This unbiased review is based on an ARC
tl;dr: A Ritual of Bones is a good debut horror fantasy novel which sets the stage for a larger storyline.
A Ritual of Bones is the first book in The Dead Sagas series.
I found this book (or rather this book found me) through serendipity. I saw a retweet of the author’s post about a debut fantasy novel starring zombies. and I was immediately hooked by the premise.
So yeah! Zombies + Necromancers + Medieval times. Army of Darkness? Not really since the book takes a more sober and dark approach with multiple main characters as opposed to the camp & action hero vibes of the movie.
The plot simplified is as follows – a bunch of clueless (are they?) academicians invoke some rituals when researching the aspects of life and death and chaos ensues. There are different story threads, some of which seem to be totally unrelated and some of which are core, that arise as a result of this unleashing of dark powers.
Of course, as with most stories in this genre, it is the journey that matters i.e. the characters, the challenges they face and their arcs.
The world of the Dead Sagas seems to be your standard fantasy fare. There are two kingdoms that are rivals separated by a mountain range. There are thick forests that host bandits, rumours of lost tribes etc. I did not read anything that really stood out when it came to the world building (including the lore).
The unique item that this book has when compared to the zombie mythos (at least to me) is the concept of the ‘unliving’ and ‘undead’ (both of which are my terms). People who are bitten while still alive become various shades of psychotic, stronger & faster and crave human flesh. But once they are killed, they become zombies. I found this to be quite interesting since it sets up situations where the infected could hide the fact that they are infected, until they go stark raving mad.
The undead per se are typical zombies of fiction – slow, craving flesh and need a good whack in the head to put down.
There is plenty of action to go around and the scenes with zombies are the most fun in the book. But, keep in this mind that this is a dark, grim and gruesome take on zombies.
There are multiple characters in the book based across different locations. There is even a POV with the unliving characters that is quite innovative and interesting.
They are not all treated equally since some main characters have a deeper storyline/arc than others in the first book though I suppose all of them will have proper arcs across the series as a whole. But this creates a problem where you end up caring more about one character and their story more than the other ones. When this happens, the presence of the other story threads detract from the enjoyment of the main thread that you are following.
I have to admit that it took me a while to get into the book. This is related to the multiple thread issue that I mentioned earlier. There was a character that I was getting invested in since his POV is predominant in the initial chapters but suddenly the focus shifted away from him. This made me feel like I was getting started again with the book with another character.
But, by the middle of the book, I started to enjoy myself since I had a point of reference and could just sit back and take in the content.
There is one other issue with the book – its abrupt ending. I was wondering what the zombie happened when the pages ran out exactly when I was so much into the story. I think this is a missed opportunity – the author could have easily added more content to the first book thereby fleshing out more characters and giving the reader the payoff they deserved.
Overall, I like A Ritual of Bones in spite of its flaws. It has set up the stage for an epic storyline.
Lee C. Conley has something with a lot of potential here and I will be eagerly looking forward to the next instalment in the series.