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In a world which believes her to be a monster, a young striga fights to harness the power of her second heart, while her mother sacrifices everything to stop her... In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child's mother must then In a world which believes her to be a monster, a young striga fights to harness the power of her second heart, while her mother sacrifices everything to stop her... In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child's mother must then decide to leave with her infant, or stay and try to forget. Nineteen year-old striga, Salka, and her mother, Miriat, made the choice to leave and live a life of deprivation and squalor in an isolated village. The striga tribe share the human belief that to follow the impulses of their other hearts is dangerous, inviting unspoken horrors and bringing ruin onto them all. Salka, a headstrong and independent young woman, finds herself in a life threatening situation that forces her to explore the depths of her true nature and test the bonds between mother and child...


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In a world which believes her to be a monster, a young striga fights to harness the power of her second heart, while her mother sacrifices everything to stop her... In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child's mother must then In a world which believes her to be a monster, a young striga fights to harness the power of her second heart, while her mother sacrifices everything to stop her... In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child's mother must then decide to leave with her infant, or stay and try to forget. Nineteen year-old striga, Salka, and her mother, Miriat, made the choice to leave and live a life of deprivation and squalor in an isolated village. The striga tribe share the human belief that to follow the impulses of their other hearts is dangerous, inviting unspoken horrors and bringing ruin onto them all. Salka, a headstrong and independent young woman, finds herself in a life threatening situation that forces her to explore the depths of her true nature and test the bonds between mother and child...

30 review for The Second Bell

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lukasz

    The Second Bell follows Salka, a young woman born with two hearts. That makes her a striga, a monster her townsfolk fear and try to kill in the cradle. Except, her mother, Miriat, won’t let it happen. They flee the town and find shelter in a community of outcasts high in the mountains. Nineteen years later, Salka finds herself in a life-threatening situation. Accused of endangering others, she’s banished to a remote place. To survive the harsh winter, she must embrace her second heart’s power. A The Second Bell follows Salka, a young woman born with two hearts. That makes her a striga, a monster her townsfolk fear and try to kill in the cradle. Except, her mother, Miriat, won’t let it happen. They flee the town and find shelter in a community of outcasts high in the mountains. Nineteen years later, Salka finds herself in a life-threatening situation. Accused of endangering others, she’s banished to a remote place. To survive the harsh winter, she must embrace her second heart’s power. And this can turn her into a monstrous stigoi. I loved the story’s setting! Houston has a knack for creating vivid images of desolate landscapes, dangerous forests, and showing the raw beauty of nature. I could breathe the cool mountain air and feel the icy wind sting my cheeks. I found the descriptions excellent, and the imagery evocative. Houston reveals the world as the characters interact with it, and presents it through the lens of their mood and current situation. Plus, you can’t get enough of fantasy inspired by pre-Christian Slavic folklore. The story goes small in scale; it revolves around a group of characters, their relationships, beliefs, and moments of truth. Petty behavior and small people acting small out of jealousy, greed, or fear move the plot forward. I found it frustrating. I understand the author wanted to show how much we can sacrifice for blood ties and that passionate (be it romantic or maternal) love blinds, but I found story drivers unconvincing and cliché. Salka and Miriat’s story is nuanced and satisfying. Miriat stood up to her community (more than once) for her child, despite her society’s conviction all two-hearted children carry evil inside. She sacrificed her life for her daughter. Salka, while independent and headstrong, loves her mother and listens to her in crucial moments. Their relationship felt true, mainly because we follow the story mostly through their point-of-view. Unfortunately, other parents/child duos fall flat. We don’t get to know them, but their petty and egoistical behavior moves the story forward. Were they more nuanced and fleshed-out, the events would have played out differently. And this leads to my biggest gripe about the story, namely inconsistent narration. The point of view switches between omniscient, third-person objective, and third-person limited deep POV, frequently in a single chapter. Sometimes, more than once in a single chapter. To make matters worse, the POV slips from one person to another in the space of a few paragraphs. I assume it’s a deliberate choice - the book is traditionally published and, as such, underwent at least a few editorial passes. I found it jarring. Sure, it gave us glimpses of the train of thought of secondary characters (Dran, Kalina, Emila, villagers) but such glimpses showed them as individuals lacking complexity and with shallow motivations. For me, it weakened the narrative instead of making it more nuanced. Listen, I know that rules are for fools, but I can’t help it. I crave a consistent point of view. I dislike when writers drift from one point of view to another. If you, as a reader, have no issue with it, disregard the paragraph above. I won’t judge you. Despite everything, I enjoyed the story. It takes shortcuts, but remains intriguing and heartfelt. With its immersive setting and relatable protagonists, The Second Bell offers enough to maintain readers’ immersion. ARC through NetGalley

  2. 5 out of 5

    Abbie | nerdyabbie

    ⭐ 2.75 / 5 ⭐ A unique fantasy tale inspired by Slavic folklore about a young girl cursed with two hearts, and the mother who will stop at nothing to protect her. The entire concept of this was so new to me, and I was really excited to dive into this one. I had never really read a story inspired by Slavic folklore before, and while I was disappointed by this one, it provided me with a nice entryway into reading more books like it. “In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with ⭐ 2.75 / 5 ⭐ A unique fantasy tale inspired by Slavic folklore about a young girl cursed with two hearts, and the mother who will stop at nothing to protect her. The entire concept of this was so new to me, and I was really excited to dive into this one. I had never really read a story inspired by Slavic folklore before, and while I was disappointed by this one, it provided me with a nice entryway into reading more books like it. “In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. This child is called a striga and is considered a demon who must be abandoned on the edge of the forest. The child's mother must then decide to leave with her infant, or stay and try to forget. Nineteen year-old striga, Salka, and her mother, Miriat, made the choice to leave and live a life of deprivation and squalor in an isolated village. The striga tribe share the human belief that to follow the impulses of their other hearts is dangerous, inviting unspoken horrors and bringing ruin onto them all. Salka, a headstrong and independent young woman, finds herself in a life-threatening situation that forces her to explore the depths of her true nature and test the bonds between mother and child…” ^ Amazing concept, right? And it was! But it lacked that magic spark in the execution. The writing was well done, but something that I really vied for was the characters. And unfortunately, they had no depth in this book. They fell flat. Like a pancake. I hate to say it, but I was really bored. Sherlock-level bored. Also, a moment of silence for the complexity of a certain villainous character that I personally felt was done wrong. All in all, I just found the characters, as well as the world, to be not as compelling. The one thing that did shine in this book, however, was the relationship between Salka and Miriat. That was really the only thing that kept me glued to the story. If not for them (if not specifically for Miriat) I would have given up. Big thank you to Angry Robot for giving me an ARC copy of this book!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nils | nilsreviewsit

