Review: California Bones by Greg van Eekhout
I have purchased 2 copies of this book. A signed hardcover and the Kindle version which I did most of my reading from. A few weeks ago Tor sent me a copy of Dragon Coast, the third book in this trilogy (out this week in hardcover). That reminded me I’d really been meaning to read this. As I write this I’m 21% into Pacific Fire the 2nd book (also purchased on Kindle) and that brings us to this review.
I was listening to Episode 246 of the Coode St. Podcast and Gary described the Paris of Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings thusly: “There’s something to be said for extracting the magic inherent in a City.” I immediately thought of the Los Angeles of California Bones. He takes something uniquely Los Angeles like the Venice Canals, extracts the magic and turns it up to B (for Bones and also hexadecimal for 11). We end up with the same traffic jams on the 405, but they’re boats because the freeways are now giant canals. Disney, the La Brea Tar Pits, street performers, art museums, castles, all get this treatment. Burgers, Tacos and Chicken and Waffles however are sacred and will be immediately recognizable down to the grease stain.
I’ve been watching through Mission Impossible, the TV show (thanks Chris) and so that’s what was running through my mind as Daniel assembles his team. I’d heard Greg read the scene that introduces Moth, the Muscle, but I enjoyed the mix of familiar location, dark humor and intense violence just as much the second time through. Daniel provides the big magical guns. An ex-girlfriend is their safe cracker (and so much more). There’s an “inside man” that’s less than open about why they’re involved. And there’s a shapeshifter named Jo. I love shapeshifters. Also, a shapeshifter as the fantastified (a Gary word from the above mentioned podcast) version of Mission Impossible’s Rollin Hand is another perfect example of how Greg extracts the magic. The job comes from an untrusted source, but it’s personal and impossible and just like a good Mission Impossible episode, it’ll take an autocratic dictator down a notch or two.
Another bit of media my mind wanted to draw parallels to while I was reading was Star Wars. A very specific point, almost the big bang of the expanded universe – 1st half of the 90’s, Timothy Zhan is writing the his trilogy and there’s a comic series (dark horse?). Anyway, it’s all a bit jumbled at this point, but somewhere in the mix there Luke embraces the dark side, the emperor is back and I feel dramatic irony for decades because nobody else seems to remember all of this crazy important character development. There are parallels.
There’s a small heist before the big heist and there’s a rather compelling B plot that gets wrapped into the A plot quite nicely. I did a search for “flay” in the text (as you do) and was surprised to only find 3 occurrences. When your core magic system involves cannibalism, there’s going to be gore on the page but Greg balances it at that point that a horror fan will feel it adds to the story, yet the squeamish reader shouldn’t be turned away.
And then there’s that element at the core of this story that’ll appeal to a Bacigalupi fan. Osteomancy is magic derived from consuming the bones of magical creatures. Most of these creatures are extinct. It’s a non-renewable resource … controlled by a few powerful individuals. It’s also a magical lesson in bioaccumulation. Greg is much cooler than Al Gore.
I’ll be reviewing the rest of the series and will hit on some of the cooler spoilerific points of this novel. Greg is pretty good at the whole foreshadowing thing.
Thanks for visiting. Buy all of Greg’s books.