The Bone Church

The Bone Church: A Novel - Victoria Dougherty

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I wanted a change of pace with this book; I seldom read Cold War era fiction, which is definitely something I should remedy to. In a way, I got that, and something else, too.

The novel weaves two timelines, 1943-44 and 1956, that end up meeting each other, bringing loose threads together. The author always provided time and location, so keeping track of what happened when wasn't too hard. I found the beginning of the story a little confusing, and still don't know if it was because of the writing style, the changing timelines, or if it was just me; after a short while, things fell into place, and it was all right.

As for the historical context, I must admit I know next to nothing to Prague's history, and I probably missed a few subtleties here when it came to the Infant of Prague and its importance in the plot. On the other hand, I had no problems piecing out those details, and I think the author provided enough information for me to enjoy it without having to stop reading, go learn a few things, and come back later.

Some scenes bordered on the "too much" at times; readers who don't like that may be put off by those. For instance, Felix and Srut stealing a fire lorry to escape the Germans, then making their exit skating on the Vltava river. I quirked an eyebrow, while grinning at the same time. Part of me was "what the heck?", and the other part went "nice one, guys!" It was a strange, somewhat elating feeling.

The atmosphere was permeated with a heavy sense of foreboding, with distrust, danger, suspicion, featuring potential traitors, unsuspected allies, and half-hatched plans thwarted at the last moment, always forcing the characters to get back on their feet, to react to the unexpected. However careful their plans, it was obvious they wouldn't be able to go through them seamlessly, and this added to the paranoia and tension. Sometimes, too, surrealistic descriptions gave an extra edge to the action, especially when Felix was concerned: you never know at first if the people he sees are friends or enemies, real or only in his mind. It reinforced the feeling of something not right going on.

My main gripes with this story:

1) Some of the plot twists rested on characters that are seldom seen or, worse, appear once only. For instance, the nun, or the bishop, who're mentioned once: when they do their particular deed. Such things don't sit well with me in general. Here, they made the twists feel contrived, and I think the latter would've had more of an impact on me if said characters had been introduced beforehand, even in a couple of scenes only (like Andrea). As a result, those threads confused me, and threw me out of the story a few times.

2) Magdalena's involvement, compared to Felix's, felt like a secondary role. I would've enjoyed seeing more of her, more of the path she had to walk alone. She seemed to stand in the background, more spectator than actor, and this made her character less "real" in my eyes.

An interesting story all in all, but not exactly an easy read, and one that might have benefitted from a little more development when it came to some of the secondary characters.