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Epeolatry Book Review: The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

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Title: The Bone Orchard
Author: Sara A. Mueller
Genre: Mystery, Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: March 22, 2022

Synopsis: Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.

Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.
Charm is a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real.
Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.
But now—Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.
If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil—her freedom. But she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.
Charm must choose. Her dead Emperor’s will or the whispers of her own ghosts. Justice for the empire or her own revenge

In Orchard House live the boneghosts of Mistress Charm and her Lady: Pain, Shame, Pride, Desire, and Justice. Fashioned from tragedy and necromancy, they each have a part to play in their shared survival.

One day Charm is summoned to the Emperor’s bedside and is commanded to solve his murder. Unable to refuse, she begins a quest to find out who has murdered her captor, friend, and lover. Charm has a device in her head called a ‘mindlock’. This is an implant that forces her to be loyal to the Emperor and obey his commands. As his dying gift, once she solves the murder, she will be free.

As a madam of a prestigious brothel, she is in the perfect place to glean secrets and scandals from the politicians who frequent her establishment. Charm’s investigation embroils her deep in the politics of the Empire and threatens to upend everything.

The book started off slow and I found the concept of the boneghosts confusing at first, but once the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place, it sucked me in.

The relationships between characters struck me the most, each connection unique and complex. Many of the women were sexual and political rivals, which could have turned the book into yet another story about petty, jealous frenemies, but that’s not what happens.

With elements of fantasy, science fiction, political thrillers, romances and intrigue, The Bone Orchard is much more than a typical murder mystery. By the ending, everything became clear, and the ending satisfied me.

Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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