The Los Angeles I Wish I Lived in: CALIFORNIA BONES by Greg van Eekhout – Review

California Bones 3D

California Bones by Greg van Eekhout
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: June 10 2014
Source: Finished hardcover from publisher
Pages: 300

five stars

The nitty-gritty:  A disturbing—yet unique and compelling—magic system, set in a gritty and dangerous alternate world Los Angeles, a dangerous heist, and lots of double-crossing.

They passed into a chamber. Ragged and moldy tapestries hung like cobwebs before walls plated with scapulas. Femurs, arranged in fluted columns, soared to a domed ceiling, the remains of boys from Sacramento and San Francisco and Fort Bragg, and Kansas and Nebraska and New York and Connecticut, and Chumash and Cupeño and Mohave Indians from California, and all the enemy captures from the Hierarch’s wars. Places like this were where the Hierarch flung his toothpicks.

Hey, I finally get to gush about a book with the word “bones” in it, ha ha! I had the best time reading California Bones! Not only did it remind me how much I love urban fantasy, but it takes place in my own backyard, and it was a blast reading about places that I’ve actually been to. I was lucky enough to meet the author this past weekend at San Diego Comic Con, and I want to give a big thanks to Tor Books for giving away free copies of the book. Since I had already received a review copy from the publisher, I’m going to give my signed copy away to one person who leaves a comment on this post (U.S. only this time). California Bones is an irresistible mix of Ocean’s Eleven-type heist story and urban fantasy, set in a magical Los Angeles that seems familiar at first glance, but is really quite different.

Daniel Blackland is a thief who has been hired by his “uncle” Otis to break into the ossuary, an underground vault of sorts that houses some very powerful magic. But Daniel is much more than a thief. He’s literally been fed magic from the time he was a young boy in the form of the bones of extinct and magical creatures, making him a powerful osteomancer.  Not only that, but Daniel is technically dead and living under the radar. Otis makes a deal with him that’s too good to pass up: if Daniel succeeds in his mission, he can keep the sword that was stolen from Daniel’s father, a sword which contains Daniel’s magical essence and is hidden somewhere beneath the city. When the story begins, Daniel is rounding up his “crew” for the job: a shapeshifter named Jo; Daniel’s ex Cassandra who is a master lock-picker, among other things; Moth, the muscle of the group who has the ability to survive any injury and heal himself; and Emma, the mysterious “inside man.”

As Daniel and his crew plan their heist, a magician named Gabriel has noticed something odd: a rare magical signature in the city that proves that Daniel Blackland, who presumably died ten years ago, is still alive. And the hunt is on. In the middle of all the action is the elusive yet all-powerful Hierarch, the magician who rules the Kingdom of Southern California and who wants nothing more than to get his hands on Daniel’s magic.

There is so much to love about this book. I think the world-building was probably my favorite part. Van Eekhout sets his story in a magical Los Angeles that still has many of the places I’m familiar with, like the La Brea Tar Pits, Disneyland, and the Griffith Observatory. But he also turns LA on its head by using a watery canal system in place of its freeways. It takes guts to pull that one off, but the author somehow convinces us that riding boats to get from one place to another is perfectly normal. He also uses lots of sly references to real people, such as William Mulholland, the man who was responsible for building the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the early 1900s (and whose name you will recognize if you live in Los Angeles—Mulholland Drive, anyone?) and who in California Bones is a water mage.  Even Walt Disney makes an appearance!

Daniel’s ability as an osteomancer was fascinating, and despite the slight “ick” factor of eating animal and human bones to acquire magical powers, I loved the way Daniel could use a creature’s magic for his own—for example, by ingesting the bones of a sea creature, Daniel is able to breath underwater.

The characters were very well done as well, although the book was almost too short for me and I would have liked to get to know them even more. Even though Daniel’s parents are dead when the story begins, we get to know both of them in flashbacks, particularly his father, who was a powerful osteomancer in his own right, and who literally made Daniel into the magician he is. (And whose death is described in horrific detail!)

