I’ve followed Kaitlin Hillerich at her writing tips blog Ink and Quills for a while now, so I was delighted to learn that she was releasing her debut novella (and had done as of last October – I’m just so slow when it comes to keeping up with a single book, especially on Kindle. Sorry!)
I really enjoyed These Savage Bones. The style was easy to read and atmospheric. I particularly liked the use of Mexican/Spanish vocabulary throughout to add the setting and the way main character Esperanza sees her world.
The plot itself was enough for a novella; a not-too-twisty murder mystery, it kept readers engaged in Esperanza’s goal of finding and potentially avenging her beloved uncle’s murder. She’s bookish and capable, but has a temper that shows the fire within.
In other words, she’s a human and rounded character and I liked her. Too, love interest Alejandro, although a bit more the stereotypical macho fiancé who left Esperanza for his own avenging, had enough tenderness that I could see why Esperanza liked him in the first place. But there’s not too much romance throughout, which makes the novella enjoyable without turning away from its original themes. Much like a Christie novel, I suppose.
I loved the clues throughout. Since Lord of the Flies, I’ve always been a fan of symbolism through physical objects, and These Savage Bones is not short of objects that Esperanza finds in her sleuthing that could mean more than their physical representation. If I say any more, it might give things away, so I won’t.
Speaking of plot twists… Whilst I had a couple of ideas that turned out to be correct, the writing itself was not dampened by knowing what was going to happen.
Some memorable descriptions:
The countertops were covered in cerulean blue Talavera tiles adorned with orange poppies. Clusters of red chilis and a collection of copper pots hung from the exposed beams. On the table before her sat a basket piled with oranges and limes, and corn husks were scattered across the stone floor around her feet.
She had gone over the details a thousand times, but no matter how she examined them they refused to make sense, like a typewriter without keys.
He had peeled away the delicate scab that had been slowly forming over her heart and exposed the wound once more.
Overall, I would give These Savage Bones 4.5 out of 5! A well-rounded, small-enough-to-nibble novella with interesting characters and a smouldering, Mexican, Day of the Dead setting. The historical elements are there, but they are not too heavy.
The one thing I’d say, though, is that it’s categorised as YA, but Esperanza is 23 and there is very little of the persona or style that I would expect from something that calls itself Young Adult. If anything, These Savage Bones is New Adult, but I think it stands better as letting itself be an adult historical piece.
Furthermore, the blurb leads us to believe that Esperanza is one of those cliché machines-before-manners Steampunk heroines, which actually downplays how worldly and genuine she is. In Steampunk honesty, I’m sick of hearing Steampunk pitches containing the words “more interested in science” and “proper lady”. These Savage Bones doesn’t need the steam elements it proposes to have and works as a piece of historical murder mystery.
Mexico, 1875. Twenty-three-year old Esperanza de la Rosa knows more about steam engines and electromagnetics than a proper lady should. Fiercely independent, she’s more interested in science and superstition than finding a suitable husband.
When Esperanza’s uncle is murdered during the Day of the Dead, her world is shaken. To catch the killer, she must accept the help of the last person she wants to see—her ex-fiancé Alejandro Valladares, a gentleman turned bounty hunter with a troubled past.
Thrust into a tangled web of secrets and lies that threaten to destroy everything she thought she knew, Esperanza must uncover the truth and bring her uncle’s murderer to justice or her failure will haunt her forever.
Available on Amazon.