This edition of "Fantasy Review" covers California Bones by Greg van Eekhout. It is the first in the series, followed by Pacific Fire, and Dragon Coast due out September 15, 2015. Slight spoilers will follow.
By Greg van Eekhout
In an alternate universe Los Angeles, Daniel Blackland is the son of a powerful magic user, Sebastian. However, to cut down a rival, the Kingdom's ruler, the Hierarch, kills Sebastian and cannibalizes him right before his son's eyes, absorbing the magic embedded inside Sebastian's bones. Daniel escapes, and years later, is brought in to steal his father's most precious artifact, a sword made out of Daniel's own magical essence. Daniel puts together a crew of his friends, and someone on the inside of the Hierarch's organization. But Daniel has a hard time trusting someone he doesn't know. Could this insider ruin the heist of the century and send Daniel into the clutches of the Hierarch?
This story is about so much more than a heist. While Daniel—growing up on the streets, orphaned—needs to steal for a living, that is only one thread of the plot. More important is Daniel himself, his innate magic, what he gathers for the robbery, and his relations to the people around him. Daniel is a very deep, well-round character with clear motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. He's never been obsessed with vengeance for his father's murderer, showing that he's smart enough to realize the rules of the world. If he sought vengeance, he'd be dead by now. Instead, living is how he gets back at the Hierarch.
The other point of view character is Gabriel Argent, the Heirarch's great-nephew, and a bureaucratic worker in the government. His family connections are more a hindrance than a help—Gabriel's own mother was eaten by the Heirarch during the Third Correction, the same event that lead to Sebastian Blackland's death. Gabriel is clever, keeping quiet and unnoticeable within the government, until certain circumstances lead him to the knowledge that Daniel is alive. He goes to higher-ups with his discovery and suddenly becomes a target himself.
Gabriel is fascinating. The story could have easily been told with him as the hero. His view of the world—his morals of working within the system—differ greatly from Daniel, but the two have very similar motivations: only wanting to live and work in peace.
Mr. van Eekhout's writing style is quick and a tad gritty. It needs to be when it details a society that is ruled by a cannibal. But it's expertly done, adding to the overall atmosphere of the Los Angeles setting. The magic system, osteomancy, was refreshing; a new way for power to be used, stolen, and processed. This book barely scratched the surface of what osteomancy can do, and I hope it's explored more as the series progresses.
Daniel's crew—Moth, a healer, Cassandra, a good shot and lock pick, and Jo, a shapeshifter—are very important to the plot line of stealing the sword. Yet, they could have been more developed as characters. Part of what makes them this way is Daniel's own magic; he makes them loyal to him. So, it could be seen that they only act the way he wants them to. Still, I would have liked to know more about them and their backstories—especially more about Moth's abilities, and how Jo got hers.
This story kept me eagerly reading; it was difficult to put down. I'm really excited to start the sequel and find out how much more the magic system will be explored.