The Second Bell

By Gabriela Houston

The Second Bell, a novel by Gabriela Houston
Book details

If the past twelve months has taught us anything is that rules will only work so well. One person may stick fast the letter of the law, another may bend them a little, another may ignore them completely. All three believe they are doing the right thing and all three may be at odds with one another. It is hard to understand why some rules exist when you have never seen the consequences of breaking them. In Gabriela Houston’s The Second Bell the consequences will manifest themselves in the awakening of a second heart that draws power from living things. Accessing this power is forbidden and will result in banishment or the community burning your heart out. Best stick to the rules then, but that is not as easy as it sounds. 

In a remote village, the birth of any child always comes with some caution. Even if the child is born healthy, it may be a striga, someone with two hearts. This second heart, if left untamed, will envelope the human side. These striga babies are abandoned at the edge of the village and left for other striga’s to hopefully find and bring up. Miriat refused to abandon her child and left the village with Salka. This is Salka’s story. A story about following your heart. Both of them. 

Second Bell is an interesting novel as it sits between several genres: part fairy tale, part fantasy and part examination of society. For all its fantastical elements, one of the strongest themes that thread through the book is about Rules and why people follow them. Salka is head strong, but apart from one youthful indiscretion, she tries to follow the rules as best as possible. The problem is that this one rule break is enough to change her life forever. She is taken on a ride that she has little control over as she is forced to discover the power that lives within her and inside many other people in her village. 

What adds interest to the book is that although Salka believes that she is on a downward spiral that is out of control, we see the manipulation behind it. The book is frustrating in a good way as the reader is aware that Salka is being manipulated, not only by her ‘enemies’ but also her so called friends. At almost every turn Salka is being used and you feel so much for the character. This young woman, on the cusp of adulthood, is getting harsh lessons served to her continuously. There is a fable like quality to the anguish she is put through that is heart-breaking for the reader, but also makes the book a page turner. 

I really enjoyed the politics found in Second Bell as they informed the world building. Houston has spent time developing a back story for different characters. Rather than writing the characters into a predetermined story, it feels that the story naturally develops due to their actions, from an overprotective mother all the way to a stickler for the rules. All actions are based in a character’s nature. As a reader it can be hard to forgive what they do, but it is easy to understand. 

The development of characters is some of the most enjoyable I have read in recent years and it helped that they sit within an interesting world and that the action heats up as the book progresses. Whether you regard the rules that each character lives under as folly or justified, it does not matter as events come to a head. Various communities and individuals with differing world views are all going to be forced together and this potential powder keg has Salka in the middle.  

Written on 9th March 2021 by .

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