Sixteen-year-old Rags is the most feared Rustler in the world, and for good reason. When she’s not raiding the post-Yellowstone Kingdom’s established settlements for supplies to keep her frontier, Rondo, alive another day, she’s fending off witch hunt-happy villagers who want her rare blue eyes in an unmarked grave.
Partial synopsis provided by Goodreads.
Series: Snow Spark Saga #1
Author: Kathryn Lee Martin
Publication Date: May 8, 2018
Publisher: Parliament House Press
Page Count: ---
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Westerns
Cover Artist: ---
My Rating: ★★★★
16-year-old Rags is a wanted rustler. In the city of Hydra, she works her magic to steal supplies for her settlement of Rondo. Rondo has suffered greatly after being cut off from the kingdom’s supplies after publicly denouncing the tyrant King Hyperion. When Rags witnesses other rustlers being tortured in the city for doing the same job, Rags experiences real fear for the first time. Luckily, her mentor Tracker finds her before she is recognized by anyone in Hydra, and the two flee back to Rondo. Little do they realize that they are being tailed by the king’s second-in-command.
Upon returning, Rags is met by another threat: Hunter, the town’s self-proclaimed sheriff. Always having hated Rags since she came to Rondo, he discloses to the townsfolk that Rags has a substantial reward out for her if she is brought in dead or alive to King Hyperion. Matthew, Jericho, and Tracker come to Rags’ aide and back her against Hunter’s accusations. Matthew, Rags’ dearest friend pleas for her to run away with him, so that she may escape whatever fate that lies before her if she continues to be a rustler.
Before they are able to leave, Rondo is invaded by the king’s guard, and Matthew is killed before Rags’ eyes. The king’s own second-in-command Henny leads the charge and is determined to destroy Rondo in just four days. Rags is forced into difficult situations, as she must try to help her loved ones escape the town before a spectacle is made of them to the entire kingdom.
Stakes are high and the clock ticks rapidly as Rags must not only fight an incredible resourceful opponent, but also steer clear of those who want to reap the bounty on her head. When she crosses paths with one of the Kingdom’s informant, Rags is challenged in even more ways, as her feelings try to take the reins above common sense.
When everything comes to a head, and the town is set to be “cleansed” via live broadcast, an unexpected turn of events throws King Hyperion’s plans back in his face. While some find sanctuary, Rags finds herself on a train with the wiry luresman, bound for the Threshing Floor and an uncertain fate before her.
All included quotes have been taken from an ARC and may not match the finished publication.
“A petite trio of gray stone roses and a tiny pewter charm shaped like a rearing stag tethered together with elegant, braided leather cords rest in it. One rose in full bloom, one still a bud, and the third caught in-between. ‘ I’ve held onto these mythical bone roses for a long time. Sort of like a good-luck charm in a way. They hold the key to rare and powerful secrets, and well, I can’t think of anyone better I’d trust with them than you.’”
In all honesty, I barely skimmed the synopsis for this book before starting it. I knew that it was a Young Adult Fantasy with a Western flare, so I immediately wanted to give it a try. Boy, am I happy that I did! While I had some issues with certain elements in the plot, I found myself loving the characters and the world they were set in.
While The Bone Roses is in the YA genre, it’s definitely geared towards more mature readers, as some of its contents are harsh and in-your-face. Considering that the world is set in a post-apocalyptic West in the United States, it comes with the territory. This book felt reminiscent of The Wolves of Winter, which I read earlier this year, and the arid isolation that the setting brought. Shockingly, even though The Bone Roses is set in the West, the climate doesn’t reflect the traditional desert hotness the West is known for. This is particularly reflected in the settlement of Rondo, where the main character Rags resides.
“People used to drive everywhere, so I’m told, but when Yellowstone erupted thirty years ago and the snow started to fall, that came to a halt.”
I’m not sure why, but portraying the West blanketed with snow instead of dust, tumbleweeds, and cacti were incredibly submersive to me.
Set in an era thirty years after Yellowstone erupts, the United States as it was once known as has been completely reformed. A cruel king known as Hyperion takes over and establishes his reign over the entire region. Small settlements situated in the surrounding area know hardship—especially those that choose to not bow down to the king. Rondo has long been cut-off from the supplies that Adonis, the capital city, has to offer. In order to survive, Rustlers (outlaws) risk their lives in order to steal supplies for the town’s survival. If caught, the punishment for rustling leads to a brutal death.
“‘Solstice.’ That settlement sits at the heart of ‘forbidden’ things in our household. Unlike Rondo’s miserable past, Tracker spared no words when warning me about the lewd settlement just outside the Kingdom’s capital city, Adonis.
Liquor flows freely. Cheap whores are plentiful. It’s supposedly so far in bed with Adonis that it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.”
The old-time western towns that we are accustomed to aren’t completely lost beneath a layer of snow, however. Many of these settlements reflect those of the past and “safe” isn’t a term that’s thrown around.
Another aspect which murmurs the Old West is the presence of Christianity. While it’s something that Hyperion tries to outlaw, Rondo is basically governed by the town preacher, Jericho. While Christianity doesn’t play as massive of a role as perhaps was intended, it is worth mentioning especially when looking further into the dynamics between Rags and the troublesome Hunter. Hunter, the town sheriff, constantly accuses Rags of being a witch (off of what basis, it’s never really revealed other than her having rare blue eyes and the fact that she’s an outsider.) While is accusations felt quite random for the plot focus, it definitely created an atmosphere that felt like the people of Rondo were ticking time bombs.
Pacing & Readability
Because of the way the story is set up, the plot felt more character-driven than plot-driven. While there are events that take place, the characters stories and relationships always remain in the spotlight. Because of this, I felt that at times the plot would lose its focus in minor details for longer than necessary, and halted plot progression. While the writing style made it very enjoyable to read, these variations in pacing gave it a start-go quality.
