This is a spoiler free review of “The Bone Maker” by Sarah Beth Durst
Synopsis in a Sentence
A group of recovering heroes finds their way back to each other when evil returns; set in a world of bone magic, corrupt politics, and forbidden necromancy with humor, found families, and discussions around trauma, morality, life, and love.
PTSD, war, violence, death, child death, pregnancy, animated dolls, gore, non-graphic sexual scenes, heteronormative, lack of queer representation, and more.
Twenty-five years ago, five heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. But victory came at a tragic price. Only four of the heroes survived.
Since then, Kreya, the group’s leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower and devoted herself to one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But such a task requires both a cache of human bones and a sacrifice—for each day he lives, she will live one less.
She’d rather live one year with her husband than a hundred without him, but using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. The dead are burned—as are any bone workers who violate the law. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs: the battlefield where her husband and countless others lost their lives.
But defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility. Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.
Five warriors—one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one stuck in the past, and one who should be dead. Their story should have been finished. But evil doesn’t stop just because someone once said, “the end.”
-Synopsis from Goodreads
IMPORTANT: I read this book a second time within a month of finishing it! I first listened to the audiobook over the course of several months, but I felt like I wasn’t invested despite the book having themes and topics that would normally resonate with me. So, I reread and annotated the book physically immediately after finishing it the first time, and I LOVED it the second time.
So, my rating will be ordered as follows for each aspect of the book out of 10: (first time/second time). For example, I gave the book 8.5 out of 10 for character upon first read and 9 out of 10 upon second read. Which I show as (8.5/9) following the title “Character”.
My Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5 or 8.07 out of 10
This book features middle aged characters who already have established adult lives and face trauma following the war they fought in their early adulthood. Every character has strengths and weaknesses that make them unique and realistic; some are married, some have children, and some have been drowning in a mental breakdown for years. One of this book’s strong points is that the characters are highly likable and relatable for adult readers who have more established adulthoods and relationships.
As a married adult with a child and PTSD, the representation in this book felt so good and made me feel seen in the book community, since married/parent characters in books who are also badass are just not as common as I’d like.
“The Bone Maker” features a rag tag group of strong women and men who have created a family amongst each other with friendly banter and true friendship. They trust each other, support each other, and balance each other out, but still bicker like most friend groups do. There is a character for most everyone to relate to. Although, there is a lack of LGBTQIA+ and disability representation.
If this book had more queer and disability representation, it would have been perfect in my mind, which is why I landed on a 9 out of 10 for character.
Marso and Amurra are my favorite characters.
Durst has done an excellent job crafting this world and its characters. She created realistically dirty politicians, a guild system, a tiered economic city, legends, myths, arts, songs, creatures, a magic system, and so much more. Vos is a fully fleshed out world with a long history and a foreseeable future.
The world of Vos is dark, magical, flawed, and endless. From the dense creature ridden wild to the economically imbalanced capitol to the rural farms, this world has everything.
Not only has Durst created the dark and realistic world of Vos, but she has also written a story with brilliant prose and dialogue. The characters are distinct, the world is clear, and the plot realistic although slow.
The pacing of this book is not perfect. The story goes from painfully slow to the entirety of a normal book’s plot happening within a few pages. Some readers may not notice, but some certainly have/will. Be ready for a slow plot with some bursts of speed sprinkled throughout.
Durst may have mastered most of this book elegantly, but the plot of this book is severely lacking. If you’ve read “Crooked Kingdom”, this book is very similar to that book in that it is a lot of the characters making plans that fall through or fail only to make more plans. This is something that many readers enjoy, but if you are not one of those readers, maybe skip this book or skim those sections.
This is a character driven story, so do not go into this book expecting to be surprised or thrilled by the plot. Character growth, relationship development, and war are the focus of this story, not the plot.
I personally do not enjoy “hurry up and wait” plots, but the character focus of this book kept me invested. Knowing the character payoff is why I think I enjoyed this book more upon second read.
Although this book is predictable, it is still brilliantly written with loads of intrigue for those who enjoy a dark world with deeper questions of morality. Knowing where the plot and character development is going will create a sense of stability for the reader to focus on leisurely enjoying the story as it unfolds. The plot may be predictable, but the reader doesn’t know how it unfolds or what will be discovered about the world along the way.
Upon first read, I was not invested. I think the audiobook and slow reading pace held me back from connecting with the story. It took me five months to read it the first time and only a week or two the second time. Upon second read, I was highly invested in the characters and world. I couldn’t focus on anything except finishing this book. I loved it!
Durst did a lot of work creating an all encompassing world with realistic characters. For a fantasy novel where bones are used for magic and an entire world of people belive the lies of a war criminal, this one is fairly believable. Durst sets up rules, laws, and limitations to the magic and political systems and sticks to them.
It’s as logically as it could be for what it is. People make crazy decisions and when we actually think about it, Durst’s characters react how many of us would in similar situations. We’ve all been in denial or do/say things we don’t mean when in pain. Sure it’s not perfect, but the logical sticking points will likely not draw the reader out of the story.
I personally feel like Jentt’s reservations throughout the book were a bit unbelievable, but love makes us do strange things sometimes.
If this book sounds interesting to you, and you expect the plot to be less epic fantasy than it claims and more character focused, then this book is worth the try. It’s dark, relatable, and funny.
Let us know what you think if you have or do read this book!
Obviously I adored this book upon second read, and personally recommend physically reading this book if you can. If you can’t, I recommend not listening to the audiobook over an extended period of time. This book is best read over a short period of time, again if possible for you.