Saturday, 13 February 2021

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Review: All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter

All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter

All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter


Published: 9th March 2021 | Publisher: Titan Books | Source: NetGalley
A. G. Slatter's Website

'My mother was a witch and she left me behind...'

Miren O'Malley was orphaned as a young child and brought up by her grandparents on their isolated, rambling estate, Hob's Hallow. Long ago her family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their merchant ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and their fortunes have suffered as a result. When Miren's grandfather dies, her grandmother plans to restore their glory - but at the price of Miren's freedom.

All the Murmuring Bones is an irresistible tale of family secrets, dark mysteries, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea. A spellbinding story about strong women and the men who seek to control them.

For readers of Naomi Novik and Katherine Arden.
The StoryGraph

I received this eProof for free from Titan Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.


All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter sounded absolutely right up my street! A dark and gothic original fairy tale? Featuring mythological water creatures, especially merfolk? Exactly my cup of tea! Unfortunately, All the Murmuring Bones was a crushing disappointment.

First of all, the description had me thinking that Miran's grandmother was going to try and sacrifice her to the mer, despite being an adult. This is not the case. Instead, she tries to force her into a marriage with a rich and abusive cousin. This is, of course, terrible, but considering it's a historical fantasy, it's not exactly surprising. It turns out that Miren actually knows of the sacrifice made to the sea of a child each generation. This isn't some dark family secret; while no-one else knows, it's common knowledge in the family. But she definitely doesn't want to be sold against her will to a violent man, so she runs.

And that is pretty much the story for the first three quarters. Once Miren is on the run, she spends chapters and chapters trying to get somewhere called Blackwater, a place no-one seems to have heard of, where the only directions are North, more or less. And very little of any real import happens for so long. That's not to say nothing happens. There are instances of potantial danger along the way, but I failed to see the point. The did not further the story; they were not important to the plot. Take them out, and the story would not be effected. These kinds of things are meant to be removed during editing - if it's not important to the story, it doesn't need to be there. But without these instances - of which there were maybe three - we would literally have just chapters and chapters of Miren travelling with absolutely nothing happening. So while, yes, we have ghosts, and rusalki, and an automaton with maybe a soul trapped inside (the latter of which I was very intrigued by and thought would probably have a point), none of it really matters, except one as a convenient plot device. And each of these moments is so incredibly short, it barely breaks up the monotony of Miren's travelling and being stuck in her head.

Because a lot of the story is Miren thinking, and she is so very annoying. And I personally feel she wasn't written very well. She is melodramatic and desperate, but in a way that had me constatly rolling my eyes. The situation she finds herself in is terrible, and I should care; her reactions, her emotions should have me feeling for her. I should feel sympathy, concern, worry, but she is written in such a way, that I just wanted her to give ti a rest. She is thinking, all the time, constantly asking herself questions. But it's literally question after questions; there's no, "I consider..." or "I wonder..." or even "I think about..." It's just an excessive amount of questions. The same questions are repeated, as are other thoughts and ideas. Over and over. It's just monotonous. Honestly, the only reason I kept reading is because the story was quite a quick read, so I got through good chunks of it in short spaces of time.

The story finally picks up around the last quarter. Things finally get moving, and the real mystery of the story is discovered. My interest was piqued. But while things started to get interesting, Miren ends up figuring things out with the barest evidence. She's back to thinking again, asking herself questions, and deciding what she believed to be the truth - and being right - with nothing pointing in that direction. It was just ridiculous.

I did like the various fairy tales that Miren tells herself, memorised from a family book, of various water creatures. They were quite short, though, and I would have preferred them to be longer. But again, for the most part, they weren't really necessary to the story. Most of them could have been removed. It's through the stories she tells herself that we find most of the mythological water creatures in this book. It's not really about them; not even the mer play a huge part of the story. The story is Miren escaping and finding out a family secret. The mer are there because of a pact made long ago. That's it. It was reading the author's note though, that finally made things fall into place. All the stories told, plus other aspects of the story that didn't really amount to anything, plot-wise, are stories Slatter has had published in short story collections. All the Murmuring Bones is a novel set in the world of two of her short story collections. These elements weren't needed, but were included anyway, because All the Murmuring Bones is a vanity project. This monotonous story where nothing really happens for a lot of the time was written to give Slatter's short stories more meaning. I personally think it failed.

All the Murmuring Bones just didn't really work for me at all. I really didn't enjoy it. But just because I didn't, doesn't mean you won't. Do read some other reviews before deciding whether or not you'll read it yourself.

Thank you to Titan Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

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