I’ll be honest, I requested the ARC of The Bone Witch, because I fell in love with the cover. I guessed it would be fantasy, and I expected to enjoy it. On both these counts, I was right. So it’s okay, once in a while, to judge a book by the cover.
There are two timelines in this book. When it begins, the reader sees an unnamed Bard in conversation with a mysterious girl, on the shores of an ocean, as she orders a monster to die. She tells him that she is an asha–a person who has the ability to draw runes, and a dark asha at that–she can raise the dead. She has been exiled to this remote and desolate beach. As the conversation progresses, and she narrates her life story, the timeline moves to the past and we see a younger version of this same asha, Tea (pronounced as Tay-ah not Tee).
Tea’s brother, Fox, is a soldier in the army, and when he is killed by a daeva (a monstrous creature that terrorizes people), Tea unwittingly resurrects him from the dead. This makes the people around her scared, because this means that she is a dark asha, a bone witch. Luckily, before anyone can harm her, Lady Mykaela, the only other bone witch in the kingdom arives, and takes her and her undead brother-now Tea’s familiar, away to the capital, Ankyo, to train with other ashas in the House Valerian. The rest of the book has to do with her training to be an asha, and how she uncovers a plot by the Faceless, the followers of The False Prince, to overthrow all the current rulers of their world.
The book keeps moving between both timelines, with the older Tea commenting on the events in the life of the younger Tea, but we never see the timelines converge–we never see what led to her exile, and we must wait for the sequel to know that.
First off, the thing that Rin Chupeco has done wonderfully here is the world-building. The world she has created is complex and layered. There are multiple kingdoms, each with their own culture and customs, with some of them a subtle nod to places and cultures in own own world. Some concepts of this world that I think readers would benefit from reading about now are the ashas and the heartsglass.
The ashas are a bit like geishas but with great magical prowess. They are singers, dancers and warriors! I thought this was lovely, because usually, women are portrayed as one or the other, but here, the author says that women can do it all! In fact, through one of Tea’s friends, a boy who wants to be an asha instead of a soldier in the army, the author challenges traditional gender roles.
Another is the concept of a heartsglass, which is basically a necklace that one wears, which contains one’s “heart” and which has a colour based on one’s abilities, and one which changes colours based on one’s mood. These play a pretty importat role in the plot.
The writing certainly does not let one down and is very descriptive–especially when the author is describing clothes and accessories. Some people may not enjoy it, but it helped me get very clear visualizations, so that’s a win for me. She also uses a lot of non-English words, from different languages, for instance uchenik which is Russian. I really appreciate that.
A look through goodreads seems to indicate that many readers felt that the pace of the book is too slow, but I personally could not put it down! I will admit, that in terms of actual story, not much happens–the real action comes a bit towards the end and most of the book is about Tea’s training. This book is mostly world-building and setting up for the sequels. This causes the book to lack a sense of urgency. Also, since both the timelines don’t converge, it is frustrating as a lot of things are left unanswered. I can understand that this isn’t what some people like, and that they would prefer more stuff happening. However, I enjoyed the book as is.
Rin Chupeco has certainly set the stage for a powerful, dramatic saga with The Bone Witch. There is the sense that there is much more to come, and I, for one, am waiting.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Will you be reading the sequel? Let me know in the comments!
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.
Author Bio: http://www.rinchupeco.com/#theauthor
About the Publisher: http://www.sourcebooks.com/company/the-sourcebooks-story.html