By Author / Illustrator
Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Friends and family
Chicken House Ltd
In an Italian city ravaged by plague, Sofia's mother carves beautiful mementoes from the bones of loved ones. But one day, she doesn't return home. Did her work lead her into danger? Sofia and her little brother Ermin are sent to the convent orphanage but soon escape, led by an enigmatic new friend and their pet crow, Corvith.Together they cross the city underground, following clues in bones up to the towers of Siena, where - circled by magpies - the children find the terrible truth ...
This author goes from strength to strength. Each of her books, starting with The Girl of Ink and Stars in 2016, is different and quite unique. A Secret of Birds and Bone tells of the children of Renata, a bone binder living just outside Siena in an undefined period. Renata appears to have cured her son, Ermin of the scarring that the smallpox epidemic could have inflicted on him as it did so many people, but then after a mysterious visitor, everything changes and Sofia - the older of the two children - finds that her mother has altered and then disappears.
The children determine to find her and, wearing the locket her mother has made for her, they leave the house made of bones to search for Renata. Thus starts a journey through the tunnels under the city and into the cathedral, where they meet another victim of the smallpox epidemic; a very powerful and wicked one.
This is an extraordinary story struck through with the luminous light of objects made of bones, honed and carved, and of a gift that runs through the family. There are children disappearing and being held for experiments, an evil nun who is not what she seems, the terrifying Duchess, and above all swirl the magpies and the magical crow Corvith who guards Sofia and Ermin.
What a work of the imagination this is! Do people carve bones that belonged to people, and house reliquaries in boxes made of them I wonder? Sofia remains a very human heroine and her disappointment when she finds her mother has failed her by making a promise she knows she cannot keep, is real and hurtful. A message here that those we love are not perfect and sometimes do things for the best of motives, often to protect those close to them.
A mention must be made of the decorations within the book , as every page is decorated and the actual hardback cover has golden birds upon it. They are all by Helen Crawford White who is not mentioned on the title page and maybe should be?
Readers will be entranced by this story of magic, light and love.
336 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 9+
Sofia lives with her mother and little brother, Ermin, and their pet crow, Corvith, on the outskirts of Sienna. Their home, set in the grounds of a ruined monastery, is a charnel house made of bones, and her mother is a bone-binder, famed throughout the city for her work. Smallpox has ravaged the city and so when their mother makes a trip to Sienna on Sophia's birthday, the children are supposed to stay behind.
The trip leads to their mother's arrest and the children being taken to the city orphanage. Desperate to find their mother, the children escape with the help of a mysterious boy and soon realise they are caught up in a dangerous journey to uncover secrets of the city - and their own family.
A compelling tale, A Secret of Birds and Bone is Kiran Millward Hargrave at her best. Set against the beauty of Sienna with its Piazza del Campo and stunning cathedral, the story is an original and mesmerising read of friendship and family, of secrets and betrayal, of love and loyalty.
The story has many layers which are woven beautifully together, drawing together as it reaches its dramatic and satisfying conclusion. Each character is well developed and engaging - even the nasty ones! Sofia is a wonderful character - determined, brave and loyal, but far from perfect - and her relationship with Ermin is very realistic.
Kiran's writing conveys a real sense of location - of Sienna, of the charnel house, of the tunnels - making it easy to lose yourself in the story. It really is a beautifully written, beautifully constructed novel - effortlessly clever! A must read!
336 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+