The Bone Traders, by Mark Roper, is, overall, a fun romp through a strange, post-apocalyptic environment rife with menacing figures, desolate towns and intriguing magic. The story, set twenty years after a solar storm devastates Earth, follows the adventures of Joe, a man with a mysterious supernatural ability, as he searches for a way to set things right. Along the way, he encounters a beautiful woman, Dayna, and the menacing rulers of a small, desperate township, Trader and Sky. Told in a sparse, blow-by-blow style, the story is easy to read, and pulls the reader along with the action.
The trouble is, it's over too quickly. The story cries out for more detail, but it's over and done, a couple of hours of leisurely-paced reading that answers too few of its own questions. The author, Mark Roper, has had a lengthy career in film, and I wonder, reading The Bone Traders, whether his experience in that medium is to blame for the book's brief character sketches and whip-crack pace. Roper seems like he may have gotten into the habit of leaving room in his writing for actors and directors to make their own decisions, which doesn't translate well to prose fiction.
That said, there are seeds of a truly fascinating work here, and the gracious reader will find a lot to chew on–as long as they don't mind having to fill in some of the blanks themselves. The characters are archetypal, but charming, sometimes evoking comparisons to the saltier figures out of Mad Max or Stephen King's later work. Joe's relationship with his perhaps-pet vulture, Dog, speaks to an intriguing vein of animistic spirituality, although like the rest of the book, it could stand to be written out a bit more. The most damning example of this is Dayna, whose doll-toting mother and occasional bouts of character beg for more detail. Without these, she is a vagary, occasionally nothing more than a stock damsel in distress.
The same can be said of the message and action of the book, which left me with too many questions. I know a solar storm has decimated the world, but where IS everyone? Did they really all die? The cast can't top a hundred people inside of two small towns. Are we so far away from other survivors that we see no sign of them? Where did Joe come from? What is the nature of his otherworldly power? And why the hell are the days and nights shorter? All questions do not need to be answered, but answering no questions makes all questions frustrating. Roper needs to work harder to balance ambiguity and explanation. By the time The Bone Traders ends, some readers may lose patience with the clip of the narrative.
That said, this book is worth a read. So many of the self-published books on Amazon are dreck, and this one, while flawed, is entertaining, fairly well-edited, and follows its own internal rules. I rooted for Joe and was curious about his abilities. I bristled at the villains and dug Roper's voice. I wanted to know the ending, and the only real flaw, large though it may be, was that when I knew the ending, I found myself wanting more of the middle as well.