Review: Bone Song

Review by Scott Purdy
You can also hear an audio version of this review in Cover to Cover #302B

Bone Song is John Meaney's fourth novel and the first that takes place in the world of Tristopolis.

If I had to name the style of Bone Song, I would call it Cyber-Zombie Noir. But lest I give the impression that it's a book about Zombies let me say that Meaney has created a world with a death based Economy. For example, in this world, wraiths are used in industrial applications such as operating elevators, cranes, luggage dollies and even some high-end vehicles. Also the city's electricity is generated by extracting psychic energy from the bones of the departed; a process with some chilling side effects which become vital to the plot.

The initial plot follows Detective Donal Riordan as he is given the assignment of protecting a famous opera Diva who will be performing in the city of Tristopolis. It turns out that a mysterious group has been murdering the world's best artists and performers and making off with their corpses and Donal is determined to prevent the Diva from suffering this fate. But this is only the beginning.


I'm a big fan of Meaney's work and going into the book I caught myself in a typical frame of mind people get in when an author they like tries something different: "I wanna hear more about the worlds of his previous books, what the hell is this?" Of course this is no way to approach any story. Typecasting an author isn't fair to the author and you'll most likely miss out on good stuff if you don't give it a chance.

With that in mind, at the first few pages I felt I was in some strange world somewhere between Blade Runner and Beetlejuice. Fortunately I kept reading and about 20 pages in, I was hooked because I found the first of many things to care about in the story. It was the point in the story where the reader gets the first glimpse of why the bones of some people are more valuable than others and why some powerful folk aren't willing to wait for someone to die to get hold of them. Suddenly I wanted to know more. The second thing to care about is the protagonist himself. He's a good guy trying to a good job. He's the kind of guy that can be deeply moved by the diva's singing while worried that getting too involved in the performance may put him off his guard and make him unaware of a threat to her.

The only criticism I have on Meaney's style is that sometimes I wish he would linger a bit longer on an important detail or aspect of the story. It's actually less a criticism than a way of saying I was engaged in this world and wanted to know more. For example, Tristopolis seems to have recent history but I found myself really wanting to know about the places origins and long history. Also, the momentum shifts a bit when Donal joins a special task force and it changes from a single detective story to a crime fighting team story. Not to worry, there is plenty of tension and suspense to keep the story interesting. If a main point of suspense is resolved it's not long before a new one takes its place.

What made Bone Song extra fun for me was all the questions; for instance, do wraiths want to spend all day operating elevators or acting as a sort of A.I. for fancy cars and motorcycles; or, why does an international flight need a sky martial and a witch; or the big one: When a character sleeps with a zombie, why does a zombie ticket agent seem to know about it and is that why she bumps him to first class? Obviously these aren't your grandma's zombies. Bone Song is an industrial spin on gothic mainstays of horror fiction like Wraiths, Zombies, and Witches, not to mention the sick and twisted humans.

If this sort of Necropolis world is your thing, you'll find Bone Song a Shiny toy box. If you think being stuck in an industrial purple gloom of necroflux pollution sounds like a turn-off, you may be surprised as the story is well balance by passion, beauty, humor and little bits of hope to cling to. I look forward to the next installment in the Tristopolis world, Dark Blood, and I just may have to pay extra for an imported copy when it comes out.

Scott Purdy

Bone Song
by John Meaney
Published by: Spectra (February 26, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0553385143
ISBN-13: 978-0553385144
Genre: Dark Fantasy

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