2017’s The Bone Witch is the first volume of Rin Chupeco’s Bone Witch trilogy.
The witches of the village of Knightscross predict a wonderous future for Tea, although their prognostications are short on specifics. Further clarification arrives after the tragic death of Tea’s brother Fox, a soldier slain by a daeva, a wandering monster. Overwrought with grief, Tea raises her brother from the dead. Or at least, she raises him. Fox is still dead but he is conscious and mobile once more.
Tea is a bone witch, a necromancer.
On the one hand, bone witches can be useful. On the other, they can be a general menace. Accordingly, people like Tea are viewed with suspicion. Had Tea remained in Knightscross, she no doubt would have been a social outcast for as long as it took the untrained witch to inadvertently kill herself.
As it happens, Tea is still recovering from the aftereffects of raising Fox when Mykaela of the Hollows arrives to take the fledgling bone witch in hand. Mykaela is an experienced bone witch, a respected (or at least grudgingly tolerated) member of the asha – magic wielder – society, someone who can put Tea on the right path.
There are one or two small caveats. Tea will have to spend some time as an indentured servant, performing such onerous duties as her superior deems fit. She will have to learn challenging arcane skills and while she may earn respect, it is unlikely she will ever be accepted by most people. Most importantly, even careful, skilled bone witches tend to die young.
Society has a use for bone witches. That use is to throw them at magical threats until they fail and die or until the side-effects of their own magic kill them. There are enough daeva and other menaces to make the odds of surviving into one’s dotage quite slim, if not quite zero. The system works for most folks, if not all that well for bone witches.
And should a bone witch get ideas about social reform? Such things are a clear sign that the bone witch is going over to the side of darkness.…
Bone witches are not the only beneficiaries of social conservatism. A supporting character with a talent for dancing and none to speak of for combat, wants to become a dancer rather than a soldier , if only because the odds he would survive his military tour are dismal. Dancers are always women, however, and the powers that be are not interested in making an exception just because drafting this person is a pointless squandering of his potential.
As it turns out, these social blind spots give the series’ antagonists the means by which infiltrate polite society, by adopting roles ignored as infra dig. There’s a lesson there, no doubt, one which will almost certainly be ignored.
Much of this novel is just what one might expect from book one of a series. We learn about the setting and the local kingdoms and cultures. There is more than one culture, which is nice and not at all typical of secondary universes. There’s also a heck of lot of foreshadowing for events to come in future volumes. In particular, it is clear that Tea’s program of social change will not be well received by those in power.
Unfortunately, despite skilled prose, beautiful descriptions, and engaging characters, the novel leans into being book one of three a little too hard for my tastes. There’s vigorous foreshadowing about Tea’s pariahdom to come, but it seems that most of the major events will happen to Tea in the second and third volume. After the initial setup, nothing much happens in this volume. That would be fine if I were reading the books one after the other, but I couldn’t and I didn’t. Consequently, this book reads like a prelude to the actual book. Ah, well. I will have to seek out the next volume to see how it all worked out. Which I guess was the point of structuring the plot like this.
1: Or “deathseeker,” as soldiers are known in this setting.