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Monday, December 13, 2021

SPFBO Finalist Review: Hall of Bones by Tim Hardie


Book Links: Goodreads, Amazon


About Tim: Tim Hardie grew up in the seaside town of Southport during the 1970s and 1980s. This was before anyone had even heard of the internet and Dungeons & Dragons was cutting edge. Living in a house where every available wall was given over to bookshelves, he discovered fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson and Susan Cooper. Those stories led him into the science fiction worlds created by Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and HP Lovecraft.

After training to become a lawyer Tim lived in London for three years before moving to Yorkshire in 1999, where he has worked ever since in a variety of legal, commercial, financial and management roles. His writing began as a hobby in his early twenties and has gradually grown into something else that now threatens to derail his promising career.

Tim writes epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie, John Gwynne and Robin Hobb.

Book Information: Hall of Bones Series: The Brotherhood of the Eagle Published: November 25, 2020 Genre: Dark Fantasy Pages: 421 

JENNIFER

I really enjoyed this one. Hall of Bones turned out to be quite different than I was expecting.

I hadn’t heard much about this book, other than seeing it on Twitter a few times, and the cover, while nice enough- doesn’t give much away. This also inadvertently ended up being my second Norse fantasy in a row when I usually try to spread these out so they don’t blend together.

Times are unsettled between the clans. The death of Rothgar’s father throws his sons into positions of leadership far earlier than expected and their supporting clans are unhappy and questioning capabilities of leaders so young and inexperienced. This begins a string of events that will shake Rothgar’s world apart.

HoB is somewhat of a slow burn in a traditional fantasy way, the story follows Rothgar- the youngest son of the Reavesburg Clan and moves us through from past to current day, hitting points here and there getting us comfortable with the world and its politics, while letting us get to know our main character as he grows up-in a coming-of-age kind of feel.

Rothgar had a great voice and the pacing allowed for moments that endeared him to us between family and clan tribe interactions, while also maintaining an interest in the world and story. I liked how tied-together everything felt with the world, people, and magic, and the way the first half of the story unfolded- building its way to a surprising, and well-timed moment around midway that renewed my interest just as it was starting to flag.

 I also appreciated some of the fun moments during the growing up segment of the story like Rothgar and Bram throwing the stones at their older friend Harl causing him to fall on his first day of training, it made me laugh and felt like such Tom Sawyer thing to do.

    

The world took on a very cool mystical feel in the second half of the book with the introduction of the Durath and the other gifted people. The Durath are skin thieves or shadow spirits who use their gift to enter others minds. If they win this struggle for control, they will achieve immortality as the body they possess will not age.
This was really cool and made me think of the G’ould in Stargate (minus the worm).
There were also some really neat scenes from the battle with them, that I loved- particularly the sand effect when they died.

There are a ton of characters introduced in the beginning (you all know how much I love that) but I do find it easier to keep up with a large cast in spov then in mpov (to a point) also, a huge help here was most of the key players had trait-names that helped me keep them in mind when they’d been off-screen for a while; like Blackeyes.

But that being said, in the later half of the story, we get a lot of other cast members introduced. And I had a harder time keeping up with these ones. At this point, I think it was more an annoyance to me because we were at a time in the story where it felt like we should be tipped over the hill, and racing to the finish. Instead, we were meeting twenty more people for the first time. It really stalled-out the story for me, unfortunately.

 I am going to talk about one of my most hated things- late story pov changes…and why this one worked exceptionally well for me (which is harder to do than I expected without spoiling too much of the plot).

I’d usually hate a switch in pov over halfway through the book to a character we hadn’t spent any time with, or that wasn’t in a different part of the world that we hadn’t seen yet.

And don’t get me wrong, this did feel jarring to me at first- as I think it was intended to. The way the new character’s pov was added was a creative way to see what’s been going on in the rest of the land (especially in a spov story like this) while still tying the plot to the main character. So it didn’t feel like “Oh hey, this guy needs time to recover so let’s show everyone what’s going on elsewhere to alleviate boredom. Here have a new pov”. As we gained other late pov’s, they also felt so seamlessly added that I barely noticed the shift.


