Book Review: Dark family history collides with gothic fantasy in A.G. Slatter’s All The Murmuring Bones

Long ago, the O’Malleys prospered, striking a deal with the mer to secure their ships as they made their fortune. But the O’Malleys have failed to live up to their end of the bargain, and Mirin’s grandmother, Aoife, must find a new way to save the family.

Sacrificing a child of each generation to the mer in exchange for their continued survival, Aoife, it seems, is willing to start up the O’Malley tradition once more. But it isn’t the creatures of the deep she’ll be appeasing, and the threat to Mirin’s safety is distinctly more human in form.

After she discovers letters that point to answers about her past, and a potential way out of her grandmother’s scheming, Mirin goes on the run. The letters mentioned a place named Blackwater, the last known location of her parents, and it’ll take more than Aoife and a few angry mer to stop Mirin from finding her way there.

Gothic fairytale All the Murmuring Bones is the latest from A.G. Slatter (otherwise known as Angela Slatter), inhabiting the same world as her acclaimed Sourdough and Other Stories and The Bitterwood Bible. The prose is rich, the locations are haunting, and Mirin is, quite frankly, phenomenal.

Wary and untrusting, yet wanting desperately to be loved and to belong; she has all the cunning and quick wit of the O’Malleys, combined with a gentleness and an empathetic nature that fuels, rather than dulls, her need to rebel. If she was all cold ambition, staying behind and following along with her grandmother’s plans would be easy. But then, of course, there would be no story, and so Mirin’s compelling and exciting journey from Hobs Hallow to Blackwater begins.

That said, it’s not all family drama in All the Murmuring Bones – though that’s certainly not in short supply. The supernatural elements, including the mer and a particularly intriguing kelpie, are woven perfectly into Slatter’s prose, grounding them resolutely in the world Slatter has created. It’s normal here, expected even, and that seamlessness is refreshing when so many novels instead build on the wonder and surprise of it all.

Add to that all the trappings of gothic and traditional sensation novels – crumbling estates, alluring assassins, and assumed identities to name but a few – and All the Murmuring Bones becomes a glorious melting pot of genres, themes, and twisting plot points.

Atmospheric, engaging, and brimming with backstories and side plots, All the Murmuring Bones makes for a fantastic read. The pacing is occasionally a little off, but that’s a minor gripe in a lush novel that grips you and drags you in – much like a vengeful mer – from the get-go.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

A.G. Slatter’s All the Murmuring Bones is out now, available though Penguin Random House. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE.

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