Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Cover via Goodreads.

It’s been fairly well established thus far that I have a deeply rooted love for dark fantasy. Jokes regarding my obsession with necromancy abound among my friend groups. For those of you that have seen the description for Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch, the fact that I picked this one up (or in this case requested it through NetGalley), should come as no surprise.

The Bone Witch is set in a fantasy world comprised of eight kingdoms, each with their own distinct customs. Some of these kingdoms echo the cultures of the Middle East and others, namely Kion and the asha-ka, the home of the female magic users, are heavily influenced by Asian traditions. In fact, reading The Bone Witch was, in a way, a lot like reading Memoirs of a Geisha, only instead of preparing a girl’s virginity for auction, the Houses of the asha-ka sell a much cleaner form of entertainment: performances and magic, to be specific. When they are discovered, the soon-to-be asha are taken away and trained so that they can properly use their abilities. Because of their talents, they are often respected – except for the bone witches, or Dark asha. These are the necromancers of the world that Chupeco has created.

Chupeco has spared nothing in the creation of her world, from elaborate cities and countries, to detailed garb, to the daeva, creatures of supposedly evil origin. She’s even created a unique tradition among the denizens of her world, where they quite literally wear their hearts – only it is on their necks, rather than their sleeves. An individual’s heartsglass reflects who and what they are, allowing potential asha and Deathseekers to begin their training early in their lives.

It is because of the daeva that bone witches are an unwanted necessity among the eight kingdoms, and it is by accident that we are introduced to Tea, a young girl who, after learning of her older brother’s death, becomes so distraught that she accidentally raises him from his grave. From there, we follow Tea’s journey to becoming a full-fledged asha, and while the story does have a bit of a lull in its center where nothing happens (I would have put it down if it weren’t for the fact that I tend to do my best to finish advance copies), the ending picks up and twists in ways that are surprising. In fact, I found myself completely surprised by not one, but two of the revelations the reader encounters near the end of the book.

The Bone Witch switches between two perspectives in each chapter, with the first portion, the “flashback” for lack of a better word, told from Tea’s perspective. At the end of each chapter, in italics, is a few short passages told from the perspective of a bard that has been exiled from his homeland. The italics take place in present day and hint at something much, much larger arriving in the near future while introducing the reader to the young woman that Tea has become.

There does seem to be lack of depth to many of the characters. Tea’s brother, Fox, after he is risen from the grave, appears to lack personality. His only drive seems to be protecting his sister, though it is alluded to that in the future, we may see a lot of development to his character (or so I hope). Aside from those asha that belong to House Valerian, only a few of the characters seem to have truly dynamic characteristics.

In regards to that “lull” in the book, I must admit that it is nearly impossible to get through – especially if the reader has a short attention span. Too much time is spent on details that appear to be largely unimportant to the story – such as the fine tuning of Tea’s training. Also, while the descriptions of the hua, the garb worn by the asha, are beautifully written, they are a bit too detailed. I could do with a bit less exposition in that regard.

Needless to say, it is going to be a long wait for the next book, and I can’t wait for it – those last few chapters really made a difference. Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and Rin Chupeco for providing me with an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.

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