Review: The Bone Wars by Erin S. Evan

The Bone Wars Review

Amazon Book Description:

Rome, A.D. 306. Emperor Constantine converts the Roman Empire to Christianity. Over the next two decades, his armies destroy pagan idols across Europe and the Middle East.

England, A.D. 1830. Paleontologist Mary Anning writes to Sir Richard Owen, describing a fossil that she discovered in the cliffs of Lyme-Regis. She writes that the fossil is a large wing made of black bone.

Montana, A.D. 2023. Sixteen-year-old Molly Wilder discovers a mysterious fossil while on a summer internship. The fossil has a large wing structure, horned skull, and black bones. Neither famed fossil-hunter Derek Farnsworth nor renowned paleontologist Dr. Sean Oliphant can place it in a recognized dinosaur family.

For 65 million years, the Badlands of Montana have held a secret hidden in their depths…

Title: The Bone Wars | Series: The Pirates of Montana | Pub Date: 2023-04-11 | Pages: 300 | Genre: YA Thriller/Suspense/Fantasy | Source: NetGalley | UnStarred Review

I thought the premise of The Bone Wars sounded interesting, like a teen Indiana Jones story but with dinosaur bones and a female protagonist.

Unfortunately, whatever potential the premise had was soon mired in problems with the execution.

For one, this book is listed with a reading age of 12 to 16 years and categorized as YA. However, it breaks a cardinal rule of YA fiction very early on. YA fiction has YA protagonists, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve read a contemporary YA book that had any POV sections from an adult perspective. And when it happens, it’s sparing. Often, it’s as little as one chapter and only to present absolutely crucial information that couldn’t be revealed any other way.

That’s not the case here. There are several chapters from an adult character’s POV. These also aren’t New Adult territory characters, either. The youngest is a grad student, who, based on their studies, must be approximately 25.

Including multiple adult perspectives connects with a formatting issue that had a significant impact on my reading experience. All chapters are written in 1st person. Since the book was billed as YA, I wasn’t expecting adult POVs, and since there was only one teen in the story, the early transition to an adult’s POV was unexpected. The review copy didn’t put the POV character’s name under the chapter title, so there was no structural indication of a POV change. And the text didn’t clarify whose POV we were in for several paragraphs, which had me confused and I had to go back and re-read sections.

Now, after the first abrupt POV change, I was aware of the possibility of more, so I wasn’t surprised when new perspectives were added, but I still had to figure out whose POV was being presented and reorient myself with who was saying or thinking what after a handful of paragraphs. 

This is a rookie mistake for an author, but it is something that should have been addressed in a developmental edit. Using 1st person for multiple perspectives is risky, but it’s also risky to add more POV characters than you need. Every POV character should have a satisfying growth arc, and there should be a critical reason to show things from their perspective. I don’t think most of these POV perspectives were necessary and I think they detracted from the plot instead of enhancing the story and adding depth. One of the adult POVs isn’t even first introduced until 24%.

Even when teens are in what’s perceived to be an adult environment, it’s problematic to have a teen drinking alcohol over a hazing ritual conducted by an adult. And drinking alcohol wasn’t part of the ritual, the teen chose to do that during the hazing. (Another thing I found problematic: adults hazing a teenager.) If this was a story about a teen dealing with trauma or peer pressure, I might view this element differently. However, given the nature of the work environment and the protagonist’s age, her supervisor was almost certainly responsible for her. It’s illegal for anyone else to supply minors under 21 with alcohol in Montana and this scene made me view all the primary characters negatively. It also sets a terrible example for teen readers.

It may seem unfair for a reviewer to criticize a review copy’s formatting, but the formatting issues in this file caused more confusion while reading than just figuring out the POV character. One example: two characters had dialogue mushed together in one paragraph, and the transition wasn’t apparent (because of missing punctuation) so the dialogue didn’t make sense.

Another basic rookie mistake is having two characters named Derek and Dean, who are part of the initial core group. It’s always best to vary the starting letters to prevent name confusion as much as possible. The info dumping is a far more serious mistake. Filling the early chapters with info dump makes them read much like they’re written by someone who loves the subject so much, they just can’t help blurting out reams of information, a lot of which isn’t crucial for readers to know to follow the plot and character arcs. The info dump sections from Molly and Derek Farnsworth’s POVs sounded similar, failing to utilize first person narrative to distinguish between the characters and establish their voice, and the content starts to feel repetitive.

The letter inserts were also problematic for me. They didn’t always read like they were authored by someone from the period referenced with the date. And again, they insert adult narrative into a YA. 

The info dump and letters also slowed the action at the start while, in my opinion, providing minimal information actually relevant to character arcs or plot.

There are several times when the author uses grins or other expressions or actions as dialogue tags. Example: “… frankly I’d clean you all to the bone,” Farnsworth grinned. People don’t grin words. They say them. Occasionally, they whisper or shout them. Correct presentation would be: “… frankly I’d clean you all to the bone.” Farnsworth grinned.

The editor should have caught that.

If you’re someone who balks at references to characters letting out breaths they didn’t know they were holding, you’ll want to skip this book.

There are also continuity issues. One example involves them driving to the site. Molly and Farnsworth are in his truck, while Oliphant and the others are in Sarah’s vehicle, with Oliphant narrating. Oliphant’s group gets out of their vehicle. There’s no mention of Derek’s truck reaching them or stopping by them, but Molly rushes past Oliphant. Given the scene (which I won’t elaborate on to avoid spoilers) I would expect every adult to be very aware of their surroundings, including vehicles close by. If the scene had been from a teen’s POV, it would be somewhat believable that they wouldn’t have been diligently checking mirrors and sky for the authorities; however, from an adult POV, it was baffling that either the vehicle wasn’t there but Molly magically appeared, or Oliphant wasn’t paying any attention to his surroundings.

This book was a hot mess, and the concept and writing weren’t enough to get me to overlook the mistakes present. I can’t recommend it, especially when factoring in the hazing and underage drinking. 2 stars.

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