The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum

I loved the first book in Downum’s Necromancer Chronicles, called The Drowning City, which I covered in this post. This second book was just as impressive, set in a detailed and lush society, with multi-dimensional characters. As with the first book, there are multiple subplots and “games” being played, for very high stakes. All of which gave me some very enjoyable hours, buried in Downum’s world. Highly recommended (despite the nits I mention below).

[From Back Cover:] When a prostitute dies carrying a royal signet, Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and agent of the Crown, is called to investigate. Her search leads to desecrated tombs below the palace, and the lightless vaults of the vampiric vrykoloi deep beneath the city. But worse things than vampires are plotting in Erisin… As a sorcerous plague sweeps the city and demons stalk the streets, Isyllt must decide who she’s prepared to betray—before the city built on bones falls into blood and fire.

Vampires Again? But It Works

Probably as you just did, I sighed when I first read the back cover. Not vampires again… Why would Downum resort to that tired old trope, even under a different name? And she does stick with a fairly traditional vampire—at least they suck blood from the living and they skulk in the dark (no sparkle-in-the-sun vampires here). But even though she stays traditional, it works because there’s so much more in this world than just vampires, who are just another by-blow of a magical environment. Downum has an intricate fast-paced plot that kept me riveted, and the vampires fold into her world effortlessly.

After some thought, I realized how hard it is to stay away from the vampiric trope in fantasy, because what would dark powers feed upon, if not blood? Vampirism is now a convention by which we define anything that lives upon the life-force of others. Because there’ll be any number of creatures that fit this description in fantasy, I guess vampirism is here to stay.

A Note About Doppelganger Characters

There’s a trap many epic or large-scale SF/Fantasy authors can fall into, which I call the “doppelganger trap” (I’m not going to bother with the umlauted ‘a,’ although that would be accurate German). I’ve seen this happen when SF/Fantasy gets large and complicated enough to need multiple groups of characters and I first noticed it in my own fantasies. An example: I had two young men, with different backgrounds, doing different plot-necessary things in different parts of the world (Hero Archetypes)—when I suddenly realize they’ve got similar gruff old soldier side-kicks (Mentor Archetypes), were both getting slightly romantic with a street-wise young woman (Trickster Archetypes), and were butting heads with similar enemies that would slowly morph into allies (Guardian Archetypes). What was going on? One group was looking like doppelgangers of the other!

Fantasy plots often have mythic undertones and use archetypes (described in The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler). Unfortunately, when a fantasy starts spinning into multiple subplots, authors can end up with mirror-image/doppelganger groups of characters (SF is prone to this, also). Authors may, unintentionally, give the archetypes similar characteristics. In The Bone Palace, Isyllt and Savedra are competent and determined heroines (although one is female by birth, the other by choice). As the plot unwinds, they both show their resilient mettle. They both have a side-kick who represents an arm of the law (lean and athletic females, one a Police Inspector, the other is the Captain of the Guard). They both have a charismatic good-looking lover who can open doors for them (one is a well-connected bard, the other a prince). Etc., etc. When an author need multiple heros/heroines with multiple supporting characters, they start resembling each other a might too much and cause a bit of déjà vu for the reader.

This didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the book, however. I did experience a bit of déjà vu and confusion in the middle of the book, but Downum puts her characters through different crucibles so the characters grow dissimilar.

If you write fantasy, be aware of the doppelganger trap. It can happen to even the best authors.

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