The Bone Way
Holly J. Underhill
3 / 5 Stars
I received this as an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. Thank you so much!
The story follows Teagan, who lives in a fantasy world with her wife Cressidae. The novel begins when Teagan realizes her wife has left to venture into the Shadow Realm, a land of the dead ruled by an angry queen. Teagan, being a devoted wife, goes after her.
I have a tenuous alliance with novellas. Rarely do I find they encompass the breadth of a novel or the poignancy of a short story. Unfortunately, I felt the same way about this one. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it! As a super fan of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (as much as one can be a fan of such a thing?), I appreciate anything that adapts that source material. In this novella, the adaptation is more of an inspiration than a true retelling, as there are only a few similarities to the original myth, but I enjoyed the premise.
The Bone Way is a whimsical and light fantasy that is easy to read and contains some interesting fantastical elements. It’s a little too whimsical for my bitter soul that thrives on despair and cold coffee, but I definitely enjoyed the queer representation, the fantastical creatures, and the underlying romance (once it unfolded). The author has a good descriptive prose and I was never confused regarding the action. Unfortunately, where the story fell a little flat for me was the world-building and the antagonist’s motives (nor was I 100% clear how the shadow realm functioned). I was definitely intrigued by the fantastical setting with its hint of steampunk aspects, but we are not given anywhere near enough of it to formulate a true picture of the world. I will be blunt and say I’m not sure why this wasn’t a full-on novel. Had it been, we could have been fully immersed in what I suspect is a rich setting, the pacing could have been steadier, and we would have seen Cress and Teagan’s relationship blossom before the journey. Regarding the latter, it’s hard to feel the stakes for them in the first third of the story as we don’t know a lot about their relationship. As the novella goes on, we do learn more and, as I said, their dynamic is lovely, but I found the story didn’t really pick up for me until the last thirty percent. These are all things from a critical reading perspective - I do think it’s a great story.
I definitely recommend it to those who enjoy light fantasy, Greek myth retellings, or a lesbian love story that’s normalized and quite touching.