Bone Weaver

Bone Weaver by Aden Polydoros (The City Beautiful) is a transportive YA fantasy about the monstrous nature of oppression.

In the Kosa Empire, people believe that the Three Sisters bestow nobles--never commoners--with magic. Peasants who have magic, then, are suspected as kolduny, witches tainted with the Unclean Force, and are considered criminals. Koschei, a koldun and "madman," leads an anarchic group that wants power transferred to commoners. He is also trying to craft an elixir of immortality, so when his followers find a rare child upyr (resurrected dead), they take her to Koschei. Determined to find her kidnapped adoptive sister, 17-year-old Toma leaves home to find Koschei. She is joined in this undertaking by two young men who are innately at odds: Mikhail, the dethroned tsar who must kill Koschei to get his magic back, and Vanya, a commoner condemned to execution as a koldun because he used magic to save his town from murderous tsarists.

Polydoros's worldbuilding is astoundingly multilayered. The group ventures across ravaged landscapes hosting beautifully sinister creatures of Slavic folklore like rusalki (river spirits) with "gill-split torsos," "fermented fish odor" and eel-slick skin. The trio's slow development into something nearing a queer polyamorous relationship as they shed different shackles of oppression is a marvelous transformation that readers should find breath-taking. There's also an oddity emporium shakedown, a fight on a moving train, a castle infiltration and brief alliances with monsters. Vanya's magic is gorgeous ("buds bursting into white bloom"; inanimate objects crackling with growth), his banter with Mikhail irresistible, his tenderness with Toma warming. Bone Weaver is a heartrending fantasy fraught with class conflict that celebrates reclaiming identity. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

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