Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco - Memoirs of a Geisha meets Monsters

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

title: The Bone Witch
pages: 432
format: Audiobook
buy it: Amazon | B&N | BookDepository | Goodreads
rating: 2/5
genre: Fantasy
topics: Necromancy, Family, Found Family


Tea is a bone witch, a magic user capable of raising and controlling the dead. She finds this out by accidentally raising her brother during his burial. Another traveling bone witch finds out about her and takes her under her wing, and together they travel to the Willows, a section of a city dedicated to training and housing asha. There she undergoes asha training and learns how to control her powers, how to fight the monsters that only she and other bone witches like her are capable of effectively defeating.

All this is told through a framing device of a seventeen-year-old Tea recounting how she became banished to a traveling bard, while dropping hints of catastrophic events yet to come.

Mixing such disparate topics can just didn't here

So, when I said in the title "Memoirs of a Geisha meets monsters" I mean that exactly literally. Asha are geisha. Just...geisha. They entertain people in tea houses and parties for money and trained in arts like music and dance and scintillating conversation. Everything about Tea's training and work as described in the book could have been lifted out of Memoirs. (Well, except for the magic parts.) But also they fight monsters? They're trained in physical and magical fighting as well as all the geisha arts, but it feels very tacked on. There's almost nothing in the way of trying to meld these two concepts. Instead they're just smashed together. "These ladies are pretty and dance and parties and wear fancy dressed and shit. Oh, right, also there's monsters sometimes."

Again, I'm not saying these two concepts can't be mixed. I'm fine with that idea! But...mix them. Don't just have them randomly sitting on a shelf together. I was left with soooooo many worldbuilding questions stemming from the various ways these two things just didn't go together.

The importance of scene selection

The plot of The Bone Witch covers several years, from when Tea is about 12 (I think) to 15. Consequently, there's a lot of time spent in montages, where months and months will be described and only a few moments will get picked out to get fully developed scenes. And they all make Tea look really whiny.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying that Tea is an overly whiny character. Every individual scene makes perfect sense in isolation for why she'd be confused, crying, protesting, etc. But the cumulative effect of having only the scenes with negative emotions developed, while everything happy is relegated to a montage/summary, is...exhausting. I could not connect with anything positive going on in the story, because none of those aspects were fleshed out. This is especially bad when it comes to Tea's various relationships with people, where we get a lot of either animosity or crying, and then several chapters later we're told that these people are so close and have such a bond and just...

(Okay to be fair there's a few positive scenes, but they are few and far between and definitely not enough to showcase some very important things, most notably Tea's relationship with her brother, Fox. I'd go whole chapters forgetting Fox even existed because of how absent he was, and then suddenly we'd be assured that Tea is very close to him, no really, I promise, just so very close.)

Let's talk about that framing device

The book is told within a framing device that has Tea relating the story of her life to a Bard who she has magically called to her. Interspersed in the chapters of the main narrative were chapters in the future/framing device of Tea and the Bard hanging out and talking and doing things with monsters. So we find out through this device that she's been banished, and theoretically we're hearing the story of the events that lead up to her banishment.

Except. We're not. The end of the story doesn't match up with the start of the framing device. Near as I can tell, a temporal order of events will go Book 1 -> Book 2 -> Frame -> Book 3? Which, okay, that's a decision you can make, but it was quite jarring for me when I reached the final pages.

A large reason that was jarring for me, though, was the way the framing device was constantly used to tease us that something exciting was about to happen, no really, I promise, it'll get exciting, just keep reading for the exciting parts, it's coming, really, promise! Every chapter in the frame was like this, with Tea ominously talking about "oh, if only I'd known how bad things would get" and stuff like that. It was effective, I'll give the book that, because I really did want to know what was going to happen next. But what happened next was always far underwhelming compared to the anticipation, and after a while that rather ticked me off. I thought at least, at least we'll get a whizbang of an ending and then....nope, it's just more tease to keep reading.

Will I read this author again? Maybe.
Will I continue this series? Not after that ending.

More Reviews for The Bone Witch

(un)Conventional Reviews - Review: The Bone Witch
The Moonlight Library - The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
The Bandar Blog - The Bone Witch Review

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