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August 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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A Stir of Bones by Nina Hoffman
Viking / Penguin Putnam Trade: ISBN 0670035513 PubDate: 08/01/03
Review by Daniel Dern

224 pgs. List price $15.99
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A Stir Of Bones, Nina Kiriki Hoffman's new novel, is a good and worthy book. It suffers from expectations (mine, at least) more than anything else -- after her award-winning The Silent Strength of Stones, which is IMHO the best of her books to date, I wanted another FABULOUS book. This book isn't up to Silent Strength, but that's hardly a criticism.

In Silent Strength and several other of her novels (see BooksnBytes Bibliography  for a fuller list) -- The Thread That Binds The Bones (1993), A Red Heart Of Memories (1999), Past The Size Of Dreaming  (2001), and most recently, A Fistful of Sky (2002) (see my January 2003 review),

Hoffman writes about people in our contemporary reality who have and/or get involved in various flavors of magic, ranging from built-in or acquired powers to interaction with magical beings, energies and whatnot -- briefly think Zenna Henderson's The People meets Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover meets a non-somber version of Marvel's X-Men.

In Thread and Stones, which are in a common universe, and Fistful, which is not, many of the magic-doing people are families that differentiate themselves from J.K.Rowling calls "Muggles" … although not definitively, as some mundanes end up doing magic, and there's clearly some intermarriage going on.

In Heart, Dreaming and Bones, this doesn't seem to be the case, although there may be some relationships like this which I've missed or forgotten, but in any case, there's magic a-plenty.

A Stir Of Bones is a prequel to A Red Heart Of Memories and Past The Size Of Memory, so it's reasonable to assume you've already met protagonist Susan Backstrom (also called Suki in the other two books), ditto Nathan the ghost boy, Edmund, Julio and Deidre, plus the House. (Note that two of the names match C.S.Lewis' merry Narnia-bound quartet -- coincidence or homage? Dunno.)

Susan is fourteen here, and her soon-to-be-compatriots are of similar ages. A Stir Of Bones is labeled YA, or close to it -- fair enough, but don't let that stop you if you're a former YA. Naturally, Susan's got problems, she and the gang get involved in adventures… which resolve, but lead naturally to the two post-prequels.

Hoffman has an intriguing "take" -- or series of takes, often concurrent -- on magic and how people interact with it. And she writes naturally and engagingly about teens (and adults), their lives and troubles, and about the incorporation of magic into their lives… I suspect that if you gave this book to a non-SF/F-reader and didn't say "science fiction" and possibly also avoided saying "fantasy" they'd notice the fantasy stuff but enjoy it none the less. (Fistful Of Sky they'd notice, as the magic stuff is not merely in the foreground but drives the bulk of the plot.)

If you like Nina Kiriki Hoffman's other books, you'll enjoy A Stir Of Bones… but I predict you'll also find yourself saying, "Dang, I wanted to find out what happened NEXT to these folks, not what happened earlier."

© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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