The heroes we see in movies and read about in books are usually striking young people in the prime of their lives. We don’t see what happens to those heroes after time passes and they get wrinkled and older with aches and pains like the rest of us. We especially don’t think about what might happen to those retired and all-but-forgotten heroes if there were a disaster and they were needed. Can middle-aged heroes save the day?
In “The Bone Maker,” Sarah Beth Durst raises those questions as well as other, more thoughtful ones. The world we learn about is filled with magic fantastical creatures, and in the very beginning of this adventure, Kreya, the main character, is trying to steal a piece of bone from a cadaver before it is burned on a pyre. The punishment for such theft is severe. She is risking her life for the small shard she ends up taking back to the lonely tower where she lives with the body of her husband, who died twenty-five years earlier, during the great war against the bone maker Eklor, whose evil creations threatened their way of life. Keeping her company, in addition to her mostly-dead husband, are some magical creatures called constructs, which she created with bones. Sounds creepy, right?
It turns out that Kreya has perfected a way to bring her husband, Jentt, back to life. But to resurrect him, she needs human bones, blood, and the sacrifice of some of her own lifetime. Each time she brings him back, she must sacrifice time from her natural life span. The little shard she’s managed to steal has bought him only a day, and he didn’t even get to see the sunset before he died again. Kreya wants more. How much of your life would you sacrifice to bring back your beloved? Kreya, or rather Durst, comes up with a solution that seems perfect. Kreya will need a lot of bones to bring Jentt back permanently — human bones.
During that war against the evil bone maker, Kreya, her husband, and their three best friends all managed to defeat Eklor and kill him, but at great personal cost — Jentt’s life. Jentt died stepping in front of an arrow that would have killed Zera, a brilliant bone wizard, whose ability to make talismans that can provide magical abilities like strength, speed, stealth, and more provide her with an extravagant life of wealth after the war. Zera was Kreya’s best friend, but she hasn’t seen Zera in a quarter of a century. Kreya has remained in her tower, alone except for the snatches of time she gets with Jentt, and the company of her constructs, whom we come to view as almost pets, although they are not living, breathing creatures.
It’s when Kreya remembers the bodies of the soldiers who died in the war, and whose bodies are lying on the field where they died — a place that is off limits to any visitors and guarded by soldiers — that she decides to try to gather enough bones to bring Jentt back to life permanently. To do that, she will need talismans from Zera, whom she had left a quarter of a century before and hasn’t seen since. Kreya will have to make amends with Zera, but she is willing to do almost anything to bring back her husband. While the narration is third person omniscient, we learn much about Kreya and Zera, whose thoughts and motivations Durst readily shares. We see how hurt Zera was by Kreya’s abandonment of her and their other friends. When Kreya asks Zera for talismans and won’t tell her why she needs them, Zera refuses to help Kreya, and we get it.
But these heroes are human, and as such, they are all magnificent and flawed at the same time. Zera rethinks her stance and visits Kreya, where she learns Kreya’s secret — that she has Jentt’s body stashed in the bed in her tower — Jentt, who died taking the arrow that would have killed Zera. Zera decides to help Kreya in her quest, and it’s on that dangerous adventure that they learn something unsettling, jarring, world-shattering. Their old enemy who wanted to destroy their world, Eklor, might be alive.
What do heroes who are no longer young and strong do when there is a threat to their world? They allow others to be new heroes. But what if no one will step up? What if no one believes that heroes are needed? What then? Kreya, Zera, Jentt, and their friends Stran and Marso must decide if they are willing to risk their lives yet again when Vos, their country, needs them.
While some of Durst’s books grab you from the first page, this fantasy begins slowly. First we meet Kreya, and we learn how much she is willing to sacrifice and risk for just one day with Jentt. Just one day. Durst forces us to ponder an oft-repeated theme in literature — if we could live forever, would we? And more importantly, at what cost?
“The Bone Maker” is an action-filled fantasy with imaginative magical creations and creatures and a plot filled with danger and friendship. There are twists that we expect and turns that are completely unexpected. But it’s also a story that forces us to consider our own mortality. What do we live for? What would we sacrifice to keep our loved ones alive? Whose life is most important? Read this story and revel in becoming immersed in yet another Durst imaginary world where croco-raptors attack, constructs help people, and magic helps humans perform impossible physical tasks. Admire the five heroes who could walk away from danger and hope that someone else steps up, but risk it all for the good of others. It might prove constructive to consider the choices we might make in their shoes. We could certainly use more stories with with silver-haired heroes who sport wrinkles.
This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.
Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by the author for review purposes.