I had been a very happy reader over the past two weeks. I received both All The Murmuring Bones and The Tallow Wife And Other Tales, books by Angela Slatter, in the mail. I read them, and then reread the two volumes that share the setting of the stories: The Bitterwood Bible And Other Recountings and Sourdough And Other Stories. It’s been a delightful romp through Slatter’s complex and mythopoeic universe.
As you can see, All The Murmuring Bones has a different publisher to the other three books, who have all been published by Tartarus Press. Titan Press still managed to give the book a stunning cover image; it’s just a pity that all four books don’t share the same presentation. And that is probably my only nitpick. (I’m annoyed I haven’t the Sourdough in hardcover.)
Unlike the other three books, this is a novel and not a collection of stories. One of the features that delighted me was hints and flickers of the previous stories from her collections, used to create depth to the history of the family of the O’Malleys. The protagonist is Miren O’Malley, the last pureblood scion of the seagoing family. It is her bloodline that is a pivot to the entire plot, spinning and steering the action like a ship’s wheel. Miren is more than just a ‘plucky’ girl character running away from an unhappy betrothal, as her complex feelings about her family give her a motivation not often seen in fairy tale literature – she needs to save not just herself, but many other people who have had interactions with her family.
The book’s antagonists are members of Miren’s family, her grandmother, Aoife, her distant cousin, Aiden; and the mysterious sea-queen. The sea-queen is both the source of the family’s curse and the source of the family’s prosperity. It’s Slatter’s genius that creates a creature that can be both sympathetic and monstrous, like Medusa.
Angela Slatter’s prose is as lush and vibrant as a jungle, and it is often referred to as Gothic, as it is dark and dangerous and can haunt you for weeks after you’ve finished reading any of her books. It’s easy to get so distracted by her poetic details that you have to go back and reread a page to keep track of the action (well, that is the case for me). It’s not a book to dip into, because then you miss all the machinations that went before. Plan on having a day free when you start reading All The Murmuring Bones.
All the Murmuring Bones can be read as a stand alone book, but I recommend having a book binge by reading all four books in one fell swoop. Then you can appreciate the interplay between all the stories. Get trapped in Angela’s net.