Wow. Where to even begin with this book?
The Bone Witch had been on my To Be Read list for a long time. I bought it back last year after numerous members of the Books and Tea Discord had recommended it. I opened it up, read the first page… then got distracted by life and let it sit unread on my bookshelf. Up until this month, when I saw it mentioned as a potential title for the Asian Readathon! I grabbed it off my bookshelf and packed it in my bag for a mountain cabin trip I took this weekend. I could have never been prepared, not by the praises sung by others who had read it, not by the beautiful cover, and not by the captivating prose of the first few pages alone, for the magnitude I was going to love this book.
The Bone Witch is the story of Tea, a young girl who accidentally resurrects her recently-deceased brother. After resurrecting him and thus awakening powers she did not know she held, her life changes as she is brought to be trained as an Asha, a refined witch who uses her powers to enhance society. There are different strains of witches, and the powers Tea has over the dead are held by very few Dark Asha, or Bone Witches. Tea’s greater responsibility as one of these few Dark Asha will be to one day be responsible for raising and destroying monsters on a cyclic period of every few years.
The book itself is not the writing style I typically like, so I was surprised at how well it worked for this story. It is alternating time lines and points of view. We jump between the view of a Bard who is talking to Tea at some point a few years in the future, and to Tea herself as she is in her early years of training to become an Asha. These jumps in time are never confusing and do not perfectly line up. They kept me on edge waiting to learn more because there is a stark difference in personality between young Tea and the older and much more jaded Tea. I will not give away spoilers, mainly because I don’t even know them yet myself! The book ends where we are still not caught up on what has occurred to make the Tea of the timeline which we encounter from the Bard’s point of view the way she is. Events have still yet to unfold and I was left with a cliffhanger worse than any recent books have been able to give me. I’m rushing to get books two and three to continue this amazing story.
The plot itself was slow, which was another thing that surprised me because I love quickly developing plots and fast paced action in books. I didn’t mind it one bit, however, because Rin Chupeco’s writing style is like a form of poetry unto itself. She creates such a lush and beautiful world that I realized at one point I was disappointing by Tea’s meeting of all her various tutors being summarized. I was ready to read pages of a character just meeting class instructors, I was so hooked on every word! I honestly cannot recall the last time I was this enthralled with a writing story. I’ve read so many good books in the last year alone with captivating stories and beautiful language, but none completely captured me into the world quite like the Bone Witch did.
I think one aspect of the book I most appreciated was the lack of romance. I love romance books. But often with younger characters they feel exhausting- either like the romance itself is unhealthy or like the idea that it is so necessary for the character’s development is old-fashioned and boring. Tea is young in the book, and she has a small crush on a character but it is not emphasized nor made terribly important. I do suspect, based on the ending, that the romance will heighten in the continuing story, but it was refreshing to read a book where the only relationships emphasized were friendly ones and a brother-sister relationship and almost motherly mentor-student one. It was refreshing, to say the least, when finding fantasy books without romance can be looking for a needle in a haystack oftentimes.
I cannot wait to continue reading Tea’s story in the Heart Forger and the Shadowglass. Rin Chupeco has created a world so unlike any other with a character so real and thrilling that my heart is fully invested in this story to the end.
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