- Title: The Bone Houses
- Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
- Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Welsh folklore, Gothic
- Publication Date: September 2019
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Rating: 5/5 stars
Folkloric and atmospheric, The Bone Houses was one of the better books I’ve read this year. Drawing on Welsh mythology, The Bone Houses weaves together necromantic magic with ancient creatures and, of course, the walking dead.
The characters are decently strong, if not somewhat stereotypical, and the world building is moody, drawing you in like an old witch’s spell. What I loved was the writing itself: like an old woman’s tale by the fire or a father telling his children a goodnight story. The Bone Houses held me in a sort of trance, leaving me hungry to read more of Welsh folklore, which I’d never done before. With visions of the forest, filled with creatures (and not just the dead), I found myself both in love and in fear of the woods – much like Ryn, in a way, though she seemed more fearless.
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. 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 that draws them near?
Ryn reminded me somewhat of Sabriel from Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, with her serious outlook and fierce loyalty to family. Sabriel is one of my favorite fantasy characters, and certainly one of my favorite necromancers.
What I loved about Ryn was that she did what needed to be done, even if what she wanted was to have a moment to herself or to be free of responsibility, if only for a minute. But she had a family to care for, and she did what she could, including brandishing her axe and marching into the woods to take down the very creatures that threatened her village’s existence. She was a bit rash at times, though her behavior was forgivable, considering she is only seventeen.
Ellis, Ryn’s would-be noble companion is also a likable character: he deals with a chronic pain brought on by a mysterious injury sustained when he was four years old, but bears it best he can. And though he is no warrior and would rather draw maps and scout an area, he does what he can to help Ryn take down the bone houses and break whatever curse has infected the land. Ellis, like Ryn, is quietly fierce, with strong and unwavering morals guiding them.
A beautifully wrought book full of love, mystery, letting go and moving on, The Bone Houses is a folkloric, gothic fantasy that will leave you wanting more. I thought all ends were tied up well, and the book seems to be a standalone. I searched for a sequel or word of one, but found none. But the minute I hear a sequel is coming out, I’ll be preordering it! I’ll be hoarding Welsh mythology and folklore books in the meantime.