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City of Bones

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  2,649 ratings  ·  281 reviews
Where once great galleons roamed the sea,
sand ships now traverse the Great Waste,
and a glittering chain of city-states
dots the desert that has no end...

And the greatest city of them all is Charisat: Imperial seat and wonder of wonders, a great monolithic structure towering over the desert. Charisat, a phantasmagorical place where silken courtesans and beggars weave lies s
Mass Market Paperback, 442 pages
Published June 15th 1996 by Tor Fantasy / Tom Doherty Associates (first published June 1995)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,649 ratings  ·  281 reviews

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Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of Way of Kings
Watch out for Martha Wells–I get the feeling she is playing with a different Dungeons and Dragons set than the rest of the world. Rarely has someone in fantasy so consistently impressed me with inventiveness. In City of Bones, she does it again.

City of Bones is set in the city of Charisat, one of the few major cities remaining after an apocalypse has nearly destroyed humanity. Cities are surrounded by a hostile, desert Waste, and survivors rely on the roads of the Ancients to travel from one cit
Mayim de Vries
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I struggle to understand why isn't Martha Wells venerated. She should be. She outshines all the Gwynnes and McClellans, Clares and Maases, and other fantasy whatnots like a supernova.

Yes. I am going to ram this book down your throats.

It is fantasy at its best: I don’t really think that calling City of Bones a post-apocalyptic book gives it justice. The setting is far too complex to be explained by a simple end of the world. It is also not really dystopian, even though the world is far from just
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
A slow burn. Good, but a slow start. There are a lot of similarities with another book that I recently read: the high-cast scholar seeking ancient wisdom is the female lead, a harsh and dangerous terrain, a brave and adventurous low-cast male lead, and loads of plotting and intrigue. Of course, Wells came first.
N.K. Jemisin
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read this book after reading Ms. Wells' more recent Books of the Raksura, and I think that made for an odd reading experience: I couldn't help seeing it as essentially proto-Raksura material. That's not a bad thing, since I loved the Raksura books, and this one has the same kind of clever-yet-hapless, fish-out-of-water protagonist; the same utterly alien yet believable worldbuilding; the same breathtaking sense of beauty and almost primordial danger in every landscape.

I loved loved loved the f
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I want to tell you that I have discovered a great new writer of speculative fiction, Martha Wells. However, my GR friend, Carol, would probably loose upon me a storm of well-chosen epithets for doing so. And quite rightly for at least these reasons:
1. Wells has been recognized for her fine writing for about 25 years; and,
2. Carol was responsible for getting me to read City of Bones. You may have read her review It’s been out there for over 5 years!

Nat K
Jan 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommended to Nat by: William

Who knew that pirates and Trade Inspectors exist in the desert world of the future? The Remnant, the Waste, the Enclave. Krismen, Warders and Patricians. Imperial law. Ancient mages. Silent Markets. Scholars. Fringe Cities. The Heir. The Last Sea. Fortune tellers. Oracles. Relics. Relic dealers. Relic hunters. What is the strange place I had come to?

In my mind I saw some kind of Mad Max, post apocalyptic, dystopian place With lashings of overindulgent wealth for those lucky enough to live in the
Still a fantastic read the second time around. Don't know how it's possible, but I think I love it more this time around.

This book hits all of my fantasy requirements:
- desert setting (plus, it's also post-apocalyptic)
- unique city (it's a multi-level tower)
- intricate socioeconomic system
- intricate caste system (lots of minute but interesting details)
- political intrigue
- a cast of outcast characters (that you can't help but get attached to)
- lots of dry, self-deprecating humor
- which makes th
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it

It took ages for me to get through this book, and that's why it's down an extra 1/2 a star, but the last half of the book was fascinating and kept me hooked. As my first (finished) Martha Wells book I was pretty skeptical because I DNF The Element of Fire, but this was much better (in my opinion) and I couldn't help but enjoy it.

