All The Murmuring Bones is just the right kind of dark and Gothic fairy-tale for this time of year, a book to read whilst sitting inside watching the rain and listening to the wind just outside your window.
The story introduces readers to Miren O’Malley, a young woman who’s part of the ancient O’Malley family, a dynasty that has ruled over the estate of Hobs Hallow for generations, using their secret pact with the creatures that live deep in the sea to grant them good luck and vast wealth. But over the years the O’Malley family has become poorer and poorer, and Miren is the last true O’Malley to have been born. Whilst the extended family look on from positions of wealth and power, Miren and her grandparents fall further into debt and ruin.
When her grandfather dies Miren discovers that her grandmother, Aoife, has hatched a plot to regain the wealth and power that she was used to commanding in her youth, and plans to sell off Miren to her cousin Aiden. Being forced into a marriage she doesn’t want, with a man who seems cruel, Miren begins to hatch a plan to escape from things; but when she discovers that her parents are alive and well, living far away from Hobs Hallow, and her grandmother appears to be murdered, Miren is forced to fight for her very survival.
All The Murmuring Bones is a story steeped in atmosphere, set in a place where the supernatural and the wicked are a part of everyday life. Whether it’s the bloated and rotting wights who stalk the marshland between Hobs Hallow and the neighbouring town, or the vicious and scheming mermaids that are stalking Miren and want to cause her harm, it always feels like there’s something sinister hiding just out of sight. With so many of the human characters having their own schemes and plots, willing to hurt or kill to gain power and wealth, there’s not really much time to feel relaxed whilst reading the book; and readers are constantly on the lookout for the next threat coming Miren’s way.
Luckily, Miren is a very strong young woman, and makes for an interesting and engaging protagonist. Having been raised in Hobs Hallow by the scheming and sometimes cruel matriarch of the O’Malley family Miren might have grown up being bossed around, but she’s seen how a strong woman conducts herself, how she makes threats, how she gets what she wants, and Miren is a fast learner. Over the course of the book we get to see Miren change from an uncertain young woman into a powerful protagonist, one who’s not to me messed with.
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A. G. Slatter also manages to do a lot of world building in the book without it feeling like you’re being overwhelmed with information or masses of text. A lot of this is done naturally, as the story unfolds and we learn more about this world and the creatures that inhabit it; but she also includes fairy-tales that not only hint at the secret history of the O’Malley family, but build us a bigger picture of this place. Seeing the stories that people in this world have created, and tell their children, gives the readers a new kind of insight into that world that you just don’t get when being given bland, encyclopedic descriptions of things.
If you’re looking for a book with an interesting lead, with strong female characters who challenge the patriarchy and challenge corrupt men, for a world filled with magic and dark creatures, All The Murmuring Bones is an ideal read. I’d also advise, if at all possible, to read the book on a dark and rainy day at the coast for maximum effect, but I know that’s not the easiest thing, but definitely how I’m going to reread it.
All the Murmuring Bones is out on 8th April from Titan Books.