The Bone Orchard Review

Book: The Bone Orchard
Author: Sara A. Mueller
Publisher: Tor
Year: 2022
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Welcome to Orchard House – where the wealthy and influential men of Borenguard come to dine, drink, play cards, and talk politics. It’s where they come to visit with Mistress Charm and those birthed from the fruit of an orchard of bone trees, grown in vats, made to sere her and the needs of her guests.
But Mistress Charm herself is bound, a mind lock planted in her skull to harness her power and ensure her obedience. Now, the very emperor who destroyed her people and bound her to his will promises her freedom. If she can solve a murder – his own. Lying on his deathbed, he gives her one last command – discover which of his sons betrayed him and plotted his death.
Charm has lived a life of illusions, lies she told herself, lies she told others. The biggest lie of all was that she had choices in her life. But now, free to act at last, the fate of an empire rests in her hands.”

Review: I suppose fantasy is not one of my favorite genres when it isn’t done as seamlessly as I’m hoping for. We’re entering a world we know nothing about and relying upon the author to be given the gift of sight in this new dimension. We don’t know what this realm looks or sounds or smells like, we don’t know the intricacies of the inhabitants, there’s a need to an author to paint a picture in a fantasy book and I’m not entirely sure that Mueller did that as I was hoping or needing. I’ve been torn over how to review this book, quite frankly. There’s a disjointedness to The Bone Orchard that feels frustrating as you read, but I wonder if this was perhaps on purpose to give the reader a taste of what it’s like to live with a mindlock as so many of the characters in the book do. Unable to leave the compound, our main character(s) Charm only knows what she hears from her patrons and from what her bone ghosts tell her – one of whom does leave the compound regularly. The bone ghosts are literal representations of different aspects of Charm’s character, each named to show us which aspect they represent: Pride, Shame, Pain, Justice, and the like.
The book seems to jump back and forth between the complexities of the political system in this world, systems that include multiple sons of the emperor each with their own great failings, and the inner world of Charm. I found myself thinking at multiple points during the course of the book that this is a story that would benefit from a list of characters and their traits at the beginning of the book. Perhaps even a map of the country and surrounding countries. There’s a lot going on, a lot to wrap your mind around, and a lot of characters to keep straight – not helped in the least by the fact that half the main characters are all aspects of the same person. All the while, told as if being viewed through a small lens – no peripheral vision included. Is this a strategic literary tool used to give the reader the understanding of how little the main character(s) are aware of? Or a lack of detail missed by the author, the one person who truly understands and sees this world as we will never be able to? I finished the book and remained unclear.

I did enjoy this book, though there were several heart-breaking and graphic descriptions of war-time traumas and tragedies including assault, death of a child, and murder. It is however, in many instances, not for the faint of heart.

Advice: The pacing felt off, the complexities of the political system in this world were exhausting, and the story-telling felt disjointed. It did not strike me as the best execution of a fantasy novel. However, the underlying story was interesting, the characters had depth, and I was compelled to finish the book to find out who the murderer was. Overall, it’s okay. If you love fantasy, it might be worth your time. It fantasy is only a passing fancy, it’s probably best to skip this one.