JONATHAN

Hall is the grim story of the lad Rothgar, who is the younger son of the chief of the Reavesburg Clan. The story is set against the backdrop of raiding clans and shifting alliances, which have a very heavy Viking/Norse influence.

This is the second finalist I read that had a strong Norse flavoring and I was reserved at first but Rothgar won me over. He establishes himself as a capable warrior in his teen years, helping defend the clan lands against the Vorund Clan, the largest, most powerful, and most aggressive of the Reavesburg Clan’s neighbors. The interplay between the clans and their emissaries (and sometimes opposing parties inside the clan) forms the bulk of the conflict in the first half of the book, and it’s interesting watching it unfold. Rothgar weathers it well and shows some dimension, solving problems with his brains as well as his sword arm, and demonstrating loyalty and dedication to his low-born girlfriend (with whom he sadly has no real future). One could almost call the first part of the book, “a day in the life of a Northman raider.” It’s interesting, though a little slow. A ton (and I mean a TON) of characters are introduced early and it is hard to keep track of them all.

Midway through the book … things happen and the story lurches in an all-new direction. I was excited for this and eager to keep reading but after this, the pace settles down to a sedate march to the conclusion. It’s not at all bad but quite different in tone from the first half and it was a bit jarring.

I enjoyed the characterization; Rothgar and the other principles get decent development and are distinct. It was disappointing, though, to see Rothgar’s change; building to the middle of the book, he’s becoming a more proactive character and driving story events, and making things happen … and then he almost falls back to the role of passive observer, which while understandable in the circumstances, was a bit of a let down. Rothgar’s culture is one where a man’s mettle is proven at the tip of a sword. Women’s mettle? Get out of here with that nonsense. Other than a couple of female characters who are gifted with the magical ability of “sight” (or some other supernatural circumstances), most of the women in the cast are reduced to background players as cooks, maids, and caretakers, which was also a little disappointing. (There is one female character for whom I hold out hope for in future books.)

It’s a grim tale, no question, with a lot of content that some readers may find disturbing. Slavery exists. When they aren’t murdered in grisly ways, people are still mutilated and crippled. Rape, while not depicted, is an ever-present threat. And I’ll just recommend that no reader get too attached to anyone in the cast. This is an “anyone can die” book.

Despite some of these quirks, I did enjoy the story. It laid the groundwork for the next book and it will interesting to see where it goes from here. Recommended for folks who like grim Vikings, some supernatural happenings, and political maneuvering.

ŁUKASZ

Hall of Bones is a gritty epic fantasy that kicks off Hardy's The Brotherhood of the Eagle series. With its well-crafted Norse-inspired setting and character-driven plot, it should appeal to fans of epics. 

Rothgar Kolfinnarson aspires to become a great warrior like his father, the chief of the Reavesburg clan, and his older brother, Jorik. He's not there yet, but give him time and he'll get there. Unfortunately, time is one thing he doesn't have. 

Rival clans and dark magical forces pose a deadly threat to his family's survival. And when they strike, it's brutal. 

Rothgar's narration is engaging and nuanced. He undergoes a dramatic change, both physical and mental, and Hardy does an excellent job of making it believable. The supporting characters, though... Well, I feel Hardy overdid it with the number of characters he introduced in his debut (more than 100!). Way too many to keep track of or care about. Some of them seem nuanced, others seem like pieces of scenery. To be fair, the antagonists are quite complex; cruel, yes, but also believably human. 

The pacing did not impress me as much as the world or characters. The first half of the story develops slowly, setting the stage for two devastating twists. Once the twists occur, the pacing slows and remains uneven. The whole blocks of Rothgar describing various things do not help matters. They are dense and tiring (though quite atmospheric.)

Hardy's writing style can be very descriptive at times, especially when describing landscapes and locations, but his action scenes were so engrossing and vicious that they kind of balanced it out. I feel varying the sentence length and limiting whole pages of Rothgar describing stuff (places, people, his inner states) would make the story tighter.

Hardy's control of relationships, plot twists, and politics throughout gets high marks. As mentioned, the narrative occasionally falters when the writing gets tangled up with too much, but it recovers quickly. All things considered, I found Hall of Bones well worth exploring.

OFFICIAL SPFBO SCORE



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