|Series: Tombtown #1||Rating: 7.4/10|
|Date of Publishing: April 22nd 2019||Genre: fantasy|
|Publisher: self-published||Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble|
|Number of pages: 422||Author’s website: victoriacorva|
A Librarians-and-Necromancy Fantasy with Small Town Charm in a City of the Dead
The others believe in blood and bone. Ree believes in books.
She manages the libraries and draws maps for the denizens of her hometown, a secret society of necromancers hiding in a sprawling underground crypt. Though they look down on her for not practicing their craft, Ree has bigger ambitions than raising the dead. She’s going to resurrect therianthropy, the ancient magic of shapeshifting. Or at least — she’ll do it if it really exists. And if she can find the books that prove it.
But Smythe, a chatty historian from the world above, stumbles into the crypt and takes a curse meant for Ree. Now she has to find a way to save him, keep the townsfolk off her back, and convince her necromancer parents that shapeshifting is a viable career path.
Ree is certain that if she and Smythe combine their scholarly skill sets, they’ll find the right books to solve their problems. But Ree’s search for power might put the entire town in danger, and her father and the other townsfolk want Smythe dead lest he reveal their home to a world that hates them.
SPFBO Note from Timy
When I finished the slush piling, I had a few favourites I wanted to see advanced into the semi-finals, and some of them did thanks to my fellow judges. So I was left to chose between my remaining favourites. Which was a much harder choice than I anticipated, because our group had some really good gems. I had a handful of books in mind I wanted to continue reading, but I was facing a time limit, so I narrowed my choices down to two: Blood and Shadow by Robin Lythgoe and Books and Bone by Victoria Corva (Belief’s Horizon by I. W. Fergusson was a close third). As I couldn’t make up my mind, I decided to read both books up to 50% or so, before deciding which I will continue. And though Blood and Shadow was a strong contender, it didn’t quite catch me as I hoped. Books and Bone on the other hand stole my heart, and thus it had become my choice as one of our semi-finalists!
I’m really pleased how many promising books we had, and I’m sorry we can’t roll all of you forward, but I definitely will be giving out some shout out in the coming weeks!
Timy’s Review – 8.5/10
Books and Bone was among the last books I’ve slush piled for SPFBO. Partly because I was trying to catch up to the others throughout the months so we could keep eliminating our titles, and partly because I had a feeling it’ll be good and tried to save it. Unless one other book which I read really early and kept comparing all the other books to it. Ugh, anyway, back to the book at hand.
Ree grew up surrounded by necromancers, magic users and the dead in a necropolis called Tombtown. Pressured by her parents to learn one type of magic – preferably the Craft, the most powerful of all – Ree is determined to go after her own head and choose her own path, regardless of what other people expect from her. Enter Smythe into the picture (spoiler: it’s not going to go down well), an upwolder historian with a neverending curiosity and a bubbly personality which is in stark contrast with everything Ree ever knew. Growing up in a cold and competitive environment, she has no idea how to handle friendliness. Not surprising, given that her best friend, Usther, has her picture in the dictionary next to frienemy. I honestly didn’t like Usther for a long time, she kind of grew on me, even though I still think she would deserve a good slap. Or two. Or three. Anyway.
Books and Bone has a cool setting. I love the idea of necromancers living in an underground city, surrounded by almost endless suply for their Craft. That they have a bit disfunctional society. Oh, and an awesome library system to boot. I really wish we’ve spent a bit more time discovering Tombtown itself. The characters inhabiting it are well fleshed out, though I would have liked to have more focus on them in a whole, rather than all the things that happened. Let me explain. There is a lot happening in Books and Bone. Maybe a bit too much. Some things felt rushed, and there wasn’t enough time and space to build up to to them. That said, some twists got me by suprise, and I absolutely didn’t see some of them coming, which is great. I rarely get genuinly suprised by a twist.
But even so, the ending felt a bit rushed as well and the book ended somehow abruptly. I would have liked to discover more the relationships between the characters and their pasts. That being said, the writing itself was really good, though it could have used another round of proofreading/editing. I found some parts a bit repetitive regarding Ree and her ambitions.
