Whenever I browse NetGalley, there are always books that are most requested. Generally, I avoid them, but sometimes I figure the hype might be warranted and request one myself. I took that chance with The Bone Witch, based in part on its beautiful cover, and in part on the description.
It didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
The Bone Witch had a really interesting premise. Our young protagonist, Tea, accidentally raises her brother from the dead. As such she’s revealed to be an asha, more specifically a ‘bone witch’, women who are (mostly) reviled for being able to wield dark runes to raise and compel the dead. The book is essentially the story of Tea’s training to become a full asha.
What is an asha, you ask? Best as I could tell, they’re essentially Geisha with magic. They place much importance on training and reputation, and are skilled entertainers, politicians, and magic wielders. Even though men can also wield magic, they’re not allowed to become asha. Instead men become deathseekers – taken from their families at young ages to be trained as soldiers.
While I think that the premise was super cool, I didn’t find the story as compelling as I would have liked. It opens in the present, from the perspective of a Bard who has sought out a Dark Asha on a desolate beach filled with the skeletons of massive creatures.
The other perspective is Tea’s narrative as she tells her story to the Bard. Though this could have been an effective device, the two stories never came to a head. The present Tea is a much different person from the girl seen in training in the past. She was impatient and impetuous just like any other teen, but I thought that because of the disparity of the two storylines I could never reconcile her present behavior with her past. It seemed very out of character.
Despite the length of the novel, the reader never gets to find out what caused the change in her as the two stories never converge.
Talk about disappointing.
(Yes, I am aware that this is the first in a series. That doesn’t mean that everything should remain unresolved in the first book. If there’s no payoff, why keep reading?)
The novel is fairly slow paced, which I know annoyed a lot of reviewers. I wasn’t bothered by that so much as I was the two storyline gimmick never bearing fruit.
It bears mentioning that this book suffers from Mary Sue Syndrome. Tea is always somehow an exception to the rules who is strangely good at things. No, making her bad at singing doesn’t cancel this.
The world building was pretty simple, with offhand mentions of other kingdoms and the general qualities of their inhabitants. It mostly seemed like rudimentary copying of real world nations, only with less description, more stereotyping, and a dash of the supernatural. A device I did love was that of the heartsglass. The people of this world literally wear a manifestation of their hearts around their necks, which is a unique thing I’ve never seen in another story.
The development of supporting characters and side plots was very basic. Some of them were very interesting but remained unexplored. My favourite was about Likh, a beautiful boy who wishes to become an asha rather than a deathseeker. His storyline is continued further than I expected but is ultimately unresolved. Others include Fox’s acquaintance with an unexpected woman, Mykaela’s health, Junior Heartsforger, and Kance and Kalen. Also – the Oracle. What exactly is her purpose? Is there only one? There was also never any mention of Tea’s blood family after she leaves them, which seemed strange to me.
Ultimately, I loved the concept of this book. I found it a likeable enough read. I don’t think that the execution was as successful as it could have been. If it had been, I could have easily likened it to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, or the Grisha Trilogy. A young heroine learns her place in the world and changes it while doing so.
As it is, it just wasn’t quite up to snuff. I hope the next book can redeem it.
Have you read The Bone Witch? Are you gearing up to read it? Let me know in the comments below!