Extremely atmospheric, haunting, and filled with historically tinged Gothic horror, this was something else.
World: ★★★★ 1/2
Plot Execution: ★★★ 1/2
Character Development: ★★★
Gothic Ocean Vibes: ★★★★★
Well hello, Gothic ocean-inspired fairy tale retelling! House of Salt and Sorrows was something I never knew I wanted until I read it. It's a full cast list of sisters and other residents of Highmoor Estate, located on one of several islands that are home to the People of the Salt. One by one, the sisters are succumbing to mysterious deaths. Something spooky and magical is AFOOT.
Annaleigh Thaumas is the second oldest of the surviving sisters. Annaleigh doesn't believe all of her sisters are dying accidentally. With a distinctively historical flair, Annaleigh embarks on a whodunit narrative to find out who killed the last one her sisters, Eulalie, and find out if the rumors about her family are true—is the Thaumas family cursed?
I loved Annaleigh. She was full of character, inquisitive but not aggressive, and felt grounded in her historical time period. Unlike other YA heroines who feel like modern characters plunked into historical settings, Annaleigh was very much grounded in her time.
In the midst of Annaleigh's quest to find her sisters' murderer, another plot is bubbling. The group of remaining sisters and Annaleigh find a "portal" of sorts on the grounds of their estate that leads them to anywhere they mentally desire. The sisters find ball after ball through the portal, dancing their nights away with strangers in glittering settings....but is there something sinister under the surface?
As the nights continue and the girls burn through their dancing shoes, Annaleigh begins to suspect that there is something wrong with the portal, Highmoor, and the people around her.
In a traditional YA move, we are also introduced to a love triangle. While I initially was bored and underwhelmed by its introduction to the plot, this love triangle quickly gained several layers and actually became incredibly spooky and (surprisingly?) terrifying.
I loved this dark story. House of Salt and Sorrows is equal parts murder mystery, ghost story, sweet dream/beautiful nightmare, and an extremely dark rendition of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale. It's a lot for one concept, but it works.
Thank you so much to Random House Children's via NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.