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.
I read this novel for my own personal pleasure and was not required to write a review. Therefore, all comments and opinions are entirely my own.
I’m going to be completely honest and say that I grew up reading fairy tale retellings, but House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig is no typical fantasy retelling of The 12 Dancing Princesses. It has a dark, paranormal-esque, almost ethereal twist to it. There are sea monsters, ghosts, unexpected deaths…I’ll admit, I spent a few sleepless nights while I was in the middle of reading it! Yet, it completely held my attention and intrigue, considering it was a genre out of my comfort zone. The pacing was excellently done so that the scares spread throughout were buffered by light-hearted scenes of dancing, trips to the market and conversations with sisters. I was completely captivated by Craig’s world. She created her world so effortlessly that I could probably explain it better than some other favorite fantasy novels I’ve read in the past.
Annaleigh is the type of character we all love—humble, brave, caring, spirited, relatable, etc. I did not mind in the least that we were stuck in her head, but I’ll admit, it sometimes felt like she was the only character in the story with the least bit of common sense. Now that I know the ending, even as I wrote that previous sentence, I realize that there’s a reason I felt this way. However, considering the fact that Annaleigh interacted with dozens of characters throughout the book (and I didn’t know the ending while reading it for the first time), it was sometimes frustrating to feel like her conversations with certain people would literally go nowhere. No one seemed to understand her or even attempt to understand what she was talking about. In many ways, Annaleigh was alone on this journey as she tried desperately to keep her remaining living sisters from the same fate the rest of her family had succumbed to thus far.
There is a huge amount of intrigue as Annaleigh strives throughout the novel’s entirety to solve the mystery of her sisters’ deaths. I couldn’t help but suspect every character she interacted with and came up with several possible theories myself. While perhaps the mark of a brilliant writer is one where no reader could ever possibly guess the twist, sometimes I’m not so sure. One or two of the twists I did predict, but the big puzzle piece that makes everything fit together…I could never have guessed it because there were very few clues leading up to it. It felt frustrating as a reader to be put on this rollercoaster and realize I was deceived as to what destination it was heading towards. By the time the big reveal happened, I didn’t even believe it was true because I’d been led to doubt everything in the novel. I finally did because it was the one thing Annaleigh believed right away, almost without question.
There are a few elements to House of Salt and Sorrows along this vein that bothered me. I did not realize who the love interest really was until about 75% through the (audio)book. Because of this, I did not invest in Annaleigh and her man as a couple until too late. I also assumed the novel centered around justice/reconciliation/retribution, etc., and found it disappointing that that wasn’t quite it. I’m still not 100% what the theme was supposed to be due to a quick ending.
However, there were many elements to this novel that I loved. The major “whodunnit” twist at the end was very satisfying and something I did kinda see coming, which felt good as a reader. I loved Annaleigh’s relationship with her sisters, especially the younger ones. I also found myself enjoying the haunting, spooky feeling of the book, something I wasn’t expecting as this isn’t a genre I’ve tried before. And regardless of personal feelings, I haven’t admired a new (to me) writer’s writing style in a loooong time. I loved Craig’s style, similes and metaphors, her descriptions. House of Salt and Sorrows was beautifully written and truly riveting…I sped through the last three hours of the audiobook because I just had to know what happened next. I would definitely read more of her work in the future.
In conclusion, I give House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig 4 stars. The writing and exposition itself deserves 5 stars, but because I found the ending a little dissatisfying, I had to settle for 4. Fair warning to those younger than 18: there is a bit of intense kissing between Annaleigh and her love interest, though they don’t sleep together. While never super graphic, Craig’s descriptions of certain paranormal aspects of the book are a little gory and disturbing.