Review | Hall of Bones – Tim Hardie

About the Book

In the remote land of Laskar the seven ruling clans have vied with each other for power for over a century. The son of the Reavesburg Clan Chief, Rothgar, has been groomed all his life for a role supporting his elder brother, Jorik, in leading their kingdom when their father’s time finally comes to an end.

However, the rulers of their greatest rivals, the Vorund Clan, are in the grip of something older and far darker. They have been conquered by evil, a remnant from the time when the gods warred with one another and the world of Amuran collapsed into the Fallen Age.

Everything is about to change …

426 pages (kindle)
Published on November 25, 2020
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If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times recently: Norse-inspired fantasy is seriously in right now. I’ve been editing an absolute ton of the stuff, and I’m even swayed from where I was before (“Norse? Meh.”) to really being into it. I mean, yeah, a lot of this change in my perspective has to do with the incredible authors I edit for, and how well they visualize their worlds and tell their stories, but it’s also because the more I read of Norse-inspired fantasy, the more I realize the vast swath of diversity in this specific subset of the genre. It interests my writer brain, and entertains my reader brain. 

So when someone said, “Hey, you should read Hall of Bones” my first thought was, “Okay, well that title has me. I want to know about this hall filled with bones” and my next was “Ah, more Norse fantasy. I’m in.” 

Hall of Bones is Hardie’s debut epic fantasy, and while it is unique in many ways, I enjoyed the way Hardie leaned on tried and true fantasy elements while weaving in his own, unique aspects as the book progressed. While this book truly is its own animal, in a lot of ways it felt like a homage to epic fantasy, a love letter to the genre the author is obviously very passionate about. 

The book itself is told from the first-person perspective of Rothgar. In the prologue, he’s imprisoned for something, but you don’t really learn more than that. Then, in the first chapter, the reader experiences the story through Rothgar’s point of view, from his childhood on. Honestly, you don’t see much of either of those things in epic fantasy. “Those things” being first person POV, and coming of age type stories. The entire thing isn’t a coming of age story, but I think giving some of Rothgar’s history, his background, helped build a solid foundation for his adulthood, and what eventually ended up happening to him. 

This division between Rothgar’s childhood and his adulthood served to form a really well-rounded character who started out pretty normal. Subverting the charmed child, or the chosen one trope, we see Rothgar as a boy, who was just a boy. Perhaps he had a bit more pressure and expectation on his shoulders than others his age, but it wasn’t some divine will that thrust him into the situations he later finds himself in. He’s just shockingly human. Furthermore, I enjoyed seeing the flip between who Rothgar was, and who he ended up being. This deep character study isn’t something I run across in epic fantasy very often, and I truly enjoyed it. I am a sucker for stories that show how people came to be who they ended up being. 

The world itself is complex and layered. There’s plenty of personal and political intrigue, and plenty of pain. As in all epic fantasy, a lot of dark things happen to a lot of people. There’s manipulation and bloodshed, pain and heartbreak, and, of course, death. Don’t go into this expecting some happy, fluffy tale. That’s not what this is, but I think the title should give that away. There are a lot of clans, relations, and the like in this book and sometimes it can be confusing, however. 

The characters are all well-crafted. It’s obvious Hardie has spent a lot of time and care to bring them to life, and they do shine. Even secondary characters never felt cookie-cutter for two-dimensional to me. They were all people who acted, and existed, despite how moderate their roles in the book might be. That being said, I did find myself a little disappointed in the gender roles in this book, where women typically keep themselves to their “traditional” roles of homemaker, lover, etc. If they have power, they weld it more subtly, and men are the strong ones who go get things done. I do hope the series explores a bit more diversity in future books. 

The plot itself is gripping, and moves along at a good clip. The first half is more about moving the pieces around the board: the arranged marriages, loyalties, alliances and the like. The second half is more about action, bloodshed, and brutality. The perspective of Rothgar as a child and as an adult really helps both of these parts of the book matter to me as a reader. As he changes and evolves as a character, so too does the world around him. Not everything is expected, and still we have those comfortable elements of epic fantasy there, mixed in with fantasy that is all Hardie’s own, creating a book that is both comfortable and entirely new all at once. 

Was this a perfect book? No. But it doesn’t really need to be (perfect books are boring). It’s a solid start to a new epic fantasy series that I think deserves more attention than it has received. It is sure to appeal to epic fantasy fans, drawing them in with familiar elements that make the genre so compelling, and then deftly weaving in aspects that are entirely Hardie’s own. 

Hall of Bones is a strong debut by an author who should absolutely be on your radar. I can’t wait to see where he takes me next.

4/5 stars