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Review: A Ritual of Bone (The Dead Sagas #1) by Lee C. Conley

Rating: 9.5/10

Synopsis

Arnar is a land of warriors, its people as stalwart as the stones themselves. In a land of dark forests and ancient hill forts, a forgotten evil is awoken by curious minds.

The Great Histories and the Sagas say nothing of this evil, long passed from the memory of even the studious scholars of the College. For centuries, the scholars of Arnar have kept these records and preserved the knowledge and great deeds of a proud people. The story of these peoples forever chronicled in the Sagas of the Great Histories.

But now the evil spreads and the dead walk in its wake, terrible creatures roam the night and even the spirits are restless. The Dead Sagas could perhaps be the final chapters of these great records.

Many threads entwine to tell this Saga, interweaving the tales of those who played their part in the search for answers and ultimately their fight for survival. Amid plague, invasion and terror, the inexorable rise of the dead sends a kingdom scrabbling to its knees.

This Dark Fantasy Epic combines dark malign horror and gritty survival adventure as the Dead Sagas unfold in a world where honour and renown is all, where beasts and savages lurk in the wilderness, and where sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead.

Review

A Ritual of Bone really wowed me. It is Fear the Walking Dead in a fantasy Viking setting, which I might have told you before I read this book might be the equivalent of combining peanut butter and spaghetti into one dish (didn’t Michelle do that on an episode of Full House? Sorry, I digress…): taking two things I like and randomly throwing the together for a bad result. But, that is not what I got from this book at all. It is more like adding apple slices to your peanut butter sandwich and creating something that feels surprisingly complete.

Note that I used the comparison to Fear the Walking Dead as opposed to the original The Walking Dead (and to be clear, I am talking television, here, not the comics. I have not yet read them, though I do hope to someday). The reason for that is that this book is an opening season of a zombie genesis story, and that is more Fear than anything. Remember with TWD it starts right in the shit after a brief introduction. Fear is more of slow burn, and we get to experience the buildup and tension that comes along with the disbelief as to what is happening in the world. I got those same vibes from this book: a story that is deliberate and measured at times, shocking others, but always surrounded by skepticism and doubt. The undead don’t exist (how do you say that in Old Norse?). That creates a ton of tension around the narrative, and that is really the crux of the story for me and what made it so enjoyable.

And now just add Vikings! I was really impressed at the way Conley was able integrate Norse elements into the story. The names (Bjorn, Angus, and Astrid, for example) and the use of longships, Viking weapons and the like really brought something different to a book about the undead. I had kind of thought zombie stories were played out at this point, that were not a whole lot of new avenues to explore. I could not have been more wrong, as the author took an awesome idea and ran with it so well that I could not put it down. In in my opinion, Conley deserves a big hat tip for this, because it all comes down to the writing. It is really descriptive (yes, quite gorey at times) that I was really able to immerse myself in the story, which is exactly what I am looking for in a book: escape. A Ritual of Bone was able to get to me there, and yeah I might choose to hang out with Vikings and crush some zombies had I the choice.

One thing that is different here than other zombie stories, is that we do have clues as to how this whole thing started. And it is very fantasy (but I am not giving anything away, you are going to have to read it on your own to find out). I do know how TWD ends, but my conjecture is definitely something real world. That is clearly not the case in this book, which brings about that fantasy element that brings the different aspects of the book together. This storyline is not always on the forefront (though it has its moments in the limelight), mostly existing as a backdrop to the main narrative. This was a perfect way to present this issue to me, because it settled in a constant thought in the back of my mind throughout the story. I would constantly go back to this and think about how it all started. If I remember correctly, the reader does not get all the details of the origins quite yet but a general idea is presented.

I did not end up giving this story a perfect score, as I there were a few times I found my mind wandering during lulls in the story. The biggest contributor to my rating is how well a book kept my interest, and for 90% of the story I was in it. Not a big ding here, but worth mentioning.

A Ritual of Bone is incredibly unique, combining elements of horror and fantasy with a Viking setting. I am not sure what else one could look for in a book when it comes to entertainment value. It was really well done, and I am excited to continue this story in book 2, A Ritual of Flesh (which, by the way, is available now). I highly recommend picking it up.