Review: The Bone Way by Holly J. Underhill

Teagan’s wife, Cressidae, is missing. She has left for the Shadow Realm, a kingdom of the dead filled with untold nightmares—and the only place that can save Teagan from a lethal poison that’s killing her slowly. It is ruled by a princess said to make powerful deals with those brave enough to find her, and Cressidae has gone to bargain for Teagan’s life. Cressidae has forgotten one very important thing: no one makes it out on their own.

Despite the risks to her own safety, Teagan is determined to save her wife—and perhaps even herself in the process. The princess of the Shadow Realm, however, doesn’t let mortals roam her territories without opposition. In this thrilling fantasy novella, Teagan and Cressidae must face both the horrors of the Shadow Realm as well as their own past.

Rating: 3/5

Review

Novellas are a hard gig to pull off, and while The Bone Way isn’t a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, it’s unfortunately one that is hamstrung by the limitations of the shorter format.

Firstly, I have to say that the story is a lot of fun: I really enjoyed the modern twist on an old Greek myth, and I am always here for messy sapphics who are quite literally willing to die for each other. I also really liked that this book was happy just to retell this story as a queer one – Teagan and Cressidae are treated like any other couple, and there are plenty of small nods towards other queer identities in the world they inhabit. I had though this might be a more explicitly subversive retelling that tackled some of the various assumptions about gender and sexuality in the original myths, but getting to enjoy a plain, queer reimagining with no homophobia felt somewhat subversive in its own right. I also really liked the relationship dynamics at play, and how neither Teagan or Cressidae are at fault for the breakdown of their relationship (not a spoiler, it takes place before the first chapter), but are both required to confront how they communicate what they need from each other.

Having said all that, this was not a memorable story for me, because it tried to do too much in too few pages, and felt stretched paper-thin as a result. The world-building is flimsy; almost non-existent aside from some basic descriptions of the locations they visit. Obstacles were overcome in mere moments in order to get through the entireity of the plot, and there simply wasn’t enough suspense or sense of genuine challenges for the characters. And while I really liked the relationship dynamic, the flashback scenes felt very insta-lovely as we sped through their early time together, while the resolution of their relationship woes felt rushed.

I’d definitely check out more from Underhill, and hope they expand to a longer format, because all the ideas were there, they just lacked the space to give the characters breathing room and do the story justice.

Note: I received an ARC from Nyx Publishing. The Bone Way is out now.

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