Trigger warning: Domestic violence, physical abuse, torture, rape, kidnapping, entrapment
Isolation is one of horror’s most commonly used themes and plot devices, because there are few things scarier than finding oneself alone with a murderer or a monster. With her latest novel, Near the Bone, author Christina Henry chose to tell a story that uses this as a central theme. It’s that setting, which stood out from the cover, that originally piqued my interest and got me excited. However, I must admit that I also enjoyed her last book — The Ghost Tree — quite a bit. More than expected, to be honest, because the other book of hers that I’d read (The Girl in Red) didn’t do a lot for me.
Near the Bone takes place on a remote mountaintop in the middle of American nowhere. Cold all year round, its surface is covered in snow despite it being a warmer month. It’s there where we meet Mattie (aka. Martha), who lives in a small, two room cabin with her older husband, William. A devout man who prefers to live off of the grid and hunt his own food, the man is built for a rustic life, whereas his wife isn’t much of a fan. There’s something that makes her enjoy it even less, though, and that’s how physically and mentally abusive William is to her.
You see, Mattie isn’t allowed to do very much on her own. If she leaves the cabin, she can’t go very far, and cannot really go for walks on her own. She’s also not allowed to go into the storage shed, despite being the one who does all of the cooking, since it’s a ‘womanly duty.’ The same is true of cleaning, taking care of their small home and making their clothes. William won’t do anything ladylike, and says that it’s a woman’s job to love, look after and be dutiful to her husband.
William also wants a son, but Mattie has yet to be able to keep a pregnancy. She is said to be in her early twenties, though; at least that’s her estimate, since calendars and clocks aren’t kept in William’s home.
Needless to say, there are lots of triggers to be found in this novel, which is the story of a domestic abuse survivor and the torture she’s lived for numerous years. Those who’ve dealt with similar things in their lives should avoid this book, lest it bring back bad memories. The same is true of rape, kidnapping and general entrapment. Ms. Henry wasn’t shy when it came to detailing the abuse, not to mention the resulting injuries.
By now you’re probably wondering if the horror is found within this messed up and horrid relationship. The answer is both yes and no. You see, there’s something strange happening on the mountain. The animals seem to be in hiding, and things are awfully quiet. William and Mattie also discover strange caves filled with organs and bones, as well as tracks that don’t belong to any known beast.
Thus, this already awful tale introduces a monster element, via one that seems to silently stalk its prey. William thinks it’s a demon sent by God to test him, while Mattie simply wants to avoid it and get off the mountain. She doesn’t know how, though.
As the story progresses, new wrinkles are introduced, and secrets are discovered. I’m worried that I’ll spoil things if I say more, though, so I’ll stop at this.
Near the Bone seemed like it would be right up my alley, due to its intriguing plot, great setting and the theme of isolation. I quickly hit the request button, and was lucky to be approved, though I did enjoy and positively review The Ghost Tree close to a year ago. Unfortunately, this particular narrative didn’t click with me as much as its predecessor did, though that’s not to say I didn’t like it at all. It was solid, but simply felt lacking. Like it was missing a wow factor, which could’ve come from more unique story aspects.
This is a solid book that will probably appeal to some more than others. I simply found that it didn’t step outside of the proverbial box as much as it could’ve, and feel like it didn’t take enough advantage of its premise and setting. There’s a fine, decent and very readable book here, but not a spectacular or incredibly unique one. It’s too bad, because the elements and building blocks were all there. If this thing had been more unique, it would’ve been a lot better.
I appreciate that Christina Henry chose to tackle such an awful and difficult subject, or subjects as I should say. It can’t be easy to write such content, and she handled it well. I sympathized with Mattie and felt terrible for her, but didn’t find her to be a very unique character outside of her relationship. William was godawful to her, and was an easy to hate villain from the start.
The writing was good, as it usually is with her books. I didn’t notice any real issues, had no trouble following the plot and would recommend it to even novice readers. That said, there is quite a bit of repetition, which hurts the story. Mattie goes over the same things quite often, and since this tale is told from her inner perspective, it gets a bit tedious at times.
If you’re looking for an easy to read, somewhat interesting and remote horror novel, Near the Bone by Christina Henry is worth looking into.
This review is based on a copy of the book that we were provided with digitally. Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for approving us.