I’ve written so many notes and most of them seem petty and useless now but first of all, I have one thing I want to say before my review goes all over the place (sorry) : you should be wary of your expectations, because for some reason*** I was convinced that I’d find a dark fantasy novel, and dark fantasy novel it is not. Had I known what I’d find, it wouldn’t have taken me so much time to come to peace with what The Bone Maker is offering and above all, I would have savored its undeniable strengths more. Indeed while The Bone Maker deals with bones and necromancers, grief and revenge, after the first scenes its tone doesn’t match what we’ve (I’ve?) come to associate with dark fantasy novels. And I mean, that’s valid! But I am a woman of habit, and I rarely like surprises, except wait, no, that’s not true: it’s not that I don’t like surprises as a whole, it’s that I resent being faced with one and I definitely need time to apprehend the new frame of reference I’m hurled into, to adjust (yes, I’m so melodramatic, I do know). But in the end, I want to think that I can see things clearly. What I see here is: I had so much fun. It is dark however, just not in the all-good-is-doomed regular way. It is dark, but in such a mundane way that it hides in a corner of our eye at first, its motion camouflaged in the peripheral visual field of our expectations until it hits us with the knowledge that oh, damn, we care, don’t we?
But, what The Bone Maker is really about, you ask? Once upon a time there were five heroes who defeated the bone maker Eklor, a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. They saved the world. Hurrah, et cetera. But, as it’s often the case, one of them died. And, you see, when we read fantasy novels we foresee great battles and sacrifices, so really, nothing in the last sentences should surprise you. That’s not what this book is about however. No. This book deals with the aftermaths, when all is good in the world except, you know, that’s not true. Kreya’s husband died on the battlefield 25 years ago. So, he’s dead. Except – sometimes he isn’t. Sometimes, driven by despair and love, Kreya transgresses the biggest taboo of the bone maker guild : she uses human bones to give him a few hours of life. Until one day she can’t fight alone anymore, and has to ask her former friends for help. Her friends she broke ties with 25 years ago, so, yeah: awkward. With her group of friends, Kreya must accept the past, and survive the new threats they’ll face.
Now she couldn’t help but look at everyone and wonder what loss they were hiding. All of it – all the rushing, all the shouting – felt tinged with frenetic desperation.
Or maybe it’s just me, Kreya thought.
The story was fast-paced, and I’ll argue that it was too fast-paced at times in my opinion. I was never bored, but for the longest time, I wished the author would have included bubbles of peace for me to have the time to gather my thoughts and get attached to the characters. I was so afraid I wouldn’t. I did get my bearings in the end, and I came to care deeply for them, so perhaps it’s for the best but I can’t help but feel that The Bone Maker would have been a favorite if it had happened earlier. For so long I felt as if the Bone Maker didn’t know what it was supposed to be, which confused the fuck out of me. At times it relied on grim foreboding and suddenly one character (Zera, I blame Zera) would joke around and I’d deflate. When it changed though – when I finally recognized and appreciated what this book had to offer, I loved it. Truly. It was just – so intensely readable, and the 496 pages flew by. Most of all though, I’m so glad I got to know Kreya’s friends.
“Some of us are better at hiding it than others, but we are all broken. You can’t live without breaking a few things. But that doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. It just means you’ve lived in the world.”
Because these former heroes? Well. They all have PTSD, for starters, and their sense of self preservation is so ridiculously tiny, I can’t even. They joke around at the most inappropriate times and frustrated me to no ends way too often. God, they really are disasters waiting to happen. How did they dare carving a path into my heart? Disgusting. First there’s Zera, whose introduction coincides with the change of tone I’ve mentioned earlier, and it took me a while to appreciate her. I kinda hated her at the beginning, because characters designed as comic reliefs stress me the fuck out. But I should have known better. She’s so much more and I wouldn’t trade her for a grimer character. Then there’s Marso, who gave up on himself and doesn’t want to be saved. Stran, whose days on the battlefield are behind him and who would rather take care of his farm and his family, thank you very much. And Jennt, former thief extraordinaire, well. He’s dead sometimes, so. Saving the world again is out of question, except maybe they won’t have a choice in the matter (but they’ll whine all the way). The dynamics of this found family threw me off balance, and were not what I expected at all. Somewhere along the way however, the most baffling thing happened : I welcomed these fools into my heart, and never let go.
“Do you trust me?”
“I know you want me to say ‘with my life,’ but in the interest of complete honesty, I’m going to have to go with ‘sometimes.'”
Finally, the magic system was inventive and the climax amazing. I loved everything about it and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Last thing I want to mention: I’ve read a few reviews that stated that The Bone Maker felt like Young Adult, and I’m a bit annoyed. Even though I respect everyone’s opinion, that’s a declaration I’m very wary of making, because it’s flung so often when adult fantasy novels written by women are concerned. I, for one, don’t agree with it: as I said, this novel isn’t dark fantasy in my opinion, but come on! Would you say that Terry Pratchett’s novels are Young Adult? No? So what is it, really? Is it because the main character is a woman? A middle-aged woman, at that? I don’t know, but I think that we shouldn’t dismiss adult fantasy novels on the grounds that they’re not grimdark. Grimdark novels are so sexist most of the time anyway, so. I rest my case.
I’ll leave you with a few words from Sarah Beth Durst, because they really resonated with me, and I wish I’d have read them before starting:
We all know how the stories go:
Someone saves the say. The end.
Someone rides off into the sunset. The end.
Someone kisses the love of their life. The end.
But our stories – our real stories – don’t end after a Great Moment. We keep living, day after day, until our last day. And sometimes our story doesn’t go the way we thought it would, for better or for worse. Sometimes it’s terrifying how much of our future is unknown and out of control. We never know how much time we will have or if we’ve made the right choices on the way. That’s why I wrote The Bone Maker.
This book is about life after “the end.” It’s about second chances.
I’m saying to you, “Keep living your story.“
*** I said at first that it was marketed this way, but after reinspection, it seems that the early reviews I’ve read + the cover + the blurb threw me off.
CW – death, violence, PTSD
About The Bone Maker
Author : Sarah Beth Durst | Publisher : Harper Voyager | Genre : Adult Fantasy | Pages : 496
Twenty-five years ago, five heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. But victory came at a tragic price. Only four of the heroes survived.
Since then, Kreya, the group’s leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower and devoted herself to one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But such a task requires both a cache of human bones and a sacrifice—for each day he lives, she will live one less.
She’d rather live one year with her husband than a hundred without him, but using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. The dead are burned—as are any bone workers who violate the law. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs: the battlefield where her husband and countless others lost their lives.
But defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility. Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.
Five warriors—one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one stuck in the past, and one who should be dead. Their story should have been finished. But evil doesn’t stop just because someone once said, “the end.”