It’s been a while since I wrote a proper dedicated review for a book that wasn’t a review copy – I’m feeling a little out of practice! But I read some great stuff in my Book a Day in June reading challenge and I wanted to share some of my favourites with you!
Today I’m spotlighting House of Salt and Sorrows which is a spooky retelling that I think is well worth a read!
In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
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 is a retelling of one of my all-time favourite fairytales: The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I had a big book of fairytales as a child and this was the one I can remember reading the most. I have a vague recollection of going to school dressed as one of the princesses at one point – I don’t think I had eleven friends….
But imagine if you took a retelling of that story and smooshed it together with a haunted house story and you start to get a sense of how good this book is. I’ll confess I’ve been fairly bored of retellings lately, they’ve certainly fallen out of fashion after they became dangerously overdone back in 2018. But the fact that this book did something drastically different from the story and combined it to make something that crosses a little bit into a light horror genre just made this stand out to me. It didn’t feel stagnant – instead, it was something refreshing, a breath of spooky fresh air in a sea of ‘but what if the princess saved herself?’
I loved Annaleigh as a character, too often in scary stories and in fairytales our main character is a bit vapid – easily fooled by the wily tricksters in fairytale land. I thought Annaleigh was a good mix of wise and gullible – and the book handles the power of peer pressure very well. It makes it clear why Annaleigh makes the choices she does and while she doesn’t always do the sensible thing you always get why. I liked her complex relationship with her sisters and, even more so, her relationship with her stepmother. I appreciated telling the story of someone trying to get along with someone they didn’t like very much – it was an interesting dynamic.
I will say, the book did do the one thing I find very irritating – and not entirely communicate that it was well known that Gods are ‘real’ and can interact with humans until later in the book. It’s a pet peeve of mine to suddenly realise that a book is more fantastical than I realised. In this case I think it’s because the setting otherwise feels very real – and one thing I’ve always appreciated about the Twelve Dancing Princesses is the sense that they access a secret magic – where in this book it felt not so much secret but more…hidden I suppose? It was hard to tell what was plausible and what was fantastical within this world.
But I forgave pretty much every sin of this book because I thought that the atmosphere was absolutely stellar. The more I read the more I realise that, for me, atmosphere is probably the most important aspect of a book – and this one has it in spades. The scary scenes in the ‘cursed’ mansion are spine chilling, the ball scenes are sinister and wondrous in equal measure – there are descriptions of ball-gowns so vivid I basically want a whole fashion collection inspired by this book – and I don’t need to tell you that descriptive writing makes for some spookier scenes later.
The latter part of this book gets very…trippy is the only word I can think of – it’ll do strange things to your head and your understanding of the story – but I think it was a great way of tackling this retelling and I am excited for you to go out and find out for yourselves…
Overall I loved this book, it was a refreshing YA fantasy novel that helped me realise that maybe the problem wasn’t that I was burned out on YA – I just needed some different books!
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received this book as a gift from a friend – all opinions are my own.
House of Salt and Sorrows is available now!
What say you? Have you read this? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!