Emma Bull, Bone Dance (Ace, 1991; Orb, 2009)

There are not many authors capable of causing me to sink into groveling sycophancy. Foremost among this privileged minority is Emma Bull, and the book most likely to leave me raving and grinning like an idiot is Bone Dance.

Bone Dance is the story of Sparrow, a hustler and procurer of black market videotapes in post-Apocalyptic Minneapolis. Sparrow lives by the rules of The Deal, including that most important of adages, "nothing is free." Everything comes with a price, including love, friendship, and sometimes life itself.

Before the nuclear war that destroyed much of the world as we know it, the government was experimenting with an incredible secret weapon: the Horsemen. Psychically gifted with the ability to inhabit and control any human body, the Horsemen were used as spies, secret agents, and assassins in the ultimate cold war. Sparrow is a product of the same governmental experimentation that created the Horsemen, though she is an entirely different type of being altogether.

Sparrow has a mystery and a secret at the center of her life, and she very quickly discovers that in order to solve her mystery she must give up her secret to those she trusts. The problem is, Sparrow doesn't trust anyone at all. In rapid order she meets Mick and Frances -- who happen to be two of the surviving Horsemen -- bounty hunters Dusty and Myra Kincaid, and voodoo practitioners China Black and Mr. Lyle. Worst of all she meets Mad Tom O'Bedlam, otherwise known as Tom Worceski, the crazy Horseman who pushed the button that started the nuclear holocaust. The Kincaids work for him. The others are hunting him, though not all for the same reasons. And Sparrow is the key to defeating him, if only she's willing to put herself on the line. But what's in it for her?

Eventually Sparrow discovers that there is more to life than the Art of the Deal. Brutalized and nearly killed, she finds herself rescued, nursed, and healed by the Hoodoo Engineers. Something of a family, a little bit like a commune, the Engineers are a group of people who work together to simply do good in the world: to "keep the energy circulating, to show other people how it's done, and to make sure both of those go on when the gang isn't there."

Bone Dance is an amazing novel. Incredibly well written, the narration is practically poetry. Bull is deliciously descriptive, her writing so vivid that the reader can almost smell the food cooking in the Night Fair and feel the excruciating pain of the injuries Sparrow endures. This book would make an incredible film script, but only if Bull were in charge of the screenplay, because her dialogue is utterly flawless. Her characters speak in real voices, and make the most profound statements in the plainest of language. No matter how fantastic the premise, Bone Dance presents it as simple truth, and this makes it a terribly easy book to become lost in.

Bone Dance is the story of Sparrow, but it's about so much more. Around one simple, flawed being Emma Bull weaves a tale of magic, healing, redemption and love. This is a novel with heart. There seems to be a general consensus among the Green Man Review staff that, as Bone Dance suggests, we do what we do here "for love, and because it needs doing."

So many fantasy stories over the years have prompted readers to want to learn archery, or sorcery, how to ride a horse or how to wield a sword: Bone Dance made me want to learn how to be a better person. Thank you, Emma.

[Maria Nutick]

Bone Dance is being released in trade paper in July 2008!
 And Emma shows off the stunning new art here.