Title: House of Salt and Sorrows
Author: Erin A. Craig
Release Date: August 6th, 2019
*ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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 feel bad only giving this book two stars, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had a book go downhill for me so quickly.
In this retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Annaleigh is one of twelve sisters in the esteemed Thaumas family. The story begins as a funeral is being held for one of the sisters, who is now the fourth one in the family to die. The people of the islands believe the family to be cursed, but Annaleigh believes that they are being targeted by a murderer. As she and her sisters hunt for clues, they stumble across a magical door that takes them to a ball. Seeking a distraction from their grim lives, the sisters dance through the soles of their shoes night after night. When Annaleigh starts seeing strange things, including the ghosts of her dead sisters, she begins to question her own sanity. As illusion and reality become increasingly tangled, the sisters draw closer and closer to danger.
First of all, I loved the chilling atmosphere in this book. It ranges from creepy to absolutely terrifying, and I don’t think it would be a huge leap to say that this could be classified as a horror novel. A lot of things about this book didn’t work for me, but one of the biggest issues was the fact that the fantasy elements weren’t introduced until about midway through the novel and seemed a little out of place at that point. What started out as a creepy ghost story/murder mystery rapidly turned into a story with gods and illusions and magical tricksters.
I did really like the nautical vibe in this book. The beliefs and customs of the citizens are all focused around water, which I thought was really unique. The world-building outside of the islands was pretty nonexistent except for the occasional mention of cities and mainland customs.
There is romance in this book, but I was very uninvested in it. The love interest is a complete Gary Stu who serves no purpose at all. He’s just kind of thrown in there, occasionally rubbing Annaleigh’s back or kissing her forehead to make her feel better. He has a secret of his own that is intriguing, but it doesn’t end up having any relevance to the plot. I also felt that his involvement at the end of the novel was insanely contrived and confusing.
Annaleigh herself was a pretty weak character, just kind of going along with the plot instead of being a driving force. There were several instances where something would be super obvious to the reader but went completely over her head. I liked the emphasis on the bond between sisters, although didn’t particularly like any of her sisters, either. They seemed petty and selfish at times. It was also bizarre that the frequent deaths didn’t seem to effect the family as much as they should have. They all just continued on with their lives as if nothing had happened.
Several events in this book seemed to be added in for “creepiness factor” without actually contributing to the story. Also, the way the book concluded was pretty unpleasant. I don’t always need a happy ending, but I was somehow unsatisfied. It felt rushed and a little too unsettling.
This review is pretty harsh and should be taken with a grain of salt, since many others seemed to like it. I think I would have enjoyed this more if it had remained a creepy ghost story with fewer fantasy elements. I really liked the first half, but the revelations toward the end somehow made me even more confused and the last quarter of the book left a bad taste in my mouth. It pretty much only worked as a horror novel. I would read more from this author, but this book just didn’t work for me.