The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

bone-witch

4 out of 5 stars.
I received an ARC of this work.

Okay, this one is about magical fighting Geisha?

It took me longer than usual to get the tone of this book nailed down. It vacillates between the present day journey of the bone witch as she goes around as a mysterious figure, raising monsters from the dead to join her army (Her only interaction is with a bard who is interested in her story so it is a sparse look where we do not learn much) and her life story as she is being trained as a witch. The sections set in the present really don’t give us much information about the world and culture, so you have to glean it from the flashbacks. The first section of the book was really devoid of any details that would give the world any flavour but it does come up later.

Not everyone in this book has magical powers, and those that are are taken and trained, not just in magic but in culture and combat. They are very comparable to Geisha, with the clothing and instruments resembling Japanese items, a mentor/sister relationship with another practitioner, and an emphasis on grace and poise. Tea, our witch, learns dancing, singing, magic and combat. I really enjoyed the combination of arts and magic that the witches in this book had to master. Most other magic systems will either have training just in magic or magic and normal schoolwork (see Harry Potter). This is the first time I have seen cultural refinements and kick-ass magic blended together in magical training.

Tea is a unique type of witch, a bone witch. She can raise the dead, as she discovers when she brings back her dead brother. Unlike most other witches, she is an object of more fear than respect, but since the dead regularly rise and wreak havoc, she is still a necessity to have around.

This book, in terms of pacing, reads a lot like Patrick Rothfuss. Most of the content is describing Tea’s day to day life as she learns magic as a student. You get the feeling there is something important coming that will be more of your classical fantasy saving-the-day-in-an-awesome-showdown, but for now, the majority of what you are reading is daily minutae. I really enjoy this style, but some might find it tedious.

 

 

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Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop

etched-in-bone

3 out of 5 stars.

*spoilers for the first four books

What I most enjoy about this series is the world. The vast majority of fantasies that feature other types of creatures has them in hiding from humans, usually because of numbers. Despite vampires and werewolves being clearly superior hunters, humans outnumber them so much they have decided to hide as a defence strategy. This series does not have that. Humanity consists of small enclaves existing on land rented from the powerful “others” (a random mix of a bunch of mythical creatures) who see us as glorified snacks. Humans exists by the whim of those much more powerful, and are conscious (at least most of them) that one wrong move will wipe out their species.

I like the tension that constantly builds throughout this series as certain humans try to push the boundaries of what they can do and the Other threaten violent backlash. It builds right up until the fourth book, when humans finally tick off the Others too much and settlements are wiped off of the map. This fifth book now reads a lot more like the first book, being more concerned with one settlement and its inhabitants, rather than the ever-expanding scope of the last couple, where we were watching things that would affect most of the continent.

Meg is continuing to grow as a character, but she still needs to be rescued, which I find somewhat annoying. The plot of every books seems to be EVERYONE needing to protect the one character, which was okay at first, but is starting to feel a little repetitive. Can’t they attack someone else for a change? Her relationships have changed very little from the ¬†first book, and the cast is much the same.

This is another one of those fantasy series where the villains are comically stupid and, while it is very satisfying seeing them get their comeuppance, their cartoonishness starts to grate after a bit. Maybe, though, it is just watching the Trump campaign and comparing it to the human-first movement in these books. You know that if this party takes it too far, and they will, it will end in complete disaster, but they keep doing their thing anyways. It has all the grace of a train wreck but you cannot look away.

I have enjoyed this series, but it is starting to get repetitive. None of the characters, nor their relationships, are growing enough to keep pace with the books and the central conflict is the same as the first book. It reads like the first book, over and over. The world is neat

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

hunted

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a rewrite of Beauty and the Beast, but it has little bits of some Russian fairytales mixed in, and that works REALLY well for this story.

This Beauty is the usual kind, beautiful girl with two older sisters and a bankrupt father who are forced to move when their fortunes change for the worse, but she is also a skilled hunter, preferring to spend her time running free in the forest with her dog. The beast is under a spell and is slowly losing himself to the animal inside. Instead of needing someone to love him, he needs a hunter to capture a creature that can break his enchantment.

This new dynamic was a great twist to the original tale. I have never seen anyone who redoes this tale change what beast needed beauty for, especially when it is such an obvious thing to go for. Watching someone kidnap someone else for love, especially a young girl, was always a bit creepy. In this one, he needs her for her practical abilities: her hunting skills. He no longer has to try and be charming, just persuasive enough to get her to track and trap something.

The inclusion of some Russian fairytale references gives this usually-western tale a very Eastern European flavour. The tales are actually used in-world as well as in the structure of the story, which is a weirdly meta way to run the story, but it makes the world very three-dimensional to have its own legends and stories (even if they are identical to the ones in ours).

Despite being more of a tomboy than is usual, running wild in the woods shooting stuff and all that, this retelling continues the Disney-inspired Beauty who loves to read. I don’t know why this became indispensable to this fairy tale’s cannon. Not every little mermaid since Disney has collected human stuff and not every Jasmine is obsessed with personal freedom. If anyone has any ideas why this is suddenly so central to the character, please pass them along, since I am stumped.

This addition of Russian character to the traditional Beauty and the Beast gave this retelling depth that many of them lack. It was novel enough to catch my interest quickly but familiar enough to be comfortable. Definitely recommending this one!