City of Bones, by Martha Wells

Published 1995
Review by Tim

Having read and enjoyed Wells' latest novel, The Death of the Necromancer, I began looking about for other titles by this author, and found this one that had been published a few years earlier. City of Bones left me even more impressed with Martha Wells' writing talent than I had been.

The setting is highly fanciful, a world ravaged by a cataclysm over a thousand years past that had drained most of the world's seas and stimulated vulcanism, creating a vast, waterless badlands. The Waste is inhabited by the krismen, a humanity magically restructured to survive in this altered world. Unrestructured humanity cannot easily survive in the Waste, and are concentrated in the Fringe Cities. These have been built on the ruins of ancient coastal cities, at the sites of the few reliable springs left to the world.

The greatest of the Fringe Cities is Charisat, a city no less fanciful than the world around it. The city is a vast tower of eight tiers, the highest tiers inhabited by the Patricians, the lowest by the poorest of the poor. At the top of Charisat resides the Elector, who rules Charisat and the Fringe Cities with the aid of his magically talented Warders.

Khat is a krismen. He and his partner Sagai, citizen of a distant free city, make a precarious living as relic hunters, living in a crowded sixth tier flat with Sagai's family. One day Khat is hired by an enigmatic young woman as a guide to an ancient site in the Waste, and there the adventures begin. Khat and Sagai are drawn into an intrigue involving Warders, scholars, the black market, and wasteland pirates, that ultimately involves the origins of the cataclysm, and may result in the destruction of all that is left of the world.

This is a fine work of fantasy, with well drawn and motivated characters, and a writing style that lends credibility to the most fantastic constructs and plot elements.

April, 1999

Visit Martha Wells' website