What I’m Reading: Marjorie Liu – The Mortal Bone

The previous novel in Marjorie Liu’s Hunter Kiss series brought the main story arc that had been spanning the first three volumes to a close and revealed quite a few of the mysteries that had been teasing the reader’s curiosity. Not every question was solved though, not every thread tied neatly off, and so The Mortal Bone, the fourth instalment in the series answers some of the questions left open and asks a copious amount of new ones, starting what I presume will be a new story arc.

Hunter Kiss is among my favourite Paranormal Fantasy series, and it are mainly two things that make it stand out: Marjorie Liu’s writing which is always vivid, often lyrical and sometimes even takes risks, something only very rarely found in this genre (which might be because it is still comparatively recent; hopefully in the future we will be seeing more writers of Paranormal Fantasy or Romance play around not just with content but also with form and style). And then there is the world building, something Liu also has been taking a lot of risks with. From the start, the series’ heroine Maxine Kiss has been mostly in the dark about is going on, as has the reader, and only slowly the novels have been peeling away layer after layer of mystery – it took until the third volume A Wild Light for both Maxine and the reader to get something at least close to a complete picture of events and some idea of what was at stake in the battle she found herself caught up in.

But not every reader enjoys being kept guessing about the precise nature of a novel’s conflict, having to piece together clues of what a character’s motivation might be, trying to puzzl out the details about the world a novel is set in. Personally, I rather enjoy it, and it gives me a pleasant little frisson whenever the author drops another clue or I manage to work out something for myself, but a lot of readers prefer things spelled out and clear-cut. Maybe that is one reason why The Mortal Bone is somewhat less heavy on the cosmic mysteries than previous installments of the series (another reason certainly being that by now the reader simply knows a lot more than in the first volume). Marjorie Liu also cut back on her lyrical style, her prose still very well written but considerably leaner compared to before. Both of which, I have to say, I regret somewhat – The Mortal Bone appears more streamlined than the previous novels, and while I certainly do not begrudge the author additional readers, to me it seems the series has lost somewhat of its distinctive charm that way and has drifted closer to being standard Paranormal Fantasy fare.

Thankfully, it is not quite there yet, however, thanks to Marjorie Liu’s still superb writing that seems never quite content with the restraints she has put on it in this novel but tries to break free into unhindered flights of lyric fancy. It never really manages, but the attempts alone suffice to raise The Mortal Bone stylistically over most everything else published in the genre. And the author’s wonderfully weird imagination is still in full swing, as shown in this novel by the behaviour of the Boys and the additional background story for them we’re getting as well as the introduction of several new beings, one in particular that we (and Maxine) will likely be seeing more of. This, and some promising developments hinted at in the novel, will keep me reading the series, and looking forward to the next instalment and I hope Marjorie Liu will keep Hunter Kiss well away from the middle of the road.

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