If Circe, Madeline Miller's wildly imaginative Greek mythology retelling, is already one of your favorite summer reads, I have the perfect young adult title for you to add to your TBR list: Peternelle van Arsdale's The Cold Is in Her Bones. A rich and original novel that mashes up the Greek myth of Medusa and the story of The Crucible, this exciting YA doesn't hit shelves until January, but Bustle is thrilled to reveal it's stunning cover along with an exclusive excerpt you can start reading now.
The only life Milla has ever known is the quiet, isolated one on the family farm her strict and superstitious parents forbid her from leaving. Milla's only saving grace is her brother, Niklas, who is her one and only friend. That is, until Iris, a girl from the village Milla has never been allowed to visit, moves into her elderly neighbor's home. The two become fast friends, and it is Iris who tells Milla why her parents won't let her leave: a demon is terrorizing the village, possessing girls one by one with no clear sign who could be next. That is why Iris's parents sent her away, in an attempt to save her life... but it could be too late.
When the terrified townsfolk capture and imprison Iris with the other possessed girls, it's up to Milla to rescue her friend and break the curse once and for all. But to do that, she will have to unravel the truth about her past, and quickly, because something in Milla is changing, and she may soon be a demon herself.
A dark and enchanting tale about friendship, pain, revenge, and the power of love, The Cold Is in Her Bones is the perfect read for Greek mythology fans and YA readers alike. Although it doesn't come out until Jan. 22, 2019, Bustle readers can see it's beautiful cover and start reading an exclusive excerpt right now — just keep scrolling below!
Milla poured the salt in a straight line, left to right. It was daytime, so the window was open and the breeze scattered a few grains that caught in the grooves of the wooden sill. When she was little, Milla would make drifts of the salt, like snow, then walk her fingers through. She’d furtively lick the tips when she was done.
But she wasn’t little anymore. She was sixteen, and it had been a long time since she’d done anything as rebellious as wasting salt.
“Don’t dawdle so.” Milla’s mother looked over her shoulder at Milla, a pinched expression on her face. Gitta’s face was a lock, and Milla had yet to find the key to opening it.
"She was sixteen, and it had been a long time since she’d done anything as rebellious as wasting salt."
Gitta was already turning away, headed out to fetch some eggs for breakfast, when Milla said, “Yes, Mamma. I’m sorry.” Milla knew that she had nothing to be sorry for. She hadn’t been dawdling. But this was the way of things, and if Milla wanted to smooth even one line from her mother’s forehead, the only thing was to give in. To say: Yes, I know, I was wrong, and I’ll do better next time. Anything less than agreement would seem like disobedience — or worse, wildness. And that was what the demons wanted; that was how they got you. Run off the path, skip your chores, carelessly leave an opening in the white line of salt around the hearth, and whoosh down the chimney a demon would come and make you its own. Next thing you knew, you were waking up in the morning far less you and a lot more it.
"Anything less than agreement would seem like disobedience — or worse, wildness. And that was what the demons wanted; that was how they got you."
Milla went to the next window and poured another fresh line of salt. She’d never received a good answer for why salt kept demons away. She’d learned not to ask questions about such things. It was another sign of disobedience to ask a question that shouldn’t be asked, had no answer, or that had an answer you should already know. “A question that shouldn’t be asked doesn’t deserve an answer.” That was what her father, Jakob, said whenever she asked why they’d always done things a certain way, why they couldn’t do things a different way. Milla had long ago learned that for Pappa there was simply one right way of doing things, and no argument to be made for the wrong way.
Her brother, Niklas, seemed less bothered by the rules than she was. Maybe that was because it wasn’t such an effort for him to follow them. He was naturally so pleasant, so good-natured. He was the one person who had the key to their mother’s face. When Niklas walked in the room, the lines on her forehead relaxed and she looked years younger, and so pretty. Pretty in a way that Milla could never hope to be. “Pretty is as pretty does,” Gitta had always said to Milla. But Milla knew that couldn’t be right. Milla had never done anything but behave, and still she wasn’t pretty the way her mother was. If she were, she’d know it. She’d see proof of her prettiness in her mother’s eyes, or her father’s. Instead what she saw there was disappointment. Perhaps it wasn’t true that pretty is as pretty does. Maybe, Milla worried, it was pretty is as pretty thinks. And if that was the case, then Milla was doomed. Because she could control her behavior, but she couldn’t control her mind. Her mind would have its way.
It wasn’t quite true that Milla had always behaved. There was one time Milla had disobeyed so horribly that it made her never want to misbehave again. This was back when she and Niklas were very young. All one summer afternoon, they’d fought together in the woods, with knobby sticks as their swords. They screamed battle cries that shook the earth and the leaves and sent the birds circling up and up, and terrified their imaginary troll enemies. Just as the sky turned a deeper blue, they walked toward home with dirt under their nails and leaves in their hair and mud smeared across their cheeks.
"And if that was the case, then Milla was doomed. Because she could control her behavior, but she couldn’t control her mind. Her mind would have its way."
