Bone Dance by Emma Bull (book review).

March 20, 2014 | By | Reply More

‘Bone Dance’ is set in what remains of a city in the near future after a conflict between North and South America has laid waste to much of the American civilisation. As a post-cataclysmic novel, there’s not a lot of scope for technology to creep in as most tech and the means to produce it, was destroyed in the war. What remains is eagerly sought after, as it is a dwindling, scarce resource.


The central character is called Sparrow and makes a living trading and dealing at the Night Fare. As might be expected, the Night Fare opens when the sun goes down and closes on sunrise. Sparrow makes most profit by dealing in videos and CDs from the World Before. A term used to describe the world before the incident that destroyed half the world. There’s even more profit to be made by dealing in anything related to the Horsemen. These are the seen as the catalysts for the war but now there is nothing known but rumour and legend.

The novel begins with Sparrow successfully completing an assignment to supply a World Before video to one of the richest people in the city. The tense negotiations take place in the tallest building in the city and, having secured his fee, Sparrow heads off back to grab some food. Sparrow wakes up in the dust beside a road the following day with no recollection of what happened between going for some food and waking up in the street. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time that Sparrow has had ‘down time’ with no recollection of what has happened in the intervening period.

The most recent occurrence has Sparrow deeply worried if not scared and calls for drastic action. While not quite a friend, Sherrea agrees to give Sparrow what to all intents and purposes is a Tarot card reading during which Sherrea is possessed allowing a spirit to address Sparrow. The card reading and spirit message hint that Sparrows fate is being guided by others.

Given that the story was written in 1991, I would have to say it has stood the test of time very well indeed. It is a bit slow going to start with as Sparrow tries to uncover more of what happened during the ‘down time’. However, after the Tarot reading the story really does pickup. Individuals and groups of people intrude into Sparrow’s life and not in a benign way. Some are after Sparrow and some are after the people after Sparrow. Divulging why they are after Sparrow and why they are after the people who are after Sparrow would be a major spoiler for those picking up this novel for the first time.

The growth of belief in the occult and spirit world is probably to be expected after the cataclysm but proves difficult for those that know what actually happened. It provides a good angle to the story as you have the techno-dinosaurs on one hand and the spiritualists on the other. Another nice touch is the format of the novel. Each chapter is titled as a cards based presumably on the new world Tarot card deck. Some cards (chapters) have multiple sections but the majority have only one. Underneath the card name there are also some terms with definitions, which I’m presuming must be related to the tarot cards. The way the chapter titles are presented is a nice touch adding to the impression this is a quality piece of work.

Emma Bull does a good job building up the tension of the characters as they inevitably head towards a conflict. The post-cataclysmic environment is stark but believable although the story shows it’s age with the prevalence of video tapes as a highly sought after relic from before the war. If the story had been written ten years later in 2001, then DVD’s would probably have replaced the VHS tapes as the relics from the past. It goes to show how hard it is to predict what might be the dominant technology in 10 years time. However, this doesn’t detract from the story, which is a good tale of a conflict between pre-war technological people and post-war hoodoo spirits and their human servants.

Andy Whitaker

March 2014

(pub: TOR/Forge. 315 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $15.99 (US) $20.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2173-2)

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Category: Books, MEDIA, Scifi

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About AndyWhitaker

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties.

My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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