Cover Image: The Bone Orchard

The Bone Orchard

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Member Reviews

How deliciously fucking weird this book is.

I am a proponent of explaining nothing and simply getting on with things, and it's like Mueller heard me and did precisely that. The world Charm and her boneghosts live in is an oddly close, precarious one, which only emphasizes how thoroughly it starts to shake itself apart by the latter half of the book. 

The reader's knowledge, instead of being artificially expanded by the infodumps all too common to any genre, is just as limited, convoluted, and comprised of confusing half-truths and false memories as the boneghosts' are, which satisfyingly turns the driving force of the plot from "who did this?" to "what was even done?". 

To that end, I'm put slightly in mind of Caitlin Starling's Yellow Jessamine, except Mueller's boneghosts manage to come out much better, on the whole, than Starling's Delphinium.

Finally, the conflicts of this book are comprised of a light dash of imperial politics and a refreshingly heavy dose of the resolutely interpersonal dramas of those caught up in the former, especially since Charm and her boneghosts, who are all living in the uneasy, half-acceptable space afforded to sex workers (even in fantasy), have no real way of shifting the eventual consequences of the empire-level maneuvering happening around them.
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Wow! Not a very nice world but I want to see what happened after the conclusion. What an original concept. I am already recommending this to some of my library patrons. I received an ARC of this book for my honest opinion.
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The Bone Orchard is a hell of a ride, and it doesn’t give you much to begin with. You get dropped into the world with a bunch of characters who know (or think they know) what they’re doing, what they need to do, and what they want to happen, leaving you picking up the history and details of the situation as you go along. It’s done pretty well, in that the information is there and if you pay attention you’ll get it… but it left me feeling pretty at sea for a while, and a little bit unsure about whether I was having fun.

Mind you, this book is pretty dark and some pretty dreadful things happen, so having fun is probably not the way to put it anyway. There’s a lot of trauma, and a lot of awful things happening — commentaries on trauma, and fault, and colonialism, and abuses of all kinds. The main characters are prostitutes, and one of them has been deliberately made (that’s a thing that can be done here) for the sole purpose of being abused and raped by one of the princes of the land they’re in.

So, yeah, it’s a difficult read at times, and the characters aren’t particularly likeable if that’s the kind of thing that you latch onto — though I did find myself rooting for them, particularly Pain, who has a good heart. Mostly they’re willing to lie and spy and do whatever they must to get their revenge.

I did enjoy the character of the Duchess, about whom I wouldn’t want to say too much and spoil the surprise. The character is very well handled, though, in my opinion.

In the end, it delivered on the promise, for me at least — the slow feed of the information about the world helps you really get hold of things and form your own opinions, not necessarily guided by those of the main characters, and things resolve in a satisfyingly dramatic way. Mueller stuck the landing on something that would’ve made me metaphorically chuck the book against the wall in disgust, too — not that I had much doubt about it, based on the way the characters were all positioned, but it was one potential answer to help unpick the knot, and I wasn’t gonna like it if it happened. (Without too many spoilers, I was afraid someone from Charm’s past would become her present, and I did not think they deserved it at all.)

All in all, I couldn’t have put it down without knowing the end, and then the end proved worth it.
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The premise of the story seemed to be dry promising. However, the world-building was hard to follow. The story moves at a slow pace. However, there were many very creepy scenes. The writing was very dark. I recommend this for fans of gothic novels!
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Likable story but more cohesivness would have served it and the characters more. But for the most part, I liked the book
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I struggled with this one. The premise was very interesting but it never fully came together. I struggle after finishing to make characters or places. Charm is the head gal, mistress, and maker of the other women. They’re made of bones ? Well, we are all but they’re technically part of her, I think? It wasn’t like it wasn’t explained but I just never felt it was explained well. I don’t feel confident in trying to tell someone what it’s about. All of the characters felt the same both the women and the princes. I was often confused who was who during the story. The plot was there but not very interesting and the story moved very slow. It took me a while to finish. Overall, I was underwhelmed with the story but also always confused.
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“I won’t mourn my surviving. No one has the right to ask me for that.”

THE BONE ORCHARD is a gripping, multilayered fantasy novel about endurance, trauma, and doing whatever it takes to survive. It’s part murder mystery, as Charm, the main character, tries to figure out who killed the Emperor she has served for many years. She runs a brothel, the Orchard House, staffed by the bone ghosts she created - Pain, Pride, Desire, Shame, and Justice - and is a sex worker herself. Using the knowledge they collectively gain from the politicians, nobles, and guards who pay for their services, Charm moves closer to identifying the murderer, and has to use all of her skills and resources to navigate the complex political landscape of Borenguard without ending up dead as well.

