Sara A. Mueller, "Bone Orchard" (Tor Books, 2022)


Get ready for a cruel dark world of abnegation and revenge, featuring a woman who struggles to achieve psychic integration after a succession of betrayals. Like a Westworld written by Edgar Allen Poe, Bone Orchard (Tor Books, 2022) comes with its own charming brothel owner, whose name actually is Charm.

Charm’s free will is limited by an implant, and her memory damaged. Her dying lover/captor, the old Emperor, assigns her two final tasks which she must complete to win her freedom. She must punish his poisoner and find a worthy person—not one of his sons—to serve as the next emperor.

Charm’s girls at the brothel are also her helpmates. They were grown in vats from assemblages of bones. That doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings, though. Like Charm, they are named after emotions. Pride mostly stands behind the reservation desk, looking cool and composed, while Shame is damaged early on in the game by one of the Emperor’s sons, the cruel Prince Phelan. And Pain—well, she has an especially hard time of it. Her role is to accept the pain of others, leaving them relieved of discomfort.

Behind all those linked girls lurks the spirit of a mysterious and gentle woman, the architect of their lives, referred to as the Lady, who shares Charm’s body with her. The Lady must be shielded from the terrible things that happen, but occasionally she comes out of the shadowy recesses of their shared consciousness to mend her creations.

This is just the opening set up of this complex and original novel, that continues to introduce flawed conniving characters to create a chessboard of moves and countermoves.

A seamstress and horsewoman, Sara A. Mueller writes speculative fiction in the green and rainy Pacific Northwest, where she lives with her family, numerous recipe books, and a forest of fountain pens. In a nomadic youth, she trod the earth of every state but Alaska and lived in six of them. Fun fact: Her family once moved out of a house on the same day they’d moved into it, exactly one year later.

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