Total Star Rating: 3 Stars
Flushed with starlight and moonlight drowned, all the dreamers are castle-bound. At midnight’s stroke, we will unwind, revealing fantasies soft or unkind. Show me debauched nightmares or sunniest daydreams. Come not as you are, but as you wish to be seen.”– Erin A. Craig, “House of Salt and Sorrows”
You know the whole aesthetic of reading a book during a stormy evening? The resting by a window, snug in your little reading nook with a blanket, maybe something steaming in a mug nearby along, some candles lit, and joined by your furry BFF napping on your lap?
Yeah…don’t read this book if you enjoy any of that.
Stormy, murky, and unpredictable like the sea, House of Salt and Sorrows is a title that can entice and draw you in like a siren’s call, but the harsh reality hits you too late, and you’re dragged beneath the surface, unable to breath and see in the black abyss of the depths. This book offers great imagery and has a fun oceanic setting with a group of islands, rich with myth, lore, and ancient traditions.
I wish there was more oceanic-centric fantasy, maybe something with mysterious creatures, merfolk, maybe throw in a Kraken for added dramatics? I feel like that kind of world hasn’t been touched on as much as it should; I can only imagine the kind of stories that could come from this kind of setting. I mean, I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (the first one is one of my all-time favorite films).
Seeing the gorgeous cover of this novel, I had high hopes that I’d found that kind of story within the pages…I hadn’t exactly, but I’m not detracting that from the book by any means. The setting was perfect for it with the islands that lined up side by side like a pearl necklace, but there wasn’t much mythical creatures to add to the fantasy aspect this title had been categorized under. It’s rather a light fantasy like Caraval by Stephanie Garber, but I’d consider it more Paranormal Romance than anything.
What I didn’t know at first was how this was actually a retelling of a classic tales from the Brother’s Grimms: The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Retellings of classic fairytales that we’re all familiar with have been a real hit or miss with me, maybe it just depends on which story is being retold, but I hate to say that for the most part, I’m on the side of saying nay rather than yay. I tried to let that also not deter me from how I’d take in this book when I’d read it.
What It’s About:
This story revolves around Annaleigh, who lives with her many sisters, father, and stepmother at Highmoor manor on the island of Salten. It starts off on a dark note as theres a funeral occurring for one of Annaleigh’s sisters. Once there were twelve total sisters, but now it’s down to eight as they’ve all died from the oldest and down the line; each death more tragic and gruesome than the last. With all the grief and tragedy hanging over the family, everyone starts to believe they’re cursed.
After her most recent loss, Annaleigh has started to have nightmares: terrible and disturbing images plague her mind. She starts to suspect the worst: that her sister’s deaths might not be accidents, that they may have been murdered by some malicious force.
She discovers her sisters have been sneaking out at night; it turns out they’d found some sort of portal within a seaside cave that transports them to foreign lands with glitzy and enchanting balls, but starts to wonder what is real and what is a mirage of the mind playing tricks on her. To make matters even more tense and confusing, a beautiful and mysterious stranger arrives onto the island, and he carries some secrets of his own.
More and more death and darkness unravels in her life, bodies show up as she tries to get answers, Annaleigh has to race against the shadows in order to save herself and her family from suffering the same fate of those she’s lost…
What I Liked:
- The Cover/Overall Design Aesthetic! The cover is a work of art in my opinion, and the overall dark and murky tide pool aquatic design theme was a big draw for me. I’ve always loved the ocean and its many secrets, and with the book also featuring imagery of an octopus throughout the inside of the jacket and through the pages for each chapter, it satisfies my aquatic adoration. Overall, excellent work on the people at Delacorte Publishing that’d given this aesthetic the green light!
- There’s Some Creepy, Horror Elements! With the main plot of the story involving a multiple-corpse murder mystery, the author added a paranormal aspect with some actually unsettling scenes throughout. Some were pretty cliché, but the author describes the shadow play for these scenes in a creative and creepy way, and uses Annaleigh’s fear with the anticipation of something popping out at her, and questioning of her sanity before actually coming face-to-face with them in great ways.
- The Slow-Burn Romance! Another aspect that drew me in was the romance Annaleigh develops with Cassius. It has a rather slow start, but when it finally starts to take off, it gets pretty entertaining! Cassius has the combination of medium length dark hair paired with pale eyes, and that shit is stuff I never get tired of. Added bonus is the air of mystery that surrounds him as more and more deaths occur, and he becomes a possible suspect.
- The Big Reveal In The Climax! Obviously I won’t spoil it for you folks, but I can for sure say that you won’t see it coming when it’s revealed what exactly is going down on the island of Salten. Part of it did actually disappoint me though; I thought it was a little randomly added in and didn’t do much for me, but again, I’m not going to spoil it. Just read it and see what you think.
- It’s An Accurate Retelling! So I’d mentioned earlier how this novel is actually a retelling from one of the many tales of the Brothers Grimm, and after looking more into the original story, it was fun to see how the author incorporated all the main criteria of the tale into her own story. There was the mystery of the 12 sisters and how their shoes would get worn out even as they never left their room–according to their father. There was also the contest the father initiated to whomever could solve it, and even the mysterious man who later arrives. Not everything matched up in the same order of the story, but all the main criteria was present, and twisted around to make the story new and fresh.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Main Character was Lacking…Annaleigh was just so bland in my opinion… I felt like I’d never really gotten a sense of who she was outside of trying to solve the murder mystery the plot centered around. To me, she was just a forgettable Mary Sue protagonist that was merely tugged along by the story, and swept away by the enchanting romance.
- Such A Slower Pace…Take this with a grain of salt as I am a 26-year-old male saying this…I mean, I’m gay too, but okay…This book for the first 200 pages was just way too slow for me. Like, it focused more on the outfits the sisters would wear, or what boring/everyday activity they were off to do. A 13-year-old boy, girl, or non-binary might find it more intriguing than I did, but like I said, this is a YA title, so it does somewhat come with the territory. It does get better as the plot thickens, but by that point, my overall interest wanes to the point of wanting to say screw it and tossing this title on the DNF shelf.
Fans of Guillermo Del Toro will enjoy this enchanting, gothic, ominous, and somewhat romantic retelling of a classic Brother’s Grimm’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The story has sweeping ball gowns smooth as silk, luminescent gala’s to get lost in, beautiful strangers that catch your eye, the offering of a hand with a dark and heated gaze, and something not entirely this world chasing you along a dark corridor.
Like I’d said earlier, this book wasn’t necessarily one for me; I don’t plan on keeping it in my personal library, but I can definitely see the appeal it can draw to younger readers who love a romantic suspense of a story with fairytale-like vibe. The novel offers great visuals and has an overall gorgeous aesthetic, I just wished it’d moved faster at the beginning and focused less on the detail of the gowns and instead added even more chills and danger.
Thanks For Reading!
— Nick Goodsell