A horror tale about the Witch Bride, second wife of a King, and the discord between her and her young stepson.

Review || These Deathless Bones by Cassandra Khaw

A horror tale about the Witch Bride, second wife of a King, and the discord between her and her young stepson.


These Deathless Bones is the story of the second wife to the king, unable to have her own children and saddled with the young Prince. She also happens to be a witch. This is a fairytale of the old times, one that hasn't been given the wholesome Disney treatment. Dark and brutally beautiful, one with both heart and hatred, and an unexpected villain. In this, the witch Queen having dinner with the stepson Prince. The first person storytelling worked remarkably well, with small personal thoughts woven through as though a scene snatched from a larger novel. 

There were many things I wasn’t supposed to do, or be. I wasn’t supposed to be someone’s second chance, someone’s happily ever alternate. I wasn’t supposed to be the malevolent stepmother—heartless, soulless, devoid of the natural compassion expected of childbearing women, the instinct to drop everything and coddle needy, whiny little whelps like him.

The narrator's singular hatred of the Prince seethes out. You feel it in every syllable. Surely it's all the witch's fault. After all, the Prince is just a child. Until he's not. 

That last word—prince—shivers through the air, catching in the shadows, like hair snarled in briar. A chittering answers, churning up from the corners, fingernails tap-dancing on the glass. It grows, the noise. It grows and it grows and it grows until the windows blacken and shake.

TW: There is descriptive past animal abuse but...a VERY satisfying horrifying end for the abuser. Some things are worse than death.

Maybe it's my love for dark fairytales that propelled this short story into one of this year's most memorable reads. Maybe it's the twist of the "evil" stepmother perhaps having good reason to be the way she is. Maybe it's the gorgeous prose and emotional hit that the narrator doles out with each spoken word.  Either way, this story stayed with me long after I finished. While I've looked at Khaw's other works before, the apparent Lovecraftian themes on the covers always deterred me. If there is anything I've learned this year though, it's the maybe, just maybe, I don't mind some of those themes.

You can read it free on Tor here.