An absorbing, eldritch adventure.
My friend Nils recently won this in a contest on Twitter, and she loved it, so of course I was going to read this promptly.
As this is a novella, I will keep things brief to avoid giving too much away.
The Bone Shaker is at its heart, that well known fantasy staple, the quest. On the one hand we have Vladisal and the Knights of Boska in a fragile alliance with the feliwyrd called Abildan (a sorcerous merging of human and mountain cat, known to be extremely dangerous and deceitful). While the knights seek to save the kidnapped son of their duchess from the evil, sorcerous madwoman called Dun-Wyrd, Abildan has a more singular goal. She seeks only to assassinate this Wyrd necromancer.
The Wyrd were famed for their monstrous armies; for using dark magic to merge humans with animals, creating vicious abominations to fight for their cause.
On the other hand, one of the knights, Redheart, has been sent to enlist the help of the Ulyyn or Forest Dwellers. It is believed that the Ulyyn will not stand for such evil as Dun-Wyrd upon their lands and they will send reinforcements upon hearing of the plight of the knights.
While that all sounds classically fantastic, Edward Cox has added elements that elevate this dark tale. Novellas inherently are short on time for authors to make much impact and immerse you in the world, but The Bone Shaker succeeded with aplomb. The dread atmosphere was palpable as the knights made their way through the forest and were set upon by arboreal horrors that were so vividly described as to make them grow from the page.
Twisted by corruption, fleshy roots protruding from their bodies, coiling around them, snaking from their mouths, they came on unsteady feet but with ravenous intent. One after the other, creeping from the forest, they headed straight for the dead boy. Men and women, old and young. The reek of decay and gargled moans filled the air.
Characters were just as compelling and I found myself empathising with Vladislav. She has to walk a fine line as the leader of the knights, trying to keep everyone in line and also motivated. It is clear she is well respected and has a loyal following, but the current situation has eroded confidence in her. The presence of Abildan, who is traditionally their enemy, is blight on the honour of the knights. Her help might be of the utmost importance, but the knights hate working with the abomination and Vladislav is caught in the middle. I could feel the knights bristling at the injustice of having to follow the feliwyrd instead of killing it, the tension tangible. The author also manages to touch on themes of friendship as those closest to Vladislav confide in her and try to help her navigate this slippery slope. Redheart, oh loyal, Redheart. Much of her story is spent in solitary, but her journey and its consequences also play into this theme; she is willing to do whatever is necessary. Abildan on the other hand radiates cunning and ambiguousness off every page, with Cox doing such a splendid job that I went to and fro in my support of her numerous times, her actual intent indecipherable until the very last page. Fascinating reading.
The world at large is only hinted at, but there is enough here to engross you. Bits and pieces of its history are also interspersed throughout, whetting the appetite for more and giving the sense of a vast supply of storytelling material waiting in the wings.
Lastly, I’d like to tip my hat at the writing. Edward Cox is in fact adept at a lovely turn of phrase, and I found myself highlighting random passages for the beautifully descriptive prose.
Deep inside the Great Forest, night had cast its shroud. The air was rife with the damp and earthy scent of leaf-mould. Thin tendrils of mist crept over twisting roots, weaving between skeletal trees like lost ghosts searching for a place to haunt. A new moon hung in a clear sky, its blue-grey light casting long shadows in the forest.
In conclusion, this is a great novella and you would do well to add it to your wishlist.
PS: Did I mention the ALL female cast? BADASS.
Review by Eon Van Aswegen
Edward Cox had his first short story published in 2000 and then spent much of the next decade earning a BA 1st class with honours in creative writing, and a Master degree in the same subject. He then went on to teach creative [...]
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