“The Bone Witch” manages to be both standard YA fare and gorgeously different. Tea lives in a world where everyone has a magical heartsglass that expresses their abilities and their mood. The younger sister of two low-level witches, Tea expects to become one herself. But everything changes when her heartsglass turns silver after she raises her brother from the dead.
The bulk of the story follows Tea after she is taken to be trained as a dark asha, a kind of necromancer-witch whose abilities include raising the dead. The basic arc of the training story is the basic arc of YA training stories everywhere: young, naive, but powerful protagonist is transported from their home and dumped into an arcane and mysterious world, where they are bullied and assigned tedious tasks until they manifest their unusual talents and begin their meteoric rise. What makes “The Bone Witch” different is the exotic richness of Tea’s world: the asha are somewhere between witches and geisha, and the descriptions of the clothing and events are sumptuous and compelling. Not to mention the food. The society Tea lives in is vibrantly multicultural, with characters speaking Russian and eating Persian and Indian food. Sometimes this works well, and sometimes it feels like a bit of a hodge-podge rather than an organically grown world, but it certainly makes the book stand out against the general YA background.
Although for me the descriptions are the best part of the book, there’s also plenty of action, including a unique magical system and a showdown with a dragon (I’ll stop there to avoid further spoilers!). That being said, readers who hate cliffhangers and more complex narrative forms should be forewarned: this is the first part of a series, and the story is told by two alternating narrators: a bard whom Tea has summoned to tell her story, and the flashbacks of Tea herself. I personally love the serial form, and I didn’t find the dual narrators difficult to follow at all, but because of the complexity of form, as well as the darkness of theme–Tea does, after all, raise the dead–this is probably more appropriate for older YA readers. An interesting and often beautiful and evocative addition to the YA genre. Plus a stunning cover!
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
You can get your own copy here: The Bone Witch
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