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Bone Song by John Meaney

01/09/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Bone Song in the USA - or Buy Bone Song in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 346 page enlarged paperback. Price: 10.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0575-07954-0. 346 page enlarged paperback. Price: 799 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0575-08175-8. pub: Bantam Spectra. 370 page hardback. Price: $24.00 (US), $30.00 (CAN) ISBN: 978-0-553-38514-4.

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Once upon a time, publishers, booksellers and librarians did not distinguish between Science Fiction and fantasy. The books sat side by side on the shelves and no one minded. Then someone thought it would be a good idea to separate them. If it had swords, sorcery, elves and a mediaeval setting then it must be fantasy.

Science Fiction had space-ships, aliens, technology and a future setting. Of course, there were exceptions. Occasionally, along comes a book that fits squarely in both sections. In rare instances, the meld is exquisite. 'Bone Song' is one of them.

The story is set mostly in the city of Tristopolis. It has many of the technological trappings that society in modern America is cursed with - cars, pollution, phones, surveillance, guns and gun-crime. It could be a colony world as the majority of the population is human but there is no suggestion of interstellar space flight. There is a supernatural element.

Many of the machines are operated through the services of enslaved wraiths - sentient beings that appear to exist mainly in another dimension. Gertie is the lift-wraith at police headquarters and it is her job to transport people to the correct floor. To most, wraiths are just another part of the world they live in. Perhaps they are an indigenous species of a world on which humans lived a long time ago.

Maybe they have always existed side by side. Electricity generation is pure sorcery. The dead are taken to the generating plants where their bones, having psychic energy, are used to produce electricity.

'Bone Song' is also a crime thriller. Donal Riordan is a police officer. He is charged with the security of an operatic Diva who will shortly be performing in the city. It has been noticed that a number of other exceptionally talented performers around the world have been killed during performances and their bodies stolen. It is believed that their bones are being stolen for sale to wealthy collectors.

As Donal discovers, touching these bones transports a person into a world encompassed by the talent. Unfortunately, the Diva dies and Donal barely escapes with his life. He is recruited into a special squad whose current job is to track down the bone collectors. His new boss, Laura, is a zombie, killed in the line of duty and was re-animated. She doesn't sleep, but does have to recharge her body.

John Meaney has done an excellent job in creating this world. Although the reader is dropped straight into it, the familiarity of the crime genre and the clarity of the writing means that there is no confusion as new concepts are introduced. Donal's character is well-drawn as are some of the others. Some members of the team he becomes part of tend to remain sketchy as there are perhaps too many to develop within the fast-moving story.

There are plenty of plot twists and surprises. Hopefully, other novels set in this world will provide the opportunity to explore the more bizarre aspects of it, along with the people who inhabit it.

Pauline Morgan

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