    The Second Bell by debut author Gabriela Houston is a beautiful atmospheric blend of Polish folklore, coming of age and dark fantasy. The story centres around a mother and her newborn child who are abruptly banished from their village and cast out into the woods. Yet such cruelty is not without its reason, and this child is by no means an ordinary one, for you see she holds a second heart. It is believed that those born with the sound of double heartbeats are born a striga, a terrifying monstrou The Second Bell by debut author Gabriela Houston is a beautiful atmospheric blend of Polish folklore, coming of age and dark fantasy. The story centres around a mother and her newborn child who are abruptly banished from their village and cast out into the woods. Yet such cruelty is not without its reason, and this child is by no means an ordinary one, for you see she holds a second heart. It is believed that those born with the sound of double heartbeats are born a striga, a terrifying monstrous being that will wreak havoc, devour and kill humans. Fear drives the villagers to desperate measures and so every time a child is born with a double heart they summon a Dola, a woman who has visions foretelling the future, and she is to tie leather around the child’s wrist and abandon it in the forest to die. Yet every now and then a mother would refuse to give up her child, and so they both would be exiled to a striga village in the mountains, never to return. This is where our story begins, for Miriat won’t let her child Salka go, and will stop at nothing to protect her, Nineteen years pass and Miriat and Salka have settled into life in the Striga village. Though it is not an easy one, and it is not without its hardships. Living a life of very little luxury is hard to bear, yet what becomes even harder is that all strigas who live in the village have to control their second heart‘s desires and not let their accompanying shadow possess them. If they let the striga heart take over then they become a stigoi, a savage demon. Yet as we all know beliefs do not always mean absolute truths. “She took a deep breath in and the shadow behind her moved almost imperceptibly, with ripples like the surface of a lake. A sensation of warmth tracing the line of her spine jolted her. She held her breath and tried to force the shadow down into the listless pool on the floor, as she’d always done before. A breath in, hold, a breath out, like she’d been taught. She gasped. For the first time, the shadow pushed back.” Throughout the novel we see Houston weave Polish folklore into a tale of motherhood, prejudice and surviving against all odds. The striga is a well known Slavic mythological creature, one that has often been portrayed as deadly cursed beings. However, Houston takes this concept and shows us that nothing is always as it seems. Miriat and Salka are both presented as strong willed, hard-working and pragmatic women. Although their relationship is often strained, an unconditional bond is felt between them. Miriat, like any mother would, only wants her daughter to be safe and not succumb to the darkness within her. Salka, just like all the other striga’s in the village, battles her second heart and her shadow which both long for her to set them free to do as they will. Salka is curious to explore the striga within her, she desires to feel her shadow’s warmth, it’s protectiveness and its connection to the natural world. Does that make her a monster? Yes, there is a darkness within her, but she has such a gentle caring nature about her too. She longs for the chance to grow, to discover who she is, to set her own path away from her mother’s overbearing presence. In essence she is very much human. It is, however, embedded in human nature to fear what we do not understand, prejudice is born of sheer ignorance and Houston distinctly portrays this throughout the narrative. Evil is not an innate concept, it is the choices we make in life, the morals we choose to adhere to which determines whether we have ill intent or whether we strive to do good. Houston explores this through her entire cast of characters. Yet it is Salka we empathise with the most, she lives on the borders of two worlds: one of human judgement and one of striga judgement, and neither of them will accept her true self. ’“There is no me without you, daughter, do you understand? I wouldn’t wish to stay in a place that doesn’t want you. I couldn’t.”’ Houston’s prose throughout The Second Bell is classic fairytale esque, it flows smoothly and immerses you into this dark foreboding world. The omnipresent narrative style allows the reader to see into different characters' lives and discover the secrets they each hold, which was particularly effective when it came to characters such a Dran and Alma who’s motives were more than a little devious. I had hoped to see more depth from the Dola’s character - a Dola is an aspect of Polish mythology which I’m unfamiliar with and therefore I found myself wanting to know more about her ability to see visions of the future and to also learn more about her past. The atmospheric descriptions of the village surroundings and the forest were truly beautiful, and this is where I feel Houston’s prose truly shines. Knowing that the author grew up in Poland exploring the woodlands, I can see a genuine love of nature reflected in her prose. As we reach towards the second half of the novel we are constantly teased with small glimpses of the powers in which a striga possesses. I loved the way Houston keeps us turning the pages until we reach the last few chapters in which we discover the full force of what a strigoi can do. The Second Bell at its heart is a book about sacrifices. What would a mother sacrifice to keep her child safe? Which lines are they willing to cross? Both Miriat and Salka sacrifice freedom for each other, but in the end those sacrifices only bring them closer together. The novel ends on a bittersweet note, much has been lost, but there is now a sense that the future could hold so much hope. ARC provided by Caroline Lambe at AngryRobot. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an e-ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laura (crofteereader)

    A little disconnected (there are events, especially at the end, that seem to come out of nowhere and solve all of the problems that were brought up even in passing throughout), but I found myself so fascinated by the world and the magic. I definitely would have wanted a bit more of the magic and how the stigoi works, but I feel like we got just enough explanation by the end to help us understand how it works. (It may also be because it's based on folklore I'm not familiar with) I really like that A little disconnected (there are events, especially at the end, that seem to come out of nowhere and solve all of the problems that were brought up even in passing throughout), but I found myself so fascinated by the world and the magic. I definitely would have wanted a bit more of the magic and how the stigoi works, but I feel like we got just enough explanation by the end to help us understand how it works. (It may also be because it's based on folklore I'm not familiar with) I really like that the story followed both Miriat and Salka - getting to see their perspectives (plus Dran and occasionally Kalina and Alma) gave the story a great balance and kept things interesting and maintained forward momentum. Houston did a very good job addressing all the various threads brought up throughout the story as characters come and go. However, our last big plot point hinges upon a freak rainstorm and I definitely would have expected a bit more worry about that in advance. Flooding was never brought up as a possibility until it happened, which, to me, made it feel like it was coming out of nowhere. {Thank you Angry Robot for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review; all thoughts are my own}

  5. 5 out of 5

    R

    The Second Bell is a stunning, atmospheric debut. Based on Slavic folklore, it follows Salka, a striga born with two hearts, an affliction suffered by others that proves to be much than just the curse many people believe it to be. The setting is amazingly well-rendered and populated by complex, conflicted characters, the prose is to die for, and the ending? SO MANY FEELS. Do yourself a favor and read this book. ARC provided by NetGalley

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nic

    Read for review (forthcoming) in SFX magazine. Thoroughly enjoyed this.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dan Hanks

    A beautifully written fairytale that feels both small and personal, but epic in heart. At times magical and at others all-too-realistic in its portrayal of the absolute shambles of humanity, I particularly loved the exploration of parenting in the midst of all that. The sacrifices we make for our kids and then how we suffocate them with those choices later on. This is a wonderful, dark, and hopeful read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cassidee Lanstra

    “‘Their love didn’t hold out long enough for you to heal, did it?’ ‘They hoped mine wouldn’t either,’ Miriat said, looking squarely into the old Dola’s face.” The Second Bell starts off with a pensive tone as Salka’s mother makes the decision to accept exile from her life to keep her safe. The book quickly flashes forward to Salka’s life in the striga village, where she is expected to control her second heart or deal with the consequences. I thought it was interesting how the book brought attenti “‘Their love didn’t hold out long enough for you to heal, did it?’ ‘They hoped mine wouldn’t either,’ Miriat said, looking squarely into the old Dola’s face.” The Second Bell starts off with a pensive tone as Salka’s mother makes the decision to accept exile from her life to keep her safe. The book quickly flashes forward to Salka’s life in the striga village, where she is expected to control her second heart or deal with the consequences. I thought it was interesting how the book brought attention to the willingness of people to accept the expectations of other people. The striga in the village are no more accepting of their inherent abilities than the humans in the town that they fled from. When generation after generation of people are told that they are evil, they start to believe it and are willing to throw their own people to the wolves. This book is full of emotion, showing the lengths that a mother is willing to go for her child. It’s also about the journey to accepting ourselves, taking the things that are supposed to be a weakness and turning them into a strength. Salka is a warm, giving heart in a harsh environment. There’s a stark contrast here that makes for beautiful storytelling. “‘Following your other heart will change you in ways I understand to be wrong and frightful.’ ‘Are they wrong and frightful because you don’t understand them then?’ Salka said, her finger tracing an invisible pattern on her knee.” At moments, I felt like things moved along too quickly, some things happened too conveniently but I didn’t think it took away from the overall plot too much. On the other side, I was grateful for how quickly things went at certain points. There’s a time when Salka is punished for something not entirely her fault and part of me thought that we would spend a lot of time focused on her punishment. I was actually happy that the story didn’t stall there and kept moving along. The Second Bell is sure to delight fans of folklore and releases on March 9th, 2021. You can get your own edition from The Broken Binding, complete with a signed bookplate

