House of Salt and Sorrows, Erin A. Craig (Delacorte 978-1-9848-3192-7, $18.99, 416pp, hc) August 2019.
Drawing from the classic fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, Erin Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows is a heavily atmospheric novel set in a world that historically echoes our own and brings all the mystery, drama, and horror that readers could want. Sisters are dying, a strange and secretive passage to distant and dazzling places has been discovered, and drama of all kinds is raining down on the denizens of troubled Highmoor Manor. Find a comfortable chair and “get ready to be swept away.” House of Salt and Sorrows is the lovechild of Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Brontë, with 21st-century pacing and a healthy dose of the Ingrid Bergman classic Gaslight thrown in for good measure. Don’t trust anyone you encounter in this novel, and don’t stop turning the pages.
Annaleigh was once in the middle of 12 sisters but now finds herself inching near the top of the line as tragedy takes her siblings again and again. Most recently, Eulalie fell off a cliff near their family estate and onto the ocean-battered rocks below. Everyone is mourning again – everyone is always mourning at Highmoor – but Annaleigh doesn’t believe that all of the deaths are accidental. She also thinks Eulalie’s spirit has remained behind to haunt her sisters, and is determined to heed that sisterly call, and stop what looks to be a horrific family curse.
Craig weaves the dancing princesses lore in and out of this Gothic plot, sending the sisters off on nightly adventures that result in tattered slippers and raise questions that their authoritarian father finds impossible to ignore. Eventually, he invites visitors to uncover how the slippers become torn each night, offering up the now eldest sister, Camille, as a matrimonial prize. Annaleigh, who has her own suspicions about the source of the dancing parties and increasing concern for how her sisters succumb to their sinister lure, is forced to take on the role of not only detective but spy as she rushes to prevent a disastrous union for Camille. For her six younger sisters the stakes are even higher, for surely they are the easier targets for the curse and whatever monster is behind it.
There are so many parts of House of Salt and Sorrows that stand out – Highmoor Manor which holds so many secrets, the sweet banter between the squabbling sisters, the ghosts, (THE GHOSTS), the clue-finding and mystery solving, and always the ever-present gloom of the island setting, which invites so many opportunities for so many things to go wrong. Annaleigh, who walks the careful line between flinty-eyed protagonist and highly unreliable narrator, is a blast to watch and when the gaslighting begins in earnest readers will delight in her battle to find the truth (even if the truth destroys her). With just the right touch of romance and plenty of excitement, Erin Craig proves herself more than worthy of comparisons to the Brothers Grimm (and Brontë). Settle in, and enjoy this dark and dangerous tale.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the October 2019 issue of Locus.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.