Title: Children of Scorched Bones
Intended Audience: Adult
After seven years in prison, hot-blooded Val returns home to find she no longer has one. Her father is dead, their house is in ashes, and illness and hunger wrack the lowest tier of the floating city of Avernus. When Val’s charismatic friend and former cell-mate Desda gives her an opportunity to join the brewing revolution, she takes it.
Val’s is a Bloodbinder, born with the power to control pain, and while her father wanted her to use her gifts for good, right now she just wants something to lash out at in her grief. If she can free the city in the process, even better, though a strange voice mocks her and leaves her questioning her sanity.
She is drawn deeper into the revolutionaries schemes, stepping stones towards a long-planned prison break and taking the high-tiers by force. In the process, Val unearths information about recently rediscovered ancient magi-tech weapons.
The prison break is a success but Val has blood on her hands; a baby-faced guard who was kind to her during her incarceration. On their next mission, Val freezes, unable to kill again, and one of her teammates’ lives is lost instead. The team falls apart, with only Val and Desda left to enact their final plan. Val is forced to confront her own actions and realizes she can’t endorse something that will lead to innocent deaths and leave Avernus in chaos.
Desda appears to agree, and changes their goal to hunting down the source of the magi-tech weapons and putting an end to them. They are betrayed by their guide in the labyrinth of underground tunnels and only escape with the help of The Voice. Upon arriving at the island’s core, however, it’s revealed that Desda, still plans to lead a militia against the high tiers and wants to use the weapons to ensure success.
Val and Desda’s fight turns violent, and Val is unintentionally killed. Val meets the owner of The Voice, a cynical, once-human spirit who keeps the island floating. Val tries to convince the spirit that these people are worth saving, in the process solidifying her own beliefs and values. Though the spirit refuses to interfere directly, it agrees to resurrect her, implying it comes with a heavy price.
Upon returning to life, she learns that there is a mob storming the upper tier and once again fights Desda, winning without killing her. The mob still rages, but Val knows these people, they respect her. She calls several out individually, and the mob dissipates.
Weeks later, the situation in the city is still unstable, but the ruling houses have been forced to confront the corruption and problems of the people and change seems inevitable. Val visits Desda in prison, and while she mourns their relationship, she leaves feeling more free than she ever has, a parallel to the first chapter.
Val: Val is a hot tempered individual who has lost her sense of purpose and her moral guide, her father. When offered a purpose she takes it without really thinking of the consequences, but is eventually forced to move past her anger and grief and decide on her core beliefs.
Desda: Desda is a character driven by a sense of righteous anger after her brothers murder, and over the course of the story she becomes more set and extreme in her own beliefs, a black and white us vs them attitude. Her refusal to change leads to her eventual downfall.
Main: After being released from prison, Val joins a group of revolutionaries with encouragement from a friend, but their methods are morally questionable. Val decides she can not condone a plan which will lead to the death of many innocents and turns against her former friend to stop it.
Secondary: Ancient technology, magic, and lore begin to surface, along with a strange voice that follows Val. This voice belongs to a former-human who sacrificed herself to direct the magic keeping the island floating (An event shown in the prologue), whose life had many parallels to Val, and who is slowly fading from existence. This plotline is more relevant to the series as a whole.
Avernus is a massive floating island, but in recent years the population has exploded past what is sustainable, which combined with poor leadership has led to hunger, poor sanitation and illness, and corruption to cover up rapidly dwindling resources. While there were once peaceful protests, government lash-back forced them underground and they morphed into a more violent rebel group. Val was a member of the original protestors and was imprisoned for assaulting a guard who injured a friend while shutting down one of the protests.
Some islanders are gifted with ‘Insights’, believed to be gifted by the gods. It’s a hard magic system with each set of powers based around one of the senses, five common (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch) and five rare (pain, temperature, time, balance, orientation). Humans used to have access to a much more fluid runic magic system, which led to what was basically a magical nuclear apocalypse.
The title is in reference to the fact that Echoweavers, hearing based insights, can hear the souls of the departed if their bones haven’t been burned. Val’s father was burned before she returned home so she never had a chance to commune with him, one of her primary character arc drivers.
This is the first book in a series, and the price for Val’s resurrection is explored in the next book, as well as the fallout from the failed rebellion and conflicts that tie further into the lore and larger setting.