In “California Bones”, Greg Van Eekhout has created an alternate version of our world where magic exists. New magic systems excite me, I love figuring out their rules and how they fit within society, and Greg Van Eekhout delivers in his first adult novel.
California has seceded from the rest of the United States and Northern and Southern California are separate, hostile kingdoms. Southern California is ruled by The Heirarch. The Heirarch is the single most powerful osteomancer in Southern California, in part due to how much magic he has ingested over his unnaturally long life. Osteomancy is the magic of deriving magical properties from the bones of magical creatures. Ingesting the resulting powders and potions can temporarily or permanently imbue a person with magic. The Los Angeles tar pits are a gold mine of magical wealth. Magical powders and talismans are bartered in the market places. Powerful water mages have created a version of Los Angeles that is a modern day Venice full of canals and where boats are the primary vehicle. Greg Van Eekhout, a San Diego native, grounds it all with ties to our world by including details like a sculpture at the La Brea tar pits that actually exists. As a SoCal resident I really enjoyed these touches.
Daniel Blackland is a fugitive thief looking to make the one big score that will allow him to get out of the Southern Kingdom. He has a troubled past, uncertain future, and a band of highly devoted friends and fellow crime conspirators. The book is a trim 304 pages so the friends are sketched out in archetypes (the muscle, the safe cracker, the face) but the author builds a strong sense of connection and history amongst the band of thieves. Part magical heist novel, part coming of age/self discovery story built on a foundation of fantastic world building, California Bones works on a variety of levels.