From my brief investigations into the author (Chris Evans of The Iron Elves trilogy) it would seem that he’s a bit of a military historian and I definitely think that’s where this book stems from. It’s a story inspired by the Vietnam War (obviously with a fantasy twist) and you definitely get the impression straight away of confusing objectives coupled with oppressive heat.
Of Bone and Thunder starts off in a slightly confusing manner, what with the prologue being from the perspective of a bird, but it very quickly drags you in and becomes a visceral, pumping tale that feels very real.
We start following normal soldiers doing a normal day’s work in heat that should only be experienced when you’re standing next to an industrial oven. We move on to a less normal soldier but still doing what amounts to a roughly normal day’s work. And finally we find ourselves following an airborne regiment doing a kind of normal day’s work.
We do see that the Kingdom back home is in turmoil and has almost exploded into open rebellion whilst conscripted soldiers fight in a searing hot jungle for a cause they don’t know about.
I felt like, to start with, the plot meanders slightly with regards to the soldiers on the ground, rather than being propelled onwards into the maw of some great big bad evil end of the world nonsense. But I think that is also kind of the point with soldiers fighting a war that they see as pointless. That isn’t to say that the story isn’t compelling; we find ourselves sucked into the very real struggles of the soldiers on the ground (and air).
One of my favourite parts of the story is the rags (read: dragons). Evans uses them to create dragon-based air squadrons. And it’s awesome. There’s something about the way Evans describes them that makes them feel heavy, hot, and oh so real and dangerous. And that’s before they even start breathing fire. I love it.
It’s compelling in its characters and every page reveals something deeper in each of the characters that makes you more interested in them. You become invested in the characters as you see their faults, their love for their comrades, and what they are willing to do to keep one another safe.
Evans does a great job of not pulling any punches or trying to glamorise warfare but at the same time the crescendo to the story will still get you cheering for the characters at their triumphs (I was smiling like a goon on the train).
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought it was a detailed exploration into the minds of soldiers on the ground, how social change affected them, and the stresses of dealing with a command structure unprepared for the environment they faced.
It was well written, the characters were quite flawed but ultimately sympathetic and I found myself excited to get back to it. What more could you ask for?! Dragon? It has that too!
I would definitely recommend this book to fans of the Malazan series. This book is a dark exploration of war that still has also those features that make you want to read on and dig deeper into the world, the characters, and the conflicts.