CanLit for LittleCanadians Review of Bone, Fog, Ash & Star
Reviewed by: Helen Kubiw
When Catherine Egan began her high fantasy series The Last Days of Tian Di with Shade & Sorceress (Coteau, 2012), everything was new to twelve-year-old Eliza Tok: who: learns she is the Shang Sorceress, as were her mother and grandmother; discovers her Magic; clashes with the Nia, the entrapped Xia Sorceress; befriends Charlie, the shape-shifting Shade; and connects with Faeries, Mancers, Witches, Cra, Dragons,and other assorted characters.
Now turning 16, Eliza continues to study Magic with the Mancer Foss in the Great Sand Sea, the home of her father's people, the Sorma. After The Unmaking (Coteau, 2013), Eliza is loathe to have any part of the Mancers at the Citadel, most especially Kyreth whose aim has been to control her and her powers. Unfortunately, Kyreth has other plans, including sending fog-like assassins, the Thanatosi, to murder Charlie and force Eliza back to the Citadel, where he would orchestrate her marriage to a Mancer and ensure an heir, a new Shang Sorceress.
To keep Charlie safe (though he has now lost his ability to shape shift), Foss and Eliza take him and Nell to the Realm of the Faeries where Jalo, a Faery smitten with Nell, gives them sanctuary. Too bad Jalo's mother, Tariro, hates humans and is determined to murder Nell to keep her son away from her.
Foss and Eliza return to the Citadel, with Eliza ready to take on the war they've chosen with her. Even with a new Supreme Mancer, Aysu, Eliza realizes that Kyreth is still at work. Exploring, she discovers her grandmother and Kyreth's wife, Selva, alive but under a Curse. Granddaughter and grandmother help each other and Eliza is sent to gather the Four Gifts of the Ancients, the Gehemmis, one of which Selva had been stealing when cursed.
So begins Eliza's newest quest, to retrieve the four Gehemmis and learn of the Magic contained within, and to find her future, wherever or with whomever it may rest.
If Shade and Sorceress is all about newness, and The Unmaking looking deeper into those that appear to be good or evil, then Bone, Fog, Ash & Star is about loss. It's about making choices that may cause pain to others or heartbreak to one's self, that may confuse or antagonize those who are your allies, and may result in turning one's back on the innocence and trust of youth. While Eliza grows into herself as a Shang Sorceress, finally recognizing the Magic she can accomplish and the hard choices she must make, she has lost some of the wonder of her youth, the wonder that allowed her to share in new worlds wholeheartedly, regardless of the possible dangers.
"You don't remember the loss, not exactly, but you cling to those you love with such ferocity, you would die for them, because the memory of the first loss is buried within you, and it defines you." (pg. 240)
Nia may be pointing out Eliza's loss but others in Bone, Fog, Ash & Star will undergo similar experiences, ranging from small sacrifices and mishaps to life-altering ruin and the ultimate loss, death. Nell, who'd been amazed at the grandeur of the Faery Realm's Illusions, begins to lose some of her wonder of the supernatural. Charlie, who loses that which defined him as a Shade, must find a way to reconcile that loss with what is left for him to be. There's the Blind Enchanter who gave up his sight and song for seeing the Sparkling Deluder. And Rea, Eliza's mother, who gave up and still gives something important up to be with her husband. Loss is the substance of life. It is only luck that keeps it at bay as long as possible. Or the pen of a true spellbinder, like Catherine Egan.
Though Catherine Egan does provide a short epilogue with a joyous scene to close The Last Days of Tian Di, the reader will also feel a great loss. It's inevitable. We've followed and cheered for Eliza, afraid for her goodness and choices, and longing for the love she feels to be realized. After travelling alongside this young Shang Sorceress and woman through three epic volumes, we can only hope that her unwritten life is as prodigious as this written one has been. For that, we can only thank Catherine Egan for the courtesy she has extended to us in sharing it.
Read the full review here. And don't miss Catherine Egan's guest blog post about villains titled, "Isn't he scary? Isn't he beautiful?".