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The Second Bell

by: Gabriela Houston


In a world which believes her to be a monster, a young striga fights to harness the power of her second heart, while her mother sacrifices everything to stop her…

File Under: Fantasy [ Breaking Taboos | Hidden Shadows | Hungry Like the Wolf | Slavic Story ]


To the world you are an abomination; a monster with unholy abilities. You’re shunned and left to fend for yourself. Your only chance of survival is to tap into that dark potential – would you do it? In an isolated mountain community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. Such a child – a striga – is considered a dangerous demon, which must be abandoned on the edge of the forest to protect the community. The only choice the child’s mother can make is whether to leave her home with her infant, or stay behind and try to forget. Miriat made her choice. She and her nineteen-year-old striga daughter, Salka, now live a life of deprivation and hardship in a remote village, where to follow the impulses of the other heart is forbidden. But Salka is headstrong and young, and when threatened with losing everything, she is forced to explore the depths of her true nature, testing the bonds between mother and child.
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The Second Bell

Paperback, Ebook

Paperback ISBN




Gabriela was born and raised in Poland, brought up on a diet of mythologies and fairy tales. She spent her summers exploring the woods, foraging and animal tracking with her family. At 19, Gabriela moved to London to study English Literature and obtained a Masters degree in Literatures of Modernity. She has worked as an assistant editor and as a freelance writer. Gabriela’s short stories have been selected for the Editor’s Choice Review by Bewildering Stories and have been featured on the Ladies of Horror Fiction podcast. She lives in London with her husband and two children.

“A lyrical tale of mothers and daughters, the lies we tell ourselves and the choking strictures of petty society. Gabriela Houston’s twist on Slavic folklore offers readers a mediation on the power, beauty and danger of the natural world, seen through the eyes of a rich cast of characters whose behaviour is all too manifestly human, despite their sometimes supernatural nature. Captivating, provocative and poignant – not to be missed.”
David Wragg, author of The Black Hawks

“Houston has penned a confident and original page turner of a debut novel that reads like authentic folklore. This is well worth your time!”
Gavin G Smith, author of The Bastard Legion series

“Houston projects her background of Polish mythologies and dark fairy tales onto this fanciful debut. Redemption, sacrifice, and generosity underpin this story about mother-and-daughter relationships. Fans of mythical yarns and medieval fantasies will enjoy this easy-to-read fable.”
Library Journal

“Houston is able to mark the significance of daily events, highlight her characters, and comment on humanity’s capacity for othering. This intimate fantasy offers a heartfelt reflection on what it means to be human that is sure to please.”
– Publishers Weekly

“A claustrophobic but very human tale of bad decisions rather than (totally) bad people, with conflict and magic alike grounded in the rhythms of daily life and the landscape around it.”
– SFX Magazine

“A fabulous fairytale, beautifully written, full of very human darkness and not-so-human heart. There is magic and joy here, as well as struggle and sacrifice, with characters and a very personal story you won’t be able to stop thinking about long after the tale is told.”
– Dan Hanks, author of Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire

“Houston deftly handles both characterization and pacing as she creates a realistic, enchanting fairy tale with real-world themes.”
– Ginger Smith, author of The Rush’s Edge

“Prose that scintillates, characters that captivate, and a world that is at once enchanting in its magic, horrifying in its realism, and vice-versa. Houston has gifted us with a folktale that is both mythically resonant and all too human.”
– Tyler Hayes, author of The Imaginary Corpse

“Gabriela’s Houston’s debut novel The Second Bell is a captivating tale about the depths humans, and others, will go to hate, to love, to hurt or to help as they struggle between love and duty. A moving and complex mother-daughter pair, Miriat and Salka ask the eternal questions of what exactly a parent owes a child and vice versa. A fresh and provocative spin on the Slavic Stiga mythology, The Second Bell is a smart and complex journey into the meaning of family, community, nature and possibility. A gripping read and full of heart.”
– Soniah Kamal, award-winning author of Unmarriageable