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karissa

    DNF Series Info/Source: I got an eGalley of this book review through Edelweiss. This is a stand alone novel. Story (3/5): I have always been a fan of Angry Robot publishing and was excited to see another book from them. I read the first 44% of this book. There were some things I liked about it: the isolated mountain setting, the striga and their eternal fight with their own dark heart. There was a lot I didn’t like about it: the constantly shifting POV, and the very on and off pacing. The story wa DNF Series Info/Source: I got an eGalley of this book review through Edelweiss. This is a stand alone novel. Story (3/5): I have always been a fan of Angry Robot publishing and was excited to see another book from them. I read the first 44% of this book. There were some things I liked about it: the isolated mountain setting, the striga and their eternal fight with their own dark heart. There was a lot I didn’t like about it: the constantly shifting POV, and the very on and off pacing. The story wanders and seems to be mostly about the striga and their way of life and their relationship to the non-striga village near them. Characters (3/5): You feel very distanced from the characters and POV switches willy nilly. The story is supposed to be about Salka I think. However, to get to Salka’s story we wander through some of her mother’s history and read from the POVs from some of her fellow villagers. I didn’t really enjoy any of the characters because I kept being randomly bumped between them all. Setting (4/5): I really enjoyed the isolated mountain setting here. The way the striga struggle to make a living in this harsh climate and the careful balance they have with the nearby village are intriguing. Writing Style (4/5): Although I like the subject matter and the setting, the writing style here was just too wandering for me. Pacing was very uneven throughout and there wasn’t anything here for the reader to grab on to and engage with. The language flows fine but the abrupt changes in character POV left my head spinning at times and I ended up struggling with this book. My Summary (3/5): Overall I realized about half way through I just didn’t care anymore and wanted to move onto something else. I have a lot of books to read right now and this one is just not engaging enough. While the subject matter of striga and the mountain setting were intriguing, the execution left quite a bit to be desired. I was really looking forward to this and ended up being pretty disappointed. In the end it just wasn’t worth my effort and time to finish it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Translator Monkey

    Something amazing will be hitting bookshelves a month from now: ‘The Second Bell,’ by Gabriela Houston. I was very fortunate to have received an advance reading copy from Angry Robot through the NetGalley service I’ve written about in the past. My sincere thanks to the publisher, NetGalley, and to the author – I just finished reading this an hour ago, and still have gooseflesh. Let’s set the stage: a mountain community seems to frequently see the arrival of babies born with two hearts – known loc Something amazing will be hitting bookshelves a month from now: ‘The Second Bell,’ by Gabriela Houston. I was very fortunate to have received an advance reading copy from Angry Robot through the NetGalley service I’ve written about in the past. My sincere thanks to the publisher, NetGalley, and to the author – I just finished reading this an hour ago, and still have gooseflesh. Let’s set the stage: a mountain community seems to frequently see the arrival of babies born with two hearts – known locally as striga. The striga are known to have qualities and powers that can, and apparently often do, lead to cataclysmic events to those around them; in order to protect the little hamlet, these newborns are sent away to the Hope Tree, where their arrival is made known in advance to others similarly afflicted and banished, to be raised in another location many leagues from their birthplace. When they come of age in their new home, they are taught that they can never return whence they came, as they would then be put to death. Further, in their new home, they must abide by the rules of never tapping into the source of their power fed by their second heart due to the improbability of being able to harness it for good. Should they abuse the power or fail to abide by this rule, they will find their second heart psychically burned away, along with the striga power, leaving them a shell of their former selves. Because performing this ritual is imperfect, there is every risk that the striga will be left dead or in a vegetative state. It should go without saying that many of the newborns’ mothers cannot accept being separated from their babies, and elect to make the journey to their children’s new homes. This choice is not reversible – once they are gone, they are dead to their old community, and would be put to death upon such a return. ‘The Second Bell’ centers around one such mother, Miriat, who flees the only home she’s ever known with her daughter, Salka, to hopefully make a new life, safe for both of them. For nineteen years, everything appears to flow smoothly, if not flawlessly – the new land’s rules are strict and unflinching, and the punishments severe for transgressors. It would appear, with that information, that an individual could simply try to stay assimilated into the birth village, were it not for two factors: first, all births are checked for the phenomenon of the second heart; second, even if this were somehow missed, any stirring of the striga is met by an unnatural shifting of the striga’s shadow, making it apparent to all who come into contact with the individual that they possess the striga power. I. Loved. This. Book. I’ve never read anything like it; the characters are plausible from every angle, their individual histories are compelling, the subplots are interwoven and natural, and it was an absolute thrill-ride of a storyline. There will probably be comparisons – my first thought was to look at the striga as along the lines of Lyra and her daemon from Pullman’s excellent “His Dark Materials.” But unlike Pantalaimon, who has a given and – eventually – fixed shape, the shadows are mysterious, often take on the shape of the striga-afflicted, and cannot “speak”. No good, in Houston’s story, can come of the striga’s power, but not all is as it seems. The story isn’t perfect, but what story is? I would have preferred to see a bit more backstory for some of the characters; one character is cast out of the striga community for three months – I wish I could have read more of how she came to overcome her obstacles. These are such minor complaints that I’m actually rolling my eyes at the thought of writing them here. Meanwhile, I did find a little more than a handful of typos in my copy, almost all associated with punctuation (one reference of “yourself” when “herself” was clearly intended). As this was a proof copy, this won’t in any way detract from your reading experience. I wholeheartedly and without reservation recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good, well-plotted fantasy. Five stars. I vow to keep an eye on anything this author pens, and anything Angry Robot publishes.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Queen Terrible Timy

    This review was originally posted on Queen's Book Asylum. I got an ARC via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review. Thanks to Angry Robot for the copy! I think what got me interested in The Second Bell at first was the fact that it’s inspired by Eastern European based myths and folklore. You do not often come across something like that – The Witcher series probably being the most prominent. Though I did not read that series and I’m not familiar with said Eastern European myths and folklores. So This review was originally posted on Queen's Book Asylum. I got an ARC via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review. Thanks to Angry Robot for the copy! I think what got me interested in The Second Bell at first was the fact that it’s inspired by Eastern European based myths and folklore. You do not often come across something like that – The Witcher series probably being the most prominent. Though I did not read that series and I’m not familiar with said Eastern European myths and folklores. So I pretty much went blindly into The Second Bell and I really can’t comment on how much was taken away from old folk tales or how well that part of the story was done – reading some Wikipedia pages did not give me sufficient knowledge on the matter, though it still was interesting to read about the stryzga which inspired the striga in this novel. But first things first. The Second Bell is the story of Salka and Miriat, striga daughter and human mother. But it’s also a story of prejudice and superstition. At the beginning of the book, Miriat decides to leave her home, Heyne Town to go up higher in the mountain to live in the striga village because she can’t bear the thought of abandoning her child. Which would have been Salka’s fate otherwise. Being born with two hearts is something to be feared. But living among the striga does not mean she is free to be whoever she wants to be. The striga fear their own powers and they are to repress themselves, no matter what. The striga treat their own just as harshly as the humans of Heyne Town treat strigas. I think this was the most interesting aspect of the book, which also delivered an important lesson. It not only deals with topics of While I found The Second Bell compelling enough to read it to the end, overall I walked away from it a bit underwhelmed. For starters, I didn’t like any of the characters. And there was only a handful I could tolerate – Salka (so, so, so naive, OMG), Maladia and Dola, and even then they weren’t the most loveable out there. Most of the villagers and townspeople were just horrible. Look, I get it, they are leading a hard life, but it doesn’t mean they have to be selfish bastards. And they are mostly pretty one dimensional to add anything extra to the story. They all had one purpose which they fulfilled, but they are more disposable than interesting. And this novel was supposed to be a character-driven one. Too bad it fell flat in the execution. The story is pretty small scale. It’s not action-packed and there isn’t much happening, not toward the last third anyway- it has a bit of slice-of-life feel to it – but that was actually refreshing in a way. I quite liked that as I’m not really into big epic fantasy and Houston did an awesome job at bringing nature and the environment to life. I would have liked a bit more showing than telling when it came to the strigas and stigois though, to better understand where the deep fear for their kind is coming from. Besides of “that’s how it is”. The Secon Bell is a refreshing read with its Slavic setting. If you like dark themed folktale inspired stories, you probably will like it. Personally, I have mixed feelings and think it could have been better at some aspects, but it also did well in others. It shows the deep bond between mothers and their child as well as how closed groups work especially when it comes to beliefs and age-old prejudices. The need to fit in even if one’s nature is against everything the rules represent. Sometimes you need to follow your other heart in order to find happiness. Even if it comes with a price.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anoeska Nossol

    Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC. 'The Second Bell' tells the story of the 'strigas'. It are creatures born with two hearts. Whenever they are born in a certain village, the citizens put the baby's outside the town. Mothers can choose to go with them or leave the child behind. Many strigas end up in a closed community, somewhere in the mounts. Where they live in a very strict community. When I first read the synopsis, I was interested right away. I remember a few old Slavic and Pol Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC. 'The Second Bell' tells the story of the 'strigas'. It are creatures born with two hearts. Whenever they are born in a certain village, the citizens put the baby's outside the town. Mothers can choose to go with them or leave the child behind. Many strigas end up in a closed community, somewhere in the mounts. Where they live in a very strict community. When I first read the synopsis, I was interested right away. I remember a few old Slavic and Polish tales which talk about the strigas. Since it are my roots, I really wanted to read this modern fairy tale - like story. The creatures are a mix of witches (not pagans but the fairy tale non-fiction witches) and vampires. Yet, I didn't notice much about that in the story. The striga creatures were very flat and not explained that well. I also missed the curse which makes a human a striga. They seemed to only be born that way which is not fully what stories say. The creature is nowadays mostly used in games and movies, so people know about them. Yet they are so different. I'm not sure if the author intended to creature a somewhat different type of creature, of if they were way too flat explained. Overall, the writing style wasn't my cup of tea. The author is technical very strong, but the way of telling a story didn't grab my attention unfortunately. For me, the story also went a bit slow. I expected more action, but it takes a while before something happens and even then it gets a bit boring after a while. The setting and atmosphere in the book was great. I loved the world building because it was subtle and not over the top. The author gave it some sort of historical feeling. As if it took place hundreds of years ago somewhere in East-Europe or the Islamic world. The setting suits the story and shows off the best qualities. Daring to put such old tales in a modern coat is truly amazing. Even when I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, I believe there is an audience for this book. Simply because others might recognize it as one of their childhood stories. I think it's clear that it wasn't my cup of tea after all. Yet, I do believe that the author has talent. There is an audience for the story.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chantal Lyons

    Despite a lot of rough edges, I found 'The Second Bell' to be very readable, and I finished it in no time! The central concept of the striga is from Slavic mythology, and Houston does it great justice. It's a simple, almost beautiful creation - sometimes people are born with two hearts, and two souls, one of them a shadowy magical being that must always be kept in check lest the person become an evil stigoi. The story begins in the most intriguing of ways - a woman being exiled from her village w Despite a lot of rough edges, I found 'The Second Bell' to be very readable, and I finished it in no time! The central concept of the striga is from Slavic mythology, and Houston does it great justice. It's a simple, almost beautiful creation - sometimes people are born with two hearts, and two souls, one of them a shadowy magical being that must always be kept in check lest the person become an evil stigoi. The story begins in the most intriguing of ways - a woman being exiled from her village with her baby. I loved the pacing with which the author answered my questions as I read, smoothly introducing the world of the strigas piece by piece. The plot itself is more uneven. While the striga concept and the characters Salka and Miriat (Miriat most of all!) compelled me to keep reading, the author's hand was all too plain to see in the events and characters' actions. Dran serves as one villain, though the addition of another in the form of Kalina didn't work, and neither did Alma's choices/introspection. Salka herself, at one point, suddenly and quite randomly gives in to her second soul despite all her previous determination not to. There was also a total lack of foreshadowing of the natural disaster that sets the stage for the final act; it really came out of nowhere, and would have felt a lot less convenient if characters had discussed the possibility of it. Criticism aside, I am glad to have read the book - Houston has a huge amount of promise (but could probably do with a better editor). And the final sentence was simply exquisite! (With thanks to Angry Robot and NetGalley for this ebook in exchange for an honest review)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Entazis

    The Second Bell is a fantasy story about a young striga and her exiled mother, living and surviving in the harsh conditions of an isolated mountain village. Strigas, who are born with two hearts and a shadow they have trouble controlling, are demonised among humans and seen as blood-drinking monsters. When Miriat gives birth to a baby girl with twin heartbeats, she takes on the banishment from her human village, and goes with her daughter, Salka, to live in a nearby striga village. There's a lot The Second Bell is a fantasy story about a young striga and her exiled mother, living and surviving in the harsh conditions of an isolated mountain village. Strigas, who are born with two hearts and a shadow they have trouble controlling, are demonised among humans and seen as blood-drinking monsters. When Miriat gives birth to a baby girl with twin heartbeats, she takes on the banishment from her human village, and goes with her daughter, Salka, to live in a nearby striga village. There's a lot that I liked in this novel. I love narratives that take known monsters from old stories, folk tales and such and give a new interpretation to their potential monstrosity. I immensely enjoyed the way striga powers were presented in The Second Bell. The detailed descriptions of a life in the mountains were also full of interesting tidbits, with the miniscule approach to village life, hunting, cattle herding, wool spinning and survival on your own in the winter woods. But the novel has some problems in pacing and structure. It starts out fast paced, then slows down, then nearing the end, pacing picks up again, and it’s a rush to the end. There is also a problem of too many characters having a point of view, but not as good characterization among all of them. They were mostly there to move the plot along because Salka, most of the time, was a passive protagonist, and their characterization suffered for it. Because of these problems, the ending wasn’t as powerful for me as I believe it was intended to be. I felt like some of the conclusions were too convenient, some good and interesting issues resolved too easily. While there were satisfactory payoffs, it was still superficial at some parts. That said, when the story picks up again, it gets really engaging and I had no problems staying up until 1 AM to finish it. All in all, a solid debut novel with an interesting twist to strigas. I want to thank NetGalley and Angry Robot for a chance to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shivvani Rao

    A 3.75 stars. I didn’t know much about Striga/Stigoi, so I was really excited for this book. This book is basically ‘life as a Striga’- with all it’s hardships. I never read fantasy written unlike fantasy(?), so this was a new experience. The setting was small- the story revolves around some mountains and there’s no heavy world building but the descriptions of the environment were rich. I didn’t like Salka as the main protagonist but I did like the POVs of all the other characters. Salka despite b A 3.75 stars. I didn’t know much about Striga/Stigoi, so I was really excited for this book. This book is basically ‘life as a Striga’- with all it’s hardships. I never read fantasy written unlike fantasy(?), so this was a new experience. The setting was small- the story revolves around some mountains and there’s no heavy world building but the descriptions of the environment were rich. I didn’t like Salka as the main protagonist but I did like the POVs of all the other characters. Salka despite being the main protagonist didn’t have much arc in the latter half of the story except for being the little good Stigoi. The ending was easily made comfortable for making Salka the ‘good Stigoi’- eliminate all bad guys and lift the MC as high as possible. I know that, that was the premise pointed to from the beginning but I would’ve loved if the story had taken a dark turn ending with a message for caution- to avoid Stigoi etc., just like the folklores- which would have made this a much more chilling and an interesting read. All in all, an okay one time read- no twists and turns in the plot but with an interesting premise and a satisfactory ending. Ps: Btw what happened to the Dola? Was she able to continue as Dola or did she give it up? Total time spent: 5h 44min. ~ ARC received through NetGalley for an honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emma Cathryne

