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The Bonemender

by Holly Bennett

Spirited, thoughtful, generous-hearted, The Bonemender joins the ever-growing realm of YA fantasy series. Like its counterparts, the novel is set in a vaguely medieval past, in a peaceful kingdom under siege, and features characters human and mythological.

The protagonist in this coming-of-age quest story is unusually long in the tooth for YA fiction. Twenty-seven-year-old Gabrielle Deschênes, daughter of the king, is revered for her skills as a bonemender, a healer uniting medical knowhow with a reiki-like spiritual energy to make a patient’s injured body regenerate and repair itself. Gabrielle encounters two elf scouts, Féolan (think Will Ferrell-size elf but Heathcliff handsome) and Danaïs. They have come to warn the king of an imminent attack by the warmongering Greffaires.

Féolon and Gabrielle are attracted to each other; he is intrigued by her elfish powers of healing and telepathic empathy, and she feels a soul kinship with him. While Gabrielle, with a group of bonemenders, accompanies her father’s soldiers into war, Féolan infiltrates a Greffaire troop to get information about their war plans.

It takes first-time novelist Holly Bennett (currently editor-in-chief at Today’s Parent magazine) a while to find her footing. The narrative, initially overly descriptive and not dramatic enough, is a slow go. Except for a few rotters, the predominantly adult characters are straitjacketed paragons of decency, stoicism, dignity, and reason. Combined with Bennett’s unvarying sober tone, her earnest approach runs the risk of not holding the attention of teen readers.

On a positive note, Bennett captures with vigorous realism the bloodiness, brutality, and hardship of war. As the story unfolds, Gabrielle’s characterization and conflicts strengthen, as does the novel.