I've been reviewing books here on Fantasy Book Review for nigh on eight years now and although there have been scores of excellent books that have passed through my hands the titles that mean the most are those that I refer to as "hidden gems". By this I mean a great fantasy book that has made its way into existence without the assistance of a major publishing house. It may have been self- or independently-published (which is unfortunately not always a guarantee of quality) but both the contents and the presentation are to a superior standard. Brood of Bones by A. E. Marling is one such book and an impressive and admirably unique piece of fantasy fiction.
I would like to one day do a review without using comparison to another author and their work but I firmly believe that if you take it away from a reviewer they will crumble into a heap of dust. But in this instance I think comparison serves a worthy purpose and helps me to get across why I rate Brood of Bones so highly. And it is to Steven Erikson that I turn as there are similarities that can be found in both Marling and Erikson's work, most notably the ambition but also that both authors throw you right into the middle of a story with nary an explanation of what is going on and seemingly incomprehensible titles and roles for their main protagonists. Beginning Brood of Bones brought back memories of reading Gardens of the Moon for the first time, with raised eyebrows and "What on earth?" thoughts, but also being immediately aware that I was within a book that was skilfully written and the choice was mine - sink or swim.
Upon completion of his mighty ten-tome Malazan epic Erikson commented that "there is no point in beginning something without ambition. In so many aspects of my life I have held to that notion, and it has led to more than one fiery crash through the years". And A. E. Marling seemingly comes from the same nest, not content to re-tread through traditional fantasy tropes he has attempted - and in my opinion succeeded - in creating something unique and fresh. It won't be, like the Malazan books, to everyone's tastes but its intent is commendable and I applaud its bravery.
So what is the book about? Well... that's not the easiest question to answer succinctly but here goes... The Enchantress Hiresha, who suffers from a form of narcolepsy, often feels that every woman is pregnant except for her. But this time she has a valid point, they are. All the women in her city have conceived and a sorcerer is draining power from the fifty thousand unnatural pregnancies. In order to stop the sorcerer Hiresha must first understand him, even if it means seeking the help of the dangerous, yet charming, Lord of the Feast.
If asked to describe Brood of Bones I would hesitantly say that it was a fantasy crime thriller. This may not be doing it full justice but it serves well enough as the story largely involves the Enchantress Hiresha's search for the truth behind the pregnancies. The writing is just about right, not too sparse and not too wordy, and it fits perfectly. The characters are a real triumph and what makes the book that little bit special. A special mention should go to Marling's female characters which come across as authentic, an area where many male authors stumble.
If you are a fan of fantasy literature and want to read something new and exciting in the genre then you really should read Brood of Bones. It is a book that impressed me in all areas, from the glorious cover to the complex and involving story. I will sign off this review with the words on Steven Erikson - "Ambition is not a dirty word. Piss on compromise. Go for the throat. Write with balls, write with eggs. Sure, it's a harder journey but take it from me, it's well worth it." And I'm sure A.E. Marling would heartily agree with his sentiments.
Review by Floresiensis
2 positive reader review(s) for Brood of Bones
Robin from USA
Marling does a bang-up job with this novel about a magic-wielder afflicted with a sleeping disorder. Her drowsiness does not equate boredom for the reader. On the contrary, "Brood of Bones" is a fantasy whodunnit, with Enchantress Hiresha cast in the role of arcane detective. The setting and the magic are skillfully portrayed; the characters are complex and not always predictable. Hiresha struggles not only with her sleeping problem, but with the past that has formed her; her position is her armor and her purpose. Maid Janny is a gem of irreverence, while the Lord of the Feasts is both charming and terrible. The deposed arbiter of the city is exasperating at the same time she is delightful, and the two city leaders (a pair of priests representing different deities) are not what they might seem. I could wish the bodyguard were better developed, but it is a small complaint. The story is told from Hiresha's point of view, depicting her insecurities and fears in a very personal, very *human* way embroidered with the mores of her particular society.
Jo Barker from England
Welcome to an alternative world where the mastery of magic isn't always convenient and the heroes are just as flawed and vulnerable as everybody else. This book contains marvellous ideas, colourful characters and keeps you guessing until the very end. Be prepared to make a dent in the sofa.
9/10 from 3 reviews