Ever since The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston popped up on my Twitter feed, I was intrigued, so I jumped on the chance when it became available on Netgalley. Thank you to Angry Robot for providing me with an ARC.
|Series: stand alone||Genre: Fantasy,|
|Date of Publishing: March 9th 2021||Trigger Warnings: giving birth, animal death|
|Page count: 304||Publisher: Angry Robot|
In a world which believes her to be a monster, a young striga fights to harness the power of her second heart, while her mother sacrifices everything to stop her…
In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child’s mother must then decide to leave with her infant, or stay and try to forget.
Nineteen year-old striga, Salka, and her mother, Miriat, made the choice to leave and live a life of deprivation and squalor in an isolated village. The striga tribe share the human belief that to follow the impulses of their other hearts is dangerous, inviting unspoken horrors and bringing ruin onto them all.
Salka, a headstrong and independent young woman, finds herself in a life threatening situation that forces her to explore the depths of her true nature and test the bonds between mother and child…
I know, I know, Finnland is so not in Eastern Europe, but I don’t know any Slavic bands, and this song by The Rasmus fits quite well with Salka’s story.
I think what got me interested in The Second Bell at first was the fact that it’s inspired by Eastern European based myths and folklore. You do not often come across something like that – The Witcher series probably being the most prominent. Though I did not read that series and I’m not familiar with said Eastern European myths and folklores. So I pretty much went blindly into The Second Bell and I really can’t comment on how much was taken away from old folk tales or how well that part of the story was done – reading some Wikipedia pages did not give me sufficient knowledge on the matter, though it still was interesting to read about the stryzga which inspired the striga in this novel.
But first things first. The Second Bell is the story of Salka and Miriat, striga daughter and human mother. But it’s also a story of prejudice and superstition. At the beginning of the book, Miriat decides to leave her home, Heyne Town to go up higher in the mountain to live in the striga village because she can’t bear the thought of abandoning her child. Which would have been Salka’s fate otherwise. Being born with two hearts is something to be feared. But living among the striga does not mean she is free to be whoever she wants to be. The striga fear their own powers and they are to repress themselves, no matter what. The striga treat their own just as harshly as the humans of Heyne Town treat strigas. I think this was the most interesting aspect of the book, which also delivered an important lesson. It not only deals with topics of
While I found The Second Bell compelling enough to read it to the end, overall I walked away from it a bit underwhelmed. For starters, I didn’t like any of the characters. And there was only a handful I could tolerate – Salka (so, so, so naive, OMG), Maladia and Dola, and even then they weren’t the most loveable out there. Most of the villagers and townspeople were just horrible. Look, I get it, they are leading a hard life, but it doesn’t mean they have to be selfish bastards. And they are mostly pretty one dimensional to add anything extra to the story. They all had one purpose which they fulfilled, but they are more disposable than interesting. And this novel was supposed to be a character-driven one. Too bad it fell flat in the execution.
The story is pretty small scale. It’s not action-packed and there isn’t much happening, not toward the last third anyway- it has a bit of slice-of-life feel to it – but that was actually refreshing in a way. I quite liked that as I’m not really into big epic fantasy and Houston did an awesome job at bringing nature and the environment to life. I would have liked a bit more showing than telling when it came to the strigas and stigois though, to better understand where the deep fear for their kind is coming from. Besides of “that’s how it is”.
The Secon Bell is a refreshing read with its Slavic setting. If you like dark themed folktale inspired stories, you probably will like it. Personally, I have mixed feelings and think it could have been better at some aspects, but it also did well in others. It shows the deep bond between mothers and their child as well as how closed groups work especially when it comes to beliefs and age-old prejudices. The need to fit in even if one’s nature is against everything the rules represent. Sometimes you need to follow your other heart in order to find happiness. Even if it comes with a price.