Young Adult Book Review: Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
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The following review of Bone Witch (Sourcebooks, Inc, January 31, 2017) by Rin Chupeco is from Food, Fitness & Fiction contributing editor Amber Lee (pictured below).
Here’s a description from Amazon:
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.
Bone Witch is an immersive, innovative book that the author obviously spent a lot of time on. The lush details create a rich world of asha and daeva that the reader can easily step into.
The book is just beautiful. From the cover to the gorgeous prose on the first page and throughout the book, I was completely wowed. The magical world that it takes place in seems real and is somewhere I would love to visit. The colorful details are so easy to imagine and refreshing in how different it is. The names of food and practices in the different languages added to the authenticity of the worldbuilding, though they sometimes seemed arbitrary. The system of magic was very original, and the concept of heartglasses was very interesting. However, I cringed at times when the fantasy worlds alluded to real-life countries with shallow stereotypes and linguistic inconsistency. The princess from England’s equivalent spoke in a working class Cockney accent while the culture from a desert area was barbaric, backwards, and their women wore head coverings. For a book that presents itself as progressive, this aspect was a bit jarring.
As with the setting, the characters were original and described in detail, though not as fleshed out as I would have hoped. Because the descriptions took up so much space, Tea’s daily life and exposition about the society, fashion, and architecture around her replaced the room that would have let the characters breathe and grow. Tea (whose name I pronounced as the drink instead of Taya until halfway through the book) has a few set characteristics but is too busy acting and talking to really feel like a person. Nearly every side character could have easily had their own novel, but none of them were expanded upon. Fox, Tea’s undead brother, has his own mystery solving expeditions and underdog climbing up story entirely offstage and away from the story. Mykaela’s past is another storyline that has emotional ramifications that are not explored, and there are at least six other interesting characters that are only there briefly and never talked about. I hope that this was because of how difficult the world was to set up and that in the sequel, there will be a lot more character growth.
The biggest point of contention I have seen with this book in various other reviews is the structuring. Between every chapter of plot following Tea’s story, there is a present day portion of Tea telling the story and engaging in some possibly malevolent magic that is never really explained. While I usually love when the present and past are mixed up, in this case I felt it broke up the flow of the story somewhat and it never really built up to anything besides the sequel. I expected a big action scene at the end. I really enjoyed the slow pace of the plot full of sumptuous detail and day to day moments. This could have been used to establish more character development, but all of the meticulous detail seemed to be there for its own sake rather than to move the story along. The places where the writing technique really shined were in the scenes where Tea uses her death magic. Those beautiful descriptions and action scenes were beautifully written and kept me at the edge of my seat.
I love fantasy YA books that don’t have the same vaguely Medieval European set up. Rin Chupeco’s Bone Witch promised a rich world with Asian influences, and in that aspect I was certainly not disappointed. Though the plot and characterization may have suffered because of the constant descriptions of beautiful tradition and scenery, Bone Witch was still a great read and I am very much looking forward to the sequel.
Here are some other reviews of Bone Witch:
You can learn more about Rin Chupeco and her work on her website.
Amber Lee is a high school senior from Irvine, California. She is the Features section editor for the Beckman Chronicle. She likes having too many hobbies at the same time to actually really improve at any of them: like reading, writing, art, useless historical research, drums, guitar, webcomic-ing, boxing, Muay Thai, and critical consumption of mass media. You can follow her on Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.
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