Point-Of-View & Characters
“I am Rags, Rondo’s rustler and we will never bow to his Kingdom.”
Rags, a sixteen-year-old girl is a protagonist in The Bone Roses. The point-of-view is told from her perspective and helps the reader become acquainted with her unique character. With a somewhat quirky but strong presence, Rags’ story immediately grabs the reader’s attention. Often accompanied by her mule Nigel, she serves as one of Rondo’s main and feared Rustlers. While I really wanted to get to know more about her backstory, I appreciated how real Rags’ character came across. While she’s strong, she’s also realistic and sensitive. What she feels and experiences is very relatable for many readers.
Tracker is the mentor and the “adoptive” father of Rags. A mysterious man with a complicated past, he takes Rags under his wing when she first arrives in Rondo.
Matthew, preacher’s son is Rags’ dearest friend. While I first presumed their relationship to be romantic, it proves to be oddly platonic, as their interactions are flirty.
Jericho serves as Rondo’s preacher and is also Matthew’s father. As the town’s preacher, he often oversees how the town goes about settling issues and confronting problems. Along with Tracker, he is one of the few supporters of Rags against the rest of the superstitious townsfolk.
Sadie’s character doesn’t have a large role. However, she’s mentionable as she serves as a mother-figure to Rags.
There are more than one antagonists in The Bone Roses.
1. Hyperion, the evil king who has long since abandoned Rondo to fend for itself.
2. Hennrick Oreson aka “Henny”
“A dangerous young man, Rags. The Kingdom’s own second-in-command, Henrick Oreson, or “Henny” as some call him. You are never to cross paths with him. Understood?”
Known as the second-in-command to Hyperion himself, Henny’s job is to seek out rustlers and anyone trying to defy the king and his ways.
“I’ve been hunted before. It comes with the job. But I’ve never been hunted by someone like him. No one’s ever stupid enough to give a rustler the advantage. He’s far from stupid, though. The way he toys with me confirms that. He’s doing this intentionally, letting me turn all the tricks I know for his amusement. He doesn’t just think he can win. He knows it.”
Henny’s character as the antagonist is fantastic. While you want so badly to dislike him, there’s just something about him that makes the reader believe there is more to him than meets the eye. Is he really as bad as he seems? The dynamics between him and Rags are electric as the two are constantly trying to out-do one another.
And can I just mention…Xanthos!?
I was swooning over this horse more than anything else.
3. Lawrence aka “Hunter” serves as Rondo’s sheriff. This guy has a severe case of bad-cop to his swagger. He blatantly hates Rags because she has blue eyes and isn’t originally from Rondo. Discriminatory, much? Because she arrived in Rondo around the time that Hyperion stopped the supply trains to Rondo, he blames Rags for practicing witchcraft and being the reason why Rondo suffers so. His hatred is completely blind and is a good example of a person who fails to look deeper than the surface.
4. Colton, a character who shows up later on the scene, is another antagonist-type character that the reader can’t really peg down and who his allegiance lies with. Is he good? Is he bad? He works as a luresman–a person highly skilled in the art of negotiation. The mystery of his true intentions make his character frustrating, yet incredibly engaging throughout the entire plot.
A strong sense of family and belonging is evident at every turn. Rags constantly worries about her hypothetical mother, father, and brother figures, and feels a strong need to protect them. While no information is given about her biological family, Rags’ relationship with her Rondonian family is strong and unbreakable, even when secrets are revealed about their pasts.
⇒ Cleansing or Purification
Hyperion doesn’t take kindly to those who disobey his commands. It’s rather ironic how he terms his punishment for rebels, especially in the sense of religion. His form of “cleansing” is allowing rebel settlements like Rondo starve, and then be brutally treated once captured by his army. His cleansing results in death, instead of bringing forth a purified life, as Christianity does. Seeing how the religion is outlawed, he transforms this term into something sinister instead of revitalizing.
Hardship is an obvious theme in a post-apocalyptic world such as this. Each day is a struggle. Everything is fighting against Rags, the Rustlers, and the Rondonians in their survival. The king, the terrain, the climate, the lifestyle all reflect the realness of their plight.
Things that I liked:
⇒ The atmosphere and the way the “Old West” is portrayed.
⇒ Despite a few flaws, I loved the characters and the voices and personalities that developed for each one. It made character-driven plot all-the-more dynamic and enjoyable.
⇒ The author’s writing style and descriptiveness.
⇒ This is a personal preference because I’m a horse person, but Martin knows how to write scenes involving horses! In a Western book, knowing how to portray horse characters is key because they majorly influence the plot mobilization. She writes them correctly down to the swiveling of the ears.
Things that I didn’t like:
⇒ The amount of vulgarity.
⇒ The plot’s tendency to dwell on insignificant points at times.
⇒ Christianity didn’t have the best portrayal and felt more of a “fall-back-on” asset than a focal attribute for how the characters act and react.
⇒ Very little backstory for Rags is given.
⇒ Hyperion, the main antagonist is nonexistent other than the presence of Henny and the K.C.
⇒ While I loved the mythical white stag which kept appearing, I want to know why and what its purpose is!
⇒ I’d love more information on the bone roses themselves and what secrets they hold!
I really enjoyed this book and the style in which it was written. While there were a few issues that I had with it, but I cannot be too critical. A sequel has yet to be published in the Snow Spark Saga, Garden of Ashes. I am very much looking forward to seeing what happens next, and to learn more about the characters’ journeys and also some history (especially Rags!)
Vulgarity: A lot. I counted 227 words total.
Sexual content: Kissing.
Violence: Quite a bit. It is a Western…