A Secret of Birds and Bone by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, artwork by Helen Crawford-White
If you know anything about my reading tastes, you’ll know I’m a huge Kiran fan! I positively bounced to the till showing anyone I passed that “It’s in! It’s in!” when this arrived at work last week and snapped it up and started it that day.
It does not disappoint.
With the most beautiful sounding bone creations, underground tunnels, secret passages and plenty of mystery, this is as atmospheric and enchanting as you’d expect from Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
And with guards assisted by vicious magpies, a duchess who’s never seen, a mother who’s vanished after completing a secret commission and a nun who is not what she seems there is plenty of intrigue and drama too.
Sofia’s mother is a bone builder, crafting the most exquisite creations from bones – from fine furniture to ornate reliquaries to intricate keepsakes to complex locks to Sofia’s entire house.
This was one of my favourite elements of the story – I loved reading and picturing her creations, they really set my imagination alight.
One day though, Sofia’s sees her mother receive an unexpected – and seemingly unwelcome – guest, and from that point on, neither she nor her brother Ermin are allowed in the workshop or to know what her mother is working on.
We join Sofia on her twelfth birthday as her mother heads into the town promising to explain everything when she returns.
However, things do not go to plan and Sofia and Ermin find themselves on a dark journey into unknown underground passages seeking to find out where their mother is and what has happened to her.
I also loved the underground world Kiran created – the caves, pools and clues as well as the darkness and the danger of the chase were immersive and thrilling. The filth of their escape felt particularly believable too and by the time they left the tunnels, I felt almost as dirty, soaked, battered and stinking as they must have been!
Joining Sofia and Ermin is Ghino who they meet hiding in the secret passages of the city. He adds a dose of suburban knowledge as well an element of uncertainty to the group, and I especially enjoyed seeing the dynamic between him and Sofia as their journey progressed.
I thought the way in which we see their relationship, and Sofia’s thoughts towards him change was excellent and really helped to build up to the end of the book too.
The way in which the guards’ magpies and their mother’s bone-building are woven into the story add a wonderful air of fantasy without tipping it into full on magic, which suits the historical nature of the story and adds to the feel of it, without asking us to believe in anything other-worldly.
This has everything you’d expect from Kiran and everything you’d want from a MG adventure – main characters you root for and sinister antagonists, fantastic atmosphere and a unique and exciting setting, not to mention tension, betrayal and twists at every turn. Utterly spell-binding and Helen Crawford-White’gorgeous artwork makes it visually beautiful too.