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…The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston
Might just turn out to be Angry Robot’s very own Marmite… You’ll either love it or hate it.
When I first learnt of The Second Bell’s conception I knew I needed a copy at the earliest opportunity. After reading the synopsis and seeing that amazing cover with its strong and bold colours I was sold. I have never before read anything based off of Slavic folklore before and I do enjoy my fair share of folklore so I should enjoy this one right? That’s what I thought anyway. Now I’m not going to say that I didn’t enjoy The Second Bell because I did but there are a few key aspects that stopped me from falling in love with this one.
I want to get straight into the element of this tale that just didn’t gel for me. For me it is a big issue because if it worked then this read would have been a top pick for sure. The issue is with the characters. There is a good host of characters and several are strong independent women of which Salka comes straight to mind and this is always great to see in a book however they are all a little flat in detail. I would have loved a little more background info on Salka and Miriat, the daughter and mother the story revolves around, and I would have been able to establish a deeper connection with them. Then there is the actual folklore surrounding the Striga. The book intrigued me enough to look into the Striga a little more and I like what I found out and I wish the Striga received a little more background in the book. We just arrive at the ‘they’re not good’ conclusion without any build up as to why. I think this would have gone a long way to help build the story more.
Don’t worry though it’s not all bad. Remember when I referenced Marmite? Well let’s get into what I believe to be some great strong points about The Second Bell and why some people will love it. Gabriela Houston clearly has a talent for world building. The level of detail is brilliant and just how Houston unravels the world around the reader is fully immersive and I found myself absolutely in love with the setting. I could easily imagine the rolling hills breaking off as we hit the monstrous pine covered mountains. This level of detail really helps put the reader into the shoes of the characters traversing the land. There is a section in the book where Salka finds herself being punished and during that section I truly found escapism at its finest. The world around me melted away and I was there with Salka in the snow-capped mountains. Perfect. I often wondered, while reading, if Houston pulled any inspiration from her own life and if this area exists in real life.
The second aspect I loved is that of the view of parenting. We often get the trope of children/teens being unintentionally oppressed by their parents and how this can damage the child however what we see less of is the view of the parent and why they do what they do and that came as a nice breath of fresh air. I found a slight connection here with Miriat as a parent myself and I could find her actions and choices relatable. Hats off the Houston for highlighting this view in The Second Bell.
Overall I would lean towards liking The Second Bell but I could have been totally in love if the characters held up to the beautiful world in which they live. A little more backstory and depth to the characters could have gone a long way. The Second Bell is worth the read and I think a lot of reads will really enjoy the story however if you are like me and like more depth to your characters then The Second Bell might leave you a little deflated. Going forward I will without doubt be keeping an eye on Gabriela Houston’s future works.