The Bonemender Trilogy by Holly Bennett

21 Jan

Set in vaguely France during medieval times, Gabrielle is adopted and raised as a princess, having a unique ability to heal. She has a hard time finding love despite being beautiful as there’s something off about her, and when she thinks she does find love with Feolan, an elf, she worries that she’ll die and leave him broken hearted for the centuries he has left to roam the earth. She pours herself into her duties as a bone mender and learns more about herself.

I’m going to talk about Vaguely-France in another post because Ranger’s Apprentice is set in Not-England. It’ll be fun I promise.

I am reading The Ranger’s Apprentice Books and this came up as ‘recommended’ through the library and I can see why – similar age groups though this story leans towards higher fantasy but I’ll get to not it always being a good thing later. The variant covers to RA have that ‘let’s put people in cloaks’ vibe, so snark snark; I am a prissy artist at the end of all things but this gave me elementary and middle School Vibes. In my Rogue Healer series, I have characters who heal by touch and I like to see how other writers handle this. I want to be able to write middle grade so I need to read it; so if you’re wondering why the influx of books for younger readers on my Goodreads, that’s why.

The first book is about how despite being loved and cherished, Gabrielle doesn’t fit in. Despite being raised as a princess, she has a super rare healing ability and heals warriors on her father’s battle fields, she also learns how to make elixers and tonics to help ease suffering. She’s also 27 and not married, which I wouldn’t care if she was a commoner but she’s a French princess and I found it odd that, especially later in the series, that “I’m not good enough for you” was a thing. I could understand if she scared the crap out of people with he powers but given the villain in book 2, you’d think one of them wouldn’t care and stick his witchy-wife in a tower now that he has ties to royalty. Things change when she meets Feolan, an elf warrior. They have forbidden feelings for each other but at the end of the first book we find out she’s really a lost half-elven princess and thus while she might not have as much time as he does, they can still be together for a good few hundred years.

Normally I love high fantasy elements but it seems thrown in there and the stuff I actually love – world building – seems to be glossed over. Eventually in the third book we get to religion, and it’s generic, “Help us, oh gods! Any god will do.” If there’s a pantheon, it might be a point of conflict if the elves believe differently or maybe calling on the god of healing would be better than the goddess of wine. Anyway, adding in elves when effectively it’s a way to make Gabrielle’s powers sort of make sense but at the end of the day it’s not much different than giving a girl a generic monster boyfriend and giving him attributes that make him better than everyone else, then throwing in, “And you’ll stay younger and beautiful for longer too because you’re now also part of that world.” It’s idealization but it’s not a deal breaker.

Second book Gabrielle is still awesome and Feolan now worries he’s not good enough for her, but we need more tension so the second book deals with her younger brother Tristan and his love for the excellent archeress Rosalie, whose father somehow thinks marrying her off to a man twice her age is a better match than the dang prince of Almost-France. Why? So LaBarque doesn’t set his house on fire. Labarque is kind of like the Sheriff of Nottingham from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves without the charm. Again, for the target audience it’s fine; I suspect a big part of writing for kids is not glamorizing slimy toads.

I had a teacher who loved his movie and I had to read the novelization in our Advanced Reader’s Book Club in Junior High. Alan Rickman is the best part of this film, BTW. I for once have seen the parody much more.

LaBarque causes trouble but really Tristan is so awesome he just has to be there to save the day while Gabrielle and Feolan struggle with how perfect the other one is. Seriously, Tristan is so great he is barely in book 3 and still saves the day in that one too.

The final book, everyone is happily married and Rosalie is expecting her third child with Prince Tristan, Gabrielle and Feolan have yet to have any mostly-elf babies so now we need a new couple. Strangely, it’s Gabrielle’s other niece and nephew and her niece’s young beau Luc who are kidnapped by pirates. This audience-avatar realizes her intended fate and this is the most adult the series gets when she realizes she’ll fetch a high price because she is a virgin princess. It’s up to Gabrielle and co to save them and this time, the villain is competent and Tristan isn’t available for most of the book.

This one was the best story by far, even though it feels quite a bit different than the other two. They emphasize Yolanka, a woman who’s sister met a similar fate ten years ago, and besides being a love interest for another character had a motivation other than Help Gabrielle.

I think what I liked about this story was that it used the plague and used it mostly realistically because it made the villain’s actions understandable and didn’t weaken him. He goes to sell his merchandise (why he isn’t ransoming them back *#@$&^% but enough about me) the port is under lock down and not only does this give everyone time to save them, but it made for everyone using their brains to perform the rescue, and there was a very real consequence to be paid by going that route. Unfortunately towards the end Gabrielle ends up needing to perform an emergency tracheostomy on Feolan, but I’ll give it a pass even though she chose laryngeal obstruction over issues with the alveoli, but that’s the medic talking. For the target audience, it’s fine.

Overall the series isn’t particularly great fantasy but it’s safe and a good introduction to it for younger readers. It doesn’t push any limits and it’s a little predictable, but I think this is a series I would hand to a young girl who likes elements of fantasy but doesn’t want that hard twist. Gabrielle is a softer but mostly relatable heroine a lot of young female readers would likely idealize, so if you’re looking for something for someone in that intermediate reading zone, I say go for it.

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