Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Release Date: 7th March 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Page Count: 400
Format: Ebook
Genre: Fantasy
RRP: $19.99
Source: Net Galley
The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

I would like to say that although I did not find anything in Chupeco's book that struck me as disrespectful towards the cultures it was inspired by, I do not belong to either culture myself. Therefore if anyone who does belong to either culture finds something of note, please feel free to contact me :) I would be happy to know if there was anything I missed during my reading of this novel.

As promised with every review, here's my depiction of Tea from The Bone Witch. As I said I pictured her of a South-Eastern Asian background. She is wearing an Ahsa's Hua, as described in the book. It very much resembled the traditional kimono worn by Japanese Geisha. The stone around her neck is called a heart glass, they are described in the book as stones that hold the hearts of those who wear them. The background is inspired by traditional Iranian art and tapestries. A lot of which is featured in the book. 

(Ink art 'The Bone Witch' instagram @the_cat_curiosity_killed)

It has taken me far too long to finish my first review and all I can say is it's about time!

I am so very happy that my first official contribution to The Aus. Library will be a review of The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. I enjoyed this book for so many reasons but I'll get into that in just a moment. For now I'll just say that I will be keeping an eye out for the sequel of this YA fantasy.

First let's talk about the story... Amazing! I really loved how Chupeco constructed this. The story follows Tea as she trains to become an Asha and to control her powers of necromancy. The Asha are women with magic who train to master skills in fighting, magic, hospitality and politics. Think Geisha who are also trained in magic and combat. The memoir-esk fashion in which she told Tea's story was very refreshing from a lot of other YA fantasy. It is a difficult way to tell a story but when done successfully (as I believe Chupeco has done) it can be very powerful. It puts you right there in the past, experiencing it first hand, all the while having a knowledge of the future that layers the entire story in a delicious coat of drama.

When Tea is training to become an Asha, we are there with her. When she struggles with understanding her power and deals with the discrimination she experiences because of a talent she never asked for, so do we. That is what makes the memoir style of story-telling so gosh darn compelling and I, for one, love it.

It reminded me a lot of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (this was also because there are literal Geisha-like societies in the story itself). Chupeco's take on necromancy and familiars was also very interesting and unlike anything I had previously read.

I really enjoyed the basis in Iranian mythology. It is something you don't see in many places these days and proved to be one of the most interesting parts of the book.

The humble narrator of the present story-line is engaging, but not too much as to take away from the real protagonist of the story; Tea. I love a good anti-hero origin story and that is exactly what Chupeco gave me. Tea is a compassionate, if headstrong character, who is thrust into a world of dangerous magic, class discrimination and politics at a young age. She has very little time to adjust and does so with believable difficulty. I found her character very sympathetic, but also deeply flawed, which is exactly what I want from my anti-heroes.

There is romance in this book but it is secondary to the friendships and personal relationships Tea has with herself and those around her. The relationship I enjoyed the most was that of Tea and her older brother, Fox. The bond between them will ring true with anyone who has a sibling they are close to.  

There is some LGBTQ+ representation in this book, which obviously pleased me. Tea befriends a young boy who is implied to be gender-queer. He wishes to dance as an Asha (Asha are traditionally women) instead of fight in battle. There was also a lot of racial and cultural diversity. Tea, our protagonist, is described as having light brown skin and dark hair and eyes. It isn't specified what her racial background is exactly, but I feel like that is simply because of the fantasy genre. Some of the racial features of certain characters in a fantasy world may correspond with ones in our own, but they ultimately are their own fictional race. Personally, I visualized her from a South-Eastern Asian descent. The book is full of characters of all different colors. Mostly of Asian and Middle-Eastern inspired backgrounds.

I do have a few criticisms in spite of how much I enjoyed this book. Some of the details towards the end proved to be a bit confusing, the plot twist also felt rather lackluster. There was one moment when Fox is described to be wearing a top hat. This really threw me off and for a while and disturbed the flow of my reading. Up until that point there had been no mention of European style clothing. Only Asian and Middle-Eastern attire. Also at times, the story did seem to resemble Memoirs of a Geisha too strongly, which made me think of that book instead of the one I was reading. This didn't affect my overall reading experience, but it did pull me out of the story a few times.

Apart form those small criticisms however, I found The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco wildly enjoyable.

(Just to add another disclaimer, Memoirs of a Geisha is not an accurate portrayal of Geisha culture. The likeness between it and The Bone Witch lies only in the structure of the narrative and the fact that both books are inspired, to different extents, by the same subject matter. I would not be recommending The Bone Witch if it were anywhere near as problematic as Golden's book.)

So Long Story Short, Should You Read It?? Well, if you like anti-heroes, Geisha inspired culture, strong female characters and magic- I highly recommend picking it up!

1 comment on "Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco"
  1. Great review! I'm honestly sick of people comparing The Bone Witch to Name of the Wind. Two totally different stories that just happen to follow memoir- type narration. Other than that The Bone Witch is so different and steep with culture and memorable characters. I wish this book would get more buzz than it does. Glad you enjoyed. Definitely a reread for me.

    By the way such a beautiful drawing.


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