Beastly Bones by William Ritter (Jackaby #2)

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4 and a half stars

Beastly Bones is a triumphant sequel to William Ritter’s Jackaby. As Book Two in a proposed Four Book series I can proudly say this is very rare indeed, especially because there’s not a filler or wasted storyline in sight. Beloved characters return and are developed more, and not just the world of Jackaby, 1892 New Fiddleham is expanded, also Ritter pushes the envelope with how he defines the supernatural and unexplained phenomena.

Much like with Jackaby the plot here is a rousing success– threads aren’t left untied or tangled, and everything from the smallest discoveries to the game-changing revelation at the end completely and utterly makes sense. There’s not a shred of doubt in any of the big reveals, and there’s not a single moment where Abigail or Jackaby have “too dumb to live” moments. Ha. Its gotta be said!

Abigail and Jackaby start off by investigating a queer little creature known as a “chameleomorph”. One that it turns out, has the pesky habit of transforming itself to imitate animals, and the habit of taking down the human beings that take them in by chomping their necks. Delving into the world of Cryptozoology this time Abigail and Jackaby not only seek out answers in the city, but a shocking newspaper article leads to them the outskirts of the city. A humble farmer in Gad’s Valley dug up a massive skeleton while tilling his fields, one that is not only larger than a dinosaur, but winged as well…. And those chameleomorph killing sprees? Turns out they’re happening in the lush pastoral countryside too!

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Will Ritter’s masterful descriptions are even more lovely here. He can work some serious magic with the way he paints the images of Gad’s Valley with just words alone, and once again I was able to imagine every second of this playing out like a movie in my head. The quirky banter between oblivious oddball Jackaby and the other characters is in full form, and even more hilarious and delightful than it was the first time around in Jackaby. The dialogue is punchy and such great fun it really adds a wonderfully fun element to an already exceptional series. Consider how he describes this fellow:

The second man was pink faced and pudgy, like an overripe peach, topped with a splash of beet-red freckles and a mess of orange hair. He rubbed his eyes and strapped a bulky burlap satchel to his back.

Familiar faces like Jenny, the resident ghost at 926 Augur Lane have more page time than before. Her budding friendship with Abigail is a total joy– reading them “talk boys” and get to know each other is one of the highlights of the first part of Beastly Bones. Female friendships aren’t always on display in young adult lit, so I’m always thrilled to see them in action, especially ones that feel as real as the bond between Jenny and Abigail who develop a sort of big-sis, little-sis, dynamic. There’s an added element of darkness when we see the more phantom side of Jenny, and how she’s having more and more “echoes” of her last moment before her untimely, and as of this book still unsolved untimely murder. It’s chilling to see her spectral anguish and adds more intrigue to her story, one that’s promised to be told in detail in book three: Ghostly Echoes. In Gad’s Valley, Abigail and Jackaby are reunited with Charlie Cane — now by under the surname Barker– and stay with him in his cabin while investigating the draconian bones….several of which, including a massive fang, begin to go missing.  

“Much of the essence of the living thing is distilled in its teeth. Did you know that? It’s why the tooth fairies are so fond of them.” Jackaby held the vial up reverently. The thing was slightly yellowed, its root a dirty pink.

There are oodles of new characters starring in Beastly Bones. Farmer Hugo Brisbee who uncovered the bones on his humble property, and lost his wife to a bite by an unknown creature not long after. Then there’s the team of scientists that scrabble to claim the dig for their own research and are more than a little thirsty for the recognition such a huge find will bring their names and reputations.

Haughty archaeologist Lewis Lamb and his goonish cronies, and young scientist Owen Horner, who is more than a little cocky, fight like cats and dogs and have some truly despicable qualities. Lewis and Horner despise one another and both accuse the other of thieving the bones and ransacking the dig site. Bold journalist Nellie Fuller jumps on the opportunity to cover this story, and she imparts a little advice to Abigail, love, she says, is limiting for women. And Abigail ought to cut it out with crushing on Charlie if she wants to really seize her life and opportunities and make a name for herself. Ouch. This reporter isn’t the only one with her claws out, and ready to take action.

A close friend of Jackaby’s, an exceptional hunter and trapper of exotic creatures Hank Hudson is also a core character. This hulking bearish man is known for setting his eyes on the rarest creatures out there and is always up for a new challenge even if it includes ultimately…slaying a dragon. *gulps*

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Beastly Bones is a madcap dashing adventure of a book that’ll leave readers breathless and their minds buzzing with the latest whodunit reveals. There’s a pinch of romance here, one that’s carefully tended to, but that doesn’t take precedence. The partnership and sleuthing of the Seer Jackaby and his assistant detective Abigail are the heart and soul of Beastly Bones and their quests to uncover the truth always end up with delightfully peculiar results. This sequel is highly recommended and more than holds up to re-reads.  

images from algonquin young readers website

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