Book Review: The Bone Witch

pic from NetGalley

The Bone Witch
By Rin Chupeco

My Edition:
ARC ebook, 432 pages
2017, Sourcebooks Fire
ISBN: 9781492635826 (hardcover)

Tea discovers she has the power to raise the dead when her older brother crawls out of his grave during his funeral. While many people of her land have magic, including some of her sisters, few have Tea’s abilities as a bone witch (or dark asha) and the people of her town are both awed and scornful. Tea leaves home with her reanimated brother in tow to join an academy for asha and starts on the rough road to mastering her powers.

Let it be known that despite the fact that young adult books disappoint me more often than they impress me, I continue to give them a chance (and will continue to do so, because I’m a sucker for punishment). Unfortunately, this book fell into the former category and I stopped reading at about 75%. I wanted to post my thoughts on why I stopped reading because I did actually request the book.

The very first page of this book had me rolling my eyes. There are two perspectives in this book, one from young Tea as she tells her tale of how she started her journey as a witch and the other from some bard who seeks her out when she’s seventeen, living in exile on some beach (in a nicely furnished cave.) The book starts out with the bard glorifying her beauty (including her “pert nose”…), her incredible power and her special snowflakeness all before she turned eighteen. So basically, I hated Tea from the start. I know plenty of other genres have clichés like this, but they seem to manage to pull it off with more subtlety.

Despite wanting to chuck Tea off a cliff (also, come on, her sisters are all named for flowers and her brother is Fox, but she’s Tea?!) I did my best to keep an open mind as I dove into the seemingly complex magical world Chupeco created. But while Chupeco created a vast world with culturally diverse countries and what’s probably a lot of history, I found the world and the characters boring as all hell.

When Tea raises her brother from the dead it was pretty low impact, but the fact that this was her type of magic held some potential for me. Fox is the most human zombie I’ve ever encountered and also the most uninteresting one. Neither he nor Tea seemed to suffer any hardship despite Tea’s young age and ignorance to her own powers at the time. An older witch just comes along and takes them away so Tea can start her geisha-er-asha training. Also reanimated corpses cast no shadows…because reasons (like what even? Actual dead bodies would cast a shadow…). Maybe the last 25% of the book gave some explanation for this, but I doubt it.

Anyway, there’s very little of Tea’s cool powers in this book. It’s mostly her training to become an asha, who is really just a geisha with magic powers that no one ever seems to use. They dress in complicated clothing very much like kimonos (we hear endlessly about what everyone is wearing down to fabric colors and trim and stitching and other super special details and omg shut up), even down to the artwork and fabric choices being intentional and meaningful (granted, I don’t truly understand how asha clothing was meaningful in this book or how it impacted their powers or the plot or anything). They have singing, dancing and instrument lessons, on top of magical fighting classes. They entertain rich people in tea houses and show off their witty banter and political knowledge and they even have patrons. I actually just wanted to stop reading the book and re-read Memoirs of a Geisha because it’s more interesting.

But before Tea can practice becoming a geisha-er-asha, she’s forced to be a common maid in the house of one of the powerful old asha, because even though Tea’s powers are rare and useful, she is despised for no reason and must be punished for existing. Essentially everything I read was her being a maid or training, with little interludes from the bard talking about how sexy and dark and unusual and awesome and different and special older Tea is.

The other significant part of this story revolves around the heartstones everyone wears. I really have no friggen clue what they are. But everyone wears them around their necks and they change colors with their feelings. But you can give yours to the one you love (and receive them as well) but then that could give them control over you? And one of Tea’s sisters keeps giving hers away to different boys and so gets new ones and that seems to be no big deal, but then Heartforgers have to make new ones for people and they require random memories from other people and they’re expensive? So then where is Tea’s sister getting her new hearts? Witches have different hearts and falling in love can be dangerous but then, YOUR ACTUAL HEART DOESN’T CONTAIN OR CONTROL YOUR FEELINGS so why aren’t they brainstones? Ugh.

I’ll end this rant with some descriptions (remember Tea’s “pert nose!”) that had me groaning:

“She was young, in the way a woman of 60 might carefully tuck away the years around her to appear 20.” What!?

Our handsome prince has eyes like “gentle emeralds.” What even?

A monster was “fat and corpulent.” LOL

Something else (I forget if it was a monster or her dress or what) was “as black as shadows, as bright as stars.” K, thanks, bye.

Finally, I could take no more of boring Tea and her boring training and the vague hints of her supposedly awesome powers from our buddy the bard. I wanted more dead things coming back to life and a dark, troubled heroine who actually proved how cool she was. I’ve changed how I feel about DNFing books and I’ve found that it’s liberating to be free of a book that’s not giving me an ounce of enjoyment. At least Throne of (Gl)Ass was fun to make fun of! I have too many books to read and too little time to waste on ones I don’t enjoy. Sadly the premise didn’t live up to my expectations and after taking a peek at some of the reviews on Goodreads, it seems that FOR ONCE I’m not alone in this!

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Rin does have a very pretty website.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bone Witch

  1. I’m sorry this book was such a big let down for you 😦 I’ve read both positive and negative reviews for this one, and am very curious on which side of the fence I will land. Fingers crossed that I enjoy it a tad more than you did lol

    • I really thought I was going in with an open mind but the description of our heroine on page one set me off right away. Lol. I still think it’s a neat concept but she was more geisha than witch and there’s already a great book on that subject. Lol

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