YA Weekend: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The Bone Witch
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (March 7, 2017)
Length: 400 pages
Author Information: Website | Twitter
I’ve been going back and forth in my mind on how to review this book. Having anticipated it for so long, I honestly thought it would be more—and yet, I can’t say I’m all that disappointed either. Sparse at is might have been on story and plot development, The Bone Witch has a lot else going for it, including topnotch writing and impressive atmosphere.
The book introduces us to twelve-year-old Tea, a bone witch. Unfortunately for our protagonist, she came to discover her powers for necromancy in the worst way possible—by accidentally raising her older brother Fox from the dead, while everyone looked on at his funeral. From that moment on, the siblings’ fates were forever linked. But now that she has been identified as a dark asha, a magic user that deals with death, Tea must be taken away to receive the proper training. In this world, bone witches do not have the best reputations to begin with; within many communities they are feared and reviled, despite the crucial role that bone witches play—for you see, only they can defeat the demonic beings called Daeva, creations of the False Prince that resurrect every so often to plague the populace. During her training, Tea will not only learn how to control her powers, she will also be learning how to fight the Daeva.
Not long after Fox’s resurrection, an experienced bone witch called Mykaela comes to take Tea and her brother away to a school for dark asha. Far from home and still reeling over the fact that her life has been changed forever, Tea nonetheless puts all her efforts into learning all she can for the next few years, gaining control over her powers while also further bonding with Fox, the one tie she has to her family. Throughout this time, her resolve is tested again and again—and the challenges include more than just an appraisal of her magical abilities. Tea uncovers a whole other world of secrets among the leaders and other ashas at the school, some that may hold dire consequences for her homeland and those she cares about.
The story here is very simple. While I wouldn’t exactly say I was bored for most of the first half of the book, plot development in this section was admittedly on the sluggish side, especially once we got past the ruckus over Fox’s surprise resurrection. Instead the narrative spent a lot of time building up the relationship between Tea and her brother, which thankfully was something I enjoyed. Despite Fox’s awkward status as an undead, they say that no one can come back from the afterlife unless they truly wanted to, and it was clear that love and protectiveness for his little sister were the main driving forces behind his character. It was heartwarming to see his support for Tea, especially during her early years at the school at a time when she needed his guidance the most. In fact, this attention to siblings’ character development and the strengthening of their bond was likely what saved the book for me and kept me from losing interest completely.
The first section also spent a considerable chunk of time on world-building. To the author’s credit, she has created a fascinating universe in The Bone Witch, filling it with a complex system of magic which became almost too convoluted at times. There are many types of ashas, or witches, in this world—most have powers that are based around the elements like earth, air, fire, etc. The book doesn’t really go into the details of each kind of magic, only telling us that the kind Tea has, i.e. death magic, is different. Apparently there is an entire set of other rules for bone witches, even though there’s no rhyme or reason as to why, and while they are considered to be a type of asha, it is also generally accepted that they are just “special”. Then there are the Daeva, plus the convenient fact that bone witches just so happen to be uniquely equipped to deal with them. Don’t get me wrong, the concept itself is interesting, but at the same time a lot of it feels way too “constructed” for me to find it convincing.
In the face of all this, the idea of heartglasses almost feels extraneous. To give you a crash course on what these things are, in this world everyone wears a mood ring like bauble around their necks called a heartglass, and they can change color depending on what the person is feeling. It is a more than a piece of jewelry though, because it many ways it is also part of the wearer’s identity and soul. They also hold cultural significance, as lovers can opt to exchange heartglasses (though given the dire consequences in the event one person becomes less committed, I don’t know why anyone would risk doing this) and as well the power of potential witches can sometimes be gleaned from the color of their heartglasses. However, heartglasses can also be forged. Not surprisingly, despite all the focus on world-building, I still have a lot of questions. If I do end up continuing this series, it is my hope that the next book will provide more information on ashes, the magic system, heartglasses, etc. and explore how it all fits together.
