California Bones – Greg Van Eekhout

About the Book

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.

304 pages (hardcover)
Published on June 10, 2014
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

I am incredibly reluctant to write this review. I’m even more nervous to post it, because I know that California Bones was a huge hit and for me it was just… meh. I get nervous when I’m on the other side of any strong lines, but that’s what reviewing is, right? Being honest with how a book worked or didn’t work for you.

California Bones has an awesome hook. The first chapter rocked, and I instantly thought that this would be a book I’d love. Slowly, as I got further and further into it, my love sort of faded. I still liked it, but I certainly didn’t love it.

The thing that California Bones has in its favor is the world building. If you’re looking for a unique magic system, look no further. This is a sort of post apocalyptic thing where California is its own kingdom ruled by osteomancers (people who get power from eating bones). It’s truly unique and absolutely creative. In fact, I’ve never read anything like it. Some passages hint at just how grisly this sort of magic system could make the world – references to people eating other people to absorb their power and so forth.

While the magic system is gripping, and the world is unique enough to hold attention, there are a lot of questions that don’t get answered and seem absolutely improbable to me. For example, in this world Walt Disney is still alive. How that is possible is never explained. Is this a parallel world where Disney never died? He is portrayed as being incredibly old, so he never died, but the how is never explained. If you look closely, there are quite a few holes. Plus, there is a lack of history that I really wanted. How did California become a kingdom? How did osteomancers become so powerful? The history could have added a lot to help me buy into the world.

The plot is incredibly gripping. If you’ve read references to Oceans 11, you’d be right. This is the sort of group-heist that will remind you quite a bit of that book. It’s a lot of fun and very fast paced. Again, however, there were issues. The group dynamic felt very forced and incredibly underdeveloped. I would have liked to see something that I’d find in Scott Lynch books, but I didn’t. The banter was forced, and I was told more about the relationships than I was shown. I was told that the group would do anything for Daniel numerous times. It would have made a bigger impact and felt more real to me if I had been given the time to understand, and come to that realization on my own. I would have done that, in time, but instead the impact was taken away by being told what I should realize through reading.

Now, I’ve poo-poo’d this book quite a bit. I wasn’t as sold as I probably should have been. However, it is a very fun, very exciting start to a series I will certainly be paying attention to. In an odd twist, I enjoyed Gabriel’s storyline more than Daniel’s. He felt natural to me. The only times I ever actually laughed out loud was at things that was said between Gabriel and the hound. He seemed to be more ambiguous, and it wasn’t until about the 60% point when I realized that Gabriel might have far more complex motives than I first thought, and the end results would be just as powerful and profound as anything that Daniel and his group accomplished.

Yes, there are plenty of faults in this book, which are easily overshadowed by a very unique magic system and a plot you can really fall into. The characters are fun and lively, and things move quickly. However, there were a lot of questions, that, if answered, would have helped me buy into the world building a bit more, and I would have appreciated being given the time and space to absorb some character motivations on my own terms. That being said, it was a great setup for the rest of the series. I look forward to seeing what happens next.


3/5 stars

2 Responses

  • there are a lot of questions that don’t get answered and seem absolutely improbable to me. For example, in this world Walt Disney is still alive. How that is possible is never explained. Is this a parallel world where Disney never died? He is portrayed as being incredibly old, so he never died, but the how is never explained

    Well, the true is the same of Mulholland, who is even older…but I think points to the how: magic. Both of them are powerful magicians, and have access to the Hierarch’s supplies of osteomancy. Kind of a hard balancing act, though, how do you say that someone “should be” dead when they aren’t, and make that feel natural rather than handpointing for the reader. The people who meet Disney aren’t going to think about his unnatural life. An omniscient 3rd person POV can manage to make that comment, but a limited 3rd person can’t.

  • I actually loved this one…

    Ah well, can’t win ’em all! 😀

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