Review: By These Ten Bones

I should be writing an essay.

Actually, there are three essays that I am supposed to be writing right now. But I have been staring at a blank Word document for several hours, and cannot seem to get these nebulous ideas swirling around my head to coagulate into actual sentences. How do professional writers do it?

With this as my premise, I decided to explore another form of writing by presenting . . . . .


Written by Clare B. Dunkle, By These Ten Bones is a tale of a Werewolf and the girl who loves him.

Coming on the heels of our Angst Week, a review my favorite book with an angsty, Gothic theme is in order. Vampires and werewolves and the Gothic are being romanticized and idealized, and the dark, leeching, inhuman activities are being fed to the populace as desirable. Ugh. Seriously? Myths and tales about these creatures were meant to show how non-human-and-therefore-horrible they were. Like the original Bram Stoker. Dracula might have been sensually inclined, but at the end the vampire was an anti-human thing that had to be killed.

Dunkle works with  and yet twists these tropes, to create a romantic, sweet, youthful, dark, loving, human, coming-of-age story that actually stays true to original folk-tale conceptions of werewolves! Here, being a werewolf is a curse that makes a person into an undesirable monster, and only love of the actual person can make him into a person again. Although it is written for a more youthful readership, this book manages to convey the horror of a human being turning into a cannibalistic creature once a month, of a young man who literally cannot choose but to destroy and consume that which he loves the most.

Set in a 17th century Scottish village where the “coos” and social duties provide the most excitement, the tale open with Maddie. She is a simple and bright girl who both helps to serve the old Lady at the rundown castle, and works at her family weaving business. When a young wood carver and his perpetually drunken “master” come through town, Maddie is intrigued by quiet and talented boy, despite the eery sensation he gives off.  An accident gets the “master” put in chains on the night of the full moon, and a terrifying haunting begins.

It turns out that the “werewolf-ness” is a type of supernatural disease or parasite, but it can be cured by great sacrifice on the part of someone other than werewolf. It is the most brilliant and obvious cure to inhumane beast-ness that I have ever come across; it celebrates the weakness and strengths of a being a Human, it requires a both human and divine virtues of Maddie and the Werewolf, (who doesn’t have name until he is fully human again,) and it pushes both characters beyond themselves into an actual, literal, determined love.

Is it possible to talk about a supernatural love story without comparing it to “Twilight”? Possibly, but here I want to do do. “By These Ten Bones” cements my distaste for those floppy, sparkly tales by showing just what great things can be done with these tropes.

Here, Love is the Answer, but not solely in a weepy, fluffy, emotional way that most teen books seem to make it out to be, but a deep, terrifying, self-giving. Maddie’s love is almost more frightening than the being torn apart by a beast-man.

No, I take that back. Her love IS more frightening.

There is none of this “oh, I will stay away from you for your own good – except that I can’t so now I will die” type of self-perpetuating angst that frustrates both the emotions and common sense of the reader. These are calm, pragmatic people who search for a solution and have the courage and love to commit themselves totally.

The title refers to a promise that Maddie makes to the Werewolf, where she swears ‘by these ten bones’, her ten fingers. I LOVE this. Here is a dante-esque metaphor, a promise made with what seems to be a typical hyperbolic symbolism. But Maddie means it literally; if by the power of her hands she can help, she will. Her oath means both her physical and spiritual cooperation, and with the strength of this sacramental promise she is able to lift the curse.

Also, St. Michael the Archangel is a character in the book. At least, that is what I firmly believe, but I might not be able to prove it. You should read it and give me your opinion.

Without being specifically Christian or overtly moralistic, and exploring religion mostly in terms of the society, the book hold a very high standard to what it takes to be a person. And what it means to love a person.

“By These Ten Bones” is an well told, cleverly plotted, fun read that actually has some meaty substance.

Can any other Werewolf book say that?



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