    Full review to come after publication. This will be a weird metaphor, but bear with me. I'm gluten-free, and have been for a while now. My fellow gluten-free pals will probably get this better than most, but this book felt like finding the BEST and most beautifully packaged gluten-free brownie substitute you've ever seen, taking a big bite out of it, and having it taste, tragically, bland. There are a few elements of a good story here, and a decent premise besides, but the novel as a whole fails Full review to come after publication. This will be a weird metaphor, but bear with me. I'm gluten-free, and have been for a while now. My fellow gluten-free pals will probably get this better than most, but this book felt like finding the BEST and most beautifully packaged gluten-free brownie substitute you've ever seen, taking a big bite out of it, and having it taste, tragically, bland. There are a few elements of a good story here, and a decent premise besides, but the novel as a whole fails to deliver. I will wait to expound further until my full review, but I will say that for a book that is meant to be about strong women this novel fell squarely into one of my BIGGEST pet peeves. Not only are most of the female side characters stereotypes, every woman of the protagonists age who is NOT the protagonist is pit firmly against her and subsequently villainized. If this trope hadn't been everywhere my entire childhood my "not like other girls" phase probably wouldn't have lasted nearly as long.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I really liked the premise of the book delving into the Eastern European mythology about Striga. Unfortunately, the mythology was never fully fleshed out. In the novel striga have a second heart that gives them the power to do things like heal or kill, but exactly what they power is and why everyone fears it is never really explained. Still I generally thought it was an interesting concept and would have rated it a little higher if not for the novel's main villan. Dran is the only disabled chara I really liked the premise of the book delving into the Eastern European mythology about Striga. Unfortunately, the mythology was never fully fleshed out. In the novel striga have a second heart that gives them the power to do things like heal or kill, but exactly what they power is and why everyone fears it is never really explained. Still I generally thought it was an interesting concept and would have rated it a little higher if not for the novel's main villan. Dran is the only disabled character in the book, and all of his cruel actions drive from his desire to get his disability healed by whatever means necessary. It was disappointing, and the character as a whole didn't feel necessary for the more interesting story about striga and a society that fears them.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Thebooknerd90

    This was such a beautifully woven story about finding oneself, trusting in your heart and the bonds between a mother and daughter. It was such an atmospheric read, I found myself fully immersed in the story with its vivid descriptions. I really felt I was there and experiencing it all alongside Salka and her mother Miriat.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dan Bassett

    In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. A Striga, as they are known, is considered a threat and a danger to others and therefore are abandoned on the edge of the forest and offered up to keep the community safe and protected... However, should the mother choose to keep her infant, both of them must leave the community forever and never return. Miriat makes her choice without a second guess. She is keeping Salka, her Striga daughter and others be damned if she In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. A Striga, as they are known, is considered a threat and a danger to others and therefore are abandoned on the edge of the forest and offered up to keep the community safe and protected... However, should the mother choose to keep her infant, both of them must leave the community forever and never return. Miriat makes her choice without a second guess. She is keeping Salka, her Striga daughter and others be damned if she will sacrifice her to the forest and so she sets out with nothing but shame and hurtful words from those she thought were her friends to find a new place to call her own. Nineteen years pass and Miriat has found a new home and raised Salka around others of her lineage, but it doesn’t come without its own dangers. You must not, will not give in to the second hearts desires, even if you go mad trying to block out the voices that tell you to surrender your very being, but when Salka has fingers pointed firmly at her after an incident could jeopardise those she has grown to love, the community starts to slowly come undone as she is banished to live in the wilderness alone for three months despite the fact it may not have been her fault to begin with, but will she be able to ever prove her innocence or will the forest finally claim Salka and turn her in to a true Striga? Will she be able to survive alone without succumbing to the second hearts aching call, or will she finally give in, only trying to survive and live to see her mother again? A truly gorgeously gothic fairytale full of heart, fantasy, and menace, this story shows the true bond between mother and daughter, and it is one glorious read!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sasan

    This is my first time reading about a strigae, I am still not as informed as I'd like to fool myself into thinking when it comes to supernatural stuff. This was my opportunity to learn a bit and while I don't think that the depiction matches what I've read online, I did like reading about a different type of culture for a bit. The author is Polish and as a non-native English speaker, I find that pretty fun in itself. I have received this book in exchange of an honest review, thank you Angry Robo This is my first time reading about a strigae, I am still not as informed as I'd like to fool myself into thinking when it comes to supernatural stuff. This was my opportunity to learn a bit and while I don't think that the depiction matches what I've read online, I did like reading about a different type of culture for a bit. The author is Polish and as a non-native English speaker, I find that pretty fun in itself. I have received this book in exchange of an honest review, thank you Angry Robot and NetGalley for the opportunity. ─────────────────── I like reading fantasy survival stories, this year's #1 book for me so far (and the two creeping behind it) were all survival based in one way or another. This book also has that, because I'm not very knowledgeable about the culture the author is coming from, I was ready for exploration and seeing how people in this world live with the whole striga situation. Did she deliver? Yes, yes she did. We actually end up spending a considerable amount of time exploring the wilderness, if I can put it like that, and seeing how someone in a place like this survives. It was a tribal setting in a way and to me, that made it easier to set a canvas for Ms. Houston to draw in the details. How they hunt, how they function as a community and the purpose of the members was very interesting to learn about. I kind of wished that aspect was explored in a bit more details, but overall, no complaints on this front. To me personally, the book has an interesting plot line, and it has the world to back it up. But, it has a very weak cast of characters, it has a set of rules that make zero sense and it has YA undertones that honestly pissed me off. Which eventually made it not as enjoyable as it could have been. I'll start with the YA undertones. This could have been one incredible growth story, but it is dampened by the fact that everything that happens to Salka happened because of a situation I can only describe as jealous mean girls. I would understand if there were actual reasons to what happens to this girl, but when it comes out as petty revenge because my object of affection looked at the main character for a second too long or as a wasted effort because "I'm lonely and I want to belong", I find myself hard pressed to bother caring about any of them much. I mean, at least with the loneliness, there was some idea of protecting the community hidden there somewhere, but it lacked weight behind it. It doesn't help at all, that regardless of all the pain Salka had to go through, the minute it's over and she's safe again, all is forgiven and she's all lovey dovey for reasons that I personally can't understand. I'm trying to get away from YA, seeing the stupidity of those heroines in a work as lush as this one, which is seemingly aimed at adults, makes me angry. Especially when it's as baseless and with a terrible history like this one. Next up, are the rules. Strigae are bad, humans are ready to kill any child with two hearts because it's dangerous. However, after reading this book, I still have zero ideas why they are dangerous when almost every single application of magic in this book was actually a good thing. Everyone is afraid, some strigae might get banished if they listen to the temptation or killed off, but why? I was waiting for an explanation, I really hoped for one, but the pages were dwindling and the answers weren't coming. This actually prompted me to go and look up striga so I can search for something to bridge the gap, and what I found was awful, it shows the monstrosity and I get it if that was the reasoning behind it, but the book doesn't. At. All. and it left me very confused to see them be awful for seemingly no reason. Now the characters are what I will look at next to hook me, and with the exception of Miriat, they range between unlikable to okay to forgettable. A mother willing to let go of all her comforts for her child is something I find admirable as a mother myself, seeing that no matter what, Miriat is going to stand by her daughter whenever she needs her was fantastic for me: “There is no me without you, daughter, do you understand?” However, we come to Salka and she's reckless, she's so ungrateful at times to her mother's efforts and with the thing I mentioned previously in mind about her feelings, I found it hard to care much about her. I did love her exploration part, and I'm really glad that the author was generous with the examples, but in comparison, I would have liked to see her mother's journey in this new society instead if I got to choose. The rest of the characters felt like they are there to fulfill a single role for the story's progression, not a lot of depth to any of them and while I appreciated the exploration of greed in a sense for the "villain", I did think that the motive was very weak because of how much I didn't understand the reason strigae were feared. Everything could have been solved quite easily if someone just tried, so the weight of the conviction was lost again to me. So why stay? Honestly, the world and the author's writing were very entertaining to me, even when I started seeing things that could hinder my enjoyment while I read the book, I will find sentences like this and as a lover of words, I was mesmerized: “She felt like she crossed onto the afterlife, with the ghosts of her past about to stand in judgement of her.” I also really liked the parallel portrayal between Miriat and another parent, both love their children so so much and will think of them as people who could do no wrong, even if the entire world is against them. Yet, the way one dealt with their child in comparison to the other's blind or more accurately, turned blind eye was an interesting idea. I think I didn't even realize that this was a thing until a bit later since the alternate POVs do take me from one mind to another quite a bit. It's an ambitious debut, and I really wanted to like it as the author has strengths that would pull me in at times, but there were also a lot of things I unfortunately didn't enjoy much here either.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ginger Smith

