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.
I love eating bones. Nothing beats sucking on the joint of a fried chicken drumstick or biting the strip of tender meat off a pork rib (can you tell that I’m starving as I’m writing this?) but I would have never thought to make bones ingesting a magic system so kudos to van Eekhout for a novel concept.
The book itself, though, leaves an odd, contradictory aftertaste.
It is written well and simply – the action is gripping, the characters affable (if not particularly deep or multidimensional) and the dialogue is believable. Every time I read it, I get sucked in (even though I’m not usually a fan of heist stories like these) and pages blow past quickly.
Here’s the thing, though: I get absorbed in it every time I pick it up, but the moment I put it down, I have no desire to return to it anytime soon.
With my short attention span and way too many hobbies and interests vying for my attention, a good barometer of a good book is always how much I want to return to it despite other distractions and here’s where this book stumbles. The book reads smoothly but, till almost the last quarter, the story itself just isn’t that compelling to warrant a binge read.
Also, the world built is both really detailed and somewhat obfuscated. van Eekhout doesn’t seem to want to reveal anything more than the bare essential needed to move the plot along and it makes the full magic system a bit hard to grasp (even weirder, he mentions another magic system late in the story that doesn’t actually get used at all).
Plus, it seems strange that given all that magic and the large amount of mystical creatures in the world that the other aspects of the world seem to mirror our own perfectly. Surely the presence of magic in the world would have more deep-reaching changes to how the world functions beyond city politics and a new category of commerce?
Thankfully, it does get better. The lead-up to the ending gets increasingly more compelling and in the final stretch I was finally hooked.
Sadly, the ending is a bit of an anticlimax. It’s not a cop out per se but let’s just say that the final fight ended a lot quicker than one would expect. Plus, there was an introduction of a new character at the end that just felt unnecessary and shoehorned in for some future plan.
Overall, there is some good writing, exciting action, and an interesting magic system but ultimately California Bones is let down by its oddities. It makes for a decent read but isn’t compelling; the world building is detailed but not; the ending makes sense but isn’t satisfactory. What a strange book.