ARC provided by the author through Netgalley
The people of Deo are divided in two moieties, the Wid and the Zeosil. All of them must, by tradition, pay their debt by producing a child. The thing is, Wid can only mate with Zeosil, and Zeosil with Wid, otherwise the child will be born a Shun. If a Shun baby is lucky, it'll survive past 3 days and grow-up as an outcast, infertile and unable to pay the debt, scorned by all, believed to bring bad luck.
Rhona is a divvy: she can touch a child and sense whether it's a Wid, a Zeosil, or a Shun.
She is travelling along the Bone Road, the road that encircles all of Deo, when her mother dies - but not without extracting a final request: that Rhona should help her friend Selina. A dangerous task involving the Rider. This is confusing to Rhona, since the Rider is a story told to frighten children into behaving themselves: a creature who jumps onto the back of a misbehaving child and forces it to run till their forces are spent and they die, the Rider will then jump onto the back of another misbehaving child.
What follows is an intricate story of forbidden love, adventure, a perilous mission, and one of the best world buildings I've ever seen written.
The Bone Road is one of those stories you read and you can tell the author did not decide to rush any aspect of its writing. It's a fantastical story devoid of plot-holes, with an amazingly detailed society.
Just so you can have an idea, it's one of those books that comes with a glossary and makes you think, "Oh... one of those where I'll spend 3/4 of the book going back and forth because I have no idea what this term means anymore." Instead, the book is so skilfully written that the reader can skip right past the glossary and understand everything as if they've lived within that world all of their life.
The world felt real. The characters felt real. The events that were so fantastical that even the characters had trouble believing in them, felt real.
The dialogue was natural and believable, the plot was tight - and even when there was a change of POV (something I'm notorious for disliking, sorry!) the pacing didn't even flag, because every character was interesting.
The villain was masterfully conceived, really, you have to read it to believe it. He made everything within the story that much more urgent, his motives were fully fleshed. You'll find no half-hearted fantasy clichés within these pages, I can promise you that.
And I'm sitting here hating myself, because when it comes to bad or mediocre books I have plenty to say, but what can you say about an excellent book?!
I love fantasy and the majority of this type of fantasy is written by male authors - it's good, I'm not bringing up a battle of the sexes here - but, as a woman, it's just so, so gratifying to see delicate issues being treated with the respect they deserve. Up there I placed a trigger warning for rape - yes, there is rape in this book, but it's not just a convenient plot point, and it's always treated as it should - with the utmost respect for the victim, and no forgiveness, no excuses, no pity for the perpetrator. The whole issue of consent, the whole way sexuality was treated in this society was so powerful to read. I wish all fantasy books were written like this!
If you love fantasy books with exquisite world building, a detailed society, compelling characters, an addictive plot and rational, pragmatic characters, ruled by common sense, GO READ THIS!!
As soon as I finished it I bought Mary Holland's Matcher Rules, and if it's even half as good as this one was, it must be amazing.
I was actually sad when I went to the author's page on Goodreads and saw only two books listed. So many mediocre writers keep churning out dreadful book after dreadful book, and Holland has given us only two... But if they're all as good as The Bone Road, I guess I should just be thankful and hope she writes more, no matter how long it takes her, because however she's writing, she's doing it right.
Mary Holland's official page
Buy The Bone Road