I enjoyed this author’s “Murderbot” series so much that I decided to tackle her backlist, and with this book was not disappointed at all.
City of Bones is a standalone fantasy that takes place more than a thousand years after the time of the “Ancients.” Khat and Sagai are partners working in the city of Charisat who deal in relics from the Ancient Civilization. Both of them would rather have been scholars of ancient artifacts instead of just market traders, but neither would be admitted to the halls of Charisat’s academia: Sagai is a foreigner from another city, and Khat is a “krisman” – a different breed altogether.
The Kris are mostly human, having been genetically engineered by the Ancients to survive in the Waste, the large arid and desolate area that replaced the sea and destroyed the Ancients’s way of life. The impetus for this cataclysmic event is a mystery to current inhabitants of the world, who are trying to piece together the fragments of text and objects they find to determine what happened and perhaps even to replicate aspects of the Ancients’s clearly more advanced civilization.
[The Waste seems a bit like a volcanic area, and the relics traded are quite evocative of those of Pompeii. But Wells’s world-building goes way beyond known references. Nevertheless, readers can clearly envision the landscapes she creates despite their alien nature.]
As the story begins, Khat is hired by a Warder, a mage from the ruling class, to help locate particular relics the mages believe will further their quest to find the key to Ancient magic. Khat is reluctant, but one doesn’t easily refuse the powerful. He guides a group to the Waste to the site of one of the Remnants – mysterious structures that may yield clues.
In the course of the journey, the group is attacked by Waste pirates, and Khat helps the Warder escape. The two become close, and work together to defeat all the forces arrayed to stymie their efforts and destroy them as well.
Evaluation: Wells’s world-building is outstanding, but it is the protagonists who make this author’s works so appealing. As in her later books, Wells has created endearing characters who manage to have integrity and nobility even in the midst of violence and cruelty. I found this book, like the others by her I read, to be both intellectually and emotionally rewarding.
Published by Tor, 1995