The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan (The Buried and the Bound #1)

As the only hedgewitch in Blackthorn, Massachusetts—an uncommonly magical place—Aziza El-Amin has bargained with wood nymphs, rescued palm-sized fairies from house cats, banished flesh-eating shadows from the local park. But when a dark entity awakens in the forest outside of town, eroding the invisible boundary between the human world and fairyland, run-of-the-mill fae mischief turns into outright aggression, and the danger—to herself and others—becomes too great for her to handle alone.

Leo Merritt is no stranger to magical catastrophes. On his sixteenth birthday, a dormant curse kicked in and ripped away all his memories of his true love. A miserable year has passed since then. He's road-tripped up and down the East Coast looking for a way to get his memories back and hit one dead end after another. He doesn't even know his true love's name, but he feels the absence in his life, and it's haunting.

Desperate for answers, he makes a pact with Aziza: he’ll provide much-needed backup on her nightly patrols, and in exchange, she’ll help him break the curse.

When the creature in the woods sets its sights on them, their survival depends on the aid of a mysterious young necromancer they’re not certain they can trust. But they’ll have to work together to eradicate the new threat and take back their hometown... even if it forces them to uncover deeply buried secrets and make devastating sacrifices. 

TITLE: The Buried and the Bound
AUTHOR: Rochelle Hassan
PUBLISHER: Blackstone Publishing
YEAR: 2023
LENGTH: 384 pages (11 hours 5 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Closeted Main Character(s).

THE BURIED AND THE BOUND follows three teenagers trying to deal with curses and keep the boundary intact between the magical and the mundane in their town.

Aziza, Leo, and Tristan make a strong trio. Their various strengths, weaknesses, and histories lead to a good balance between narrative tension and general ability to work together to fight the hag. While many things end up working out in their favor, it’s never perfect. This creates an air of them fighting for everything that goes right, but not always winning. They're developed separately and together, with Aziza and Leo feeling more like a duo in the first half, then cohering with Tristan into an actual trio by the end. 

Aziza is a hedgewitch, living with her grandfather and maintaining the magical boundary near the town. Leo has been cursed to forget his true love, unable to even process it if anyone tries to tell him details of the person he's forgotten. Tristan is working for a hag in exchange for getting a curse broken, finding himself more and more horrified by what the hag is asking him to do.

The worldbuilding is very character-focused, giving information as it matters to the characters for specific things that are happening. Part of this is because they are navigating the ways that magic intertwines with the mundane parts of their lives. There’s very little focus on the non-magical aspects, with almost no focus on school despite the ages of the characters. The main way that that comes up is in backstory about missing school or changing schools. Otherwise, most mundane details relate to family life or the challenges of being an unhoused teen. I prefer books which lean into the magic and avoid the daily grind of being a teenager going to school, so this balance was perfect for me. I like how Aziza's background becomes increasingly relevant as the story goes on, moving from minor details into a driving aspect of her decisions going forward. 

The main thing that I didn’t like is that towards the end there’s some language used around changelings which mirrors the real world language used around autistic children when parents think that they have changed or somehow "lost" the non-autistic child they thought they had until that point. I'm aware that the book isn’t trying to be about autism, but culturally and linguistically these ideas are so intertwined that in Western literature anyone writing fantasy and using the concept of changelings ought to at least be aware of the connection. It's important to either write their changelings in a way that doesn’t evoke descriptions of autistic children or or to acknowledge and deal with that situation in some way. This fails to do either, playing the trope straight, slightly marring my enjoyment of the story.

I also didn't like one of the three audiobook narrators at first, but gradually he was less annoying as I got used to his voice. This does mean that anyone sensitive to the vocal tone of audiobook narrators might be better off reading a text version instead. 

As the first book in a planned series, THE BURIED AND THE BOUND only resolves one of the three major issues introduced in the first half of the book. By the time I got to the ending I had forgotten that this was book one in a series and not a standalone, which means I was emotionally unprepared for the technically-not-a-cliffhanger ending which leaves the characters in a better place than they were before the book started, but with a lot of complications that will need to be dealt with as the series continues. 

I like this as the first book in a series, and I plan to read the rest when they're available.

Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, memory loss, blood, gore, fire/fire injury, violence, injury detail, animal death, murder, death.

Moderate CW for emotional abuse, homophobia, physical abuse, child abuse, kidnapping, medical content, torture, self harm, slavery, parental death, child death.

Minor CW for intrusive thoughts, lesbophobia.

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