The Secrets of Blood and Bone: Interesting magic in this contemporary fantasy

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Secrets of Blood and Bone by Rebecca AlexanderThe Secrets of Blood and Bone by Rebecca Alexander

The Secrets of Blood and Bone is the second book in Rebecca Alexander’s JACKDAW HAMMOND fantasy series. I haven’t read the first book, The Secrets of Life and Death, yet but I found I could follow events in this book with little trouble. There may be some mild spoilers for the first book in this review.

I got interested in this book when I read Alexander’s post on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog, where she talked about making Edward Kelley a major character. Edward Kelley, a sometime colleague of Elizabethan-era philosopher John Dee, is… well, an historical, over the top, “real character.” I’ve never made up my mind whether he was a) a gold-grubbing con man; b) a complete whack-job; or c) both. Armstrong chooses to make him reluctantly heroic, but she leans slightly toward “con man,” at least in the sense that Kelley never hesitates to lie when it serves his purpose.

Kelley is not the main character here, though. Jackdaw, who goes by “Jack,” and her ward Sadie are our protagonists. Jack is a revenant; nearly undead, a person living on “borrowed time.” Herbs and magical sigils sustain her (and Sadie, who has also been turned into a revenant) but in the first book, Jack tasted human blood, and that has changed her, giving her strength and vitality and bringing with it some disturbing impulses. Their academic friend Felix is exploring the culture of the revenants to see if there is some lasting cure. Meanwhile, Jack and Sadie have moved to the English countryside to solve the murder of a country witch and restore her cottage and her magical garden. Soon they are accosted by the local aristocratic family, who demand a potion that the former occupant used to make, and Jack recognizes revenant behavior and something more savage in the family.

In sixteenth century Venice, Edward Kelley pursues a strange tablet with writing that is important to the British nobility who hired him (the same family that is threatening Jack and Sadie). Kelley also meets up again with a revenant monster, the countess Elizabeth Bathory, who, it transpires, was Jack’s adversary in the first book.

Kelley’s chapters are short and, as The Secrets of Blood and Bone progresses, filled with action. Kelley feels a sense of guilt over his role in helping to create the vampiric Bathory, and it’s plain that his quest in the 1500s has echoes in the battle Jack and Sadie are fighting. In the present-tense storyline, things start slow but build to real suspense, with one detour while Felix goes to New Orleans and then flies to France to gather information about revenants. Most of this is setting up for the next book, but while it was well-written, the strangeness and sense of otherness felt forced, rather than evolving naturally from the story the way the Bee Cottage sections did.

I loved Bee Cottage’s garden. I won’t go so far as to say it’s my favorite character, but darn, it was close. It is a magical garden and plays a valuable role in the story. It also has its own motivations, which means it’s not always friendly, even to the good guys.

I liked the revelation of Jack’s magical ability to communicate with animals. This is not a story about magical talking animals; Jack’s connection is different and I love how Alexander chose to do this. Generally, throughout the book, Alexander puts neat twists on traditional, conventional European magic and folktales, and I enjoyed that.

The Secrets of Blood and Bones gives us two scary and atmospheric chase scenes, one in the past and one in the present. Then it rushes to a cliffhanger ending, which I found awkward. Still, I’m captivated by this story. I will read the first book, and I’m waiting for the third, to discover how this group of magical people escape the curse of immortal blood-drinkers.

Publication Date: September 1, 2015. In the stunning follow up to The Secrets of Life and Death, Rebecca Alexander has created a gripping supernatural thriller that bridges time, legend and the power of blood. Following her showdown with Elizabeth Bathory, Jackdaw Hammond is running from her past, hiding from her future, and hoping to contain her newfound thirst for blood. Buying an overgrown home in the middle of nowhere seems like the perfect place to escape…at least until she finds herself in the sights of a murderous family with a terrible secret and a penchant for dark magic. Meanwhile, her old ally Felix Guichard has gone to New Orleans to conduct his own investigation into the nature of blood magic, but is soon sucked into the intrigues of the city’s occult underworld. But Jack will need Felix more than she knows, for the battle for her soul is set to begin. Her only salvation may lie with the secrets of 16th century master occultist Edward Kelley, and a dangerous mission he undertook in Venice to confront the Inquisition, the darkest deeds of his own past, and the fearsome power of Elizabeth Bathory.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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3 comments

  1. I admire how it doesn’t bother you to start with book 2. I can’t do it. I always have this sense that I’m missing something and I, therefore, have a hard time getting absorbed in the story. And then I think I’m not getting absorbed because I missed something in book 1 when it’s probably just that I’m thinking I missed something. That probably doesn’t make sense…

    • That makes perfect sense to me! If I can’t start with Book One, I just won’t start. Marion, though, she plays by her own rules, and I think that’s amazing. :)

    • With some series it is not possible. This one, though, does have a complete story that wraps up (even with the cliffhanger) in Book Two.

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