Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: "The Bone Witch" by Rin Chupeco

Rin Chupeco delivers a promising beginning to an interesting story in “The Bone Witch” ($17.99, Sourcebooks Fire).

Tea’s world is shattered when her brother, Fox, dies fighting a daeva, dark magical creatures that plague the land. She is so distraught at her brother’s funeral that she does something quite remarkable – and dangerous. In her grief, her hidden magic manifests, and she raises her brother from the dead.

That’s how she learned that she was Dark Asha, a necromancer, known and reviled by most of the public as a bone witch. Luckily, an experienced necromancer is nearby when she performs the feat, and rushes in to whisk her away from danger – at least of one sort.

Tea soon finds herself among the world of the asha, a geisha-like society of female magic users. But even among her own, her dark power makes her something of an outcast. It also may allow her to change the world.

I have one major complaint about “The Bone Witch.” There’s not enough of it. I’m just really starting to get warmed up to the story and becoming more and more intrigued when it ends.

Chupeco gives us two windows on Tea’s life. One is a present-day view, where she lives alone on an island, obviously in exile – whether self-imposed or otherwise, we’re still not sure. A bard arrives at the island to interview her, and so the story of her past – the main focus of the book – comes out. I did find that, occasionally, the conversations between Tea and the bard are a little hard to follow because they have a similar voice, and we’re led to guess, similarities in their pasts.

“The Bone Witch” sets up a lot of interesting things about Tea’s world that you’ll want to explore further. It’s a place where people wear their hearts around their necks, and there are practitioners capable of creating new hearts if you lose yours – well, for most people, that is. The Heart Forgers don’t play a huge role in this first book, but I suspect and hope they will be important in what’s to come.

The dual nature of the asha themselves is also intriguing to me. They’re very powerful women who, it seems, would be able to rule things with their magic. Yet they spend most of their evenings entertaining guests in tearooms, and the skills of dance and music are just as important as their combat training. I suspect we'll learn how they influence power more subtly.

I also want to see more of their male counterparts, the Deathseekers, who we learn about, but don’t really get to see in action in this volume.

Though we see the evolution of Tea from a simple village girl into a force to be reckoned with, I still feel like we’re only scratching the surface. There are so many questions remaining, and Chupeco throws a bit of a curve ball at the reader toward the end of the book that took me by surprise, though looking back, I see the hints.

I normally don’t like books that serve almost completely as setup for the story to come, but there was something about the tale of Tea and Fox that intrigued me and kept me turning pages. Chupeco has a warm and welcoming writing style, even when dealing with giant undead dragons, as strange as that may sound, and she has a way of making you want to learn more about the world and characters. There are curiosities everywhere in Chupeco’s world, and I’m dying to know what they mean and how they all come together.

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