At the same time, Charm is struggling to hold together the mental barriers that have helped her survive. As the story unfolds we see more of the abuse, pain, and betrayal she has endured, and how the internal divisions she has manifested in her bone ghost children have helped her. I’m often skeptical of stories that use mental health conditions like dissociative identity disorder, since such things are often incorporated for shock value, but I thought Mueller did an extraordinary job including this as central to plot in a respectful and powerful way. It was really impactful to watch Charm’s struggles play out in conversations with her selves, especially the conflicts about what it means to be a proper lady and to live a moral life.

The fantasy elements were light - there’s people with psychic powers, an invention called a mindlock that can control memories and speech, and a kind of necromancy that can imbue human and animal life - but the story is more focused on the politics of the world Mueller creates. I didn’t find myself that interested in all of the different players, though that could have been because I listened to the audiobook quickly and had a lot else on my mind while I was reading. I also didn’t feel that deeply connected to the characters. Some of the gender stuff felt unnecessarily binary, though there is a group of guards that all present androgynously and a nonbinary/genderfluid character who is very badass.

My favorite part of this novel was the nuanced depiction of a survivor of trauma, and the message that there is no right way to make it through such experiences; that survival takes many forms, can be morally fraught, and is worth fighting for. Thanks to Tor Books for the review copy!

Content warnings: statutory rape, sexual violence, survival sex work, beatings, poisoning, murder, kidnapping and imprisonment, trauma responses
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I loved the premise of this novel and thought that the atmosphere was fabulous, but ultimately, I found the plot a bit meandering and confusing. The world created here is rich and well developed, and Orchard House as a setting was great. I loved the various bone ghosts and thought that the interactions between them were interesting throughout. Unfortunately, the plot didn't deliver on the vibes for me. A lot of the action was a little repetitive and I think that the narrative was too confusing. I did enjoy the book, but it felt too long.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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LOVE this concept. This book is very, very subtle. It sneaks up on you and bam! Allegory. Boom! Two disparate thoughts run into one another. All wrapped up in weird Frankenstein lab meets ghost whores meets political intrigue. A spectacular example of “show, don’t tell.”

So good.
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“The Bone Orchard” by Sara A. Mueller is a gothic fantasy novel set predominantly in a brothel called Orchard House in the land of Borenguard. Mistress of the house is Charm who manages the other young women she has created: boneghosts called Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride and Pain. Throughout the week Orchard House is open to Borenguard’s elite who do business, socialise and enjoy the company of Charm’s young women. Except, that is, on Tuesdays when Orchard House is closed and Charm fulfils her duties as the mistress of the Emperor. However when Charm is summoned to the Emperor’s palace and asked to solve an unthinkable mystery, it soon becomes clear that there is more than just Orchard House and the empire at stake. Sometimes, Charm is not actually Charm; sometimes she is the Lady. With the mindlock that keeps Charm and many other denizens of Borenguard under strict control loosened, the Lady is no longer relegated to the backseat. The careful management Charm has over Orchard House is beginning to fray and the Lady and the boneghosts have their own ideas about what to do next.

This is a book with a really interesting premise with a strong focus on character and worldbuilding. Unlike many fantasy novels, the world remains quite small with only Pain venturing out regularly from Orchard House. Mueller instead focuses on the intricate relationships between Charm and her boneghosts, and the people who visit them in Orchard House. I think the most compelling thing about this book is the self-actualisation of the boneghosts and how Charm reacts to them developing their own feelings and desires that do not always align with hers. There are lots of examples of unexpected relationships and friendships in this book and Mueller has a particular strength in fleshing out alliances and enmities. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of each of the boneghosts and some of my favourite moments in the book are the quiet observation of their interactions with one another. I found it really interesting that each of them has a disability or facial difference of some kind and how Mueller explains this as part of the plot.

While many parts of the book were very compelling, there were some parts that felt muddier. Magic is something to be strictly controlled in this world, and what happens to those with certain magical abilities is a pivotal part of the story. However, when it came to understanding exactly how Charm and the Lady’s magic worked, I felt that Mueller skipped over the detail somewhat which left the scenes in the laboratory perplexing rather than mysterious. The creation of the boneghosts is really the heart and soul of this story and I was left feeling like I had plenty of what but only some why and not nearly enough how. I also found the murder mystery plot to be a little underwhelming. This is really a fantasy novel with some court intrigue rather than a crime or mystery novel, and any suspense about who the perpetrator is was thoroughly diluted by a backdrop of somewhat incomprehensible war and a lack of viable red herrings.

