SFPBO finalist Hall of Bones Review
Hall of Bones is a solid, competently written viking fantasy book; there is no part of the book, from the prose to the characters to the pacing etc, that falls below good, but there also wasn’t really an element of the story that shone for me. The viking theme is well integrated into the plot, as well as aesthetically and culturally throughout the book, but it doesn’t redefine the narrative sufficiently as to make the setting pop for me.
Rothgar as a main character is a good mixture of competence without being dominant, and morally complex. His narrative in the second half of the book is particularly good because that’s where the narrative (both the larger and his own) shifts massively, leaving him in a far more interesting narrative space. Before that, he’s solid and faces a variety of challenges and problems, but in the second half his problems and personal situation are less … neat/clean, if that makes sense.
For much the same reason the plot/narrative also improve in the second half of the book, transition from clean and straightforward (while still offering difficult challenges) to being messy with limited options and more qualifiers that need to be resolved.
The world building is decent but ultimately somewhat standard and most of the cool/interesting fantasy elements are in the past. Some of these elements (again) start cropping up in the second half/late first half along with some soft fantastical elements.
The one element I actively disliked about the book was the beginning, largely for personal preference rather than poor execution. The book starts by telling you everything will end in despair and defeat, and it killed a lot of my motivation to keep reading.