This is definitely one of the more original fantasy stories I’ve read in awhile.
In a remote community in the mountains is a village. Sometimes the children born here are born with two hearts. A child born this way is called a ‘striga’ – considered to be demons. When discovered, the child is abandoned at the edge of the forest. The mother of the child can then choose to either leave with the child – given both a faint hope at survival, or stay with the village, almost certainly ensuring the death of the striga.
Salka, age nineteen, is recognized as a striga and is led to the edge of the forest and sent away. Her mother, Miriat, chooses to join her and live a life in poverty in another village. Salka is encouraged to settle in and appreciate what little she has – following her heart, her demon heart, will only cause problems and pain. But Salka is a very independent spirit and finds that it is her nature to follow her heart.
There was a poetic quality to the book that I quite enjoyed, as well as a fairly clear sense of myth or folklore re-telling (I’ve since read other references to this). This is especially appealing to me as I really like reimagined folklore.
I was pulled in to the story early by author Gabriela Houston’s writing and character creating. This whole set-up (two hearts!) was just so fascinating to me, and then to follow a striga, who under normal circumstances wouldn’t have been allowed to live, really caught my attention.
But then the book floundered for me. I was hooked but I wasn’t taken anywhere. The actual story didn’t quite live up to the premise and I just wanted something more to happen and then I stopped really being motived to read the book so I stop even caring if something happened.
There was a lot of promise here, and Houston shows so writing skills, and I will gladly read more of her work, but this falls just short of being recommended.
Looking for a good book? The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston is a clever fantasy premise and engages early, but fails to find its path to telling the story.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Second Bell
author: Gabriela Houston
publisher: Angry Robot
paperback, 304 pages