California Bones by Greg van Eekhout (Tor, June 10th, 2014)-The California in California Bones is not like the one we know. It’s not part of the United States, and it’s ruled by a shadowy figure called the Hierarch and his powerful Council of Six. Los Angeles is in the Kingdom of Southern California, and is full of canals, a la Venice, and it’s rumored that a place called The Ossuary is located below ground, full of the Hierarch’s personal magic stash: basilisk teeth, griffin claws, the works. The magic in Greg van Eekhout’s California comes from bones (osteomancy); specifically, the bones of fantastical creatures, and of course, bones from very powerful mages, including Daniel Blackland’s father. When Daniel was only twelve, he watched in horror as the Hierarch carved the flesh from his father Sebastien’s bones and feasted on said bones. He can still remember the sound of his chewing. Daniel eventually ended up in the care of his uncle Otis, a ruthless crime boss, and was to be a thief. Daniel desperately wants to get out from under his thumb, and vows that he won’t do any more work for him, until he approaches him with an offer he can’t refuse. Otis claims to know where the fabled Ossuary is, and wants Daniel to infiltrate it. It’s not just any old magic that Otis wants, either. He wants a sword that Daniel’s father made, stolen by the Hierarch when Sebastien was killed, and infused with Daniel’s own essence. For Daniel, this isn’t just a chance to make a fortune and set off on his own for good, but it’s a chance to get his very essence out of the hands of the Hierarch. He’s going to need help to do it though, and that’s where Daniel’s very unusual friends come in.
While Daniel and his crew are planning their way in to the Ossuary, another plan is in motion. An agent for the Hierarch, Gabriel Argent, is onto Daniel. He may not know where Daniel is, or what he’s planning, but he knows who he is, thanks to a bit of magic that Daniel used in the marketplace, and the nose of one of the many human hounds that the Six keeps for their use. But the thing is, Daniel is supposed to be dead, killed with his mother shortly after the murder of Daniel’s father. Finding Daniel is Gabriel’s mission, and with the help of the human hound Max, he’s sure he can do it. But why does he want to find Daniel? Is it for his magic, or to further the Hierarch’s plan? Or is it for another, more personal, reason?
Just when I thought urban fantasy was getting a little…stale, Greg van Eekhout comes along with this fantastic book. Who can resist a novel set against a magic infused Los Angeles that’s much like our own, but with such delicious and unique twists, where real figures from a golden era still reign, and the La Brea Tar Pits still bubble? Daniel is the focus of the book and his sense of humor is a stark contrast to the very dark dealings of the Hierarch, his minions, and others. However, it’s also a dazzling group effort. Daniel’s friends are a highlight: Moth, the easy-going giant of a man that can survive just about anything; Cassandra, a deft thief who has history with Daniel, and Jo, a shapeshifter who can take on any shape at will. They’re aided in the heist by Emma, an Ossuary insider who Daniel is not sure can be trusted, but is their best hope of getting inside. But, ultimately, it’s Daniel alone that will be the catalyst in a magical war, and his heart, and of course, his legacy, will be greatly tested.
This is a Los Angeles that I didn’t want to leave, with clever homages to real-life legends such as Disney and Mulholland, and it’s as much a love letter to L.A. as it is an absorbing blend of urban fantasy and heist caper. Equal parts terrifying and delightful, California Bones shouldn’t be missed, and I can’t wait for the next book!