Bone and Jewel Creatures
by Elizabeth Bear
133pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.88/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.95/5

Elizabeth Bear’s novella Bone and Jewel Creatures is set in the same world as her Eternal Sky trilogy (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky), though it focuses on a completely different set of characters, mainly the 96-year-old wizard Bijou. It was released before a prequel novella, Book of Iron, about the same protagonist during her adventuring days many years ago. Although it’s not absolutely necessary to do so, I am glad I read Book of Iron first since it provides more background on the characters involved in the central conflict (plus I loved it—here’s my Book of Iron review).

Bone and Jewel Creatures has a rather straightforward plot: Bijou discovers that something is awry in Messaline, the city of jackals, and works toward preventing the triumph of evil. One day while in the workshop in which she creates her wondrous creatures of bone and jewel, Bijou’s current project is interrupted by the arrival of Brazen the Enchanter. He has come in hopes that Bijou can save a feral child, unable to speak due to having lived in the wild without the company of other humans, with an infected hand. In order for the child to survive, Bijou must amputate the hand and she wastes no time proceeding with what must be done. As she’s examining the tainted limb after the surgery, Bijou finds a white rose petal embedded in it and knows it could only have come from the garden of the man she used to love, Kaulas the Necromancer—and realizes it’s probably not a coincidence that this child was put into her path.

After that, it seems to take a long time to come around to the inevitable conclusion, and I don’t really think this is a novella to read for the plot. It’s one to read to admire the imagination that went into Bijou’s menagerie of bone and jewel creatures, the beautiful writing, and the character perspectives. Both Bijou and Emeraude (the name Bijou eventually gives the child) stand out as quite different from other characters I’ve come across in the books I’ve read.

I loved that the story centered on a woman in her nineties and I loved Bijou as a character, just as I did in Book of Iron. She’s feeling her age—she’s arthritic and slower than she used to be—but she still constructs the titular bone and jewel creatures and “not one other alive could do [what she did]” (page 7). What Bijou does is a combination of art and magic. Her creations are each unique, put together from different types of bones and decorated with jewels, and animated. They fill her household and assist her with daily tasks; she trusts many of them, especially the first of them all that she’s had for about seventy years, Ambrosias. Bijou also has a sharp mind and is a compassionate, practical person. She doesn’t hesitate to take in and care for this stray child, and after the surgery, she sets aside the bones and creates a functional hand for Emeraude.

Emeraude also has a third person perspective told from the viewpoint of “the cub.” Having lived in the wilderness with a family of jackals, the child has learned to survive as they do and views the world as one of them. Although quick to learn, Emeraude is new to human customs and perceives humans as a separate group to which the cub does not belong, and it’s quite compelling to read events through this child’s eyes as one who has not had contact with humans before.

Though a quick read due to its short length, Bone and Jewel Creatures is also a slow moving read since it introduces a problem in the first chapter and doesn’t have much follow through until toward the end. However, it’s notable for other reasons: as usual with books penned by Elizabeth Bear, the writing is lovely, and it’s unique due to the characters it focuses upon and the creative array of creatures populating Bijou’s household.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: My husband got me a signed copy for Christmas.

This book is April’s selection from a poll on Patreon.