A story better left buried

By: McKenna Graham, Assistant Arts & Life Editor 

Title: “The Bone Witch”
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: One Star
Warnings: N/A

I went into this book with such high expectations. I’ve been really loving witches and that sort of thing lately, so when I found a book that sounded chock-full of spells and natural magic and powerful women getting things done, I was over the moon.

This book didn’t deliver in the slightest. It tells the story of Tea, a young girl with a bunch of equally unnecessarily named siblings, and her struggle to come to terms with who she is – a bone witch, a person capable of utilizing magic who is supposedly shunned by society because her brand of spellcasting is deemed unnatural and dangerous.

The synopsis on the inside flap of the book sounded intriguing enough for me to jump in, but I was immediately put off by the narrative. The world felt flimsy and poorly created, the plot was simultaneously hard to follow and totally inconsequential, and the characters seemed half-baked and one-dimensional. The writing felt unpolished and, quite frankly, unedited, as if an editor hadn’t even taken a real look at it.

It’s told in alternating vignettes – italicized portions are from the perspective of a bard who seeks out Tea when she’s 17 years old for reasons not immediately clear, and the regular text is apparently Tea telling the bard her story in past tense, from when she is first identified as a bone witch at 13 years old until she’s 15 years old, when the story apparently ends.

For Tea to be telling her story to a stranger, it follows that her present and her past self would at least be similar – after all, she is the same person, and the most useful reason to structure a story like this is to reveal certain things about Tea’s present through her past.

I understand that people change, but it felt so forced. She’s introduced as this powerful and mystical being, capable of controlling monsters, but the un-italicized narrative immediately debunks this, revealing her to be an unremarkable, weak and plainly boring character. The rest of the story continues to alternate between perspectives and time, with Chupeco struggling to reconcile the two entirely different fronts her character is trying to put forth.

It would be one thing if the character showed growth, but for the first 300 pages she’s just mopping floors and marveling over pretty outfits with awkward sentence structure and unrefined grammar. Any growth she shows in the last 100 pages is utterly inadequate and does nothing to forge a connection between past and present versions of her character.

In fact, Tea is so entirely flat and mind-numbing that, as I read I marked with sticky notes every time she actually made a decision or did something, rather than obeying someone else, I only used 12 sticky notes. Twelve may sound like a lot, but in a 400-page book, that’s Tea’s conscious self showing up every 33 pages or so. In the first 111 pages, she makes two – count ’em, two – decisions. Everything else that happens in this book happens to her, if not just in her general vicinity.

A dull main character doesn’t have to doom a story, but it does go a long way. The rest of the characters were equally unsalvageable – Tea’s brother, Fox (see what I mean about the terrible names?), is really only mentionable in that he facilitates Tea’s discovery as a bone witch, and yet he’s the second most present character in the story, after Tea herself. Lady Mykaela, Tea’s mentor, is established almost immediately as an authoritative and strong character, but she immediately fades into near-nonexistence – for someone who’s supposed to be important, she’s likewise inconsequential.

Even Tea’s personal antagonist throughout much of the novel is shamefully one-dimensional, with no real background and no characterization beyond “The Bad Guy.” The real antagonist is revealed in the last 25 pages and is neatly taken care of – the entire plot of the story resolves itself and ties into a neat little bow with little to no logic or significance.

I want to concede that I should’ve known, going into it, that I wouldn’t like this book. The flyer that came with it advertises that the book is meant for 12 to 17-year-old readers, i.e. not college students. Yet – and pardon my quick rant on this – there’s no real market for new adults trying to transition from the YA section to more mature literature, so a lot of college-age students end up staying in YA for much longer than the “young adult” section is advertised as catering toward.

And even if there was a separate category for New Adult literature – beyond the steamy romances with shirtless dude-bros on the cover – that doesn’t excuse the poor writing and arguably even worse editing that this book showcases. Grammatical mistakes, inconsistencies in plot and characterization, and terrible lines like “I glanced at the mirror and my mouth fell open. I looked amazing!” truly let down what could’ve been a cool concept had the premise really been flushed out.

I mean, a witch who is shunned from society because her brand of magic utilizes darker energy than the rest of her community? That sounds interesting to me, it really does. Yet at even this, the book fails – she’s feared a bit (when she finally does something), but for the most part everyone shows her reverence, or at least respect. At one point there’s a mysterious hooded figure that comes up to Tea and melodramatically throws an accusation at her, but even this is resolved quite neatly and inconsequentially in the end.

There’s a sequel coming out, which is good because a lot of things were introduced and never addressed again – another thing that’s crucial for an author to execute well, because otherwise it just sounds like they’re saying “I have a secret but I can’t tell you what it is,” which is lazy and ineffective storytelling – but will I be picking up that sequel? Almost definitely not.

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