A gravedigger, a mapmaker and a fiercely protective dead goat go on a dangerous quest to save the(ir) world.
In the small, remote village of Colbren, seventeen-year-old Ryn is a gravedigger, her profession by blood and by heart. She raises her younger siblings with the proceeds from it: their mother is dead, their father presumed such after disappearing on a mission to the depths of a mine hidden within the dark, foreboding forest that surrounds their village. Once upon a time the fae lived there, and now and then a bone house – a risen skeleton – walks away from the woods into the village outskirts, and Ryn takes care of it too.
But now the bone houses seem to be appearing more frequently and what good is a gravedigger that can’t keep the dead at bay? Ryn is determined to find an answer for where the bone houses are coming from and with help from Ellis, an itinerant mapmaker who recently arrived in her village, she goes into the mountain. They may never come back.
And Ryn’s dead goat follows them whenever they go.
A story within a story, with elements from Welsh folklore, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones is lovely.
There are the dangerous risen dead yes, and horrors too sad to relate alongside the adventures of Ryn, Ellis and Goat but The Bone Houses is above all, a gentle, romantic story about family, protectiveness and love. Ryn’s dedication to her family and to the truth are two sides of the same coin and beautifully written. Ellis – who shares an alternating narrative with Ryn – is an equally well-developed character: from his childhood as an orphan, growing up with a love for maps and knowledge, he is a soft, quiet young man who falls in love with the fierce, abrasive Ryn, for all that she is. Ellis has chronic pain which is just a part of his characterization, intrinsic to who he is without becoming all that he is. I found this element – one I rarely read in novels – to be especially skillfully portrayed.
I am admittedly reviewing this for Halloween but the novel is less scary than it is lovely, less horror than it is adventure, and your life will be richer for it, regardless of when you read it, Halloween or no. It reminded me of the books by Franny Billingsley (Chime comes to mind) and Diana Wynne-Jones and in my mind, there is no bigger compliment than that.