Lots of Bones, Little Meat
The Bones of the Past is an ambitious novel. It builds out a lot of world and introduces a ton of unique characters. It's the first part of a series of unknown length. However, it bites off a bit more than it can chew and left me with a feeling of indigestion.
There's a lot going on in this novel, so bear with me here. The city of Sacral returns from another plane to a wasteland and is confronted by a changed world from the one it originally left. A sailor is attacked by a monster and starts a new career as a monster hunter in the Night Guard. A child is fused with a power beyond her control and forced to grow up very quickly in the city of Bialta. Finally, a mysterious mage comes to Tolrakh Esal to sell his powerful wares to a petty tyrant.
These are all the very basest descriptions of the half dozen plots in this novel. Supporting these plots are dozens of characters introduced over the course of 500 something pages. What's amazing is that these places and characters have distinct voices. The characters may be a little flat, but I could recognize them and their motivations by the end of the story. It's a feat for Munro to pull these all into a fairly short novel (500 pages being the bare minimum for a large scale fantasy series such as this).
Unfortunately, all these characters and places don't leave much room for a deep plot. It's like we've drawn the map, put all these pieces on the map, drew a couple lines connecting some but not all of them, and called it a day. It's a lot of place setting for more stories without much story in this novel. If I were asked to describe the main plot in this novel, I could identify that (which is good), but I could cover it with a couple sentences. The rest of the subplots may be supporting it in the long run, but they're fairly separate right now. This problem is made even worse by the fact that the conclusion of the main plot is extremely anti-climatic, and introduces yet another character.
When I think about the other fantasy series' that inspired this one, such as A Song of Ice and Fire or The Malazan Book of the Dead, I also see a lot of characters and a lot of subplots, but they're all given spotlights and they're not all started in the same novel. The Bones of the Past feels like we're starting a huge series without much respect to the individual novel. I liked it, truly, but I wish it did more with less. Am I likely to review the next book in this series? Yes, but if it puts more characters on the table without doing more with these characters, I won't be happy about it.
Baseline Assessment: 6/10
Bonuses: +1 effectively builds an interesting world and characters
Penalties: -1 walks away from all of it without much resolution
Nerd Coefficient: 6/10 (still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore)
POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014
Reference: Munro, Craig A. The Bones of the Past [Inkshares, 2017]