The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – The descent to darkness is slow but wow, it is worth it


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.

My review:

This; this is the book that I had been asking for. For the longest time, I craved a fantasy that was unique and unlike anything I had read before. I wanted a fantasy to remind me that my imagination is limitless, wanted a fantasy that showed me something fresh and exciting.

I found my expectations met by The Bone Witcha fantastic story with an incredibly imaginative world, filled with magic and giant skeletal monsters, people who wear their heart around their necks, and a girl who became a villain.

The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

The first thing you should know before you pick up The Bone Witch is that it is a slow book. The characters, story, developments, and conflicts happen and accumulate slowly and gradually. But, rather than seeing this as a flaw of the book – because I don’t think it is a flaw at all – rather, see this slower pace as an opportunity to really understand and explore the machinations of the makings of a villain. Tea is just a girl in a small village, but when she resurrects her brother by accident, she is revealed to be a necromancer, or a bone witch.

What follows is a flurry of new sights, scenery, and voices as Tea is plucked from her family and is thrust into the world of asha, powerful witches with the gift of magic. Though this book may present itself as a story about a girl who becomes an asha, this book is better appreciated if you see it like this: The Bone Witch is about a villain and how she became disillusioned about a world she never asked to be a part of. Chupeco’s storytelling is vivid and beautiful; she has a masterful way of words that just make the magic and world light up in your mind. The way she gave her world, myths, beliefs, and people life was wonderful. The subtle discourse of politics was fantastic, particularly how the narrative explored the constraints of gender roles and sexism, and the Asian influences that shine through the worldbuilding was refreshing to read.

Then perhaps we should carve a world one day where the strength lies in who you are are rather than in what they expect you to be.

The character development in The Bone Witch is subtle and fantastic. The narrative voice is powerful, and her journey is shared with the reader; as Tea learns more about the world and politics of asha, begins training as an asha, and takes upon the responsibilities as an asha, we too learn about asha. And in The Bone Witch, ashas aren’t just powerful magic wielders – they are also experts in politics and history, the performing arts, herbalism, and swordswomen. Better yet, the ashas’ position as keepers of tradition are criticized in the book, thus offering a nuanced lens to the world Chupeco has created. In this sense, I connected with Tea effortlessly – I shared her distrust with others, I shared her outrage at injustices, and I shared her joys when she succeeded. And as we learn more about the asha world, learn more about the inequalities and the terrible burden bone witches must inevitably endure, I sympathized with Tea. This contrasts wonderfully with the story’s dual narrative – one, when Tea begins her life as a bone witch, and second, when Tea is older and telling her story. Though I didn’t pick up on it at first, the latter offers insight and her perspective of why she made her decisions and it is tinged with wistful bittersweetness. Though the end of the book still leaves some questions unanswered, I didn’t find the lack of answers frustrating – in fact, I found it immensely exciting.

She held no weapons except for the diamonds glinting like stars above her brow, against hair like a dark mass of sky.

There’s so much more I want to talk about, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll just say a few: in The Bone Witch, you can expect powerful and complex women that you cannot help but empathize with, unexpected characters that you’ll love instantly, siblings who will protect each other at all costs, and twists and turns that you will not see coming.

The Bone Witch is wonderful. I feel so, so immensely excited to read the sequel, The Heart Forger. I say this often, but if there was ever a time I wanted you to believe me, believe me now: I cannot wait to see where Chupeco will take Tea’s story next, and I cannot wait to return to the land of The Eight Kingdoms.

Rating: 4 / 5

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | My review on Goodreads

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A villain tells her story; once upon a time, she was just a girl who accidentally resurrected her brother and found out she was a bone witch.

Perfect for: Readers of high fantasy and want something different or Asian-inspired, readers who enjoy slow pacing, giant skeletal monsters, and new worlds.

Genre: Young adult, high fantasy

Recommended? Yes; give this book a chance!

Let’s discuss!

  • Have you read The Bone Witch? What did you think of it?
  • What was the last most imaginative fantasy that you read?
  • I read this book for #AsianLitBingo for the ‘SFF with Asian MC’ box! What are you reading for #AsianLitBingo?

33 thoughts on “The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – The descent to darkness is slow but wow, it is worth it

  1. What a beautiful review, as always. You really, really made me want to read this book even if I’m not too into slow fantasies…. I need to add it to my TBR now ahah :)

    • Hello Marie!
      Aw, thank you so much – I really appreciate the kind words.
      Haha, yes give it a go! It’s very different to the fantasies that are out there at the moment, at least in YA, but give this a chance. It might surprise you. <3

  2. Amazing review CW! I’m glad you loved it. I didn’t really know much, but it sounds amazing, especially since it’s about necromancer. I always want to read more of necromancer in fantasy, so I hope this one will meet my expectations. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Tasya!
      Aw, thank you so so much!
      Haha, right?! I love the idea of necromancy and the character development that would come with that. I think The Bone Witch definitely delivers in that sense, and also adds a societal level on top.
      You’re welcome, and I hope you enjoy it if you read it! 😊

  3. I am adding this to my TBR. I’ve read reviews about how it was super slow and boring, which made me set it aside, but reading your review convinced me to give it a try. After all, plot setting up, great character arc, and worldbuilding are the main ingredients of a good fantasy, at least according to me. :P

    • Hi Windie!
      I totally agree with you. I saw the negative reviews too. A part of me understands where they are coming from, but I think the YA fantasy genre is saturated with ‘fast-paced’ narratives which have almost changed our expectations of what a fantasy ought to be. I think The Bone Witch was really refreshing because it was slower and had a different focus, if that makes sense?

