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“All the dreamers are castle-bound. At midnight’s stroke, we will unwind, Revealing fantasies soft or unkind. Show me debauched nightmares or sunniest daydreams. Come not as you are but as you wish to be seen.”
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.
Sometimes you need to read a book purely for enjoyment. That’s what I found myself doing with Erin A. Craig’s debut novel, House of Salt and Sorrows. Though by no means a perfect book, I found myself excited to continue reading the story. It fails on nearly every front I care about, and yet I had a good time with this novel.
First of all, the characterization is flat and insubstantial. We learn the most about the protagonist Annaleigh, but even then it’s things like she likes sea turtles and wants to run a lighthouse. Annaleigh is defined primarily by her compassion for her family. She wants to find out what’s happening to her sisters in order to get justice for those deceased and save those still alive. She’s not a bad character to follow, driven through this horror story via her heart not her stupidity (like many horror protagonists).
The other characters, well, they exist. Everyone from Cassius to Camille to Fisher to Morella to Verity to Ortun fits an archetype. They’re not very well developed. If you follow at any character’s arc— including Annaleighs’— you’ll find there’s not a whole lot of change. These characters are who they are and this is but an episode in their lives (albeit a scary one).
So you can imagine that the romance suffers for this. While you can kind of see why Annaleigh and Cassius fall for each other, it’s shown far more than told. And, despite the story taking place over the course of several months, it’s instalove. The two hardly spend any time together, and yet they’re in love. Annaleigh and Cassius are cute together, but there’s no real audience pull.
Tonally, this book is a mess. For the most part, it’s dark and creepy. The deaths of the eldest Thaumas sisters are looming over the family at all times. Except, you know, when it’s time to be giddy about balls and shoes. The text justifies this, but that doesn’t fix the tonal issues.
Clearly, I can be critical of this novel. But I’m willing to forgive all that because I don’t think this book is meant to be read like most novels. It’s a long-form fairy tale, plain and simple. Most everything I have a problem with in this story is perfectly acceptable in a fairy tale. House of Salt and Sorrows is a dark version of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Therefore, my criticisms don’t hinder my enjoyment of the story.
Earlier I called this novel a horror story, and it is. But it’s more like Horror Lite. Baby’s First Horror, if you will. It’s definitely eerie and creepy, which was perfect for spooky season. I’d been hoping for something a little more gothic, but whimsically scary is great too. Just don’t expect any of the horror to stick with you if you’re a horror veteran.
Ultimately, I thought it was nice to turn my brain off and just have fun reading. It’s good to read critically, but sometimes you need a break. This dark take on a fairy tale was just the thing I needed. Though flawed, I felt no sorrow reading this creepy, creepy book.
Have you read House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!