Review of Bone Warriors
By Bron Bahlmann
Sweetwater Books, 2009
Bron Bahlmann, the author of the exciting, affecting new novel Bone Warriors, is a teen-aged boy and seems in many ways typical of the species (in his Acknowledgments, he writes “And finally, thanks to all my enemies for making me stronger” – who but a teen-aged boy, or Norman Mailer, could write such a line with a straight face?): his book is chock-full of fast-paced action, brutal reversals of fortune, lots of exclamation points, and even a cool girl.
The plot of this first book in a projected series stars fifteen-year-old Derrik and his antic (and therefore doomed) little friend Tweaks, who return to their village after an errand only to find everything in ruins and their families missing. The book’s villain, a necromancer who animates bones to do his bidding, has risen to power in the land, and the evils he’s unleashed have enveloped the boys’ families – or so they assume, and they set about immediately on a quest to find their lost loved ones. What follows features lots of magic, fighting, snake-men, boar-men, and menacing servants of the necromancer – but all of this stuff is saved from becoming stale and derivative by the surprising strength of Bahlmann’s prose, which is always immediate and very strong on sensory details:
A current hit Derrik’s legs, strong enough to wrap wet strands of grass around him like thin fingers tugging him down. Derrik clutched the tangle of grass rising above the water, bracing himself against the relentless pull. He knew with sudden, sobering clarity that if he lost his footing and fell into this strange grass river, he’d never get his face above water again. He would drown, trapped forever in the interwoven mesh of water roots that doubtless held the bones of those forest-goers who’d never returned to Bylon. This had to be the mysterious sink grass his father had warned him about.
You can see some of the plot-turns coming a mile away, and Derrik himself suffers more than a little from the blandness that afflicts so many of the male heroes of teen fiction, but on balance this is a remarkably assured debut from a writer with a long career ahead of him. He already knows more than most would-be writers do about how to handle prose – the rest (plot, idiosyncrasy, trusting his readers) he can learn as he goes.