Okay, so I really did read this book – the whole thing – on Halloween. I was like, since I haven’t been doing much in October, let’s just take the day off. Get out the good chocolate and read a Halloween-appropriate novel! Or novella. My very rough estimate is that A House With Good Bones is about 70,000 words, so a long novella. Quite a few of the books I picked up at WFC were long novellas, and you know what is convenient to read when I’m busy? Right. Plus, I trust T Kingfisher to give me a good ending, definitely not a horrific or tragic ending. Which, spoiler, she did.
So, how about this story? Have you read this one? I liked it – I like (almost) everything by Ursula Vernon / T Kingfisher, so no surprise there. Not as much as many of her other books, but even so, I liked it. A House with Good Bones has a lot going for it, including –
The title. That’s a great title. It’s so great that I forgive it for not actually having a lot of buried bones under the house or inside the house or in fact anywhere.
An entomologist for the protagonist. This leads to paragraphs such as the following:
So if I wanted to go look up, say, the type specimen for Votox apicedentatus, the toothed earwig, I would have to trawl through all those photos until I actually saw it and hope that its label was still attached and legible in the photo, and also reckon with the fact that it would probably have been labeled Spongovotox apicedentatus because taxonomy is a harsh mistress.
This, naturally, made me laugh.
A young vulture as an important secondary character. I like vultures. I like social species in general and although I already liked vultures, now I like them more. Also, the scene of this one-winged vulture, Hermes, in flight with his other wing made of flame was the most visually wonderful moment in the entire story, even though Vernon/Kingfisher is good with visuals in general. (I hope you don’t mind this mild spoiler, which after all doesn’t give away anything about the plot.)
The protagonist’s mother. The protagonist, Samantha, was okay; the secondary characters were mostly okay; the antagonist was pretty neat; but the mother, Edith, absolutely stole the show. I loved her all the way through the story.
I also think this is interesting from a craft perspective. Why does Edith stand out for me compared to the actual protagonist and all the other secondary characters? I think some of the reasons are easy to spot. Edith is far (far) more multidimensional than any of the other secondary characters; that’s one reason. Also, she’s genuinely a nice person, genuinely self-sacrificing, genuinely overcoming her own fears to cope with a pretty difficult situation. Also, Samantha seems pretty dim for a long time. Edith knows (broadly) what’s going on, while Samantha sits there telling herself this can’t be happening for a really, really long time. I realize the reader has the advantage of knowing that this is a horror novella (horror-lite, don’t hesitate to pick it up even if you aren’t crazy about horror). The protagonist doesn’t have that advantage. Even so, wow, does she try hard to explain away things that are obviously not explicable. Also, I just didn’t particularly like her. I did like Edith.
The underground children. They may not work for everyone – in fact, I’m sure they don’t work for everyone – but I thought they were super creepy.
Things that didn’t work so well for me:
This is a really short book. It’s a long novella, but that means it’s still pretty short. This meant various plot elements didn’t get a lot of development. In particular –
I’ve never in my life seen a story come so close to including a romance only to cut that off short and not go there after all. I’m fine with stories that don’t include any romance (as you know). As it turns out, I’m less fine with it when a story ticks off multiple romance beats, but then stops short of actually including the romance. The ending left me blinking and thinking huh, that’s odd. This is not a great place to leave a reader. It’s also even stranger because after all Vernon knows perfectly well how romance beats work – she’s written those Paladin romances and whatever else. If she’s going to include the first half of the romance, why not go on and include the back half as well? Beats me. It sure makes the story feel incomplete.
1. For horror, The Twisted Ones is much better.
2. For romance, Paladin’s Strength is much better. This is my favorite of the Paladin series, but each of the Paladin stories is a much better romance because it is, you know, actually a complete romance rather than half a romance.
3. But sure, A House With Good Bones is a fun novella to read on Halloween, with the significant plus that a reasonably fast reader can read the whole thing in one evening.