“The Bone Witch” by Rin Chupeco

This book had an epic fantasy feel where the world building is intense and distinctly different. Tea is a girl whose magical powers differ from the norms. Instead of being able to harness the elements to do her bidding, she can raise the dead. She discovers her powers when she raises her older brother from his grave. Despite the centre of this book being rather grisly – my husband took one look at the title and went “are you reading that isn’t it scary?” – this book is really pretty tame compared to what’s on the YA shelves these days. Even though death is present, Tea’s brother gets to come back as a shadow from his early demise.

Then, Tea is forced to move away from her family for her training under an older bone witch, where she learns how to become an Asha. Asha are some sort of witch and geisha hybrid and although how the women entertain the men besides clean music and dancing is never divulged, I began to wonder “Are they prostitutes?” Again, this wasn’t revealed and the book is very clean, but due to the gendered nature of the work I was unsure.

This book moves slowly and the description is dense and detailed. Usually this would be con for me, however I enjoyed living in this strange world for a few days. I inhale books, so it was nice to encounter one that took me more than a night to read. Since there are two narratives at once – an older, stranger, more sinister Tea and a younger, apprentice Tea it was interesting to wonder when the two narratives will converge. I found it hard to keep track of all the various kingdoms and cultures, however something about the book just works.

Perhaps it’s the idea of a heartglass, where people wear their hearts on a necklace with their emotions for all to see. Perhaps it was the world of the ashas and Tea starting her apprenticeship as a servant which reminded me of a newfangled “Spirited Away.” Perhaps it was the creepy nature of Tea’s powers which could bring skeletons to life from the earth. Perhaps it was the suggestion of romance with a prince. I’m a huge sucker for romances with princes.

Anyway, “The Bone Witch” is a highly original fantasy. I look forward to seeing how the series will conclude.

“The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” by Holly Black

I’m a huge Holly Black fan ever since I read “White Cat.” She writes urban fantasy with a thriller undercurrent that you just can’t put down. And boy is her work dark! Yikes! (But in a good way.)

“The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” is a vampire story, but not the sexy, sparkly kind. It’s a blood and guts and fear vampire story with a strong science fiction background. A virus infects humans and turns them into vampires after they feed on human blood.

Tana, the heroine, has to make a lot of difficult choices and it is those choices that made me keep reading to the end. Tana is not a character that I really liked, but, paradoxically, I liked her that way. She seemed gritty and abrasive and real. Tana’s decisions belonged to her alone, and I wasn’t living vicariously through her since we didn’t have a lot in common. This was good, because in a dark tale like “Coldtown” you really need some distance.

However, Tana had a lot of redeeming qualities too, like protecting people she loved, keeping her promises, and risking her safety to help others. So, she’s not super unlikable.

I also appreciated how this novel seemed placed in an alternate present. Too often I read post-apocalyptic future books where the message is like “the future sucks peeps and we’re all going to die.”

This book had some of that going on, but the cyberworld and reality TV seemed identical to today’s, so I took it to mean “the present sucks in this alternate world peeps and we’re all going to die.”

I guess I found that comforting, because it didn’t seem as much as a commentary on where we’re headed as a parallel universe where vampires exist. Unless vampires actually exist in this world, in which case don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. 🙂