Three teenagers fight back against sinister supernatural forces in their New England town in Rochelle Hassan’s debut YA novel, The Buried and the Bound, the first volume of a planned trilogy.
The world’s witches are born with specific gifts, and Lebanese American hedgewitch Aziza El-Amin’s gift—and responsibility—is maintaining boundaries, particularly magical ones. Her hometown of Blackthorn, Massachusetts, contains numerous borders between the real world and the magical realm of Elphame, so Aziza regularly patrols the city, closing any gaps and ensuring visitors from Elphame don’t harm the humans of Blackthorn.
While on patrol, Aziza arrives on the scene of a shocking magical attack, where she meets Leo, who has been searching for a way to break the curse placed on his family. Meanwhile, a lonely teen named Tristan grows desperate to escape his contract with a cruel, powerful hag, but he can’t seem to find a way out that doesn’t endanger his loved ones. The weakening boundary between Blackthorn and Elphame brings Aziza, Leo and Tristan together to solve these problems and more. Accustomed to her solitary patrols, Aziza is slow to trust but grudgingly admits that Leo and even eventually Tristan make her job as Blackthorn’s hedgewitch easier and less isolating.
In this story of friendship and family, classic folkloric creatures such as kelpies, hags and the Fair Folk collide with the mundanities of contemporary high school life, with a strong helping of romantic melodrama on the side. Dead parents, lost loves and desperate acts drive the plot and add a touch of gothic flair. The theme of generational trauma is skillfully woven throughout, as family secrets, shames and losses lurk in each protagonist’s past. Hassan imbues Aziza, Leo and Tristan with such rich personalities and backstories that the novel would feel crowded as a standalone tale. Knowing that each of their stories will unfold over a trilogy makes this first book’s unresolved narrative threads easier to accept.
As she brings a Lebanese immigrant family into the heart of a witches-in-New England tale, Hassan deftly highlights magic’s global presence. Although Aziza’s magical specialty is maintaining borders, her sprawling world of magic illustrates the rewards that await readers when fantasy reaches beyond white, Eurocentric inspirations and characters. Imaginative and urgently paced, The Buried and the Bound will be enjoyed by fans of Holly Black, S. Jae-Jones and Alix E. Harrow.