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“The forest did not scare her; rather, she wanted to be like it: ageless and impervious, cruel and beautiful. Death could not touch it,” Aderyn. – The Bone Houses
The Bone Houses
by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Deep in the mountains lies Annvyn, a land once populated by fairy folk and filled with magic. Hundreds of years ago, Arawn, the king of the Otherfolk, was betrayed by humankind. The Otherfolk abandoned their stronghold at Castell Sidi, but they left dangerous magic behind.
Ryn is proud to be the gravedigger of the village of Colbren, just like her father before her. But her job is becoming harder as the dead keep coming back as sinister magical creatures known as bone houses. Ellis is an apprentice mapmaker searching for his long-lost family. Together they must travel into the heart of Annvyn to seek the answers to both of their issues.
The Bone Houses focuses heavily on the bone houses. These magically reanimated human corpses are essential to the plot and are often described in great detail both in and out of battle. These descriptions have the potential to scare younger readers and, as they often include gory details about the human body, should be approached with caution by readers with weaker stomachs.
The Bone Houses is a fast-paced, Polish-inspired fantasy with a uniquely post-magical setting. The quest-based plot keeps the story moving forward, with quieter world-building and character moments balanced out by exciting, fast-paced battles. Strong, fierce Aderyn and gentle, intelligent Ellis make such a good team that readers will find it easy to root for them to succeed, both on their quest and as a couple. It is easy to get lost in the mysterious allure of Annyvn, which Lloyd-Jones describes beautifully. The story certainly has a darker edge to it, exploring the unintended consequences that magic can have, even when controlled by the most well-meaning of people.
- Ellis asks Ryn if the innkeeper is “trying to find [her] a spouse.”
- After a conversation with a young boy, Ellis tells Ryn, “I’m pretty sure he thinks we’re having an illicit romance and your family disapproves of me.”
- Ellis describes Ryn. “The firelight burnished her red-brown hair to a blazing crimson, and something about the angle of her chin and jaw made his heart clench painfully.”
- When Ryn smiles at Ellis he experiences a feeling “like the times he slipped on a patch of ice or a slick rock—weightlessness in his belly and anticipation of the fall.”
- Ellis gets embarrassed when Ryn strips to bathe in a creek. When he turns to give her privacy, she says, “I’m not naked. There’s cloth covering all the relevant bits.”
- Ryn asks if Ellis is “not one for the ladies?” She then tells him, “If you prefer the lads that’s fine.”
- Ellis covers Ryn with his cloak as she sleeps, describing it as “A moment of sentimentality that he could ill afford. . . But he would allow himself this foolishness, if only because no one else would see it.”
- After Ryn is attacked by a bone house, she and Ellis have a moment. “He wanted to kiss her. He felt half sick with yearning. . . It was her surety, her fierce sense of purpose; he wanted to draw it into himself. Her eyes were steady on his, and she did not pull away.” They do not kiss.
- Ryn contemplates her growing feelings for Ellis. “She wasn’t sure when she’d begun to regard him as hers. Her friend, her ally, and one of those few people she wanted to keep safe. And if she liked the way his dark hair fell across his eye or how his voice rasped when he said her name—well. That was beside the point.”
- When Ellis saves Ryn from drowning, she “wanted to throw her arms around him, hold on until she was sure they were both alright, until she’d worked up the nerve to press her face into the hollow of his shoulder.”
- When Ryn looks at him, Ellis says he can feel her gaze “like being pierced through: the sharpest, sweetest pain he could imagine,” and describes her as “truly lovely.”
- Ellis says that he “wanted to touch the hollow of [Ryn’s] throat, feel her heart beating beneath his fingertips. He wanted to push the hair behind her ears and kiss the freckles scattered across her shoulders. He wanted to tell her that he wouldn’t leave—not like the others.”
- Ryn and Ellis finally discuss their feelings for one another and Ryn kisses Ellis, “with a determined ferocity.” Their conversation is about three pages long, and the description of the actual kiss lasts for about a page.
- Ryn encounters a bone house and grapples with it. “The woman staggered, reaching out for Ryn. Ryn ducked back, but the woman’s brittle fingers caught her on the shoulder. She felt the rake of nails, the fingers stiffen in death. Ryn tore the axe free, and there was another nauseating wrenching sound, like tissues being torn apart. The dead woman fell to the ground.”
