Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Microreview [Book]: The Entropy of Bones by Ayize Jama-Everett

More like a finger to the eyeball than a fist to the face.

The Meat:

The Entropy of Bones is technically the third book in Jama-Everett's Liminal series, but one that stands on its own quite nicely. At least, this was my first experience with the series and I never felt lost, never felt in over my head. Like Chabi, the main character, the reader is expected to keep up and move with the flow, adapt and still manage to kick ass. Metaphorically, of course. The book is a wild ride, starting as a rather straightforward martial arts story that slowly shifts, that slowly draws out to be something different, something infinitely weirder and much more interesting, filled with superpowered people, time travel, and a large number of explosives. Basically, if you're looking for a book that hits and just keeps on hitting, The Entropy of Bones will do wonderfully.

The novel shines thanks in large part to Chabi, daughter of a Mongolian father who left her very young and a black mother who has slowly been stitching her life back together. Born mute, Chabi eventually found a voice, but not one of sound. This Voice, which speaks directly into people's minds, is part of Chabi's powers, part of whats her special. Of course, that she starts training with a rather unbalanced martial arts master and swimming thirty miles before lunch also helps to set her apart. She becomes a living weapon, a young woman in tune with her body, trained to take anyone attacking her apart. The fight scenes in the book are worth the price of admission alone, Chabi's body filled with a violent grace, and the prose of the battles is visceral and cinematic and fun. Chabi's voice throughout is wry and a bit damaged, is sarcastic, fun, and quite smart.

The novel also paces itself quite well, with the possible exception of rushing through the ending. But the story builds in a tantalizing spiral up, bringing Chabi first into a mundane world of drugs and thieves and then moving her laterally into things much, much darker. Along the way she explores her own past as she begins to figure out that something is going on in the world that her teacher never taught her about. By the time explanations are needed to catch readers up to what's happened in the setting because of the first two books, things already have a momentum that pushes right on, that keeps things immediate and compelling. Even when time travel and an epic war between groups of superpowered individuals are revealed, it doesn't' feel at odds with the story, and there's no time to doubt as the action keeps right on ratcheting up. 

If The Entropy of Bones was a sandwich, it would chip your tooth. If it was a drink, it would make you blind for a few panicked seconds before the world returned. The ending is relentless, breathless, and tragic. Chabi shines as she takes on an entire hotel filled with superpowered assholes, killing and maiming and generally badassing her way to save the day, even if it comes with a price that left me a bit numb. The novel does not pull its punches, and the ending offers the only ending possible, the only ending that would have made sense, even if it wasn't the ending that I wanted. Still, there is a feeling that the story, for all that it wraps up with lightning speed, is left open. A feeling that this isn't the real ending. And while it gives the conclusion a bit of an incomplete feeling, it also leaves things open to be picked up later, leaves Chabi with a chance of appearing again.

Mixing the sharp visuals and sound of broken bones of a Kung Fu movie with epic urban fantasy and a twist of contemporary music, The Entropy of Bones manages to be an incredibly fun read. The mythology of it is complex, and if I'm being honest I probably don't have a great idea of what's going on even after reading the book. But it does leave me hungry for more, curious to see where the story goes from here. As a standalone novel set in a series' universe, it manages to be mostly accessible and definitely entertaining, and well worth checking out.

The Math:

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for kinetic action and brutal fight scenes, +1 for mixing magic, music, and time travel in a way that I wasn't put off by

Negatives: -1 for leaving some unfinished business at the end, -1 for some unanswered questions in general that I'm guessing are answered in earlier books

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "A mostly enjoyable experience" (check out our rating system here)


POSTED BY: Charles, avid reader, reviewer, and sometimes writer of speculative fiction. Contributor to Nerds of a Feather since 2014.

REFERENCE:Jama-Everett, Ayize. The Entropy of Bones [Small Beer, 2015]