Welcome to another review as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.
This review is for Your Blood and Bones by J. Patricia Anderson and is a semi-finalist allocated to Team Jamreads for review.
Kill the monsters when they’re found.
No matter who they used to be.
The girl with secret feathers in her skin and strange bones jutting out beneath her clothes is resigned to her fate. Her deformities mark her a monster and the stories say monsters must die.
When her family finds out and turns on her, a village boy saves her and leads her on a frantic escape. The girl believes her death has merely been delayed—until he mentions a cure.
With the world against them and the monstrous change progressing, they must cross water, forest, and field to chase the rumor that fuels their desperate hope. But is hope enough to keep them going?
Who are the real monsters? That’s the question this fantasy horror hybrid asks when two young cursed folk with a monstrous transformation are forced to flee their home. Can they find a cure? Or are they doomed to succumb to their body horrors?
This is the story of a girl and a boy. They grew up in the same village, where children are taught scary stories about monsters. The girl, however, is hiding a secret from her family – she’s one of those monsters! Black crow feathers are beginning to grow underneath her skin. When these are discovered, her own family turn on her, for the only cure for a monster is death. But before the village can mob her, in comes the boy, another monster hiding his secret. He whisks her away, and that begins an escape through a forest and then across the sea in search for the one shred of hope he possesses – rumour of an actual cure.
During this adventure, the girl and boy learn to depend on each other as they scramble for their survival against the elements, against ignorant fools that want to kill them, and against their own monstrous powers manifesting. They’re able to pull parts of their feathers, bones, and blood out to use for dark magic, but neither of them wish to use this power except in dire emergencies. They’re not monsters, but monsters are what they’re doomed to become.
Being a folklore-like story, the setting is medieval. We start in a village in a island that leads to an escape through a forest, a daring cross over the sea on a raft made of literal dead bodies, and then more ventures through the forest. Each of these settings are wonderfully brought to life and really show the feeling of camping and desperation throughout their escape and hike. I felt like I was there with these characters, huddled against a campfire for warmth as creatures scurried about.
The girl and the boy have escaped their village and now seek a cure for their monstrous ailment. As they travel for the commune that could save them, their transformation seems to quicken. If you’re not a fan of body horror or you’re squeamish when it comes to blood and gore, then you may want to take heed! The girl and boy’s transformation comes with gross detail. I enjoy dark fantasy, so it didn’t faze me too much, but yikes, some of the description made me cringe by how painful they sounded! It made their suffering and the horror of their transformation all too real. There are parallels to chronic pain here, and how the characters must learn to live with it.
This is a dark fantasy, so there are a few twists and turns, and the story surprised me by heading in a direction I didn’t expect but welcomed. It’s grim, and the author doesn’t take an easy way out. She makes these poor characters suffer all the way.
This story is written in a lyrical way that mimics folklore of old. It has a fairy tale layer of charm. Of course, like traditional fairy tales, it has a dark side.
While I really appreciated the lyrical way this story was presented, it did have a few issues that my fellow judge also struggled with. Mostly, that none of the characters were named, and so the girl and boy were referred that way through the entirety of the book. This presented two problems that I stumbled over. The first is that when no characters are named, it can be confusing when multiple characters are described in a single scene. Secondly, I spent half of the book believing the girl and boy to be young children, only to learn much later when they begin a relationship that they were in fact older teens. This did jar me out of the story, though fortunately it was easy enough to get straight back in.
Despite these niggles, I enjoyed Your Blood and Bones and the journey these two souls went through. The ending hit me in the gut. I don’t normally get emotional with books, because I’m cold hearted obviously, but this one hit me in the feels and left a mark on my heart. So to that I say bravo!
Cover Art and Formatting
The cover for Your Blood and Bones is actual art. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and suits the story perfectly. Definitely one of my favourites in this competition.