House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes
Date Published: August 6th, 2019
Pages: 416 pages
Synopsis: 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.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
I completely and utterly fell head-over-heels in love with this book. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it did not disappoint. It was absolutely everything I was hoping for and so much more. This might not be a completely perfect novel for everyone—or just in general, as literature is such an objective thing—but it was perfect for me. A dark retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, this novel had everything I love; suspense, intrigue, suspicious deaths, ghosts, curses, dark magic, all told in a beautifully eerie and captivating way. I was hooked from page one.
In this novel, we are transported to a manor by the sea called Highmoor where we follow a girl named Annaleigh. She was once one of twelve sisters, but death befalls sister after sister, placing the Thaumus family into a constant state of mourning. This unbelievable string of bad luck has caused the residents of their town to begin whispering about the family being cursed by the gods and they keep away from the sisters in fear.
When Annaleigh starts to experience vivid, ghostly visions of her sisters, she comes to realize that the deaths that have been written off as tragic accidents may not be accidents at all. On top of this, her sisters have been running off to go dancing at lavish balls each night, returning at dawn with their shoes completely worn through. But where are her sisters going? And who are they dancing with? Annaleigh must work to discover what is plaguing her family before more harm can come to them.
This is a hauntingly beautiful tale of a family under attack by an unknown force and the lengths Annaleigh will go to in order to protect the ones she loves. It is fast-paced and absorbing and I could not put this book down—it captivated me more than any book has in a while and it was wonderful. I am a massive lover of dark retellings that are both unique as well as faithful to the original story, and Craig completely nails this.
There is so much mystery and creepiness on every page of this story—moments that will make your heart pound and keep you riveted to each word. It is a complex and carefully woven tale filled with intriguing mystery, dark and frightening ghostly visions, and unexpected twists that constantly had me on the edge of my seat. I became so wrapped up in this story and these characters and I never wanted it to end.
All of the characters in this novel are created extremely well. Annaleigh is a very strong lead character. She’s intelligent, tough, and will do absolutely anything to protect her family no matter how confusing or out of control things appear to be. She maintains her convictions about what is truly going on at Highmoor despite facing disbelief from others. I feel like I connected with her right away—she is portrayed very clearly and is multi-dimensional.
Annaleigh’s sisters are also beautifully portrayed. I love that they feel so thoroughly fleshed out and that they are so realistic and three-dimensional. Verity is my personal favorite! And the relationships between all of them are done to perfection. They are realistic and believable, making it easy to come to care for them and to be eager to see their troubles end. Each sister’s personality is so vividly depicted and I was so glad to see that they played such a big role in the plot. Annaleigh’s love for them is so strong and the driving force of the story and the love they all share for each other is unshakable.
I actually ended up really loving the romance in this novel. This is something that I say very rarely, but Craig created such a sweet and lovely relationship that melted my heart. I was a little wary early on as a love triangle is hinted at briefly. However, it never actually happens, which I was very thankful for. There is quite a bit of insta-love here, but that is something I don’t usually mind, especially when the romance is well-constructed. Craig does one of my favorite things when it comes to romances in fantasy novels which is truly keeping it a side plot. Never once does it overpower the main plot and Annaleigh maintains her focus on her family and taking care of them.
Though I would have liked to hear more about his storyline and background, I really like Cassius a lot. Cassius is very caring and he and Annaleigh go together really well—you can definitely feel a strong connection between them. I wish he had been in even more of the story. The moments between Annaleigh and Cassius are so sweet and pure that they are a fantastic contrast to the rest of the novel. The progression of their relationship creates small breaks of light happiness among the darkness and sadness in the main storyline and that worked out beautifully. And frankly, it was just plain romantic, adorable, and enjoyable!
Now we come to my favorite part of this novel—the writing. Craig’s writing is completely and utterly beautiful. Her style is so lyrical and enchanting, bringing out a strong fairytale feeling in the narrative. At the same time, her words are haunting and emotional, flawlessly bringing out the darkness of the tale. Loss, longing, love, and hope all run throughout each page. It is a style of writing that is incredibly enjoyable to get lost in for hours.
The world-building is absolutely fantastic. Craig carefully constructs a detailed and intricate setting. Seamlessly blending the tone of the narration into the environment, she creates a vivid and entrancing experience for her readers. The setting is described so thoroughly it is very easy to place yourself there and feel it come to life around you. The atmosphere is dark and eerie—to the point where it is almost tangible—and fits perfectly with the narrative itself. It is extremely clear that Craig put a huge amount of time and effort into absolutely every aspect of this narrative. Her descriptions are so clear and detailed throughout and the way she constructs the Thaumus family’s life, traditions, and backstory is magnificent.
The only minor issue I had was with parts of the ending. Things happen very quickly and I found myself slightly confused at times. Mainly, I wish there had been a little more explanation of the religious/mythological elements—they appear to come somewhat out of the blue. I wish that those aspects of the plot had been developed a bit more and had a bigger part in the story, mainly because I was so intrigued by them. However, the ending, particularly the moments involving the main villain, was properly freaky and intense and it fit the tone of the story perfectly. And that small bit of confusion did not detract at all from my enjoyment of it.
As I’m sure you can probably tell by now, this is one of the newest additions to my list of all-time favorite novels. I connected with this story completely—it was right up my alley. The suspense, the intrigue, the characters, the world, everything was perfect. Erin A. Craig’s writing is so enchanting and beautiful and I loved getting wrapped up in it. I absolutely cannot wait to read more from her in the future! I very highly recommend checking this novel out if you haven’t already.