Amanda Downum – The Bone Palace

While Amanda Downum introduced her main character in a foreign settings in the first novel of The Necromancer Chronicles, she puts the setting to her home turf in The Bone Palace (2010). This allows her to provide more background on the character and put things in perspective.

The first thing I want to comment on, as to me it stood quite out from the story, is the world building. In the first novel there was the foreign setting with some light familiar elements which gave it a genuine feeling. Now being in the character’s home one is still in a supposedly foreign environment. Downum adds some particular cultural phenomena with which she shows originality and a refreshing setup. If one has to put things in a social analogy to a period on Earth I would set it to be somewhere in the early nineteenth century. There is a certain scientific approach to society and there are certain institutions one won’t find before that period. There is more decadence and women hold many powerful positions. Of course this is a fantasy world so someone can make up one’s own hotchpotch of different element to create a different kind of brew.

All these efforts are damaged because Downum actually projects her worldbuilding on existing Earth analogies, using slightly changed names and characteristics of Earth cultures. If one is familiar with these you immediately make the wrong associations. To me it seems as if Downum created something new on the main level, but when she had to go into details she got lazy and copied from known things.

This supposed laziness also showed in the minor settings she needed to use in her story. In certain cases I questioned if they would have actually existed in this world as they exist nowadays as well and although certain forms might have existed in such an environment they felt as if Downum just needed something like it and didn’t think about it if it fitted. These are all just details, but the world isn’t explained well enough to understand its working wells enough so I have to go with my honches.

Downum introduces many new characters as few are left from the previous book. Like The Drowning City, Downum provides a few extra perspectives to tell the story. These perspectives are very good ones and provide a greater insight in this world. One thing that showed more clearly since the first novel is the conflicting nature of the main characters. She is a spy and killer whose abilities lies in the dark arts (necromancy, as the series title already implies), but apparently this does not bother many except the occasional scary glance of outside characters. In reality the character is very emotional, softhearted and disturbingly self-destructive. Luckily nobody notices as she apparently manages to behave the right way in public. Even though she makes many bad choices, willingly as she is self-destructive, it’s only herself that suffers from it.

Making bad choices willingly is actually a habit all characters seem to share. If they were rational or had some strong core they might have been able to resist their urges and control themselves, but for some reason nobody seems capable of doing so. Everybody, males and females included, is softhearted despite the outward grim facade, unable to control their emotion. As they all suffer from these bad traits it seems not that strange that nobody notices the main character also having them. It’s a messed up society.

Despite all these misgivings Downum provides a well-paced plot, wasting little time and adding many minor twists that keep the pages turning. That does not prevent certain things to become predictable. Downum has a certain habit of story development and she also gives away too easy hints that experienced readers notice easily so at a fairly early stage I had a fair idea of what was going on and who would kick the bucket for sure. Uncertainties of course remained but my guesses turned out right. There were still some twists that I had missed or had not predicted, but when so much happens one cannot look for all the details. I am also not aiming to predict the outcome. These things just come naturally as the story progresses as the author presents her characters in a certain way that seem a preparation for what will happen to them. One could say it is a trap that an author can easily step into: This character will be removed, so I should provide some extra’s to give it more weight and the character have had sufficient backstory.

So this book contained a lot of interesting things, peculiarities and some predictability. Weaknesses in worldbuilding are unfortunately very common in fantasy. Creating something from scratch requires far more work and its easier to copy something from our own world which will automatically create the right associations. Downum does add some original ingredients of her own. This lifts the world up to some extent as the automatic associations can also conflict with the new ingredients. This does not put me off, but it does prevent the series from reaching a higher level as there is a certain lack of quality. Luckily it is not a great lack which make the novels a quite enjoyable read. Downum does have some habits in the way she portrays her characters. They all share certain traits. One might call them weaknesses. I don’t mind imperfect characters but it is bothersome they all share the same kind of weakness. There is a lot of room for improvement on this part.

The novels until now contain a self-contained story so they leave with a satisfactory conclusion. Downum does add some details which do not play a role in the main story but hint at something to come. I also missed some explorations of certain things which to me was probably because these would be play a role in a later story to come. Of course these are just guesses, but they do help in the anticipation of what to come. I am certainly not done with these series and will continue to read it.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.