• The Bone Orchard

  • By: Sara A. Mueller
  • Narrated by: Ell Potter
  • Length: 14 hrs and 7 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (101 ratings)

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The Bone Orchard

By: Sara A. Mueller
Narrated by: Ell Potter
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Publisher's Summary

Sara A. Mueller's Bone Orchard is a fascinating whodunit set in a lush gothic world of secrets and magic - where a dying emperor charges his favorite concubine with solving his own murder, and preventing the culprit, which undoubtedly is one of his three terrible sons, from taking control of an empire.

Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.

Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.    

Charm is a whore, and a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren't real.

Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.

But now - Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire - by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.

If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil - her freedom. But if she does, she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.

Charm must choose. Her dead Emperor’s will or the whispers of her own ghosts. Justice for the empire or her own revenge.

A Macmillan Audio production from Tor Books

©2022 Sara A. Mueller (P)2022 Macmillan Audio

What listeners say about The Bone Orchard

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting and intense

I’ve not listened to nor read a book with quite this take on psychic powers and mental illness. Keeps one engaged and paying attention. That being said, I was a bit relieved when it was over. Not a relaxing read, but well done. The narrator did a spot on job.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Enjoyed it...but Mentally Exhausting

Whew....where to begin!? The concept of this book was so unique that I can't firmly place it into one genre. It has mystery, intrigue, court politics, and romance (albeit not much). It's a dark fantasy novel but with touches of sci-fi and even felt a little steampunk-ish(?) at times. I loved the fresh idea that this book encapsulated, and I did enjoy it, but there were so many issues that I just couldn't rate it any higher.

The book is mentally exhausting! I spent the first 1/4 of the book extremely confused and almost returned it to get my credit back. I'll admit that I remain confused about many facets of the book, but you do get a better grasp as it progresses. This also may be one of those novels that's better to actually read than to listen to, as the dialogue becomes quite confusing between Charm and her bone ghosts/alternate personalities when listened to via audiobook, although the narrator was great. I also had a hard time visualizing the world. It is fantasy, after all, and this might be due to lack of creativity on my part, but I could never get a firm visual for the buildings, dresses, people, etc. This is one of the few examples where more descriptive world-building could have been used.

Fair warning that this isn't a "feel good" book. It's mostly dark throughout, and I didn't feel any satisfaction with the rushed conclusion either. The villains are beyond vile and there was no redemption for any. While there isn't any explicit sex, it is heavily implied due to Charm running a brothel. That doesn't bother me, but I know it does some people, And it's chock full of violence, physical and sexual, towards the women, some whom are portrayed as very young, which was painful to read at times.

Believe this could have been an excellent book, probably my favorite of the year, if it had been done slightly different. Nonetheless, I do applaud the author for her unique idea.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Fantastic, UNIQUE Take on Gothic Fantasy

This novel ticked all the right boxes for me in a SSF story. Firstly, it is UNIQUE. The worldbuilding is really something to behold. From the story’s onset the reader is introduced to a fascinating world containing boneghosts – aspects of Madame Charm herself, for whom she grows bodies made from bones grown in her bone orchard combined with “empathy fluid” in coffin-like vats. These boneghosts, Pain, Justice, Pride, Shame, and Desire, serve as Orchard House’s sex workers, each with basically Madame Charm’s face but with various differences (e.g., skin tone, deformities, apparent ages). Firedrinkers, psychically-gifted constables, hide behind mirrored helmets and body armor such that one cannot distinguish whether they are males or females – the lack of differentiation enhanced by their helm’s ability to render the wearer’s voice androgynous. Crystal-encased mindlocks – stolen technology from a conquered land – are set in the temples of Firedrinkers (and Charm herself) protect psychics from going mad, but at a cost – they force the individual to comply with their orders of suffer intense pain. And then there’s the anti-aging drug Rejuv.

