Book Review: The Bone Sword

The Bone Sword, by Walter Rhein. Two out of five, max. I’ve read worse, it has a plot, and at least a stab at characterization. If you took that stab in the dark, facing a mirror, striking behind you with your off hand and sweat stinging your vision to a blur.

But worse than that is the use of language, which veers between the modern “OK” and describing a starving man as having a “lack of alimentation”.

It reads, in fact, like it was written by someone with a degree in English literature who never took the time to read the common vernacular and figure out how actual human beings construct dialogue. You may not be surprised that the author bio reveals it was written by someone with a degree in English lit.

I suggest he should have sued the college and gotten his money back. And instead spent, say, fifty bucks setting up a pizza and soda party to get some plain feedback on, how does this read? Do people actually sound like this?

He also apparently paid for editing. I’d believe he got proofreading out of it, I didn’t catch any obvious typos. But a good editor would have seized on no shortage of sentences in the text and eviscerated them. Let me give you a few examples.

“The sensation of his callused hand upon his features was simultaneously slick and rough.”

“It was the ineptitude of those whose task it was to maintain the place that drew his ire.”

“At Malik’s appearance, the regulars immediately stopped their drunken antics and swiveled their fatty jowls to the entryway with the telegraphed interest of a less-than-intelligent dog.”

Need I go on? And all of those were in the first three pages.

I couldn’t force myself to read much more of it, but there are also some definite worldbuilding problems. There’s a character who’s got massive healing powers, that 1) she’s managed to keep completely quiet until her father’s deathly ill, and 2) seem to cost her, personally, nothing to use. Both of these make me very, very cranky. If she’s had these powers since she was a small child she would have made mistakes around other people in the village, the info would have gotten out and they’d have had allies – or enemies – much sooner. And magic should cost. Magic should always cost.

There’s also a priest going around burning people who disagree with him, who seems to have no other reason than fanatical For The Evulz. There are villages in places without reasons to be there – no trade, no resources, nothing but nasty swamp. And don’t get me started on the bone sword itself, unless you used serious magic (and there is none) you would never want that as a hilt material, it’s too likely to fracture in use and drive nasty stuff into your hands.

This reads, in short, like someone from a foreign, non-native-English-speaking culture, decided to do a literary analysis of fantasy, make it darker and grittier, and scattershot high-falutin’ words through it to approximate what they thought the Middle Ages sounded like.

Bleah. Donating this ASAP. Before it hurts my brain more.

16 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bone Sword

  1. Bone, ivory, and horn are historically common hilt materials, but it is usually pretty strong bone (like cow leg bone), and the use is such that the hilt is unlikely to shatter. And of course a lot of people tend to wrap their hilts to make them less slippery, anyway.

    My understanding is that, since the blade tang (or whatever it’s called) runs through the hilt, that is where the force travels – through the metal. The bone part surrounds the tang and is secured around it, but it is just receiving the light grip of the hand and not the force of arm strikes or things being struck. If there is a pommel counterweight at the end and it is not secured properly to the tang, it might cause damage to the hilt piece, but that would argue bad making or bad maintenance.

    Lots of kitchen knives and hunting knives have bone handles, and they are more likely to suffer dropping or other impacts. But I don’t think I have ever heard of injuries from that?

    The main problem is that you can’t wash bone handled knives in the dishwasher, IIRC. Also the color of a bone handle can darken over time, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A lot of modern bone handled stuff is more like “epoxy with some bone mixed in.” (It looks REALLY FREAKING COOL, though, which is why folks do it. :D)

      My family does have some hunting knives with antler hilts, but they are a pain in the patootie to make and the antlers have a natural…uh… layer? that protects it.

      I know I’ve *seen* one that was made with the joint as the hilt, but it was a show piece.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh!

      Forgot the point!

      I can find stuff with like ivory/bone inlay, but nothing that is supposed to take shock that has non-inlay use of bone-stuff.

      (And ivory is much tougher than bone, from memory– bones are kinda hollow)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh, found a page on care. It turns out that you have to keep bone or horn or ivory handles adequately hydrated/oiled (with mineral oil or other oils to keep the water in them), or they can crack or shrink. Which could lead to shattering.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. “My sword is oiled with the blood of my enemies!”

        “We need to have a long, serious discussion about sword maintenance…”

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Okay, now I want to write a story about a sentient sword that is a high-maintence diva that insists on multiple oilings a day, with only the highest-quality mineral oil and fancy silks as a wiping cloth. It also wants to go sheath-shopping at every major trade port. It has multiple sheaths, of course! You need your standard battle sheath, your sustained travel sheath enchanted with warming and cooling charms that keep it nice and temperate at all times (no, it doesn’t feel heat and cold, but that’s not THE POINT, you insensitive fleshbag) a formal sheath for fancy banquets and of course, festival sheaths!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So I guess that if you practice every day, your hand oils the handle somewhat, and the rest you probably do along with your blade cleaning and maintenance and oiling. Probably have to clean sweat salt off any kind of handle.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ugh, this sounds awful! I hope you didn’t pay a lot for it. And I feel you, especially when you are a decent writer yourself, it can be wven more irritating to read something that is badly written. Especially something published that was professionally edited! Yuck.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. nowdays, i think a really good way to get editing and suggestions for free, is to post a draft or version on a fanfiction website or forum, and see the reactions, if one fears plagiarism of it, rewrite it into a fanfic for a fandom that is close enough to be relatable… I’m certain the result will be way better

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I guess it’s always possible that the editor is where the five dollar words came from, but yeah– ouch.


    From a D&D game, can justify a town in a swamp because 1) they are pirates, and 2) they’re undead who the swamp ate and is now using to get more people to eat.

    Liked by 3 people

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