Ms. Bull does not have very many titles to her credit, but each one of them is very unique, very different from the average run-of-the-mill fantasies that clutter up the bookstore shelves.
Bone Dance starts with a post-nuclear setting, but rather than a world of deserts and a civilization blasted back to stone-age technology, here we still have cities, electricity, even full-flavored showings of old movies and music clips intertwined in the best traditions of artistic DJ's. Of course, the infrastructure that produced the technological goodies needed to do such shows no longer exists, thereby providing employment for Sparrow, our first-person narrator, as he is one of the few that still has the necessary knowledge of electronics to repair this gear when there are the inevitable breakdowns.
Sparrow has a problem, however, of having `blank' spots in his memory, times when he can't remember what he did or where he went, only knowing that where he woke up is far from when his last memory says he was. Finding out the answer to these blank spots involves tarot cards, the Horsemen, the dictator of the city, a search for revenge on the person who helped instigate the nuclear war, hoodoo magic, and a cast of very well realized characters. Each of these characters have their own pasts and problems, and they all grow and change considerably during the course of this book's action. Some of the action is very `unpretty', almost gross, but provides a strong line of plot thread that well illuminates one of the main thematic points here, of the importance of friendship and community and that the means to find these things involves baring your soul a bit to others. The odd meld of magic and technology here is refreshing, with some interesting descriptions of the meaning behind the various tarot cards, something I don't normally subscribe to, but Ms. Bull makes them an integral part of the plot, and here it works well.
A strong book with a taut plot that is not telegraphed, highlighted by characters that are very different but quite recognizable, a setting and a group of ideas that are not just a rehash of stuff seen hundreds of times elsewhere, all are very good. I had some quibbles with some of the minor characters not being presented with enough force to make them memorable when they reappear after fifty page gaps, and I found some of the descriptive work either over- or under-done, sometimes leaving me floundering about just what the scene was or wishing she would get on with the story. These are definitely minor quibbles, however, as the general prose is quite adequate, the story line engrossing, the main characters real. Recommended for all those readers who are tired of crumbling castles and yet another dragon quest.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)