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A Stir of Bones
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Viking, 213 pages

Art: Leonid Gore
A Stir of Bones
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Nina Kiriki Hoffman published her first solo book, The Thread That Binds the Bones, in 1993, winning the Horror Writer's Association Bram Stoker Award for best first novel. Many of her works have been finalists for Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, including novels The Silent Strength of Stones (1995) and A Red Heart of Memories (1999), her novella "Unmasking" (1992) and the novelette "Home for Christmas" (1995).

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A Fistful of Sky
SF Site Review: A Red Heart Of Memories
SF Site Review: Past the Size of Dreaming
SF Site Review: A Red Heart of Memories

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Susan, freed from having to go home so that she can begin research on a science fair project, overhears three friends discussing a haunted house. The three -- Julio, the son of Susan's family housekeeper and the closest thing she has to a real friend, Edmund, who is desperately seeking a place to conduct experiments in magic, and Deirdre, a tomboyish girl who distrusts Susan at first -- are determined to explore this abandoned place. Susan asks to go along, and takes the first steps toward taking control of her strictly structured and confining cage of a life.

When they go to the house, two things are discovered. It is, indeed, haunted, by Nathan, who had killed himself. When Susan touches the skull Nathan throws at them in an attempt to scare them off, she realizes that, as long as she holds it, she can touch Nathan. Susan also realizes that she can touch the consciousness of the house. The house is awake, an active presence that is curious about its new visitors. It welcomes them all into its shelter, most especially Susan, the beautiful, privileged young woman who seems so self-contained, but who is actually a broken bird who has buried herself deep so no one can hurt her.

Susan is portrayed in a heart-breaking fashion. In the first pages we are intrigued, because she is almost otherworldly, almost not real. She is sporting a brand new, huge purple bruise that she gained by accident during a field hockey game but didn't even notice. She feels for her pulse in another scene, and isn't surprised when she doesn't find one because she never does. She is excited and thrilled by the fact that she doesn't have to go right home after school, but to the library. She longs for some of the things she sees as she passes by them. She wonders what the inside of the ice cream shop looks like, remembers a trip to the beach with her Aunt, a memory that is so cherished that you can almost see it is worn around the edges. We also learn that she does have a streak of defiance. She watches MTV and cartoons before her father gets home from work, if her mother's not home, and you can almost envision her crouched in front of the TV, the sound low, listening for the key in the door or waiting for the inevitable check-up call from her father. Something is obviously very, very wrong, and when we find out what it is, it is all the more sorrowful, for all that we suspect the truth.

The house is not your typical haunted house. Instead of a place of devouring evil, it is a place, first of curiosity, then of gentle benevolence. It is a place of magic. Outside, it looks rotted and ready to collapse and inside, it is a place where there's only dust on the first floor, just for show. It's a place of many rooms, where even furniture has ghosts that can be brought back. It is a lovely place because it is a house with a soul, one that loves and protects the way you would expect a house to do. What makes it special is not that the house is alive, but that all houses could be alive. Susan has always been able to sink into her own home. Although it's not as awake as House, she feels that there's a chance that she might be able to bring it out of its solitary silence and make it alive, too.

A Stir of Bones is filled with brilliant imagery and strong writing. You are perfectly engaged in this world, immediately brought deep inside the center of the story. Being at the center, watching Susan and her melting out of her shell requires a great deal of emotional investment, because you can't help but care, one that is paid back in full.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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