The Entropy of Bones by Ayize Jama-Everett
When we meet Chabi, the protagonist of 2015’s The Entropy of Bones, she is running the sixty miles from Sausalito, CA, to Napa, CA. She plans to grab a meal and run back. This is our first clue that Chabi isn’t average… and it’s not our last. Chabi doesn’t speak, although she certainly has a voice. Her physical abilities are astounding. Her martial arts teacher is a strange, dangerous man, Narayana, who lives on a ship near Chabi’s mother’s houseboat.
On her semi-regular run this day, she stumbles into a marijuana grow and makes the uncomfortable acquaintance of a pair of brothers and the adult son of one of them. The family originally grew grapes, but a strange fungus is overtaking the vines, so they switched to premium marijuana. Chabi, who finds an odd peace when she’s around the fungus-swamped vines, agrees to provide some patch security for them. As the story continues, Chabi’s already-strange world cracks open to become convincingly bizarre. Chabi is introduced to the concept of Liminal people late in the book, after she’s experienced many things that defy explanation.
The Entropy of Bones is not a direct sequel to The Liminal People. For one thing, I think it takes place before that book. It’s mainly Chabi’s origin story, but along the way it introduces important characters and concepts; like A.C, a chaotic character who is easy almost impossible to remember and who travels in time; and the Alters, the villains of the series, who are creatures of entropy.
Like The Liminal People, the book brims with originality, and features a protagonist with a captivating narrative voice. The story is not easy in many ways. For one thing, Narayana Raj, self-styled pirate captain and Chabi’s teacher, is not a good person. The things he subjects her to as part of “training,” are vicious. This is a case where depiction isn’t approval. The story isn’t confused about Narayana even if Chabi is. Other characters give us insight into Narayana as the story progresses, and Chabi finally comes to a resolution about her old teacher. In this world, in this battle, conventional lines of “evil” and “good” don’t always serve us well.
Apart from the complex and often thrilling story, I personally enjoyed the sense of place evoked here. In a long passage, A.C. goes on a kind of pilgrimage in the East Bay area, and it’s a deeply moving section of the book that provides a multi-level contrast to Chabi’s first meeting with the Alters in their San Francisco luxury hotel.
Secondary characters, like Chabi’s mother, are well-developed, in the story just enough to give us an idea that Chabi does have an emotional lifeline in her chaotic life.
The Entropy of Bones leads gracefully into the third book, The Liminal War. The final book in the series, Heroes of an Unknown World, is due out in February, 2023. This is a genuinely original superhero series, with complicated characters and an exciting premise.