The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst
There is a dearth of broader published fantasy featuring the After. What happens after we win? What happens after the bad guy is vanquished and peace restored? How to you come back from that? Can a person come back whole and unmarred after the trials of war? How far would you go to regain whatever it was you lost?
Sarah Beth Durst examines the After with such skill that I am still in awe three days later. In a modern publishing cycle where plucky 18yr old's gaining powers and saving the world runs rampant, it was a delight to journey along with skilled adults who have already Done The Thing. People who are confident and savvy, whose learning curves are more introspective than martial. A study in the relationships forged over decades and the love between people that has already been tested, broken and re-forged.
"Getting the band back together" has always been a favorite trope of mine, and The Bone Maker is in great company next to Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld, and Timandra Whitecastle's Queens of the Wyrd on my "You Must Read This" shelf.
The ability Durst displays in navigating these intricate relationships, in allowing cracks to form where one would imagine solidity reigned, is exquisite. The injuries felt and harsh words spoken resound with a clarity and realness that one can see echoed in their day to day life. True friendships are not shattered by a minor insult, but the wound is still felt. Having characters able to address that, work through it, and come out the other side strong in their understanding of one another is so utterly refreshing when cast against the fist clenching, gaze averted, self-doubting one might feel in the early days of an alliance, friendship or romance.
In the well-established, and the re-visited, we see a team just past their prime but not so far gone as to be incapable. Indeed, when the time comes to display their skill they don't hesitate. It's a little like watching the Guardians of the Galaxy at the start of Vol. 2 - everyone knows their part, their place. There is an implicit trust in their teammates that allows for success in the end. It. is. REFRESHING.
The Bone Maker revels in its shared past history of the characters, though never in a manner that falls to shoegazing. Each character seeks independently to be the best version of themselves, to break the monotony and evolve. Though hindered by self-doubt and past mistakes, it is the importance of reflection and recognition that allows Kreya, Zera, Jentt, Marso and Strann to regain their former glory and unite as a stronger team than ever before; it is their life journeys in the After and the In-Between that breed final success.
If you like competent heroes who are just kind of sick of heroing but dangit someone's got to do it, married couples confident in each other, friends knowing that blind trust is the best trust, and lots of re-animated dead, then this is for you.