Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Sarah Beth Durst’s new standalone novel The Bone Maker answers the perennial fantasy question “What has it got in its pocketses?” And that answer is: bones. The magic in the Kingdom of Vos is worked by manipulating the life force remaining in bones to build animated machines, tell the future, or create powerful talismans. Any animal bone will work, but human bones are taboo. Twenty-five years ago, a wizard bent on revenge broke this most sacred rule of bone magic, and reanimated human bones to wreak destruction on the kingdom and its people.
Five warriors—bone workers all—stepped forward to stop him, and four came home heroes. Now, a lifetime later, that war should be long past, only a dark and haunting memory. But for the woman who lost her husband in the war, the fight has never ended. Kreya has spent the last twenty-five years perfecting the spell needed to permanently resurrect her beloved husband. The only problem is, the spell requires two unspeakable ingredients—half her own life, and enough human bones to power the magic.
Since the Bone War, the people of Vos have carefully guarded their dead, burning them immediately to prevent the desecration of their remains. But one place still holds enough human bones for Kreya to work her magic and bring her beloved husband back to life: the battlefield where they defeated their mortal enemy.
The result is a harrowing quest that reunites a band of old friends whose soldiering days should be long past, and pits them against the very government that once lauded them as heroes. For what Kreya discovers on that battlefield is that the dead don’t stay dead, especially in a world of bone magic.
The Bone Maker is a fast-paced, accessible read with Durst’s trademark breezy and often humorous style. Somber overtones occasionally dampen the spirit of this wonderfully creepy and adventurous tale. Introspective characters reflect on their life’s journey, and at times the novel feels almost too relatable in its themes of corrupt leaders and a people desperate to believe anything they’re told. Durst’s lively ensemble cast will appeal to fans of Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series, or any classic band-of-heroes, D&D-style adventure. Although billed as a standalone, the worldbuilding and unique magical system of The Bone Maker almost beg for sequels.