Celebrating Local Authors! Review of ‘The Bones of the Earth’

20 Feb

By Evan Zenobia

OTTAWA—If you’re a fantasy fan, history buff or an adventure aficionado, you won’t be able to put Scott Bury’s “The Bones of the Earth,” down.

The Ottawa author’s novel, which skilfully blends historical fiction, magical realism and swashbuckling action, follows a socially awkward barbarian youth in struggles against invaders, demons and dragons during the late sixth century. And while that may sound like the plot of an SNL skit, “The Bones of the Earth” is actually full of drama, heart-breaking tragedy and gore.

After the only life he’s ever known falls to pieces, Javor reluctantly travels away from his tiny village in barbarian lands towards the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Javor’s journey takes him through fierce battles with both human and supernatural adversaries. Along his journey, his many experiences impart valuable lessons about life, relationships, politics, religion, magic and more.

All this makes for excellent, engaging plot that will keep the reader turning the pages without ever wanting to put the book down. Javor is a well-developed character with a personality distinct from most other heroes.

Javor’s character and personality certainly exhibits many traits associated with Asperger’s Syndrome, one of the more mild forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The novel uses this to draw attention to social exclusion against people on the spectrum.

The novel also touches on racism by illustrating examples of Greco-Roman chauvinism towards Slavic and Gothic “barbarians.” Throughout the novel, Javor finds himself on the receiving end of xenophobic hostility, derision and snobbery from Romans. The author also brilliantly ties racism together with imperialism. Of course, Javor may be the only tall, able-bodied, fair-skinned, blond, blue-eyed, straight cisgender male to suffer discrimination for these traits in all literature. But then, it is a fantasy novel. On the other hand, such a stark juxtaposition to the usual direction of imperialist racism may have the advantage of moving to racists to understanding the errors of their ways when they see one of their own as a victim.

The author is relentless when addressing absolutism and imperialism, highlighting the vicious atrocities of the practices with vivid imagery and through the grim anecdotes of the barbarian victims of Rome. The novel, thankfully, does not fall to romanticizing the Dark Ages.

But while the novel is thrilling and its commentary astute, it is, it must be said, a “guy story.” There are very few female characters in general, and the ones who do exist are relatively one-dimensional. Emotional volatility is almost exclusively confined to female characters. Many girls and women are made into archetypical “damsels in distress,” saved only the masculine virtues of courage and self-sacrifice. In a world filled with dragons, trolls, vampires and gryphons, the independent liberated woman is still mythical.

There are exceptions. Javor’s village’s shaman is certainly nobody’s subordinate, although her character serves less as a model for feminine independence than as the author’s excuse to feature her throwing an orgy party. A smart move on the author’s part, and a good way to reel the “young adult” crowd in.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with “guy stories.” The novel certainly has a universal appeal. But I grew up watching Xena, and I always appreciate using fantasies to explore sexism and push traditional gender roles.

It certainly would have strengthened the novel’s subtle but stinging critique of Christianity to have included the absurdity and cruelty of religious attitudes towards women. The author sticks to knocking the rest of Christianity though.

But if you’re looking for something filled with adventure and subtle commentary to devour in the next week, pick up “The Bones of the Earth.” It’s available on Amazon or something.

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