Book Review: The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1) by Rin Chupeco
A+/A | A mesmerizing, rich foundational novel dedicated to worldbuilding an introducing the characters, Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch envelops you in Tea’s world, in Tea’s story, and in Tea herself . It lays the groundwork through the intricate worldbuilding and to the characters that live and thrive in the world. It is almost like a villain’s origin story — focused solely on establishing who Tea is, the world around her, the people around her, and the magic she wields. Despite there being no plot, this is moot when compared to just how masterfully Rin builds up this world and hooks you to it and its stories.
About the Book
Title: The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1)
Author: Rin Chupeco
Synopsis: In the captivating start to a new, darkly lyrical fantasy series for readers of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir, Tea can raise the dead, but resurrection comes at a price...
Let me be clear: I never intended to raise my brother from his grave, though he may claim otherwise. If there's anything I've learned from him in the years since it's that the dead hide truths as well as the living.
When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she's a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.
In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha-one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles... and make a powerful choice.
Publication Date: 7 March 2017
From the very beginning of this novel, I knew I was in for a wild ride. Rin Chupeco served me a delicious feast for the senses. I’ve said it so many times in my reviews of her books and I will continue to say it, but she has a masterful grip with worldbuilding and characterizations. She’s able to craft intricate, well-developed worlds and characters that allow me to immerse myself deep into the book.
This entire book is dedicated to setting the stage. It is Tea’s origin story — background to the circumstances that would eventually lead her exiled. There will be those who don’t like that sort of thing. This book is where Tea’s present situation is juxtaposed with her past so there is a lot of information given to us but no real plot. Still, there's that mystery, right? I know where Tea ends up which left me wondering just what the heck happened?
I couldn’t think of another book to compare this one to except for The Last Wish and Memoirs of a Geisha which I did read several years ago.
Tea accidentally discovers that she has this magical ability to raise and control the dead and the daeva when she brought her brother back to life. Now, thing with the Dark asha as they’re called, they’re not exactly well loved by people despite the fact that they’re needed in this world. Even Tea fears herself and her powers. Her prejudice against the Dark asha is clear every time she thought of them as “bone witches”. However, because she is a Dark asha, she’ll need to be trained. This is where the Memoirs of a Geisha-esque feel comes in because we see how she goes through the grunt work then things go down again and she’s pretty much shoved into her training.
Thing with the asha though is that they aren’t just required to learn how to control their magic. They’re required to be skilled dancers, singers, and fighters. They’re taught how to become political manipulators essentially. They must learn how to impress royalty and the subtle art of whispering in a ruler’s ear and influencing them.
One of the things I absolutely adored about this book is the worldbuilding.
Everything came to life in this book because of the worldbuilding. I could see, smell, and hear Tea’s world in my mind. I could almost taste the food and feel this world. Rin is a master at worldbuilding. I know I've said it before but I'll keep saying it again and again. She builds it up and up until you can see the world in your imagination.
There are real world influences in this novel — the most obvious (at least to me) were the southeast Asian, east Asian, central Asian, and Middle Eastern influences depicted here. I loved how they blended well together and felt natural.
Beyond real life cultures influencing the ones in this novel, we’re also shown the ugly side of things.
Dark asha help defend the eight kingdoms, yet they are essentially ostracized. “Bone Witch,” is what people call them — an offensive term in this world. Like I said, even Tea herself called the Dark asha “bone witches”.
Gender and class inequality are present here and I honestly like that it is brought up here, especially when they're presented in a manner that feels like the author is addressing them rather than putting them here for shock value.
For example, it brings to light how men in Tea’s world face the same BS that men in our world face when it comes to more “feminine” things. Men in Tea’s world can’t become asha, even though they have silver heartglasses; instead they’re forced to become a Deathseeker. Is this not the same issue we see in our world even today? For example — do you know how many men we have in my nursing cohort? Five out of the twenty-eight students. Why? How about firefighting? How many women firefighters are there?
I loved how Rin faced this very real and relevant issue head on and offered a clear solution which is that we should be more accepting of people crossing outdated, BS gender boundaries. Yes, there are obviously people in the book that are hesitant and who worry about their reputations, but the support Tea and Fox give to this character is just so beautiful. One or two people supporting you against the world is often good enough. Just knowing there are people by your side? Delicious.
