Published by Tor Publishing Group on March 22, 2022
Genres: Horror, Gothic, Fantasy
Buy on Bookshop
Sara A. Mueller's The Bone Orchard is a fascinating whodunit set in a lush, gothic world of secrets and magic—where a dying emperor charges his favorite concubine with solving his own murder, and preventing the culprit, which undoubtedly is one of his three terrible sons, from taking control of an empire.
"Mueller creates an intricate and richly characterized world in her gothic fantasy debut." — Buzzfeed
"A masterfully woven plot with refreshing narrators."—Publishers Weekly
BOOKPAGE'S MOST ANTICIPATED SFF OF 2022
TOR.COM'S MOST ANTICIPATED SFF OF 2022
CRIMERAD'S MOST ANTICIPATED CRIME FICTION OF 2022
GEEKLY INC'S MOST ANTICIPATED OF 2022
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.
But 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.
I totally decided to read this book based on the cover and nothing else. But I’m so glad I did because this book was fascinating and a ride from beginning to end.
The actual plot was a good and usual mystery novel. The Emperor tasks Charm to find who killed him and is in a perfect position to investigate as she is in charge of the pleasure house. With running the pleasure house, she is there to see and hear conversations, and, for the most part, most men underestimate her in the novel. While I had hunches on who murdered the emperor, I wasn’t positive about the method or who else was involved. Nevertheless, it was a compelling ending that wrapped up the mystery of the murder and Charm’s background. One interesting plot point was the mindlock. In this world, not only did necromancers exist, but also psychics. The empire went to war and conquered Charm’s land because they wanted access to the mindlock technology. The mindlock is inserted to mitigate the madness that befalls psychics.
It took me a minute to figure out who or what the bone ghosts were. The concept of physically taking out traits you hate and creating a body (a bone ghost) of plants and animal bones encompassing that trait was fascinating. I need to re-read literary theory on psychoanalysis and psychology because there’s definitely something here for analysis and Charm’s bone ghosts. The bone ghosts are Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain. Each one has the trait of their name. They work with and for Charm in the pleasure house and during the murder investigation. Throughout the novel, Charm absorbs each ghost back into her, which is how the reader learns about her background and previous life. With accepting back in bone ghosts, she has to take on those emotions and can no longer turn a blind eye. Pain is the one bone ghost that is never absorbed back into Charm, as Pain became too much of her own person with her own personality and traits. She actually gets to live her own life separate from Charm.
While the mystery wasn’t the best part of the novel, I definitely gave the higher star rating due to the characters, particularly Charm and her bone ghosts. I’m always down for a necromancy story; this one was a different idea than what I expected. But, again, I really need to re-read some psychology theory because taking out traits that are hindering or making you face your consequences is weirdly appropriate and human. It was a method to survive what happened to Charm, and nothing is more human than protecting yourself from trauma.