From the corner of her eye, Milla regarded Niklas — happy Niklas whom their mother loved. He looked so jolly. So confident that he’d be embraced upon his return, no matter how dirty he was, or how torn his clothing. Something came over Milla then, and she wanted to frighten him. Niklas was two years older then Milla, but never as brave. He was fine when the enemy was something big and oafish like a troll, but Milla’s imagination traveled to darker places than his. “Oh, Niklas,” Milla whispered, “I smell blood. Fresh boy blood. It must be a forest witch. There she is, see her? The blood from her last kill is dripping from her teeth. But she’s still hungry. And now she’s coming for you. You’d better run.”
Niklas paled. “That’s not funny, Milla. You shouldn’t say such things. I’ll tell Mamma.”
"'I smell blood. Fresh boy blood. It must be a forest witch. There she is, see her? The blood from her last kill is dripping from her teeth.'"
Now it was Milla’s turn to pale. “I’m sorry.” Niklas’s face was hard and scared at the same time. Then she made the mistake of trying to tease him out of his upset. “Silly. You know I was making it up.”
Niklas turned on her, hands on hips. “I’m not silly, and you’re a bad girl.”
Milla felt his words like a slap. “I’m not. I’m a good girl.”
“No. You’re not. Mamma and Pappa both say so.” His eyes traveled to her hair. “You’re a mess. You’ll never brush out all those tangles before mother sees you. Remember what happened the last time you went home like that.”
Milla did remember. She’d cried and cried while mother ripped the tangles from her hair with her comb, all the while berating Milla for being so rough and wild. Now Milla forgot all about forest witches, and she wanted only to be good and smooth for Mamma. “Oh, Niklas,” she said. Her eyes welled with tears and some spilled over.
Niklas seemed to soften. “There, there, Milla,” he said, patting her shoulder. “You can cut them out before we get home. Mamma will never know.” Niklas pulled his sharp knife from his pack, the one their father had given him when he turned eight. “Here, you can use this.”
“Oh no,” Milla said. “I don’t think I can.” Milla was only six, and while she had the heart of a bear about most things, she knew her limits. “You do it, Niklas. Please?”
So, one by one, Niklas sawed the tangled clumps from her hair. He stood back now and then to survey his work. Then he sawed off some more, and some more. Milla looked down at her feet, and it seemed like an awful lot of hair was collecting there. Finally he stopped. She looked at him. “How is it now? Better?”
Niklas smiled. “Much.”
As they walked home, Milla gingerly touched her head. It felt so much lighter. And there was so much air on her neck. That didn’t seem like a good thing at all, but it felt kind of nice. She told herself that it must be all right, because Niklas had said so.
When they got home, Milla expected to see her mother’s usual locked face, the one that opened the moment she turned to Niklas. Perhaps a part of Milla expected a little worse than that. But she wasn’t expecting her mother to drop a bowl and shriek at the sight of her.
“What have you done, Milla? What in all of creation have you done?”
Milla looked at her brother, and for an instant, one corner of his mouth turned up with satisfaction. Milla knew in that moment that he’d gotten her back for having frightened him and then laughed at him. At the sight of their mother’s shattered bowl, though, his half smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
Milla’s mouth opened and closed, and her hands went to her head, searching, hoping to find more hair than she now knew there was. For the first time she allowed herself to realize that it was all gone. Her hair was back there in the woods, in a pile. Where she’d once had bark-brown ringlets that grazed the middle of her back, she was left with uneven clumps no longer than her little finger.
"For the first time she allowed herself to realize that it was all gone. Her hair was back there in the woods, in a pile."
Gitta gripped her by the shoulders. “Why did you do that? You stupid, stupid girl.”
“Mamma,” Niklas said. “It’s not her fault. We were playing and her hair got all tangled, and I suggested she cut it. And she wouldn’t use my knife to do it, even though I said she should. I did it, Mamma, I’m the one who did it.”
“Oh, Niklas,” Gitta said. She shook her head at him the way she did when he spilled milk at the breakfast table. Then she looked back at Milla, her face closed again. “Why must you always be so wild? If you hadn’t made such a mess of yourself, your brother wouldn’t have had to try to fix you.” Gitta released Milla’s shoulders and turned toward the kitchen. “Pappa won’t like this. Not one bit. Now go and get clean and then I’ll see what sense I can make of your hair. I suppose the way you look is punishment enough, but your father may think different.”
In the kitchen yard, Niklas pumped water into two pitchers and handed one to Milla. “Is my hair so very bad?” she asked him.
Niklas laughed. “Oh, Milla. It’s horrible.”
Milla burst into tears.
“There, there.” He patted her shoulder the way he had back in the woods, only this time she sensed he meant it. “It’s all right. I’ll handle Mamma and Pappa.” Then he took the pitcher back from her, and he had Milla hold out her hands while he helped her wash with a fresh bar of soap. When he finished rinsing her hair he said, “Well, that was quick. Maybe you should keep it this way, right?”
Then she finally stopped crying, because it was impossible to keep feeling awful with Niklas standing there smiling at her.
That was a long time ago.