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The Bone Palace by Amanda Downum

This is the second book in a series, but I was able to read it despite not having refreshed my knowledge of the first book. In the first book, The Drowning City, we meet Isyllt Iskaldur, a necromancer in service to her country's crown, while she's on foreign assignment. The Bone Palace takes place two and a half years later, when Isyllt is called in by the capital city's guard to investigate a dead prostitute... who somehow had gotten a hold of one of the dead queen's ring, which should be buried with her. Considering that the king -- away with the army -- will go apeshit when he finds out someone's been looting his wife's tomb, the guard wisely ask for help finding out what's going on and Taking Care of It.

Of course, things are never that simple, are they? There are two other narrators -- one is Isyllt's mentor/former lover, Kiril who is neck deep in trouble of his own, and the personal reason Isyllt left town for Book 1, and the other is Savedra Severos, a noble's daughter and the Crown Prince's concubine, using her mother's spy network to protect the Crown Prince and Princess from trouble.

One thing I found interesting in Downum's world is the incorporation of GLBT folks. It's casually mentioned that Kiril has had both male and female lovers. While Isyllt is having breakfast with the (female) chief of the city's guards, she jokes that if the chief wasn't taken and Isylllt liked women, she'd get involved with her just for the food. There's also an opera attended -- officially to get a look at some of the conspirators against the crown -- featuring a tragic romance between two women, where the tragedy is more that one of them is a ghost-haunted widowed sorceress. In other words, aside from things such as noble inheritance, same-sex relationships are seen as a normal part of relationships.

Trans and intersex folks are stigmatized, though. One of the novel's subplots features the hirja (sp?), the third sex which encompasses what I'd call trans, genderqueer and intersex folks. A lot of them are recognized and often face stigma, so much so that many have banded together to make their own communities... which are often forced to turn to (legal) prostitution, since they figure people might as well pay for their curiosity. Saverda is a transwoman, and was lucky enough that her family didn't kick her out, but one of her subplots is her inability to marry the prince due to the inability of her to bear his heirs. There's the recognition that not only is she facing the personal demands of being in a body of the wrong sex in a setting where makeup and good clothing is all she can do about it, but also the fact her status as the prince's lover would last only as long as the princess permits it.

I do like how Saverda and Isyllt and Kiril's personal issues interweave with the political and supernatural plot in the book. Actually, the book does a lovely job in general interweaving the history and setting into the plot, so that things like an influx of refugees, or the regular patterns of sickness, or Saverda's family and their own affairs are relevant in the mystery. It also managed a 'antagonist POV' (not telling whose) without feeling false or betraying too much of the plot, and lacking the cackling madperson.

This is definitely a keeper.


beccastareyes: Image of Sam from LotR. Text: loyal (Default)

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