Title: The Bones of Ruin
Author: Sarah Raughley
Genres: Historical Fiction, SciFi/Fantasy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: Available now
Summary: As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…
She cannot die.
Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.
To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.
If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten.
Review: Having a novel set in Victorian London with characters of color can be tricky because the author at some point has to acknowledge the racism and other injustices people of color were subject to, it was therefore that I was a bit weary when I sat down to read Sarah Raughley’s “The Bones of Ruin”. The premise is a fantastic one as Iris is an intriguing character caught up in one hell of a secret society conspiracy and I wondered who Raughley would capture society at the time. I needed not have worried, for the novel is a engaging story yet also a wonderful critique of how people of color were treated in that time period. The novel makes reference to Sarah Baartman and her mistreatment, the stealing of Africans who were then placed in zoos (true, look it up!), and even trafficking of children. The critique comes from the diverse cast of characters who make up Iris’s team for the “Tournament of Freaks” and each has their own painful history that they struggle with. All make comment on how Victorian London has exploited them in some way and the injustices of their people. I truly loved the novel for this aspect as many historical novels tend to get lost in nostalgia and forget that life was not easy for people of color. Raughley shines a light on it and it only adds to the tension of the novel.
I loved all the characters in this novel, especially Iris of course, as she struggles with the conflict of participating in the Tournament (she’s not too sure if she wants to, but she does want to know about her past.) It creates a wonderful internal conflict that balances with the external conflict as Iris and her team are often times fighting for their lives. In addition, all of the “freaks” are super-powered humans in a way due to an accident at a faire, a mystery that is revealed slowly and comes with an amazing payoff as to how all of these lives intersect. There is also a love triangle, of course, but each provide a unique balance with Iris so it’s somewhat hard to root for one person (I have a preference, but I shall keep it quiet for now. I’ll just say if you read the book and love slow burns, you’ll like that ship). There are also friendships that develop, where the young women work with each other rather than against each other. By the end, after everything Iris, her team, and their friends have experienced, there is a lovely bond which makes you believe that they will be okay and prosper. However, “The Bones of Ruin” is the start of a trilogy, so there is more danger for Iris and her friends to come.
I really enjoyed “The Bones of Ruin” as it was a wonderful escape from our reality that was full of intrigue, mystery, a fun conspiracy, and characters that I really connected to. I was drawn in the world that Raughley created, as well as the developing mythology that will sure be revealed in later books. This was a great start to a series and I can’t wait to read the next book.