In the world of this novel, some people are born with/develop magical gifts. Tea’s sisters have some affinity for some magic but not enough for them to become “asha,” geisha-like women who are trained in various runes and entertain using them or heal or even work as bodyguards or do other defense. In Tea’s case, she only realizes she has an unusual gift when she raises her brother from the dead after he is brought home from battling the monsters that regularly cause problems throughout the lands ruled by various kings, an empress and other leaders.
“Bone witches” are feared and mistrusted, and Tea is quickly taken away for training by another bone witch, one of few still left. She has to navigate a new world, where she eventually goes into training as an asha but is watched closely by everyone around her, who are waiting to see what she will do next with her gift of raising the dead, and how it may hurt or help individuals or different countries. At times she wants to be accepted; she wants to spend time with a prince whom she can’t help liking; she wants to be left alone. In some ways she would like a normal life, but she has to admit that she likes the feel of working the Dark magic. But her future is uncertain, given what she observes, and she may very well have to turn expectations and plans of powerful people on their heads.
The world of the novel is set in a time that would be centuries ago, with little in the way of technology, and much of it is set in the land of Ankyo, where the asha get their training. It’s a place that’s much like old Japan, with simple buildings and sliding doors, and the asha are like geisha. They learn singing, dance, hospitality, history, flower-arranging, and then martial arts and defense and other skills, all of which draw on their particular magical talents. They both entertain and defend the kingdoms from daeva, “gigantic demonic beasts” that can be killed temporarily but return every decade. There are lands that have touches of Russian, Middle Eastern and other cultures, in addition to Japanese. So it all feels familiar but put together in a new way.
This book lays the groundwork for Tea’s story and sets up for a second book where she will try to do things differently. I’ll be curious to see where the story goes. It’s fascinating and atmospheric and Tea is a character to root for, even as the reader may not know what she’s going to end up doing. I’m just disappointed I’ll have to wait quite a while, since I got to read this far in advance of its pub date.
Rated: Mild, for one use of moderate language, some regular but not intense violence, and themes. There is little sexuality.
*I received an advance e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.