Title: The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Date of Publication: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
The Bone Witch is the story of a young girl, Tea, whose life is turned upside down when her brother dies. But her life isn’t turned upside down because he died. It’s turned upside down because she accidentally brings him back from the dead. Tea discovers that she is a bone witch, a rare and feared type of asha unlike the other witches in her village. Tea must move to the city to learn how to harness her power. She becomes an apprentice to the only other bone witch she’s ever met.
The Bone Witch is a dark, setting-driven young adult fantasy with lyrical prose.
This novel took me a while to get into. From the description, I thought it would be fast-paced with a lot of action, intrigue, and drama. While there is quite a bit of action in the story, the focus isn’t on these scenes, but on the development of setting. Chupeco doesn’t spend a chapter describing an action scene. Instead, she takes the time to set the scene, explaining in incredible detail what every main and minor character is wearing, what they look like, the texture of the floors, ceilings, and walls, and then the action takes place over a couple of quick paragraphs. While this irritated me, if you read stories primarily for language and setting—if you want to bury yourself in a book that has an elaborately-crafted, unique world that’s so totally different from the one you live in—then this book is for you.
I’ve already said that the book is very setting-focused. I generally don’t mind this if it’s at the expense of plot, but I draw the line at allowing this at the expense of developing well-rounded characters. Unfortunately, I found this to be the case in The Bone Witch. First off, there are far too many characters in the story. It was hard to keep track of them, especially since some are introduced, described in great detail, and then they disappear for several chapters. The characters that do matter get swept up in the deluge of unimportant characters. The most important people don’t get enough attention. For example, Tea raises her brother, Fox, from the dead in the first few chapters. They’re connected in a unique way, and while Chupeco goes into great detail explaining the mechanism of this connection, what it feels like, etc., we don’t actually get to see a lot of the development of Fox and Tea’s relationship. The book spans several years, and as Tea grows into a young woman and a dark asha, I would have liked to have seen their relationship either blossom or wither. Instead, it doesn’t seem to evolve much, except for a sentence here or there to demonstrate that there has been some change. But it isn’t the focus of the story, which is a shame, because there was a lot of potential with this and it’s a highlight of the blurb on the back of the book.
One of the most valuable lessons in writing is to show, not tell. Because Tea is learning the ropes, a lot of the book is about her learning about magic runes, etc. Chupeco relays all this information to the reader through dense exposition. Reading these pages felt akin to wading through molasses. The descriptions were so dense and complex that I was begging for the plot to move forward. Ordinarily in high fantasy books, one of my favourite parts is learning about how magic works in that unique world, but it’s often done in a way that you barely realize that you’re being taught. I felt like I was back in school and I did not sign up to get another degree.
Finally, The Bone Witch takes place over two timelines. There’s the “past”, where Tea is learning to become a bone witch, and there’s the “present”, which takes place several years later. In the “present”, Tea is an outcast and she’s telling her story to a local bard. It’s understood that the “past” is the story she’s telling the bard, and that a lot has changed (for the worse) over the last few years. Because the story is so slow paced, I initially found these “present” scenes to be unnecessary. They slowed down the plot (even more, if that was possible), and they seemed to provide little extra. They were too short to be substantial, and they often had heavy-handed foreshadowing that almost spoiled the following chapters. While beautifully written, I didn’t see much value in them until about halfway through the book. I won’t include any spoilers here, but they showed their worth, and it came to the point where I was actually looking forward to these sections.
I give this book 3 stars because of the beautiful writing style and the gorgeous world that Chupeco has created, but I generally read novels for story and characters, and I didn’t fall in love (figuratively speaking) with any of the characters in this book, and the plot was too slow paced to be engaging. That said, Chupeco has created a beautifully crafted and elaborate world that’s worth exploring if you’re so inclined.
*I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. This in no way affects the contents of my review.*
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