Retz Gallows is half-huldra — a huldra being an otherworldly creature born with a hollow body, no internal organs, an animal tail, and inhuman strength. Retz’s existence is further complicated by the fact that he is a vessel for a necromancer-like entity called Nalem, who has a love for torture and death and whose powers include the ability to control bones.
On the night that the story begins, Retz wakes up from Nalem’s control, driving to Oregon and being attacked by an angry unicorn head. The head, Nalem tells Retz, is a gift for an old friend that they are traveling to see, a lamia called Lady Delight. Also traveling to Oregon is Jarrod Gallows, Retz’s estranged brother. Jarrod is also half-huldra and cursed in his own way; he has to protect the lives of supernatural beings or the vines that have been weaved into his skin and bones will take him over.
So, this is how Retz and Jarrod are reunited after ten years. Though initially with ulterior motives, one more sinister than the other, they end up working together in a journey that will bring them face to face with murder, betrayal, a host of otherworldly creatures, and herds of unicorns!
The blurb for Bones and Bourbon immediately had me requesting the book for review. Dorian Graves successfully manages to build a unique urban fantasy world, introducing originally created beings within a story, which at its heart, is about familial love.
Retz and Jarrod alternately narrate Bones and Bourbon and Graves is able to give them both individual personalities and voices. Jarrod is the more selfless of the two, although he is not without his flaws, an alcohol problem being one of them. Just like Retz is never without Nalem, Jarrod is emotionally attached to his human boyfriend, Farris. For me, Farris was a great addition to the story because his recklessness is endearing and his humor is, at times, much needed! It is definitely a change to read a story in which there is an established relationship and this is the only romance that Graves includes within Bones and Bourbon. This does not mean that the story has lots of sex. There is, in fact, none. Jarrod is also transgender. In one scene, Jarrod is captured and tied naked to an examination table and Graves conveys how difficult an experience this is for him:
My scarf tightened around my chest, and I wished it covered all of me. All these traits I tried to hide were being turned into an educational lecture. They just looked and my identity was laid as bare as my body. Made me want to retreat into my head and go numb for a bit, as Retz had once described doing with Nalem around.
Both Farris and Jarrod admit that they keep secrets from one another, particularly about their families, though Graves uses this to a story-telling advantage, imparting information to the reader as Jarrod decides to open up. I think because we learn about parts of Jarrod and Retz’s past through conversations and memories, we get a very real sense of emotion, including Jarrod’s guilt and desperation about Retz’s situation with Nalem. Graves’ use of her characters’ emotions also has the effect of attaching us to the story, especially the empathy Graves invokes.
There may be no sex in Bones and Bourbon, but this does not mean the story lacks intensity. The connection between Jarrod and Farris is obvious and the evidence of this is their desire to be near one another. However, their relationship is not really Graves’ focus. Bones and Bourbon is an intricately woven story and, at times, I thought the plot became too complicated with different threads constantly diverging and the story continuing after I thought it should have ended. Saying that, Graves builds the intensity of Bones and Bourbon using elements of horror. The unicorns we currently think of as these fluffy, magical creatures are violent and carnivorous in Graves’ novel, and the ‘villains’ of Bones and Bourbon, like Lady Delight, Vairi, and Nalem commit acts which are truly deplorable and there are moments my stomach churned in the worst way.
Bones and Bourbon is an elaborate story that leaves the reader with many unanswered questions. I am sure that this is Graves’ means of leading the reader into a sequel. I think fans of urban fantasy and supernatural novels will find Bones and Bourbon enjoyable and I would recommend it.