Title: All the Murmuring Bones
Author: A. G. Slatter
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication date: March 9, 2021
Length: 337 pages
Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the Mer: safety for their 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 have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.
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.
The beautiful writing in this unusual book creates a spell that’s darkly magical yet feels frighteningly real. There are strong fantasy elements, but at its core, All the Murmuring Bones is the story of a young woman desperately seeking a way to break free from the burden of her family’s terrible, ancient bargains.
Miren O’Malley, at age eighteen, lives in the crumbling mansion of Hob’s Hollow located on a cliff overlooking the sea. Once, the O’Malley family was rich and powerful, but that was long ago. Now Miren lives in the decaying ruin with her elderly grandparents and two equally elderly servants. Miren has been raised on tales of mer folk and the people who bargain with them, but how much of that is just family lore?
When Miren’s grandfather dies, her grandmother wastes no time in arranging for Miren to marry a wealthy cousin — he’s not a “real” O’Malley of the original bloodline, but he’s still family, and he has reasons of his own for wanting the marriage. Miren, however, is horrified and wants only to break free. After further loss, the walls seem to be closing in, and Miren finally makes her escape, determined to find the parents who abandoned her so may years ago.
I won’t give away more of the plot, but suffice it to say that Miren’s flight from her angry, vengeful cousin is full of danger and wonder, and she meets strange allies along the way before finally reaching her destination. But even there, more dangers await, and there’s a mystery to unravel that further threatens Miren’s freedom and even her life.
I was, well, spell-bound by this intricate tale of bargains and magicks — the more so because it’s also a tale of family dynamics and manipulations. Miren herself is a terrific character, raised to be obedient, yet unable to just go along with the horrible future she’s being sacrificed to for the sake of the good of the O’Malley family.
There were some elements that I felt needed further explanation, and the drama that unfolds once Miren’s journey finally leads her to her destination isn’t entirely satisfying — but overall, I loved the overarching sense of wonder and dread that mingle together throughout the narrative. I picked up a copy of this book over a year ago — I’m glad I finally read it!