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The Thread That Binds the Bones is a pretty hard novel to find. (It is slightly easier to find related novel The Silent Strength of Stones and so far, Spirits That Walk in Shadows has not made an appearance at the local used book store.) I had originally sought this book out because I had read and liked The Silent Strength of Stones and from there started looking for the Matt Black books and reading her short stories. (I also eventually discovered the LaZelle Family books when they came out, which I also enjoyed.)
Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s books don’t really fall into the niche of “urban fantasy” because there’s generally a lack of the kind of action/adventure that typifies what I think of as “urban fantasy.” Hoffman tends to explore bizarre magical transformations, dysfunctional families and relationships. Good and evil has shades of gray, and killing is not generally the best way to dispose of the bad guy (if one is even present).
In The Thread That Binds the Bones two people are drawn together and end up dealing with an extremely dysfunctional community of magic users. (Said families are representatives of an ethnic group that has been living in concealment for centuries.) One of the two people is a young woman named Laura who ran away from the community and became a model. Her main reason for having left is because she was the only one who didn’t have any power. (Her secondary reason is that her family is a bunch of jerks.) She is returning to attend a wedding. (And because there’s no point in hiding since her family can apparently find her.) The other is a young man named Tom who has a lot of uncontrolled magical ability, and ends up in the tiny town of Arcadia due to having quit his previous job after an unwanted incident concerning his powers.
Arcadia has a very strange relationship with the community of Chapel Hollow, which is where the magic users live. The magic users tend to prey on the townsfolk and the townsfolk try to stay out of the way of the magic users. (It is mentioned that at one time, the relationship between the two communities was once more friendly.) Tom is completely unaware of the situation when Laura turns up in town and needs a cab to get up to Chapel Hollow. They each discover that they have a lot in common, though Laura is at first disturbed by this and believes that Tom might be a particularly horrible practical joke.
From there, they somehow end up married, and Tom acquires advice and a teacher in the form of a ghost named Peregrine who decides that Tom is just the thing necessary to fix the extremely dysfunctional dynamics of Chapel Hollow. Of course in order to do this, he and Laura are going to have to discover and face down the main reason why almost everyone in the family is a dysfunctional monster, before that reason tears the family–and everything else–apart.
Hoffman is at her best when she is exploring the dynamics of family or interpersonal relationships. I do not always agree with the end result of some of her interactions but what she comes up with is generally believable on an emotional level. The pacing is a little slow but it also manages to be engaging, unpredictable and interesting enough to make the reader want to stick with the story and find out what happens next.