Book review: House of Salt and Sorrows

Oh, I liked this book.

House of Salt and Sorrows (HoSS) is a Young Adult fantasy novel written by Erin A. Craig. It is a dark and twisted fairy tale retelling, with elements of mystery and horror woven through that keep you wondering what’s really going on the whole time.

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.

HoSS is one of the best standalone YA Fantasy books I’ve read, and is one of my top picks so far for this year. Unsurprisingly, I was first drawn to the book because of the title and the beautiful cover. The blurb also had me hooked – it seemed full of mystery and intrigue, and I immediately wanted to know more.

I had high expectations for this story for a few reasons, mainly because of the amount of positive reviews on Goodreads, but also because I’d heard so much about it from other fans in the genre. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed. HoSS is a beautiful read that incorporates elements of magic effortlessly. These elements become so infused with the story as your progress that it’s easy to miss when this book goes from a creepy thriller to a full-on low fantasy novel, with mischievous forces hovering nearby, wreaking havoc.

Even if the novel is aimed at a YA audience, it deals with very real and very raw issues, such as the loss of a sibling (or rather, several siblings), the death of a parent, and what to do when the remaining parent remarries.

Craig masterfully created tension, friction and emotion through the character of Morella, new wife of Orton Thaumas and now stepmother to his collection of daughters. Morella instantly ignites frustration within the reader, after co-opting the funeral of one of Annaleigh’s recently deceased sisters to announce the happy news that she is pregnant with Orton’s child. She then continues to spark ire when she assumes that her son – as she is positive she is pregnant with a boy – will inherit the Thaumas fortune and estate.

Morella becomes an early target of dislike, however, as tragedy strikes the Thaumas household over and over again, it becomes apparent that there is more to this tale than just an evil stepmother. Soon, Annaleigh finds herself at the center of a high-stakes game played by mischievous divinities, where the veil between what is real and what is imagined wears thinner and thinner.

And as Annaleighs comes closer to solving the mystery of what evil is beseeching her family, her grip on reality also begins to loosen, leaving the reader confused as to what is actually happening. This is emphasized by the fact that Annaleigh is the only character through which we see the story – meaning her perceived reality, be it true or false, is the only one we are subjected to.

As mentioned, HoSS is a wonderfully crafted story with a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. One note, however, is that is can sometimes be confusing to remember which sister is which, and distinguish between their personalities. But even with this confusion, it isn’t terribly difficult to keep the characters separate from one another.

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