Bone Song by John Meaney

Published by Gollancz

ISBN 978 0 57507 9 557
March 2007
390 Pages



John Meaney, best known for his Nulapeiron Space Opera sequence, shifts gears a bit with his latest novel, Bone Song.  In a nutshell, the book is a murder-mystery; however, this book is much more than a simple nut.  Bone Song is a darker, more down-to-earth novel that still holds an incredibly otherworldly strangeness; after all, its primary setting is Tristopolis, also known as Death’s City.


Our protagonist is Lieutenant Donal Riordan, who has been assigned as a bodyguard for an opera singer who might be the next target in what amounts to celebrity serial killings.  Even for a city of the dead the murders are somewhat bizarre; not only are the performers killed, but their bodies are later stolen.  The mood is very dark, and I was immediately put in the frame of mind of the fascinating David Fincher film, Se7en.  Grittiness is a word that all too often is thrown around, but I will apply it to the street-level, no nonsense Riordan. 


However, when he first sees the Diva, the celebrity he will be protecting, he becomes fascinated with her.  It isn’t any surprise that Riordan is unable to keep her alive, or else the plot would not have moved forward much, but he does find himself immune to the spell that would have initially ensnared the Diva. In the other murders, a spell was cast over the performers and the audience, which allowed the murderer to kill the victims.  When the same happens during on of the Diva’s performances, through sheer will power, Riordan is able to break the spell and save the Diva’s life for a bit longer. His will power proves his strength of character once again.  However, after a, page-turning adrenaline-inducing chase, Riordan can only keep the Diva alive for so long until a more powerful focused spell ensorcels Riordan which allows the murderers to kill the Diva.


Riordan hears voices that help to eventually lead him to the source of the body snatching/ murders.  What Riordan finds is a conspiracy led by clandestine members of the upper society of Tristopolis. This is not a new plotline, but in a city powered by blood and bones, it does not come across as such a hackneyed plotline. In the scenes when Riordan first saves the Diva and runs through the underbelly of Tristopolis, Meaney’s visceral writing provide a great deal of excitement and action. Though not told from the first person perspective, Meaney still does an excellent job of putting the reader in Riordan’s head, relaying Riordan’s sense of urgency, and conveying his emotions. 


Riordan not only lets his charge be killed, but he is also damaged severely in the ordeal.  Seemingly revived, a la RoboCop or Remo Williams, he is reassigned to a special unit division. In this special division, Riordan realizes the conspiracy is deeper and more far-reaching than he could have originally imagined.


While the novel is populated with wraiths, zombies, and spiritually inhabited elevators, Meaney provides a logical, if not scientific, explanation for everything. In addition to Se7en I found parallels to the Alex Proyas film Dark City, which speaks to the character of the city itself.  The city/world comes across as a favorable blending of Miéville’s New Crobuzon and any number of Philip K. Dick’s paranoid futures.  Meaney does not go into copious details for everything Riordan and the other characters encounter, yet Tristopolis and the world of Bone Song come across as fully realized. For example, when the police need to examine a corpse, they don’t bring in a doctor, they bring in a sorcerer, of sorts, to help read the bones of the dead. 


Bone Song was not a completely even read, as I felt some places were a bit more overdrawn than others., but on the whole, the story was a fast paced, very entertaining and out of the ordinary.  Meaney throws together familiar elements of multiple genres and creates something both haunting and engaging.


© 2007 Rob H. Bedford


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