This is another book that I’ve fallen completely in love with due to it hitting so many of my niche interests. A tough gravedigger girl, a soft mapmaker boy who can never find his way, and their undead goat adventure through mountains and folklore to face the curse of risen corpses and long-hidden truths about themselves. It’s a story about folktales and magic and family and undead corpses.
First love: the setting. This book is set in a village within a forest where the people have let history die because they no longer believe in magic. The Welsh influences and folklore was the perfect choice for a horror/influenced novel as I’ve grown up near Wales and hearing about all the ghost hauntings and supernatural sightings and other assorted spooky stuff. It was wonderfully atmospheric: the remains of a once glorious kingdom, a small village haunted by the past, and decades-old curses lingering within the woods.
Second love: the folklore. I’ve had a fixation with local folklore since working on a uni project this year, and this book appealed to that niche interest. And Welsh folklore, too! I loved reading about tales that are already so close to my heart and I love that it’s getting well-done representation. I didn’t expect to love a story that is about (in summary) zombies so much. The author did such a wonderful job of showing them through the perspective of myths and legends, and also removed a lot of the horror element, creating something that felt like it could’ve held a role in a fairytale rather than a nightmare. And it’s exciting to see how well urban tales and folklore mix with the horror genre.
Third love: the characters. Ryn and Ellis complement each other well. Ryn is straightforward and stubborn and confident and so fiercely loyal to her siblings. She’s described as fearless, a girl who will chase death into the mountains with only an axe, and I love her for that. Ellis is sometimes overshadowed in action scenes as he’s not exactly a powerful character, but he has a strong emotional side, and his loneliness and loyalty and suffering do not make him weak. One small thing about this book that meant a lot to me is that Ellis has chronic pain in his shoulder, and it doesn’t disappear by the end of the book as some injuries tend to do in fantasy. The author talks about the toll it has on his body throughout the journey and, as someone with chronic pain, it’s wonderful to see a character who lives with it and can still have adventures.
I originally rated this book a full five stars (mostly due to it hitting my niche interests), but I lowered my rating to four stars after some thought. I found the last hundred pages or so a bit repetitive and predictable and more focused on the romance elements. But I am still very in love with the book. I’m looking forward to Emily Lloyd-Jones’ next book (The Drowned Woods) and I can see her becoming one of my favourite authors.
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 stars)