If the worldbuilding wasn’t enough to make me fall in love with The Bone Orchard, the characters really push my fondness for this novel over the top. Madame Charm is not only the epitome of the strong female character surviving in the strictly patriarchal society of a Victorian era-like world, smart, clever, and resolute, sure, but also compelling. Her boneghosts take on lives of their own, some I’ve become angry at by their actions, some have deeply saddened me to the point where I had to pause and regroup before continuing on, and on several occasions I’ve found myself vocally cheering for them. And though these women are really the highlight of the tale, there’s one mysterious character who I found to be the most intriguing of all, and of this I shall say no more!

All of this along with clever writing (the sort that makes one stop and shout “YEAH!” when encountering particularly brilliantly-written passages), meticulous attention to detail, and the ability to make one actually care about the highlighted characters makes it utterly surprising that this is the author’s debut novel.

Highly recommended and a refreshing departure from the norm in gothic fantasy. Five stars for both the author and the narrator.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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Dull and Meandering

After more than three hours I just could not finish this. I was bored and disinterested.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Strange but entertaining

Very weird premise and a bit confusing at first but very enjoyable. I ended up liking it.

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such a contemporary way to build character

the characters in this book have a unique relationship as individuals and as a whole. this book is a compassionate and on point description of the multiple and changing selves that each person is. so refreshing!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Mystery, Politics, and Psyche

I just finished The Stardust Thief the other day, so The Bone Orchard is the second debut novel I've read this. I'm on a real streak here because these authors are killing it! This is a completely different type of fantasy. It's more low key than what I usually read. While the fantasy elements aren't restrained, neither is magic the solution to the conflict.

Just a heads up - there's a bit of a learning curve. The author believes in the intelligence of the reader, so the story dives right in. I find these types of early chapters easier to digest in ebook rather than audiobook, but I was still able to follow along. The narrator did an excellent job.

The Bone Orchard is a layered multi-mystery story. While the main mystery is about who murdered the emperor, that's not the heart of the story. I actually wasn't very invested in who did the deed, although I enjoyed seeing the protagonist unravel the different political machinations involved. My interest was mostly engaged in the mystery of the protagonist's future and how she would ultimately come to terms with herself. I was also interested in her mysterious past which was only hinted at in the first half of the novel.

This does not read like a debut. The story is strong from beginning to end. While it's completely different in tone than Ninefox Gambit, there is a similarly confusing aspect to this book, but it will make sense by the end. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys strong characterization, gothic feels, and won't be frustrated at getting answers in bits and pieces.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Caught my attention and wouldn't let go

A little difficult to keep track of who is who but other than that I surprisingly loved it. It is not the type I normally would read but I'm glad I gave it a chance on my commute to and from work. Would love to read more

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Meaningful twists and a unique premise

I loved this book. It had action, drama and intensity all from the perspective of the fragments of one person’s experience. I’ve never read anything like it, and all the threads wove together for an engaging and satisfying ending.

I highly recommend it to anyone that is ready for a strong and not masculinized female lead that is wonderfully complex in a new view of a courtly fantasy mystery.

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Beautiful!

Absolutely beautiful story! Unique, well written and submersive. I felt like I was IN the story, not just reading about it. Wonderful world building; I could close my eyes and visualize everything. Fantastic narration as well!

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  • Riz
  • 09-18-22

Already Miss This Book

This book made me rethink fantasy and horror, world building and magic systems, and how many fully-fleshed out characters you can fit into one book. Absolutely gorgeous writing, incredible world building, and characters I’m going to genuinely miss. Delicate subject matter was consistently dealt with in a frank but empathetic way, and queer characters were treated as any other character. This’ll be in my top five reads ever until something better pushes it out, and I think it’ll be a while before that happens.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Julie-Ann Amos
  • 07-10-22

Loved it

Absolutely love this! It was original and unusual. I’m still quite unsure about how exactly the main characters work (I’m trying not to give women) at least the technology involved works, but it doesn’t matter in the slightest. I just went with the flow and hoped it would be revealed later on. Great story, great narration and really original

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • D
  • 05-06-22

Absolutely amazing

The story had me absolutely hooked from beginning to end. The narration was perfect. Cannot recommend it enough.