Despite its flaws, Books and Bone was undoubtedly one of my favourites in our group of 30 books. Although its setting not exactly cheery, there is something utterly charming in this book that just won me over. If you are looking for something unique containing magic, death people, queer characters and twists that you never saw coming, then you are in for a treat with Books and Bone. I, for one, can’t wait to learn how the story goes and what else Ree can accomplish. Oh, and did I mention the kick-ass libraries?
Jen’s Review – 7/10
Ree has done the unforgivable, she has broken the most important (and only) town law there is; she has brought an upworlder into Tombtown.
Things get worse when Usther finds out, and Ree has to try and convince the council Smythe won’t be any trouble and to let him live before Usther tells on her, because finding out about Tombtown means death.
Ree owes Smythe a debt and wants to help him get back to the topworld but Smythe has ideas of his own. He wants to stay amongst the crypts and learn from the dead. If learning the Craft is the only way he will be allowed to stay, then he’ll consider it (especially if they could find a less messy and smelly way to go about the lessons).
This combines a few things that I love – libraries & book themes, girl friendships (yay), and a mystery. The story walks the line a little between YA and adult, with the content between dark and even a bit gory (it is necromancy) dealing with expectations of your family and others, friendships, and some light-gnawing fun.
Ree is in a funky spot, her father is a Necromancer and the town head. Her mother is a high priestess of Morris the Undying and Ree doesn’t want to follow in either of their footsteps. She wants to resurrect Therianthropy,- the ability to shapeshift by wearing the animal’s skin (like a Skinwalker) but it’s a lost craft that has almost no information on it’s following. Ree needs to choose a craft because you can’t live in Tombtown without one, and the grace of her powerful parents will only last with the townsfolks for so long.
Chandrian Smythe – third rank historian, has some stuff to prove. Young and smart, he is feeling an outcast from his life in the upworld and stumbles across Ree in his search through the tunnels and crypts looking for proof of his theories to bring to his peers. Ree is attracted to his brightness and how he exudes so much life. She is torn on his decision, if he decides to go the route of necromancy in order to stay below, she doesn’t really want him to lose that warmth she sees in him to the darkness that the art of necromancy takes from a person. (I would have loved a more in-depth look into her feeling about this)
Usther – Older by a few years than Ree, Usther would like to think she is Ree’s nemesis but in reality, she’s more a frenemy. She is a necromancer and a bit power hungry and doesn’t like to share but all the necromancers are that way. I loved Usther, she’s kind of a snarky ass at times but she’s not apologizing for her goals.
Larry – the minion. Who knew a half-rotten corpse could have so much charm but there you go. Larry ended up having an interesting history which in some ways took away a little of that charm but I liked the comic relief he gave and also that he wasn’t over-used.
Usther was my favourite character and her and Ree’s friendship the highlight of the story for me. I liked that we could see a competitive girl character without her being an enemy, and that it didn’t automatically make her the “bad guy”. I also liked that though both girls could be a little selfish you could see they did care about the other, even when they pretended that they didn’t.
There was a lot packed in to this book. Between Ree’s career choice, getting Smythe settled in and an outcome decided for him, and solving the mystery of the Lich along with a surprise detour, it was a good amount to wrap up in one story.
The story did wrap up everything, but getting there did give some of the solutions a rushed and/or easy feel. Especially with the two main arcs: the resolution to the Lich problem and the search for the Therianthrope transmutation – which felt a little like the answers just fell into her hands after all her time searching.
I almost wished the Lich mystery had been saved for another book because there were so many interesting dynamics that were going on between the rest, and we could have had a more in-depth look into the characters and the friendships (they were so wonderful). But also, because the whole thing with the Lich was a neat little twist in the story, that I would have loved to explore more thoroughly.
Minor criticisms aside this was a good solid read and though I’ve never been one on necromancy stories (they never had Larry either) I enjoyed it a lot.
