Wow. This book was definitely different from what I thought it’d be. For one, I didn’t even catch that it was supposed to be a fairytale spinoff until I read the back flap while I was half-way through the story. I had never read the original tale of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, but I think this was a very captivating read with many twists and turns that is bound to keep the reader on edge. While there are many elements of the gothic genre in this novel, there is also fantasy and mythology, so I guess this book would fall in the young adult fantasy/horror/gothic/romance/fairytale-spinoff genre?
House of Salt and Sorrows follows 18-year-old Annaleigh and the mystery of the death that constantly surrounds her. As the second-born daughter of a duke of her people, The People of The Salt, she is tasked with many duties, including helping her new stepmother grow accustomed to the strange mourning customs of the province and her Highmoor household. Having lost four sisters already, with the help of her childhood friend, her remaining sisters, and the captivating son of a seafaring captain, Annaleigh embarks on a mission to solve the suspicious death of her most recent sister. However, she soon becomes entangled in the ghostly secrets surrounding her family and finds out that circumstances are not quite what they seem.
Like many readers, I prefer authors to show the reader what is happening in their story instead of telling them; Craig managed to do some of both in an effective way that held my interest. Concerning language, she showed her readers the story by using original word choice and vivid descriptions. For example, on page 167 Annaleigh muses,
“His eyes…fixed me in place like a butterfly
pinned onto a shadow box board.”– House of Salt and Sorrows, page 167
The author also was careful to not give away too much information or send the protagonist on a rant which is very easy to do when writing in first-person. Craig also told us what was happening in the story through making the protagonist reveal to the reader the history about certain information as the story went on; she didn’t just info-dump at the beginning. Executing this language effectively makes for a captivating read and also helps stories like these to flow easily without lagging.
Craig also made good choices concerning content. The love and loyalty of sisterly relationships and the feminine sympathies they share made me emotionally invested with these characters, who were surprisingly well-rounded for being so many. The literary elements of mystery, fear, romance, the supernatural, nightmares, and emotional distress make this book a good example of modern gothic literature.
Concerning the chosen villains, Craig did a good job of guiding my attention to certain characters, making me guess “are they the culprit?”. However, one thing I am not a fan of is how the antagonist is someone who the reader has not learned a lot about and not become slightly if not fully invested with; the more human the antagonist seems, the more connected the reader may become to the story, which creates a stronger investment with the storyline. *spoiler* When I learned that the main villain in this story was a demigod that we only got a little information about midway through the story I was like, ugh, not again. But I was rather relieved when learning that the other main antagonist was somebody that we knew more about and may have even sympathized with in some parts.
I would recommend this book to young adults of maybe 16+, preferably those who aren’t afraid of the dark. I had to sleep with a light on for a couple of nights while reading this, so if the reader does experience night terrors, I would recommend reading the last couple of chapters during the daytime.
All in all, the book’s skilled use of vivid imagery and flowing thought-process of the protagonist made this a good read, even if I did not like some of the content surrounding the antagonists. The overall story was okay, but the way it was told really sold me on the book, so I give it a 4/5. Upon finding this book as a gothic Goodreads recommendation, I was not originally familiar with the author Eric A. Craig. Apparently, she’s a stage manager for operas with spooky themes, which no doubt inspired this book. According to her website, House of Salt and Sorrows was her debut novel and she has another book titled Small Favors coming out next month. I overall like her writing style and would be interested in reading other books from her.
Content Advisory for Future Readers (just in case): *spoilers included*
- Language: 0.5/5 – One or two words, like “bitch” or “damnation”
- Sex: 2.5/5 – Some suggestive language; implied sexual encounter; a couple scenes where protagonist observes a sexual situation
- Violence/Gore: 5/5 – Graphic scenes of childbirth, murder, blood, and dismemberment; disturbing images involving dead bodies; emotional distress in characters
- Drugs/Alcohol: 2.5/5 – Some references to alcohol; drunk characters