Travel Documents 66: Bone Dance

Bone Dance

 Emma Bull
Genre: near-future, post apocalyptic, dystopian, gender diversity, techno-fantasy

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The Dust Cover Copy

Sparrow’s my name. Trader. Deal-maker. Hustler, some call me. I work the Night Fair circuit, buying and selling pre-nuke videos from the world before. I know how to get a high price, especially on Big Bang collectibles. But the hottest ticket of all is information on the Horsemen—the mind-control weapons that tilted the balance in the war between the Americas. That’s the prize I’m after.

But it seems I’m having trouble controlling my own mind.

The Horsemen are coming.

The Deets

The Scene

World building

Wow. What a world.

After the Big Bang hit and the bombs came down like rain, the world changed. Humanity has changed, but in some ways we’ve stayed the same. The ability to record videotape and its cousins is gone. The tech still around is constantly in need of repair. Handymen are in high demand. And people like Sparrow, who collect and trade in old CDs, video tapes, and the technology to parse them? They can demand their pay in gold.

Humanity has returned to their old certainties: trade in kind. Barter. And the deities. In this shook-up world and this knocked-back New York, the religions have mixed and blended. Now the Loa are called on in blessing and curse by all peoples, and the marks of the Santos are painted on the doors of everyday folk. Humanity has been humbled, and in our weakened state, we reach out to our gods again.

There’s a funny sort of resilience to this story: people got knocked to their knees, but they’re slowly standing up. If you’ve read The Windup Girl, you’ll recognize a similar make-it-work tenacity here. Those who have survived are rebuilding the world brick by brick and wire by wire. Being ingenious and good at repair is the work of every person in the community again. People have adapted to a new world with new tricks up their sleeves. It isn’t a nice world, but it is a living and breathing one.


The Crowd


Above, I mentioned people like Sparrow. But there aren’t that many people like Sparrow. They are, in their own words, neuter: what we would call non-binary today. And they are pretty amazing. So is their ability to keep alive the memory of the past. They live for their archive. They think they have no friends. But for someone who thinks they’re alone, they have a really solid support crew of waifs, strays, wanderers and gods at their back. Everyone from the body-hopping huntress Frances to the sweet and slightly spooky Sherra, to the absolutely terrifying and powerful China Black, create an amazingly vivid Alphabet City of talented and amazing characters piecing the world together as best they can. Each character is a distinct personality full as a pomegranate with secrets and facets. Sparrow’s community feels like some of the bohemian groups I’ve hung out in, and I love that.

The Lingo

Writing Style

Lyrical and flowing, this book is a sensory treat and a powerful work. I love the sense that there’s magic to be seen out of the corner of your eye. If you ask the characters straight, they’ll talk tech, most of them. But look quick and you’ll see the veves and the amulets, the oracle decks and the power they’re weaving into the wires.

Blending magic and tech is a tricky business. But here it’s done to perfection. Everything works itself into a crazy-quilt of whatever survivors can remember: ritual and resistors, solar panels and spells. It all blends in a perfect tossed salad of shook up culture as the City pieces itself back together, piece by piece and year by year.

The Moves


This work’s a serious head trip and no mistake. Starting innocently enough with Sparrow’s odd blackouts, it leads you dark and twisting alleyways of intersecting lives, motivations both human and not, and a hunt that enmeshes the souls of anyone caught in it. A battle of wills between immortals: one craving freedom, one bent on revenging the entire Western Hemisphere.

And poor Sparrow is stuck in the middle of it all. Right where they never wanted to be.

I won’t give away the twists and turns, but I will tell you that every page of it is worthwhile.

Overall Rating

This powerful and visceral tale is one for the bookshelf. It’s a keeper.