ARC August: The Bone Witch

A review in which I utilize far too many parenthetical asides for my own good.  I apologize in advance.

I am trying to pinpoint when I first started being aware of bookish comparisons in reviews (i.e. "Book X is The Fault in our Stars meets Twilight!"), but I cannot tell you when that happened.  It feels like a relatively new (last decade or so?) phenomenon in YA, at least.  While it may be helpful for some readers, it does a great disservice to the book.  And sometimes, as in the case of The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, the comparisons are so on the nose that you suddenly cannot focus on anything else in the story.

The promotional copy for The Bone Witch calls it "The Name of the Wind meets Memoirs of a Geisha" and that is literally, exactly, completely what this book is.  It's like paint by numbers, but with a YA fantasy novel.  And here I thought I was getting something fresh and exciting, when I've actually read this book before (twice, actually, if you count both titles in the comparison), and done a lot better (note: as a grown-up reader, I fully understand the myriad issues in Memoirs of a Geisha, but as a high schooler, I thought it was pretty good stuff.  Forgive my untutored teen ways, O Booklandia). But seriously: Patrick Rothfuss and Arthur Golden deserve some of the royalties from this book.  That's how close it is in style and content.  

Let me break it down:

The Bone Witch has a frame story: Tea (yes, like the drink) of the Embers, the titular bone witch, tells her life story to Bard, a ... bard who found her in exile and wishes to tell her story.

The Name of the Wind has a frame story: Kvothe tells his life story to Chronicler, a bard who happens upon him in a self-imposed exile.

Both Tea and Kvothe were once revered, with great power, but have since fallen from grace.  Both Tea and Kvothe are ultra-powerful and talented.

After Tea's magical powers are discovered when she accidentally raises her brother from the dead (oopsie!), she's taken for training to the Willows, a sort of dojo for asha--sorceresses who also serve as spies, entertainers, and companions.  They also are tasked with running around and periodically killing daeva, which are these demons that are already dead, but which become restless if left dead for too long, so the asha have to bring them back to life and then kill them.

Asha attend different schools that are aligned with different talents.  Once Tea arrives at the Willows, the book suddenly transforms into Memoirs of a Bone Witch, complete with a cruel mistress, infighting, tea ceremonies, and lots of fashion tips.  All of the promise of the early chapters--dead people, fighting monsters, freaking out the common townspeople--bleeds away and leaves the reader with a plodding account of the minutiae of day-to-day life as an asha-in-training.

Which leads me to my second complaint:

Aside from the lack of originality in structure or content, The Bone Witch fell into the LaBrea Tar Pit of writing: too much description.  Generally speaking, details in a fantasy are crucial for world building.  However, if the description takes over the narrative and turns into a litany of flowery descriptive phrases, my mind turns off and wonders when things will start happening again.  I'm talking a full page describing the colors of someone's dress, or three pages detailing the correct and incorrect forms of address for ranks of nobility.  Unsuspecting adjectives walked by and got sucked into the sticky tar of this book, vainly struggled to escape, and then died there.

Do you enjoy reading paragraph after paragraph detailing the exquisite embroidery on an asha's hua, with each color described in such painstaking detail that your eyes will bleed and your brain will dribble out of your nose?  Then this book may be for you!  Otherwise, literally nothing happens in the entire middle section of the book (about 70% of the narrative) other than parties, political training, hua descriptions, catfights, and more hua descriptions.  There's a sort of half-hearted romance attempted, and a secret enemy to be found, but why bother advancing the plot when you can talk about hairstyles instead?

The frame story also means that we know how Tea's life turns out (spoiler: badly), but the last book in the series will probably detail her attempt to wreak havoc on the kingdoms that cast her out.  Revenge of the bone witch!

I apologize for my incoherency in this review: my brain doesn't seem to be functioning properly, plus the utter disappointment I feel in this book has broken me just a little bit.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.

This post is part of ARC August, hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat.  You can check out all my other ARC August reviews with the tag ARCAugust, and check out what everyone else is reading on Twitter using #ARCAugust!  Happy reading!


  1. You seem to have had several disappointing reads this August! What a shame. Time for a reread of something you loved first time. ;-)

    1. I hit all the really good books at the end of August--and those reviews are harder to write, for some reason!

      I am definitely going to have to reread an Austen or Bleak House very soon, though.


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