    In THE SECOND BELL, striga Salka has to fight the fear and superstition of society while also struggling to control her supernatural dual nature in this wonderful debut. Houston deftly handles both characterization and pacing throughout the novel, and the world creation is very realistic –The Second Bell from the customs and beliefs of society to the people who inhabit the villages. Her descriptive prose brings the people and the landscapes alive. Another thing I really love about this story is In THE SECOND BELL, striga Salka has to fight the fear and superstition of society while also struggling to control her supernatural dual nature in this wonderful debut. Houston deftly handles both characterization and pacing throughout the novel, and the world creation is very realistic –The Second Bell from the customs and beliefs of society to the people who inhabit the villages. Her descriptive prose brings the people and the landscapes alive. Another thing I really love about this story is that it’s equally full of action, suspense and danger. This is one you won’t want to miss, so put it on your TBR right now! You won’t be sorry.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dean Osborne

    Might just turn out to be Angry Robot’s very own Marmite… ‘You’ll either love it or hate it’. When I first learnt of The Second Bell’s conception I knew I needed a copy at the earliest opportunity. After reading the synopsis and seeing that amazing cover with its strong and bold colours I was sold. I have never before read anything based off of Slavic folklore before and I do enjoy my fair share of folklore so I should enjoy this one right? That’s what I thought anyway. Now I’m not going to say t Might just turn out to be Angry Robot’s very own Marmite… ‘You’ll either love it or hate it’. When I first learnt of The Second Bell’s conception I knew I needed a copy at the earliest opportunity. After reading the synopsis and seeing that amazing cover with its strong and bold colours I was sold. I have never before read anything based off of Slavic folklore before and I do enjoy my fair share of folklore so I should enjoy this one right? That’s what I thought anyway. Now I’m not going to say that I didn’t enjoy The Second Bell because I did but there are a few key aspects that stopped me from falling in love with this one. I want to get straight into the element of this tale that just didn’t gel for me. For me it is a big issue because if it worked then this read would have been a top pick for sure. The issue is with the characters. There is a good host of characters and several are strong independent women of which Salka comes straight to mind and this is always great to see in a book however they are all a little flat in detail. I would have loved a little more background info on Salka and Miriat, the daughter and mother the story revolves around, and I would have been able to establish a deeper connection with them. Then there is the actual folklore surrounding the Striga. The book intrigued me enough to look into the Striga a little more and I like what I found out and I wish the Striga received a little more background in the book. We just arrive at the ‘they’re not good’ conclusion without any build up as to why. I think this would have gone a long way to help build the story more. Don’t worry though it’s not all bad. Remember when I referenced Marmite? Well let’s get into what I believe to be some great strong points about The Second Bell and why some people will love it. Gabriela Houston clearly has a talent for world building. The level of detail is brilliant and just how Houston unravels the world around the reader is fully immersive and I found myself absolutely in love with the setting. I could easily imagine the rolling hills breaking off as we hit the monstrous pine covered mountains. This level of detail really helps put the reader into the shoes of the characters traversing the land. There is a section in the book where Salka finds herself being punished and during that section I truly found escapism at its finest. The world around me melted away and I was there with Salka in the snow-capped mountains. Perfect. I often wondered, while reading, if Houston pulled any inspiration from her own life and if this area exists in real life. The second aspect I loved is that of the view of parenting. We often get the trope of children/teens being unintentionally oppressed by their parents and how this can damage the child however what we see less of is the view of the parent and why they do what they do and that came as a nice breath of fresh air. I found a slight connection here with Miriat as a parent myself and I could find her actions and choices relatable. Hats off the Houston for highlighting this view in The Second Bell. Overall I would lean towards liking The Second Bell but I could have been totally in love if the characters held up to the beautiful world in which they live. A little more backstory and depth to the characters could have gone a long way. The Second Bell is worth the read and I think a lot of reads will really enjoy the story however if you are like me and like more depth to your characters then The Second Bell might leave you a little deflated. Going forward I will without doubt be keeping an eye on Gabriela Houston’s future works.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kristyn

    Thank you to netgalley.com for providing me with a free copy of The Second Bell in exchange for an honest review. This novel centers on Miriat and her daughter Salka, born with two hearts and marking her as a striga. In Miriat’s village, all babies born striagas must be killed or banished to the striga village, out of fear that the striga will listen to their second heart and become a stigoi, an irredeemably evil creature. When Salka is born, Miriat makes a decision that few others have--she goes Thank you to netgalley.com for providing me with a free copy of The Second Bell in exchange for an honest review. This novel centers on Miriat and her daughter Salka, born with two hearts and marking her as a striga. In Miriat’s village, all babies born striagas must be killed or banished to the striga village, out of fear that the striga will listen to their second heart and become a stigoi, an irredeemably evil creature. When Salka is born, Miriat makes a decision that few others have--she goes to the striga village with her daughter. When a lie leads to teenage Salka being temporarily banished from the striga village, surviving the winter requires her to draw powers from her second heart. Did Salka squander her mother’s sacrifice, or is there more to the second heart than evil? There were many things I liked about this book. First, I appreciated getting a look into Slavic mythology. Based on my own subsequent reading, strigas/stiogis are vampiric, with some facets of witches and werewolves as well, while the strigas of Houston’s creation, are essentially human unless they choose to use their second heart. Nevertheless, it was interesting to read about a type of being that I previously had not heard of. Second, I enjoyed the setting. Much of the novel takes place outdoors, in a village situated in a snowy, mountainous area. I wish the author had set more of the novel in the snowy woods in which Salka is banished in the earlier part of the novel. This banishment is what leads to the main storyline--Salka using her second heart--and it lasts for three months, but the reader sees very little of it. Overall, this leads to the early parts of the novel seeming rushed, as if they are background just to get us to the main action. Third, I enjoyed the character of Miriat. She is overwhelming the most well-developed character, whose goals throughout the novel are clearest. Her love for and protection of her daughter was moving. Unfortunately, the other characters in the novel were not as well developed. Many of the characters were flat, and it was unclear why they acted in the way they did. So many people in the village seemed to be out to get Salka, but it was not clear why. Was it internalized oppression--did they come to believe bad things about striga because the rest of the world did? Was it jealousy--were they jealous that Miriat’s non-striga mother had chosen to stay with her child, rather than abandon her? Was it Houston’s way of showing that the strigas who chose not to use their second hearts were also capable of malice? It was never clear. Overall, I think the book suffered from too much telling and not enough showing. Houston had a clearly developed storyline but seemed to struggle with fitting scenes around that storyline. This made it so I was interested in seeing what would happen, while also not being very invested in Salka’s character and being consistently angry with most of the other characters. The narrative from the climax to the end was the strongest part of the novel for me, and the writing was strong throughout. I would definitely pick up another novel by Houston--I think she has strong potential based on this book. Overall, I’d rate it a 3.5 bumped to 4.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Permanently_Booked

