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California Bones
By Greg Van Eekhout
Tor, Paperback, $14.99, 320pp
Published June, 2014

I’m not a Los Angeleno, but I find LA a fascinating place to visit — touring with friends, getting shown the local landmarks like Tommy Burgers and Rhino Records. And Greg Van Eekhout is a wonderful tour guide in California Bones, showing his readers all those places and more.

Of course his version of LA is quite a bit different than reality. And it isn’t for the squeamish.

California Bones is a dystopian urban fantasy where California has seceded from the United States and split into Northern and Southern halves. Los Angeles is ruled by the ancient Hierarch, a powerful osteomancer — a despotic wizard who gains powers by eating the fossilized bones of magical creatures. The powerful movers and shakers who transformed LA into a SoCal Wonderland, like Walt Disney and William Mullholland, are his immortal servants and sometimes rivals. Indeed the water magnate Mulholland’s influence is so great that LA isn’t a maze of highways, but canals — a high-tech, magical Venice.

But Van Eekhout’s world is still absolutely LA, from the Viper Room and Tito’s Tacos to the skater haunts of Dogtown in Venice Beach. And it’s in this world that Daniel Blackland grew up.

The son of an osteomancer working for the Hierarch, Blackland was introduced to magic at age six when his father gave him a piece of kraken bone to eat. He would spend his childhood learning from his father, being molded into a potentially powerful osteomancer himself. Of course it all came to naught when Daniel’s father was captured by the Hierarch and eaten in front of him.

Yup. I said it wasn’t for the squeamish.

The story picks up with Daniel in his early 20s, a petty thief working with a crew of friends for Otis, a local mob boss and smuggler. He and his crew — the regenerating Moth, the shapechanging Jo and the safecracker Cassandra — are recruited to help the mysterious Emma Walker infiltrate the Ossuary, the Hierarch’s seat of power located underneath the LaBrea Tar Pits.

At the same time the Gabriel Argent, a low-level bureaucrat and distant relative of the Hierarch is trying to track down the mysterious Daniel, who was believed killed with his mother fleeing north to San Francisco. Along with his tracker Max, he is trying to enlist the aid of the powerful Mullholland and his water mages to find Daniel.

It’s a little bit Raymond Chandler, a little bit Ocean’s Eleven and a whole lot of cannibal magicians.

California Bones is filled with plenty of noir tropes, from the mysterious damsel in distress to the McGuffin heist with lots of twists, double crosses, triple crosses and mistaken identities leading to a climactic battle above the Hollywood Hills.

While Van Eekhout was known as a YA author before California Bones, he certainly shows facility with more adult themes (and R-rated violence) in his adult debut

Above all though, his love of LA in all its sprawling, smog-tainted glory, shines through every page. I’d almost like to visit his version of the City of Angels.

If it weren’t for the cannibalism, that is. ~~ Michael Senft

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