Roh is a cyren, living in the lowest levels of Saddoriel, the cavernous, labyrinthine fortress home of her people. The daughter of an infamous criminal, she works as a lowly bone-cleaner, out of sight and out of mind, far away from the upper class cyrens who remember her mother’s crimes all too well.
One day, after years of anticipation, the Queen’s Tournament is announced, an opportunity for a cyren – regardless of rank – to take control of Saddoriel. Every sector must send a champion, even the bone-cleaners, and Roh senses a chance to change her fate for good.
But it won’t be an easy journey for her as A Lair of Bones, the latest from indie author Helen Scheuerer, progresses, and her plucky underdog story won’t count for much up against her double-crossing competitors, a series of dangerous tasks, and a unfortunate human named Odi, who finds himself caught up in the cyrens’ cutthroat tradition.
Inhabiting the same world as the best-selling Oremere Chronicles (returning readers might recognise the cyrens as War of Mist‘s lisloiks), A Lair of Bones sets in motion events that run will parallel to those of the previous series. But that’s where the similarities end; this is darker fare right from the off, and the more methodical approach Scheuerer took during the writing process really shows.
Confident and assured, A Lair of Bones is foreboding from the word go, a pervading sense of danger and anticipation that comes both from the world the novel inhabits (more on that later), and from Scheuerer knowing exactly where this is going – even if readers don’t. It’s appropriate, perhaps, that the key theme of A Lair of Bones is ambition, because Scheuerer is certainly going all in herself.
It’s a fine start to the new series, supported by well-crafted characters and Scheuerer’s reliably strong world-building. The realm of the cyrens is steeped in fascinating lore, and there’s a truly delightful friction between Roh’s understanding of her culture – even the parts that weren’t so generous to her – and the experiences Odi has had at the hands of her kind. The scenery is as grotesque as it is beautiful, blending cathedral like spaces and stunning architecture with blood-curdling building materials and the unavoidable oppressiveness of a subterranean lair.
Once again, Scheuerer is proving that the Aussies can absolutely throw down in the YA fantasy arena. And, even more so, that you don’t need the big names behind you to do it. Fast paced, engaging, and deliciously dark, you’re going to want to keep an eye on this treacherous bunch of cyrens.