SPFBO 9 Finalist Review: Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews

SPFBO 9: Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews

Welcome to the Final stage of SPFBO 9! As you know, the 10 blogs all picked their champion who advanced into the finals, including ourselves. Check out our SPFBO 9 page for more info! SPFBO 9 ends on April 30th, and so we’ll post our finalist reviews every two weeks or so until then.

Our 6th SPFBO 9 finalist review is for Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews. The order of the reviews within a post will be in alphabetical order.

A quick reminder about how we are proceeding in the Finals: our judges had the freedom to opt out of reading any of the books due to personal interest, time restrictions, unforeseen life events, etc. Our aim is to have at least 4 reviews/scores for each finalist.

Both in the Semi-Final and Final stages we’ll have a DNF rule in place: if a judge reads a book (either semi-finalist or finalist if they didn’t opt out beforehand), they have to read at least 25% of it. If they decide to DNF between 25%-50% they’ll have to give a score but can opt out of writing a review, and if they DNF after 50% (or not) then also have to score AND write a review.

For Hills of Heather and Bone we have 5 reviews and 5 scores for your reading pleasures.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our 6th finalist!

Table of Contents

About the Book
Series:standalone
Genre:Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Romance
Publisher:self-published
Date of Publishing:May 20, 2023
Book Blurb
Hills of Heather & Bone by K.E. Andrews

The bones of the dead hold stories.

On the fringes of Errigal, Morana longs to exchange a life of hiding for a peaceful one with her husband, Percy. While Percy’s bloodgift lets him grow plants and heal broken bodies, Morana’s a boneweaver, despised and feared because she can hear bones and raise the dead. Morana doesn’t want to be seen as a villain from the old stories and instead spends her time gardening, writing the stories of the dead, and fending off a spiteful chicken.

Morana and Percy’s lives are shattered when a group of Failinis tasked with capturing boneweavers and rogue bloodgifted find them. On the run and battling the elements, ancient creatures, and the loss of all they called home, Morana and Percy search for any sanctuary left in Errigal. Morana must choose between the call in her blood or the family she holds so close to her heart if she and Percy are to survive.

Please be aware that this book contains some scenes of violence, death, depression, mentions of miscarriage, birthing scenes, suicidal thoughts, suicide, and cannibalism.

Review

Bjørn

Read: 100%

I got to 15% wondering why I am being infodumped at. Sometimes just told what I am seeing or encountering, and sometimes with the information not-so-subtly woven into the dialogue (Morena, the protagonist, needs her husband – to whom she’s been married for ten years, as she reminds him – to explain a problem he’s been thinking about ‘for years’ – but only now she is ‘grasping part of what he says.’) There simply wasn’t much happening. Until suddenly OMG WUT AAHHHH hit and then the slow, calm pace returned.

Calm.

Hills of Heather and Bone simply isn’t the battle-bloodbath-sword-etc. sort of fantasy. The author calls it ‘cottagecore’ at the end and Taylor Swift’s evermore nods in approval. The festival section would have been perfect for  a small destruction of everything… which doesn’t happen. People are just having a nice time. Hills of Heather and Bone is a warm hug with just enough undercurrent of dread – justified, as things do happen suddenly every now and then, and the protagonist has all the reasons to be afraid – to keep me from falling asleep in the nice way. It’s really difficult to say this so it doesn’t sound like I am being shady, so let’s try this: this book is beautiful.

The Lord of the Rings movie removed the Tom Bombadil section, because nothing happens, except nature and things being nice and beautiful. Hills of Heather and Bone is like a Tom Bombadil book with bits of what the filmmakers deemed interesting. There is a complex, at first, magic system that I’m also loving. This is a book about nature. One of my favourite characters is a slightly murderous hen with attitude. The author’s bio mentions “[w]hen she’s not writing, she tends to her plants [and] plans out her next crafting project,” and it shows. There is love in this book.

I know very little about Celtic mythology, so I can’t judge whether it’s ‘right’ or not, but I enjoyed the way it was woven into Hills of Heather and Bone. I love a protagonist with arthritis (this sounds odd without context) rather than 80 mortal wounds achieved during a great battle and healing without a trace over two days. If I were to compare Hills of Heather and Bone to another book I’ve read, it would be Adrienne Martine-Barnes’ The Fire Sword.

In terms of criticism, the characters’ voices aren’t particularly distinctive, except for Percy’s horrible dad-plant-puns. (Morana is aware of how awful they are and when for a REASON they are not being delivered in usual quantities, she misses them… and, to my shock, I did, too.) It sometimes sounds weirdly contemporary, for instance when Percy muses about traumatic events in a world that doesn’t have electricity, much less psychologists. The accents of the characters are differentiated by varying percentages of ‘cannae’ and ‘willnae’ per page. And… that’s it. There is no ‘unfortunately’ in Hills of Heather and Bone (although, unlike the author, I am not in love with the cartoonish cover – but the cover contest has, ah, already taken place in another era).

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this…pleasant. It’s a warm blanket with colourful plant embroideries, and almost all of them are gorgeous. I recommend it to anyone who needs detox from grimdark and its less hilarious cousin, reality. I’ll be re-reading Hills of Heather and Bone. For pleasure.

