Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on September 4, 2018
Source: Publisher, Netgalley
Genres: Action & Adventure, Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary, Young Adult, Diversity
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Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.
Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” But when her mom brings home a live specimen, Nita decides she wants out — dissecting living people is a step too far.
But when she tries to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold on the black market in his place — because Nita herself is a supernatural being. Now Nita is on the other side of the bars, and there is no line she won’t cross to escape and make sure no one can ever capture her again.
Nita did a good deed, and it cost her everything. Now she’s going to do a lot of bad deeds to get it all back.
Wow, this book… it was deliciously dark. Schaeffer brings readers into a tantalizing world where supernatural beings called unnaturals roam the earth and are mistrusted by the rest of the humans. Some of them are benign, such as fluffy dacts that are kept as pets, while some are dangerous, such as unicorns that suck the souls of virgins or kappas that eat human organs. Our main character, Nita, was raised by a mother that hunts down these terrifying unnaturals, leaving her to dissect them and sell on the black market. It’s kind of a family business, until Nita gets into trouble. From then on, the plot begins as she descends into a dark path where rules are loosened and morals painted gray.
Nita loves dissecting. Some people like to run off their stress, some people listen to rain. Nita dissects as a stress-relief. It’s her passion and future. And so far, it’s worked to the advantage of the family business. While Nita’s mother brings back dangerous unnaturals to dissect and sell on the black market, she dreams of going to college and becoming a biology researcher. However, one day her mother brings back a boy who looks so normal and harmful. Nita can’t stand the thought of dissecting him WHILE ALIVE, and thus saves him by helping him run away. This doesn’t sit well with Nita’s mom, and Nita feels the full force of her punishment when she finds herself drugged and stolen to the Death Market in the jungles along the Amazon River.
Nita was supposed to save up enough money to buy herself a new identity and go to college, and leave her mother. She wasn’t supposed to become her mother, killing everyone in her way.
Life seemed to have different ideas for her.
This book travels along Latin America, as the settings we see are where the authorities cannot take down the black market. Nita’s straightforward narrative is grim, morbid, but also realistic. Money makes the world go round, and that’s how these black market dealers in the unnaturals can hold both authorities and politicians in their sway. While Nita is imprisoned to be sold at the Death Market, she meets various characters that she doesn’t know if she can trust. One of these is Kovit, who may become either an unlikely ally or solid enemy. He’s a zanny, a sadistic unnatural from Thailand whose species takes pleasure in other people’s pain. While he’s a guard, Nita’s own ability to be able to control her bodily functions both makes her a prime target in the market, as well as her biggest protection.
Morals were nothing but things to be manipulated with. They were tools you could use against others, and weapons others could use against you.
She didn’t need them.
Didn’t want them.
It FEELS like Nita goes nowhere in this book, as the majority takes place in the Death Market, but a lot of character introspection is going on. Nita pushes the boundaries of her morals as she becomes judge, jury, and executioner. However, this is all for the sake of survival. But does that make it right? There’s also an interesting partnership that MAY be a love interest. It is SO slight, SO new with trust that I can’t even say it’s that. Either way, I really enjoyed the progression of this particular relationship and can’t wait to see where it goes in the sequel. It has, simply, a beautiful and realistic progression.
If you haven’t figured out from the title, Not Even Bones is extremely dark. The atmosphere is reminiscent of Dexter or Hannibal. It’s grisly and does NOT shy away from the details of torture and other macabre acts. I really want to caution readers coming into it, and take note of the trigger/content warnings I’m adding at the end of this review. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, and the morally gray characters don’t come out of nowhere – a lot of gruesome activities take place in their lives that push them to where they are.
The author mentioned how she wrote this book for the people who are fascinated with villains on-screen, and I really think those readers will REALLY enjoy it. It’s honestly hard to write anti-herxs who you can’t help but root for, but Schaeffer does this wonderfully. Readers follow Nita every step of the way as she begins her dark descent, and I for one am ALL FOR IT. *cheers forever for anti-herxs in YA* Also, can’t miss the opportunity to point out Nita’s criticism or colonialism and the conquistadors of history that basically ruined the land. This is a gal after my own heart.
Step aside, goody-two shoes heroines of Young Adult supernatural stories. We got a new girl in town who finds solace in holding organs and is ready to get pushed to her limits. Nita is an amazing character who struggles with holding rules for her morals. She makes unlikely friendships in the midst of horror and tragedy, all while planning a brilliant escape from her own demise. While Not Even Bones is steeped with blood – of enemies and allies alike – the grisly atmosphere makes it all the more tantalizing. I think the only other time I’ve encountered such an easy-to-root-for anti-heroine in a dark setting is in Cracked by Eliza Crewe, which I also recommend. There is a dearth of supernatural beings in YA (excluding the numerous paranormal romances out there), and Not Even Bones fills that gap with solid action, beings from all around the world, and a heroine whose growing ambition amps up with every threat. Definitely recommended for readers seeking a refreshing storyline in Young Adult, as well as significant character growth. And oomf – beware that cliffhanger!
Content/Trigger Warnings: sadism, dissections, mention of suicide, deaths, gore, murder, cannibalism, detailed descriptions of torture, LOTS of blood and mutilation
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you Hachette Books and Netgalley for the review copy!