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Hills of Heather & Bone

by K. E. Andrews

 

 

The bones of the dead hold stories.

On the fringes of Errigal, Morana longs to exchange a life of hiding for a peaceful one with her husband, Percy. While Percy’s bloodgift lets him grow plants and heal broken bodies, Morana’s a boneweaver, despised and feared because she can hear bones and raise the dead. Morana doesn’t want to be seen as a villain from the old stories and instead spends her time gardening, writing the stories of the dead, and fending off a spiteful chicken.

Morana and Percy’s lives are shattered when a group of Failinis tasked with capturing boneweavers and rogue bloodgifted find them. On the run and battling the elements, ancient creatures, and the loss of all they called home, Morana and Percy search for any sanctuary left in Errigal. Morana must choose between the call in her blood or the family she holds so close to her heart if she and Percy are to survive.

Please be aware that this book contains some scenes of violence, death, depression, mentions of miscarriage, birthing scenes, suicidal thoughts, suicide, and cannibalism.


 John Mauro:

 “Death binds us, scars us, and frees us. It may be the end of things, but it has a way of bringing people together.”

Hills of Heather and Bone is the dark yet delicate SPFBO9 finalist by K.E. Andrews. The story revolves around a young married couple who possess magical powers over the living and the dead. Percy is a rootsower, gifted with the ability to grow and manipulate plants. His wife, Morana, is a boneweaver who can connect to the deceased through their skeletal remains and even raise them from the dead:

“Fresh deaths are always the strongest—the loudest, the most painful. Memories are more vivid in their final moments. The body remembers what the soul leaves behind.”

Boneweavers like Morana are misunderstood and feared by the general population. The couple’s peaceful life is upended when Morana’s abilities are discovered and they are forced to abandon their home and live a life on the run.

The world of Hills of Heather and Bone has a rustic cabincore feel inspired by the Scottish countryside. The novel also features one of my favorite animal sidekick characters: Morana’s cranky and judgmental pet chicken, the aptly named Morhenna.

The nature-based magic system created by K.E. Andrews is a perfect fit for the pastoral setting of the novel. Boneweavers and rootsowers are just two types of the so-called bloodgifted, who possess supernatural connections to the natural world. A few other categories of bloodgifted include: beastcharmers, who can speak with and control animals; earthcarvers, with the ability to move and shape the earth; fleshmenders, who can heal flesh; waterdancers, who can manipulate water; and windsingers, who can summon and shape the wind.

The core of Hills of Heather and Bone is the loving relationship between Morana and Percy. The maturity and genuine love expressed in their relationship, through both words and actions, is a welcome contrast to the shallowness of romantic entanglements found in many romance and romantasy books.

Morana and Percy share a healthy and positive relationship, but they also face many realistic problems:

“A fragment of a memory jolts through me, a baby held in roughened hands. Tears sting my eyes. Percy looks at me, his brow wrinkled with a question I don’t want to answer.”

Percy, whose full name is Percival, is such a cinnamon roll. His personality reminds me of Sir Percival, one of the Knights of the Round Table, who has a childlike innocence which protects him from worldly temptation. Morana and Percy also defy the usual physical representation of couples in romance books. The axe-wielding Morana is much taller and stronger than her delicate, scholarly husband, and she also suffers from chronic pain:

“My arthritis has been with me since I was five. I felt like an old woman shuffling around when the pain got bad, struggling to keep up with my siblings or walking the hills with the cows.”

I was already a fan of K.E. Andrews from reading her previous SPFBO8 semi-finalist, The Assassin of Grins and Secrets, but she has really leveled up with Hills of Heather and Bone. Her prose, told from Morana’s first-person perspective, recalls that of Sarah Chorn in its dark but eloquent beauty. Reading Hills of Heather and Bone feels like listening to a Midlake album with its charming melancholy.

Hills of Heather and Bone is also much darker than one might assume by its cover, featuring plenty of necromancy. There is even a reference to the Dripping Bucket, Michael R. Fletcher’s interdimensional grimdark tavern that has been embraced by a multitude of dark fantasy authors.

Hills of Heather and Bone also has strong mental health themes, including overcoming grief and depression:

“I wrap my arm around him and stroke his damp hair. His shoulders heave with quiet sobs. We cling to each other while the world continues to turn.”

Overall, Hills of Heather and Bone strikes the perfect balance between darkness and hope. K.E. Andrews has written a rustic gem of a novel, a deeply emotional story built around a realistic, loving couple who resonated deeply with me as a reader.


 

Whitney Reinhart:

I thoroughly enjoyed Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews. The deep, mature connection between Morana and Percy is supremely satisfying; without being sappy or gushy.. And I think that’s the real master stroke of this book for me. This couple has been and continues to go through “it,” never wavering in their commitment to each other and their relationship. Individually, they are remarkable; together they are remarkably whole. 

It is refreshing when an author chooses to tell a story through a less-than-perfect protagonist. Morana is beautifully wrought with all the infirmities and insecurities most of us carry around in our daily lives. Happy in her marriage to Percy, she can’t help but want to be a happiER family of three. Miscarriage of desperately wanted children leaves her with a grief she struggles to wrestle into place. The danger presented by Morana’s boneweaver gift forces the couple to move often, hiding from those who would either kill her or press her into service. The guilt she feels each time their lives are uprooted is palpable. It would be easy to believe Morana is a depressing heroine but this isn’t the case. Her resilience in the face of obstacles, whether those obstacles are physical, emotional, or mental is hopeful. She relies on Percy’s support and trusts in his love for her; even when she feels undeserving or that his life would be better without her. 

All that said, Percy isn’t merely a supporting cast member. He has his own problems. He simply deals with them in a different way than Morana does. She broods over the negatives; he focuses on the positives. She rides her emotions through the highest crests and deepest troughs. Percy plots his course carefully with equilibrium. She gives him space; he reigns her in. They are a study in balance. 

“Despair turns what’s supposed to be beautiful and wonderful into agonizing reminders of my inadequacies.”

Morana has spent her life hiding her ability to commune with and raise the dead, never risking the exploration of all the powerful possibilities. It’s simply too dangerous. The Failinis, a group of bloodgifted tasked with eliminating boneweavers, are always on the hunt and will stop at nothing to discharge their duty. In a final showdown, Morana reaches deep and discovers that her abilities may be more gift than curse. She knows loss. She knows grief. She knows anger. She knows the dead. She knows the stories trapped in bones. She knows it is time to tell those tales.

“What I do understand is its rage, a millennium of wrath stored where marrow should be. It’s a rage that echoes mine and is layered with a sense of loss I know all too well. I let it flood my veins until my blood is boiling with the ancient emotions.”

Stylistically, I feel Hills of Heather and Bone belongs on the shelves of readers who enjoyed T. Kingfisher’s Nettle & Bone. I found Andrews’ turn of phrase enchanting and often caught  myself thinking about some particularly beautiful or poignant tid-bit long after I’d turned the page. Andrews is a talented writer and I look forward to digging deeper into her works. I also think I might want a cantankerous chicken now. Just so I can name it Morhenna.





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