YA Weekend Audio: The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Hachette Audio (September 24, 2019)
Length: 9 hrs and 9 mins
Narrator: Moira Quirk
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this. The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones is perfectly suited for the fall season, blending horror and historical fiction elements to create something that’s fun, exciting, mysterious, and more than a little badass.
The story follows seventeen-year-old Aderyn—Ryn for short—who lives in the remote village of Colbren with her younger brother and sister at the edge of the woods. Their mother had died shortly after the disappearance of their father, who walked into the forest years ago on a job and never returned. To make ends meet, as well as to pay off the debts of her drunken uncle, Ryn works as a gravedigger for the town. However, with the recent spate of cases involving the rising dead, business has been significantly impacted, to say the least. The result is that our protagonist’s role has evolved into something of a hunter, patrolling among the trees after dark to clear of area of the reanimated dead, or bone houses, before gathering their remains to be burned.
But one night, Ryn ends up saving the life of a young mapmaker named Ellis, who has come to Colbren to map the nearby mountains for the prince. But Ellis also has his own personal reasons to be here. An orphan, he was found as a child wandering these woods alone before he was rescued and brought to the city to be raised. Fifteen years later, it is his hope to find some trace of his true parents, so he offers to hire Ryn to guide him through the treacherous wilderness. Desperate for work, Ryn sees this as a perfect opportunity to make some extra coin and agrees.
Unfortunately, before they can set off, Colbren is attacked by a horde of bone houses, leaving the town ruined and devastated. Something has changed the behavior of the dead, making them rise with more frequency and increasing their aggression. Legend tells of a mythical cauldron in the forest, said to be the source of magic that drives the bone houses. To save her village and her family and friends, Ryn decides to team up with Ellis, the two of them embarking on a dangerous quest to end the curse once and for all.
What I loved most about this book is that it felt like a haunted fairy tale. Because of this, I didn’t mind so much that the story itself was relatively predictable. Traditional folklore features strongly in the plot, and I enjoyed the fascinating mix of eeriness and magic. The ending twist also brought it all together in a way that was satisfying and emotionally significant.
And most of all, I loved Ryn and the dynamic she had with Ellis. That a romance would result between the two was not unexpected, but I was surprised at how well it was written. The two were first and foremost partners in their quest, establishing a relationship of trust and cooperation well before they realized their feelings for each other. It helped that they were both strong and independent characters. Ryn especially was a force to be reckoned with. She’s confident, clever and resourceful, able to stand toe-to-toe with everything from bone houses to nasty landlords without coming off as too catty or obnoxious. Dutiful, courageous Ellis was a good match for her, and I admired his tenacity as well as the dignified way he persevered through his chronic pain from an old shoulder injury. The best part was that Lloyd-Jones chose not to play up the romance, allowing the chemistry between Ryn and Ellis to develop naturally instead. The two of them were absolutely adorable, providing a warm little bubble of light in this dark and spooky tale.
And speaking of things light and adorable, there’s also a very special goat, but that’s all I’ll say on the topic. I think it’s best to let prospective readers discover that bit of awesomeness for themselves!
Bottom line, if you’re looking for something steeped in a magical, fairy-tale atmosphere that is also threaded with horror, The Bone Houses may be your answer. The mystery and suspense will keep you riveted, while the delightful team of Ryn and Ellis will have you cheering them on every step of the way. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced such enthusiasm for a YA novel, but this one is the real deal and I would highly recommend it.