A haunting story of magic and myth, of one boy caught between worlds, and of the lengths he will travel to save those he loves.
"Dark, magical, and mysterious, Bone Jack captured me and carried me away." —Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal-winning author of When You Reach Me and Goodbye Stranger
Times have been tough for Ash lately, and all he wants is for everything to go back to the way it used to be. Back before drought ruined the land and disease killed off the livestock. Before Ash’s father went off to war and returned carrying psychological scars. Before his best friend, Mark, started acting strangely.
As Ash trains for his town’s annual Stag Chase—a race rooted in violent, ancient lore—he’s certain that if he can win and make his father proud, life will return to normal. But the line between reality and illusion is rapidly blurring, and the past has a way of threatening the present.
When a run in the mountains brings Ash face-to-face with Bone Jack—a figure that guards the boundary between the living world and the dead—everything changes once more. As dark energies take root and the world as he knows it is upended, it’s up to Ash to restore things to their proper order and literally run for his life.
Praise for Bone Jack:
A 2015 Carnegie Medal nominee
A 2015 Branford Boase Award nominee
"Though this might seem like justanother ghost story, there’s subtle depth here, too, and teen fans of both horror and literary fiction will findlots to like." —Booklist
"Crowe is a masterly storyteller whose lyrical prose will enthrall young readers. A page-turning and atmospheric offering for middle graders who crave dark fantasy." —School Library Journal
"Crowe is particularly effective in evoking the sensory elements of the natural world...eminiscent of David Almond’s work in its sensuality and mysticism." —Horn Book
"British author Crowe crafts a tense, atmospheric tale steeped in folklore, where the setting itself comes alive. It’s a quick but memorable read, and a fascinating take on the power of belief and healing." —Publishers Weekly
"The action scenes around the chase itself are gripping, with lots of high drama and no guaranteed happy outcome. What’s even more memorable, however, is the lingering feeling of loss that shapes so many lives in this British import; plenty of real-life monsters like war, depression, and isolation haunt people as much as ghostly hound boys." —BCCB
"[P]owerful and beguiling." —Telegraph
"A lovely, eerie adventure, balancing the ancient magic with Ash's very real character growth." —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Sara Crowe (theforest.me) was born in Cornwall and raised all over England by her restless parents. She taught cinema and photography studies until 2012, when she and her partner bought a van and spent the next eighteen months traveling around the British Isles. She currently lives in a tumbledown cottage in Lincolnshire. Bone Jack, which has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal and the Branford Boase Award, is her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter
Read an Excerpt
It is said that in ancient times humankind and Nature were as one. Human could take the form of beast and beast could take the form of human. There were spirits in all things, in rock and tree, bird and beast, sun and moon and stars and land. The seasons turned. Some years were years of plenty. Others brought drought or storms or harsh winters that lingered late into spring. In those years, men raced to prove their worth, lest Nature prove her power.
But when humankind turns its back on Nature, turns its back on itself, not human nor beast nor the land itself is safe. When humankind turns its back on life, Nature lays its curse.
And the old ways return.
Stag’s Leap. It felt like the edge of the world, nothing beyond it but a fall of rock, depth and fierce winds.
Ash Tyler looked down.
Today the wind was hot, as dry and rough as sandpaper against his skin. It tore back his hair, made his eyes stream. He leaned into it, testing its strength against his own.
There was still a foot or so between him and the edge. He inched forward again. The wind slapped his T-shirt around like a sail.
He’d done this before at least a dozen times. Always his best friend Mark’s idea. All the crazy things they’d ever done had been Mark’s idea.
Except this time.
Here Ash was again. Alone, with nothing but air between him and a two-hundred-foot fall onto splintered rock.
He stretched out his arms like wings, the way Mark always used to. He forced himself to look down. The salty taste of sweat on his lips. The wind singing in his ears.
The ground seemed to hurtle up toward him and spin away again.
Ash braced himself against the wind. For a few moments he felt weightless, free, as if he could soar out over the land, ride the air like a hawk. Fly up, pin himself to the sky, watch the blue earth spin beneath him.
He was giddy with fear and joy.
He knew that the wind had only to draw its breath to snatch him away, send him flailing down onto the rocks far below.
He tipped his weight forward until only the balls of his feet tethered him to the ground.
Then the wind dropped.
Ash wobbled. Not much but enough to make fear drill through him. If he fell he’d die, bones shattering, skin ripping against granite, blood on stone.
He tensed. Every sinew wire-taut, every muscle straining.
He hung there for what seemed forever. Then the wind gusted hard again, pushed him upright. He took a step back and then another, sagged down onto the good solid ground.
That had been the closest one yet.
Never again, he told himself. At thirteen, he was too old for these stupid games.
Still trembling from the rush.
He rolled onto his back on the parched mountain grass and closed his eyes. The sun was hot on his face. The wind sighed over the mountainside and birds chattered in the thorn trees. Crickets whirred somewhere close by.
Beyond these tiny sounds stretched a vaster silence. Once it would have been broken by the rough cries of sheep, but there weren’t any sheep in the mountains anymore. First sickness had weakened them. Then came government men in biohazard suits, the whole area under quarantine, gunshots and terrified bleats shattering the quiet air. Now the sheep were all gone. All dead.
