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City of Bones by Martha Wells
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City of Bones (1995)

by Martha Wells

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City of Bones is a standalone fantasy book set in a fictional world, many years after a cataclysmic event has made water scarce and turned much of the land into desert. There’s a bit of a dystopian vibe here; the city where our characters live is divided into tiers, with the richer and more powerful people living in luxury on the upper tiers while the people in the lowest tiers are barely able to eke out an existence. However, I don’t consider this a dystopian book because the story itself isn’t about changing or overthrowing the current system.

Our main character is Khat, a relic dealer from the sixth tier, which is the third-lowest tier out of eight. He’s fascinated with ancient writings and artifacts, from before the cataclysm. He’s hired by members of a powerful group within the city to help them find some particular relics. This is the catalyst for all of the events in the story as we learn what the relics are and why people are looking for them, and we learn more about the cause of the cataclysm.

Most of the story took place from the point-of-view of Khat, but there were brief sections throughout the book told from the POV of another character. My Kindle edition, purchased about three months ago, is missing a lot of section breaks. This results in some confusing POV jumps. It was easy enough to figure out after a sentence or two, but it was distracting and annoying.

I enjoyed the story, and I liked the characters a lot. I was never bored by it, but I wasn’t completely absorbed by it either. I read it in short spurts, and I enjoyed what I read, but after a while I would get restless and put the book down to do something else. I think this is partly because the plot was pretty straightforward. It was interesting, and things were certainly revealed over the course of it that I enjoyed, but I never really felt driven to keep reading so I could get to the answers and resolutions more quickly.

There was some ambiguity about who the “good guys” were, but early on I decided correctly and never really saw any reason to waver in that opinion. There were a few supporting characters that I really liked, a couple of which I really wish we had seen more of throughout the book. I particularly enjoyed the banter between some of the characters. The ending was satisfying, and wrapped everything up nicely. This was the first book I had read by Martha Wells, but I liked it enough that I’ll likely try something else she’s written at some point in the future. ( )
  YouKneeK | Jul 31, 2016 |
One could consider this a post-apocalyptic future tale, but I lean toward identifying as a fantasy. It isn’t clear that the world involved is our earth, although it is populated with human beings – which is often done in fantasies anyway. While there is much talk about the “engines” built by the ancients, there is no scientific basis offered for this “technology”, which might as well be magic. Add functional ESP and divination of the future and the fantasy label feels appropriate.

The world created by Wells is richly imagined, the characters are well-drawn, vividly portrayed, and interesting in their variety. The protagonist and his friends are appealing. The plot is intricately woven, without discernible flaws, a mystery-thriller with plenty of action.

The writing is confident and clear with vivid descriptions of the city and its various levels and complex social strata. I had a little trouble, however, understanding what the “Waste” was. My best guess was that it was supposed to be a massive area of lava flows, but its three-level physical structure was poorly described and not really explained. I also wondered where the water went, although both of these concerns are lessened by viewing the story as a fantasy. They then don’t have to make sense. The extreme scarcity of water is an interesting element that is made much of at the beginning, but its importance seems to diminish as the story progresses.

Overall, I found this an enjoyable read. ( )
  Carol_W | Jun 27, 2016 |
Excellent fantasy. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, water is scarce and humans barely cling to civilization. Thief, historian and outcast Khat is hired to find a relic for a rich Patrician…thus setting off an ever-escalating adventure. I loved the characters, who clearly had lives of their own outside of the plot, and the dialog was realistic and often funny. Add to that Wells’s gift for world-building and an exciting plot (ghosts! Ancient technology! Internecine feuding! Academic infighting!), plus a main character I *loved*, and you have a novel I’d recommend to anyone.
( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
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.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Feb 21, 2016 |
This book was thoroughly entertaining, from cover to cover. I especially loved the Waste Scenery details and all the little deadly predators awaiting an untrained adventurer. I vaguely remember another member mention the author in a reference to Dungeons and Dragons and I couldn't agree more. Every 10 pages or so the party was forced to roll for initiative, reflex and the like. I really did enjoy this story and will have to delve a bit deeper into her other works. Great read here folks. ( )
  Joseph_Stelmaszek | Nov 29, 2015 |
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Somewhere else, in a room shadowed by age and death, a man readies himself to look into the future for what may be the last time.
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