For my first review of 2017 I am reviewing The Bone Witch, a fantasy novel, first part of a series, written by Rin Chupeco and published by Sourcebooks Fire.
Tea is a young girl in a small village, his sisters have certain abilities for healing but she will be the one to surprise everybody. When her brother, Fox, dies in the army, she will bring him back from the grave using a Dark power very few other people have. The consequences, however, are dear. She becomes very ill and for days she suffers in bed until Lady Mykaela finds her and helps her get better. Lady Mykaela is a Dark Asha, also known as a Bone Witch, a derogatory term for their kind. She has the power to raise the dead as well as control the terrible monsters called Daeva. The Daeva threatened the many kingdoms under the control of the mysterious Faceless. But there are less and less Dark Asha to perform this duty so Mykaela offers Tea the opportunity to go with her and learn everything she needs to know to become a Dark Asha. It is with mixed feelings that Tea leaves her village and follows Mykaela accompanied by her brother Fox, who is neither dead or alive. This will be the start of a great adventure for her during which she will learn dance and fight, meet new people and fall in love.
The story of Tea is told in two parts. We get the current state of affairs for her through her conversations with a bard she has lead to the beach where she currently leaves. We also get to know her story through her retelling of her experiences while growing up with Mykaela.
Overall, I enjoyed the story, but I have to say the beginning is very slow. I was well into the tenth chapter before I got any excitement and felt that urge to continue reading the story. The novel is well written and well paced from that point onward and as you get to the end you can see that the most interesting part is still to come.
The one thing I have to mention though is that a lot of the flashback part of the story is as if you were reading the 1990’s bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. From the highly descriptive passages regarding the Asha’s dresses to the initial hard time Tea goes through makes you think of Chiyo in her Okiya. Even the names in this story are reminiscent. Asha sounds a lot like Geisha and Kion, the kingdom to which Tea travels to start her new life, is very close to Gion, the Geisha district were Chiyo lived.
Now, I appreciate that this might all be ignorant of me and Rin Chupeco might just have taken inspiration from the historical Geishas as such rather than the historical novel of the 90s but I feel the way the subject is approached is too similar for me, whose only exposition to the world of Geishas has been through that novel. I can understand that the author might have wanted to take something real, such as the Japanese Geishas, and use that to combine with fighting, magic and a crisis to bring to life a completely new story and world but I just couldn’t shake the feeling I was reading the same book. Now, I love Memoirs of a Geisha so I enjoyed this too. Slowly Chupeco incorporates more and more details of what makes this world special and we become more intrigued by it. This is the very reason why I am really looking forward to the future books of this saga, I want to see what happens once we move away from this environment of learning and Geisha-like world. Tea needs to get out into the world and away from the things that made me feel like I was reading a remake of an older novel.
Visually, though, the novel is powerful. First of all, the cover is quite stunning, in purple and gold, and it was the first thing that appealed to me. The title is suggestive too, but the imagery in the narrative itself is very powerful. Very much like the description of the Asha’s Huas, with their motifs and fabrics, Chupeco is able to paint the images of his monsters, the daeva, very clearly in our minds. The sense of space, place, the images of the city and the streets, come easily to us as we follow Tea through her journey, whether in the flashbacks or in her present time.
Overall, a well built story with engaging and diverse characters and an even more appealing future ahead, I just wish the author had approached the building of Tea’s origins phase in a different manner, something that didn’t make me feel like I was re-reading something. If you can put up with a few slow chapters and you don’t mind a familiar territory (or have never read Memoirs of a Geisha) you will definitely love this.
The Bone Witch will be available for Kindle on the 7th of March and in hardcover on the 1st of April.
PS: DO read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden if you haven’t yet!