Plot at a Glance:
Tea (pronounced Tay-uh) is born into a family of witches. When her powers come of age and she accidentally resurrects her brother, Fox, from the dead, Tea discovers that she is not like her sisters. She is a Bone Witch, a necromancer, with power over the dead. Power that forces her to leave home in order to learn how to control. In her new home, Tea trains to become an Asha in order to stand against rising forces of darkness that threaten all.
I have this thing about DNFing too many books in a year. I hate to do it, so I try to avoid it when I can.
This book sorely tested the limits of that rule.
☼ T H E G O O D ☼
✦ The Cover is AMAZING. Lets not even undersell that, because the cover is so beautiful. It sold me on it, and it sold a number of my friends on it too.
✦ The Premise. High Fantasy is my weakness. I just love it and can get lost in it pretty easily. You’ve got magic galore in this story, which focuses around a protagonist gifted with a unique ability to raise the dead. When she accidentally brings her dead brother back to life and discovers her abilities, her life is thrown into turmoil as she comes to understand her power.
… And that’s pretty much it… These are my two stars. This brings me to the bad.
☁ T H E B A D ☁
✦ Purple Prose Galore. This was exhausting to read. The descriptions are endless and so flowery. We get a play-by-play for every single outfit that every single character is wearing down to color and cut and it’s repeated over and over again. To make matters worse, so much of it is totally unnecessary and ancillary to the story. Take this passage for example, in which Tea describes another character’s cooking:
“My asha sister Altaecia was a lot like my sister Rose. She was round and quiet and keen on gardening. She was also Ankyo’s foremost expert on herbs and medicine and was a consultant to many Apothecaries operating in Ankyo. She made the best dizi I had ever tasted, and her ghormeh sabzi could silence even Polaire. Unsuprsingly, her ingredients were always fresh, and she was in the know with most of the vendors in the marketplace, so that her roasted lamb, seasoned and cooked for three hours to perfection, went unbelievably well with her sautéd kale, chickpeas and parsley stew, along with anything else she chose to cook.”
TL;DR: An extremely long-winded way of saying “her cooking was good.”
The entire book is like this.
✦ The worldbuilding is pretty over the top for YA. Hear me out. Most of the fantasy books where worldbuilding works really well are upwards of 900+ pages long. It works because there are so many opportunities to trickle that information about the world to readers. The story here is 400 pages and it is an endless and exhausting stream of information from page 1 to the very end. Every conversation references random places, leaders and cities that we’ve never met. It’s incredibly hard to make sense of any of it.
✦ Tea is the most special of all snowflakes. She doesn’t do things to influence the plot. Plot happens to her. She is the Chosen one that for reasons unknown becomes one of the most powerful Asha in the world and after that point her narrative becomes a stream of proving how noble/brave/beloved Tea is to everyone around her. It became really insufferable after awhile.
✦ The Magic System makes zero sense. I’m still trying to figure it out. Everyone wears their hearts on necklaces around their necks. They apparently change color like a new-age mood ring. Except when some people only have Silver or black heartsglass, which apparently don’t change color. Oh, also, you can apparently give your heartsglass away and someone can make you a new one except in the cases when they can’t.
The thing about fantasy and magic systems, is that you have to have rules. Even Harry Potter had to have his wand to cast spells. If there are rules here, they’re unclear and hard to follow. Even aspects of Tea’s powers come totally out of left field near the end of the story in a way that feels like a cheat.
✦ Plot, what plot?
The story is so slow. I got to 40% in when I realized that nothing was happening besides Tea attending Geisha classes and I still had no idea what the plot was. Literally nothing of importance happens after Tea raises her brother from the dead until about the 70% mark. There’s also a really weird narrative choice to split the story into a past/present chapter-by-chapter mix. It is directly inspired by Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle books, but it’s not executed nearly as well here.
With all said and done, I didn’t hate this book. The premise of the story is intriguing, for sure. but there are numerous and complex issues that need to be sorted out for book 2 if I’m going to bother spending my time reading it.
Thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for an Advanced Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.