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Sand of Bone, by Blair MacGregor

Review copy provided by the author.

(I’m including a link to one source, here, since it’s hard enough to find self-published books as it is.)

This is grim and dark, but is it grimdark? Wait, no. That’s just about the least interesting question you could ask about Sand of Bone. It is, however, quite grim and dark. The dry desert society portrayed is a backbiting, nasty one, its ruling caste interbred and endowed with powers they don’t even try to deserve, its warriors bound by oaths that compel a loyalty in all particulars. Its magics are half-forgotten, the source of ghost tales and fearful superstitions.

The characters who start to change this world–because this is very much the first book in a series–don’t necessarily come into Sand of Bone intending world-shaking change. Mostly they want smaller things, manageable things. They are driven by what they can–or usually cannot–stand. This is not a book of grandiose crusaders railing against an unjust system. Characters do stand up against injustice, but usually one person at a time, one face at a time–and usually a fairly familiar face at that. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes their failures cause at least as large a cascade of consequences as their successes. And their endings…don’t always come when it looks like they will.

The question of loyalty is huge in this book. MacGregor gives her characters a world in which loyalty has become unidirectional and unearned, and begins to change that, a little bit at a time. For my taste there is quite a lot of Training Sequence and quite a lot of dark, but I know that for some people those are two favorite elements in secondary world fantasy, so I wanted to flag them for the interested. One of the things I particularly appreciated is how much MacGregor committed to her characters being part of their own cultures rather than ours–there’s one element that’s highly taboo in our culture but has been normal in various historical Earth cultures and is normal in the ruling caste of this book, and MacGregor carefully handles her characters’ attitudes towards this to be internal to their culture without making it particularly problematic for ours–very neatly handled.

There isn’t quite as much Making Stuff as in KJ Parker, but otherwise I’d recommend this to Parker fans as having tonal similarities so far. I suspect that the series may wind up more positive overall than Parkers’ works just on statistics alone, but from the first book it’s hard to tell, and there’s plenty of grim and dark to start.

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