Book Review: OF BONE AND THUNDER by Chris Evans

obat smallThe first page for OF BONE AND THUNDER is dedicated to author Chris Evans‘ comrades in Vietnam. The novel’s prologue then takes the reader over a vast, eerie forest, where a flock of birds are promptly ambushed, surrounded, and eaten–by dragons.

Vietnam has been portrayed many times across various media, and this may be the first time I’ve seen it transformed into such a convincing fantasy world that still manages to distinguish itself. Infantry carry crossbows and longbows; dragons are the dropships; soldiers pray to the High Druid and measure time in candle-flicks. Royal mages use thaumics for practical things like communication and navigation, when they’re not blowing up the next village with the natural forces of the world.

Our POV heroes are Carny, a drug-addicted farmboy conscript, increasingly disillusioned by what the war and his commanding officers make him do. Jawn is a Royal Academy Thaum, whose idealism is quickly and thoroughly shattered. Then we have Breeze, a recent Thaum graduate trying to keep her ideals–and her dragon-riding copilot–alive. All of them have been sent into the forest by the Kingdom to end the war, and all of them quickly learn it’s not as simple as being the better army.

Because OF BONE AND THUNDER is about war, about the ever-turning machine. The Kingdom funnels soldiers and resources into enemy territory to fight a mostly-unseen opponent, and our heroes begin to wonder if they’re on the same side, or the right one. As with the Vietnam-inspired setting, Evans’ narrative asks familiar questions: Are we doing the right thing? Is it worth it? Will the war ever end?

I was glad to see a military fantasy story focus on the human cost of war, on how easy it is to lose your grip on sanity and morality as you go deeper into the jungle. But for all that, the book can feel long. Evans is in total control of his tone and atmosphere, and so the slog through the forest can feel oppressive, and the discussions as cyclical and pointless as they no doubt are in-story. For the first quarter of the book, the slog felt a little too real, although with plenty of character development and setup. Once the plot gets going in earnest, I was easily immersed, and kept on my toes as to how the characters would deal with the appropriately chaotic chain of events.

There’s a lot to recommend in OF BONE AND THUNDER. The characters, though not all highly engaging, drive the story. The world is fascinating and terrifying by turns. The novel’s message of the cost and seeming pointlessness of war is consistent, and while its tone can be cynical, I never found it entirely hopeless. Even if you don’t go in for the themes, there are plenty of action scenes, an interesting magic system, and, of course, dragons.



Jared W. Cooper is a Jersey-born writer, gamer, and mostly-coherent genre geek. Between slush reading, writing groups, and editing, he consumes short stories like most people breathe. He can be found, sporadically, at

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