- While sleeping in the woods, Ellis is attacked by a bone house. “[Ellis] reached for the only weapon he possessed: a walking stick. He jabbed it toward the man, trying to hit him around the shoulders and head. But it was little use.”
- Ceri, Ryn’s younger sister, jokingly suggests getting rid of someone with, “a few poisonous berries slipped into a jar of blackberry preserves.”
- Ryn and Ellis are attacked by three armed bone houses that were soldiers before they died. Ryn “threw the axe. It flung wildly through the air, and only its handle hit the bone house in the chest. The chain mail slowed the blow but could not halt it. Ryn rushed the creature, seizing her axe from the ground and aiming another blow at the bone house’s unprotected throat. Its head dropped to the undergrowth.” The fight is described over four pages.
- A villager is killed by a bone house. The villager “did not beg. Nor did he raise an arm to defend himself when the bone house brought the sword down across his throat.”
- A large number of bone houses attack the village. “Distantly [Ellis] heard the sounds of shouting and the clash of metal upon metal. The bone houses weren’t only attacking the house. They must be everywhere.” Preparations for the battle and the fight itself are described over about eight pages.
- Ryn’s younger sister is attacked by the bone house of their uncle. “This bone house stank of rotted flesh, and his white hair trailed from his skull. He did not speak, but a terrible noise emanated from his chest—a rusty groan. His fingers were blackened with rot, and they were tangled in Ceridwen’s hair. And in his other hand was a dirty knife.”
- Ryn’s family owns an overprotective goat, who attacks several bone houses. She uses “her horns gouging one’s hip.” She is ultimately outnumbered and killed.
- An incident from Ellis’s past is described in which a girl “kicked him to the ground and kept him there with a foot on his left shoulder.” Ellis suffers from an injury to that shoulder that never properly healed and causes him great pain.
- Ryn leaves her brother with instructions to “brain” the Lord in charge of their village if he tries to send them to a workhouse.
- Ryn and Ellis discover a community of people living with the bone houses of their dead relatives. When one of the residents finds out about their quest, she attacks Ryn. “Aderyn was on her back, legs kicking wildly as Catrin pressed her to the floor. The woman’s hands were on Aderyn’s shoulders, gripping with bruising force, and she was saying, “—can’t, you can’t—,” as if this were a conversation.”
- As they pass through the mine, Ryn and Ellis are attacked by bone houses, and Ellis is pulled underwater. Ellis “tried to push himself upright, but something hung to him tightly. He struck out at the thing, bubbles emerging from his lips. He blinked and the water stung his eyes, but there was nothing to see, nothing to hear. His elbow connected with something hard and he felt it give, snapping beneath the blow.” The fight is described for six pages.
- While crossing the Llyn Mawr, a large enchanted lake, Ryn and Ellis are attacked by a creature called an Alfac. “It had small scales that glittered in the sunlight like small opals. Its teeth were sharp as daggers, angled inward. Meant for ripping and tearing.” The creature capsizes their boat and pulls Ryn under. “[Ryn] touched a stone that seemed larger than the rest. Her fingers curled around its rough exterior, and before she could hesitate, she drove the rock into one of the fancy’s golden eyes.” The description of the fight lasts for three pages.
- A group of bone houses emerge from the lake and attack Ryn and Ellis. “The bone houses dragged Ellis through the door and into the courtyard. One of his hands seized the frame, fingers straining, but then he was jerked free. He vanished into the darkness.” The fight is described over ten pages.
- Ryn and Ellis discover the bone house of Ellis’s mother, who attacks Ryn. “Ellis knew that sound would follow him into his nightmares—the resounding crack of the cauldron striking Ryn, and then the thud of her body hitting the floor. She was so still that she might have been dead. And for one terrible heartbeat, he thought she was. Then her fingers twitched and she made this noise. A whimper in the back of his throat.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Hywel, one of the villagers in Colbern, suggests he and Ryn “stop by the Red Mare” for a drink.
- Ryn describes her uncle as having been “soused” when he died.
