The Bone Orchard by Sara A Mueller

The Bone Orchard

by Sara A Mueller

Sara A. Mueller's Bone Orchard is a fascinating whodunit set in a lush, gothic world of secrets and magic--where a dying emperor charges his favorite concubine with solving his own murder, and preventing the culprit, which undoubtedly is one of his three terrible sons, from taking control of an empire.

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 whore, and 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.

Reviewed by Quirky Cat on

3.5 of 5 stars

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If you're looking for a novel that is everything and nothing like what you'd expect, consider trying The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller. I went into this book with a lot of assumptions – some of them were accurate, but just as many were not.

Charm knows what it is like to be alone, even when surrounded by people. She's a necromancer trapped and imprisoned within the Orchard House. She runs this house and the people inside. These very people have been made again and again from the scraps of herself that Charm could spare.

Her whole life is about to be thrown into chaos as the Emperor calls her to his death bed. He has one final charge for Charm: discover which of his sons is the killer, and ensure they inherit the throne when he is gone.

“Sorry, Mistress, but I’m not much interested in ghosts. I have enough of my own.”

I knew going into it that The Bone Orchard would be an intense read. The title, cover, and premise all promise that much. Yet I was still unprepared for the depth revealed to me as I read on.

To be clear, I don't think The Bone Orchard is a book for everyone. It has a decent list of TWs (sexual assault, domestic violence, suicide), but it's more than that. Not once does The Bone Orchard shy away from heavy discussions and the emotional toll they may wreck. That's totally fine (great even!), but I think readers should know this going into it.

On the one hand, I enjoyed The Bone Orchard. On the other hand, there were times when it hurt my soul. Not because it was poorly written or anything like that, but because it hits pretty hard. Charm's story is...a lot. And that's before taking the other characters into account (I'm trying to be vague to avoid spoilers).

I do love how strong and determined Charm is. I will never get tired of this style of the protagonist and honestly think we could do with more of them out in the world. Beyond that, I feel like anything else I can say about Charm would once again bring us back into spoiler territory.

I will say that I think this is a book that most readers will love or struggle to finish. Personally, there were times when I needed to take a break from The Bone Orchard. However, I can easily see those breaks turning into something more permanent for other readers. It's definitely going to depend on your reading style here.

Thanks to Tor Books and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Read more reviews over at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks

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Reading updates

  • Started reading
  • 4 May, 2022: Finished reading
  • 4 May, 2022: Reviewed