Sometimes Ash imagined he could still smell the stink of blood and burning flesh from the slaughter, the choking disinfectants with which they’d drenched whole farmyards.
The wind dropped again. The air was warm and thick. It clung to his skin like sweat. He sat up, yawned, stretched the tension out of his muscles.
He had a three-mile run home. It was time to get going.
Ash set off at a steady pace down the path. Soon the rhythms of his body took over. He let his thoughts drift apart and fall away until there was only the beat of his feet, the shunt of his lungs and the hard white sky over raw slopes.
The path ran along a crease in the mountain to a wide flattish shoulder halfway down. Brambles, a collapsed drystone wall and beyond that a cluster of buildings, the farm where Mark had lived with his family until the bank repossessed it last year.
It had been empty ever since. No one wanted a wind-blasted, run-down hill farm in the aftermath of a foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Ash concentrated on the path. Tried not to look at the farm, not to think about it, not to remember the things he’d seen there. The memories came anyway, dark and airless. Tom Cullen, Mark’s dad, up to his neck in debt, silently watching the carcasses of his slaughtered sheep smolder in huge pits. His world falling apart.
“We should have seen it coming,” Ash’s mom had said afterward. Eyes full of tears and anger. “We should have done something.”
But no one had done anything for Tom Cullen. He’d been too proud to ask for help. That was how it was in the mountains, how it had always been. If things went wrong, you toughed it out and if you told people you were all right, that you didn’t need help, they took you at your word and left you to it. Only Tom Cullen’s toughness had just been an act and no one had seen through it to realize how desperate he’d become. Not even Mom had seen through it, even though she’d known him for years.
A battered for sale sign hung on the gate. Beyond it was the yard, an expanse of cracked concrete edged with tall weeds and nettles. The farmhouse windows were boarded up. Around it stood several outbuildings, a rusted tractor resting on its wheel rims, a few empty oil drums.
The old barn, its doors hanging on their hinges, its roof sagging.
When they were kids, Ash and Mark had bottle-fed lambs in that barn. Turned the hayloft into a den. Once they’d cornered a marauding fox in there, then, awed by its fierce wildness, stepped back and let it run free into the night.
And in that barn, in the dead of night, Tom Cullen had knotted a rope into a noose, slung it over a beam and—
Ash wouldn’t let himself think about that.
He ran on and didn’t look back. Where the path forked, he took the steeper route, a sharp zigzag downhill between high banks of boulder and thorn.
He came around the shoulder of the mountain and the land opened out before him, greens and grays and purples slashed with fox-red bracken. A wild terrain of deep wide valleys, rough moors, crags.
He liked this route, even though it took him past the Cullen farm. When Dad came home—any day now—they would come running out here together, like they used to. They’d camp at one of the mountain lakes, go canoeing and fishing and rock climbing. They’d worked it all out in e-mails and phone calls.
But lately Dad hadn’t been answering his e-mails or his phone and now he was two days late coming home. Mom was worried. She never said so but Ash knew it and so he worried too. The house phone seemed to ring on and off all day but the callers were never Dad.
“Where the hell are you?” Ash said out loud to the mountains and the sky. “Come home, will you?”
He ran faster, remembering another long hot day, sometime last summer, running this route with Dad. For the first time, he’d felt that Dad wasn’t holding back so Ash could keep up. He couldn’t quite match Dad’s pace but he wasn’t far behind.
“Only another mile and we’re there,” Dad said.
“Okay,” Ash said. “Pretty soon I’ll be leaving you in the dust.”
Dad laughed. “I have no doubt. You’ll be racing in a year or two, leaving everyone in the dust.”
And now, a year on, Ash was proving Dad right. There were only two weeks to go until the big race, the annual Stag Chase through the mountains. It was a local tradition, centuries old, a mix of race and ritual hunt with one boy playing the role of the stag and the others playing the hounds in pursuit. Ash would be the stag boy this year, the lead runner, chased by the other boys. And Dad would be back by then. He’d be there and Ash would win. He had to win, to make Dad proud. Ash was terrible at most sports but he could run like a stag, run like the wild wind. It was the first year he’d been old enough to enter the race and he’d beaten all the other boys in the trials. He would win the Chase, too, and Dad would be waiting at the finish line, brimming with pride.
The whole thing played out like a movie in Ash’s mind.
He lengthened his stride, let his body do the thinking, let it make the split-second decisions about footfall and rock and root. Ran through thorn and scrub over slope, stone, ridged mud, slippery patches of wiry grass. The whisper of the breeze, the scrape and scuttle of loose stones underfoot. A kestrel trembling on the high thermals. The burned smell of the sun-scorched land.
A bird shot out of the bracken then, flew straight at Ash’s face. A gaping beak the color of steel, ragged black wings, claws ripping at his skin. He flung out his hands, felt feather and bone under his fingers. He staggered, lost his footing and crashed down onto a scratchy mattress of heather.
Then the bird was gone.
Ash rolled onto his back and lay there, breathing hard, heart thumping, staring wide-eyed at a darkening sky.