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Young Adult Fiction 975
intriguing YA fantasy
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BONE WEAVER is an intriguing and unexpected YA fantasy that follows Toma, a girl who lost her birth family when she was young and has subsequently been raised by upyri, people who have risen from the dead akin to zombies. Toma loves her family, so when her younger upyri sister is taken, she is determined to get her back. Accompanying her on her journey is the dethroned tsar, Mikhail, whose magic was stolen, and the soldiers who followed him captured Toma's sister instead.

Before long, they are accompanied by Vanya, who has magic. Vanya would be considered a bogatyr if he was wealthy, but instead, he is called a witch, which is punishable by death. As they set out on their quest, Mikhail will learn more about the country he rules than he ever anticipated, and Toma will experience the broader world through fresh eyes, having lived isolated for so long.

What I loved: This is a lush fantasy world with a focus on the afterlife and what becomes of people after death, political machinations particularly as they relate to wealth/ethnic categories, and religious persecution. This is a country at war with itself, with people of a certain ethnicity/religion being treated as less than and frequently run out of towns. This hatred and cruelty is something that they see frequently in the story, and Mikhail, who had previously been unaware of it, begins to realize that was happening under his and his father's reign. These themes are seen throughout history, with the power of wealth and ethnicity providing impunity over similar things that can be twisted for persecution. Religion also provides an element and reason for this, as the bogatyr of these people are called something different, even though it is the same thing with untenable sentencing and false justice.

Themes around the afterlife/death were also interwoven throughout, with death not always being so final in this world. Depending on how they died, people may return as different kinds of spirits or zombie-like beings. Toma understands these better than most, as she was raised by a family of upyri. The morality of such beings is often attributed as a negative, but through Toma's eyes, we see the gray area and the ways that they are misunderstood. This fantasy element was also particularly unique and interesting amidst the magic of the living and the power dynamics that come into political play around this.

Toma, Mikhail, and Vanya are all really compelling characters, who each grow throughout the story. Toma has lived a secluded life since was little, but as she meets Mikhail and Vanya, she begins to revisit her painful memories from early life and reevaluate what that meant about her parents and her country. Vanya is living the consequences of prejudice and fear, and he is a really strong character who knows himself and wants the best for those he cares about. Mikhail is someone who really grows as the story continues - as the tsar, he felt like he knew what he was doing, particularly with regards to letting advisors do what they needed to do, but he is learning the responsibility of power is so much more than that, and beginning to understand the problems throughout his country.

This is a bit of a dark fantasy with war and violence throughout. The consequences of these on the living and the dead are pervasive, and the book does not shy away from graphic descriptions of it. I would also add a warning for main character death for readers who are sensitive.

Final verdict: BONE WEAVER is a intriguing YA fantasy with thought-provoking themes, lush world-building, and compelling characters. Recommend for fans of THE BONE HOUSES, YEAR OF THE REAPER, and THE CITY BEAUTIFUL.
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