Bone Jack, by Sara Crowe, for Timeslip Tuesday

I just gave Bone Jack, by Sara Crowe (Philomel Books, Feb. 2017, April 2014 in the UK)  five stars over at Goodreads, something I almost never do, not because I think it was an absolutely perfect book, but because it did what it set out to do very well indeed, and because it was a book I would have been so happy to find when I was the age of the target audience-11 -14 years old..  I loved  books in which the old stories and legends of the British Isles slipped through into the present day, with dark and dangerous consequences (books like The Owl Service, and A String in the Harp). (I still do, but a less naïvely romantic way....).  If I didn't already know better, I'd believe that Bone Jack was written back in the 1960s or 70s; it has very much the feel of so many excellent British children's books of that era. 

13 year-old Ash has won the competition to be this year's Stag Boy in a race that is now a quaint folkloric custom n his village in the north of England, but which  has dark roots--the other local boys, playing the hounds, are not expected these days to hunt the stag to his death in a ritual to renew the land,  but in the past.....It is a hard time for Ash's bit of the world--foot-and-mouth disease has wiped out the sheep, and a draught is drying up the land.  His best friend Mark's father killed himself after his sheep were slaughtered, and Ash's own father has come home from fighting in the Near East with PTSD.  

The darkness of the present calls to the past, and stirs up the old pattern.  Ash sees the ghosts of a past Stag Boy hunted till he falls from the cliff at Stag's Leap by merciless boys playing the hounds.  Bone Jack is walking the hills again, and the boundary between the past and present is slipping.  Mark, Ash's friend, will be a hound in this year's chase, but for Mark, who's now living wild in the hills, the Stag Chase has become a chance to bring his father back.  For that to happen, the Stag Boy must die.

So the story is filled with things inexplicable at first falling into an ancient grove, and the tension grows very nicely as Ash realizes that what had seemed a simple way of pleasing his father by running as the Stag Boy is turning into something that might end up with Mark trying to kill him.  He considers backing out, but he can't bring himself to do so....

It is not all mythos and ancient darkness--there are side notes of human relationships, giving Ash the opportunity for character growth, that I found moving and convincing--Ash and his mother hoping that Ash's father can come back to them, Ash's feeling of guilt from having pulled back from Mark after Mark's tragedy, Mark's little sister coping as best she can with the tragedy and now with the madness, that has overtaken her life.

I'm counting this as a time slip not because any of the main characters travel through time, but because the Past, embodied in a sense in Bone Jack, has very much awoken in the present.  The boys of the Stag Hunt long ago are perhaps ghosts, or time slipped echoes, but there is a wolf who has slipped from the past in true corporeal form, and that's good enough for me.

So if you like Celtic infused fantasy in which there isn't a Prophecy or a Chosen One or an epic struggle against a power hungry Dark Lord, but in which the tension comes from old stories manifesting in the present, you will like this one!  It might look like YA, but it isn't quite; it's being marketed as 10 and up (in the grades 4-6 slot at School Library Journal, and ages 11-13 at Kirkus), which is as it should be.  I don't know how many young Celtophiles/Anglophies there are today, but it's also a good one for kids who like horror.

My one real, strong, substantial objection to the American edition of Bone Jack is that they Americanized it, most obviously substituting "Mom" for "Mum."  Which subverts the whole point of the book being rooted in its particular, very non-American place.  And which also makes me wonder, in a suspicious and vaguely hostile way, what other changes were made for the American edition...

But in any event, Sara Crowe is now an auto-buy author for me (I think I will go with her UK editions, although I strongly prefer the American cover of this one; the UK cover is at right), and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Here's the Kirkuk Review, which more or less comes to the same conclusion as I do.


  1. Hi Charlotte -- Thank you for giving me my next read! Always grateful for your gatekeeping. : ) - Jen Downey

  2. looks right up my alley. Another one of my firm favorites that's also rooted deeply in its non-American place and is written in the 70's is Susan Cooper's Celtic infused the Dark is Rising series.

    1. A favorite series of mine too! I hope you enjoy this one.

  3. Americanizing of children's books set in other countries annoys me (among other reasons) becuase it shows a lack of respect ror readers' intelligence.

    1. and one would think the Harry Potter books have shown that people in the US can cope.


Free Blog Counter

Button styles