City of Bones is about two people who are determined to find 2 magical artifacts, and though they are very different people they become friends throughout the
Aug 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A book that made me gleeful to read. Why? It's urban fantasy in an imagined casbah on a desolate world. It gives me a protagonist who's smart enough that when he's stupid, he'd really stupid. It teased me with the possibility of an mpreg (and you're going to have to trust me on this one) that made me think "neat!" rather than "ew." It was a mystery and and a romp at once, and half the mystery was the entire nature of their world. There were no helpless maidens, the villain was never certain, and ...more
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Anna by: carol.
A fantastic, unique but harsh world, likeable, multi-layered characters, solid plot and intriguing mystery. What’s not to like?

Sagai folded his arms. “Khat. You read three languages. You’ve been to most of the Fringe Cities. You have the Trade Articles of Charisat memorized, and you’ve forgotten more about the Ancients than half the supposed relic scholars in the Academia will ever know. Don’t try to tell me that you didn’t understand what you were doing.”
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
I finally finished this. Between work and stress reading my newsfeed it took a while. Very enjoyable, although the beginning was a little slow. Terrific world building. I really loved Khat and Sagai, the relationship between the two and Khat’s relationship with Sagai’s family. Hopefully the next time I read this there won’t be a horrifying pandemic playing out at the same time.
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shotgun review -- busy busy waiting for doctor.

Good plot, successes and failurs of the characters were occasionally predictable but mostly surprising yet still sensible.

Great world building! It took a while to determine if I was reading post-apocalyptic sci-fi, a Wheel of Time cross-over between science and magic, or a post apocalyptic fantasy. (It was the last.)

Great characters; lots of charm. I felt a Hope/Crosby vibe, with Dorothy Lamour's part played by Lara Croft.

Good theme against racism
Apr 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: adventure & intricately developed SF/fantasy readers
Damn. That was GOOD!

I've been mainlining Martha Wells' writing since GR-friends pointed me toward her splendid Raksura series of novels & short stories: City of Bones is quite different from that but is every bit as good.

Wells writes strongly place-driven novels with well-realized characters; she's nearly created her own genre of 'soft', anthropological science fiction mixed with fantasy elements. Her world-building is extraordinarily intricate, in the case of Bones I practically felt th
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
City of Bones is a fantasy / post apocalyptic story of relic hunters pulled into a deep, dangerous plot. My favorite genres are Science Fantasy, and Sci-Fi / Horror, and we get a little of both in City of Bones.

As in Murderbot Diaries, all the characters in City of Bones are well developed, interesting, and likable. Martha writes characters I like. They think for themselves, make consistent and believable decisions, and feel very organic. In addition to the "Indiana Jones" style adventure, we g
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Abandoned ruins and lost civilizations are a dime a dozen in fantasy novels, but it's rare to find a genuinely post-apocalyptic secondary-world work like this one. A thousand years ago, a magically-advanced civilization was wiped out when the oceans boiled away, leaving behind a hellish landscape (called, of course, the Waste) and survivors eking out a hard existence in the Fringe Cities. Enough time has passed that society is undergoing (scientific) modernization, with the introduction of air g ...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
This book was like a bit slow (just in the beginning!) but rather pleasant journey and I liked it a lot, if not in terms of "amazing", then at least in terms of "quite awesome".
Also, I liked the main character, Khat, he reminded me of the Grumpy Cat a lot, and if you want to know why - go read the book so later we can argue. :P

On the serious side "City of Bones" might be classified as a traditional quest fantasy novel - a team of protagonists is looking for certain artifacts and while doing so u
Apr 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I don't know what to think of this book. It's my first Martha Wells book, and I'm promised some of her others are even better: this one is beautiful in its attention to detail, its careful worldbuilding. I enjoyed a lot that this is fantasy and post-apocalyptic work at the same time: we're talking magic here, not science, not even science that looks like magic. This is what I've hungered for -- a one-shot fantasy story that isn't focused on romance or anything other than solid characters and a s ...more
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Tending towards 3.5 stars.

The story is a solid Fantasy adventure with terrific worldbuilding and plot ideas.
I guess it would have made much more impression on me hadn't I read the author's Raksura series before. Both worlds show the same brilliance in imagining the setup and the development of unique species. Yet I couldn't fend off the feeling of too much familiarity of the atmosphere and the story dynamic.

