Toma hasn’t seen another living person in years, but her life in the sparsely populated outskirts of the Kosa Empire is not entirely lonely. Adopted by a family of upyri—human corpses reanimated by naturally occurring magic—she’s carved out a measure of happiness in the company of her undead sister, Galina, and their parents. But when Kosa’s young dethroned tsar, Mikhail, crash-lands near their homestead while fleeing proletarian revolutionaries, Galina is captured by his pursuers.
Toma will do anything to rescue Galina, even if it means diving into the dangerous center of Kosa’s bloody political upheaval by helping Mikhail. The pair are soon joined by a charismatic boy named Vanya, who has been accused of witchcraft. Vanya is Strannik, one of Kosa’s persecuted minority groups, and he’s witnessed the atrocities committed by the empire firsthand. Together, Toma, Mikhail and Vanya must save Galina, reclaim the imperial throne and show the world who the true monsters are.
In Bone Weaver, author Aden Polydoros (The City Beautiful) draws inspiration from imperial Russian history, Slavic folklore and Jewish culture to craft a detailed setting that feels fully alive, even as it’s constantly shadowed by death. The human politics at the center of the novel are grounded, while the monsters lurking around the edges provide an otherworldly contrast. Polydoros frequently draws on the effect of such contrasts, depicting, for example, realistic horrors like battlefields and public executions alongside surreal forest spirits whose ribcages spill over with butterflies. Loneliness and family, life and death, divinity and heresy, the personal and the political—Polydoros interweaves them all as his trio of characters experiences more of one another’s worlds.
Polydoros also powerfully evokes absence throughout the novel, with the ruins, remnants and suffocating silences of the story’s settings mirroring his characters’ emotional journeys. The gaps in Toma’s childhood memories, Mikhail’s missing magical abilities and Vanya’s unknown mother shape each character’s sense of self. Even as Toma learns more about her past, she is often confronted by a wider sense of what she’s lost, what she will never know and the lives she never had a chance to live. Yet what the characters are missing only motivates them to move forward, to survive and to protect the bonds they form with one another. Bone Weaver is a bloody and unflinching fantasy that balances its darkness with an unwavering cascade of love.