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Review: The Bone Magician by F. E. Higgins

bone magician f e higgins1 Review: The Bone Magician by F. E. Higgins

The Bone Magician is E F Higgins's paraquel (a portmanteau of 'parallel' and 'sequel') to the 2007 release'The Black Book of Secrets. Aimed at the middle grade market, it's an ambitious and beautifully written work that drips with enough atmosphere to sustain not only Mars, but a few other planets as well.

The setting is Urbs Umida, a squalid place full of Dickensian horrors'or at least for those unlucky enough to live on the wrong side of the aptly named River Foedus as, of course, the major characters in the novel do. The city is richly and evocatively imagined, and it's a nose-tapping, knowing setting for the twisty, serpentine novel that follows. After a quick aside from the author/narrator, we're dropped into a dark room where Pin, an undertaker's assistant who's veritably alone in the world after the death of his mother and the disappearance of his father, is spending the night keeping careful watch over a recently deceased corpse to ensure that it is indeed quite dead.

Unfortunately, while the dead often do remain so, in this instance Pin suffers through a positively galling (or ghouling?) night where he finds himself drugged by a pair of necromancers, and endures the rather grisly sight of a corpse revival. Pin coincidentally comes across the duo again at the local tavern, but is unable to shake the feeling that something is not quite right about the show that they put on for the willing crowd of dipsomaniacs. After a few more twists and turns, Pin finds himself in the company of a phrenologist whose approach to head-measuring largely revolves around made up acronyms and some careful nodding, and an exceptionally well-read dwarf who has discarded his literary bent for the more lucrative career of potato tossing. Having moved in to their lodgings, he once again comes across the necromancer pair, and despite himself finds himself warming to Juno, the younger of the two, who is a young girl who's carefully evasive about her role in the proceedings'or even about whether they are magical or simply tricksy in nature. Juno is quietly searching for the man who murdered her father'and all while the notorious silver apple killer is on the loose, slowly picking off those who have been whiling away their nights at the afore-mentioned tavern.

The Bone Magician is told from three complementary perspectives: the droll narrator, the hideous and misanthropic journalist Deodonatus Snoad, and Pin, via a surprisingly erudite journal. These largely work well together, although sometimes Pins overly adult voice merges with the narrators, and Snoads loathsome and veering rants slow things down a little. The strange casting mix and the multiple voices warn the young reader up front that they may well be in for a challenging read, 'but theres little doubt that they will find themselves joyfully awash in wordplay and strange and unusual vocabulary, as well as some very confident and winsome plotting (and quite a bit of gruesomeness thats sure to win over the reluctant readers).

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