Welcome to my stop on the Titan Books blog tour for All the Murmuring Bones! You may or may not know this about me, dear reader, but I am addicted to mermaids and I love Gothic fiction. So naturally when Titan contacted me about this book I jumped on it so fast. (Seriously, Titan does a fantastic job curating their recommendations to my interests, thank you Polly!) This debut explores themes central to Gothic horror and ultimately exposes the home as a source of horror for women in society.
About All the Murmuring Bones
Publisher: Titan Books | Release Date: March 9, 2021 | Pages: 368
Genre: Young/New Adult, Fantasy | Format: Paperback | Source: Publisher
A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.
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absent and emotionally distant parents, abuse, body horror, captivity, death, gore, incest, loss of a loved one, murder, obsession with blood purity, sacrifice, sexism, suicidal thoughts, violence
My Review of All the Murmuring Bones
All the Murmuring Bones truly is a “spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.” I adored this intensely feminist tale and watching fairy tales come to life in a way.
“Other families have stories of curses, cold lads and white ladies, but we have old gods, merfolk and monsters. I never doubted, when I was little, that these stories were true. Now, less a child, I’m not too sure.”
The story of the O’Malleys is shrouded in mystery: to the public, to the reader, to our main character Miren. I absolutely adored how the book opens with a “fairytale narrator” feel, talking about the rumors and half truths; about a once prosperous family and estate have fallen into decay and dwindling numbers. There is a lot woven together in this tapestry of worldbuilding, half-truths and outright lies, which can make for a confusing reading experience at first.
“It’s the name, you see, the name that carries value and no one’s ever thought twice about making the non-O’Malley’s feel bad about their lack.“
In true Gothic fiction fashion, All the Murmuring Bones deeply explores themes of purity and decay. The estate is in shambles as the O’Malley money dried up and their inexplicable luck wore out, and at the start of the book Miren and her grandmother are the only remaining O’Malleys in a once illustrious family.
“How many times can a line fold back on itself without bringing forth a monster?”
I know I mention this in my content warnings, but it bears mentioning here in the review: incest and blood purity are important to the plot and mentioned often. The incest is challenged/questioned by the narrative and Miren (not condoned in present but that’s how it has Always Been in the past), but it is brought up frequently because the only True O’Malleys are the ones within the tight family tree – think of it along the lines of a monarchy family tree.
“There’s an old woman, though, with plans and plots of long gestation; and there’s the sea, which will have her die, come hell or high water; and there are secrets and lies which never stay buried forever.”
Poor Miren is 18-years old and the fate of her family’s legacy seems to be thrust at her feet. Once her grandfather passes away, her grandmother Aoife becomes determined to restore the family’s past glory… by marriage and children. But the last thing she wants is to be married to a man, let alone the cruel one her grandmother has chosen. She wants her freedom and sets off on an adventure to reclaim some of her own past and set her own destiny, but things are never that easy.
“How can one run away when all the waters in the world are joined?“
I’ll admit that I struggled a bit with the first quarter of the book: there is a lot of lore and information floated around, sometimes as fact but mere anecdotes, and I found myself a little confused about what was going on and the direction of the story. This is very much a “Me Thing” and stylistic preference because I am a very analytical reader and like to understand things (pick apart) as I go. Once Miren sets off from Hob’s Head the plot picks up and all those threads start coming together. Typical of Gothic fiction, All the Murmuring Bones has a slow building start; however, for me I struggled not with the pacing but with how information is initially conveyed. That being said, I was engaged enough to stick with the book to see how everything will unfold, and not all books need to spoon-feed things to the reader.
“Like so many men, he takes good fortune for granted and only questions it when it is gone.“
Power, control, and authority are central themes explored in the book. For Miren and the female members of her family it is a lack of that power and autonomy over their own lives; but interestingly there was a time in the family’s past where women held the authority. (I do wish that had been explored a bit more, now that I think of it!) The book is intensely feminist and highlights the “invisible” work women put into running the home (and world) yet are taken for granted. It is no coincidence that the ones who have the actual power are women, but men claim the control.
“You claim what you can endure from your once-life and burn the rest.“
While I didn’t necessarily fall in love with any of the characters, there are some warm moments and I appreciate Miren’s development in how she reclaims things from her past that mean something and discard the rest. About processing and moving beyond trauma, and her case generational trauma.
“The water smells awful, not like the sea off Hob’s Head, which is clean and salty. This is contaminated by humanity; a greasy sheen lies across the brownish, brackish liquid.“
The book is pretty atmospheric in tone and does an excellent job of painting a picture for the reader. There are more monsters than of the human (male) and merfolk variety, though. On Miren’s travels she encounters some haunting creatures that made my skin crawl. The book itself isn’t necessarily horrific, but it has its moments of fright.
Overall I really enjoyed All the Murmuring Bones and once it really got going I had a difficulty putting it down. If this book sounds interesting to you and you give it a try but struggle a little with the start, try to give the book until 30% before DNFing it. Because the story that unfolds is truly magical, empowering, and beautiful.
Blog Tour Stops
Have you read All the Murmuring Bones yet, or do you plan to?
What are your favorite sea creature myths?