The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

Title: The Bone Maker

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Genre: Fantasy

Year: 2021

Twenty-five years ago, the bone maker Eklor built an inhuman army out of animal bones, and five young heroes were sent to stop him. But only four came back alive, and they went they separate ways, each of them trying to move forward in their own way.

But evil does not stop only because someone once thought the story was over.

A closer look

What happens to the heroes after the villain has been defeated?
This is one of the questions Sarah Beth Durst’s latest book tries to answer. It’s a fun ride of a book, with a good plot and delightful banter between characters that used to be the best of friends but slowly drifted away. But let’s go with order.

In this world there is an Academy that trains people in different branches of bone magic. The bone makers build constructs animated by animal bones, and can give them simple tasks to perform (reminds me a bit of The Bone Shard Daughter, except that in this world the constructs are not that complex); then there are bone wizards, who make talisman to increase strength, speed, and so on by carving symbols on bones, and finally bone readers, who can see glimpses of the future by casting bones and asking the right questions.

Twenty-five years ago, the bone maker Eklor built an inhuman army using animal bones and our five young heroes managed to stop him, but at a high cost: one of them died on the battlefield.

Now, in the present day, we follow Kreya, former leader of the group, as she tries to steal some human bones from a funeral pyre before it is lit. We follow her as she is pursued by angry villagers, and slowly her story comes together: twenty-five years ago, when they defeated the villain, the hero who lost his life was her husband Jentt. Since then she has been studying for ways to bring him back, using her abilities as bone maker while also studying the notes of Eklor himself, which she should have destroyed long ago.
There is only one catch: the process requires the use of human bones, and for every day Jentt lives, she lives one day less. It’s a bargain she is happy to make, but unfortunately human bones are not that easy to come by.

Except that there is one place, the plain where the final battle took place, that is still littered with the remains of the army sent to destroy the enemy. If only she could bring home enough bones to give Jentt half of the life she has left, she would be happy. But the years have started to weight on her, and she knows she cannot do it alone. She needs the help of her former friends in order to sneak beyond the walls that enclose the plain and come back undetected.

That’s what sets the story in motion, and we go from there. Kreya meets her friends one by one after such a long time that she almost cannot believe how different their lives have become: while she exiled herself in her lonely tower to make her experiments, one of them has become a rich and adored public figure; one has chosen a simple life in the country and started a family, and another one is still struggling to let go of the past.

The banter between them was the best part of the novel; each of them has a distinct personality, and while from time to time they felt a bit bi-dimensional, it was always fun to hear them talk to each other and see them work together. I have only a little issue with the characters: at times they sound so young. I mean, not because middle-aged people have to sound old or something, but I kept imagining them as a group of young people and being reminded that they defeated the villain twenty-five years ago. Which makes them, what? Forty-five, fifty at least? It’s only a minor thing and probably something that only I found jarring, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. Maybe I just have a wrong perception of how people talk?

The writing style was simple and effective, and I flew through the novel. The story explores how traumatic events can affect different people in different ways, how much we are willing to push the boundaries of what we consider evil for the people we love, and how sometimes the past doesn’t stay where we wish it to stay just because we think we are done with it.
It was also kind of frustrating – but realistic, unfortunately – to see how Kreya and the rest of the group were treated when they tried to warn the Academy of the danger they discovered.

It was a quick story to read despite its almost 500 hundred pages; dark at times, funny at others, and if you enjoy friendship dynamics this might be the right book for you.
I really, really enjoyed it, but there was something that didn’t click with me and I can’t put my finger on it. More than once I found myself wishing to read the story of the first time they defeated the villain, instead of this present-time follow-up, and I’m still not sure if it just means that I enjoyed the characters and the world that much, or if I wished for a different story altogether.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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