Friday, July 21, 2017

House of Shadows: Book One

The television show, Dark Shadows, was probably my first real foray into the realm of the Gothic (although some would say that the Nancy Drew series utilized a lot of Gothic tropes in its early years).  The house on the hill, the innocent governess, the bumps in the night, the forbidden rooms, the terrifying secrets of a reclusive family.  I was enthralled, and from that moment on, I still love reading, watching, and listening to Gothic tales.  I even took a Gothic literature class as I pursued my English degree.

So when I came across a series of books called "House of Shadows" by Darcy Coates on, I thought I'd give it a shot.  Honestly, the cover with the blond woman in the red dress staring at the foreboding mansion in the distance, covered by dark clouds, sold me on the book.  Now that I've read it, I can honestly say I'm glad I took the chance.  House of Shadows is Gothic at its finest.

Sophie Hemlock is a young girl who is just coming of age. She has dreams and plans, but all of that comes crashing down around her when her father's business fails, nearly destroying the family, and the only means by which he can save their family from losing everything is to give Sophie's hand in marriage to the rather enigmatic Mr. Argenton.  Sophie is uncertain, as she does not know the man, but she will do anything to help her family - so she says "I do."

As with pretty much all Gothic tales, Sophie is whisked away to a secluded mansion, one that she immediately fears when she sees it.  It is enormous, with more rooms than she can count; but it is dark and gloomy, and even the grounds that are grey and dying reflect the nature of the house itself.  Sophie is quickly introduced to the only remaining Argentons - his uncle Garrett and aunt Rose, as well as Garrett's daughter, Elise.  The house has minimal staff, but Mr. Argenton ("Joseph," as he reminds his newly-wed wife to call him) had hired a young mute girl to serve as Sophie's maid.

Mute?  Sophie immediately begins to wonder if that was intentional, to keep the girl from revealing any secrets about her new husband, his family, and the house.  And secrets, oh, there are plenty of those.  Coates provides a riveting, engaging story as one by one, each of the Argenton family secrets are revealed, each more horrifying than the last - - and just when Sophie thinks things can't get any worse, they do, particularly when she discovers that her own life is in jeopardy simply by marrying into the family.

I have to give Coates credit on one thing.  Most times, I don't pick up Gothic tales, because they are steeped in romance (which is not particularly a favorite genre of mine).  In this book, though, Coates manages to play down the romance side of things.  Let's face it, neither Sophie nor Mr. Argenton married for love, and although some feelings do start to develop, it is by far not the main focus of the story.  And for those wondering whether the Gothic elements remain subtle and grounded in reality, I can tell you right now - the supernatural is a very real thing here, as the curse on the family is tied so closely to the house itself, Sophie discovers that the house will never let her leave!

Now, the one moment in the story I did find rather odd was Chapter Twenty-Five, aptly titled "Joseph."  While the remainder of the book is told solely from Sophie's point of view (in third person), for some reason, Coates switched POV and told Chapter Twenty-Five from Joseph Argenton's point of view. Normally, that would not necessarily bother me, except for the fact that in doing so, Coates reveals much about Joseph's inner-thoughts, so much that the reader learns truths that might have been better saved for the reader to discover along with Sophie, rather than to "tell" the reader through Joseph's thoughts.  It was not enough to spoil the story as a whole, but it was disappointing to some extent to have this revealed so early.

Otherwise, the book was definitely a success for me, and the ending clearly leads into the second volume in the series, House of Secrets.

RATING:  9 red doors out of 10 for proving that Gothic doesn't need to be all about romance - that the terror and supernatural can hold the story all on its own!

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