For now, I plan to take a wait-and-see approach. I didn’t love The Bone Witch, but I also saw a lot to like about the book, including great characterization and fantastic atmosphere. In addition, the magic system holds plenty of potential—though world-building probably needs to be streamlined and polished up a bit. I guess I’ll wait for reviews before deciding whether or not to dive into the sequel; if book two beefs up the storytelling and improves the plot, I just might give this series another try.
Ahhh. I’ve seen mixed but mostly positive reviews for this book. I’ve not really been interested in it, besides the gorgeous purple cover. I’m sorry you were a little disappointed, especially given how much you had been looking forward to reading it! Hopefully the rest of the series is much better for you!
Have a wonderful weekend, Mogsy. =)
Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!
I tried not to be hyped, but with some books it is just so hard 🙂 This one sounded so good, and it had gotten many good reviews from bloggers I trust too, so I was really anticipating it.
I will wait for that review of book 2 then 😉
Probably a good idea! 🙂
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Sometimes the hints of potential are all that we need to keep on reading, even when a story does not satisfy us completely. This one holds some of that potential indeed, and a few intriguing ideas, so I look forward to knowing more about your journey into this world.
Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Very true! If the opportunity to read book two arises (and more importantly, if my reading schedule happens to be free!) I definitely wouldn’t say no to trying it 🙂
Ah, drat. It doesn’t sound like this one offers anything terribly ground-breaking in terms of ideas or execution. The first scene of Tea’s embarrassment sounded so promising, too! Sorry to hear that it turned out to be another “meh” ya for you 😦
I see you’re reading Hunted at the moment, though! I hope it turns out better than this one!! I’m going to be reading that one soon, too 😀
Thanks for the review!
Yes, and I’m so excited about Hunted! I think it’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling? In any case, quite a few bloggers I know and trust loved the book, so I have hopes that I will too 🙂
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Same here! I first saw the cover and thought, “Another B&B retelling?” But word of mouth can do wonderful things 😀
Good thing I’m a B&B retelling addict 😀
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This book could have been SO GOOD, but I think the author tried to do a little too much all at once and perhaps with too short a book. I’ll probably check out the sequel since the ending had me pretty WOW’d.
Trying to do too much all at once was definitely part of the problem. In a way the story kind of got lost in the ideas, which were all so jumbled and disjointed!
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As soon as you mentioned heartglass I immediately thought of the “heartstones” from Heartstone. I love the idea but as you said, when a cool worldbuilding idea isn’t explained well, it can be frustrating.
Agreed! The ideas just felt a little out of place too. Though, the next book is apparently called The Heart Forger, so I guess that’s a good sign more will be explained 🙂
Sorry this one didn’t work well enough to know you want to dive into the next one. I’m going to keep my eye out for reviews of book 2 before I decide if I want to read this one.
Probably a good idea. I’ll have to see how I feel when book two comes around 🙂
I didn’t have high hopes for it. I think I see about what I expected is what it was. I will be skipping it.
I don’t blame you. There’s simply so much choice when it comes to the YA genre, it’s wise to be picky.
Eeek. You’re still having a rough go with YA at the moment, aren’t you? :S
I *think* The Bone Witch was something I’d been interested in. (It’s hard to keep track of all the titles after a while…) A couple of my writer friends really liked it, so you’re the first to give it a more uncertain rating. And… I don’t know, I haven’t so-so luck with YA fantasy this year, too, so maybe it might be best for me to pass on this one.
*I’m having, not I haven’t.
Yes, it seems I’ve been having a string of the most rotten luck with YA lately! I’m just not feeling the genre, or maybe I’ve just gotten pickier 😛 I’ve started Meagan Spooner’s Hunted though, and I’ve heard great things about that, so maybe my luck will start changing soon 🙂
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Not for me – to be honest, I did get caught up with all the hype and requested a copy (but was declined0 and was then a little bit relieved given my recent experiences with YA (which have not been good). Although – i did love The Hunted -and, yes, it is a B&TB retelling. It’s actually very faithful to the original story (which is maybe why I enjoyed it so much) and yet it also includes some Russian Folklore elements – so a bit of a win/win for me.
Yeah, I though it was okay, but it was nowhere near as amazing as the hype made it seem. Lately I’ve been having such rotten luck with YA too. So many books that I was originally excited to read have ended up fizzling.
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