House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
Hauntingly atmospheric and heartbreaking, House of Salt and Sorrows is an incredible fantasy debut that is sure to sweep you away.
About the Book
Publisher: Delacorte Books | Release Date: August 6, 2019 | Pages: 416
Genre: YA, Fantasy | Format: eARC | Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they 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 the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters 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.
This post uses affiliate links and I may receive a small commission for purchases made through my links at no additional cost to you. Click here for more info.
Narrative style: first person | Perspective(s): single
I’ve been trying to find the words necessary to write this review for almost two weeks, but words cannot express how much I loved House of Salt and Sorrows. This debut Gothic fantasy is masterfully crafted, hauntingly atmospheric, and full of magic and love. I devoured my eARC in one sitting and stayed up until 4am to finish reading it. I will be instantly buying any of Craig’s future books.
Craig’s writing is captivatingly descriptive without over burdening itself. Her descriptions are so vivid that I truly felt like I was watching a movie in my head while reading. The mood and Gothic atmosphere creep into her word choices, sweeping me away. Also: I want a pair (or twelve) of those fairy shoes.
“We are born of the Salt, we live by the Salt, and to the Salt we return.”
I was swept away immediately by this retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm. The worldbuilding is masterful. The book begins with a funeral, and three pages in I was fully immersed into the world that Craig crafted. You get a true sense of the beliefs and history of the characters without it ever feeling like an info-dump.
“Sickly-sweet incense still danced through the room but couldn’t quite block out the tang of salt. No matter where you were on the island, you could always taste the sea.”
The home feels so lived in and full of love despite all the heartbreak and loss the family’s endured. If you enjoy stories centered on sibling relationships, you will love House of Salt and Sorrows. The sisters and their relationship with one another gave me Little Women vibes in the best of ways. Their love for one another shines on the page, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t poke fun at one another or get annoyed.
“At least we’ll always have each other. Sisters and friends till the end. Promise me.”
There are a lot of characters but each of them feel distinct and as real as you or I. I felt strongly connected to Annaleigh and her sisters: Camille’s responsibility as heir and desire to find a partner, the Grace’s excitement for their debut and the next chapter in their lives, Verity’s childlike wonder. I found myself loving them completely and anxious about their well-being while reading.
“The euphoria was tangible: I could taste it in the air, the sweetness coating my mouth and going straight to my head like champagne.”
I found the book to be equally driven by the characters and plot. I was simply mesmerized by the story and interested in what would happen next, but I was equally invested in the well-being of the characters. I found the pacing and build perfect, but it does take some time for the story to get to the nightly dancing. I was so invested in the characters and world that honestly, I would have read just a boring Day in the Life narrative and found it interesting.
“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 nightmare or sunniest daydreams.
Come not as you are but as you wish to be seen.”
There are layers of complexity to the story: love and heartache for those they’ve lost, a desire to move on, the town’s fear of the curse, the nightly balls the girls attend. The tension (and sorrow) is absolutely palpable as the mystery unfolds, and honestly, it gets quite creepy! I was so immersed in the story and there are some truly nightmare fueling moments. If you aren’t a fan of hauntingly spooky stories, you might struggle a bit with some of the tale. I live for horror and creepy vibes, and was pleased with the number of ‘NOPE’ annotations that my eARC received from me while reading!
There is so much that I loved about this book, and I am sure that it will make my top reads of the year post. Stephanie Garber blurbed House of Salt and Sorrows saying “Step inside a fairy tale,” and that is the perfect description. In a way, the story bends genres because it fits both the Gothic fantasy and mystery bill, with a generous dose of magical realism. If you are a fan of atmospheric and magical fantasy driven by the characters (and sisterly love), I cannot recommend this book enough. Please, read it unless the idea of being a little scared doesn’t bring you joy.
CONTENT WARNINGS: death, hallucinations, loss of a loved one, suicide
Many thanks to Delacorte Press for providing me with an eARC via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. Quotations are from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon final publication.