Would I start anew I would definitely read this one first and then the Raksura series to
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a really good book with a nice complex plot. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

Khat is a relic deal in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world where the level you live in on the tower decrees your status. Khat is a kris, which is somebody who comes from the Waste, which is even lower than the lowest level of the tower itself. The guard of a Patriarch and Warder approaches him and asks (read: demands) him to lead them into the Waste. They specifically need a kris because kris can always t
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Will write review over spring break. Short version: Excellent! If it's on your fantasy TBR move it up. To the top. Loved it.
Peter Tillman
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
My 2003 notes:
CITY OF BONES is set in a tiered, heirarchic fantasy-city in the desert, here a desert of ruin from a long-ago, nearly world-destroying war. There are enough superscience remnants to make this a science-fantasy. The male lead is a classic outsider-warrior. The female lead is an insider who's been misled by her mentor, and who has Hidden Powers. They make a good team, save the world, and (mostly) avoid cliches en route -- particularly in the ending. Above-average book, fast-paced an
Rob Trans
Oct 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wavered between a 3 and a 4 for City of Bones. On the negative side, the story plodded in the beginning and in several passages throughout. I initially thought I was reading a sophisticated YA novel because the two protagonists seemed a little stereotypical.

Khat is one of the very few of his kind in the ruling city. The bones of his people are considered the best for auguring, so he must always be on the lookout for people wanting to kill him for this and for the people he has antagonized. Hi
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, standalone
City of Bones is a standalone fantasy book set in a fictional world, many years after a cataclysmic event has made water scarce and turned much of the land into desert. There’s a bit of a dystopian vibe here; the city where our characters live is divided into tiers, with the richer and more powerful people living in luxury on the upper tiers while the people in the lowest tiers are barely able to eke out an existence. However, I don’t consider this a dystopian book because the story itself isn’t ...more
Dec 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: post-apocalyptic
A damaged, possibly fatally wounded, world, and while scavengers and pirates lurk the desertlike Waste, there are oases of culture and civilization. Learning and craft are highly valued and technology or its magical equivalent is slowly crawling back to the heights of the Ancients. It is one of the few (the only?) fantasy books I've read where the main characters/scoundrels are linguist/historian/archaeologists as well as all-round asskickers.

The entire _system_ of this book is masterfully and i
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
At 3% I was questioning if I had chosen the wrong book to read. You know, good books can be bad if you're not in the right frame of mind, bad books can seem good if your in a different headspace.... I felt by 4% that maybe it was the wrong book, or I was in the wrong place and I was considering stopping and looking for something else.

Next thing I knew I was at 15% and I realized that I was completely sucked into this story. By 30% I realized I was enjoying this book so much that I was going to
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Khat is a krismen, a human variant genetically engineered centuries ago to be able to survive in the post-apocalyptic desert wastes of the world. He left the krismen enclave, under some duress, to make his way as a relic hunter in the human-inhabited city-state of Charisat. One day, he is approached by a Warder, a magical soldier under the Elector (essentially an emperor), to assist them in seeking out relics that power an ancient machine out in the desert Waste. Khat doesn't have a lot of choic ...more
Mike Finn
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came to 'City Of Bones' via the 'Murderbot Diaries' I'd read each instalment as came out and enjoyed them all. The next one won't be released for another eight month's so I decided to try out Martha Wells' back catalogue.

I found 'City Of Bones', released in 2007, a decade before Murderbot, and what a find it turned out to be. How did I miss it back in 2007? Well, perhaps I read the publisher's summary which makes it sound like Indiana Jones meets Alladin, and passed. The actual story is much m
I don't remember when it was the last time I read a fantasy novel - and a standalone to boot - without a speck of infodump. The world grows naturally though characters and their position in the society and, by the end of the novel, you have a rather complete picture of this post-apocalyptic world.

A thousand years ago, the apocalypse (as a result of, you can call it, alien invasion) has turned the world in a desert - Waste - inhabited by poisonous creatures. Thinking the entire world would be af
Laura (Kyahgirl)
3/5; 3 stars; B

There were so many things I liked about this book. In fact, it kept my interest for the whole 16 hours of the audiobook. The fantasy world was interesting and I liked the main characters. I didn't rate it higher though because, for one, I was really disappointed in the ending, and two, there were too many loose ends and unfinished characters.

The narrator was new to me but I thought he did a pretty good job with voices and accents.
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Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel is The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the ...more

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