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Jen

Read: 100%

They say opposite attract and I can’t think of anyone more different to one another than Morana and her husband Percy.

Percy is a fleshmender, a healer. Double gifted; he can heal both plant and animals.
He is as fun and light, as you would expect of someone who can bring life and healing to those around them.

Moranna is a boneweaver. A practice that is feared by most; her gift lets the dead raise. She hears their life stories and part of the price of her gift is listening and retelling them.

As you can imagine, as someone who deals with death and the threat of it every day Moranna, is a bit more subdued than her pun-happy husband Percy.

Hills of Heather and Bone is just a pretty book. The presentation – between the cover, the interior art, the chapter headings (which I loved) and the style it was written, even the story itself was atmospherically pretty. I even dare to say- this was without a doubt the loveliest version of necromancy I have ever read.

The prose is a bit thicker than I tend to like these days, but it does suit the setting and the story, and just that all-around tone it has going for it of life and death and everything that comes in between and I was sold by chapter four.

I had a few complaints – mostly to do with repetition but that’s a hard trench to straddle, when you are spending so much time in one character’s head in a smaller stakes story like this one. So, it’s a very small complaint.

This was labeled cottage-core (something I’ve never heard of) but it likely fits better than “cozy fantasy” since Hills of Heather and Bone can be sorrowful at times with explorations of grief themes and depression- it’s just a little heavier emotionally than what I usually think of when thinking “cozy”. 

I was very grateful for the way this ended. I felt the heaviness of the story deserved an ending that would ease our hearts and I was very much afraid we were going to be given what I like to call “*the Deveraux ending”.

I left the story feeling satisfied and at ease. (I hope that is not too spoilery to say)

PS.
*If you want to know why then give Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor a read.

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Liis

Read: 100%

SPFBO made me read this book and this is great, because outside of SPFBO, I wouldn’t have given it a chance. The cover, whilst lovely, is just too cute for my reading tastes. The blurb is good but it doesn’t tell me about The Thing that I really liked in this book. In the end, it turns out, Hills of Heather and Bone could have been sold to me based on trigger warnings alone.

Ye gods, this one was just so morbid and I LOVED it. The prose is exquisite and with this book I had that feeling I am always chasing as I read – pure, unadulterated reading joy. It absolutely helped that the characters, the plot and the looming sense of danger at every moment kept me engaged and wondering. For me, the pace was perfect, the cuts from action to reflection were perfectly smooth. Hard as I try to come up with a complaint, I am unsuccessful. It’s one of those comfort books that gave me everything – respite from reality in the sweet and simple moments and my need for action and for something different was well met with the bloodgifted and the conspiracy surrounding the boneweavers. The added depth was provided through a spiritual journey that the characters find themselves upon. A journey of hardship and grief, which through sadness and anger lead us gently towards acceptance and newly found strength. Beautiful story arc and character development.

Hills of Heather and Bone didn’t shy away from tackling 2 huge negative elements that every society has – prejudice and fear of the unknown. It was the focus of the whole conspiracy surrounding boneweavers and yet it wasn’t something that popped at you at all times, it was more like an undercurrent of the story but nonetheless effective. So, as you can tell, quite a few heavy hitting points. Which takes me to my next observation…

More often than not, it’s very jarring when authors throw us into the emotional deep-end right away at the start of the story because the connection to the character(s) has not had a chance to form yet. So, it was really interesting for me that whilst this story takes a pretty immediate deep dive into very personal matters, I didn’t feel disconnected. I was straight into it. How? Why? This was new to me because I was emotionally invested from page 1 and I found it curious. But pleasantly surprising.

If I was to mention another small aspect from this book, then there is something that may divide the camp, and that’s Morana’s arthritis pains. Some readers may find that this is mentioned too often and I am here to give voice to the opposite side – for me, the frequent reminders of Morana’s pains were not an annoyance nor did I find them overdone. I found them quite close to reality because you can’t switch this type of pain off and if it tends to annoy some readers due to how often it’s mentioned, then yeah… Author has done their job. It’s not something that can be switched off. 

Lastly, the centrepiece of the book – death. In Hills of Heather and Bone, death is a part of Morana and death plays a huge part in the whole book. Whatever she does and wherever she goes, her life is centred on death. I think Morana’s story and the other boneweavers’ connection to death and dying – it was a beautiful way to address this very final part of life and what it’s like after. The celebration of a life after it has been snuffed out – through stories or pictures or cooking. The things that we remember our loved ones by when they have passed. I loved that little detail. 

Hills of Heather and Bone is an eloquent gem which I loved from start to finish. There’s something to be said about the Celtic influences, mostly of Scottish origin with some Irish mixed in. There’s no denying that anything Celtic immediately adds an air of mysterious and otherworldly which is hard to resist. But, what is The Thing that the book blurb didn’t tell me about? I think it would be hard to put into words, in something as short as a blurb, the particular charm Hills of Heather and Bone has. It tiptoes in between death and life, the sad and joyous. It leaves you at once emotionally shook and content. Thus, I will join with all of the voices that say this book has charm – and that charm has a purple hue and it whispers of death. 

