Chris Evan’s Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel proudly describes itself as “Apocalypse Now meets The Lord of the Rings” which is an unusually apt description. Evans, apart from having written a previous fantasy series, is a military historian who wrote a history book about jungle warfare in Vietnam. His interest and passion for the period shows, as the Vietnam allusions and allegories are both prevalent and obvious. This is not to say that Evans hasn’t created a fully realized and fascinating fantasy world, but rather that just as Tolkien built a world partially out of Norse myths and languages, Evans built his out of the Vietnam War and added a dragon or two.
The Kingdom is in the middle of a succession crisis. The Royal line’s legitimacy has been called into question, rival clements are emerging from the woodwork, and some people are even starting to consider the disillusion of the monarchy. The threat of civil war looms ominously. Then the recently conquered province of Luitox erupts in rebellion, and the King ceases the opportunity to rally his people against a common enemy. He sends an overwhelming force of crossbowmen, armored dragons, and thaums or magicians into the jungles of the Lux to crush the rebellion and then conquer the lands beyond. That was four years ago and the Lux natives, or Slyts, remain as defiant as ever.
Carnan “Carny” Qillibrin and his squad of crossbowmen have been fighting in the jungle for years. They’re tired, and desperate to get out before the Lux kills them all. Flying high above the jungle, Vorly is a veteran dragon rider who cares more for his dragons than he does for people. He is forced to contend with the arrival of a thaum, Breeze, who brings magical advancements that could change the nature of warfare forever. Finally, there is Jawn Rathim, an idealistic thaum who volunteered for the war and believes utterly in their civilizing mission. Newly arrived in the Lux, he becomes embroiled in the adventures and machinations a crown man called Rickets.
The Jawn and Rickets sections were the most interesting for me. The combination of a naïve young officer and the jaded, dangerous old veteran is clichéd but certainly effective, and their slowly developing friendship feels genuine.
Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel is an ambitious novel, focusing on the war on the ground. Events back in the Kingdom are alluded to but never seen. This is a novel of the front and that is its great strength and weakness. Evans eventually ties the various plot strands together, but for the majority of the novel the characters seem to be operating in isolation resulting in a series of vignettes. Likewise, the Vietnam parallels are a mixed blessing. The correlations are sometimes simplistic and strained—machine guns become crossbows; helicopters and bombers become dragons, etc. Nevertheless, they provide an unusual angle and unexpected depths to the proceedings. The Carny sections of jungle fighting are immediately resonant and recognizable, and Rickets is clearly a CIA man in a fantasy setting. Over all it was a fascinating, gritty, and unusual depiction of fantasy warfare. Recommended.
**Received a Copy from NetGalley for Review