A House of Salt and Sorrows
by Erin Craig
In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor with her sisters and their father and stepmother. Once there 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 her sister's deaths were no accidents. The girls 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. House of Salt and Sorrows is a spellbinding novel filled with magic and the rustle of gossamer skirts down long, dark hallways. Get ready to be swept away.
A House of Salt and Sorrows is a pure delight to read. Deliciously gothic, rife with that gilded fairy tale feel, eery and spell-binding, with a twist of romance and suspense that drives the plot endlessly forward, I was only halfway through the first chapter when I realized I’d come across something truly special—something I would treasure. It is the adaptation of The Twelve Dancing Princesses that I always craved but could never find until now.
Erin has one of the best grasps on a healthy family dynamic that I’ve seen in the YA world in some time. It’s not that they are perfect people or even a perfectly functioning unit that compels me. Instead, it is the obvious devotion to one another, the deeply-woven bonds between sisters and daughters, the history and special moments and joy they take in one another that completely stole my heart. Juggling a cast of twelve sisters (or eight with four shadows of sisters as the case may be) is no easy task, yet Erin fulfills it beautifully in developing each girl’s personality quirks, cadence, and relationship to the world around her. Her sisters are kind, gentle, catty, vindictive, supportive, petty, loving—all the things I’ve treasured and found true in my relationship to my own three sisters in life. She doesn’t feel the need to bow to tired tropes of perfect girls or horrid ones, but paints them all with edges of reality so that when darkness approaches their happy union, you can’t help but be terrified of what’s to come.
Of course, it helps that the sisters—along with their passionate father and sweet though naive stepmother—are painted against a stunning backdrop of an island dukedom and a fantastical, sweeping estate called Highmoor. Erin’s ability to form a scene and ground the reader firmly in it astounded me over and over again. When I opened the book for stolen hours of reading, I found that my eyes lacked the ability to leave the page—something magnetic bewitched me to carry on no matter what was going on around me. I could taste the salt, feel every cool breeze, and heard phantom laughs whispering about my own house until the most perfect chills crept down my spine. And when Annaleigh grieved for her lost sisters, I was powerless but to mourn alongside her.
Since I began to study the writing process more in these last four years, I find it increasingly difficult to engage fully and emotionally with a new book. My INTJ tendencies come out and I focus more on form and tricky writing tactics than I do the actual story. If it’s part of a series I already love, I’m able to immerse myself fairly quickly, but the last time a book made me full on weep was in 2017 when I read Libba Bray’s Before the Devil Breaks You. So imagine my surprise when I began to cry, sniffle, and then full-out sob whilst reading this book. It wasn’t for any contrived reasons—no pathos overkill, no cheap shots—but for the pure emotional connection I’d formed to some characters and the deep well of grief I felt echoed from my frequent nightmares of losing my own loved ones.
Her pace is perfect. The tension is sharp and eases just long enough for you to catch your breath before you’re sucked right back in. My heart raced through the last several chapters as my predictions were tossed out the window and I was desperate to find out what might happen next. Annaleigh (the protagonist) is a lovely person to live this story through, and if I ever got the chance to visit the Thaumas crypts or crystalline peaks of Highmoor, or watch swarms of sea turtles bob through the water, I would in a heartbeat. This debut novel is stunning, well worth your time, and I cannot wait to see what Erin Craig comes up with next.
5 out of 5 Magpies