Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Whispering Bones by Rita Vetere

TITLE: Whispering Bones
AUTHOR: Rita Vetere
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 61k)
GENRE: Horror
COST: $5.50

A child’s horrific death during the Black Plague unleashes a curse that terrorizes generation after generation of the man she blames. It spans time, grows stronger with each kill. When Anna LaServa takes a job to design a hotel on the grounds the child haunts, she has no idea what she’s got herself into…

Though the majority of the books I review here are romance, in my reading world they only constitute a fraction of what I consume. I’ve been reading horror and suspense alongside romance since I picked up my first Stephen King when I was ten, but there aren’t as many small presses doing non-romance genre fiction as there are romance pubs (at least to the quality I’d hope for). I’d definitely review more if I could get my hands on them.

For a good part of this story, the plot jumps between three different storylines. There’s nine-year-old Isabella in Venice of 1576, when the plague is devastating the country. There’s Dr. Rossi in Venice of 1927, recently hired to be the chief doctor at a nearby asylum. And there’s Anna LaServa in modern day Toronto, about to travel to Venice to begin a two-week project designing a new hotel. Anna visits her grandmother – the only family she has left – before leaving, but when her grandmother hears where she is going, she begs Anna not to go. Anna tries to convince the old woman that it’s good for her career and goes anyway. There, she meets Alejandro, the man in charge of the hotel’s construction, and together they go out to the island that will be the site. Anna is spooked almost from the first, but things only get progressively worse the longer she stays and discovers an asylum was once on the grounds.

I usually try to avoid revealing too many spoilers in reviews as I’m particularly spoiler-phobic, but I’m going to give a couple away in this because I think they’re important to get out there. I almost stopped reading this book about a third of the way in. Now, I knew when I started that there would be a child’s death – that’s in the blurb – but by the time I reached page 78, I had to read in some detail about two separate events that are very triggery for me. The first involved Anna. Anna is in her mid-forties and never married, mostly because she never got over being raped when she was fifteen. I was fine with the reference to it, but then there’s a passage where she remembers it, in some detail. Less than twenty pages later, a woman in the 1927 storyline gives birth to a stillborn baby, again in some detail. Frankly, if I’d known the book had contained either one of those I would never have bought it in the first place. They tend to be dealbreakers for me, but after stopping on this for a day or two, I convinced myself to go back and finish it, with the promise that I’d stop for real if something else triggered me.

There wasn’t any one particular event, thank goodness. But after that point, the three storylines begin to converge, and the entire second half of the novel is unrelenting grotesquerie and horror.

It pulls no punches. The events are graphic, the violence frequent and bloody. Evil is a palpable, toxic entity that permeates the Italian setting, and the rising terror all too real. Anna maintains her cool a surprisingly long time, but once she loses it, the knots the story is already tying constrict even more. For me, it was too much. I only kept reading because I figured I’d made it through the worst of what could trigger me, and I needed to see how it ended. But when I read horror, I need the occasional relief from the darkness – a funny line, a sweeter scene, anything different in tone to allow me as a reader to take a breath before sinking back into the terror. I didn’t really get it in this. I didn’t get the ending I needed, either. I finished this frustrated with how everything worked out, even though I know it’s quite a common trope in the horror genre. For me, though, it didn’t work, probably because I was already burned out with the evil overload by that point.

To be fair, I can’t recommend this one way or another. It didn’t work for me, but my reasons are very personal and specific. Other readers of this genre might not have the same problems I did.


7/10 – Unrelentingly horrific with unseen potential triggers, I almost gave up on this a third of the way in


6/10 – While the female protagonist comes to life, most of the secondary characters do not


7/10 – Maybe not the most original, but the original setting and time elements add to it

Entertainment value

5/10 – Even as much as I got triggered in this, I might have scored it higher if it wasn’t for the truly disappointing ending

World building

9/10 – Atmosphere and setting are so strong, I wanted to go to Venice even in spite of all the terrible elements



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