Storytime Standouts review of Bone, Fog, Ash & Star
Reviewed by: Jody Holford
The lengthy title of Catherine Egan's third book, The Last Days of Tian Di: Bone, Fog, Ash, and Star, alludes to the depth and complexity that is wrapped up within the story. Like the characters of this book, I felt myself immersed in unfamiliar, amazing worlds, pulled back and forth between them by the common thread: Eliza. A story of friendship, loyalty, strength, and finding the truth, Egan isn't afraid to make her characters suffer to reach reward. In fact, it is understood and stated that "there is loss and gain with every act". I think what was most powerful, for me, was the way this book echos life. There are consequences to every action and we do the very best we can at the time, but then we must go from there, from the result of our decisions. It is a heavy burden on the main character's shoulders, knowing that the choices she makes will lead to her own heavy heart. But I think it is an important message for readers, particularly the young adult ones who are, in some ways, facing a similar journey. At the age of sixteen, they are making choices that feel right at the time, but have long term consequences that need to be weighed and judged. Sometimes, life really is choosing the lesser of two evils and this is a lesson that Eliza faces constantly.
In this third book of her series, Catherine Egan pulls the reader in with intense action right from the start. When Eliza's friend, Charlie, becomes the victim of an assassination attempt, just as she's trying to tell him she has feelings for him that go beyond friendship, the reader is immediately hooked. Aside from the action, the magical realism, the vivid imagery that drops you right inside of the book, the characters are connectable.
I realized within the first chapter that I was drawn in because when the first major event happens, I literally gasped out loud. At that point I thought, wow, I already care about the characters and I can totally see the scene. As a writer and a reader, I know that this is not an easy combination to present on the page. From there, Egan takes us on a journey to save her friend that is met with seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Like the title, the story seemed to always have one more tangent. Whether you're thinking that they cannot possibly escape the next vicious attack or they are finally safe, the reader is constantly surprised. The term magical realism is an interesting one to me: if done poorly, you can distance yourself from the book because it's fantasy and you know that everything is okay. If done properly, as Egan has done, you can forget that transforming, shape-shifting, and spell-binding aren't a possibility. I saw the characters as regular teenagers– Eliza with too much responsibility on her young shoulders, Nell with the exam she desperately wanted to ace, and Charlie with the youthful irritation of someone stuck in a situation they cannot control.
Even in the magical, there is a sense of the real: the faeries' overall disdain of humans, the faery mother who can't abide by her son, Jalo helping a human because he's in love with her, the oracle grandmother, saved by the ancients, who shares her knowledge in riddles, the fight for power between the Mancers, and each character trying to choose between good and evil, trying to find their way out of a situation that is bigger than themselves.Through it all, we are reminded, as are the characters, that best laid plans often go astray and the things we truly believe we want and need in life are not necessarily what we end up getting. Accepting that and moving forward anyway is not easy, but it can be done, as Eliza shows us.
Reviewed by Jody Holford.
Don't miss Storytime Standouts interview with Catherine Egan, which can be found here.