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Paul

Read: 100%

Before I tell you my thoughts on Hills of Heather and Bone, here is a disclaimer – as most of my recent reviews have had. Hills of Heather of Bone was the first book I finished in 2024, back on January 10th. My notes are minimal (on checking, I can’t even find them), and a lifetime’s worth of shizz has happened since, so my review will be details light.

Some reviews describe the book as ‘GrimCozy’, and it kind of fits even though, at its darkest, it’s not your traditional Grimdark. There are some pretty violent scenes, but the darkness is far more emotional, and the twists hit far more brutally than any weapon or physical object ever could. In Hills of Heather and Bone, we see our main characters, Morana and Percy, just trying to live, but the fragile thread of their happiness is under constant insidious attack. At multiple points in the book, K.E. Andrews masterfully dials up the cozy, dissolves your guard like a sugar cube in warm milky tea, and then… BOOM… stamps all over your heart, laughing gleefully. This emotional depth is what truly sets this book apart.

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It certainly helps that the writing is flawlessly beautiful throughout. Hypnotic and poetic prose blends sumptuously with the super atmospheric Celtic setting. There are passages within the book that are sheer art, highly emotive, and suffused with such poignancy.

I’m a bit of a hypocrite with this one because it does a lot of things that I’ve critiqued other books in the competition for doing. It is, at times, glacially slow, and the focus is so tightly on the main character of Morana and her internal monologue/feelings that it can feel as though nothing is happening for large periods. But K.E. Andrews is a fine, fine author, and those usual negatives were turned into positives. The slow pace allowed me to really drink up the atmosphere as well as allowing myself to be swaddled by the narrative, and the closeness to Morana made for an extremely intimate experience.

Hills of Heather and Bone is going to be somewhat of a polarizing book and the reading experience is going to be either ‘Meh’ or ‘MOAR’. Fortunately for me, I was firmly in the MOAR camp and adored the book from beginning to end.

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Timy

Read: 52%

Looking at the reviews (and scores) of my lovely team, I’m somewhat sad to say the evil queen has returned. Not the full-blast evil queen, but still. I’m going to be the party pooper, because I really couldn’t get into Hills of Heather and Bone. But it’s not entirely the book’s fault. I think the main issue was that I was just not in the mood for a book like this. I usually like books with a bit of a slice-of-life feel where the main focus is on the characters and the people around them rather than an elaborate plot with twists and turns. Romance doesn’t bother me either (I just read 3 in a row within a week, so you know…), especially since we have an established couple here. I also prefer books written in the first person over the third one, so that checks out as well. And yet, Hills of Heather and Bone didn’t work for me. Why? That’s what I’ll try to explain in this review.

There is tension from the beginning as we learn that Morana, the main character, is a boneweaver and that those who have this particular bloodgift are hunted. She and her husband can’t stay too long in one place as a group called Failinis can show up anytime. So, Morana worries a lot about everything, while Percy is more upbeat, as he tries to stay optimistic through it all. Percy’s bloodgift is healing and tending plants. They live in a secluded place in a small village, until one day they need to leave – I don’t know if we ever learn how they got found out, but the point is, they are being hunted so they run. I’m not generally fond of books that involve a lot of traveling from A to B, so that played its part in me not gelling well with this book. They occasionally have a run-in with the Failinis – for the life of me I have no idea how they keep finding them when apparently they do every trick to dampen their trails – then they run and it repeats. As I stopped reading at the 52% mark, I can’t say whether this pattern continues or not, or how it gets concluded.

The downfall of the first-person POV is if the character is not engaging enough. I felt no connection to Morana. I don’t know if it was the writing style or something else, but for me, she didn’t seem to have a personality, or at least, it didn’t really come through her “voice”. She didn’t make me feel anything, and that’s a problem (for me), because she is going through a lot, some of which I should be able to connect to. She is an overthinker, she has anxiety (as do I), she has a number of health problems including arthritis, and there is also her past experience with a lost child during pregnancy. Her life is a constant battle, although a quiet one. And it’s great to have a lead character such as her. Accompanied by a nice and caring man. There themes in this book that are worth exploring for sure.

I wanted to care, I really tried, but I couldn’t. Maybe it was the wrong book at the wrong time. But Hills of Heather and Bone failed to keep my attention as my mind kept wandering to other books. Maybe some more worldbuilding wouldn’t have gone amiss, because even though there was a constant tension below the surface, we never get explained much about the Feilinis or the different types of magic, etc. We do get all kinds of creatures appearing out of Celtic-based folklore such as kelpies, sídhe, and the like, but they don’t feel like integral parts of this world. They are there because they are convenient for the plot.

Hills of Heather and Bone I think is one of those books that will be a hit or miss with a lot of people, mostly because of its slow space. But I can kinda see why it made it into the finals, and I’m glad we have such diverse books this year.

Our Judgement
Team Queen's Book Asylum's scores for Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews
Bjorn: 8.5
Jen: 7.5
Liis: 9
Olivia: X
Paul: 9
Timy: 6

Our score for Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews:

8

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