Helen Scheuerer is no stranger to quality fiction, but as much as I enjoyed the Oremere Chronicles, A Lair of Bones is easily (in my humble opinion) her best book yet. A Lair of Bones creates a completely foreign world and unique society in Talon’s Reach, with the brutal and ambitious Cyrens contesting to be become queen. Or, to describe it in its own words;
Mighty cyrens have ruled the ancient lair of Saddoriel for centuries. A cavernous fortress, a subterranean labyrinth of tunnels and levels, powered by magic and music. From the moment she was born, Roh, the daughter of an infamous criminal, has been despised by her own kind. Restricted to the Lower Sector and forced to work as a common bone cleaner, she has always believed she belongs above: where lies adventure… and power.
Opportunity arises in the form of the Queen’s Tournament, a treacherous set of trials that could see the victor crowned ruler of the entire lair. Up against the most cunning, dangerous cyrens in all the realms, does Roh stand a chance?
The story is equal parts Hunger Games (minus the reluctance to participate) and Six of Crows with cunning and tenacity being the driving forces of Roh. It is a darker form of fantasy than Oremere, but not quite an all-in grimdark, leaving plenty to enjoy for those who may not be such big fans of brutality for brutality’s sake. The worldbuilding is nicely designed to ensure this, with the occasional diversion to music – generally denied to Cyrens with exception of their Deathsong, leaving them reliant on kidnapped humans to play for them. While this builds nicely into the culture of Saddorial, from a technical perspective the moments of melody are a great contrast that kind of gives the reader a chance to breath before the next raising of the tensions.
The centre of the story though is not so much the trials – which are arguably less dangerous than the moments between them, leaving all competitors on edge at all times – and more about the evolving relationship between Roh and the Lair as the recklessness with which she chases her ambitions is slowly worn away, replaced by caution and the plenty of lessons – like never to trust a Cyren.
I do have to say though, at risk of being a little anthropocentric, that Odi – Roh’s human – is a favourite of mine. Quiet, slow to open, and holding plenty of secrets of his own, he’s more than an proxy for readers to explain the lair. He is not your average hero, yet he arguably puts himself in danger for Roh’s sake. He’s not classically brave, but he doesn’t really fit the anti-hero either. He’s introverted and disempowered, but not the quiet-but-strong type or the small-but-fierce type. He is simply a decent person caught in the games of the Cyrens trying to survive while maintaining some shred of his moral beliefs. It doesn’t always work to the favour of either himself or Roh, and he has plenty of secrets himself. But the quiet, unassuming yet effective and at time proactive Odi is one of the most genuine characters I’ve read for a long time.
The characters are complete, the setting is stunning, and the plot is engaging both in Roh’s pursuit of the Tournament, and setting up the greater mysteries for future books. I won’t spoil the ending, but the author has absolutely got me on board for the series with a final scene that ensures drama, adventure, and danger in the next book.
I know there’s plenty of year to go, but this has to be one of my favourites for 2021 so far. Five lair-y bone stars for this one