Bone Weaver by Aden Polydoros
The Kosa empire roils in tension, on the verge of being torn apart by a proletarian revolution between magic-endowed elites and the superstitious lower class, but seventeen-year-old Toma lives blissfully disconnected from the conflict in the empire with her adoptive family of benevolent undead.
When she meets Vanya, a charming commoner branded as a witch by his own neighbors, and the dethroned Tsar Mikhail himself, the unlikely trio bonds over trying to restore Mikhail's magic and protect the empire from the revolutionary leader, Koschei, whose forces have stolen the castle. Vanya has his magic, and Mikhail has his title, but if Toma can't dig deep and find her power in time, all of their lives will be at Koschei's mercy.
"An achingly rendered exploration of queer desire, grief, and the inexorable scars of the past."
TITLE: Bone Weaver
AUTHOR: Aden Polydoros with Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Audio
LENGTH: 416 pages (13 hours 13 minutes)
Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Secondary Character(s), Bi/Pan Secondary Character(s), Closeted/Questioning Secondary Character(s).
THE BONE WEAVER explores grief, otherness, and reconnection in a second-world fantasy. Toma was raised by undead but is forced to find connections with the living when her sister is stolen by soldiers as a curious specimen. She travels with Mikhail, the displaced Tsar, and Vanya, a commoner with magic.
Because Toma was raised by undead for a large portion of her life, there are a lot of things where her reasoning gets her to a workable solution by a very strange route. Her traveling companions don’t usually try to correct her, as her worldview is so fundamentally different from theirs they might not even know where to begin. In matters of the undead, she eventually gets them more comfortable. In matters of society, war, and prejudice, the tsar and the commoner tend to vehemently disagree while Toma listens to them both and makes up her own mind. Vanya is part of a persecuted minority, his situation made more precarious because he has magic. This would be fine if he were noble, but commoners with magic are thought of as unclean or cursed, somehow fundamentally different than nobles with the same powers.
I enjoyed the array of undead types who appear late in the book. The timing means that the worldbuilding as far as human society and the current conflict are well established before the differences between types of undead begin to matter in the story.
Toma and Mikhail travel for a while before meeting Vanya, which helps with balancing the interactions between them. Toma and Mikhail establish a rapport, then Vanya finds his place in their trio. Toma is the only point-of-view character, but in at least one instance she overhears a discussion between Vanya and Mikhail which makes it clear they have built a friendship separate from and in parallel with their friendships with her. It never feels like an infodump because the three main characters have legitimate reasons to explain things to each other. For each of them it might be some very fundamental aspect, but their experiences have been so disparate as to feel like a different world.
Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, xenophobia, classism, religious bigotry, blood, gore, violence, gun violence, body horror, death.
Moderate CW for cursing, panic attacks/disorders, alcohol, kidnapping, confinement, fire, medical content, medical trauma, parental death.
Minor CW for sexual harassment, excrement, self harm, cannibalism, child death.