In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED AUGUST 6, 2019
CW: loss of a loved one, suicide, body horror, animal death, self-harm, gore, graphic childbirth scene
It’s always strange to read a book that wows me in some ways and completely misses in others, House of Salt and Sorrows being one of these odd books. I went in not entirely sure what to think in terms of genre (really, it’s a blend of fantasy and murder mystery at its core), and knowing only that it’s a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
I’ll admit that made me nervous. I’m not always a huge fan of retellings.
BUT, in a lot of ways, HoSaS went above and beyond expectations, leaving me pretty happy with the results. I’ll also have to keep an eye on the author, because if this is only her debut, I suspect her future projects might be even better than this. Hopefully, it’s only up from here!
Anyway, for those who aren’t really familiar with HoSaS yet, it follows Annaleigh (this name feels like an “Annabel Lee” Poe reference to me) in the wake of her sisters’ deaths, as she tries to figure out what’s plaguing the House of Thaumas, slowly cutting its way through the twelve sisters. Along the way, there is, of course, dancing in beautiful slippers, a competition to find out how the girls are going through so many shoes so quickly, and a fair dose of unsettling gothic horror, like a six-year-old drawing graphic pictures of her dead sisters, and ghosts wandering the manor halls. Overall, it’s incredibly atmospheric, and you really get the proper sense of being stuck in a gloomy, salt-stained mansion by the sea. It’s possibly the book’s greatest strength.
Another thing I really appreciated, though, was that this is almost more of a murder mystery with a dash of fantasy, rather than fantasy with a dash of murder mystery. Annaleigh is determined not to let her sisters’ deaths go unanswered for, even when everyone around her is certain it’s the result of some mysterious curse. She digs in spite of everything, and I really enjoyed how she seemed to come close and then fall away again more than once. The mystery didn’t feel too easy to piece together, but it didn’t feel impossible.
Mostly. There was some fantasy meddling that appeared WAY TOO LATE to be satisfying (it should have been on my radar sooner if it was going to be part of a big, sweeping solution), and that fantasy meddling had the unpleasant side effect of suggesting Annaleigh, and by extension the reader, can’t trust anyone or anything already discovered, that it could all be a lie. Which undermines, I think, a ton of the work already put into setting the solution up.
Additionally, the romance just held no value for me. Probably the number one complaint you’ve seen from me if you’ve been reading Words Gremlin reviews for any length of time, but I mean it, I really do. The LI was flat and uninteresting, and mostly just had some convenient magical happenings that made him both and ally and suspect without giving him any real death. He’s mostly there to explain the fantasy aspects Annaleigh can’t hope to know, and to hold her hand. Standing out as a fully rounded character, though, just isn’t in the cards for him, and because of that, his interactions with Annaleigh fell short of the mark for me. If you’re going to have two characters orbiting each other romantically for period of time, it shouldn’t feel like instalove by the end. Immediate physical and aesthetic attraction is one thing. It’s normal for characters to look at each other and think the other is cute. What’s disappointing is never really getting any measure of depth to the relationship past that.
On the whole, though, House of Salt and Sorrows was a pretty strong read, and like I said, I’ll be watching out for Erin A. Craig titles in the future. Her debut isn’t perfect, but it is pretty solid (and pretty spooky), so I’m hoping anything else she brings to the table will only improve on what HoSaS offers so far.
And if a salty sea mystery is what you’re after, there’s still time to pre-order HoSaS or request it through your library! It releases on August 6th, a week and a day from today, so you won’t have to wait long to get your dancing shoes and eerie octopus crests and MURDER.
That’s what most bookworms are here for, right? The murder? Yeah, sounds about right to me.