The Bone Houses

The Bone Houses was written by Emily Lloyd-Jones and was first published in 2019. It is a fantasy story with horror elements, focusing on two teenagers who team up in order to stop an undead army. The novel stands alone, so you don’t need to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it. It’s also currently only available to buy as an eBook in the UK, though the hardback is due to be released at the end of the month.

Ryn has struggled to keep her family together following her mother’s death and father’s disappearance. There is not a lot of work for a gravedigger in a village where the dead do not tend to stay buried. The forests beyond the village of Colbren are the domain of the Bone Houses – corpses that have been doomed to wander as the result of a faerie curse. Although the Bone Houses can be very dangerous, they have always been held back by the iron fence that surrounds Colbren. Unfortunately, this does not last.

Ellis has arrived in Colbren for a different reason. The young mapmaker has grown up in the lap of luxury, but has never known his true parents. Using his skills, money and influence, he has made the long journey in the hope of discovering his roots. However, when his arrival coincides with a particularly brutal attack, he finds himself teaming up with Ryn to find a way to stop the Bone Houses.

Their journey takes them deep into the forest and the mountains beyond, tracing the Bone Houses back to their birth place on lands once occupied by a ruthless fae king. Along the way, they also learn more about themselves and discover that their destinies are entwined with the restless dead in ways that they could never have imagined…

This is another review of a novel that I received in an Owlcrate. This is a monthly mystery box for fans of young adult novels. Each crate is guaranteed to provide at least one hard-backed new release (often autographed or featuring an exclusive cover) and a selection of associated goodies. This month’s theme was “Fear the Night” and I personally think that was great value for money. My goodies included a copy of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, pair of fingerless gloves, a pin badge, a trinket dish, a beautiful art print and some delicious “Scare-amel Corn” flavour coffee. And, of course, the book that I am going to be reviewing for you today.

I was not sure what to expect from The Bone Houses based on its blurb, but I’m pleased to say that it has been a long time since I was so pleasantly surprised by a novel. It is certainly the most creative and beautiful zombie story that I have read. In fact, it’s hard to actually describe how enthralling this story is. Calling it a zombie story does not do it any credit at all. Although it certainly contains a whole horde of the walking dead, this is only a tiny part of what The Bone Houses is about.

The novel is a beautifully written fantasy story with horror elements, yet it is more creepy than outright scary. The world-building is rich and engrossing, creating a Renaissance fantasy setting with a little bit of Welsh flair. Its mythology is laid out for the reader early on as Ryn explains to Ellis how the Bone Houses came to be. Through this use of minimal exposition, Lloyd-Jones expertly gives us a feel of the political climate of her world – a place in which magic is slowly fading due to rapid modernisation.

Yet the most striking thing about the story is the peculiarly named “Bone Houses”. Initially, these cadavers seem to be pretty standard zombies – rotting, shambling, murderous monsters. However, as the story progressed, it quickly became clear that they were not as they first seemed. As Ryn and Ellis journey into the forest, they soon encounter a settlement full of villagers who view the Bone Houses in a different light, and through this the reader is also forced to reassess everything that they have learned about them.

The plot of The Bone Houses flows nicely and more than kept my attention throughout. Although its primary cast is very small, the novel still covered some very large themes. These included the bonds of family, the power of love and the importance of being able to let things go. The Bone Houses treated each of these themes with a lot of respect and never comes across as being overly saccharine. While the plot can be dialogue-heavy in places, this is always balanced with just the right amount of action to keep the reader on edge throughout.

The final act of The Bone Houses is where it becomes the most beautiful, exploring the protagonists’ feelings of personal loss while giving them both the closure that they need to let things go. The climax of their adventure is a little bittersweet but utterly compelling. Culminating a truly memorable ending in which both protagonists work together to save Colbren. The epilogue that follows nicely rounds up the story, tying off the loose threads and allowing the book to end on a very positive note.

In terms of characterisation, The Bone Houses is also amazing. Ryn and Ellis are both very different protagonists, flawed in different ways but totally relatable. Ryn is self-sufficient and strong willed, yet also stubborn and reluctant to accept change. Ellis is eloquent but physically frail, driven by a strong desire to discover who his biological parents were. The two of them form a strong team and I enjoyed the way that their friendship (and, eventually, attraction) blossomed over the course of the story. By the time The Bone Houses reached its climax, both had received full character arcs and a lot of personal growth.

The only small gripe that I had with the novel was that, beyond Ryn and Ellis, there aren’t really any other characters of note. Ryn’s family don’t make much of an impression as they only appear in a few chapters and the villainous lord of Colbren seemed to be all bark. He only seemed threatening in the opening chapters in order to add a sense of urgency to Ryn’s quest. After this, he virtually fades from the tale as he does not follow the protagonists once they leave Colbren. While we do learn a lot about these characters through Ryn’s narrative, it would have been nice if they had also been given a bigger role to play.

Sorry for the short review, but I think that I’ve probably said as much as I can without spoiling anything. The Bone Houses was a beautifully written novel, filled with emotion and imagination. It is certainly a book that I would recommend to all fantasy fans.

The Bone Houses is due for release on 31st October and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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