Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Published by Tor, Tor Books on June 10, 2014
Reviewed by: Megan
When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian.
When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.
Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles—the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California—Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch's storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian's sword, an object of untold power.
For this dangerous mission, Daniel will need a team he can rely on, so he brings in his closest friends from his years in the criminal world. There's Moth, who can take a bullet and heal in mere minutes. Jo Alverado, illusionist. The multitalented Cassandra, Daniel’s ex. And, new to them all, the enigmatic, knowledgeable Emma, with her British accent and her own grudge against the powers-that-be. The stakes are high, and the stage is set for a showdown that might just break the magic that protects a long-corrupt regime.
Extravagant and yet moving, Greg van Eekhout's California Bones is an epic adventure set in a city of canals and secrets and casual brutality--different from the world we know, yet familiar and true.
Fans of MISTBORN are going to love Greg van Eekhout’s West Coast take on the magical heist story in CALIFORNIA BONES, with its alternate Los Angeles, quirky ensemble of thieves, and introduction to osteomancy. Though I devoured it with the same gusto that the Hierarch devours the bones of Daniel’s father, the narrative moves very quickly, cramming several books’ worth of story into a single novel. There are so many fascinating aspects of the world van Eekhout’s created that I want more time to get to know its intricacies, and I think the relationships, in particular, suffer for the speed.
I adore heist stories, and if a writer tosses in some magic, I’m in heaven. Osteomancy (literally, bone magic) imbues the skeletons of various creatures – many of them fossils – with powers pertaining to the animal, after they are boiled and imbibed. Most osteomancers can only use one ability at a time after drinking the proper potion, but Daniel is conditioned by his father to hold onto the abilities long after the initial ingestion. This causes him to stink of magic, and attracts the attention of Inspector Gabriel Argent and his ‘human hound,’ Max. These two deserve their own book – one is the ultimate bureaucrat whose mother was murdered by Hierarch (who happens to be his uncle), the other is a man literally treated like a dog and scheduled to be executed. It’s a twisted buddy cop movie that threatens to steal focus from the main plot.
All the characters are fascinating, and the eventual truth behind their motivations is bittersweet, but I want more backstory, particularly amongst the crew. The twists on familiar L.A. landmarks entertains this life-long Angeleno more than it might the average reader; the use of the La Brea Tar Pits is especially inspired - not to mention Walt Disney as a glamor mage with his own fiefdom. The scenery and subtle shift on the world as we know it are so intriguing, to say nothing of the political situation, I only wish van Eekhout had taken a little more time to introduce us. Hopefully this is an universe he plans to revisit.