Thank you Sourcebooks for the review copy!
While I can’t say that The Bone Witch was the most captivating start as the first book of a trilogy, it did lay a solid foundation on what readers will expect in the sequel. In fact, I really expect that the next two books will be full of twists and action, even though we only got to see tidbits of them in this one. While The Bone Witch was incredibly slow in plot and progression – after all, it is following Tea’s journey of being a Dark asha in the course of a couple of years – the characterization and set-up of the world does more than enough to appeal to readers, despite the pace. I highly urge high fantasy readers to give this one a try, not only because of the gorgeous, dark world that Chupeco paints, but also because the ending of this one hints to more to come in the upcoming books.
The story starts with Tea, the main character, “accidentally” resurrecting her dead brother Fox in her small village. Through a whirlwind of activity, she ends up thrust into the world of asha, people gifted with magic that serve the nation. Looking back, it kind of reminds me like the Grisha trilogy, but with much less drama and much more introspective narrative of a girl just wanting to belong in a world she doesn’t exactly fit in with. Tea is among the few bone witches, who practice necromancy in contrast to the fires and winds of the other asha. She’s dangerous, but smart and strong-willed, lending to a character that isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in.
“Bone witches were not a respectable trade. They said bone witches gave sleeping sicknesses to innocent princesses with the prick of a finger, and they said bone witches ate the hearts of children who strayed too far into forests.”
The narrative starts off with Tea talking to an unsuspecting traveler, exiled by herself with only bones to keep her company. The narrator is wary but in awe of Tea, who went against the system for a yet unknown reason. The chapters themselves switch to a first person POV from Tea as she weaves through the training of asha. Not only are they magic-wielders, but they are taught to entertain visitors in the arts of music and dancing. Not only do they sing, play instruments and dance, but they also know history and politics and how to heal. Tea has a grueling education that in time makes her question more and more, “What is the truth?”, all the while fighting against the traditions of old.
“Asha means two things in old Runic. The first is ‘truth’; the second, ‘spellbinder.’ That is what we must do – we bind the magic and force it to do as we command.”
I admit, reading this book took a lot out of me. I had a hard time getting into it, and I stopped and picked it up again twice – rereading the beginning twice, actually – to finish it in one go. I’d say I became fully invested around the 40% mark, as I got used to the narrative and slow pace. However, I do think that the pacing is worth the immense character development Tea undergoes, as well as the way her relationship develops between other characters. I especially adored the supportive love she has with her brother, Fox, who is now her familiar as a bone witch. Her interactions with her sister Dark asha were also really awesome as they sought to teach as much as they could toward her, while Tea stood up for them and tried to protect them, and vice versa. There are hidden animosities in the world of asha, small acts of rebellion, and innovative thinking that gets Tea into trouble a couple of times. There is a small dose of romance that hints at becoming a love triangle, but I honestly have no idea what’s going on with this front. It moves so slow, so I’m really not that invested in it… yet. And despite these sprinklings of plot, much of the length of the book comes from Tea’s grueling training as an asha and descriptions of the vast world, full of color and magic.
“‘Then perhaps we should carve a world one day where the strength lies in who you are are rather than in what they expect you to be.’”
Rather than leaving a reader satisfied at the end, The Bone Witch ultimately leaves readers wanting more. There’s an unexpected twist as Tea recounts in a very vague way what happened to her and how she’s planning to retaliate. I saw on the author’s website that this book is the first of three, so we still have a lot to look forward to. I thought this book has a very strong foundation and is told through a unique narrative that, while although not immediately captivating, will draw readers in who want to see immense character development and growth. It’s light on a lot of things: romance, action, drama, and more. However, this was only the start of Tea’s journey and eventual exile, and I for one can’t wait to hear the rest of the story in the sequel.