Title: The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.
In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha-one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.
Content Warnings: Violence, bullying, character death
I already knew Rin Chupeco from reading The Girl from the Well a while back. I loved that book, so when I found out that she was coming out with a fantasy book, I knew I had to get my hands on. Sadly, that didn’t happen, since it took me a year to finally read The Bone Witch. Regretchen Baretto, naturally, but what’s done is done, and anyway, I finally got to read it!
In this fantasy Memoirs of Geisha-esque novel, Tea discovers she is a Dark asha, meaning she can raise the dead and control the dead, not to mention the daeva, dark creatures created by the evil Faceless, capable of wanton death and destruction. Tea is taken to the Willows, a district in the city of Ankyo, to begin her training under the older Dark asha Lady Mykaela. The novel is the story of Tea coming into her own as a Dark asha, pejoratively called ‘bone witches’, learning how to manage her power until she becomes the most powerful Dark asha in the eight kingdoms.
A lot of people have critiqued The Bone Witch as having no plot, and I agree. However, this worked for me because I’ve come to think of The Bone Witch as a villain origin story. The novel isn’t structured in the linear way you would expect from a fantasy novel like this – girl discovers she has powers, girl goes through training to master her powers, girl faces off against the ultimate antagonist. From the very beginning, you know that something happened to Tea that made her turn against the eight kingdoms. The novel begins with a bard finding his way to the place where she was exiled, and that he’d received a vision compelling him to come find her so she could tell him her story. And that is how the novel plays out, with Tea telling the bard how she first raised her brother from the dead, how she was taken to the Willows, her training as an asha, and the discovery of the full extent of her powers. Because you know from the interludes with Tea telling the story to the bard that she is not a traditional hero, I liked how the novel basically sets you up and leaves you eager to find out what, exactly, happened to make Tea this way.
I’ve said this time and again (mostly on Twitter and in private chats with my friends where I urge them to read this book), Rin Chupeco is a master at world-building. So many cultures and traditions are represented in the world of The Bone Witch, I honestly don’t know how Rin managed to keep them all straight. You don’t really think of books as being a visual treat, but that was what The Bone Witch was. Reading all about the eight kingdoms, the asha, the Deathseekers, and the daeva was almost like having someone in the room with me, physically weaving the story for me to watch and listen to.
Don’t get me started on the asha! Inspired by Filipino legends of mangkukulam and mambabarang, the asha are not the usual witches of fantasy. They must master combat and meditation and magic like any warrior, but they must also know things like tea ceremony, singing, dancing, musical instruments. Aside from that, they are also taught history, strategy, and politics. The asha are taught to be the subtle influencers behind every single movement of consequence in the eight kingdoms, how to impress their will upon kings and empresses, and how to essentially manipulate the eight kingdoms. The asha are often looked down upon as just being bodyguards, trinkets, and entertainers, but at the end of it all, they are the driving force that powers society.
One thing that I absolutely adored about the society crafted by Rin is how it doesn’t shy away from showing inequality and imperfection. While I do appreciate fantasy novels where our society’s ills (queerphobia, sexism, racism, etc.) are no longer a thing, I also do enjoy seeing how authors weave issues like that into their stories – and Rin did it so well. From showing archaic gender-based traditions (only women can become asha and only men can become Deathseekers) to class issues (the poverty of the village where Tea grew up versus the ostentatiousness capital city), The Bone Witch is realistic fantasy, if that phrase makes sense.
But what really drove the book forward, what really made me fall in love with this universe, is Tea herself. Tea is a perfect, perfect, perfect character. Even though the story is told from her perspective, she is utterly brutal in analyzing herself and her actions – a level of introspection you don’t see with most first-person novels. We see her grow from a naive, uncertain, gullible fourteen-year-old, into one of the most powerful Dark asha the eight kingdoms has ever seen. I love also how Rin fleshed out Tea’s relationships with her mentor Lady Mykaela and her brother Fox. When you read the book, you already know there’s going to be some sort of romance with either Prince Kance or Lord Kalen, those really aren’t the focus – what shines through is her friendship with her mentor and her love for her brother, and I really appreciated that.
I am so excited to read the sequel, The Heart Forger, and finally find out what happened to make Tea so angry at the eight kingdoms, and how she turned from an asha who loved her friends and family, to an exiled bone witch at the ends of the eight kingdoms, ready to march on them with an army of the dead at her side.
BONUS: A giveaway!
So! I bought myself a copy of The Bone Witch some time ago (as evidenced by my TBR post here) but apparently my boyfriend doesn’t read my blog (lol) because he bought me a copy. So now, since I have two copies of The Bone Witch, I’m going to give one away! (Please note though that I’ll be giving away the old copy, since obviously I’d like to keep the one my boyfriend bought for me. Don’t worry though, it’s in very good condition!)
But wait, that’s not all! I met up with the author, Rin Chupeco, at Greenhills yesterday (!!!!!!) and she was kind enough to sign my books. So the copy I’ll be raffling off will be an autographed one!
Unfortunately, because shipping is expensive and your friendly neighborhood government employee slash book blogger is not corrupt (unlike others I could mention…) and therefore can’t afford it, this giveaway is for Philippine residents/people with a Philippine address only.
Here’s how you can enter!
#GIVEAWAY ALERT! I have an extra SIGNED copy of The Bone Witch 😊
RT & follow to enter!
1 entry – follow my blog
1 entry – follow my instagram
1 entry – follow @RinChupeco
Reply with screencaps!
Open until June 7. 🇵🇭 residents only, sorry! (shipping is 💸) pic.twitter.com/7WrDulMoSW
— Kate @ The Backwards Bookshelf (@bckwrdsbookshlf) May 17, 2018
Giveaway ends on June 5! Good luck!