The Bone Snatcher by Charlotte Salter

Themes

  • Death, Trauma, Abandonment
  • Gaining a confident sense of self, inner strength, embracing individuality
  • Overcoming external obstacles, conquering fear
  • Toxic environments, psychological illness
  • Sea, monsters, storytellers

Sophie couldn’t imagine how the rider wasn’t being thrown off, but then she saw the horse’s mad eyes and foam flying from its mouth, and realized that Cartwright was basically insane.

During a trip to the local bookstore, I picked this up on a whim, which is how I select 99% of the books I read. If I’m being honest, being drawn to a title unexpectedly is how I have found all of my most loved books. As far is this one goes, it seems like a modern gothic children’s novel, and I found it delightful. My two girls can be notoriously difficult to shop for, as the oldest is extremely picky and the youngest contrary. This book caught my eye by its macabre title. The cover art is beautiful but not overly complex boasting our heroine: Sophie Seacove standing amidst sea and tentacles. She glares outward defiant of her imminent doom, a decaying house sits on a miserable rock behind her.

The Bone Snatcher tells the story of a young and nearly feral girl whose world is stricken with a strange delirium causing people to fear the sea, is sold into servitude to the once wealthy family. The old mansion actually sits on a craggy island just offshore and its inhabitants appear to have gone mad long ago, among them two vile twin boys. Sophie’s job is to survive long enough to feed the sea creatures, keeping them at bay. But life quickly becomes deadly within the house as their cousin returns home and offers Sophie a chance at freedom in exchange for completing a truly dangerous task. Interspersed with the main story are tales that Sophie weaves to distract and process her traumas. Each imagined story enthralls the listener just as the reader as she plunges deeper into the icy truth.

This book emits a dark, whimsical feeling the whole way through. From the opening scene to the end, I was intrigued by the balance between ridiculous, clever moments and truly dark, wicked twists. My girls both enjoyed the story, despite one being very adamant that she “doesn’t like scary stories”. The Bone Snatcher is a special sort of scary story. I can think of a handful of scenes that strike the reader with suspense and anxiety such as some of her forays through the dank, pitch black catacombs or stumbling through the hidden life of the late master of the house she is sent to serve. The moment Sophie sees the crumbling mansion, she knows her fate is sealed with horrors. She does not shrink and her bravery is not born of an altruistic drive to save the world, or even a kind heart. Sophie stands out as a heroine who is strong in her sense of self, she plunges into the void screaming. In place of the stereotypical virtues of a hero we are treated to a wonderful character who lies, steals, and angrily snatches her life back from the darkness surrounding her; and we would not have it any other way. Salter balances the character against the world she comes from: a girl who refuses to yield to insanity but is ultimately born from it. In the same way she doesn’t stand out from the tumultuous world as a beacon of light and holiness, she is not elevated to that status. Yet she stands on her own two feet and is set apart by how she chooses to react to world. I think that is a much more relatable and powerful message for children.

A book worthy of recommendations and praise. It is the debut work of author Charlotte Salter. The story does not shy away from some darker themes and haunting situations. Coupled with excellent pacing the reader has enough time to feel each new event without losing momentum as Sophie plays a game of survival. I recommend this book for a slightly older audience 8-10 is a good age to start. The heroine is relatable, character development while it does happen is subtle. Especially since so many of the characters are well-established and their individual journeys focus more on their interactions with each other and their reactions to their environment, than major changes to their psyche. This is by no means a criticism because the characters are each captivating. The value of earning one’s trust and trusting one’s intuition is not sold lightly. The true only criticism I might have is the finale- while the crux is deviously unsettling, it wraps up like a proper fairytale. My favorite aspect of this book was its harder tone, Salter gave the narrative an edge that many books for this age range do not dare to touch. Likewise, I had envisioned the end to bring justice, while maintaining that dark undertone.  The Bone Snatcher does leave room for sequels if the author were so inclined. I would definitely want to read it.

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