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A Ritual of Bone (The Dead Sagas #1) by Lee C Conley

Write on: Sat, 03 Oct 2020 by  in Gary's Reviews Read 2925

An atmospheric old school fantasy tale of Vikings, cannibals and zombies.

A Ritual of Bone is the first book in Lee C Conley's The Dead Saga series. Set in the Kingdom of Arnar, a land reminiscent of ancient Britain and Ireland with its misty mountains, dark forests, looming dolmens and hill forts, it accounts the rise of an ancient evil long forgotten by its people. 

The story spans the length and width of the Kingdom of Arnar and is told through multiple viewpoints. Bjorn is a hunter tasked with tracking a mysterious beast that haunts the dark forests that border the Savage Lands only to discover something far worse. I really enjoyed his arc with one particular chapter near the beginning that hooked me immediately, in which Bjorn silently follows a set of tracks across a vast distance. It reminded me a lot of The Revenant in that Conley captures the sense of loneliness in the vast wilderness while building tensions and mystery without using any dialogue. A nice contrast to this is the story of the innkeep Jor and barmaid Nym who both seek to escape the clutches of a terrible sickness that plagues the busy port of Anchorage near the capital. Again, Conley does a great job here, this time capturing the uneasiness and mistrust that spreads among the town's denizens just as quickly as the sickness. 

The main plot thread focuses on the mystery of the risen dead, which is told mainly through two points of view: an unnamed apprentice of Arnar's College who works with his old master to unravel the mystery of some ancient ruins, and Arnulf, a lord of Arnar who is the current Lord of the Watch on the kingdom's northern border with its old enemy Cydor. It can be argued that Arnulf is the main character as not only do we spend the most time with him but his arc feels the most fleshed out. Accompanying Arnulf is a small band of interesting characters including his childhood friend Fergus who is also a lord of Arnar, his personal bodyguard Hafgen and the mercenary shieldmaiden Astrid. The bond between Arnulf and Fergus is one of the novel's strongpoints. Their trust in each other plays a pivotal role in keeping both sane as they begin to piece the puzzle together and witness the true horror of what it entails. My favourite character is Hafgen who is fiercely loyal to his lord and perhaps the most preceptive of the bunch. 

There are a couple of things that as a reader threw me a little and made me scratch my head in puzzlement. The first is that A Ritual of Bone feels like half a book. It ends abruptly at what felt like the midpoint of the story. The plot was just starting to ramp up and I had just gotten used to the various characters when the final page comes. I was disappointed because some character arcs were too brief to have time to invest in such as the apprentice's, Jor's and Nym's while those that I had, that being Arnulf and Bjorn, really only came at the end. I would have loved to have had more time with each of these characters. The second is that I feel like Conley missed a great opportunity with the prose. There is some great writing here but it is held back by the editing. I usually don't comment on such things when reviewing but a lot of the writing felt it lacked a certain flow. One such example is the repetitiveness of quite a few of the descriptions. The writing serves the story fine but when you consider the length of the book (just over 250 pages), there is ample space to experiment with and develop the prose to further add to the overall atmosphere of the story.  

Although I have my qualms with the pacing and editing, I still very much enjoyed a Ritual of Bone. There is a lot to love here, especially the uneasy atmosphere and old school fantasy feel. I will definitely continue with the series and look forward to seeing what Conley does with it. 


Gary is a small town Irishman with a love for all things historical and fantastical. He works as an English and History teacher at post-primary where he endeavours to instil and nurture a love for reading and writing in students. Tea is his weakness. Reading is his passion. His one goal in life is to buy a castle when he retires.