The Bone Maker, by Sarah Beth Durst

Sarah Beth Durst has been a favorite author for ages, and is among the select few whose books get a place on my bookshelf of favorite contemporary sci fi/fantasy. Here is the relevant shelf, as well as a less relevant one, with several more not shown at all:

As you can see, I have enough room on the shelf for one more of her books before I have to re-arrange.*  And that book will be The Bone Maker (Harper Voyager, March 9, 2021), her newest adult fantasy.

Kreya was the leader of a small group of heroes that defeated the evil bone maker Eklor, who had used bone magic to animate an army of murderous constructs in a bid for power.  Kreya's husband Jentt was killed in that battle.  25 years later, Kreya is desperately practicing her own bone magic in an isolated tower, following Eklor's forbidden path of using human bones to bring Jentt back to life.  The only thing holding her back is the difficulty in acquiring those bones (people in this country are cremated)--Eklor murdered and killed, but Kreya won't, and the bones she's gotten ahold of have only been enough for a few days of Jentt's life at a time.  She knows, though, where a lot of unburned bones can be found--the battleground where Eklor was defeated.  A forbidden place, guarded by soldiers, located within a deadly jungle.  

It's not a journey she can make alone, so Kreya enlists the help of one of her old companions, Zera, who has gotten fabulously wealthy from her gift of making bone talismans (which briefly grant the user gifts such as speed, strength, stealth, etc.)  What they find at the battlefield (after a difficult journey) appalls them--a new army of killer constructs.  Eklor, it seemed, wasn't defeated.  So the original group is all regathered (with Jentt brought fully back to life, at a great cost to Kreya), and they revisit the battlefield to confirm that Eklor's back.  They barely escape with their lives.

None of them have any interest in being heroes again.  

At this point, about halfway through the book, I was afraid they were going to just revisit what they did the first time, but happily the plot twisted.  And instead of being a story about fighting, it became a story in which the group have to solve a mystery.  Since I prefer to read about people thinking more than I enjoy people fighting, this made me happy!  One reason for this preference is that when people are thinking, there's also a lot more opportunity for recognition of ambiguous moral choices and interesting reflections about grief, friendship, and mindfully choosing what you want from your one wild and precious life.  Which isn't to say that there wasn't a lot happening--after all, with a mass murder megalomaniac trying for his second chance at world domination, there's a lot that happens, not much of it pleasant.

Kreya is a great, really solidly developed, character, who carries the book.  Hers is the primary pov, and the supporting cast pretty much orbits around her  (Zera gradually becomes more three dimensional, in step with her and Kreya rebuilding their friendship, which makes for nice reading, the other three guys are not as deeply explored).  The magic of bone working wins second place in book carrying--it is really nifty!  My only hesitation about the book was my unassuaged feeling of anthropological uncertainty about how the society functioned, coupled with some geographical uncertainty.   This was also the first book I've read in ages that was this long (496 pages), which is a different type of reading than I mostly do (middle grade, and old comfort reads).  But though it could perhaps have been a bit shorter for my personal taste, I was so invested in the story that nothing else was really important and I was sad to have finished.

Recommended in particular to those no longer in their first flush of youthful heroics, and fans of older women friendships that make it possible to save the day.  Fans of T. Kingfisher's books set in her fantasy world (like Clockwork Boys, and Paladin's Grace) should enjoy this one lots, as similar themes are explored.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

*back to my bookshelf--perhaps the best solution will be to move all of Pratchett to their own shelf, with lots of room to grow, because I want all the Discworld books in hardcover, and move Diana Wynne Jones to her own appropriately sized bookshelf....and that will free up a lot of space, which is good, because all the other authors (Kate Milford, Stephanie Burgis, Leah Cypess, Sage Blackwood, Rachel Neumeier, and more) are still writing new books.....(except that Sarah Crowe, the author of Bone Jack just to the right of the SBD books hasn't written anything since, sigh) and also I am slowly working on replacing ARCs with hardcopies, while keeping many of the ARCs, so there is a clear need to plan for future growth  (I hope to use part of my anticipated stimulus money on a couple of additional lally columns in the basement, to ensure that this book growth isn't too much for the poor old house...)


  1. I hardly ever buy books for myself! Guess that's an advantage of having a school library. The books are there if I really, really want to reread, but they don't have to live with me. They just get to visit! Do still have one book case of 1950s YA that I can't bear to part with, but I think my basement columns can stand it. Glad you enjoyed this one.

  2. I am intrigued by the title of this book. And I loved coming across a line from Mary Oliver in your post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Sarah Stevenson and I frequently compare our "for fun" reading and ask each other what a particular book is doing for us... I'm ALWAYS reading books about doughty women succeeding against all odds, and that they're older women, relying on friendship to see them through too? Sign me up.

    1. ...additionally, I have bookshelf envy. I still have to sharply prune and curate my collection, but on that fine day when I will move into a house and not move again, all the used bookstores should watch out...

    2. I hope you get your bookshelves sooner rather than later! My problems are compounded by my retirement plan of a new and used children's bookstore, for which I am collecting stock. Many of my pantry shelves now have book stock, but they are shelves I have to use the step stool to reach so they aren't that practical for normal pantry items....

  4. I have not read any of this author's adult fantasy but this one is on my TBR! Your comments on the characters and the magic confirm this sounds like something I would enjoy, if I can get past the length :P


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