California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

california bonesThe good people at Podcastle devoted a special episode to Greg Van Eekhout’s new book a few weeks ago.  While I’m a long time fan of Podcastle, I can’t honestly say that I remembered any of stories by Greg Van Eekhout, but the Podcastle hosts were so enthusiastic about California Bones that I decided to give it a try.

California Bones is a fantasy heist thriller set in an alternative version of Los Angeles.  In Mr. Van Eekhout’s world, magic is what holds the universe together at a sub-atomic level.  To use this magic people must ingest the fossilized bones of now extinct creatures like griffins and krakens.  Over time, the actual remains have become harder and harder to find, so much so that people have begun to eat the remains of people who have eaten the remains of magical animals.

Enter Daniel Blackland.  Daniel’s father, Sebastian,  was once a very powerful magician.  Sebastian Blackland taught his son Daniel how to use magic and fed him the remains of magical creatures throughout his childhood to increase his power.  Until one day when the most powerful magician in Los Angeles, the Heirarch of Southern California, killed Sebastian and ate him while Daniel listened from his hiding place.  A decade later, Daniel has been hired by his one-time mentor Otis, a local crime boss, to break into the Heirarch’s underground Ossuary and steel the rarest of ancient remains.

As a straight-forward heist story, California Bones works quite well, I suppose–I liked it, but heist novels are not really my thing.

What I enjoyed was the world Mr. Eekhout builds.  His Los Angeles is very different, but it is also very familiar.  Traffic jams take place on canals instead of roadways.  The “streets’ have familiar names, the characters do too.  For example, the Heirarch’s chief rival is William Mulholland, the man who laid the first iron water pipeline in Los Angeles in 1880.  He later led the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct which was the subject of the movie classic Chinatown.  In Mr. Van Eekhout’s novel, Mulholland is a water wizard, a magician who gains his power through the control of waterways and the ocean.  The the second most powerful man in California became so by controlling water comes as no surprise to me. I’m not the only one to argue that the only thing that really matters in California is who controls the water.

Which makes California Bones an urban fantasy novel that references history, classic film noir, California’s water wars, and sets itself up as a metaphor for our own over-reliance on petroleum products.

The source of Mr. Van Eekhout’s magic is  fossilized ancient creatures as is the source of our world’s oil.  Both worlds are running out of fossilized remains.  What will we “recycle” when we finally run out of fossil fuels?

California Bones prmises to be the first in a trilogy of books, but this does not mean the story leaves the reader hanging.  I’ve no idea if I’ll read the other two books, but I enjoyed this one.  So I guess the next time the good people at Podcastle sing someone’s praises, I’ll be adding another book to my TBR pile.

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