Seventeen-year-old Aderyn (“Ryn”) only cares about two things: her family, and her family’s graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don’t always stay dead.
The risen corpses are known as “bone houses,” and legend says that they’re the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it about Ellis that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good?
Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them deep into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the long-hidden truths about themselves.
Title : The Bone Houses
Author : Emily Lloyd-Jones
Format : ARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA historical fiction fantasy
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : September 24, 2019
Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★
Hollis’ 4 star review
It might seem obvious, or maybe not, but the overwhelming theme of THE BONE HOUSES, a story of a curse, magic, and reanimated dead, is grief. Of letting go of the past, whether that be from a loss or from a hurt or from an unknown beginning, and moving forward. Living.
She knew how things died. And in her darkest moments, she feared she did not know how to live.
My interpretation of the setting of this story is Wales, or a Wales-like place, because the mythology and folklore reference beings similar to the fae, to the Tuath Dé Dannan, and also the character names feel Welsh. Once there were magical beings in the world, and magic, but a battle saw it ended and, as time passed, the legends have become stories or morality tales. But in Ryn’s village, the magic isn’t all gone; the dead, or bone houses, still walk the forest. Though with few people brave enough to venture into the dark, few believe that even that much magic still lingers. It isn’t until years later, her father lost, her mother dead, and at seventeen, working as a gravedigger, doing all she can to keep her siblings fed and with a roof over their heads, that something has changed. The bone houses are leaving the forest.
This was the problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren. Nothing stayed buried forever.
When the village is attacked, Ryn teams up with a recent arrival, a mapmaker, to journey to the mountains where the legend of the cauldron of rebirth was said to be last seen. If they destroy the cauldron, maybe it’ll end the bone houses and break the curse.
“I’m a mapmaker.“
“Why aren’t you spending the night in the village?“
“I–I meant to.”
“I am not.”
“You’re a mapmaker who cannot find a village.”
“I was using someone else’s map.”
Lloyd-Jones’ story is lush, magical, and eerie. Beyond the mystical, it deals with grief, pain — both emotion and physical — and family; and not just the two legged variety. For all the horror and violence of the walking dead, Ryn is careful in dealing with them, respectful, even as she’s forced to fight for her life against them. She struggles with the concept of what she has to do, with how it makes her a terrible person, and though we don’t suffer through endless agonies I thought enough time was spent — or maybe it was just genuine enough — to make it a good argument. Even if there was really nothing else she could do.
She was a half-wild creature that loved a graveyard, the first taste of misty night air, and the heft of a shovel.
There’s a romance, a slowburn of one, and though you see it coming early on, it nonetheless still wows you as it unfolds. Gently, carefully, and sweetly. These characters were both very aware of themselves and each other; this felt real and believable. Infact, the whole story did. The family connections, the stillness and peace of the forest, the horror of what hides in the dark, the desperate things people will do when facing the death of a loved one.. it might have been wrapped up in the fantastical but it was all very real. Also I would die for the goat.
“I grew up thinking monsters could be slain.”
“And I grew up thinking people were the monsters.“
This isn’t my first read by this author (a fact I just realized while grabbing info for this review!) but it’s definitely the first one that will follow me into my dreams. This one is going to stick with me for sure. And I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **