Cover Image: The Bone Roots

The Bone Roots

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Member Reviews

Honestly surprised to enjoy the twist and reveals at the end as much as I did, but I feel so incredibly satisfied now that I've finished the book. I think this marks for me how solid Angry Robot is in their book choices. Solid 4-4.5/5

This is a story steeped in slavic folklore and I really appreciated the author's note at the beginning about her home of Poland and how much I could feel this story meant to her. My only wish is that we had a lovely illustrated edition with all the bastooks and domovoys (I've already pictured Baba Cmentarna quite more than I'd like to, thank you very much; she can remain unillustrated).

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Firstly I’d like to say how beautiful this cover is for this book and it’s what drew me in to read it.
Unfortunately I did struggle with this one, I just unfortunately wasn’t hooked. I still feel it’s a solid 3.5 stars. I read this one off reading an amazing book and that could have potentially played into me struggling to stay hooked.
The book is well written and I did find that the words flowed nicely. The book tells the tale of love and loss as well as the lengths of which a mother would go to, to protect her child. There is also plenty of mystery as well as Slavic folklore in it too.
The characters are fantastic and I love a strong female character which this had plenty. I felt that the characters had good depth to them and they were well written.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for an eARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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I will admit, going into this book I didn't expect it to be so heavily character-focused as opposed to plot focused. It was quite slow-paced, gaining more traction in the second half, but made it quite difficult to get sucked into.

It was extremely atmospheric, creating really great feel to the book with the immersion of Slavic folklore and culture. It took a little too long for the characters to come together, in my opinion, which I think needed to happen sooner for the story to have more grip and impact.

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The Bone Roots was not what I was expecting, but not in a bad way at all. It had a slower pacing than I'm used to, but I really enjoyed the story. Two mothers are trying their best to protect their daughters, and only one can succeed. Only one knows why. This is a story of deception, and what happens when you do everything in your power to keep family safe even as the world unravels around you. The Bone Roots is a retelling of a Slavic folk tale, sitting firmly in the fantasy genre.

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Thank you NetGalley for the eArc copy of this book.

I would like to start by saying that I went into this book with an open mind and no prior knowledge of what to expect. Other than how pretty the cover is.

The themes are around mothers love. Definitely one I will need to read again to enjoy it more. The first read involved a lot of stopping and starting and the history, folklore and the specific terminology took time to get my head around. It was still fun to read. Just not one to pick when you want a quick and easy read.

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Two ferocious mothers feature in this wonderful story by Gabriela Houston. She incorporates Slavic folk tales and legends in this tale of missing children, the costs of dark magics and bargains with goddesses.

Vedma Kada helps the people of her town by healing them of illnesses, delivering their babies, and keeping watch over the town’s borders to prevent the Fox from entering and stealing children. The townspeople are grateful to their vedma, though a little uncomfortable too, as she can deal with spirits. They are also unaware that their vedma has a dark secret. Years earlier, she had helped a noblewoman get a daughter. Kada petitioned the goddess Zemya for help, who granted Sladyana her wish: Sladyana could pluck a seed from a specific plant and this would develop into her child. Sladyana took the seed and raised Luba, till the girl was stolen away by the goddess’ agent, the Fox. Sladyana has been grieving and looking for her girl for years, even though she has also recently adopted a young mute girl, Tula, whom she loves dearly.

Meanwhile, we find out that Kada, in direct contravention of the goddess’ prohibition, took the other seed for herself, and raised her girl Secha. Secha is not quite human, as she was never destined to be one, though Kada knows there’s a loophole: if she can keep Secha secret till her sixteenth birthday, Secha will fully transition to a human, and the goddess, and the Fox, can no longer touch her. To keep Secha with her, and her secret safe, the Kada has travelled on from towns each time questions became too uncomfortable.

Things change when Kada's major client Gorcay proposes marriage, and she accepts. Secha's’ birthday is soon, and Kada feels Gorcay’s status will grant her extra protection from scrutiny. The unexpected happens though (or there would be no plot): Gorcay’s son returns home for the ceremony, and brings his current love, Sladyana, as his date. Getting the two women in proximity sets off a series of actions, while various other beings who are part of the goddess Zemya become embroiled in the increasing conflict between the two women, which is exacerbated further when more people go missing.

This quiet, character-focused story focuses on motherhood, and specifically what a mother is prepared to do to protect or find one's child. And unlike so many stories where mothers, when they're not doormats or dead, are portrayed as evil, Houston does something wonderful. She allows her two mothers to be deeply flawed people, making selfish, and even bad, decisions without caring about the costs to others, and yet, both women were still deeply sympathetic. I found myself empathizing with both women, and their desperate desires, whether to find her missing daughter, or to protect her daughter from others.

Houston's use of spirits, ghosts, and various other beings, as well as showing their and a vedma's deep connection to the earth and the goddess gave wonderful texture and atmosphere to this dark and Slavic-inspired story. I greatly enjoyed this.

Thank you to Netgalley and to Angry Robot for this ARC in exchange for my review.

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I really enjoyed this book! Loved the shifting POVs of Kada and Sladyana, and their interconnected storylines, grounded in Polish folklore. Loved Secha's character, the development and regression of it, and how Kada reacted to it — it really brought out the metaphors of motherhood and what it means to be a mother and what it means to acknowledge the actions of our children. The worldbuilding and magic was fascinating, and Houston has a way of lyrical prose that really brought it to life!

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The Bone Roots is the perfect book for someone who loves earthy witchcraft and unique magical creatures. I am unsure how much of the world and creatures in this book are from the author's imagination or from Polish/Slavik folklore, but most of this world was new to me and I was fascinated by this. A story about the many complications of motherhood and child loss, I feel there was a deeper meaning within the story that I was unable to understand as a child-free person, myself. Further, the main protagonists were both middle-aged, and it was really refreshing to have characters who were more than just their children! This was such a fast read, and I was instantly immersed. Highly recommend.

Thank you to Angry Robot and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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In her role as vedma, Kada helped a noblewoman to grow a baby on Goddess Zemya’s tree. The tree grew two babies and one chose Kada to be her own mother. But the fox stole the noblewoman’s baby and now it is after Kada’s own daughter. For fifteen years she keeps her daughter safe, despite the sap in Secha’s blood and the odd magic that runs through it. When Secha turns sixteen her blood will finally run red and she will finally be safe. Unfortunately, the fox knows this too and it is more determined than ever to reach Secha before its time runs out.

The first thing I love about this book is the mythology. It has been woven into the narrative in such a way that the magic and creatures seem both natural and unnatural. Nobody in the book truly doubts the existence of these creatures, yet they still seem surprised to encounter them and distrustful of the person who can summon them. To Kada their existence is a part of her everyday life; she treats them as allies and deals with them in the same way that she would deal with any human. However what I find particularly interesting is the way that the folktales are presented as real, but all slightly different to how the villagers understand them. The fox, for example, is no myth yet the truth about its existence is a secret only Kada understands.

The second thing I love about this book is the emphasis on found family. Sladyana find two different ways to have a child. Neither of these involve pregnancy or biology, yet she loves them as her own children without hesitation or compromise. She also makes mistakes, just as any mother does, and the same can be said about Kada who will go to any lengths to protect her own child. As well as these poignant mother-daughter relationships, both Sladyana and Kada create their own unique families through their romantic relationships. The complexities of these relationships are never ignored, and in fact are often given the spotlight, with each problem overcome forging an even stronger bond. One of my favourite characters is Gorcay who approaches Kada with an impressive amount of patience and understanding, making his support clear without ever pushing boundaries. Their relationship is one built on a cautiously built foundation of history, trust, and respect.

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Vedma Kada is a sort of medicine woman who serves the goddess Zemya and the bone roots. In the course of things related, she had a child as did another woman, Sladyana, borne from seeds of Zemya. The fox stole Sladyana's child, but Kada's child Secha is nearly grown up and she is ever watchful for the same fox that could steal her child away. There are secrets between these women and for themselves and it's up to them to hold on to what they have.

This story is very much about parental love and the lengths one would go to save their child. The story is deeply steeped in Slavic stories of old, particularly Polish ones. While I really liked the story, it did have quite a slow start and it was about two thirds through the book that the pace picks up. I like the way the writer shows the agony of both Kada and Sladyana, through the loss and the keeping of their children. Neither has an easy time and secrets will soon be spilled that will open both up to public scrutiny. All is explained when we reach an end of sorts, that doesn't leave any major plots points incomplete.

I really liked this and rate is 3.5 stars. I would like to thank Netgalley and Angry Robot for giving me an advanced reader copy. I have provided this review voluntarily.

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The Bone Roots by Gabriela Houston illustrates the tale of two mothers, both desperate to protect their child.

Vedma Kada lives in constant fear. Her brother was stolen by the fox 40 years ago, she keeps herself hidden, terrified that her daughter, Secha, may be next.

Kada must keep her daughter close, especially when she starts to exhibit powerful and strange behaviours.

Secha is a product of goddess Zemya's child-bearing tree, a bestowed gift to Kada. Each year, she gives thanks to Zemya, with an offering via her bone roots. Additionally, in her role as a Vedma, Kada ultimately serves the goddess, as well as the local community.

Sladyana, a rich noblewoman, is mother to Luba. Snatched by the fox, Sladyana has desperately spent 15 years searching for her daughter.

When Kada and Sladyana are reunited, both seek answers that may save their children.

Inspired by Slavic-folklore, this fantasy novel explores the length a mother will go to protect her child.

The focus on motherhood is particularly poignant in this story and it's predominantly told in a dual narrative. Both Kada and Sladyana are strong and complex characters, with troubles aplenty.

Not only must they fight for their beliefs, they must also balance societal expectations for their own protection.

You will find yourself cheering them on or being disappointed in their actions. Some understandable, others with questioning morality. Ultimately, they are human and flawed - and their predicaments are not easy.

Houston is masterful at her atmospheric descriptions, her beautiful prose brimming with emotion, mythology and lore.

A particular example is witnessing Kada in her role as a Vedma (Moss Witch). Her interactions with the weird and wonderful mythical creatures is fascinating. Whether seeking their favour and/or destruction, each conversation is vividly brought to life.

Ultimately, this novel draws you into the fantasy world of Fiesna alongside the harrowing struggles of its female protagonists. It's a wonderful tale of motherhood, love, desperation, magic and secrets.

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The writing in The Bone Roots is something extraordinary. It behaves like water, dowsing the reader like a bath, entirely submerging them in this beautifully crafted world. It flows gloriously and made me absolutely itch to return to this book every time I put it down.

This tale of motherhood and grief is expertly told, the world and the myths it weaves are exceptionally crafted, and together they create a story that definitely leaves a mark.

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I liked this sm. The way everything happened had me hooked like aaaa
thank you netgalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review

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5/5 Stars

TL;DR - A mystical tale of love and loss, of magic and myth, and the lengths to which a mother will go to protect her child. Strong, determined female characters, beasties galore, and a lot of heart. Definitely one of my favorite books I’ve read this year!

Big thanks to Angry Robot and NetGalley for providing the ARC for this book in exchange for an honest review!

***Trigger warnings for: threat of rape, child endangerment, self-harm with a blade, murder, mentions of child death, loss of a child, kidnapping, ableism, blood.***

(I really appreciate that the author/publisher included trigger warnings at the start of the book! I would love to see more authors follow suit!)

‘The Bone Roots’ by Gabriela Houston is a sumptuous tale that enthrallingly weaves together Polish folklore and family drama into a tale that is, at its core, about the bonds between mother and daughter. It’s told in third person, but from the perspectives of many characters, most prominently Vedma Kada, a healer and mystic contending with forces both earthly and spiritual in the pursuit of providing the best life for her beloved teenage daughter, Secha. We also see events through the lens of Sladyana, a mother still grieving the loss of her own daughter and seeking answers for her supernatural disappearance. We watch as their paths cross and tangle together with that of superstitious humans and unhappy gods, all in a bid to protect their daughters.

Wow. Just…wow. This book is exactly my niche - strong female characters, magic, mythical creatures with their own agendas, all steeped in Slavic folklore and culture, which is one of my legit favorite mythologies. I had really high hopes for this book from the blurb, and I’m happy to report that it both met and exceeded my expectations.

The writing is clean and simple, but also very clever. Everything is to-the-point, and does a very good job at building atmosphere and tension, as well as evoking emotion. It’s all written to straddle the line between fairytale and reality, and I adore that in books. Very well-done.

There’s some great rep in this book - a character who is non-speaking and uses signed language to communicate (there is a bit of ableism towards her, but not from any of the main characters), as well as a sapphic relationship, which is seen as normal with no homophobia in sight. More of this please!

The plot is a little slow, but not so much that I lost interest. There’s always something going on, and little by little, we’re fed clues to the overarching mystery of the book. I called a few of the twists, but there were others that I thought I had nailed down only to be (quite pleasantly) surprised that I was way wrong. I am always thrilled to find books that can outsmart me, so kudos on that.

Kada? Absolute QUEEN, we stan! She is complex and flawed and I could not look away as she fixed and messed up and planned and improvised. She loves Secha so dearly and sacrifices so much for her well-being, in a way we can't fully understand until the very end of the book, but she stops at nothing, and I mean NOTHING, to ensure her daughter is protected. This woman, in no uncertain terms, tells a literal GOD to fuck off, and I am living for it! I’ve been wanting another messy woman’s tale to add to my “I Support Women’s Wrongs” shelf, and this is a perfect fit!

Sladyana, too, is a compelling and flawed character, doing what she thinks is best within her own circumstances, as is Secha, and all the other women in this book. I also appreciated the men (well, most of them, see trigger warnings above) in this book, who, miraculously for a world that’s like medieval Poland, were actually pretty solid dudes and let the women stand in their power without being, well, typical medieval men. I can’t think of anyone in this book I actively disliked (except for the aforementioned one guy), and I was actually relatively interested in even the side characters.

