The Thread that Binds the Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

is an excellent fantasy. It is similar to her fine short stories, except that she has more space to develop her characters, and uses it well. All of the characters are well-portrayed, and their continuing development through the course of the story is convincing to an unusual degree.

The story concerns Tom Renfield, a man who has learned to mostly ignore the ghosts around him and hide the fact that he can see them, and Laura Bolte, who has tried unsuccessfully to escape from her family, a clan of powerful magicians who exercise power over the small town of Arcadia, Oregon. They meet in Arcadia, Tom fleeing notoriety after a too-well publicized supernatural incident in Oregon, Laura coming home -- temporarily, she hopes -- for her brother's wedding. The pace of the story accelerates rapidly, Tom and Laura are married (this is all on the back cover and within the first fifty pages, so no real spoilers), and much about the family's unsavory practices and relation with the town of Arcadia is gradually revealed. The complication and resolution is very satisfactory.

A few miscellaneous remarks:
The plotting at times seems unfocused; one thing happens after another, and the connections between events are sometimes less than perfectly clear. It's tighter near the beginning and end, though. Hoffman handles the theme of how power tends to corrupt, and of temptation and resistance to it, very well. Her characterization of people with great magical power fighting the temptation to lord it over the lowly mortals around them is one of the most convincing I've seen in a long while. There is some transformation involved; the Boltes consider turning one another into animals all part of family politics. Hoffman handles these incidents, and one in particular, better than most authors who've tried it.

One of Hoffman's other novels, The Silent Strength of Stones, is set in the same world some years earlier, but doesn't deal with the same characters. I'm not sure if her more recent novels, A Red Heart of Memories and its sequel Past the Size of Dreaming, are set in the same world. Magic seems to work in a similar way, but there are no major characters in common.

AvonNova, 1993
311 pp.
ISBN 0-380-77253-1

Some of her short stories that I would recommend to your attention include "Home For Christmas" (F&SF Jan. '95, and at least one anthology, I believe) and "Airborn" (F&SF May '96).

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