Cover of Bonesmith, featuring a girl with white eyes and hair in bone armor, standing in front of ghostly skeletons

About the Book

Title: Bonesmith (House of the Dead #1)
Published: 2023

Cover Story: Wren the Ninth
BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia
Talky Talk: Modern-ish Fantasy
Bonus Factors: Magical House System, Epic Names
Relationship Status: Cautiously Optimistic

Cover Story: Wren the Ninth

This cover has major Locked Tomb vibes. Like, if I didn’t read carefully, I’d think this was another novel in that series. (Regardless that it isn’t titled ” … the Ninth.”) That’s not a slight on the cover, though. It’s very atmospheric and eerie and compliments the story within well. It’s just … very similar.

The Deal: 

Wren Graven is the granddaughter of the head of the House of Bones, and the greatest bonesmith valkyr of her generation—or so she tells everyone within earshot. So when she fails the final test to become a full-fledged valkyr and protect the people of the Dominions from being attacked by the spirits that linger after death, and is unceremoniously shipped off to the edge of their territory, Wren isn’t quite sure what to do with herself.

But then a prince from the House of Gold is kidnapped and Wren finds herself partnered with someone who shouldn’t exist, trying to bring the prince back as a way to redeem herself in the eyes of her father and the entire House of Bones. She soon realizes, however, that nothing is what it seems and all that she’s been told about her family’s history is suspect.

BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia

BFF charm with Natalie Imbruglia's face.

Wren is the kind of brash, hotheaded, impulsive young woman I wouldn’t have liked much at all had I known her in real life, especially when I was a teen—there would have been a lot of unspoken jealousy over her confidence—but I loved reading about her, being outside and looking in.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

When Wren meets Julian, a boy who should be her enemy, she isn’t impressed. But as they work together, chemistry and Feelings start to rear their heads. Sadly—and semi-spoilery-y—there’s a “twist” of “I have to betray you for your own good” that happens in Bonesmith, which puts a damper on the blossoming swoon real quick. 

(Julian’s an excellent Book Boyfriend. Wren’s a numpty.)

Talky Talk: Modern-ish Fantasy

Some fantasy books feel out of time, from the setting to the language. Others feel like the author’s taken modern, real-world people and just transposed them into a world in which there be dragons. Bonesmith falls somewhere in the middle, feeling both truly fantastical—the dead come back and you have to kill them a second time for them to stay dead—and modern—characters say the F word. For me, this allowed for an easier connection to the story, but kept me from being fully engrossed like I might have been had it been a completely foreign tale.

Bonus Factor: Magical House System

Open book with moving pages in front of a glowing blue sphere and twinkle lights

(No, not that kind of magical house system.)

As much as I ascribe to the wildness of the “only one thing has to tie your magical system to the real world” mentality, I have a strange love for a strictly regimented magical system. And in the case of Bonesmith, Pau Preto has created a magical system that divides the populace of the world into various “smithdoms”; Wren is a bonesmith, or someone who’s able to use bones to kill ghosts (essentially), there are also goldsmiths, silversmiths, woodsmiths, etc. If you’re not a bonesmith, you can’t do what Wren does. If you’re not a goldsmith, you can’t manipulate that metal. (You get the drift.) This system follows the rules.

Bonus Factor: Epic Names

Wren’s uncle’s name—Locke Graven—is one of the best fantasy names I’ve ever read. Followed closely by her father’s name, Vance Graven. Are they a little over the top? Sure. But they walk the line between being realistic and Doing Too Much. Pau Preto has a knack for naming. (And I wish I had her number so my husband could text her when he needs a name for a video game character, ’cause giving him names on the spot is one of my least favorite things to do. “Just give me a name from one of your books!” he says. Does he not realize HOW MANY books I’ve read? Joepeter Fergusonsmith is a perfectly decent name for your elven druid, good sir.)

Relationship Status: Cautiously Optimistic

You weren’t the freshest date I’ve ever had, Book, but you were fun nonetheless. I’m willing to give this a chance to blossom. Just keep those ghosts away from me, OK? I’ve still got life left to live.

Literary Matchmaking

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean #1)

Rebecca Yarros’s Fourth Wing also features a “house” system and familial secrets.

Little Thieves (Little Thieves #1)

The main character of Margaret Owen’s Little Thieves duology is equally brash (and has a similarly good heart underneath the prickly exterior).

Blade of Secrets (Bladesmith #1)

Tricia Levenseller’s Bladesmith series also features folks with particular (in the specific sense) magical abilities.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Margaret K. McElderry Books, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Bonesmith is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.