Of Bone And Thunder by Chris Evans. A Fantasy Tribute to the Vietnam War.
A novel that really celebrates the bounds of human imagination setting a Vietnam War to be fought on the planes of Fantasy and to so consummately bring alive the minutiae of a guerrilla war-fare fought in the sweltering humid dense forests and to really blow the readers mind by bringing in…wait for it… Drrrr..agons - Fantastically towering achievement. Kudos to Chris.
I confess I haven't read Chris Evans before. Acclaimed for the Iron Elves trilogy, Chris this time goes in for a completely new setting for his new book, Of Bone and Thunder. I got the ARC copy from Galley books and while it took some time to get around to it, once I got started, this was un-putdownable. ( There. damn you English Nazis!)
Chris creates a brutal ruthless war where your foe is forever invisible, giving some real memorable characters to root for and back up all the way to the calamitous climax, slapping on gooey layers of politicking through some sumptuous world building and rounds it off in rousing style by adding fire-breathing dragons to the war. It is in some ways an incredibly satisfying book - full marks for the author for having pulled it off. And yet - there were instances where I felt completely disenchanted and disconnected to the characters. And that put an ugly monkey wrench into the overall scheme of enjoying this book.
Okay - the GREAT things first.
Vietnam War is brought alive and ah, so beautifully. The Kingdom is fighting to repel the advance of the Forest Collective and the crux of the war is being fought in this ruthless brutal land called Luitox. The war is brought to us through three main POVs – the hapless Red Shield – infantry armed with crossbows and longbows on the ground, sweating it out and mucking the shit deep within the forests, having to suffer the invisible slyts ( Viet Cong any one!!) – the natives skilled at dirty guerrilla warfare. Then we get the sky-view of the war: Where Wing Commander Vorly leads the rags – huge fire-breathing dragons used for air support and mainly transporting the troops from one part of the Lux ( as Luitox is known in short) – and thirdly, we get the mysterious Jawn Rathim and Rickets, two men stuck in the middle of this hopeless war. One – a magician who enlisted with the dreams of guts and glory and the other – a paper-pusher who seems to know a little too much about the war.
We get a fantastic introduction to the nuances of this forest war through the members of the Red Shield, lavishing us readers with characters such as the grumpy head-strong Shield Leader Sinte, the compassionate level-headed second-in-command Listowk or the reluctant soldier Carny always happy to be stoned and zoned out or the silent and deadly Wraith – not all of them likable – sweeping us into a heady narrative with all the fireworks and sweaty blustering trappings of a dirty war – and yet all of it seems intensely personal. We're made to sweat it out in the glades, wade through dosha swamps, sit through sleepless night vigils our hearts in the mouth waiting for the ghostly slyts to attack and then wholeheartedly take up the war-cries of “Fuck the Lux” to storm the advancing slyt troops by the climax.
But the best parts for me, without doubts – were the harrowing moments up in the air on top of a flying dragon that heats up hotter than a boiling cauldron. Vorly and his rag, Carduus and his whole flock of rags transporting troops and wasting the forests of Lux in large swathes of fiery dragon breath. It was bloody original and fantastically portrayed. That alone, makes this book a winner. A wild heady gasping for breath while being cooked alive underneath ride!
And Now the not so great aspects..
My chief issues with the book was the scattered POVs itself and thus – not being able to completely connect with the characters. While Jawn Rathim starts off as a sympathetic character who is all set out to prove his worth to the military, the story plots sidetrack him to concentrate on his magical abilities and utilize that for the war. And we see little of him towards the second half except for being a weapon in this hopeless war. Rickets – while initially the author builds up an aura of mystery around this strange guy who claims to be a “crowny” [a bureaucrat paper-pushing accountant for the Kingdom] the second half of the book, he is missing. Except to pop up towards the end. Same for the various red shield soldiers – none of them are remotely likeable. Sullen and unwilling, Carny prefers to block out the realities of the war by stoning out on “Silver” and “Little Flower” while others like Wraith keeps disappearing into the bushes on the pretext of tracking the natives, Ahmist probably the only devout guy in the Shield following the book of LOKAM [some sort of a Bible in this world] is frequently silenced by FUCK the LOKAM cries taken up by the Shield. On the other hand, Vorly with his rags and his arguments with Breeze – a thaum from RAT [Royal Academy of Thaumology where people hone up their magical skills] did make for some entertaining read.
Overall, a jungle war narrative that expertly brings to life the hopelessness of such in the midst of searing heat, sweltering humidity, treacherous swamps, outflanked by the invisible enemy and without clear objectives – all this wrapped in a fantastical setting complete with powerful magic and fire-breathing dragons. A great homage to the Vietnam War.