An enjoyable and thought-provoking book with plenty of questions about morality and individuality.
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I was so excited when I saw the premise for The Bone Orchard. I love a darker fantasy and the story of a necromantic witch seemed right up my alley. There's a really interesting world and ensemble of characters here. However, the execution of the story made it incredibly difficult to understand and follow for the majority of the book. It was hard to follow the plot in detail, fully grasp the world, or become too attached to any character as a result.
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Sara A. Mueller's The Bone Orchard is an intricate fantasy of magic, court politics and survival.

Charm, a witch from a line of royal necromancers, was taken by the Emperor of Boren in the Rebellion of previously independent Inshil, mindlocked and established in Orchard House. 

She turned it into a gentlemen's club, but her Tuesdays were reserved for the Emperor.

She has grown children from her bone orchard - Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain - to help her survive. Now the Emperor is dead. Can Charm achieve revenge and reclaim all of her selves?
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My Review: Confusion

This is actually a very difficult review for me to write. Mostly because I have no idea what this story was about.

This story is about Charm, a necromancer who runs a brothel with women grown from her own flesh. This is very unique, as the author was able to represent the different facets of a woman. It also made for a very challenging reading experience as the voices of the women were not easy to distinguish.

My major issue was with the delivery of the story: it was not smooth. The plot was difficult to follow, with not enough backstory and plot twists that didn’t hit the mark. The pacing was abrupt and I was just confused throughout.

I think this book is very interesting – but I don’t think it worked for me. I may come back to this book in the future, but for now, I’m going to stick with a 2/5 stars.
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The Bone Orchard follows Charm and her bone ghosts as they try to unravel who has murdered her emperor. It is a stunningly written book that showcases familiar facades any woman might face in her life. It was easy to become attached to the characters, try to solve the mystery, and ponder Charm's history.
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Charm is something of a witch, creating the various “women” in the brothel she runs. But she’s also a prisoner in her own home, under the control of the emperor, who is dying. He charges Charm with finding out which of his sons is responsible for his death and for determining who will be the heir. 

This is quite a wonderful story supported by fascinating world-building, characters and plot. There are secrets and more secrets to be uncovered and each of the women made by Charm has a part to play in how it all plays out. It’s actually a lot to take in and I feel I will have to reread this one day to fully appreciate the way the book has been written. 

Overall I give this 4 stars and would be quite interested in reading further work by the writer. I would like to thank NetGalley and MacMillan Tor/Forge for giving this advanced reader copy. I have written this review voluntarily.
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Review goes live on LairofBooks on 5/14/2022 at 8am EST

CAWPILE RATING:
Characters: 10/10   Atmosphere: 7/10  Writing Style: 7/10  Plot: 5/10  Intrigue: 7/10  Logic/Relationships: 7/10  Enjoyment: 7/10

Rating: 50/7.1 =  ☆☆ 4 Stars☆☆╮

☆☆ “𝐌𝐞𝐧 𝐝𝐢𝐝 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐫 𝐢𝐧 𝐚 𝐰𝐨𝐦𝐚𝐧. 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐥𝐚𝐛𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐝 𝐢𝐭 𝐰𝐞𝐚𝐤𝐧𝐞𝐬𝐬.” ☆☆╮

The Bone Orchard is one of those books you don't really forget reading, that is to say it is quite an experience. I'll be honest and say that I spent just about half of this book mildly confused but highly intrigued to see it through to the end. It’s now been a week since finishing it and the characters live rent free in my mind. This story follows Charm who is a Madam and sex worker herself. She comes from Inshil, a land of necromancers that was conquered and their people mentally enslaved. Charm is under the Emperor’s control and runs the house many influential men visit for pleasures. The Bone Orchard is where she harvests bones, those of her children aka her girls: Justice, Pain, Shame, Pride, and Desire. The girls aren’t real but they work at the house nonetheless and how they came about is the mystery at the core of this story. The Emperor has been poisoned and on his deathbed he has tasked Charm with finding his killer in exchange for her freedom. This is a character driven slower paced story with some brutally tough scenes to navigate. There’s on page assault which triggers discussion on how sex workers are treated and the dangers they face daily. There are quite a lot of triggers tbh, this one gets dark rather quickly as their trauma is unearthed. As confused as I was for a good portion of this story, it all comes together and makes sense mid-way. I found myself genuinely invested in some of the girls and very curious about our MC Charm and “The Lady” who lives in her head. I love when I discover there’s so much more to a book I’m reading than the fantasy aspects. There’s value in this story, I felt the author handled sex work itself very well even if it was difficult to read some of the more violent scenes. I'm the type of reader who doesn't mind being taken on a ride where I'm not quite sure what's going on lol, I know this won't be the case for everyone. The Bone Orchard will have to find it's audience, I'm pretty confident reader will REALLY enjoy the pay-off in this story! also very curious to read more from this author 🖤

