- Brood of Bones
- By: A. E. Marling
- Rating: 4 (out of 5)
How’s this for a hook: Narcoleptic enchantress is summoned to discover why entire female population of a city is pregnant. It caught my attention, that’s for sure. Twice, actually, because I downloaded this in June, when it was free, and then promptly lost it among my gigantic to-read list until Christmas, when I rediscovered it while loading up my new Kindle Paperwhite. First read on the Paperwhite, good omen.
This is the kind of gem that keeps me reading the freebies/cheapies. Not only is it generally well written, it’s refreshingly different. This is not your average fantasy novel. The protagonist is fascinating, if a mite stuck up and insecure (and human because of it), and the premise is frightening. It keeps you interested from beginning to end.
The magic systems in this world are varied, but each has their own perks and flaws. The paladin-ish class are healers as well as fighters, but using their magic eats up their capacity for emotion, leaving them functionally robots – or sociopaths – bound only by their order’s rules. Our protagonist the enchantress can only perform her magic while asleep; additionally, it requires skin-to-skin (or steel, or whatever) contact and leaves the practitioner vulnerable to both physical harm and personal humiliation. Our villain’s magic is different still, and then there’s the Lord of the Feast…
The Lord of the Feast is one of my personal favorite archetypes: noble but evil. He is quite literally the stuff of nightmares; he and his followers cast illusions and feed on fear. The Lord never lies, but when he promises aid, our enchantress could stand to read a little deeper between the lines. The interactions between Enchantress and Lord are tricky and twisty, but there is a certain mutual admiration, even if at least one of the parties would not admit it.
The enchantress herself is a complex and occasionally conflicted character. She wears her rank and honors literally, embodied in twenty-seven gowns she wears at all times. This leads to certain limitations. I can’t entirely be sure that the gown-wearing is a feature of her class, as she is the only enchantress we meet, or if it exists as a personal security blanket. She’s also so narcoleptic that she’s prone to fall over anywhere: her carriage and sleeping chambers are strung with complicated harnesses to keep her from falling over or hurting herself.
Her guardian, called a Spellsword, carries arms and armor in excess of 200 pounds, but can move with ease thanks to the enchantress’s magic imbued in his gear. This leads to some rather amazing tricks on his part (as he can make the armor lighter or heavier at will) but ultimately leads to his downfall and the enchantress’s as well.
The plot revolves around fifty thousand pregnant women and girls, from twelve to the very elderly. Many of the women are harassed and abused as their families punish them for nonexistent infidelity. It becomes apparent that such an encompassing plague, as it were, could not possibly be anything other than the work of a god…. or a mage. Our enchantress turns detective, using her magic to navigate political and societal challenges as she searches for answers.
The world is well-constructed, reminiscent (to me) of the Middle East with touches of North Africa and the Far East while never pretending to be anything other than it is. The gods are omnipresent but never involved. Magic is definitely real, and the gods may be as well, but we see no sign of them save their priests. There’s Local Color detail everywhere, subtle but useful to the reader’s comprehension.
I found some details lacking, in particular whether or not the enchantress’s quirks were part of her position or simply her own. I also found the snarky maid character mostly irrelevant; rather, the presence of the maid is necessary, but her contributions to the conversation serve no real purpose.
I have to say, it lost a star for hitting my EDITING: GET YOU SOME button and the obvious empty spots where the story didn’t reach, but otherwise the marks are high. It’s only $2.99 on Kindle – check it out!