There is something about Nina Kiriki Hoffman's books that sets them apart from the many other fantasy novels written for adults (and teens). They are set in the modern world, yes, but they're not really urban fantasy. They often contain elements of romance, but they certainly don't follow the typical romance novel formula. While characters may appear in several books, they are not really a series - each book contains a single story that comes to a satisfying conclusion. And they don't tend to be hair-raising adventure stories with unbelievably tough kick-ass heroines. The heroines (and heroes) can certainly be tough and admirable, but they come across with subtlety, as complex, believable people with complicated pasts that have a lot of influence on the events of the stories.
Most of all, with Hoffman's books, you can be sure that you are not going to get the same old, same old anything. There will be surprises. You will find yourself imagining all kinds of unimaginable things, and you will find yourself nodding as you read, thinking, oh, yes, of course, that completely bizarre concept makes perfect sense. I love that!
This story is about a man named Tom who has marginalized himself from society because of he possesses unusual abilities, such as talking with ghosts, that have made his life too awkward and painful to be around others. He meets a woman named Laura, who comes from a family with unusual powers, too. Her family has an odd relationship with the nearby town, to the extent that the town is terrified of her relatives yet is awed by them as well. Laura has left, unwilling to be a part of that kind of situation, but she finds herself called back to attend a wedding. Tom ends up driving the cab that takes her home, and the simple fact of setting off in that taxi together sets off a chain of events that has bizarre and highly entertaining results.
The beauty of this story is in the telling, the sensory details, the complex relationships between the characters, the amazing and unusual fantastical elements. This is a gentle, subtle book. There is no alarming or overbearing sense of peril, really, but the characters are so sympathetic that the reader will keep reading simply to find out what can possibly happen next. I enjoyed this one, possibly not as much as some of the other books I've read by this author (and that's not because this one isn't good, just that I love love love some of the others so very much), but enough that I'm glad I picked up a used copy. I know I'll be giving it a reread some day.
If you enjoy the novels and stories of Charles de Lint and Patricia McKillip, you would probably love Nina Kiriki Hoffman's work.
The Thread That Binds the Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Avon Books, 1993)
Reviews of other books by Nina Kiriki Hoffman:
A Stir of Bones
Fall of Light
Past the Size of Dreaming
Red Heart of Memories
Spirits That Walk in Shadow
Also reviewed at:
Random Reading: "The other thing I especially love about her writing, is her ability to tell a story in a single book. This is coming to be one of my favorite traits in a fantasy writer, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman has it in abundance."
A Wicked Convergence of Circumstances: "The pacing is a little slow but it also manages to be engaging, unpredictable and interesting enough to make the reader want to stick with the story and find out what happens next."