Author Rebecca Alexander follows up her 2014 page-turner The Secrets of Life and Death with its sequel, The Secrets of Blood and Bone, which once again splits up the narrative between modern-day events surrounding the fictional Jackdaw Hammond and her mixed clique of revenants and witches, and the 16th century adventures of Edward Kelley, the real-life assistant to famed Elizabethan alchemist Dr. John Dee.
In present day England, Jackdaw Hammond is living on borrowed time…literally. Technically, she died when she was 11, but thanks to the help of witches and their use of magic sigils, her life on earth has been extended while she lives as what’s known as a “borrowed timer.”
Meanwhile, Edward Kelley is on a secret mission traveling from his English homeland to the mean streets of 16th century Venice where lone travelers are targets for thieves and the Inquisition holds the city in a reign of terror.
After surviving the life-threatening events from The Secrets of Life and Death, Jack is now hoping to settle down to a quieter life. Her foster mother’s aunt, an elderly witch named Ellen, died in a fire at home, and now Jack has taken on the challenge of clearing out the English cottage to assess whether it should be sold off or if she’ll be able to settle down there with her teenaged foster daughter, Sadie, a fellow borrowed timer. Combating the damage from the fire is laborious enough, but the fact that this witch’s cottage has a life of its own thanks to centuries’ old enchantments is making Jack’s arduous task that much more difficult. To complicate matters, the Dannicks, a rich and powerful neighboring family with a long and sordid history with Ellen’s ancestors, are pressuring Jack to find the late witch’s formula for an herbal tincture they say holds the key to saving a dying family member. While the Dannicks seem to be asking politely, Jack feels there’s something sinister about the clan.
And speaking of the Dannicks, in the 1586 storyline, it’s actually Lord Robert Dannick who sent Edward Kelley to Venice for surreptitious purposes, although the famed scientist’s paperwork names Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf as his patron. To his Venetian inquisitors, Kelley claims his mission to be one of a scholarly nature, but his arrival attracts the attention of those who’ve heard of his past exploits with Elisabeth BÃ¡thory, the Countess known in modern times for bathing in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth.
As with the previous book, the chapters in The Secrets of Blood and Bone go back and forth between events in Kelley’s time and those in Jack’s, eventually revealing the connection between the two storylines. Nice additions to the tale are Kelley’s journal entries that preface his chapters, as well as the occasional lead-ins to Jack’s chapters that give the perspective of the cottage’s bewitched garden.
Alexander’s writing is highly descriptive with every person, place, and thing minutely detailed. This proves helpful to readers unfamiliar with the first book, though the descriptions are spread throughout the narrative; there’s no “what you missed” prologue, so you won’t be brought right up to speed at the beginning. On the other hand, it sometimes becomes cumbersome when there’s a dialogue going on and every sentence is punctuated by a character’s mundane actions, such as sipping tea or reaching for a pen. Thankfully, the characters are fleshed out here enough where you don’t need to have read the previous entry, although you’ll definitely want to every time someone alludes to Elisabeth BÃ¡thory, the consuming of blood, or some other supernatural or magical experience. While we learn more about Jack and Sadie in this sequel, it seems as though the author is holding back pertinent details about their lives and about borrowed-timers in general that perhaps will be revealed in later installments.
The book doesn’t patronize the women characters or hone in on their insecurities or neuroses as dominant character traits, as I’ve seen in other novels with female leads. And while it doesn’t rely on the men to come to the rescue, do all the thinking, or decipher all the clues, it also doesn’t make Jack some kind of supernatural ass-kicking superhero. She has her vulnerabilities, but they stem from having her childhood cut short, as well as her emergence into womanhood stunted, and even with all she’s been through, she’s still a capable person.
There is so much to enjoy in The Secrets of Blood and Bone, as it’s a well-written mix of urban fantasy and historical fiction that features witches, alchemists, demons, shapeshifters, bloodsuckers, sentient overgrowth, and more, that, like its predecessor, keeps the reader captivated and invested.
In the stunning follow up to The Secrets of Life and Death, Rebecca Alexander has created a gripping supernatural thriller that bridges time, legend and the power of blood.
Following her showdown with Elizabeth Bathory, Jackdaw Hammond is running from her past, hiding from her future, and hoping to contain her newfound thirst for blood. Buying an overgrown home in the middle of nowhere seems like the perfect place to escape”¦at least until she finds herself in the sights of a murderous family with a terrible secret and a penchant for dark magic. Meanwhile, her old ally Felix Guichard has gone to New Orleans to conduct his own investigation into the nature of blood magic, but is soon sucked into the intrigues of the city’s occult underworld. But Jack will need Felix more than she knows, for the battle for her soul is set to begin.
Her only salvation may lie with the secrets of 16th century master occultist Edward Kelley, and a dangerous mission he undertook in Venice to confront the Inquisition, the darkest deeds of his own past, and the fearsome power of Elizabeth Bathory.