Monday 14 October 2019

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Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Published: 6th August 2019 | Publisher: Delacorte Press | Cover Designer: Alison Impey | Source: Won in a giveaway
Erin A. Craig's Website

Four of Annaleigh Thaumas's eleven sisters have returned to the Salt, the brackish water that surrounds their lonely island home, their lives cut short, each more tragically than the last. Whispers throughout the Highmoor estate say the girls have been cursed by the gods.

When Annaleigh finds out that her sisters have been sneaking out to attend glittering midnight balls and dance until dawn, she's not sure whether to stop them--or join them. And when she begins to see a series of horrific, ghostly visions and more sisters die, she realizes she must solve the mystery--with the help of Cassius, a sea captain who knows much more about her than he should--and unravel the Thaumas curse before she descends into madness or... it claims her next.
From Goodreads.

Book Depository | Wordery | Goodreads

I'd not read a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm before, so when I heard about House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin A. Craig, I was so excited to read it! But while I was captivated the story, and needed to know what was going on, I finished it feeling quite disappointing.

The Thaumus family are grieving. One by one, the four eldest sisters have died. There has been so much sadness, but for Annaleigh, the latest death of her sister Eulalie doesn't make sense. Her body was found at the bottom of a cliff, so everyone assumes she died by suicide, but Annaleigh is sure she wouldn't. She starts looking into Eulalie's life, the more certain she is that Eulalie wouldn't end her own life, and when she discovers a witness who says there was a shadowy figure on the top of the cliff when Eulalie fell, she's positive Eulalie was murdered. But the family has had enough of grieving; her father's new wife is pregnant, and they want to look forward, so will hear nothing of it when Annaleigh brings her discoveries to him. It's difficult to move forward when the people around you won't let you, though; with the first four eldest sisters dead, one after the other, the townsfolk start to question whether the family is cursed. Which makes it difficult for Annaleigh and her older sister Camille, who is set to inherit the estate as the eldest,  to find suitors. When the sisters hear rumours of a door Pontus, god of the seas who they worship, used to visit, a door that could take them anywhere in the world, it's decided to find it to try and find suitors elsewhere, who won't have heard the rumours of their curse. When the door is discovered, it takes the sisters to various locations where they dance at balls every night. But the dancing can't distract Annaleigh from what happened to her sister, and can't understand why her sisters keep going back, especially when the witness of Eulalie's death dies mysteriously. Annaleigh is determined to get to the bottom of what happened to her sister, whether anyone believes her or not.

So what annoyed me slightly first of all is that the description is misleading; Annaleigh doesn't discover her sisters are dancing every night - she's with them for the very first ball, and for most of the following balls. And the dancing element of the story is actually kind of small in relation to the larger element of the sisters' deaths, this idea of a curse, and the mystery surrounding Eulalie's death in particular. A fair amount of the book goes by before anyone is sneaking off to go dancing. Including the conversations with her youngest sister, Verity, who has drawn the deaths of each of their older sisters - despite the fact that she would have been too young to remember them, nor would have seen their bodies -  or their dead bodies around the house. According to Verity, their older sisters never left, and are still in the house. So you've got both of these elements; the mystery, the curse, the haunting, and the sisters who become obsessed with dancing each night.

House of Salt and Sorrow is written wonderfully, though. I was completely captivated by the story and by the language, desperate to know what was going on. My very first theory about who is behind everything was correct, but there are so many red herrings, I ended up doubting myself a number of times, and thinking it was someone else. Which made the why, and especially the how, very elusive. There is a romance that is, I feel, completely unnecessary. The mysterious sea captain (who isn't a sea captain, but a sea captain's son) is Cassius, and he almost completely distracts Annaleigh from trying to find out what happened to Eulalie, because he's just so handsome. There was a lot of eye rolling. The romance doesn't really add much to the story, and yes, Cassius is helpful in places, but I do think for the most part he wasn't needed and didn't need to be there. It felt a lot like instalove, and just didn't fit with the rest of the story. I didn't believe it.

The book gets more and more creepy and weird as it goes along, and I got to the point where I just didn't have any idea what was happening, but in a good way, because it's just going to be awesome when everything falls into place, right? But then we have the big reveal, and I was just so confused. Normally when you have a big reveal, my reaction is, "Oh my god, of course!" and I think back over the story and can see how X and Y and Z led to this reveal. But to be perfectly honest, there is no X, Y, or Z in House of Salt and Sorrows. There is no-way anyone would have a theory of what, exactly, is going on, because there are no clues. I mentioned earlier that the how was elusive, and it's because there is nothing pointing in it's direction at all. And so I think the worldbuilding just wasn't developed enough, because there are things we don't hear about - in any way, shape, or form - until the reveal. You could not guess, or predict, or have a theory, because you've not heard of them before, they're only introduced as you're being told what's been going on. A lot of things came out of nowhere. I do think a major part of enjoying stories with the mystery element is trying to work out what's going on, but we have no chance with this book, and I kind of feel cheated. It's all explained enough, because it makes sense - A exists, and this is what A is, so this is the the consequence of A - but it doesn't make sense because there was never any prior mention, not even a tiny mention, and I just wondered where it was all coming from. It just ruined the whole story for me, because I was just thinking the entire time, "What? Are you serious?"

And the ending was really disappointing. So disappointing. It was just so lacklustre, and ridiculous because of it. Even with the confusing, weird reveal, there was tension and action. This just felt really, really lazy. I'm sorry to say House of Salt and Sorrows really wasn't for me, but a number of people really enjoyed it, so read a few other reviews before deciding whether or not you'll read it.

You might also like:

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Over to you graphic
What do you think of stories where the reveal comes out of the blue? Have you read any other retellings of The Twelve Dancing Princesses? If you've read House of Salt and Sorrows, what did you think? If you haven't, will you be picking it up? Let me know in the comments!

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1 comment:

  1. Sad to hear it wasn't for you! If it has one redeeming thing though it is I love the cover haha

    Lotte |