I loved the unusual character of Max, the “human hound” that Gabriel frees, who then helps him track Daniel. Max is human, but he’s been specially bred—like a hound dog—to smell the faintest traces of magic and find whoever he’s looking for. Just about every character in the book surprised me at some point. Van Eekhout gives them superhero-like abilities, but each has his or her own faults as well. These magicians are about as human as you can get!

If you enjoy twisty tales that are full of unexpected double-crosses, then you are going to love this book. California Bones has everything—a compelling story, a unique magical system, danger around every corner, and characters that feel like friends—and I’m thrilled that this is only the first in a trilogy. Highly recommended!

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Posted July 31, 2014 by Tammy in 5 stars, Giveaways, Reviews / 33 Comments


33 responses to “The Los Angeles I Wish I Lived in: CALIFORNIA BONES by Greg van Eekhout – Review

  1. carlrscott

    Wow, this sounds wonderful, a supernatural heist story. I could totally get into that, thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Okay, let’s just be frank here. I NEED this book. I love magic, love magical creatures, and am absolutely addicted to urban fantasy. I’ve never heard of an osteomancer, so I truly need to read about one. I am craving, seriously, hardcore craving, this book. It sounds so very exciting. I love that all types of magical creatures are combined between the covers of this one book and I am extremely impressed with the creative thought that went into the characters – for instance, having Daniel’s essence captured in a sword. Plus, I must know how Daniel is a living dead person. He doesn’t sound zombie-ish, nor does he sound like a vampire. See? I must know more. I want to know about the muscle character’s wonderful ability to heal from any wound, too. Have I proven my excitement yet, or do I need to continue? AND, it’s SIGNED!!!! SQUEEEE!!! I would cherish this book beyond forever! Books are sacred to me, anyway, and to actually have a SIGNED book is an honor. Thank you for sharing your prized possessions with your followers. I truly appreciate this opportunity to win.

  3. What you got coasters too! Sweet mother hubber. Anyways you’re too nice giving away your signed copy lol but you must have received one already from the pub I guess. Jealous you got to meet him. Glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did as well! Heck more so even lol.

  4. Oh my!! Magic is one of my favorite things to fantasize about when reading a book!!! Greg Van Eekhout is an extremely wonderful author when it comes to urban fantasy, I think I love him LOL!

  5. Bonnie Hilligoss

    Sometime, somewhere, I recall seeing something about eating bones to acquire their magic. The whole premise, plus the varied characters with their powers and faults, sounds like a book that would keep me reading well into the night or until finished! Thank you for the interesting giveaway!!

  6. BookLady

    What an intriguing book! I love urban fantasy and would love to win a copy of California Bones. I miss living in California and this book would bring back fond memories of all the wonderful places I visited. Thanks for the fantastic giveaway!

  7. I totally regret not picking this up for review when I had the chance now, but I was just so swamped at the time. I’ve heard so many good things, and it sounds like a unique urban fantasy with a great heist story (and I love those). I think it’s great you got to read about a place you’re familiar with too 🙂

    • I know, it’s hard NOT to miss some really great books when you’re trying to juggle a TBR pile. But you should eventually try to get to this one. It’s worth the wait!

  8. I have been kicking myself for not requesting this on NetGalley. I kept eying it, but was trying to improve my stats and, well, now I’m kicking myself. So far its the only book I really wish I had requested, and every review I read makes me want it that much more (so thanks for that!). 😉 I will definitely read this one at some point.

    • You will love it, Lisa! Don’t worry, I’ve done the same thing: passed up books because I was so busy, then it turned out everyone loved them. Oh well:)

  9. This sounds HUGELY interesting! Mulholland as a water mage makes an odd sort of sense. I hope the book goes into some detail as to why canals take the place of freeways, but I’m willing to bet there’s a water mage with a hand in that!

  10. I did not know quite what to except when I started reading this book, but it was an instant pleasant surprise. Not only was the plot exciting, but the writing was excellent, which is pretty much all I can ask for in a novel!

  11. Bonnie Franks

    I have commented on this before because of the contest, but this time I want to say this still looks like the best one to me. It’s always a matter of personal preference though.