Book Reviews, Boys, Middle Grades, Teen/Adult
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Empire of Bones (Ashtown Burials, #3)

empire of bones_coverEmpire of Bones (Ashtown Burials #3) by N. D. Wilson. Random House, 2013. 448 pages. Age/interest recommendation: age 10 and up.

We’ve been talking about history this month at Redeemed Reader, but today’s offering takes a different approach. Just out this week, N.D. Wilson’s third Ashtown Burials book, Empire of Bones, has been worth the wait. If you’re new to this series, let me apologize: there is virtually no way I can do justice to this series as a whole or bring you up to speed in a blog post. Janie wrote excellent reviews of the first Ashtown Book, The Dragon’s Tooth, and the second, The Drowned Vault. That’s a good starting point if these titles mean nothing to you.

Wilson writes tight, robust fiction. Full of action and depth, there is nary a stray word–despite that page count! Everything has meaning. The transmortals (mythological characters such as Gilgamesh) are back. The Smith family along with their allies are also back. The Phoenix is back. Skelton’s inheritance begins to make more sense. Cyrus, in particular, is coming of age; Wilson handles this expertly. The supporting cast of characters revolve around his maturation, and the stage is set for Cyrus to step into a position of leadership. And it all comes down to a massive, epic battle of good v. evil.

When you read Scripture, particularly the prophetic passages in books such as Daniel or Revelation, do you allow yourself to imagine the awe and terror of some of those scenes? Whether or not you read these books as completely literal is beside the point. We too often tame strong Biblical passages down and make the Christian walk in general one of peace and goodwill with no offense given, none taken. Wilson does not. He weaves Biblical imagery and language in and through this book, especially in the final one third-one fourth. And the stakes are high. There are no wimps here, no “nice” good guys, no bad guys who just “made a wrong choice.”

In Empire of Bones, we see truly evil characters in transmortal Radu Bey and the woman he wants to raise up from burial (Babd Catha–who demands child sacrifice). These characters feed on pain and will bring nothing but terrible destruction. Rupert, Cyrus, Antigone, and their allies are desperate to stop this coming destruction, but the price is great. Justice and Wrath will have to be awoken from burial, but these two characters will mete out justice and wrath to all. And all are guilty at some level, even the “good guys.” (Note: Justice and Wrath are the stone characters pictured on the cover.)

Monks, transmortals, a prophetess, ancient mythologies weave in and out in this hold-your-breath wild ride. Those who enjoy action-packed fantastic adventure will enjoy this series as will those who like to read between the lines and beneath the surface for deeper truth. This series is a violent one, and evil is truly evil. But Wilson makes the counterpoint startling clear in this book. I love that the “good guys” are still guilty before Justice and Wrath and without hope save in the covering of blood, that the way to fight the evil is to take the path of the fool and to celebrate love and joy, and that sacrifice is both necessary and heart-breaking. This book will enrich your understanding of the “feel” of Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation as well as the sacrificial tapestry of Scripture as a whole while simultaneously providing a good read. And it will remind you that evil really is evil…sin isn’t just a “mistake.”

One final note: Janie’s reading of the Ashtown community as the church comes out loud and clear in this third book. It’s great discussion material: how are we like those who flee and how are we like those who stand? Which camp are we, as individuals, in? Are we willing to stand and fight no matter the cost? How “safe” have we made our Christianity?

  • Worldview Rating: 5 (out of 5)
  • Literary Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
As mentioned, Janie reviewed The Dragon’s Tooth and The Drowned Vault previously. If you enjoy fantasy and sci-fi, check out our Ender’s Game readalong finishing up this month. Wilson isn’t the only Christian writing solid fantasy. Jonathan Rogers, Andrew Peterson, and R. J. Anderson all have books worth checking out. You might also be interested in Jonathan Rogers’s comments on Flannery O’Connor, Violence, and Mercy since those themes are  present in Wilson’s book.
Book cover image from publisher’s website; thanks to Random House for an advance copy via netgalley. Book is in stores this week.

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  1. Great review, Betsy! It’s important to note that the series is so rich in character and incident that Empire of Bones will probably make no sense without reading the first two. But it’s time well spent.

  2. Betsy says

    Oh, definitely, Janie–this is for those who’ve read books 1 and 2. No question.

  3. Paul Huxley says

    Just finished the book and it’s the best of the three.

    The point about Ashtown/the Church is interesting. Rupert Greeves is the avengel, and you have cities of refuge/blood avengers in the Old Testament. But certainly in this book, Rupert comes across very strongly as a pastor-figure.

    This one is very strongly full of Christian allusions (more than any other of Wilson’s fiction books I’ve read). I also love the reference to Yeshua – making it specifically Christian (if in a coded way).

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