    Based on Slavic folklore, this novel follows Salka, a young striga born with a second heart. To her people striga’s are demons and she must do everything in her power to not let the second heart loose and consume her. When an excursion outside of the village goes wrong, Salka is condemned to a three month banishment during the harsh of winter. She is not the only one to blame though, just the only one punished. A young child left to survive on her own in brutal conditions. Will she give in to th Based on Slavic folklore, this novel follows Salka, a young striga born with a second heart. To her people striga’s are demons and she must do everything in her power to not let the second heart loose and consume her. When an excursion outside of the village goes wrong, Salka is condemned to a three month banishment during the harsh of winter. She is not the only one to blame though, just the only one punished. A young child left to survive on her own in brutal conditions. Will she give in to the warmth of her second heart or will she stay strong and not break the laws of her people, hoping to make it home alive. I loved the emotional depth of this novel and the characters involved. There is a mixture of morally grey and good-hearted individuals that move the plot into different directions and outcomes as decisions are made. The curse/magic element is intriguing as the truth of its existence and capabilities becomes more defined as the story unfolds. Set in a harsh mountainous region, the feel of small community superstitions and order gives this book an almost dystopian taste with a pre 17th century vibe (if not much, much earlier). Houston does a wonderful job at weaving the theme of self-acceptance into her words as Salka learns her inner strength and the power she holds. This novel shows humanity in all of it’s good, bad and ugly glory. It peels back the protective nature of a mother, exposing the depths one will go to for their child’s protection. Houston’s writing peeks beneath the layers of outward appearances and personas and shows what the struggles of fear, isolation and cowardice can do to a person or situation. When finally pushed to the brink, how and why different individuals release the beast within. The progress of the plot is slow to build and the action doesn’t truly pick up until midway. Some scenes tended to go a little longer than needed while others wrapped up quicker than expected. This did not take away from the overall flow. I did hope there would be more of a lead-in to the natural disaster that came into play. I think a little deeper foreshadowing on this aspect would’ve been a perfect touch. All aside, I loved falling into this story and learning of a new lore I was not aware of. This is such a beautiful story. I encourage everyone who loves fantasy and folklore brimming with heart, family loyalty and self-acceptance to grab this novel. This was the perfect weekend cozy read to get lost in. Thank you to Gabriela Houston and Angry Robot Publishing for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. **Releasing March 9th, 2021! Check out The Broken Binding Bookshop for a beautifully coloured and signed bookplate designed by the author!**

  25. 4 out of 5

    Annefleur

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. ✦ 1 star ✦ I was given a free copy of The Second Bell for an honest review. I will not lie to you, I've actively thought about putting this book on my DNF. This would mean it would be the first to be on my DNF, but for the sake of the review I decided to push through it and end the book. The Second Bell tells the story of the striga, someone born with two hearts. Striga can turn into strigoi, which are considered dangerous demons. The protagonist of the story is Salka. Salka's mother, Miriat, cho ✦ 1 star ✦ I was given a free copy of The Second Bell for an honest review. I will not lie to you, I've actively thought about putting this book on my DNF. This would mean it would be the first to be on my DNF, but for the sake of the review I decided to push through it and end the book. The Second Bell tells the story of the striga, someone born with two hearts. Striga can turn into strigoi, which are considered dangerous demons. The protagonist of the story is Salka. Salka's mother, Miriat, chose to not abandon her infant daughter but chose to go with her to the striga village. In the striga village there are strict rules, especially when it comes to following the second (striga) heart. But Salka is headstrong and young, and when threatened with losing everything, she is forced to explore the depths of her true nature, testing the bonds between mother and child. Let me start off by saying that this was the first I've ever read about striga/strigoi, which interested me. The Second Bell seems to only touch the surface of what striga/strigoi can do or their place in folklore. Which quite disappointed me, because I would have loved to read more about it. The plot of the story was lost on me, because the story went all over the place. At one moment it's about Salka being banished, the next moment it seems to be about the pregnancy of Dola. There didn't really seem to be a clear plot well until the second half of the book. At this point I had already actively considered putting this book on my DNF. The first half of the book is slow, to put it mildly. There are some scenes that could be interpreted as exciting, but they felt rushed and flat to me. Another thing that made me consider not finishing the book, was the odd POV reading. The reader seems to be reading from a whole lot of POV's, not only the protagonist. I quite like different POV's in a book, but to me it wasn't clear from which character I was reading since there didn't seem to be a difference in chapter or anything. You would often switch POV in the middle of a chapter, which confused and annoyed me. The characters in the book are just okay, though I felt I could not really relate to any of the characters. The protagonist seems to be lacking some of the depth that made me want to read this book when I read the synopsis. The other characters also lack this depth, even when reading from their POV. I would not recommend this book to anyone, however harsh that may sound. The book lacked depth and excitement. It was a mess reading all of the different POV's when it wasn't clear which character you were reading from.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Thank you to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the eARC of The Second Bell! Those born with a second heart are the striga, monsters that aren’t safe to keep in town. When Miriat gives birth, she never expected to hear that second heartbeat and she makes the decision to leave with her baby and go to the striga village up the mountain. Nineteen years later, her daughter Salka and her are still trying to survive in a world against the striga, as Salka tries to fight the urges of her second heart. The Se Thank you to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the eARC of The Second Bell! Those born with a second heart are the striga, monsters that aren’t safe to keep in town. When Miriat gives birth, she never expected to hear that second heartbeat and she makes the decision to leave with her baby and go to the striga village up the mountain. Nineteen years later, her daughter Salka and her are still trying to survive in a world against the striga, as Salka tries to fight the urges of her second heart. The Second Bell is a Slavic inspired fantasy novel, which is what immediately caught my attention. I love finding new books inspired by different cultures and especially different folklore, and Slavic folklore is fairly new to me. Houston manages to weave such an intricate story that very much had that traditional folklore feel to it, while using a striga, what we normal view as the monster of a book, into an amazing protagonist. Salka was such a delight of a main character to read about - she was smart, headstrong, and determined, all while maintaining a naïveté about her as she learns about the world, and herself. Seeing her grow throughout the book was really one of the highlights of the story. Her relationship with Miriat was also very wholesome. It was a relatable mother and daughter relationship, showing strain as Salka is a rebellious teenager, fear for Salka when she is in trouble, and yet still showcasing the deep love they both had for each other and how important their relationship was to each other. Seeing Salka come to terms with being a striga, and learning what having a second heart really means was very interesting. There were some tense moments as she grapples with the dangers and fears of using her shadow and heart, and some very exciting ones when you see the sheer power Salka has. The last quarter of the book when the story just starts flying was definitely the most exciting as we see Salka, the other striga, and humans learn just what being a striga can mean. It also hits you right in the feels for that last bit, so don’t be surprised if you need some tissues when it’s over. The Second Bell is one of those beautiful, wonderful books that is just so easy to fall in to. The characters were well rounded, relatable people that you could read about while they do even the most mundane of tasks and feel right at home and comfortable with them. Just a beautiful book, that balances sweet and tense moments alike. I can’t recommend this enough, to those that love fantasy, to those that love reading about family, and to those that like to see that the monster isn’t always what you expect.

  27. 4 out of 5

    P.J.