- I’ve never wanted a pet corpse until Larry. (wow never thought that would be a thought I’d have)
- Opening of the chapters gives us quotes from different books to do with Tombtown – It’s worldbuilding without having to sit through worldbuilding (sort of). I’m liking that more and more authors do this, it keeps the pace up while adding quick little tidbits to fill out the details.
- Occasionally we’d jump in time and it felt shorter – for instance towards the end after coming back, they’d used three days but it felt like the same day.
Nick’s Review – 7/10
Ree, short for Reanima, lives in an tomb complex populated by necromancers and other creepy beings beneath the modern world above. This “city of the dead” has existed unbeknownst to regular human society and the residents of Tombtown would like to keep it that way if at all possible. While most of those in Tombtown practice the art of necromancy, Ree has other ambitions, foremost among them is wanting to rediscover the ancient art of shape shifting. Her parents are none too keen with this idea and would prefer that Ree focus her sights on her already predetermined station.
Being a librarian in the ghoulish city is a definite plus since Ree can scour the seemingly endless shelves looking for that one book that will impart upon her the knowledge that she is so avidly seeking. However she never expected Smythe, a historian and outsider from the world above Tombtown, to accidentally wander into forbidden necromancer territory and cast all of her best-laid plans in doubt. For when Smythe suddenly becomes afflicted with a curse that was supposed to be directed at Ree, she becomes enmeshed in a potential conspiracy where there are infinitely more questions than answers.
This book worked for me on quite a few levels. First of all, I work in a library so the whole library angle was very cool, especially when you also factor in the dark underworld aspect. It reminded me a little of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series at times, which I am fan of. The concept of an underground society that exists without the knowledge of the greater outside world really appealed to me and I wanted to know more about the history behind the conflicting societies.
Ree is an interesting character as she is constantly at odds with the expectations of who she should be that are placed upon her by her parents and the rest of the community of necromancers. We really get a sense for her struggle to be her own person in the midst of a lot of inner turmoil. I was instantly drawn to her as a character and Corva does an excellent job of making her entirely likeable and relateable.
Although this book has a slightly dark theme and setting, I found it to be pretty lighthearted overall. I’ve heard some people say that it should be classified as YA or middle-grade fiction, but I would stop short of that. I would classify it more as “comfort-read” fantasy in much the same way that the books of David Eddings and Terry Brooks are. It definitely has a similar quality to those books in that it contains quite a few moments of sarcastic humor coupled with the fun fantasy elements.
All in all I enjoyed BOOKS AND BONE and the only real issue I had with it was at times I thought the dialogue got a bit too long-winded. But other than that I recommend this book without reservation to readers who enjoy their fantasy with a splash of horror, a smidge of creepiness, a dash of humor, and a whole lot of cool world-building. This was a fun and enjoyable read and I look forward to checking out more of Victoria Corva‘s books in the future!
Belle’s Review – 7/10
Books & Bone was a fun romp of a fantasy. I enjoyed many aspects from it, from the unusual setting to several of the characters.
The world building was interesting, with a setting I don’t think I’ve come across before. We didn’t get to spend quite as much time in the library as I would have preferred, but it was a nice backdrop to many of the comings and goings.
I really appreciated Smythe’s earnest enthusiasm, and Larry provided a lot of comedic relief. The “bad guys” were a little lacking for me, however, they needed a little more depth in my opinion (as did many of the secondary characters). There were quite a few times where it felt like they were “bad” just because that’s who they are. Some more exploration of motives would have gone a long way.
The tone of the book was a little off for me. I couldn’t quite tell whether the book was intended to be YA or not – the writing style and pacing very much fits YA, but some of the behaviours and attitudes throughout were definitely not. The overall effect was confusing and definitely reduced my enjoyment.
If you like your fantasy a little lighter, this is definitely worth a read, and while this wasn’t one of my favourites, I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Victoria Corva’s work.
Congrats to Victoria Corva for being an SPFBO5 semi-finalist!