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.