- Ryn gives Ellis feverfew to help with the pain in his shoulder. He jokingly asks if she is planning to keep him “in a slightly drugged state of good cheer.”
- Ryn and Ellis find an old bottle of wine and get drunk. “The liquid was thick in [Ellis’s] mouth. He swallowed hastily, but even in its absence the wine lingered on his tongue. It tasted of burnt honey and orange rinds. Warmth bloomed in his chest.”
- Both “Bloody” and “Fallen Kings” are used as curses a few times.
- Ellis describes Ryn’s uncle as an “ass.”
- As a child, Ryn encounters a bone house for the first time. “She had seen bodies before, but they were always gently wrapped in clean clothes and then lowered into the ground. They were peaceful. This thing moved slowly under the weight of armor, and a sword jutted from its belt. And it stank.”
- While keeping watch for bone houses, Ryn describes the night as “dark enough for magic.”
- After Ryn saves Ellis from a bone house, she asks if he “[spoke] the name of the Otherking three times” or “dabbled in magic.”
- Ellis is surprised to see an iron gate surrounding the village of Colbren, to which Ryn replies, “Cities took down their iron protection when the Otherfolk left. But you’ll find us countryfolk a little more wary.”
- Ryn recalls a story her mother told her about how Colbren came to be protected by the fairies. “One day, a woman had ventured into the mountain forests with a basket of her finest wares. She carried golden churned butter, and fresh loaves of bread studded with dried fruits, and apples that tasted of autumn sunlight. . . If you let us be, she said, we will bring offerings again.”
- Ryn describes Annvyn, the destination she and Ellis seek, as “The land of the Otherfolk. The birthplace of monsters, of magic, and where Arawn used to rule.”
- Chapter six consists of Ryn telling Ellis several stories about Annvyn. “It was the king of the Otherfolk, Arwan, who made his home there. Castell Sidi, a fortress of granite and enchantment, rose up beside a clear mountain lake, the Llyn Mawr. It is said he brought magic with him—for he was immortal and lovely, and he could weave enchantments as easily as we spin wool. And where he went, other magical creatures followed.” She also describes how a magical artifact left behind in Castell Sidi caused the bone houses.
- Ryn asks Ellis to accompany her to Castell Sidi, saying “All of this began when the cauldron of rebirth was cracked. It must have made the magic go awry—I thought, if I could destroy the cauldron altogether, the magic would vanish.”
- The family goat comes back to life as a bone house. “For one moment, Ellis wondered if perhaps it had been asleep this whole time. But that couldn’t be—it had a gaping wound in its side. It had died. They had all heard it being killed.”
- Ryn and Ellis come upon a community where people are living with the bone houses of their deceased loved ones. Ryn discovers this fact when she meets the dead mother of their host. “She’d been dead long enough for her skin to stretch tight, for desiccation to set into the flesh, yet not long enough so that her hair had lost its shine. It had been recently brushed, and it was that detail that stuck in Ryn’s mind.”
- Ryn describes different stories she has heard about Annvyn. “How it was the otherworld, the Not-Place, where Arawn had ruled over his court at Castell Sidi, where red-eyed hounds caught game for their master, where men vanished for a decade only to reappear not a day older.”
- Ryn is visited by the bone house of her father who guides her to Castell Sidi. “They walked through the forest, dead man and living girl . . . They walked in silence—that was one thing Ryn had always liked about the dead. There was no need to talk.”
- Ryn and Ellis are attacked by the Alfan, an ancient lake creature that lives in the Llyn Mawr. “This creature was untouched by time and blades. It was a remnant of another age, and she could not kill it.”
- When Ryn breaks the cauldron the bone houses die. “[Ellis’s] mother sank to the floor; Ellis sought to keep her upright, his arms locked around her, but it was to no avail. His mother was fading, the magic slipping away. Her fingers traced his cheek, and then clattered to the floor.”
- Ryn says that she “retreated to the forest the way some people took refuge in chapels.”
- While thinking about her father’s disappearance, Ryn mentions that her family had no burial rituals without his body. “No draping of white cloth, no placement of fresh flowers, no building a mound of stones.”
- Ryn says that her father believed in “respect due to the dead,” and that’s why in the graveyard “the little rituals were always observed.”
by Evalyn Harper