Near the Bone by Christina Henry – Review

Imagine living on a secluded snowy mountain in the middle of nowhere. You’ve been living with your husband, a monster, for 12 years – only to discover that there’s a new one lurking in the woods. How are you going to survive and escape both of them?

[Content Warning: SA, Abuse]

Christina Henry’s Near the Bone explores the horrors that the main character – Mattie – has to endure in an abusive relationship with her husband, William. While the premise does make it seem like the book mainly explores the strange supernatural-like entity living on the mountain, it actually focuses more on the abuse that Mattie endures which I don’t mind, the blurb is just a bit misleading. Mattie and William both have been residing on a mountain, almost completely secluded from the outside world. After years of being trapped and not having seen a single soul, it’s clear that William is not who claims to be and has tried to instill the idea that Mattie’s life revolves entirely around him. Her discovery of a horrifying yet intelligent creature called the “cryptid” alarms her and shows that there’s something else she should be afraid of, which also becomes the catalyst of her realisation that she could try to escape.

Christina Henry has a good and effective way of describing events in detail without being gratuitous – she gives a sense that something is constantly lurking in the shadows or looming over, whether it’s the strange creature or William himself. The author also successfully builds the tension throughout the novel while still sustaining the mystery regarding the creature’s motivations and highlighting the impact of William’s abuse. We see the character development that Mattie undergoes, and her mentail turmoil she acknowledges. Even though logically she knows that whatever William says and does is to purely control her life and narrative, she still finds difficulty in believing in herself at times, understandably so.

[Spoiler Alert]

One of the more interesting aspects of the novel lies in the dynamics between the creature and Mattie. At first, it’s clear that the creature is capable of doing harm with its array of “presents” it’s been collecting – but its reluctance to attack makes me think that it understands Mattie’s situation to an extent. It further makes me question whether the creature is a reflection of Mattie herself, and whether the creature’s behavior might represent Mattie’s inner turmoil and cognitive dissonance. The cryptid’s motivations are not properly revealed even in the end – I suppose that it does live up to its name, and I personally don’t find that it diminishes the impact of the plot.

A gripe I do have with the novel is that William’s character seems a bit one-dimensional. He’s very predictable and does not have much going on besides being the big bad villain – which is not to say that the portrayal of his character isn’t accurate or effective, but abusive relationships always have a strong aspect of psychological manipulation through “subtle” means as well more “obvious” ones. For example, at one point it’s shown that William is actually a very good and charming liar – however, this is not explored further in the book, and William only shows his crass self to anyone who crosses his path. With all the tension built and the story coming to an end, one might expect a more “satisfactory” ending instead of an abrupt one – but I do appreciate it. I actually think it’s an effective way to end the novel, it leaves room for more interpretation (and perhaps a sequel?) but it displays the beginning of Mattie Samantha regaining control in her life.

Overall, I would recommend this to people who love suspense. The fantasy or magic realism element is not that prominent, I’d say this is more so a thriller with horror elements, or it at least veers between the two genres.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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