Review: The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

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“You speak of mapmaking as if there’s nobility in it.”

“There is,” he agreed. A moment, and then he added: “Just as there is in gravedigging. Neither occupation is particularly romantic, but I suspect the world would be a sorrier place without us.”

I had this book in my sights ever since it came out, part because of the disability rep, part because of the romance subplot. I don’t know what finally persuaded me to give it a go, but I’m so glad I did. I nearly read it all in one day and it was exactly what I wanted and needed it to be.

Ryn is a gravedigger. Ever since her father’s disappearance, she’s been the village gravedigger, taking care of the dead and protecting the village and her siblings from the undead (the titular bone houses) coming from the nearby forest with her axe. On one of her forays into the forest, she stumbles upon Ellis, a mapmaker dressed in fancy clothes who suffers from chronic pain in his shoulder. The plot is fairly predictable and at no point I was in any doubt where it’ll go next, but sometimes that’s what you need: comfort (weird to say of a book that deals with death and pain so much, perhaps, and yet). And like most YA, it’s a very fast read.

The worldbuilding is Welsh-inspired. Being unfamiliar with Welsh mythology, I’m unable to say much more on the topic, but I did like the take on the undead. I can’t say I like zombies, but as soon as magic is involved, I don’t mind much at all. I also liked the small scope – the story is entirely centered on one little village and saving that, rather than the whole world. 

But my favourite part was the romance. When it comes to m/f, I only ever like those rare romance subplots that don’t fall into traditional gender roles of a big, strong, protective man wanting to take care of the heroine. On this, The Bone Houses more than delivers. Ryn is the tough one and Ellis the quiet and kind one, and the whole friends to lovers dynamic was so, so sweet to watch unfold. I needed this. Maybe I’m just starved for romance because I haven’t been able to find anything I’d like in a while, but man, I needed this.

“That’s why I’ve enjoyed solitude. People think pain makes me weak – or worse, strong. If I have to endure one more person telling be that I’m ‘so strong’ simply for living…” He shook his head.

Ryn knew something of pain; she had seen enough of it. Death and pain were close companions, often twined around each other.

“Pain doesn’t make a person weak or strong,” she said. “Pain just –  is. It’s not a purifier, it’s a part of living.”

Another thing I loved is the disability rep. It’s so well done, and I think the above quote illustrates why. Ellis suffers from chronic pain in his shoulder from an old, badly healed injury. It affects his life and the things he can and cannot do, sometimes he has bad pain days, he requires medication, and best of all, it’s not magically healed in the end.

All in all, most highly recommended.

Enjoyment: 5/5
Execution: 4.5/5

Recommended to: fellow fans of romance that reverses traditional gender dynamics, those looking for good chronic pain rep, anyone in need of a spooky autumn read
Not recommended to: those who like suspense and excitement

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