Release date: March 7, 2017
Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.
The Bone Witch is a fantasy about a world where witches called asha are trained to be refined women, and the society is threatened by a league of dark ones called the Faceless that seek to control the demons called daeva and wreak havoc. Tea is a Dark asha, a bone witch in less-than-nice terms, who can raise creatures and people from the dead, and whose duty it is to periodically kill the seven daeva so as to protect the general populace. The book begins with her on a distant beach, getting interviewed by an as of yet unnamed Bard and from this flows the story of her life until that point. The prose style is much like a biography, told in retrospect, and lush with details about her life as a novitiate, an apprentice asha and then when she finally defeats her first enemy. But coming back to the present (the one with the bard) we also learn that she defected from her sister-witches and is now seeking vengeance. The slow developing of the story gets us from her coming into her powers to that moment where she is in exile, but not quite – there is still a gap from the last moment of the past (in this book) to the present, which I suppose will come in future books.
The world of The Bone Witch is created splendidly with details – a continent of 8 kingdoms, each with distinct cultures, most of which resemble Asian cultures, but still have a diverse array of characters of color. The author goes onto describe clothes, customs, food, appearances – all of which show an eye for detail, but also to show the readers that it is a vastly dreamed world. However, this extreme level of elaboration also means that we get a lot of information into what they are wearing and eating on a nearly daily basis, which often makes the plot drag. The pace suffers because we are lost learning about their foods, and their customs, and I feel a better balance between the two could have struck. I loved the level of detail but wished it didn’t make this book feel like it took eons to read.
The magic of the world is, I feel, an excellently based one, but I don’t see what it has got to do with training the asha in a manner similar to geishas – particularly because the abilities to draw runes (reminded me so much of onmyoudou, that one) is not limited to women. Even men can have powers in this world, but they are relegated to being soldiers. In the form of Likh, this notion is being challenged but it remains to see where this notion of patriarchy will be taken in future books. As for the romance, I was constantly on the look out for who was going to be the love interest, but the author delivers a nice surprise at the end. I was delighted, and very interested in how he came to be the one she loved, but that mystery is not solved in this book.
Overall, it is a well-constructed book but I wish it were better edited to balance out the meticulous details with progression in the plot. 3.5 stars for this book, and high hopes for the sequel.
Received a free review copy from Sourcebooks Fire, via Netgalley.