California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

californiaA perfect vacation read, this book will appeal to readers who like urban fantasy with magic and action. I recommend this book if you liked Steelheart; the plots are different but it’s got a similar feel (also a bit more gender-neutral than most of what’s out there). This book is urban fantasy with a twist: it’s also a heist story.

I highly recommend it if you’ve ever lived in Los Angeles – this book is full of great references to locations all over the Los Angeles area, from Griffith Observatory to the Santa Monica Pier to the La Brea Tar Pits. The reference-dropping was a little distracting for me at first because I’ve been to most of these places, but Van Eekhout really incorporates the LA setting into the story.

This book is set in near-future alternative-history California, where the Kingdom of Southern California is ruled by the Hierarch. Daniel is a child raised by a powerful osteomancer, who is killed by the Hierarch in a purge of all people with powerful magical abilities. Osteomancy is defined as divination using bones, but in this book it’s about ingesting the bones and flesh of magical beings). As a child Daniel ingested powerful magic into his body. Only no one can know he’s alive.

Daniel has a group of friends, all with different abilities, who he organizes to carry out various “jobs”. He’s been hired to carry out the biggest heist of his life, which is to break into the vault where the Hierarch keeps all of his magical bones and relics. They’re mostly in it for the money; Daniel fantasizes about getting out of Southern California altogether but that takes resources he doesn’t have. He’s also hoping to recover a sword that his father made.

He’s being tracked by Gabriel Argent, a grand-nephew of the Hierarch, and a character with an interesting mix of ambition, intelligence, and humanity. I felt like you always knew what Daniel would do, but Gabriel is a little more of a mystery. He’s born into a family of privilege, and that privilege is built on terror. He has to decide how much to use those family connections to work his way up the ranks, knowing if he tries to break away he’ll most likely be squashed like a bug.

This is a light read, a perfect vacation book. It’s got some predictable moments (Daniel can be maddeningly slow at times) but enough surprises to keep you on the hook. It doesn’t break out of its genre but it does combine a few genres in an interesting, entertaining way.   It’s a little dark if eating body parts makes you squeamish (as it should) but overall this book wasn’t over-the-top violent.

Note: I received a review copy of this book from Tor Books/Macmillan and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. The book is available June 10, 2014.

  2 comments for “California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

  1. June 11, 2014 at 8:16 am

    I requested this from NetGalley after you mentioned it earlier in the summer but it’s been shamefully hanging out on my Kindle ever since! Reading your review has definitely bumped it up the list – I’ve no real knowledge of LA but I love it when authors really make the most of a setting so I’m looking forward to learning more.

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