Tuesday, 7 June 2016

California Bones by Greg van Eekhout

I may be a sucker for heist books. It takes some talent to put together a satisfactory heist, mix in some interesting characters, and find ways for things to go wrong while still keeping your characters competent at what they do. California Bones doesn't hit the dizzying heights of, say The Lies of Locke Lamora, but it is very solid.

It's good enough that I've been toying with adding Greg van Eekhout to my list of authors, the ones whose books I go out of my way to read, instead of just waiting for them to pop up on my various lists. So far, I've decided not, but it's close enough that I may cave later.

Of course, as soon as I mentioned the words "William Mulholland, water mage" to my husband, he immediately added this book to his list of things to read. He loves L.A. history, and I think he'll get even more out of it than I did. 

I am a big fan of books that feel thoroughly rooted in a real place and explore how it might looks with a genre overlay. Rivers of London, for example, thoroughly enthralled me. And it was one of the things I enjoyed most about California Bones. It gives a strong tactile dimension to the story, a feeling of the story taking place within a real space, just imagined slightly differently.

So, in this book, we're in the Kingdom of...Southern California? I think? Predominantly, we're in L.A., which is ruled by the Hierarch, an osteomancer of great power. (I got the feeling I should know who the Hierarch was, but I never figured it out.)  It's a dangerous place to be - if you have too much magic, but aren't one of his Inner Circle, like Mulholland or Disney, you're likely to be killed and your bones eaten.

No, literally.

The main character's magic works like that too - his father was a talented osteomancer who was adapting his child from a very young age to be able to eat and retain the powers gained from various bones of powerfully magical creatures. But he wasn't powerful enough, and was killed right in front of Daniel. 

Now grown up, his mother left him with a crime boss "uncle" (I was a little clear whether that was a literal uncle or a symbolic one.) He grew up being trained for petty crime, and eventually amassed a crew around himself that is rather good at heists. He's tried to stay out of the Hierarch's attention, knowing he'd be next on the menu if he was discovered. 

So when he hears that the Hierarch's going to do something with a sword that Daniel's father imbued with Daniel's essence, he kind of wants it out of the Hierarch's hands. So he amasses his crew to break into the Hierarch's vault. He's not trying for power, but along the way, he just might gain some. Or lose some. Or someone.

There's also an interesting subplot about the role of bureaucracy in this magical L.A., and how one of the Hierarch's nephews, unmagical, has also tried to keep his head down, but just might run afoul of an unpredictable and brutal power structure. 

The heist itself is quite satisfying, and the revelations at the end interesting. As I said, almost good enough to get it on my authors list. I'm still undecided. But this was quite a lot of fun.


  1. On the subject of heists, you might like The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes (sp?).

    I hadn't realized this was a heist book - that's the detail I needed to add this to my to-read pile.

    1. I think you'll like it. And I'll add the Palace Job to my heists reading list!