CW: Assault, violence, pedophilia, rape, death of a child, murder
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A strange, hypnotic, magical and wonderful read. I have never read something so inmersing as this book. It is written with expertise, the characters have layers upon layers of deepness, and the plot, eventhough not a very original one, fits perfectly the tone. I would recommend this book for fans of Seanan McGuire or Tim Burton movies. Absolutely beautiful.
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I wanted to like this book so bad, because first off that cover is gorgeous!! But sadly it fell flat for me. I definitely respect the amount of work that went into this book, but this felt like a book full of non-sequitors. The political intrigue really didn't interest me, especially when the moves made by the characters really made no sense. Maybe I'm just stupid, who knows.
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Get ready for a cruel dark world of abnegation and revenge, featuring a woman who struggles to achieve psychic integration after a succession of betrayals. Like a Westworld written by Edgar Allen Poe, Bone Orchard (Tor Books, 2022) comes with its own charming brothel owner, whose name actually is Charm.

Charm’s free will is limited by an implant, and her memory damaged. Her dying lover/captor, the old Emperor, assigns her two final tasks which she must complete to win her freedom. She must punish his poisoner and find a worthy person—not one of his sons—to serve as the next emperor.

Charm’s girls at the brothel are also her helpmates. They were grown in vats from assemblages of bones. That doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings, though. Like Charm, they are named after emotions. Pride mostly stands behind the reservation desk, looking cool and composed, while Shame is damaged early on in the game by one of the Emperor’s sons, the cruel Prince Phelan. And Pain—well, she has an especially hard time of it. Her role is to accept the pain of others, leaving them relieved of discomfort.

Behind all those linked girls lurks the spirit of a mysterious and gentle woman, the architect of their lives, referred to as the Lady, who shares Charm’s body with her. The Lady must be shielded from the terrible things that happen, but occasionally she comes out of the shadowy recesses of their shared consciousness to mend her creations.

This is just the opening set up of this complex and original novel, that continues to introduce flawed conniving characters to create a chessboard of moves and countermoves.
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If you're looking for a novel that is everything and nothing like what you'd expect, consider trying The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller. I went into this book with a lot of assumptions – some of them were accurate, but just as many were not.

Charm knows what it is like to be alone, even when surrounded by people. She's a necromancer trapped and imprisoned within the Orchard House. She runs this house and the people inside. These very people have been made again and again from the scraps of herself that Charm could spare.

Her whole life is about to be thrown into chaos as the Emperor calls her to his death bed. He has one final charge for Charm: discover which of his sons is the killer, and ensure they inherit the throne when he is gone.

“Sorry, Mistress, but I’m not much interested in ghosts. I have enough of my own.”

I knew going into it that The Bone Orchard would be an intense read. The title, cover, and premise all promise that much. Yet I was still unprepared for the depth revealed to me as I read on.

To be clear, I don't think The Bone Orchard is a book for everyone. It has a decent list of TWs (sexual assault, domestic violence, suicide), but it's more than that. Not once does The Bone Orchard shy away from heavy discussions and the emotional toll they may wreck. That's totally fine (great even!), but I think readers should know this going into it.

On the one hand, I enjoyed The Bone Orchard. On the other hand, there were times when it hurt my soul. Not because it was poorly written or anything like that, but because it hits pretty hard. Charm's story is...a lot. And that's before taking the other characters into account (I'm trying to be vague to avoid spoilers).

I do love how strong and determined Charm is. I will never get tired of this style of the protagonist and honestly think we could do with more of them out in the world. Beyond that, I feel like anything else I can say about Charm would once again bring us back into spoiler territory.

I will say that I think this is a book that most readers will love or struggle to finish. Personally, there were times when I needed to take a break from The Bone Orchard. However, I can easily see those breaks turning into something more permanent for other readers. It's definitely going to depend on your reading style here.
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