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The Bone Witch

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Bone Witch Book Poster Image
Tale of dead-raising witch more coming-of-age than morbid.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Intricate world-building with multiple kingdoms to keep track of will get readers thinking about their favorite fantasy worlds in books. Readers can also compare the style of magic and training they see here with those in so many other series, especially ones where witches and others deal with the dead: the Old Kingdom, the Last Apprentice series, the Lockwood & Co. series, and more.

Positive Messages

Tea's mentor explains in Chapter 10, "There is no greater strength than the ability to understand and accept your own flaws." Also questions old-fashioned gender roles -- in this case, why a man can't be encouraged in fashion and the arts. Another of Tea's mentors explains why socializing with and learning about people from other cultures can forge understanding and peace.

Positive Role Models & Representations

We see Tea grow into her role as a bone witch through years of sacrifice and study. She's very duty-bound and loyal to her mentor, her brother, and women who become her sisters. She's also thinking beyond the constraints her role aims to impose on her and her friend, Likh, a boy who would rather dance than be trained to fight.

Violence

Fighting, raising from dead, and killing of large monsters called daeva injure the main character and kill some soldiers and witches. Daeva encounters usually leave off the gore except for a description of "loops of viscera." A man and two horses are raised from the dead and walk among the living. Other skeletons come up out of graves, speaking and, once, giving chase. The main character passes out from trying to control daeva with her mind. Mention of soldiers half-eaten by a daeva and villagers killed by them. Talk of a king dying in an ambush and a girl killed by her own father for shaming him with her choice of husband.

Sex

Some flirtation.

Language

Very light: "bastard," "damned," "ass," and "hell" said rarely.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Much drinking at the tea houses but not by girls under 16. The main character explains that she waited until 16 to drink wine and was disappointed when she tried it. An old woman smokes and drinks wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Bone Witch is the first in a series by Rin Chupeco, author of the ghost story The Girl from the Well. Here, main character Tea is a witch who can raise the dead. When she raises her brother by accident, a bone witch takes Tea on as an apprentice. The bone witches train to raise monsters called daeva and kill them before they regenerate completely from their last death and terrorize whole villages. Soldiers and others die with stories of some daeva ripping people apart, though the book usually refrains from gory descriptions. Tea studies hard and sacrifices much to learn her craft, even though she's shunned for the kind of magic she can wield in some circles. Tea shows her strength when she is supposed to be more beauty than brawn and encourages a male friend to pursue the arts, even though it is against the usual gender roles of their society. A romantic subplot exists, but the flirting is very mild. Men drink heavily in tea houses, but most girls there to entertain them refrain from drinking wine until they're 16.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byPadfoot09 October 10, 2018

Engaging book

I really enjoyed this book. It was very engaging and I loved the idea. There was a little bit of language towards the end but not extreme. It also was a little... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE BONE WITCH, Tea finds out she has dark magic powers at her brother's funeral. In her grief, she draws a rune automatically and raises him from the dead. With her brother as her walking-dead familiar, she becomes the apprentice of the bone witch, Mykaela, one of the last in existence, traveling to a new kingdom and entering the world of asha/witch training. Even though Tea is set apart from the other asha with her darker brand of magic, she's still taught everything an asha in high society must know: dancing, singing, flower arranging, and history but also fighting. From Mykaela she learns how to control and communicate with the dead, in preparation for her life raising and then killing monsters called daeva who regenerate every few years and kill anything in their path as part of an old curse. As her mentor Mykaela's health begins to fail, Tea readies herself to face her first daeva without her mentor's help. Chapters weave back and forth between Tea as an apprentice until age 15 and Tea, age 17, living as a hermit in caves on a distant beach. A bard finds her so he can tell her story, beginning with his amazement that Tea is no longer afraid of the daeva she'd been trained to kill. She seems to have another plan for the monsters entirely.

Is it any good?

The surprise of this coming-of-age story of a dead-raising witch is how much more focused it is on the fascinating multicultural magical world it inhabits than on creepy dead stuff. Readers see more of the main character, Tea, learning to dance and entertaining international nobles and soldiers in tea houses than we see her scare us with her morbid abilities. Yeah, her brother as her familiar is still a walking dead person, but they have a growing and sweetly protective relationship that doesn't feel morbid at all. Another surprise in The Bone Witch: The romantic triangle story is barely a story at all, more of a mention of a few glances and meetings with little reflection from Tea on it. While it's not terrible to stay focused on Tea -- she's interesting enough on her own -- there are some romantic revelations that make the reader feel confused and misled.

Also confusing at times is the story structure. We bounce back and forth between Tea at 17 in exile and Tea's apprenticeship from 12 to 15, with both stories unresolved, leaving the reader with many questions. But each question brings up some fascinating possibilities for Book 2.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the multiculturalism in The Bone Witch. Characters come in all shades here and from diverse places, and girls who study to be magical "asha" learn about the customs of the people they entertain in the tea houses. How does this diversity add to the author's world-building?

  • Tea's mentor tells her, "There is no greater strength than the ability to understand and accept your own flaws." What do you think she means?

  • Do you wish you could communicate with the dead? Whom would you communicate with -- or bring back to life -- if you had that power? Why are stories of the walking dead so popular? 

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