I want to start this review by saying that some people are confusing The Bone Witch with The Black Witch. The Black Witch is a horribly racist book due to be published in May despite many being very vocal about how problematic and hurtful it is. The Bone Witch, however, is a beautifully diverse book that you should 100% pick up.
Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.
I was crazy excited to get approved for an ARC of The Bone Witch through Netgalley. Then in typical Katie fashion, I got caught up in other books I was reading and completely forgot about it. I do that with e-books. If they aren’t staring at me from my bookshelves, I sometimes forget I have them. But that really just meant Christmas came twice, because I got to be excited all over again when I remembered I had it!
First I really just want to take a second to appreciate the cover, because it is GORGEOUS. I’m definitely going to be getting myself a hardcover copy soon, because this book needs to be on my shelf. Just LOOK at it!
Okay, okay. Moving on. I actually struggled with The Bone Witch a bit at the beginning. The book alternates between present day, where Tea is living alone in exile and telling her story to a bard, and the story of how she came to be so feared. Something about that style just didn’t resonate with me at first. It took a little while for me to be able to immerse myself in the story, and I know a number of other people have had these same feelings. That said, I am SO glad I kept going. So if you have a hard time getting into it at first, keep reading. It picks up, I promise. It is stylistically very different from your typical YA fantasy, so I think it just takes a bit of time to adjust to. Give it a solid chance–it will be worth it.
If a slow start is the biggest weakness of The Bone Witch, world-building is definitely it’s biggest strength. We’ve all read a fantasy novel where the world is developed just enough to function and doesn’t really stretch past the story–this is not one of them. The world of The Bone Witch is complex and full of multiple differing cultures with their own traditions and histories. Honestly the world building is so fantastic that eventually I became grateful for the slow burn plot because it gave me so much time to just immerse myself in the day to day of Tea’s life as an asha apprentice interacting with all these different cultures and expectations.
And then there’s Tea (which is pronounced Tay-uh, by the way. Made it 68% of the way through the book before one of the characters informed me I’d been saying it wrong.) I had a hard time connecting to her at first, but I think, again, that was just because I needed time to adjust to the style of the story. The further into The Bone Witch I got, the more I came to love Tea as a character. It is so, so rare to get a morally ambiguous protagonist in YA fantasy, so Tea is an absolute breath of fresh air. She makes arguably terrible decisions, but you understand exactly why she’s making them.
The book starts by showing us Tea has been exiled from society, and while we still don’t know why by the end of this first novel, we are slowly but surely shown the progression of a young woman who does not give a shit about societal expectations when they conflict with what she believes is right. Tea is a textbook Chaotic Good character with the power to topple entire nations if she deems it a necessary means to whatever end it is she’s envisioned. And that, I think, is what makes The Bone Witch so amazing. You genuinely never know what she’s going to do next. And as much as you’re rooting for her, she also scares you a little bit.
When I first started reading The Bone Witch, I was skeptical about it being book one in a series. But the time I finished it I was desperate to know what happens next. If you’re a fantasy lover looking for something a little different, I cannot recommend The Bone Witch enough. I give it an enthusiastic five stars.
I also just really loved what this piece from Tor.com had to say about the way powerful women are trained and treated in The Bone Witch. And then Chupeco herself actually elaborated a bit in this thread on Twitter. They are both spoiler free and offer some really interesting ideas about the thin line asha are forced to walk between being powerful and being palatable to what is still a male dominated society. Reading this just added a whole other layer to my love for this book and the world Chupeco built within it.