REVIEW: Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews

Hills of Heather and Bone is the dark yet delicate fantasy by K.E. Andrews, which finished a (very) close second place in Mark Lawrence’s ninth Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO9).

Hills of Heather and BoneThe story revolves around a young married couple who possess magical powers over the living and the dead. Percy is a rootsower, gifted with the ability to grow and manipulate plants. His wife, Morana, is a boneweaver who can connect to the deceased through their skeletal remains and even raise them from the dead:

“Fresh deaths are always the strongest—the loudest, the most painful. Memories are more vivid in their final moments. The body remembers what the soul leaves behind.”

Boneweavers like Morana are misunderstood and feared by the general population. The couple’s peaceful life is upended when Morana’s abilities are discovered and they are forced to abandon their home and live a life on the run.

The world of Hills of Heather and Bone has a rustic cabincore feel inspired by the Scottish countryside. The novel also features one of my favorite animal sidekick characters: Morana’s cranky and judgmental pet chicken, the aptly named Morhenna.

The nature-based magic system created by K.E. Andrews is a perfect fit for the pastoral setting of the novel. Boneweavers and rootsowers are just two types of the so-called bloodgifted, who possess supernatural connections to the natural world. A few other categories of bloodgifted include: beastcharmers, who can speak with and control animals; earthcarvers, with the ability to move and shape the earth; fleshmenders, who can heal flesh; waterdancers, who can manipulate water; and windsingers, who can summon and shape the wind.

The core of Hills of Heather and Bone is the loving relationship between Morana and Percy. The maturity and genuine love expressed in their relationship, through both words and actions, is a welcome contrast to the shallowness of romantic entanglements found in many romance and romantasy books.

Morana and Percy share a healthy and positive relationship, but they also face many realistic problems:

“A fragment of a memory jolts through me, a baby held in roughened hands. Tears sting my eyes. Percy looks at me, his brow wrinkled with a question I don’t want to answer.”

Percy, whose full name is Percival, is such a cinnamon roll. His personality reminds me of Sir Percival, one of the Knights of the Round Table, who has a childlike innocence which protects him from worldly temptation. Morana and Percy also defy the usual physical representation of couples in romance books. The axe-wielding Morana is much taller and stronger than her delicate, scholarly husband, and she also suffers from chronic pain:

“My arthritis has been with me since I was five. I felt like an old woman shuffling around when the pain got bad, struggling to keep up with my siblings or walking the hills with the cows.”

I was already a fan of K.E. Andrews from reading her previous SPFBO8 semi-finalist, The Assassin of Grins and Secrets, but she has really leveled up with Hills of Heather and Bone. Her prose, told from Morana’s first-person perspective, recalls that of Sarah Chorn in its dark but eloquent beauty. Reading Hills of Heather and Bone feels like listening to a Midlake album with its charming melancholy.

Hills of Heather and Bone is also much darker than one might assume by its cover, featuring plenty of necromancy. With this book, I’d argue that K.E. Andrew has essentially invented a new subgenre of “cozy grimdark” fantasy. There is even a reference to the Dripping Bucket, Michael R. Fletcher’s interdimensional grimdark tavern that has been embraced by a multitude of dark fantasy authors.

Hills of Heather and Bone also has strong mental health themes, including overcoming grief and depression:

“I wrap my arm around him and stroke his damp hair. His shoulders heave with quiet sobs. We cling to each other while the world continues to turn.”

Overall, Hills of Heather and Bone strikes the perfect balance between darkness and hope. K.E. Andrews has written a rustic gem of a novel, a deeply emotional story built around a realistic, loving couple who resonated deeply with me as a reader.

I originally reviewed this novel as part of the Before We Go Blog team with SPFBO9.

Read Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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