The Mortal Bone (A Hunter Kiss Novel)
by Marjorie M. Liu
Cover Artist: Craig White
Review by Cathy Green
Ace Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781937007188
Date: 27 December 2011 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The latest Hunter Kiss novel, The Mortal Bone, picks up where A Wild Light left off, with Maxine, her husband Grant and Byron still in Texas at her old home, and Maxine trying to process the knowledge that she's not a Warden but a prison and Queen for "the Boys" and what exactly is a Reaper King?
At the start of the novel, a demon inhabiting an obese woman pulls up in a red truck, hands Maxine a crystal skull in a bowling ball bag because a dream has told her to, and then flees in terror. Grant informs her the skull is not from Earth, and Aaz, Dek, Mal, Raw and Zee have a really negative reaction to it. It turns out the skull was one of thirteen used to bind them to the first Hunter. Before Maxine has a chance to process that information, Grant informs her that they've had a call from Rex the zombie back in Seattle because it seems that Maxine's mother, who has been dead for more than six years has sent a message from the Labyrinth.
Maxine teleports them back to Seattle and finds that the message is a rune-covered rose with a message from her mother indicating that the rose is a gift from Maxine's father and that Maxine should forgive him because he loves her. When Maxine picks up the rose. It begins to melt into her skin and severs her from the Boys. Apparently, Maxine's parents have decided to test her. This has immediate terrible consequences, as Maxine falls through the floor and without her little demons to protect her is paralyzed when she hits the floor below.
Fortunately, Grant and the Messenger are able to heal her, although not without difficulty. Maxine's problems are just beginning. The severing of the bond has caused the walls of the Labyrinth prison to fall and the demons are attacking each other and coming to Earth. Zee and the Boys initially stay with her, but the relationship has changed and the Boys are changing, and may need to become the Reaper Kings again, in order to prevent the demons from eating every human on the planet.
The action moves along at a fast clip as Maxine tries to figure out how to cope with her newly vulnerable state and figure out exactly how strong she is on her own. Can Maxine stand on her own and still battle demons without dying now that she no longer has the protection of the Boys. Should she be listening to the voices of the entity that seems to live within her, which is probably what powered the Reaper Kings in the first place.
The novel raises interesting questions about free will, as Maxine worries about whether her relationship with Zee and the Boys was ever real and were they going to leave her. Despite the Hunter having been their prison through many generations, Zee and the Boys do seem to have genuine affection for the line: raising a baby Hunter, Maxine, whose mother died too soon. Zee and the Boys seem to be changing, becoming more terrible in their vengeance, no longer caring about the innocent hosts possessed by demons, perhaps reverting to their former nature. They do still seem to have genuine affection for Maxine, but will it be enough to keep them from becoming the terrible devourers of worlds they used to be? Will they have to become full-fledged Reaper Kings in order to prevent the newly released demonic hordes from destroying the Earth?
Grant is also coping with fears about his powers as a Lightbringer, as it is so easy for him to alter people against their will, even Maxine, and the power is so addictive and enticing. Grant and Maxine are both willing to go farther than they would previously have considered because Maxine is pregnant and the cost will be too high for them personally, for the Earth, and for the universe, should they fail.
Liu does a nice job of expanding her previously established mythology of the demons and the Aeter Masters and really developing the personalities of Zee and the Boys. And in the nature versus nurture argument, Maxine's good heart and its influence on Zee and the Boys plays a significant part, as does the revelation that most of the demons were actually peaceful races before they were altered by the Reaper Kings to fight the Aeter Masters.
Ultimately, Maxine and the Boys pass their tests, or at least appear to do so, and make their choices and the readers will find out the consequences in the next book in the series. We are left with the impression that even bigger battles are coming and now that Maxine is pregnant, at some point the power of the Boys will pass to her child and her leave her vulnerable.