The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (arc)

Stars: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨

Disclaimer: The amazing humans at Hachette Book Group Canada were kind enough to send me an arc of The Bone Houses in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions below are my own.

“For all their freedoms, the children had one rule:
They were not to follow their father into the forest.”
“The children obeyed — at first.”

I am genuinely sad that this novel is a standalone, and yet, that is part of the reason I loved it. Emily Lloyd-Jones has written an amazing story that takes you along on the adventure then returns you with a feeling of completeness, but also a longing for more…

The Bone Houses is about Aderyn a.k.a. Ryn and her curious job as a gravedigger/bone house killer. Ryn lives in Colbren with her brother and sister. Their mother died when they were young, their father disappeared after being sent on a mission into the forest, and their uncle, who was supposed to take care of them, followed his love of drinking and gambling elsewhere and never came back.

“I grew up thinking monsters could be slain.”
“Ah, and I grew up thinking people were the monsters.”

The older people in Colbren know about the stories of the forest, the mountains, and the hidden castle with it’s magic and treasure. The young people don’t care as much though, and have stopped worrying about the protections around the city.

Ryn will never forget though. She has made it her mission to stop the bone houses that occasionally venture out of the forest. She kills them – can you kill something that is already dead? – and burns the bones so they can’t rise again. Oh, didn’t I mention? Bone houses are the skeletons of those who have already died. Fun… right?!

“This was the problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren.
Nothing stayed buried forever.”

One day, Ellis the mapmaker with no last name shows up in Colbren. This mysterious boy needs a guide into the mountains, but no one is crazy enough to go there since no one ever returns. Ellis is willing to pay a handsome amount though, and Ryn needs the money to save her house from the cruel Lord who runs her village.

She she agrees. And the adventure begins.

“We have the old tales in Caer Aberhen. I heard them, too.
I just never believe them — until a dead man tried to strangle me.”

This story was SO good. The weird thing is that it felt like it could be real. It felt like a story that you would hear from your grandparents or the village elder while sitting around the living room fire. Their warning to you about the forest next door. Emily Lloyd-Jones somehow made the dead rising sound… possible? Real? Like something we should be genuinely concerned about?

The Bone Houses is truly a story told by a storyteller.

“She was not one to be befuddled by a
beautiful boy and a few well-spoken words.

Ryn was a great character. She is well-written, and is relatable (other than killing bone houses, unless that’s something you do regularly?), family-oriented, and determined. She is also physically very strong which was pretty cool to see in a book. Yes, YA female heroines are always “strong characters” which is awesome, but this somehow felt different. Ryn is human. No magic whatsoever. But with her axe, she is practically unstoppable.

“‘Just don’t get yourself killed, all right?’
He began to walk away, but he called over his shoulder:
‘And if you do die, that’s still no excuse to be late for breakfast.'”

Ryn’s relationship with her brother and sister was so lovely. It truly has those “strong sibling bonds” vibe, and felt realistic and genuine. The way they fiercely love each other but also bicker about little things is so damn relatable!

Ellis was also a really great character. He is a mapmaker, which in and of itself is so damn cool, but he is also mysterious. He doesn’t share his last name with anyone, but is rather wealthy which is not normal for Colbren. Ellis is simply on a mission to create a map that no one has ever before, but… also maybe to discover some secrets about his past.

“First we fend off bone houses, and then we eat porridge?”

He also suffers from chronic pain from an old injury, and I like how that was portrayed. I do not have chronic pain so really my opinion on the matter doesn’t count, but Ellis does his best to hide his pain and simply go about his day which is what I expect many people with chronic pain do.

He also makes it clear that his pain does not make him weak or “less than”, but it also does not necessarily make him “strong for making it through the day.” It is just something he deals with and he does his best.

Now, I do not want to share any spoilers, but I have to say I really enjoyed where this story took us. I felt like I was there, and wow, it was good. The ending was brilliant. Emily Lloyd-Jones has a way with writing and foreshadowing, and I expect if I read it again, I will be screaming at how brilliant she is.

“Because names have power. Always have.”

I sort of wished the story had been just a teeny bit longer so certain parts could be a little more explained. This is a standalone, so you have to go into it knowing that you are not going to get the fleshed out story of a trilogy.

However, the fact that some things are not explained is part of the reason that it feels like the kind of story that a storyteller would tell you in person – which is also why I only sort of wish it was longer. It adds that mystery to it that grabs your attention, makes you sit on the edge of your seat, and listen closely.

“The forest did not scare her, rather, she wanted to be like it:
ageless and impervious, cruel and beautiful.
Death could not touch it.”

Also, the goat is hands down the best character. I swear to all the gods, a GOAT. He is perfect. Give me all the fan art of him please!

The Bone Houses is expected to be released on September 24, 2019, and you can bet your goat that you will want to pick this one up asap!

Note: All quotes above were taken from an advance reader’s edition of the book, and are subject to change in the final release.

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