A RITUAL OF BONE by Lee C. Conley (Book Review)
‘Ghostly whispers filled the air around them, the voices of many. The skeleton held there a few moments. Then it collapsed with a crunch, bones clattering to the ground. Some shattered to dust on impact. Everyone stood silent, eyes on the bones. An eerie silence descended upon the scene and the air once again became still.’
A Ritual of Bone by Lee Conley is the first instalment of The Dead Sagas, which encompasses the themes of a classic zombie story but also incorporates a fresh take on it.
Now, to be honest, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of zombies, I haven’t watched shows such as The Walking Dead, but I’ve read a few books on them. So why did I decide to give this book a try when the author asked me if I’d be interested in a review copy? Well, I only had to take one look at the cover, and my attention was instantly grabbed! I mean, look at it! Grotesque monstrous creatures, a big old warrior with a raised weapon ready to kill them all; it just screamed grimdark fantasy meets horror to me, and I loved that.
So, moving on to the actual story, A Ritual of Bone consists of several points of view and each one follows a different story arc. We have an apprentice and his master, Eldrick, who are both from the College; a place where scholars study various arts, places, and creatures, and then record their findings. Master Eldrick, however, is studying a forbidden subject: seeking a way to bring the dead back to life through rituals. Unwittingly, his experiments lead to catastrophic consequences.
We then meet a huntsman named Bjorn, who is a legendary tracker of monsters. At the beginning of the novel he is captured by wild men, and in his attempt to flee, he stumbles upon creatures unlike any he has seen before; ones that put the fear into his very bones. His sole journey throughout the book is to spread knowledge of this to his lord. Then another main character is introduced – Arnulf, leader of the Guards of Arnar. He witnesses the spreading of a deadly plague, a plague that defies his sense of reality, and one that is destroying many villages. As he tries to circulate a warning to all that he meets, he questions whether they will pay heed to his story, or will he be made a laughing stock?
Out of these main characters, my favourite was Bjorn. He has some pretty cool action scenes, and they’re always well written and exciting; I mean, those creatures are bloody hard to kill! I also liked one of the more minor characters, Nym, who was a young girl living in squalor, trying to look after her younger brother, Finn. Their relationship was quite endearing, and really portrayed the lengths that Nym would go to in order to secure her brother’s survival.
I will say, though, that I would have liked a few of the other characters to have been a bit more fleshed out. For example, there was a character called The Death Nymph, who was a hardened shield-maiden; a much renowned warrior with such a fascinating backstory. I wished that we could have had a bit more focus on her. I felt Arnulf also had an interesting backstory, which was only briefly touched upon. I honestly do hope in the rest of the series we get more detailed accounts, as I feel this would really bring more depth to these intriguing characters.
I also felt throughout the narrative that certain sentences and ideas were often repeated, and occasionally the dialogue felt slightly overemotional, which created a bit of a jarring reading experience. However, having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed how each chapter ended with suspense and mini cliffhangers. This was a great way to hook you into reading ‘ just one more chapter’, and made the book very quick to read. Conley certainly knows how to build up tension and atmosphere, and that was awesome.
Although I’m a predominant reader of fantasy, I occasionally like the horror genre too, and it was great that this narrative had a mixture of both. That is where I felt the novel had a fresh twist on your typical zombie story. The medieval setting was a perfect backdrop to explore certain themes. For example, I especially enjoyed how the warriors believed the gods had sent the zombies to test humankind (a belief that would have predominantly existed during the medieval period), when in fact it was humankind meddling with magic and rituals, and defying the laws of nature that had caused the epidemic, with horrific results.
‘She sprang forward and tore into an arm lying limp on the ground. Tearing chunks of dripping flesh free with her teeth, she gorged herself. The flesh was going stale, no longer warm, but it was bloody and tasted good nonetheless.’
As you can see, the prose certainly doesn’t shy away from the horror elements, and delivers some gloriously dark and gory scenes! Thank you Conley for putting me off my lunch many times! Nah, I’m just kidding, I truly loved these scenes the most.
Overall I would recommend A Ritual of Bone to fans of horror, fantasy, and some good old-fashioned monster slaying.
Thank you Lee, for giving me the opportunity to read your book. It was a lot of fun!