This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 20.3.
Bone, Fog, Ash & Star is the final book of Catherine Egan’s trilogy, The Last Days of Tian Di. The opening of Bone, Fog, Ash & Star successfully brings readers who might have been too long away from the story immediately and dramatically back into the world of Eliza Tok, the Shang Sorceress. Eliza is flying through the air on the back of a great bird: “And then she let go” (1). The great bird turns out to be Eliza’s shape-shifting friend, Charlie, in gryphon form; Eliza is trying to see if she can transform into a raven, her spirit creature. Then, just as we are becoming reacquainted with Eliza and her world, Egan sends another narrative jolt, killing Charlie, whom Eliza has grown to love. The intricacies of the previous books present a number of options for why the author might have done this to poor Charlie, and what the ramifications might be in the overarching plot. Most guesses will be wrong; with bated breath we accompany Eliza, who “tore a hole in the world and stepped through it” (11), into the realm of Death, to fight for her Charlie and bring him back.
Eliza’s love for Charlie is the impetus for the plot of Bone, Fog, Ash & Star, but not ultimately what the book is about at all. Charlie has become a target of the Thanatosi, a breed of assassin creature who will not rest until their prey is dead. The Mancers, who control magic in Di Shang and want to control (have previously always controlled) the Shang Sorceress, know of her feelings for Charlie and want to prevent any union between them. The only thing that might stop the Thanatosi is possession of the four Gehemmis, gifts of the Ancients: formed from bone, fog, ash, star. So Eliza sets off on the treacherous quest to gather the Gehemmis; Charlie and their friend Nell are hidden in the Realm of the Faeries, which creates unexpected conflict of another kind; and Eliza’s only Mancer ally—her instructor Foss—has been banished for aiding Eliza and is dying, away from the Mancer Citadel, the source of his life-force.
Throughout the novel, Egan jolts us in unexpected ways: never enough to be a problem, only enough to help us feel the tensions and uncertainties Eliza and her friends face in their several quests. We remain gripped by all of the narrative threads at once, propelled by the strong characterization and well-crafted action. Woven into the fabulous story (although not all that subtly) is the conflict Eliza faces between her naïve desire to protect the individuals she loves and her obligation to fulfill her role as the Shang Sorceress. It is brought home to her a number of times that in attempting to protect her friends, she has actually hurt or destroyed parts of the world she is destined to save. As the situation amongst the faeries, the Mancers, and Eliza (who stands outside of both factions) develops to crisis point, Eliza begins to make decisions based on a more mature, comprehensive vision of her world. Eliza’s powers—emotional, psychological, and magical—are now great enough for her finally to fully realize her identity as Sorceress of Tian Di.