The myth of the tortured artist has turned real for many creatives all through past and present, like Vincent van Gogh who battled mental illness and secured his spot as the suffering artist when he chopped off his ear with a razor blade. But at the core of a creative world, the idea of suffering producing great art is absolutely false and often an overused justification of emotional abuse by something or from within. Apologies for subjecting you to some unfiltered thoughts but reading Adrienne Tooley’s recent release, Sofi and the Bone Song demanded such churning.

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In a magical world where music is considered sacred and untouched by magic, only a few people are allowed to compose and perform. Each of these Musiks, respected and celebrated throughout the kingdom, are paired with a particular instrument. Sofi’s father is a lutist and has been training her since forever to take his place as a member of the prestigious Guild of Musiks in the future. Then he quietly dies and both the apprenticeship and his title are open to auditions. Still, Sofi is confident she’s meant for this. But Lara, a stranger, arrives unannounced to perform and wins hearts.

Sofi is convinced Lara was aided by magic, which is strictly prohibited. She wants to prove this beautiful girl a fraud and finally deservedly take her place as a Musik. Lara knows nothing about the workings of this community so she agrees. Over time, in a complex winter-ridden world, the two grow close and find what art individually means to them while secrets unfold. The story truly demands attention for how it brings together magic and music in the midst of ambitions and love. But the star of this sophomore novel is the exploration and dismantling of an emotional idea: that people should suffer for their art.

Rightly focusing more on the characters than the plot, the illusion of an upbringing and pain is torn away by the cries of truth. Sofi’s father believed in something she didn’t even have a chance to think about as a young girl simply learning for a destiny set for her—a title to take over, a genius to be cultivated. But it’d be a disservice to the passion that creation carries if Sofi’s music is simply described in the context of her childhood. Music is truly spotlighted in all its beautiful, evocative glory. Not just a driving force but a protagonist itself, the music evolves in the midst of Sofi’s inner turmoil and also influences the growing romance between her and Lara. This idea of a main character losing everything she thought the world had already planned for her and being forced to forge her path again shows the greatness of character-oriented stories, and also reinstates the comfort that art brings during distress and forever.

With a light romance, Sofi and Lara do give an interesting rivals-to-lovers trope but what impresses more are the opposite emotional personalities of the two: Sofi being more stern, objective, and determinedly grumpy while Lara being more innocent, softer, and simply easier to love. For a young adult fantasy, the romance does take a backseat and understandably so, but the story delivers on its promise of a girl whose plan for the future falls apart —and the journey she must make to uncover dark secrets and political deception while trying to not fall for the girl who stole her future. Also, it’s exciting to see a sapphic romance unfold in this story of queer characters where Sofi is lesbian, Lara is (probably) lesbian, and some side characters are non-binary and gay. Overall, Sofi and the Bone Song hits the right notes on euphoric creativity, a heartwarming love, rediscovering one’s path, and finding comfort in passion and people.

Sofi and the Bone Song, Adrienne Tooley
Margaret K. McElderry, April 2022

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