A complex story that surprised me by the end, but I honestly wish there was more. Content warnings: sexual assault (off page), pedophilia (off page), self-harm/suicide, mental health, domestic abuse (on/off page), non-consensual sex (off page). Thanks Tor Books for a gifted copy of this book.
Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.
Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.
Charm is a whore, and a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real.
Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.
now—Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.
If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil—her freedom. But she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.
Charm must choose. Her dead Emperor’s will or the whispers of her own ghosts. Justice for the empire or her own revenge.
The Bone Orchard definitely teetered between good and really good, but it felt short of great for me. For all intents and purposes, this was a good story. I loved the complexity of it, the multiple dynamics at play, the big reveals, and the world that the author created. There’s a lot going on and a lot to keep up with and you’re intrigued by it all, but the ending disappointed me and components of the story made it difficult for me to really enjoy it.
The good parts: the bone orchard and Charm! Honestly, this was the most fascinating part of the whole story. I loved learning about the psychics of this world, the insanity they face as they grow older, the mindlocks, and how Charm was able to divvy up the worst parts of herself into clones. The clones themselves all had their faults, their inaccuracies, but their separate minds made me intrigued. I loved the dynamic between Charm and the Lady as well and finding out bits and pieces of her past and how she became a mistress at a brothel definitely kept me going. It would have been interesting to read more about why she decided to make these clones.
I also loved this conversation of moral vs. immoral. Charm and Lady were always arguing with each other on what a woman “should” be. From owning the brothel to creating the split personalities, there was a lot of conversation around this and it was so interesting. Who holds the moral high ground between these two women? That’s something interesting to explore throughout the story.
While I found the mystery behind the Emperor’s death to be interesting, this was also combined with a political storyline. And for the most part, I like political intrigue in my fantasy, but I wasn’t feeling it for this one. I felt like there was already too many things going on while we find the Emperor’s murderer and understanding the boneghosts and Charm’s past, so then having political upheaval, rebellious lower classes, and people trying to overthrow the government was a little heavy handed for one book. I think it also didn’t work because it felt like such a throwaway.
The other thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was how clunky it felt. While the world was super interesting to dive into, a lot of what you figure out is through inference. Even when they revealed the big reveal, I was lost as to how they came to that conclusion. I think another part that really frustrated me were the conclusions these characters were coming to without telling the reader. I understand how bits and pieces can come together and the protagonist will have that “ah ha!” moment, but it’s not fun when the reader doesn’t come to the same conclusion at the same time. When you finally understand why the person who killed the Emperor did what they did, it makes complete sense. It’s just a tough time getting to that point.
Overall, it was an intriguing story to start, but many of the components made it tougher to reach the end.