Apocalypse Now meets The Lord of the Rings in a bold new fantasy from the acclaimed author of the Iron Elves trilogy, filled with “heroic action that keeps fans coming back” (Publishers Weekly).
Channeling the turbulent period of the Vietnam War and its ruthless pitting of ideologies, cultures, generations, and races against each other, military historian and acclaimed fantasy writer Chris Evans takes a daring new approach to the traditional world of sword and sorcery by thrusting it into a maelstrom of racial animus, drug use, rebellion, and a growing war that seems at once unwinnable and with no end in sight. In this thrilling epic, right and wrong, country and honor, freedom and sacrifice are all put to the ultimate test in the heart of a dark, bloody, otherworldly jungle.
In this strange, new world deep among the shadows under a triple-canopy jungle and plagued by dangers real and imagined, soldiers strive to fulfill a mission they don’t understand and are ill-equipped to carry out. And high above them, the heavy rush of wings slashing through the humid air herald a coming wave of death and destruction, and just possibly, salvation.
|Of Bone and Thunder
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication: October 2014
Genre: Fantasy, Alternative History, War
Received via Kindle First
Locate: amazon | b&n | worldcat
Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans
This book was absolutely amazing, though I do believe the comparison to Lord of the Rings is a bit misleading. Whereas Lord of the Rings focuses on the macro image of war and the struggle between good and evil, Of Bone and Thunder focuses on war at the micro level, taking a look at the toll it takes on the participants who have little time to sit and philosophize over the morality of war or good and evil as they try to survive. It is much more Apocalypse Now, mixed with hints of Heart of Darkness. The parallel to the Vietnam War is overwhelming, but presented with enough fantastical elements that it doesn’t stray out of the fantasy genre and into purely war and military fiction. Weapons are traditional, without a single firearm. There are wizards and dragons and elementalists/magicians with the ability to manipulate energies (called thaums.) Dragons supply air travel to the troops and firepower from the air.
Readers are thrust into the middle of a war that should have been won ages ago, according to main public of the Kingdom. We meet solider Carnan “Carny” Qillibrin, a crossbowman desperate to leave the jungle and beginning to tire of the war. He and his fellow soldiers have been climbing through the mountainside jungle in search of the enemy, natives of Luitox whom the soldiers call Slyts. We follow his unit through the war and through their losses. It feels frighteningly real and Evans did an amazing job capturing the feelings of anger, futility, and despondency, but also the sense of camaraderie and responsibility that begins to form between completely people from completely different upbringings due to battle. The soldiers vary from illiterate farmers, to bards, to killers, to simple villagers and religious zealots, yet they each play a vital role in their unit, the war, and the story itself. There’s Wraith, the expert killer who might not be a good soldier, but is an expert at tracking prey and taking them out quickly and quietly. The stereotypical soldier, Big Hog, who cannot read but is a man of the earth, able to follow directions, inspire others, offer comic relief, and still maintain enough faith and hope that the war will end soon and he will make it back home to his farm. Above all, we have Carny, the protagonist of the unit and the embodiment of the everyman, a poor villager who was thrust into a war because he had nothing else going for him in life. A boy who fights because to quit would mean death and when faced with the grim truths of war in reality, as opposed to war in propaganda, turns to local narcotics to numb himself.
In addition to the soldiers, we have dragons and their riders fighting in the war. While the dragons are treated as wild animals, and not as sentient, thinking, magical beings, it is nearly impossible not to care about them. I myself grew incredibly attached to the main dragon, Carduus, that by the end of the novel, I was frantically searching for news on his fate. They are described with such a scientific mind, that I was impressed at how well thought out they were and the “science” behind it made sense (at least to my non-scientific mind). The dragons are the main form of long distance transportation, used by the army to bring new soldiers into Luitox, as well as flying current soldiers deeper into the Lux. Maneuvering these dragons are their riders who have always relied on hand signals and intuition to drive them, and new additions to the dragon system, thaums – magical people who can manipulate energy. They are a recent addition as they try to perfect the dragon system. The thaums enable long distance communication between riders and are able to navigate through the air with better precision. The main rider we follow is Vorly, who rides Carduus along with thaum Breeze. Vorly cares for the dragons more than he cares for most of the soldiers and almost as much as he care for his own life.
Like the militants themselves, the reader never really has a firm grasp on what the war is about, or what the Kingdom hopes to gain from starting or ending it. We know as much as the soldiers know, immediately putting us in their shoes and creating an empathizing link. We know that there is a question of legitimacy regarding the current ruler of the Kingdom. We know there threatens to be a blood civil war at home in the Kingdom over how to deal with the illegitimate rulers and whether power should be given to one faction or various factions or the common man. What we never really know is why the Kingdom is invading Luitox. The land produces little that can be used by the Kingdom, all of the produce described as disgusting to taste by the soldiers. It provides no necessary trade route to a friendly country. The war exists only as a distraction from the troubles at home. An excuse to keep the peace within Kingdom borders intact. This is all we know about the war at the macro level. To some, it may prove to be a distraction and they may come to dislike the lack of information regarding the war. They may come to think of it as lazy writing, but it isn’t. It’s an incredibly well-constructed literary device to force readers to bond with the characters. Readers are not given an option to rationalize the war, or form an individual opinion about whether it is justified or not, just as soldiers aren’t. You are just at war and that’s the only reality you know because it’s the only thing that will help you survive.
Reviewing this book has been incredibly hard because there is just so much about it that I love, it becomes overwhelming at times. The prose is great, the descriptions are perfect and work really well at creating the suffocating atmosphere of Luitox. The characters are believable and sympathetic. The depiction of warfare is accurate, as are the effects it has on its participants. The dragons are fantastic. It is a heavy read, but definitely an enjoyable one and a book I look forward to buying a physical copy of and rereading often.
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