Again, it's that juxtaposition of the good and bad — of all the pretty dresses Tea wears and dances Tea needs to learn with the gender inequality where men and women are limited to their roles, the sexism, the class inequality, and the violence going on in the world.
Rin never lets us forget that yes, Tea is learning not only learning how to be an entertainer, but also a fighter, a necromancer, and well, a killer.
Where there is beauty, there is ugliness. Where there is light, there is darkness.
The other reason why I love this book so much is Tea.
I adore Tea because she is so utterly human. She doesn’t feel like this caricature who is stagnant throughout the book. She grows up and develops as the book goes on. I can absolutely see how she would become that exiled dark asha we see in those snippets from the future. Yeah, there's not much of a plot to speak of aside from showing us this villain origin story, but god, Tea has such a good development through the book. She goes from this terrified girl to this powerful young woman that isn't running away anymore.
Also, I honestly connected with Tea. It was an instant connection. It helped a lot that she was so well written. I could imagine myself in her shoes.
I did like most of the other characters, especially Likh and Fox. Rahim was also pretty cool. I adored Polaire and Lady Mykaela. Polaire is honestly a mood sometimes and Mykaela — honestly, I couldn’t help but connect with Mykaela, too. I could understand why she pushes herself so hard because I do the exact same thing.
I gotta say though? Tea and Fox’s relationship? chef kiss. There were definitely those awkward moments between them (more because they just didn’t know how to deal with Fox’s return from the dead), but there were those loving, funny sibling moments, too. Tea adores her brother and he’d do anything for her. So this brings me yet again to the future where she’s recounting the story and I just can’t help but wonder what the heck happened between her and Fox?
Also Kalen? He intrigues me. I don’t know how I feel about him aside from being curious. No expectations. Just gotta see how the next books go, right?
Now, I know some people are wondering by now: what did I think about the writing itself?
I thought it was beautiful and appreciated every single description I came across because it added color, depth, beauty, and ugliness to this world. I’ve seen the complaints about there being purple prose and to be quite honest with you? I don’t understand those complaints because I didn’t really see purple prose here.
Maybe my definition of purple prose is different from other people’s but I define it as unnecessary, incredibly pretentious writing and diction that would legitimately require readers to have a dictionary next to them to understand what is being presented to them. It’s elaborate writing that requires me to read a passage over and over again to understand it. Now, it’s not bad when you have a thesaurus next to you so you could have variety, but at the same time it’s frustrating and can make readers feel stupid. It’s part of the reason why the moment I see purple prose, I immediately shudder. Yes, I’ll force myself to read the passage, but when it makes me feel stupid because I don’t understand a word? Yeah, that’s a huge turn off.
However, I didn’t get that with this book. Sure, the descriptions were long and sometimes unnecessary. However, the diction here was by no means pretentious or unreachable. It was straight forward, beautiful prose that just so happened to have a lot of descriptions.
Also maybe I’m just drawing at straws here, but I know people also have complained about Tea speaking like she’s far older than she is in the narrative. I’m not sure if Rin intended it to be this case but — could Tea’s speech and thinking patterns throughout the novel (at least in the past sections) be due to the fact that she’s recounting/remembering this story?
Yes, there’s a ton of info dump in the beginning, however it makes absolute sense to me since Tea is recounting this to someone else who needs the background information as much as we readers do. I get why people don’t like it. It’s information overload and not a good writing style when the story is happening right now instead of being recounted. After all, how do you tell a story to someone? Don’t you try to set the stage and give background to the circumstances that surround why you are where you are?
Do I recommend this book?
Yes. Absolutely. Give this book a double shot of espresso and cake.
I totally understand why people will DNF’d this book. However, I think that you absolutely should give this book a chance. It’s slow at first and has little plot to speak of, but once it picks up? It picks up. It’s so worth it. It’s worth it for the worldbuilding, for Tea herself and the supporting cast, and for the prose.
I’m looking forward to reading the next books in this trilogy.