Thursday, 8 October 2020

A Secret of Birds and Bone by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Catriona Troth

What We Thought Of It:

“Bone is impossible. It is the only material that could make such a thing. There are locks that need the strength of metal, the lightness of wood, the warmth of life and the cool of death. Only bone has all these qualities. So only a bone builder can make a skeleton key.”

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s spooky new adventure story is set in Siena, in an alternative past where bone builders can create whole rooms out of bone. Her heroine, Sofia, wakes up in a room with:

“... thin shafts of light flitting in from the slits in the ribcage shutters … a moon-white skull still warm from the night before was cupped over her feet … Over her head draped a canopy of gold-dipped toe bones in great, gilded wreaths.”

You might think from this that Sofia is like someone from The Addams Family or Hotel Transylvania. But apart from the fact that her mother is an ossuarist – a bone builder – she is in fact a very ordinary girl. That is, until the day she decided to break the rules and go into Siena with her little brother to see the Palio – the wild and dangerous horse race for which the city is famous. And there she stumbles on a dark, dark secret. Something which puts her mother in grave danger, and only Sofia can save her.

Perhaps fittingly for a book that has come out in autumn 2020, this is also a world that has been ravaged by a plague: in this case, smallpox. The city’s ruler has closeted herself in her Palazzo, mourning the death of her husband, and the disease has left many, many orphans.

I was a massive fan of Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase series when I was a child, this has book has much the same feel to it. A world that is almost ours but not quite. Cruelty exposed by brave children. The tiniest hint of magic.

A Secret of Birds and Bone is a fast-paced adventure set in a beautifully realised world that will be lapped up by young readers who enjoy a hint of spookiness in their stories. The perfect book to read on  Hallowe’en night, in lieu of potentially-cancelled Trick or Treating.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (etc) by Joan Aiken, The Girl of Ink and Stars (etc) by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Avoid If You Dislike: Skeletons. Birds (especially crows and magpies)

Perfect Accompaniment:
Fresh, clear, cold water

Genre: Children and YA (Middle Reader)

Buy This Book Here

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