    When Salka was born, her mother had two choices - leave Heyne Town forever with her baby, or leave the infant in the woods to die. All because Salka was born with two hearts. Salka's mom took her to the only place that would have them, a community of banished outcasts. Salka knows only the poverty of the striga village and their strict, constant counsel to keep her second heart quiet at all costs. Nearly everyone in the village was born like Salka, and breaking this law comes with dire consequen When Salka was born, her mother had two choices - leave Heyne Town forever with her baby, or leave the infant in the woods to die. All because Salka was born with two hearts. Salka's mom took her to the only place that would have them, a community of banished outcasts. Salka knows only the poverty of the striga village and their strict, constant counsel to keep her second heart quiet at all costs. Nearly everyone in the village was born like Salka, and breaking this law comes with dire consequences. When teenage Salka is accused of endangering her friends in an ill-fated trip to the forbidden Heyne Town, the striga village sends her away for the winter, where she grows as she fends for herself and begins to question the fears the Town and village have always had about the second heart. Salka returns to the village changed, and finds herself caught in the manipulations of several villagers who each have something to be gained by forcing Salka to reveal the powers of her second heart. As their schemes come tumbling down around her, Salka and all the members of the village and the Town are uprooted and forced to reconsider the hearts they have – one or both. I was drawn to this story from the start because I enjoy watching characters confront all the aspects of who they are and decide what to keep, what to grow, and what to throw away. One of the things I loved about Second Bell was that even though I consider Salka the main character, just about every named character faces at least one moment when they have to face their choices and decide whether or not to change. The book seamlessly weaves multiple character points of view throughout, which enriched the story for me and gave each important character choice its own weight beyond impact on Salka. Together, the characters sort of create the persona of the village. I got invested in each of them and wanted to see how things would turn out for them. The world of Heyne and the mountains felt vivid and wild to me, with the characters of the village and the Town both beating back the harsh winters and scrabbling for what they could, even though the Town was so much better off than the village. The ways that nature challenges the characters kept me turning the pages just as much as the characters themselves. The final act really had me reading! Looking back, I’m impressed with the way the book juggles multiple settings and groups experiencing the same disaster, building to the ultimate showdown. In the moment I was just biting my nails wanting everyone to be ok (too bad for me...). Also looking back, though I didn't realize it at the time, the story is also about mothers who put their children first in different ways, to different ends, and at different costs to everyone involved. I love that meta aspect and it's probably partly why the story felt so well-assembled. I really enjoy complex fairytales and detailed retellings, and I think Second Bell hits a sweet spot in terms of feeling like a fairy tale (I believe this is an original tale inspired by folklore, and not a retelling) but giving me enough character and world to fully immerse me in the plot. Definitely recommend to anyone who likes fantasy and fairy tales :) I have received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Thank you to @angryrobotbooks for sending me a copy of this book! In an isolated mountain community, a child born with two hearts is a sign of a dangerous demon - a striga. Their mother must decide whether to forget the child and stay within the village...or leave. Miriat made her choice. Now she lives with her 19 year old daughter Salka in the striga village where, even there, to follow your striga heart is forbidden. But Salka is headstrong and when faced with losing everything, she is forced t Thank you to @angryrobotbooks for sending me a copy of this book! In an isolated mountain community, a child born with two hearts is a sign of a dangerous demon - a striga. Their mother must decide whether to forget the child and stay within the village...or leave. Miriat made her choice. Now she lives with her 19 year old daughter Salka in the striga village where, even there, to follow your striga heart is forbidden. But Salka is headstrong and when faced with losing everything, she is forced to explore the depths of her true nature. I love a good fantasy books that is grounded in folklore and myth and this book is certainly that. The heart of this book is in the relationship between characters - especially that between a mother and her child. So often in fantasy stories, mother figures are either silent in the background, an obstacle or dead but The Second Bell truly places relationships between mother and child at the forefront - not just from the main characters, but all around them too. I really loved the evolution of Salka and Miriat's relationship, the way it simultaneously evolved as Salka grew, yet still somehow stayed the same - a mother who would give up everything for her daughter. The settings and locations for this book cleverly reflect the characters hardships - From the striga village, a place meant for refuge for those who had left everything behind, to the vastness of the icy mountains, you can feel the bleakness and confinement through the pages. Of all the characters Salka is the one that I found a connection with the most. As readers, our knowledge of the world outside the village and the life of strigas is rarely wider than her own and with that comes an oppressive atmosphere, you can completely empathise with Salka's struggles with acceptance, from those around her and herself, and her desire and need for more. There were points when I wish I knew a little more, characters that I loved - even if I hated some of them as people - and wanted to learn more about, but again, I think this worked for the tone of the book (and I also hope this will allow for more stories from this world in the future!) For me this book felt like I was sitting huddled round a fire being told a folktale of humans and monsters and nature and family, of the danger of allowing fear to rule and a reflection on how it is people's own choices in life that define who they really are.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jae

    This was such a great read. I had chills when i read the first chapter. Its safe to say that was one powerful intro. The second bell is a unique story following Salka, rejected by her village for how she was born and who she were, and Miriat, a mother who would not let go of her child, no matter the circumstances. This book profoundly navigates through the themes of motherhood and sacrifice, executing it in such an amazing way. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the different characters. Wh This was such a great read. I had chills when i read the first chapter. Its safe to say that was one powerful intro. The second bell is a unique story following Salka, rejected by her village for how she was born and who she were, and Miriat, a mother who would not let go of her child, no matter the circumstances. This book profoundly navigates through the themes of motherhood and sacrifice, executing it in such an amazing way. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the different characters. When i say i hated Dran in the beginning, i really mean i hated him. The hot spoiled brat who’s mother, the chief, favors him and gets away with everything. And then we got his perspective 🤡. Yeah now what am i to do with all that hate? And the way how characters were handled, especially with character dynamics and having a realized role in the story, the author truly showcases gray morality and the idea that someone’s anatomy does not make them a monster. The plot was very well written and it had all the elements to allure and make me stay fascinated by the plot. The world building and magic element, too was fleshed out and not in the info dumpy way, because we got snippets all throughout the book which I appreciate a lot. I want to highlight the themes explored in this story, especially motherhood and what a mother would do for their child, no sacrifice, no turmoil, and certainly no challenge would stop them from giving it their all, no matter where they end up because of that. I also like how Miriat and Alma was mirrored on this aspect, it provides more realism to the story and made it so worthwhile to read. Despite that, one criticism i have is that there were too less time spent with each character. i would have loved this more, if we had spent more time with each character for some of the scenes to have a greater impact on me. On top of this, we had multiple pov character changes within a lot of chapters that felt a bit off and Salka i felt could have been better developed as a character and given more depth and reading her pov initially kind of felt boring. All in all this was a very enjoyable read and the fantasy aspect felt really unique, i’m glad i got to read this. Thank you to the publisher for providing me an ARC via NetGalley in exchange of an honest review

  30. 5 out of 5

    We Hae Books

    My thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this title ahead of publication. It is currently due to be published in the UK on 9th March 2021. Miriat gives birth to Salka, a striga. The striga are feared by the humans because their two hearts give the ability for their shadows to drain the life from those around them and make them into monsters. Faced with the choice of abandoning her baby or going with her to the striga village, Miriat chooses the latter. The maturing striga, including Sal My thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this title ahead of publication. It is currently due to be published in the UK on 9th March 2021. Miriat gives birth to Salka, a striga. The striga are feared by the humans because their two hearts give the ability for their shadows to drain the life from those around them and make them into monsters. Faced with the choice of abandoning her baby or going with her to the striga village, Miriat chooses the latter. The maturing striga, including Salka, must learn to control their second hearts or risk losing themselves. I requested this book because it was inspired by Slavic folklore, and I found the concept intriguing. Add the story unfolded, however, I found I still had little clue of what a striga actually was, and nothing on how they controlled it. The jump from Miriat arriving to Salka being a teenager was jarring and allowed for little introduction to the people. Plotlines like Dola's pregnancy (their midwife and the only person who serves both humans and striga) felt tacked on. Most of the characters felt flat and uninteresting except the ones that are on the mean side, and there are plenty of those. I did eventually warm to Selka and Miriat but leader Alma and her son Dran were dull at best. I think Dran is supposed to be a kind of desperate soul and I couldn't decide whether he was supposed to be pitied or hated and in the end I was merely indifferent. Alma is more of a puzzle, both blind to her son's faults and unnecessarily cruel when there's a hint of scandal that it makes you wonder how no one has overthrown her. I persevered with this book and finally at about the half way point it felt less disjointed and became more enjoyable. It still wasn't great, but it was more interesting and fast-paced. It was enough to claw and extra star in its favour. The book does try to do something a little different and that must be applauded. It has morally grey characters, making them more realistic, no one really being outright good or evil. It plays with a creature of folklore that relatively few people will be familiar with. I just wish it had gone deeper into that creature, and deeper into the world. I still only have a partial idea of what a striga/strigoi actually is. This review will be published on my blog on 3rd March.

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