Empire of Bones by N. D. Wilson

Empire of BonesInformation

Goodreads: Empire of Bones
Series: Ashtown Burials #3
Source: Received from publisher
Published: October 2013


The Order of Brendan is falling.  Dr. Phoenix has risen from the ashes with a new body, determined to wipe out the old race of men.  Radu Bey, one of the most feared transmortals of all time, gathers an army with the intent of opening the Burials.  Meanwhile, Cyrus and Antigone Smith are on the run with their Keeper, hunted not only by their old enemies but also by their former friends.  The new Brendan is a traitor and the members of the Order too cowardly to resist the rising evil.  Before he handed Cyrus the Dragon’s Tooth, William Skelton foresaw the coming war and hid the weapons that could turn the tide.  Before the Smiths can claim their rightful inheritance, however, they must first decipher the clues that Skelton left to the Empire of Bones.


Some stories are so powerful that they defy words.  When I first read Empire of Bones, I did not know what to say.  Reviewing it seemed, in a way, to be a desecration.  It is a wonderful, thrilling, and moving adventure that I would have preferred to leave untouched rather than mar with words that could not do it justice.  I have made that decision many times in the past.  However, Random House was kind enough to provide me with a copy to review and I owe it not only to them and to the author, but also to you our readers, to share this story.

Though I enjoyed the first two installments of the Ashtown Burials series, The Dragon’s Tooth and The Drowned Vault, I was unprepared for the depth and the magnitude of Empire of Bones.  Far from adhering to standard middle grade tropes, Empire of Bones dares to present a world beset with real dangers, both physical and spiritual, that the heroes may not be able to overcome.  The work becomes an extended meditation on the nature of love and sacrifice as young Cyrus Smith tries to understand who and what is worth dying for.  It makes sense to him to offer himself for his friends and family, but at this stage he struggles to understand why his Keeper Rupert would give himself to save the cowardly and the weak, the members of the Order of Brendan who ran away when trouble came.  His growth, as well as that of his allies, lies at the heart of this story.

And what a group of allies Cyrus has.  Wilson presents readers with one of the most diverse cast of characters I have seen in middle grade literature.  They come from around the world.  Many of them are persons of color.  The women are as integral to the story as the men.  And each of them has their own unique skills, talents, and flaws, allowing them all to contribute equally to the success of their mission.  One never feels that in this world the women have to prove themselves to the men by attempting to emulate them;  Antigone’s compassion and intellect and Arachne’s healing abilities are as valid as Rupert and Jeb’s fighting skills.  And the women don’t compete with each other, either.  They don’t have to because there are so many of them.  Diana Boone doesn’t have to represent all women when she takes aim at an enemy or shows off her superior piloting skill,  nor does Katie Smith when she embraces her role as a mother.  Together they provide a varied look at what it means to be a woman.

Being able to follow all the characters on their journeys has been such a privilege.  Through all their trials and joys, I feel I have really gotten to know them as friends, and I have mourned the loss of each casualty in the war.  Because this is a war that matters.  Wilson does not pull punches to shield his audience from the realities of evil.  He does not even suggest that this war can be won.  He does, however, show what it means to have lived a life that matters, and that small spark of goodness, that recognition that people who value love and laughter still exist, is something on to which readers can hold long after they have closed the pages.

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