A worthwhile, darker fantasy novel.
The Bone Palace
is a fantasy novel that might strike a chord with readers of the so-called "paranormal romance" genre, and it has elements of the mystery novel too. Two female viewpoint characters, the necromancer Isyllt Iskaldur and Savedra Severos, the transsexual mistress of the Crown Prince, investigate (mostly separately) the murder of a prostitute who is found dead with a royal signet ring concealed on her person and vampire bites on her body. It gets personal, for both of them, and as they dig deeper into the mystery, they find that its implications and accusations are extremely broad indeed.
The book is tightly plotted and everything ties up nicely into a satisfying, but somewhat bittersweet, conclusion. If there's a flaw, it's that some plot twists are a bit too obviously telegraphed ahead of time, and I found myself more often than not right in my guesses as to what was going to happen; it didn't spoil the enjoyment, however. Of course, as a troper, perhaps I'm more aware of those things than most readers.
What makes this book work, though, are the characters. Both leads are fascinating, believable women, and they are most certainly women
, not just girls; they've already lived a lot of life and have the scars to prove it. They're both tough, but differently so, and their "voices" are very different as well. Savedra is the best treatment of a transsexual in fantasy that I've read, and Downum avoids the Easy Sex Change
trope vigorously; it rings much truer for that. Savedra's nature is also surprisingly, happily angst-free; sure, she wishes she was more accepted, but her family and her Prince love her, and the things she's worried about don't include her transsexuality.
Isyllt, meanwhile, is just the kind of driven, stubborn, insufficiently-concerned-about-self-preservation woman that a plot like this needs to advance. Her life is one that's gone off course, and there's not that much she can do about it; she needs a purpose, and finds one, and hangs onto it like a terrier until she's done. Her flaws are organic to her character, and nicely done.
There's one final "flaw", if you could call it that. It's not a long book, and I reached the end wanting more — much more. A sequel is in the works, which I know includes Isyllt; hopefully Savedra will appear again, too.