There are so many creatures in this book! Some I was familiar with, and others I had to look up, but I was really enchanted with the way Kada interacts with all of them. It gives major Witcher vibes, not just in the Polish/Slavic influences, but also in the vein of a seasoned, tired and somewhat disenfranchised monster-handler just doing their best to protect their daughter. Definitely not as dark or violent, and obviously with *ahem* more feminist leanings, but still similar enough to draw parallels that I enjoyed.

Final Thoughts:

This was such a good time! I was talking to my Kindle, exclaiming in joy or shock, theorizing - and always cheering for Kada, literal myth herself. Will definitely be adding a copy of this to my shelf!

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4.5. Rounding up to 5.

For fans of Uprooted and the Witcher, step into a rich world where mothers must pay for their daughters with their own blood, to appease the goddess whose bone roots travel beneath the surface of the earth.

Kada is a vedma, a moss-witch, called to heal the sick, deliver babies, and deal with monsters and spirits troubling the land. Sladyana is a noblewoman, deftly handling politics and her estate. And long ago, they were gifted daughters by Mother Zemya, born of the Great Tree. But now, one of those girls is missing, and the other is being called by something strange.

And the mysterious, deceptive Fox Thief who takes children is hunting.

As the women’s purposes diverge, and the goddess watches, the tension ramps up higher. What will a mother do for her child?

With shapechangers, strange forests, creatures, illusions and gods, this is a deeply magical Slavic fairytale that is hypnotically told and perfect for spooky season. Enthralling from start to finish.

(It’s refreshing to see two fully characterised middle aged women as protagonists. The chapter heading illustrations are also delightful!)

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Another future addition to our new mythology and folklore section in our Library, this time it's Slavic folklore. There is a darker tone yo this story but it is nevertheless thrilling and glorious at the same time.

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Houston's writing is fantastic. At the sentence level, it's well-paced and compelling - to the point where it took me a long time to notice that... Not much happened. I enjoyed the little glimpses of Slavic folklore with the various creatures, but there isn't any real tension apart from Kada's apparent paranoia. Secha doesn't seem to care or notice how much her mother agonizes. And Inog is just kind of... There. I appreciated the queer representation (and the casual mention of "I guess you could marry her if you want" as though hinting that same-sex marriage is acceptable in this fictional history).

All in all it felt kind of scattered. I wanted a more clear direction and a more focused build-up to something

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I was provided an ARC of this book by NetGalley and Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

In all honesty, this book just wasn't for me. At several points throughout the story the only thing that kept me from DNFing was the fact that I got to read it for free in exchange for a review. It took me quite a long time to get through as it felt more like a chore than anything else. I fully expected to give this two stars, but the story finally picked up the pace and stakes in the last 100 pages and those were genuinely good enough to warrant a third star.

The good:
It is a solid story of what it means to be a mother, what one is willing to sacrifice. Slavic folklore is very interesting and this book might introduce new readers to it.

The bad:
It is VERY slow. Hardly anything happens by the time we hit the 60% mark. The prose didn't sit well with me. A Slav myself, I at felt like I was reading more or less literal translations from a Slavic language, at others it just did not feel natural at all. Granted, this might be the fault of the English language for being significantly blander than Slavic languages and not the author's, but it still was a cumbersome read at times.

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It didn’t expect this book to almost make me cry.

The draw of the novel obviously is the focus on motherhood and the strong feelings a mother has for her child, which is a theme I absolutely need more of in (fantasy) literature. I loved that the plot pushes the two mothers in opposition to one another but does that with such a complexity where I felt strongly for both, rooted for both, but still didn’t like everything each of them did. It is a mostly quiet, character focused story – my favorite kind – made even more special by how magical the world felt. Woven from Slavic folklore, it has this very familiar medieval feel but with unique details added into the mix, creating a special kind of atmosphere.

While some of the tertiary characters can be a bit cliché, there was one side character that I pretty much thought I knew his role in the plot at the beginning of the book, who then totally surprised me and kinda became my favorite, making him grow on me simultaneously as he grows on another character.

I loved my experience reading this book and I absolutely want to read more by the author and wonder if – maybe in a longer book – she could pull of some mastery of character writing.

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This book is most definitely different from the books I have read. I loved how the author stayed true to the culture and heritage of the witch and folklore. The story did not stray from the time period with inserts of modern cursing and frustrations. Names and explanations were given at the end of the book. If you love a good witchy story with multiple third person POVs, love for your children, found family and creatures, this is the book for you.

There were a couple of things I couldn’t grasp sometimes. Mostly, it was hard to relate with the main FMCs and I wanted to so much. That might have been my fault. However, if you like what this book is strong in and the other listed tropes it contains, this is a read for you. Thank you Netgalley and Angry Robot for the advanced chance to read.

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