Bring Out Your Dead: A Review of The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
Hey there, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life, or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
Can you believe that it’s nearly the end of 2021? Next week is December, it’s almost RHRML’s two-year anniversary, it’s almost the new year! Time is truly an illusion. Time isn’t real. I’m still in Spooky Season mode and will be until December 1st when I then shift into Christmas mode.
Despite hanging on to the last bits of Halloween for way longer than I probably should, I do not have a horror novel for you this week. Instead, I bring you some high fantasy. Please welcome to the stage The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco!
I delved into some of Rin Chupeco’s work earlier this year with a review on The Girl From the Well; go check that one out if you missed it. You can find it here. If you did read that review, then you may remember I briefly mentioned The Bone Witch. I basically said I could not get into this one and I wasn’t a fan. But going back to it a few years later with a clear mind, I enjoyed it. Maybe I was just paying more attention to it this time around. Maybe my tastes have changed in those few years. Maybe it's because I forgot most of what happens throughout the book. I don’t know exactly, but current me liked it more than past me.
Before I talk more about that, I gotta include a synopsis. As always, a spoiler alert is in order. A content warning is also in order. The Bone Witch includes moments of self-harm for ritualistic purposes. These moments are few and far between, but please be aware of them. This review will not touch on this subject matter though. Onto the synopsis now.
Meet Tea, our titular Bone Witch. At the age of 12, her older brother Fox dies in battle. He was caught off guard by a magical creature that we'll talk about a little later. Anyway, during his funeral, something awakens in Tea and, next thing you know, she’s raising her brother from his grave. It’s traumatic for everyone involved to say the least.
What Tea has done is something very rare, and is something very feared. Tea is the rarest of Asha. By the way, Asha are women who can wield magic by drawing runes to control elements or to heal. Tea is not an elemental Asha though, she technically can’t wield those runes. Tea is one of the few Asha who can resurrect the dead, and currently, there is only one other like her in the world.
Enter Lady Mykaela, the Bone Witch who is to be our heroine’s mentor for the course of the hero’s journey. Lady Mykaela is the one who teaches Tea how to wield the dark runes and take over for her. Oh yeah, spoiler alert, Lady Mykaela is dying thanks to the power it takes to be a Bone Witch. These few women are in charge of raising and killing monsters known as daeva in order to protect the land; it's one of these things that killed Fox. Of course, when our young Tea learns of all that she questions why things don’t change and why the Asha don’t learn how to tame these beasts or kill them once and for all.
Listen, there are a lot of politics in this book that I don’t have time to get to in this synopsis or in this review in general. I’m sorry, you’re going to have to read the book yourself if you want to learn about all that cause I simply don’t have time to cover it in a five-to-six minute review.
To give you the main points, there is a group of evil people known as the Faceless who want to take over the eight kingdoms in this book through the use of the daeva. Basically they want to raze every land until anyone who can stop them is dead and they once again have control over the world. They haven’t been a major problem for hundreds of years, but they naturally are stirring when the strongest Asha in many generations comes into her own. It’s your pretty standard hero’s journey. Evil is evil for the sake of being evil, and only Tea has the power to stop them. But there’s a twist!
Tea is very young at the start of the book; her journey begins when she turns twelve. She’s naïve and impressionable. The Asha elders and politicians can easily manipulate her into doing what they want. But intercut with her training, are snippets of what becomes of her in just a few years. By the age of 17, she is bitter and angry with the world. She has lost countless loved ones, including her true love. By this time, the world has turned on her. She is too powerful, too dark, for them. To the world, she is a villain, and she’s going to get her revenge on those who have wronged her.
This is the Tea I like. Is she truly a villain? Or is she an anti-hero? I don’t know, I’ve never read past the first book. I’ve never had any closure in this series because I never picked up books two or three. But I digress.
Needless to say, Tea’s character arc is phenomenal. While not knowing everything that turns her into the possible villain readers see in those snippets, her change is noticeable. In The Bone Witch, readers get to watch her go from a naïve child to stubborn, headstrong teen. It’s nothing major, but it’s nice to see her evolve ever so slightly. And it’s nice to know that the major change in her personality does not happen overnight.
The side characters could have used a bit of that. Each side character that is met is a proper person without much life to them. Most side characters are also Asha, and seeing as the Asha has a strict set code, they all tend to act similar if not the same. A few of them lean towards being headstrong and/or rude, but overall they all come across as well-mannered, ridged, proper, passive aggressive, and strait-laced. I know that they’re all written that way for a reason, but they all come across as bland. They also can blend together in some scenes when a big group of them are together. The male characters get it worse though.
Excluding Fox and one other side character, three of the main male characters have names that start with “K”; I’m not kidding their names are Khalad, Kance, and Kalen. I’m supposed to keep these men straight? Tell me how.
It’s just not the names that make them similar. Nay, nay. These three are also all from royal blood, they're all related, have or will have a prominent job, oh, and they’re also part of a love square with Tea. I do have to say that these three have different personalities, but they don’t feel fleshed out and instead come across as static. And my god, those names. Truly, their names are the worst! Even when I finished the book, I could not keep these three straight. Especially when it comes to Kance and Kalen. One is the Crown Prince, the other a Duke; but I couldn’t tell you which one is which. I can tell you that Tea is supposed to end up with the one she’s more enemies with. The names are far too similar; one of them should have been changed.
Listen, I love me some good enemies-to-lovers romance, but Rin Chupeco really said “copy and paste” with these boys. So when it comes to the romance of this book, it’s a no from me.
I really wish I could say that The Bone Witch is something you read for the adventure instead, but it’s really not. This is the first book in a trilogy. Like many trilogies, it’s intended to set up the world, define the rules, lay out the land; you know, all that good stuff. And The Bone Witch does that…but that’s it.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, there are a lot of politics going on that I truly don’t know how to delve into. But sadly not much happens with them. There isn’t any big battle at the end between kingdoms or with the Faceless. There’s no super huge reveal about anything by the end. The one battle that does occur only takes up one or two chapters. There’s nothing exciting that happens. Things get wrapped up in a pretty bow way too easily.
At least in what is told from Tea’s point of view. Remember earlier I said there are snippets between the chapters? Well these are told from a different point of view, and they are actually taking place in the story’s present. Anything narrated by Tea has technically already happened. I’m sure the way I’m explaining this doesn’t make much sense, and for that I am sorry. So let’s see how coherent I can make this next statement sound.
The ending of the story Tea is narrating does not end on a cliffhanger. The part she ends on is boring. There is no telling exactly what is going to happen next, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s just plain old boring. But, and this is a big but, the present day part of the story leaves off on a good cliffhanger. There is excitement, tension, and a promise of which direction the story is continuing in. I want to know what possible villain Tea is going to do. She has intrigued me.
Unfortunately, the story Tea is telling has not caught up to the point in time in which she is telling said story. Therefore, book two seemingly doesn’t promise me much. I expect much of the same in it. There are still years worth of story to tell before readers get to the story’s present day. I don’t want that story. I want Tea’s revenge story. But I’m guessing I have to read book two to understand book three. You see my problem here, right?
While I appreciated The Bone Witch more on a second read, I’m still not a fan. The world set up takes too much away from the narrative for me to really get into this series. Even after a few years, I still don’t want to continue on the journey into this world.
And I think on that note, I must bid you all adieu. I shall see you next week for the first post of December! I can’t believe it’s almost the end of the year. That’s crazy. Anyway, until then stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and read some good books for me.