Christina Henry is known for her ability to craft suspenseful and compelling narratives, and her latest release Near the Bone is no exception. An excellent horror novel about the monsters in the dark and the monsters hiding in plain sight, it will keep you up at night demanding to be read. From imagery that is beautiful and stark to the brilliant characterization of its narrator, Near the Bone will stay with readers long after they’ve finished the final chapter.
Our protagonist Mattie lives by two rules: never upset William, and don’t think of the life she knew before. Sheltered from the world and living in an isolated cabin on the side of a mountain, she relies on him for everything (and it’s soon apparent to the reader why that’s the case). But when a mysterious creature arrives with a thirst for blood and other humans begin to encroach on Mattie and William’s home in search of it, Mattie must reject the narrative she has lived with for years in order to survive.
In Mattie, Henry has crafted an interesting protagonist with a unique narrative voice. You understand her instantly, even as she makes choices and remembers horrors that the average reader will never have to contend with. But Henry takes the time to carefully sketch the supporting cast as well, with William being a particular highlight. He’s an antagonist who both feels human and otherworldly, and somehow Henry makes him much more menacing than the bloodthirsty creature in the forest. He’s cruel and terrifying, but he has just enough humanity to stop him from becoming a caricature of a villain. The complex relationship between Mattie and William anchors the novel, and when other characters do arrive you feel the intrusion the way Mattie does.
Henry’s greatest coup narratively is how she presents the monster. The characters in the novel almost never see it — we see the bloody aftermath of its actions and feel the slow dread Mattie does as she encounters it, but we almost never catch a glimpse of it. This increases the tension throughout as the reader is never quite sure what it is capable of or where it will be next. It also makes the novel cinematic, and there were moments I found myself imagining how the story would look on a screen. Too often little is left to the imagination when it comes to supernatural creatures, but Henry strikes just the right balance between showing the creature and letting us experience the story as Mattie does — scared and without knowledge of the threat she is facing.
Henry knows that the best horror narratives don’t need to include pages of backstory or lore to be effective; they just need to draw us in and invest us in the characters and their plight. By creating a protagonist with such a specific voice and surrounding her with a setting that epitomizes isolation and terror, Henry builds a story that the reader won’t want to put down (I read it in one sitting). If you are a fan of Henry’s previous novels The Ghost Tree or The Mermaid (among many others), Near the Bone will satisfy your craving for a dark fairy tale told expertly.
Near the Bone is available now wherever books are sold.