Colleen Mondor Reviews The Book of Living Secrets by Madeleine Roux
The Book of Living Secrets, Madeleine Roux (Quill Tree Books 978-0-06-294142-8, $17.99, 400pp, hc) March 2022.
If you are looking for a YA take on Lovecraftian horror, then Madeleine Roux’s The Book of Living Secrets is here to fulfill your needs. The title doesn’t start out as a date with Cthulhu however, as Adelle and Connie present themselves as two typical teenagers growing up in Boston with a shared obsession for the historical romance novel Moira. They have memorized passages and developed intense literary crushes on their favorite characters, but for Adelle talking about the book (and researching its reclusive author) is not enough. Bored at home and stressed out over college plans, she is elated when the rather creepy proprietor of their favorite antique store (where they found Moira), invites the girls to an evening of magic that might – if they are lucky – include a journey into the pages of the novel. Humoring her friend, Connie agrees to give it a shot, but it is soon clear they have gotten way more than they signed up for. This is where the Lovecraft elements come in, and the girls learn that fictional Boston of Moira is not a place anyone would care to visit.
On one level, Roux has a lot of fun with dropping her two main characters into a whole new world. Arriving separately, they find this 18th-century Boston to be a shock on every level. Not only are none of the book’s characters who they seemed to be in the text, but the entire setting is skewed. There is a monster in the harbor preying on the local population, and the only ones who are safe are the wealthy, who have cut a deal with an austere and dangerous group of cloaked men who are perfectly happy to serve up everyone else in exchange for some cash. Moira and her friends continue to enjoy the trappings of high society as portrayed in the book, but the witty scenes from the novel are now much darker in view of the horrors plaguing the city. Adelle and Connie are first stunned by what they witness, then disturbed and soon furious. They make some friends and get caught up in plans to defeat the monster but then find out what is really going on with Moira and how nefarious the magic was that brought them there in the first place.
The Book of Living Secrets works exceptionally well when it is focused on Adelle and Connie, whose loyalty and friendship is both admirable and, if readers are lucky, familiar. The many supporting characters from the novel, including the malevolent Moira, are also quite engaging. The horror elements are nebulous and confusing, though, and how the creature in the harbor ties into the book and exactly who is behind the whole plot to capture fictional Boston (and why Adelle and Connie and a third ‘‘real’’ person are necessary to this plot) is unclear. Also, unless readers are familiar with Lovecraft, they will likely miss some of what Roux is hoping to accomplish. This is an interesting novel that set out to do some interesting things, but it doesn’t entirely mesh together. On one level, two teens ripped from their familiar world, it works. But why they are there and what it all means remains unclear until the last page when, frankly, things got even more complicated.
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 July 2022 issue of Locus.
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