Mistress Charm presides over the rich and wealthy of Borenguard. From her home, Orchard House, she runs a brothel that caters to the country’s most influential. They come to marvel at her, enjoy her hospitality, and revel in the company of her bone ghosts (beings grown from the bone trees in Mistress Charm’s orchard). It’s a life that has its drawbacks, but Charm forges ahead, making the best of her situation. Although, she doesn’t really have a choice, considering she’s the bearer of a mindlock, an implanted device that all but guarantees she obeys the emperor of Borenguard.
When the emperor winds up poisoned, he uses the last of his strength to give Charm a final command: find out which of his sons was behind his poisoning and ensure they meet a similar fate. Charm needs all her bone ghosts, as well as all the gossip and political espionage she can muster to find out who is responsible and make them pay. But who is Charm really? And what is her mindlock hiding away?
If you’re looking for a dark and gothic fantasy to shake up your reading list for the year, look no further than Sara A. Mueller’s The Bone Orchard. Mueller creates a lush and politically dense world, all from the confines of mysterious Orchard House. While I was reading The Bone Orchard, one of my favorite musical artists, Florence + The Machine, released a new song entitled, “I am King.” In it, Florence Welch passionately croons:
“A woman is changeling, always shifting shapeFlorence + The Machine, I am King
Just when you think you have it figured out
Something new begins to take
What strange claws are these scratching at my skin
I never knew my killer would be coming from within”
The deeper I got into Charm’s world and the mysteries lurking in her own mind, the more these words seemed to resonate with this story. I’m hesitant to tell you anymore about the plot, as the beauty of this novel lies in the puzzles being slowly teased out. To tell you any more would rob you of the discoveries you make about this woman and they lengths she goes to in order to survive. Charm is a captive in a pretty cage, but can she come to terms with her past in order to free herself in the future?
In this debut novel, Mueller excelled at creating a complex and layered story that deals in trauma and the human need to protect ourselves. I would be remiss if I didn’t also state that the cover art is absolutely incredible and worthy of such a richly developed book. The Bone Orchard is a story I won’t soon forget and I urge others who have a love for gothic fantasy, necromancy, political intrigue, and dark themes to pick this incredibly original story up. Tor Books’ The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller is available for purchase now at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.
Trigger Warnings: This book does have mature themes, so I think it’s important to note for readers that there are mentions of pedophilia, sexual assault, and suicide.