Intoxicating in its vivid and rich world, The Buried and the Bound is a tremendous accomplishment from author Rochelle Hassan in her contemporary fantasy debut. Her second published novel following 2022’s middle school-aged The Prince of Nowhere, her latest offers a twist on familiar lore and fairytales, honoring the myths and mythmakers while adding her own color so that the final result is something resoundingly new. Set in a world of magic, ancient and new, Hassan allows realism and fantasy to bleed together, as our three protagonists face mounting dangers that will have readers glued to the page, desperate to follow our heroes into the pits of hell and back again.
Perhaps it’s best put as this – The Buried and the Bound recalled what it was like to read as a teenager, unburdened by deadlines, soaking in the vast possibilities available in an unopened book. The book – the first of a trilogy – possesses the type of spark that will encourage those who have fallen off of reading fantasy – or reading in general – to fall in love with it again. This world and its characters are treated with such care, poise, and warmth that their injuries adorn our skin and wound our hearts, their triumphs bring a rush of glee.
Set in the fictional town of Blackthorn, Massachusetts, Aziza is a 17-year-old hedgewitch who thinks she’s seen it all in this uncommonly magical place. She’s dealt with the likes of wood nymphs, fairies, and shadow beings, but is now faced with a recently awoken source of power that’s been crossing the long-held boundaries of the human world and fairyland. She teams up with Leo, a young man who has been cursed to forget his true love when he turned 16. He joins Aziza in trying to find the harbinger of evil that’s been invading their town, luring away those who go un-watched and unwanted.
Enter Tristan, a tragedy stricken young man and reluctant necromancer with demons that eat away at his soul while faced with tangible evil in the waking world. As his story works perpendicularly to Aziza and Leo’s, and he is tied to the forces they’re trying to defeat, the tension increases as they’re faced with odds that, from the offset, seem impossible to overcome by the book’s resolution.
Hassan more than manages to deliver a satisfying conclusion while setting up greater quests, self-discoveries, and questions that need answering for the novels to come. There are no cheap shots or attempts of manipulation, just a well-paced payoff and a story that begs for more to follow.
A special nod to Hassan’s ability to draw such bold depictions of the magical beings in her novel, something The Buried and the Bound has no shortage of. From selkies who wear their skin like wetsuits to a lecherous evil that poisons the forest around it as it digs its roots in further to the soil, blind in its rage and arrogant in its power, to a wood nymph whose life has been hollowed out, leaving a shell of itself, the images Hassan conjures are evocative, breathing life into an already textured world.
The fantastical elements give the novel its atmosphere and sense of wonder, but it’s the three leads who hold the story’s, gentle heart. Aziza, Leo, and Tristan are all facing challenges they’re too strong to bear and while they’re all witty and intelligent, undeniably strong in their own ways, they’re also teenagers who mess up, are selfish, and who are learning to trust one another, especially in Aziza’s case. The chapters split themselves between the three’s points of view, offering a larger scale of the story without ever losing the thread as we gain greater knowledge of how their world operates and, more importantly, what motivates them to operate within it.
A quick read, the only grievance to note is that the second book isn’t already available so we might spend more time with these three, in this world, as they navigate what pulls them together and what tethers them to their town. Gorgeously written and endlessly immersive, Hassan marries whimsy with horror, darkness with light, romance with friendship, and possibilities with regrets with a deft, assured hand. The most potent stories of magical realism are the ones that etch into your skin with not only a great hook but a strong sense of urgency and empathy. The characters’ compassion in times of dire circumstance, and the electric pull these characters orbit the town, it all culminates in a book that is as magical as the beings Aziza seeks.
To think that this is only the start.
The Buried and the Bound is available for purchase now. Purchase options here.
Featured Image Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan