Do you like zombies? What about Frankenstein? Well how about sewn together animal monstrosities that are controlled through magical bone shards chipped from the skulls of live children? What if I told you those bone shards are programmed with symbols like computer chips and the monstrosities would follow if:then commands for the crazy emperor? Then have I got a book for you!
If you go into this book with the understanding that it’s all about programming language then everything makes a heck of a lot more sense. The Emperor has hundreds of constructs to oversee the empire for him. Children are put through a ritual each year to harvest more bone shards for him to use in these constructs, and many do not survive it. Once your bone shard is placed into a construct, the construct sucks your life from you until the bone sickness kills you and your shard has to be replaced. The Emperor’s daughter sees that this is wrong, and devises a plan to depose him and right the wrongs he’s done to the people of the empire.
I was surprised by this book. All the characters are interesting, even the smuggler with his little creature that he saves from the sinking island. I loved the set up of the fantasy map: a collection of islands that float into and away from each other depending on the season, one of which actually sinks into the ocean at the very beginning. The magic system was technical but clear, everyone’s role was defined and had forward momentum, and the ending was a half-surprise, half-“well, of course” but you won’t be disappointed with it. It’s suspenseful without stringing you along.
The issues of class that are addressed by this story are interesting. Harvesting the populace for the benefit of the ruling class, killing some in the process, crippling others, and sucking their life force dry just to make everything more efficient – it’s a horrifying and important statement that I haven’t seen made in quite this way before. It was obvious, but not so much that I felt like the author was beating me over the head with it. This book found me in this pandemic reality and reminded me to keep fighting against this kind of treatment, even when it seems impossible that I could ever overcome it.
This one takes a little warming up, but once you’re in you won’t want to put it down. Give it a try.
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