Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

Book cover of Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher with a skeleton dog next to it.

If I had to sum up why I like Kingfisher and her books so much, it’s because she creates characters that I desperately want to know and be friends with in real life. And not just her human characters. All of the animals she brings to life are just perfect.  In her latest novel, Nettle & Bone, that includes a dog made only of bones and brought to life by magic, but who’s still just as dog as a dog can be.  (Oh, and there’s a demon-possessed chicken.)

As you might have guessed from that, Nettle & Bone is a fantasy story. Or to be more specific, a dark fairy tale.  Marra is a princess, sent to live in a convent as a backup should her sisters fail in their strategic marriages.  Her family rules a small but vital kingdom with an important port that neighboring kingdoms have long eyed.  To provide some protection, Marra’s eldest sister wed the prince of the northern kingdom.  Sadly, she died under mysterious circumstances.  The second daughter then replaced her sister as the prince’s wife.  She successfully gives birth, but to a daughter.  When Marra arrives in the castle for her niece’s christening, she makes a disturbing discovery.  Upon return to the convent, Marra realizes that she is the only person who can save her sister, and possibly her kingdom.

But she doesn’t know where to begin. “If we were men…” she thinks to herself.  However, as the powerless echo time and again:

            They were not and the history of the world was written in women’s wombs and women’s blood and she would never be allowed to change it.

            Rage shivered through her, a rage that seemed like it could topple the halls of heaven, then vanished under the knowledge of her own helplessness.  Rage was only useful if you were allowed to do anything with it.

As she is unable to transform into a dragon, it seems hopeless.  But then she realizes she could enlist the help of a dust-wife.  Dust-wives were women who lived by graveyards and worked with the dead, along with doing other general witchy things.  A dust-wife could give her the power to kill the prince.  Of course, it’s never as simple as just asking for help.  Marra must prove herself and on the way, she collects friends and allies, ready to challenge Prince Charming. 

Kingfisher creates amazing worlds and this one is no different.  The magic is fun and I love what she does with the idea of the fairy godmother.  The other two books of hers that I’ve read, The Hollow Places and The Twisted Ones, are more horror-ific (I’ll probably never forget her descriptions of the horrors of the Hollow Places), but even in those, her humor and her protagonists make you think you could handle it if they stay with you.  I’m thrilled to add Marra and her companions to that group. 

(CW: domestic abuse, miscarriage)

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All The Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter

All the Murmuring Bones with a shell, sea monster, and dolphin around it.

I’m a big fan of authors taking old epics and myths and retelling the with an emphasis on women characters (like Circe by Madeline Miller, The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec, and A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – I’ll be reviewing another of her books here soon!).  A.G. Slatter’s All The Murmuring Bones is a gothic fairy tale full of Celtic mythological creatures. Selkies, kelpies, wights, and more, roam the land-and sea-scape.

“One for the house, one for the church, and one for the sea.” So goes the creed for the O’Malley family.  Generations ago, the O’Malleys struck a deal with the merpeople.  The mer would protect the O’Malley family’s ships and fortunes at sea. In return, the O’Malleys would sacrifice a child each generation.  For a long time, the deal was beneficial to the family (even if not for those sacrificed) and the O’Malley clan grew in fortune, status, and power.  But the desire to keep that power in the family led to fewer births and fewer children for the sea.  Soon, ships began sinking and fortunes began shrinking. 

Enter young Miren O’Malley, the only child raised at the old family manor of Hob’s Hallow after her parents left her there with her grandparents. Determine to revive the family’s legacy, Miren’s grandmother has plans for Miren.  But Miren’s cleverness and independence is a strong match for her grandmother and she refuses to be a pawn.  There are whispers of another home where she might find some answers.  Yet the land is full of perils – as is the water. 

This was a really fun and fascinating tale.  I wasn’t that familiar with a lot of the mythology from this region, so I enjoyed learning more. Slatter did an excellent job of blending them in as part of every-day life for the people who lived there.  Ghouls are just another thing you need to avoid on the road, like a pothole.  The first born children of the O’Malley clan must be branded so the mer do not kill them.  A dead body might tell you how they died. Just the way life goes! In addition to the fairy tale we’re reading, Miren weaves in her own fairy tales and stories with which she grew up, so you get a lot of story for one book. 

I feel like this would be even better to read in the fall, curled up under a blanket, listening to the wind make skeletal branches dance outside your window, casting shadows upon your walls and tapping eerily on the panes. But regardless of when you decide to read it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy All the Murmuring Bones!

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All the Murmuring Bones