Morning me hearties! Today I have a book for the grown ups. It was released a while back, and I remember picking it up at that time but for some reason I didn’t get very far into it during that attempt. This time however, I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley (thanks!) and I was hooked after the first few chapters. I give you…The Bone Road by Mary Holland.
In The Bone Road, we are first introduced to Rhona and Jak as they attend to the burial rites of their mother and grandmother respectively. In the culture of those who travel the Bone Road, the dead are placed in the ground beside the road and left to return to the soil, and become part of the road that gives life to the Wid and the Zeosil who travel and camp along it. Rhona then, must decide whether she will continue her mother’s work as a divvy – a woman gifted with the ability to sense life in the unborn, and to predict whether the child will be born a Wid, a Zeosil or a Shun (unable to breed) – and how she will fulfil her mother’s death bed task. With unforseen danger closing in all around, Rhona will have to use all her resolve to fight for her place in a changing society.
Now, first let me say, this is a complex book. I was trying to decide whether to give it a Read-it-if review or hand it over to Mad Martha for haiku-reviewing, but neither of those seemed to fit this story, so I’m just going to do a plain old review. (Never fear though, emergency protocols have kicked into place since this event and the hasty formation of the Maniacal Book Club has occurred to deal with such odd books out in the future!).
There is so much going on in this book. In fact, I have got so used to reading kid lit and lighter adult fare, that I didn’t realise how hefty a read this was going to be…but I really didn’t notice the time I was spending on it because I was so engaged with the story.
Basically, the book is told in a number of parts that span many years – initially, Rhona and Jak stop in at a major camp and Rhona takes the decision to form a life partnership with Matteo, a Shun, whom she has loved for many years. In the culture of the Wid and Zeosil, Shun people are a sort of untouchable class, and Rhona’s decision causes shock and some measure of outrage in the camp. The initial part of the book deals with this circumstance, as well as Rhona’s attempts to put to rest the task that her mother gave her on her deathbed – to find and warn a lander woman (a person living in a settled community) named Selina about “the Rider” and the dangers he poses to the stability of Wid and Zeosil society. The second part of the book…well, I can’t tell you much because it would be a big spoiler…but it focuses on Selina and her attempts to take revenge on a person in her household who has wronged her.
Essentially, The Bone Road tells the tale of a society that is in flux. The travelling culture of the Wid and Zeosil is coming under threat from landers who are gaining more power and control of the Bone Road. New alliances and enmities are being formed between Wid, Zeosil and Shun, and new ways of thinking about the Shun are causing friction within the travelling community. So amongst all the action, there is a tangible thread of social commentary running through the novel. There’s also a fair bit of violence, a bit of romance, a bit of mystery….a bit of everything really!
I would recommend this book for those who like a light fantasy – and by that, I mean where the fantasy is in the building of a different world, rather than in magic and mythical creatures. I would also say that this book would appeal to those who enjoy women’s lit (I’d say Chick Lit, but there’s almost a disparaging twang that goes along with that term…) and stories set in worlds in which women have a dominant role to play. Finally, I’d say this would be a great choice for those who like novels that fully explore relationships – between individuals, and also between communities.
This felt to me like a long read, even though it comes in at under 400 pages, simply because there is a lot going on. There’s a lot of cultural information that needs to be explained, which may account for some of that lengthy-feeling, but also there’s a lot of complex things happening. It’s certainly a book to pick up when you have time to spare, so you can really focus on slipping into the world and the culture and taking it all in.
Until next time,