I received this book for free from NetGalley, the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin ChupecoThe Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
Series: The Bone Witch #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on March 7, 2017
Genres: High Fantasy, Science Fiction & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy
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three-stars
In the captivating start to a new, darkly lyrical fantasy series for readers of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir, Tea can raise the dead, but resurrection comes at a price...

Let me be clear: I never intended to raise my brother from his grave, though he may claim otherwise. If there’s anything I’ve learned from him in the years since, it’s that the dead hide truths as well as the living.

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha—one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

I’ve been pretty darned excited about Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch, the first in an all-new YA fantasy series set in a world where magic-wielders called asha delight and defend their kingdoms. In fact, I named it as one of the books I was looking forward to the most this year, and I was ecstatic to receive an ARC prior to its release.

But alas, life got in the way (moving cities, a new business to open, a death in the family, and two family members being hospitalized in the span of three months), and I only recently got to immerse myself in the world of the asha. Keep reading to find out what I thought.

I really, really wanted to like this book. And in some aspects, it totally delivered. I’d completely forgotten that the blurb had advertised it as a mix of Memoirs of a Geisha and Name of the Wind, but those two novels were the ones I kept going back to when I thought about the style and the format the book was written in.

Name of the Wind is an obvious choice for format, as like Rothfuss’s novel, readers must follow a dual timeline: one in the present, as the main character tells her story, and one in the past, following the story as it is told. The two timelines are easily distinguished as the present-day narration is told from the point of view of the bard to whom the main character, Tea, tells her story, while the past is told from Tea’s point of view.

Memoirs of a Geisha is also an obvious choice for style and content, style because of the lyrical bent to the storytelling, and content because the asha are pretty much magic-wielding battle-trained geishas. More, like the main character in Arthur Golden’s book, Tea is distinctive in that people know she’s special from the start of her training, and despite her youth and the discipline demanded of her in words and action, she remains very much her own person, willing to turn society on its ear if need be.

That she has none of the subtlety of Golden’s Chiyo/Sayuri marks her as an individual rather than a copycat character, and stresses the YA-ness of this read.

But I’d add another story to the mix that I thought The Bone Witch might evoke memories of in its readers: the animated movie franchise How to Train Your Dragon. Now daevas (the demon-like creatures that wreak havoc on mankind and that the ashas protect people from) are not necessarily dragons, but there’s enough dragon imagery and enough parallels that I kept thinking about that movie as I was reading the book, especially during the second half of it.

As far as world-building and character-building goes, I couldn’t really find much fault I couldn’t explain away or forgive. There was a bit of a red herring in terms of character relationships that I thought was way too easy to guess, but I also had to wonder if that wasn’t my jadedness rearing its ugly head. I am predominantly a reader of adult fiction, so it may just be a case of YA culture shock.

What I did take issue with was the pacing. On one hand, I appreciated the richness of the world that had been painted for me as a reader. I could all but walk the same halls the asha did, eat the same food, wear the same clothes, and so on. But on the other hand, this book was woefully easy to put down because it seemed to me that things didn’t really start happening until about 45% of the way through the book. In fact, I found myself “cheating” on the book a couple of times during the days I was reading it.

On top of the slow pacing, The Bone Witch ended on a cliffhanger that left me thinking I’d pretty much just read an entire book of prologue.

Now, I’ve since found out that this book is one of three in a series. So I’m hoping this is going to be one of those cases where the second installment packs in all the action promised but underdelivered by the first.

I’m used to this happening: after all, I did still enjoy the Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings trilogies. And I plan to get my hands on a copy of the next book in the series. Given what has been promised and built up in this book, I’m expecting a roller coaster ride; otherwise, I can’t speak to whether I’ll be engaged enough for book 3.

Now, this might put undeserved pressure on the author, should she ever read this. But the truth of the matter is, I wanted to love this book more than I did. And if I don’t find myself loving the series as a whole, it will be a shame, because the language in which it is written is beautiful, and so is the world it is set in. So I’m giving it a tentative three stars, on the expectation of being wowed by future books in the series. Please, please, be better, The Heartforger.

 

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The Bone Witch series reading order

1. The Bone Witch
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2. The Heartforger (set for release on March 1, 2018)
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3. The Shadow Glass (coming in 2019)

About Rin Chupeco

Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. Dances like the neighbors are watching.

Photo and bio sourced from Goodreads