California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

FANTASY/THRILLER

Title:  California Bones
Author: Greg Van Eekhout
Publisher: Tor, June 2014
Series: California Bones, Book 1

THE BOOK: Daniel Blackland is a thief and an osteomancer, able to use the magic imbued in certain bones to give himself power. Magical creatures like krakens and griffins are prized, but the bones of your fellow wizards will work as well. As a child, the ruler known as the Hierarch killed Daniel’s father in front of him, and Daniel has been running and hiding ever since. He has made a life for himself as a petty criminal, but when the local crime lord who raised him wants to hire Daniel for a job, he isn’t interested until he hears that it might finally be a chance for him to steal back a weapon made by his father that contains Daniel’s own bones. He puts together a crew to break into the Hierarch’s compound; close friends that he knows he can count on if things go south. But with all their skills, they are still taking on the most powerful magic wielder in the land.

MY TAKE: The magic starts with its setting in an alternate-Los Angeles (part of the authoritarian Kingdom of Southern California) that is amazingly true to the feel of LA while being completely alien as well.  I also loved the actual magic system, where wizards eat the bones of creatures to gain their attributes.  This is super icky, but really unique and different.  The carefully constructed crew of criminals, each bringing their own talents and baggage bring emotional depth to the story, especially Daniel with his traumatic past and his family ripped apart by the political upheaval of the Hierarch’s rise.

THE GENRES:
Fantasy:
This is a nearly perfect urban fantasy, grounded in our world but different because of the magic in the world. The osteomancy that Van Eekhout has created is a unique magic system, but one that leaves the author amazing latitude for development.  Since this is the first book of a new series, hopefully we will learn more about this magic and how it can be wielded. Thriller/Caper: The other genre equally important to California Bones is the heist/caper subgenre of the thriller.  We have protagonists that are flat-out thieves and unapologetic about it.  Daniel has been surviving on small scale grift and petty theft, but he knows just how to pull off a big job.  The structure of the heist story is all there: gathering the crew, setting up the job, and executing the heist.  Those who love noir will fall for this novel, even if they don’t usually read fantasy.  There’s even a call out to the movie Chinatown!  Plenty of tension and action make this a hugely entertaining and fast read.
RATING: 9/10 Damn near perfect.  Where’s the sequel? Wantwantwant.
Buy it: Shop Indie Bookstores or Amazon

READALIKES:

  • Premonitions by Jamie Schultz
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Want more Fantasy/Thriller blends? Try the genreblender.

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