The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner
I would like to thank Lydia of Titan for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher – Titan
Published – Out Now
Price – 7.99 paperback
Made of dust and bone and imagination, Irreelle fears she’s not quite real. Only the finest magical thread tethers her to life – and to Miss Vesper. Bit for all her efforts to please her cruel creator, the thread is unravelling. Irreelle is forgetful as she gathers bone dust. She is slow returning from the dark passages beneath the cemetery. Worst of all, she is unmindful of her crooked bones.
When Irreelle makes one final, unforgiveable mistake by destroying a frightful creature just brought to life. Miss Vesper threatens to imagine her away once and for all. Defying her creator for the very first time, Irreelle flees to the underside if the graveyard, desperate to unearth the mysterious magic that breathes bones to life, even if it means she will return to dust and be no more.
Thinking about why I like horror is that I liked my fairy tales with bite to them. Wolves and witches, dark woods that’s the exciting part of a story and while there is peril it’s hard not to look. Over the last few years the gothic is back in YA with the likes of Victoria Schwab and Neil Gaiman telling more tales where the things that go bump in the night are unsettling but compelling. Hopefully creating the next generation of horror fans too! Heather Kassner in The Bone Garden constructs a tale of a mystery, dark magic and then brings it all to life with a touch of writing magic.
The story centres around Irreelle who we first meet taking bone dust from a skeleton. She works for the mysterious but ever young Miss Vesper in a dark house near a graveyard. But Irreelle is not a true human – Miss Vesper made her of bones and magic, and she must do her bidding; but magical creatures like Vesper are prone to weakening and mistakes so Miss Vesper decides Irreelle has gone far enough after an accident and prepares to set fire to her. Irreelle flees the house but then finds herself in tunnels; fighting shadow creatures and meeting others who share her secrets. Together they may be the only ones able to untangle the mystery of Miss Vesper before Irreelle loses everything.
I think full marks to Kassner must go for what is a very unique story; I was not sure what to expect from this story at all. Was it a dark Pinocchio spin-off? Was Irreelle actually human not bone? The plot keeps us guessing and then it becomes a very compelling mystery that Irreelle and her new companions need to solve against the clock. The key I think to why I enjoyed this was Kassner’s use of language to convey I hushed tones this world of black and white imagery taking place in the dead of night. Throw in graves; inscriptions and in Miss Vesper quite a complex antagonist who has her reasons for her cruelty but at the same time is truly horrible to listen to threaten the young children. It’s an engrossing story and weaves you magically into the world and this world feels quite unique with magic everywhere – be it the graves; Miss Vesper’s servants or her magical creatures like bats or fireflies.
The two areas I think that slightly drew me out of the tale were firstly that for a book at effectively takes its main plot over a day the pace feels quite slow. Kassner sees to have adopted a quiet; reserved tone suiting the weird mystery, but it can take a while even for an action scene to unfurl. But the book does have some delicious jump scares as chapter endings and in a bopok that harder to imagine than you’d think!! I think related to this niggle is that I’d have loved more interactions between Irreelle and the people she meets so that I got a better sense of what type of characters they were. Some felt like they could have been drawn out more just to give a better sense of who all these people are as they discover they can be more than servants. Possibly something to explore in another tale?
Despite this it is quite a well told story and I liked that the ending feels hopeful; rather than a battle to save the world – the stakes are here personal not earth shattering and feels earned. That works well for the tone of the overall story. If you enjoy tales like The Graveyard book or Tunnel of Bones, then this would be a good addition to your gentle tales of the macabre and I will be very interested to see what Kassner brings to a dark night next time.