Secrets and Magic

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

Publication Date: March 22, 2022

Summary from NetGalley:

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.

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.

ARC provided by Tor Books via NetGalley for an Honest review.

Confession:

There were a few things that I liked about this book, but unfortunately it failed to captivate and engage me. When I read fantasy I want to be totally immersed in that world and feel something for the characters and what they are going through, but that just never happened for me with this one.

One of the things I did like was Charm and how she created her bone ghosts, which were representations of her shattered psyche. A little more explanation to how and why she did this at the start would have been nice, but enough was said eventually that you got the main points eventually. I liked her bone ghosts more than Charm herself, especially Pain, she was the only one I sort of connected to. As Charm is slowly reconnected to her past throughout the book, it was interesting to see how her personality changed and became whole.

The world was interesting but needed a lot more explanation. There was a bit of a strange mix of magical technology, but the setting of a palace and the outfits people wore were more reminiscent of the victorian era. The two ideas just never seemed to gel for me. I also was confused by the politics, as it included way to many people who I kept getting mixed up. The princes especially were hard to keep track of and they all seemed to have a history with Charm that was never explained. For the most part the princes were all cruel and nasty pieces of work which didn’t help to keep them separate. The mystery also fell flat for me, I just ended up not caring by the time we got to the solution.

The writing was beautiful, but I needed a bit more information up front about Charm and her ghosts as well as the relationships with all of the other characters. We do eventually learn most of it as Charm’s memories come back, but it was sometimes to late in the narrative for me to care about it at that point. I’m mostly thinking about her relationship with Prince Luther, by the time we find out the full story, I didn’t care about him or the two of them together.

This is probably more of a its me not the book type of review as I have seen several glowing reviews about how wonderful it is. So don’t just take my word for it and please look at other people’s opinion. It overall just didn’t work for me, but I can see how others will really like it.

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