      Absolutely! Oh I hope you give it a go. I’d love to hear what you think!

  4. This was such a well-written, fantastic review, CW! I’ve had this on my radar for a while (love the sound of necromancy involving magic, and I love these kinds of complex explorations); it’s great hearing your POV on it 😃

    • Hi Wendy!
      Haha, thank you! It was a rare moment where I actually wrote the review in one-sitting and in less than an hour! I had a lot of feelings about this book.
      Ooh I think this is a book you’d appreciate, Wendy! It has a lot of elements that I think you will like. 😊

  5. Shoot CW, I had no idea this could go as a spot on the Asian Lit into space!! Yessss, that’s amazing to hear. I’m actually almost done with it and highly enjoy it! At first it took a while to get used to the slow pace but once I got immersed into the narrative I couldn’t stop. Wonderful review!

    • Hi Aila!
      I’m sooo so happy to hear that you enjoyed it too! 😊 This book needs more love and appreciation – I feel like this is a book everyone could enjoy if they didn’t expect something else.
      I agree – the pace was the hardest part for me, but like you, when I got immersed into the story, it was amazing.

      Thank you! <3

  6. I can’t wait to read this!! I’ve got it on Kindle but I just don’t think I have the patience for such a slow burn atm. (Thanks for the head’s up on that – I like slow burns, but only if I’m in the right mood.) I will read it soon, though :-)

    • Hi Wendy!
      Oh fair enough! Definitely give it a go when you’re in a mood for something a little slower. And I totally understand that – I’m the same! I actually listened to the book’s audiobook (I started reading it as an ebook first) and found that I enjoyed the audiobook’s pace. :D

      • That’s a really good idea – I’d like something to listen to whilst I’m knitting and pottering about the house. :-) I can’t just sit and listen to it though, because I always manage to fall asleep!!

  7. I didn’t know there was already a title for the second book! Do you think it will be from a different POV? I think that title just really would present an opportunity for that.

    • I found out what the title was and I felt sooo excited! That’s a good point though – I personally don’t know what POV The Heart Forger will have, but a part of me hopes it’s still Tea though I’d recommend another POV. :D

  8. Really pleased to hear you enjoyed The Bone Witch, CW! (And a fab. review to boot!) I’ve been seeing it around and thought the blurb sounded intriguing (and the cover is so pretty), but I wasn’t sure if it would be my thing. After reading your review, I’m pretty convinced I’ll enjoy it! I love the idea of a protagonist who’s also the villain and just more generally of a story that explores the grey areas. Margot x

    • Hi Margot!
      Aw, thanks so much! I’m glad I could change your mind! Tbh, my advice is to go in with an open mind – it’s written with a pace that’s different to fantasies, but I think it’s fantastically done. <3

  9. Stunning review CW! You really have such a talent for writing book reviews. I wish I had half of your reviewing skills :)

    My copy just came this past weekend and I am really itching to pick it up after reading this! I am not put off by slower paced books, in fact I welcome them as a good change of pace (pun intended lol)

    • Hello Amanda!
      Oh goodness, those are some kind words – thank you! I have to admit, I wrote this review in one sitting which is completely unlike me (I usually take 3 sittings to write one!) or I was on some sort of writing high. So this one is a wee bit special and different!
      Hahaha, I love it! I hope you enjoy this book – the slow pace is nice and really takes time to explore the world in great detail. <3

  10. Mama, just give me this book because I need it. I love your reviews, Chocolate Waffles aka SMOL BEAN. I only aspire to write with your flair <3

  11. I love your review! The mixed reviews really scared me off from this book, but lately I’ve been seeing more and more positive reviews; this one is really convinced me to read it. I usually dislike slow-paced books, but I know slow pacing gives space for a better developed world and fleshed-out characters so I’ll give it a chance <3

    • Hello Adri!
      Thanks for stopping by.
      Ahh I’m so happy to hear that my review has changed your mind! I saw the negative reviews too, and felt a little sad because I think this book is very special.
      I hope you’ll enjoy it if you give it a try! <3

  12. Do you know if it will fit to other categories in #AsianLitBingo? I’ve already filled out a few and I’ve done SFF with Asian MC.

    Everytime I read something new about The Bone Witch, I get more intrigued in the story. I love that it focusses on the villian! How often do you get that. I am fascinated by the dual narrative perspective. I think that will be interesting to understand.

    • Hi Sinead!
      I had to have a good think about that one. I’m inclined to say Poor/Working Class is a possibility, but the character isn’t in that position for long once she enters the asha world – so maybe not that. Otherwise, I don’t think it’ll fit in any other square! Maybe a book for June?

      Right?! I think the only other books that I know of that do this are Vicious and The Young Elites. Otherwise, hardly any! I’d love to see more villain narratives.

  13. I am so glad to hear you enjoyed this so much! I’ve heard a ton of great things about this series and how dark and creepy it is, and seeing your review just makes me want to read it even more. :) Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

    • Hello Zoe!
      Ooh yes, definitely! It’s so atmospheric, and the gorgeous writing definitely does an amazing job at transporting you to the world. The audiobook was fantastic too, which made it even more fun to read/listen, and the narrator does an AMAZING job at capturing all the different characters and their voices!

  14. I am so ashamed but I actually requested an early copy of this months ago but I still haven’t finished it. Indeed, it’s more of a slower paced book but I could tell it had a lot of potential so I’ve only put it on hold for now. I’m so relieved to hear that the journey will be worth it. Your review has convinced me; I’m going to have to pick it back up soon. ^.^


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