The Heart Forger is a worthy second installment in the Bone Witch trilogy


Rin Chupeco’s second Bone Witch novel suffers from a bit of sequelitis, but the complicated central character and breakneck pace of The Heart Forger will keep you invested right till the end.

Middle installments in trilogies are notoriously difficult to get right. The story must continue onward, yet still leave readers wanting more. The characters must develop, but they can’t progress too far in their overall arcs. Our favorites can find happiness, or taste sadness, but there’s always something of a sense of impermanence about it.

We all know the story doesn’t end here, after all.

Such is the case with The Heart Forger, Rin Chupeco’s sequel to her 2017 novel The Bone Witch. It’s not that the story is bad, per se. Far from it, in fact. We see so much more of Tea’s story. We get a glimpse of her ultimate endgame as the novel shifts back and forth in time. There are shocking twists, painful losses, tons of action and the introduction of several intriguing new characters.

There’s a lot to like here, and The Heart Forger is generally a joy to read. (In fact, you’ll likely be hard pressed to put it down. I finished it in something like 36 hours.) Unfortunately, it’s hard to escape the feeling that something more remains on the horizon. No matter what we learn here, the most important discoveries still  lie ahead. So in some ways, the book often feels as though it’s treading water on its way to the answers that are promised in book three.

However, if you’re in any way a fan of YA fantasy, you’ll love this enough that you won’t mind that much.

The Heart Forger picks up where The Bone Witch left off, following the story of Tea, a talented bone witch. A bone witch can not only raise the dead, she helps protect her people by putting down the frightening Kaiju-esque monsters known as daeva. Trained to be an asha, Tea becomes a sort of sorceress-entertainer hybrid who wields elemental magic alongside more traditional skills such as dance and conversation. Asha also train to fight in combat and to build relationships with politicians and other influential figures. In short, they are highly powerful and influential women, who exist in an intriguingly structured and rule-filled segment of society.

The novel splits its story between two time periods. One is Tea’s past, recounting the story of her  her development as a bone witch. The other is Tea’s present, a darker time that sees her raising horrifying daeva to serve her own ends, waging war on a neighboring kingdom and threatening many characters who had previously been her friends.

What happened between these two points? Well, that’s the mystery this trilogy is ever-so-slowly solving. The Heart Forger draws the two narratives closer together while simultaneously moving Tea toward her final endgame. (Which, let’s be clear, seems to be some kind of apocalyptic face off with some of the very systems — and women — she once trusted. Who? And why? We don’t exactly know just yet.)

There’s a lot to keep track of — from Tea’s growing powers, to which of her friends can be trusted, to which characters are even still alive by the end of this second novel. (Some of them aren’t. But, this is world in which people can reanimate the dead. So that’s not necessarily as final an ending as you might think.) Who is on Tea’s side? What does she want? And how did she end up in exile in the first place?

We’re also still unclear on the identity or larger purpose of the Bard that Tea’s chosen as her personal scribe. Why, precisely, does she care about chronicling in this way? Who is this for? And how do the clearly villainous Faceless fit into all this?

These are questions that The Heart Forger doesn’t always seem to know the answer to either. Or at least, isn’t willing to tell us yet. Things are hinted at: Tea and her brother Fox have suffered some kind of massive split. She may have killed someone she once (still?) considered a friend. Something terrible happened to Kalen, necessitating his resurrection as another of Tea’s familiars. (As well as his revelation as her true love interest.) And, of course, there’s whatever drove Tea to a lonely bone-filled beach to raise the corpses of monsters.

The Bone Witch largely kept us in one place, learning about the asha-ka of Kyon, the specificities of Tea’s training and the rules of magic. The Heart Forger expands the trilogy’s larger story. We visit other kingdoms. Relationships get messier. People — particularly Tea — have increasingly complicated and occasionally contradictory motivations. The politics of various kingdoms becomes much more important. Large-scale battles break out. And things happen (much) more quickly than ever before.

But it is Tea’s journey, of course, that remains of paramount importance. We see her experience a riot of emotions from first love, to panicked betrayal, to determined rage. The dual narratives allow us a look at all sides of her character, from her most innocent to her most hardened. We watch her become what is essentially an anti-hero before our eyes, yet we cheer her on anyway. Tea is multi-faceted  and fascinating.

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I absolutely can’t wait to see where her story goes from here. The Heart Forger is an enjoyable enough read in its own right. But as a piece of advertising for the trilogy’s conclusion? It’s even more impressive. How far away is 2019, again?