Ratings: ☕☕☕☕☕ (5/5)
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
I have so much to say about this book.
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco is the kind of book I describe with words like “enchanting” and “intriguing” instead of my most commonly used adjectives in my book reviews like “exciting” or “amazing”. There really is no better description for this book. This is not the kind of fantasy that will steal your heart away with a fast-paced, action-packed plot, badass heroines and swoon-worthy heroes.
The Bone Witch is a whimsical, magical slow-paced story that spends a ginormous chunk of pages in carefully crafting a breathtaking world with complex magic system while also balancing diverse cultures and social issues that are as old as time like sexism, bigotry, and prejudice. And it does this through characters that are well-written and well-developed though not necessarily always perfect and likable. Needless to say, The Bone Witch is the kind of fantasy book that will appeal to readers who enjoy character-driven stories, unique narrative styles and a fictional world that tests their imagination to the limit.
The story is narrated through two perspectives in two different timelines–in the present timeline, the story is narrated by an exiled bard who has traveled a long way to hear the first-account story of Tea of The Embers, the most feared and hated necromancer–or bone witch. In this timeline, and from the Bard’s perspective, Tea is portrayed as an extraordinarily powerful and equally terrifying witch, bitter and vengeful, and banished to live alone on a sea beach with nothing but the bones of monsters to keep her company.
Seventeen could explain the poetry of her face, with her skin brown and unblemished. Seventeen explained the pertness of her nose, the determined tilt to her chin. But seventeen did not explain the oldness in her eyes, large twin pools of black from which no light could escape.
In the past timeline, the story is narrated by Tea herself, except this time she is a shy but intelligent and witty and immensely adorable twelve-year-old who has accidentally brought her dead elder brother back to life. The difference between this Tea and the Tea of the present is one of the most intriguing elements of the book, and it kept me turning the pages to find out what happened to cause such a drastic change to the character’s personality. In a way, this is what the entire story revolves around: the transformation of an innocent, promising child into a ruthless, exiled necromancer.
That being said, Tea isn’t the only interesting character here. Almost all the supportive characters here are well-developed and I found their roles important to the progression of the story and the dynamics of their relationship with Tea was beautifully written. I especially loved Tea’s relationship with her brother Fox and also her relationship with Mistress Parmina, despite how annoying and selfish she was. The love interests, Prince Kance and Lord Kalen, were the only characters who fell flat for me, though I did enjoy every moment between little Tea and her crush. It’s just I couldn’t really care much about either of them as they felt grossly under-developed. Thankfully the romance is hardly important in this book and was practically non-existent, though I do believe it will become an important element in the sequel.
I also enjoyed how Chupenco addressed the absurdities that have existed in the past and sadly continue to exist in our modern society, from the Drychta’s hatred of women to the Odalian’s fear of bone witches and the elder asha’s illogical refusal to allow men to become asha. Equality for all is a concept that is thoroughly explored and debated in this story and it is skillfully woven into the plot.
Then perhaps we should carve a world one day where the strength lies in who you are, rather than in what they expect you to be.
Last but not the least, I loved the diversity and POC representation in this book. I cannot count the number of times I felt sheer joy at just recognizing a word used in the book that also happened to exist in my mother language (sabzi polo, sherwani, haleem, cha-khana, etc) . These words were nothing more than references to my culture, but it still warmed my heart nonetheless to see bits of pieces of my identity in a book belonging to a genre that is over-run by European Middle Age settings. And I hope, for the sake of readers from all ethnic backgrounds, race, religion and sexual orientation, that more diverse books like The Bone Witch makes it in the publishing industry, so that we can celebrate the various cultures and traditions that make this world a beautiful, colorful place.
What’s your favorite book that has portrayed your identity? What would you like to see in diverse books? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below!