City of Bones by Martha Wells. ★★★★1/2
Reading through Martha Wells’s back list has been one of the best book related decisions I’ve ever made. So far I’ve liked everything she’s written, and City of Bones was no exception.City of Bones is a stand alone fantasy novel set in a post-apocalyptic world where the seas have drained away and stone desert has risen in their place. The plot combines a treasure hunt with intrigue and was always entertaining.
Khat is a krisman, a group of people genetically engineered by ancient wizards to be able to survive the wasteland. He lives in Charisat, a tiered city where social status depends on how high up you live. However, he’s not a citizen of Charisat and thus occupies a precarious position, especially as the bones of krismen are favored for fortune telling. Despite the danger, he lives in Charisat, working as a relics trader, seeking out and dealing artifacts left from the ancient civilizations that existed before the creation of the wastelands. He’s hired by an upper class Patrician as an escort to an Ancient ruin and becomes unintentionally involved in the search for relics of unprecedented power.
A large part of the reason I enjoyed City of Bones so much was the protagonist, Khat. He’s got a proficient skill set, a mysterious backstory, a love for learning and relics of the past, and a heck of a lot of sarcasm. He’s the main source of humor for the book, though it does become clear that his constant sarcastic comments are a defense mechanism to stop him from feeling helpless. In some ways, he reminds me of Moon from Well’s Raksura books.
There was one other POV character, Elen, a wizard from the upper tiers. She’s determined but rather naive and grows a lot through the story. I didn’t find her as captivating as Khat, but the same can be said for any of the characters in the novel. Most characters were well developed, although a few of the villains (the Heir in particular) felt somewhat flat.
As I’ve come to expect from Wells, the world building was amazing. The setting she creates is deeply original and well crafted. The sheer imagination on display is wondrous, and she never resorts to info dumping to convey the particulars of the world. Instead everything develops seamlessly as the story progresses.
I found the plot interesting and gripping to the point where I was having trouble putting the book down. However, I feel the story flags some at the end when what the relics actually do is revealed. A large part of that is probably personal preference on my part, since Wheel of the Infinite had a similar sort of situation and I didn’t care for it then either. The very end of the book also felt a bit abrupt, and I thought there was something off with that scene between Khat and the Heir.
Overall, I would highly recommend Martha Wells’s City of Bones. While it is a stand alone story, I would really love if she ever decided to return to Khat and the world of the wastelands to write a sequel.