“It was a risk, to love someone. To do it with the full knowledge that they’d leave someday.
And to let go of them, when they did.”
I received an ARC of The Bone Houses at BookExpo, this in no way impacts my review. However, my review is based on an unfinished and uncorrected copy, please note that the story and quotes may differ from the final book. I’ll do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
Read in August 2019
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Aderyn verch Gwyn, who also goes by ‘Ryn’, is the eldest daughter of the gravedigger of the remote village of Colbren and her father taught her from a very young age how to tend for the dead. He also brought her in the magical forest bordering the village, where no one dares to venture, to try to find food and taught her everything she needed to know about the Bone Houses, risen corpses that roam in darkest parts the forest after nightfall. There are legends about the Bone Houses, a caldron that was supposed to resuscitate the dead was broken and its content spilled in the forest, raising all those who died there, especially ruthless soldiers that came in the forest to steal that said caldron.
One day, her father went in the mines inside the forest and never came back, and after her mother passed away, seventeen-years-old Ryn is now responsible for her younger siblings, she needs to provide for her brother Gareth who is one year younger than her and her sister even younger sister Ceridwen. She took over her family graveyard but not enough people are dying to provide for her family and with the rumours about the Bone Houses growing, villagers tend to burn their loved ones instead of burying them. Ryn decides that it’s part of her job to make sure that the Bone Houses don’t harm anyone in Colbren, and it’s with worry that she notices that every night they tend to venture closer to the forest’s edge, until the day, something changed, and they came out of the woods to attack villagers.
“After years of digging graves, Ryn had little fear of death. Death was quiet and stillness. It was fresh earth and wildflowers. It was coin in her purse and a hole in the ground.”
Ryn’s family is heavily in debt to Lord Erymon, the village lord, who threatens to evict them because of her uncle who went MIA without paying back his gambling debt, when she is offered a dangerous yet very profitable job opportunity. Ellis, an eighteen-year-old apprentice mapmaker who comes from the city wants to map the region, including the forest and the Mountains of Annwvyn beyond, that supposedly used to be the domain of the long-gone lord of fae and where no human ever went. After being saved from a Bone House attack by Ryn he hires her to serve as a guide and protector in his quest in exchange for good money. Despite the evident danger, Ryn immediately accepts.
Ellis doesn’t know much about himself, not even his family name, only he was found fifteen years ago on the edge of that same forest by the Prince. The only absolute certainty he has is that he was probably badly injured before being found because he has chronic pain in his shoulder and the physician say that it’s probably caused by a broken collarbone that wasn’t set right (and I enjoyed the chronic pain rep because it’s so rare in YA). Outside their said motivation, both of them have hidden motives to take that journey. Ellis wants to find out more about his past and hopefully find his birth parents and Ryn is desperate to end the Bone Houses curse and discovers what happened to her father.
“No warrior could stop the dead.
But perhaps a gravedigger could.”
Overall The Bone Houses was an amazing fantasy story, based on Welsh mythology and folklore. The writing was lush and the descriptions of the medieval village and the forest/mountain were gorgeous. I’m so happy this book was a standalone, I’m always craving for fantasy standalones, and for this one, it really felt like I was actually reading a fairy-tale. The pacing was perfect and I was never bored. Ryn was a fantastic protagonist with a no-nonsense attitude, she was stubborn, selfless yet selfish at the same time, she will do anything to make family safe, and, like all the characters, she was incredibly fleshed out. I love how close she was with her siblings and with the family goat (that you will fall in love with, I’m telling you, it was gloriously epic).
I’m a bit disappointed that this book contains romance because it feels a bit like it was coming out of nowhere for me. I was in a fairy tale quest context and I really thought that Ellis and Ryn were just travelling companions, or friends, like Frodon and Sam or Harry and Hermione. However, the themes in this book touched me deeply. Death is something that I’ve always feared, and life after death is not something I think I believe in, and how it was handled here really had a special meaning for me. How Ryn apologizes to the Bone Houses she kills, how some find that Bone Houses are the solution to never truly lose a close one who’s about to die, it was a real roller coaster for me, that made me both sad and scared. Also, the portrayal of grief was spotless.
“Can you miss something before it’s gone?”
Have you read or will you read this book?
What did you think about it?