📚 The King of Bones and Ashes by J.D. Horn

Reviewed Jul. 2019

Witches of New Orleans, Book 1

Narrator: Sophie Amoss
Length: 12 hours 11 minutes
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2018

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Summary

From the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Witching Savannah series comes the story of a young witch's quest to uncover her family's terrifying history...

Magic is seeping out of the world, leaving the witches who've relied on it for countless centuries increasingly hopeless. While some see an inevitable end of their era, others are courting madness - willing to sacrifice former allies, friends, and family to retain the power they covet. While the other witches watch their reality unravel, young Alice Marin is using magic's waning days to delve into the mystery of numerous disappearances in the occult circles of New Orleans. Alice disappeared once, too - caged in an asylum by blood relatives. Recently freed, she fears her family may be more involved with the growing crisis than she ever dared imagine.

Yet the more she seeks the truth about her family's troubled history, the more she realizes her already-fragile psyche may be at risk. Discovering the cause of the vanishings, though, could be the only way to escape her mother's reach while determining the future of all witches.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

I like reading Southern Gothic fiction during the dog days of summer. In North Carolina, it's hard to breathe outside due to all of the humidity at this time of year and something about the heaviness of the air and the stillness it brings draws me to the Southern Gothic genre. It's unlike the beginning of summer when everyone is setting off for fun vacations and reading light, frivolous beach reads (à la Nicholas Sparks). As you near the end of July, everyone is terribly aware that the school season is right around the corner, along with crisp Fall air and eventual holidays. Maybe it's the promise of Halloween looming in the distance, but I always search for something witchy to read at this time of year. Last year it was Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches and a couple of years before that it was J.D. Horn's Witching Savannah series.

I love J.D Horn. I do. I devoured his Witching Savannah series and, even though the ending left me frustrated and confused, my enjoyment of the first 2/3 of the series was enough to cement Horn as a winner in my book. And he did eventually redeem himself with the release of Jilo, which I enjoyed more than the original series that spawned it. So I guess I was hoping The King of Bones and Ashes would be more of the same. The ingredients were all there. I was excited for the New Orleans setting, which lends itself to "witchy-woo" even better than Savannah, Georgia (again, see the Mayfair Witches). And it could have been so good. It was good, for the most part, but it may be that my high expectations were impossible to reach.

The King of Bones and Ashes was so very different from the Witching Savannah series. For starters, Witching Savannah had a clearly identifiable main character. I identified her as the protagonist and related to her as someone to root for. She was our main guide through the series and, even though there were alternating POVs, she was still our "North Star". I can't with 100% certainty say that The King of Bones and Ashes had a main protagonist. I want to say that it was Alice, but she wasn't present in enough of the story to be sure. Horn changed POVs with increasing rapidity in this book and seemingly lost me along the way. There was no one for the reader/listener to cling to as a guiding force. The interchanging cast of characters left me feeling lost in a storm, with little to no orientation. To put it simply, there was too much crammed into the first installment of this series. Too many people, too much world building, etc. He could have easily (and probably should have) divvied this up into at least two or three installments in order for it to be more easily digested. Following along with a story should not be this hard. Sorry, not sorry.

With that out-of-the-way, there were several shining glimpses that gave me hope, reminded me why I loved Horn in the first place, and kept me listening. His system of magic in The King of Bones and Ashes is among my favorites. I like the thought of magic as a finite resource. And, as gruesome as it may sound, I really dug the idea that surviving witches carve up the remains of a powerful deceased witch and each take (or fight over) those body parts as magical "relics" to increase their own power. To me, this was a new spin on blood magic and one that I was surprisingly into.

As always, Horn's interpretation and inclusion of Voodoo is a major selling point of his books for me. I appreciate that he presents it primarily as a religion. The primary practitioner in The King of Bones and Ashes is someone who adheres to the practice of magic and the Voodoo religion out of deference to her deceased mother's faith, rather than any sort of personal belief. This depiction of Voodoo as an ancestral religion, coupled with its evolution into modern day mercantilism was striking. It made Lisette the most relatable character in the story and therefore ultimately my favorite. The magical cat didn't hurt, either.

The conclusion, when it came, was a total flub. Big revelations toward the end of books are supposed to provide "A-ha!" moments, epiphanies, and clarity. All this one did was confuse and anger me. Instead of unraveling the knot, Horn tightened it. For every question that was answered, five more were raised. It was alarmingly reminiscent of The Source, which made me feel as if I had wasted my time on an entire series for an "it was all a dream"-type ending. The King of Bones and Ashes had so many great things going for it. The ingredients were all there, but it was executed as if someone were cooking blindfolded.

I've already started the second installment with hopes of at least obtaining some clarity as to what I heard at the end of the first book. It's possible that Horn will do a U-turn and redeem himself the way he did with Jilo. And if not, there are enough enjoyable independent elements ("ingredients") here to convince me to at least attempt to finish the series. Because, after all, sometimes you just want to eat the cookie dough.

Narration review: Sophie Amoss did a well enough job narrating The King of Bones and Ashes. Her character distinctions weren't strong enough for my tastes, which did somewhat impede my ability to stay oriented with in the story. She did fine with the more extreme characterizations, i.e. someone very old or someone with a strong accent, but the majority of the characters did not have any significant identifying factors for her to cling to enough to make them stand apart from anyone else. I would have appreciated a bit more tonal range and I think that would have helped with distinguishing the characters vocally. Other than that, I had no problem listening to Amoss for 12 hours. Her natural tone is pleasant and soothing, without being shrill. She provided adequate southern accents for the setting. I would be willing to hear other work voiced by Amoss, although hopefully with less characters. The King of Bones and Ashes was a tall order for her. ♣︎

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