The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
The Bone Witch is an utterly captivating fantasy novel about a girl’s quest to challenge societal conventions and completely change the inequalities in her world. One day Tea raises her brother from the dead and discovers a source of power deep within herself she never knew was possible. This incident begins her adventure into a world of magic, inequality, and darkness. Tea’s power is great and so she becomes an Asha and learns to use her powers, but Tea learns that while the world may need you, they will never love you. While the concept of necromancy is well established, Tea’s world twists this magic and makes it necessary for the survival of the kingdoms. This story weaves a multitude of elements together: Memoirs of a Geisha, necromancy, and rebellious women, resulting in an intricate and fantastic coming of age story.
Switching between the narration of the bard in the present time and Tea’s point of view in the past is both helpful and illuminating. It allows Tea to narrate her own life with the benefit of hindsight and it permits the readers to see the past differently. Additionally, this style of storytelling facilitates the readers understanding of the vastly different world of necromancy and heartglasses. It is no coincidence that Tea chooses a bard with a complicated past to tell her story. Witnessing her power in the present, we are able to glimpse the earlier and more naïve Tea and observe her incredible journey.
The characters in the novel are beautifully complex, but the most interesting relationship is between Tea and Fox, her brother. After she raises him from the dead, they have both a familiar/witch and a brother/sister relationship that manifests itself in complicated ways. Their survival is directly linked and Fox becomes her confidant and protector. Fox’s journey with Tea is one of development and intrigue as he must also confront the dangerous and powerful choices Tea makes. The romance in the novel was my least favorite aspect, but its presence connects many themes of the novel: the concepts of heartglasses, Tea’s sister, Tea’s tutor and fellow bone witch, and many coming of age stories.
Tea is spirited and fearless (even to the point of recklessness) and she must constantly control and battle the dark magic within her. This struggle forces Tea to mature quickly, as those with great power and responsibility are aware. Her power is terrifying and dangerous, so her control is paramount for both her survival and those around her. There is a tenuous balance between the seduction of power and constraint. The exploitation of power is explored to test Tea and she embarks on a task to redefine the rules of the world. Her journey does not end with the last page, in fact some would say that it is only just beginning.
It has been a while since I have read a fantasy novel and this one truly fulfilled my craving. It brought me back to Tamora Pierce and I see the same fierce strength and potential for societal change in Tea that I saw in characters like Alanna and Daine. Tea and her close friends inspire the same rebellious attitudes to gender as those strong female characters who are not content with a society which confines people to their gender. Instead, they break conventions and challenge their world to change their minds.
I am looking forward to the next one and already in a book hangover from finishing this book! I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy and Memoirs of a Geisha, enjoys fantasy books in general, and to anyone who especially enjoyed the Tamora Pierce novels. Did you ever read the Tamora Pierce novels? Let me know below!
Book cover image from the Netgalley website.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
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