Themes Explored: regret, magic, mistakes, pride, love, forgiveness, fantasy, magic, youthful rage, good versus evil, antihero, redemption
Summary: Cadvan of Lirigon, one of the most powerful Bards of his time, has been exiled from the School of Lirigon for a grievous crime that unleashed the power of the Bone Queen. Isolated and guilt-ridden, he is burdened by memories of his dealings with the Dark. Meanwhile, across Edil-Amarandh, a number of disturbing events suggest that the Bone Queen may not have been successfully banished, as was previously believed. The Light is under threat, but does Cadvan have the strength to face the Bone Queen again? (Adapted from Goodreads)
Every person comes in shades of grey and white. No one is completely pure or incapable of committing serious crimes. It all depends upon the circumstances and who you are at that moment. This novel asks the question what makes someone evil? And what makes someone good? Several years prior to the events in The Bone Queen, Cadvan, a bard of the light (i.e. a magician/wizard), became involved in the “dark arts”. As a young impressionable man Cadvan falls under the spell of an older “hull”, in this world a hull is a bard who sold their soul to the darkness. Under this hull’s instructions, Cadvan learns the forbidden side of magic. Unfortunately this knowledge fuels Cadvan’s ego and stokes a great fire within him to prove his superiority to every other bard. In particular, he wants to prove his superiority to Dernhill, his perceived rival at the School of Lirigon. To prove this fact, Cadvan decides to call up a spirit from the Shadowlands (a place similar to purgatory). Instead of controlling this being, Cadvan loses control and unleashes the Bone Queen on the world.
The events in the novel pick up several years after Cadvan’s exile from the School of Lirigon. He know lives as a humble cobbler in a small, forgotten part of the world. Then terrible things begin to happen. People start having terrifying dreams. Others disappear. In the parts of the world brimming with magic the Shadowlands begin to blur with reality. Long dead souls start walking the streets at night. Then Dernhill arrives at Cadvan’s door asking for help. The novel picks up steam once Cadvan and Dernhill team up. They start as rivals and slowly become uneasy allies. As they race around trying to figure out what happened, they slowly heal from their past wounds.
Philosophically, The Bone Queen deals with the concept of redemption and second chances. Does one bad decision make you a bad person? Can an evil person commit a selfless act? Is anyone really redeemable? Do badly behaving people really change? All of these questions underly the more fantastical elements of the narrative. One of the draws of fantasy fiction is the ability to examine deeper philosophical questions in a world outside of everyday reality. Readers can relate with Cadvan and Dernhill since we all struggle with the concept of “good” versus “bad”. However, one drawback is Cadvan can verge between moody and overly self-pitying fairly quickly. Moping is no more fun on the page then it is in real life.
World building wise, Croggon effortlessly expands on the political side of the world depicted in the Chronicles of Pellinor books. As a prequel The Bone Queen works on expanding the political cracks depicted among the characters in the original series. Fans of the series will recall that the Chronicles of Pellinor depict a conquered world with the various survivors trying to figure out what happened and how to survive. This book shows why the Bard Schools managed to fall prey to corruption and greed. Even if you are not a fan of the original series, The Bone Queen is an enjoyable character study. One major drawback is that the narrative moves rather slowly and the ending feels anticlimactic. However, I do not think these drawbacks diminish the readability of the book.
The Bone Queen, Alison Croggon, 2017, Candlewick Press, ISBN 9780763689742