My Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC) team has advanced three books to the semifinals, and in exchange, we’ve received six semifinalists from two other judging teams. Among those six—and rated extremely highly by its first round judges—was Of Cinder and Bone by Kyoko M.
Of Cinder and Bone follows Jack and Kamala, a pair of MIT researchers working on a project to bring back extinct species—starting with dragons. If you’ve seen Jurassic Park, that will serve for the basic premise (and it is indeed referenced multiple times in the book itself). But instead of progressing to dragons running amok, readers are treated instead to international intrigue, as the pair’s first test subject is stolen by the yakuza, leading Jack and Kamala on a high-stakes quest through the streets of Tokyo to recover their dragon and return with her life—and their own lives—intact.
If the plot summary makes it sound like Of Cinder and Bone is a summer blockbuster in book form, it’s not too far off. It’s got snappy dialogue and sarcastic quips coming from seemingly every character, a romantic subplot big enough that I’d consider calling this a sci-fi romance, and lots and lots of gunfights. The science is there to support the action, but it probably doesn’t hold up to too much scrutiny—a hard sci-fi novel this is not.
If you’ve been following my previous reviews—SPSFC or otherwise—you know that I have a bias against tales that rely too heavily on the action. But you can win me over with prose and characters, and for a time, Of Cinder and Bone did. It took a little while to suspend disbelief on some of their more far-fetched technology and the bold dialogue coming from otherwise shy characters, but the prose style was begging the reader to relax and just enjoy the ride, and it begged effectively.
Unfortunately, the middle third of the book featured a fast-paced series of action sequences in which the leads barely have time to escape one mortal danger before they’re thrust into another. “Unfortunately” may be an odd word choice there, because that’s what you want from a summer blockbuster, but wall-to-wall action without time to breathe doesn’t appeal to me as a reader, and I found my interest waning. And when the climactic confrontation relied on a decision that seemed entirely foolhardy, my interest waned further.
To its credit, Of Cinder and Bone doesn’t just go out in a blaze of glory and leave the reader making assumptions about how the pieces fit together. It takes its time exploring both the scientific and the interpersonal fallout—shirking neither romantic nor familial relationships. It wasn’t quite enough to hook me again after the dramatic Tokyo climax, but I appreciated the care shown to doing justice to each character. And if it capped it all off with a sequel hook that felt like it came out of a summer blockbuster, well…let’s just say it’s staying on brand.
Of Cinder and Bone may turn off hard sci-fi readers or those who dislike plots heavy on either action or romance—and as one of those three three, I won’t be scoring it as high as its first round team did—but for a reader who wants to relax and have fun with their sci-fi, and who enjoy quips and gunfights and romance and turning everything to eleven, this one could hit big.
Recommended if you like: gunfights, quippy dialogue, romantic subplots.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s Self-Published by a BIPOC Author who also Uses Initials, and it includes Family Matters.
Overall rating: 12 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC Score: 6/10 for my personal score. We will await results from the other judges before announcing an official team score.