ARC Review – “Parting The Veil” by Paulette Kennedy

Read if you like: angst, romance, mystery, old mansions, independent American women shaking up 1800s Britain, ghosts, divination, female solidarity, family complications, family secrets, ancestral legacy, betrayals, LGBTQIA historical representation, fickle weather, clever multi-layered plot twists, atmospheric writing, equestrianism (pretty horses, really).

Content warnings: suicidal ideation, self-harm, sexual content, murder, forced captivity, assault/mild violence, drug use/alcoholism, arson, racist and colonial dynamics in historical context, child and pregnancy loss, war, blood, sexism and misogyny, toxic power dynamics, implied incest.

Goodreads summary:

Some houses hold secrets that are meant to be kept forever…

When Eliza Sullivan inherits an estate from a recently deceased aunt, she leaves behind a grievous and guilt-ridden past in New Orleans for rural England and a fresh start. Eliza arrives at her new home and finds herself falling for the mysterious lord of Havenwood, Malcolm Winfield. Despite the sinister rumors that surround him, Eliza is drawn to his melancholy charm and his crumbling, once-beautiful mansion. With enough love, she thinks, both man and manor could be repaired.

Not long into their marriage, Eliza fears that she should have listened to the locals. There’s something terribly wrong at Havenwood Manor: Forbidden rooms. Ghostly whispers in the shadows. Strangely guarded servants. And Malcolm’s threatening moods, as changeable as night and day.

As Eliza delves deeper into Malcolm’s troubling history, the dark secrets she unearths gain a frightening power. Has she married a man or a monster? For Eliza, uncovering the truth will either save her or destroy her.

(Goodreads book profile here)


Review:

I read this book in one sitting – and I was completely enthralled.

Paulette’s grasp on prose, character and atmosphere was what made this book for me, giving me strong Daphne du Maurier vibes. She has a knack for picking verbs that both carries the atmosphere of a scene (“furred with hoarfrost”, “the passageway snarled”, “tucked into her eggs”, “walls crawled around the edges of her eyes”), while also providing you with a subtle understanding of her characters without shoving it in your face. Rather, she demands that you pay attention to the details and wait around for them to be explained. Which you’ll happily do. In fact, the mystery of the book is built up around the characters, as is the custom of the gothic genre, and Paulette has created delightfully intricate characters that reveal themselves to the reader at just the perfect pace to keep you hungry for more, yet satisfied with your current scraps.

To continue with the mystery of the book, I was left with definite clues that kept me guessing throughout the book, yet the plot twists were so well-crafted that I could never quite pinpoint the how and the why – even if I could pinpoint the what. I particularly loved how Paulette used twists as diversion tactics, planting an obvious twist for me to focus on so I’d miss the subtler twist hiding behind it. Layered mysteries; that takes skill. I had complete faith that the many twists would make sense at the end of the book, like a perfect crescendo, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Then there’s the romance. While the romance isn’t always at the center of the plot, it remains the emotional backbone of the story as a whole. Like I mentioned earlier, the mystery of the book is built up around the characters, like all good gothic novels, so it’s no surprise that romantic angst is prominent throughout most of the book while the romance itself takes a backseat at times. More so than many other gothic novels I’ve read, in fact. I was far more interested in seeing the protagonist’s marriage fall apart than I was in seeing it come to life. Romance readers should take note that the sex scenes were fade-to-black (or artfully implied in-scene), so if you’re looking for a (gothic) romance with high heat levels, you might be disappointed.

Lastly, there’s the research. So much research has gone into this book and it absolutely shines, adding enough plausibility to the setting that I felt transported to the world and the time within the first few pages alone. And, yes, I had to look up plenty of objects and fashions, which tells me the research is solid. The same goes for the feminist and LGBTQIA elements, which all felt plausible for the time and place. They ended on happier notes, no less, adding a hopefulness to the book that was a nice breather from the heavier themes of assault, violence, self-harm and suicidal ideation befitting of the genre.

If you enjoyed Jane Eyre, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Mexican Gothic, and Crimson Peak, then this book is for you.


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ARC Review – “The Bloody Maiden” by Sophie Mitchell

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Mitchell is a master of nautical atmosphere – having grown up living by the sea myself, I can 100% confirm that she knows how to make the ocean come alive in text. The Bloody Maiden instantly had me comparing it to Jamaica Inn. Imagine if a feminist, orphaned, and morally gray Mary Yellan left Jamaica Inn to join the smugglers; that’s the Bloody Maiden for you.

The book is largely character-driven, following Prudence’s (an orphaned barmaid at a brothel) journey to become a free woman (some may say a fallen woman) as a ruthless pirate. She’s unapologetic and so very feminist that I instantly clicked with her. She longs to escape a life in which she’s smothered by the constraints of her sex. By contrast, her sister-only-in-name, Eleanora, is a prostitute who likes the safety of the brothel where they both live. When Prudence drags Eleanora onto a pirate vessel after a bloody barfight, they become part of the crew. This creates a split between the two sister-friends, and the roles are reversed: suddenly Prudence is happy with life, but Eleanora isn’t.

A lot of the book is centered on their fraying survival-of-the-fittest friendship. Indeed, their friendship was one of my favorite things about the book. When Prudence makes friends with the crew despite her sex, and then later falls in love with the captain of the ship, this friendship is tested further. This is a book for you if you enjoy found family, BUT you must also be able to swallow a lot of tragedy and darkness as that’s part of the genre. Don’t expect roses and candles.

The story has a well-built fantastical slant with folklore and mythical creatures (yell hound/lindworn/sirens/blood magick/witches), but never so much that the world feels far removed from the natural one as we know it. You can say that Mitchell has brought the superstition of sailors alive – literally. That’s what it feels like.

The narrative does touch upon subjects not for the faint of heart, but that’s expected of the genre. It’s explicitly gritty in some places, but not overall too explicit, in my opinion. Prudence suffers suicidal thoughts at the beginning of the novel, plus an opium addiction. Although not at the forefront of the plot, LGBTQ-rep is naturally and realistically implemented in the book.



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