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.
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 Witch, a 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
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!
- 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?