Firstly, a huge thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: 07/06/2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Horror | Fantasy | Young Adult | Gothic
Eleanor has not seen or spoken with her family in years, not since they sent her away to Saint Brigid’s boarding school. She knows them only as vague memories: her grandfather’s tremendous fanged snout, the barrel full of water her mother always soaked in, and strange hunting trips in a dark wood with her sister and cousins. And she remembers the way they looked at her, like she was the freak.GoodReads
When Eleanor finally finds the courage to confront her family and return to their ancestral home on the rainy coast of Maine, she finds them already gathered in wait, seemingly ready to welcome her back with open arms. “I read this in the cards,” her grandmother tells her. However, Grandma Persephone doesn’t see all, for just as Eleanor is beginning to readjust to the life she always longed for, a strange and sudden death rocks the family, leaving Eleanor to manage this difficult new dynamic without help.
In order to keep the family that abandoned her from falling apart, Eleanor calls upon her mysterious other grandmother, Grandmere, from across the sea. Grandmere brings order to the chaotic household, but that order soon turns to tyranny. If any of them are to survive, Eleanor must embrace her strange family and join forces with the ghost of Grandma Persephone to confront the monstrousness lurking deep within her Grandmere-and herself.
This novel has all the makings of a classic Gothic fairytale from the setting to the characters, Szabo does a great job of capturing the essence of the Gothic and bringing it to a contemporary fairytale.
Eleanor was a very interesting protagonist, sent away to a boarding school when she was young and, even upon returning, felt very much like an outsider in her own family. I really liked the way Szabo illustrated the stone Covenant between Eleanor and the rest of the Zarrin family. In the beginning, you feel just as uncomfortable as she does, with unsettling animalistic descriptions that fell out of place for a typical family dinner – but the Zarrin’s aren’t a typical family.
It doesn’t take long before you start to wonder if Eleanor is treated as an outsider for a reason and that she is being unnecessarily harsh towards her family. I found myself being more drawn to the rest of the family like Grandpa Miklos, Margaret and Rhys and didn’t tie the way they were treated by Eleanor – especially when Grandma was around. The complicated character and family dynamics are one of the ways that this story gets its claws into the reader. There is just so much we don’t understand. The mystery contributed to the uneasy atmosphere which made this a novel that is very difficult to put down, even if it was difficult to follow at times.
At the start of the novel I did find it a little confusing working out what had happened between the prologue to the current day. Whilst this did make the pacing feel a little slow at first, it all quickly ramps up and I was totally inverted in the plot and in the characters. Each one of them has a mystery for you to unravel and Eleanor soon realised that she has no idea who she can trust. The only person she thinks she can trust is Arthur, who seemingly hasn’t aged over the eight years she’s been away and who everyone in her family appears to be infatuated with. I also loved how different Grandma Persephone was from Grandmére, both formidable matriarchs who have a lot of secrets and have very different ideas on how to protect their own.
The way Szabo writes is captivating, I also really enjoyed that there were some aspects that you have to just accept without any explanation which is something we don’t always have in contemporary Gothic stories even though that can be crucial to a successful Gothic novel. Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read and a must read for any Gothic fans. If the stunning cover hasn’t already sucked you in, the first chapter definitely will.