-lore beyond the looks-and-entertainment. Secondly, I am baffled by the lack of resolution. I genuinely don’t understand that were made, especially when the series has so much promise. Lastly, there were times when a certain tone was adopted — one of an elder sharing ancestral stories around a smoky campfire — that may have added to the ambiance but whose affectation made it difficult for me to read.
What you will love: The descriptions. Chupeco creates a fantasy wonderland suitable for an epic story. I love that the heroines are strong women of differing views, preferences, opinions, talents. Furthermore, the cultural variety is vast. Chupeco has used imagery from Japanese and North African cultures, and everything in between.
Alex claims to read more than any normal, healthy adult should though the rest of the Binge on Books team would beg to differ. You can read all of his reviews here.
Connect with Alex on Twitter: @Alex_deMorra