Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford

The Poisoned House by Michael Ford
Release Date: August 1, 2011, already released in the UK
Publisher: Albert Whitman and Company
Pages: 328
Received: ARC from publisher via NetGalley 
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

Life can be cruel for a servant girl in 1850s London. Fifteen-year-old Abi is a scullery maid in Greave Hall, an elegant but troubled household. The widowed master of the house is slowly slipping into madness, and the tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs.Cotton, punishes Abi without mercy. But there's something else going on in Greave Hall, too. An otherworldly presence is making itself known, and a deadly secret will reveal itself—-a secret that will shatter everything Abi knows.


A recipe for success

All of the ingredients for a great Gothic story were present here. You have the master of the house, slowly going mad and harboring a dark secret, the evil housekeeper, a ghostly presence, the attractive son returned injured from war, a murder mystery, and the plucky scullery maid caught up in the middle of it all in a spooky old mansion. Sounds good, right? And it was. Except it also wasn't.

The good

Abi is easy to like, though I sometimes wondered if I could trust her narration wholly. Likewise, her fellow servants made for a cast of characters I both liked and couldn't help but suspect.

Tension was kept high in that I never knew who to trust because every friendly face seemed to have an equal amount of motive as well. This was creepy and unsettling, which only made me turn the pages faster in order to find out the identity of the murderer. Combined with the steady pacing and short chapters, and I pretty much flew through The Poisoned House.

Mrs. Cotton, the housekeeper, is an excellent villain and someone I couldn't help but despise. She evoked such strong negative feelings from me. Heads up: there's one scene in particular where she commits a horrifying act of animal cruelty that underscored how vile she is in her core.

The big reveal at the end concerning the history of the household was satisfying, perfectly capturing the essence of Gothic fiction without feeling stale or overdone.

The not so good

I was really hoping to be scared, but I was only scared once and it was a minor scare at that. Even the human/psychological aspects of the story weren't as frightening as they could have been.

Like the scare factor, most of the things in The Poisoned House lacked a certain spark for me. The characters were good, but nothing special. Abi was nice, but largely forgettable. The "secret" behind one of the characters is predictable. And while I didn't see everything coming, much of it did seem overly familiar and a little less vibrant than the other Gothic stories I've read.

Bottom line

I think my biggest problem is that I've read a lot of books in this genre already, and they were better. If you're new to Gothic fiction and want to get your feet wet, then The Poisoned House is a perfect introduction. All of the classic elements are there, and while this ultimately took away a little for me because I'm so used to them, they probably won't feel that way to someone less familiar with the genre.

The lack of scariness might also be appealing to readers looking for Gothic fiction, but not looking for something to terrify them. Aside from one scene, the ghost parts are extremely tame. This is a good, solid Gothic book that will probably go over well with younger readers and Gothic fiction newbies.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Poisoned House that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.


  1. I have this on Netgalley and am hoping to get to it in October; I've never been a big reader of Gothic fiction so I hope I'll enjoy this. Your description of Mrs. Cotton makes me think of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, for some reason.

  2. I don't think I have read any gothic fiction before so this one sounds like a good one to try especially since I am a complete scaredy cat! Great review Small.

  3. I thought this was an OK read. It was pretty eerie and gothic, but not a story that has stuck with me.

  4. I've not read any gothic fiction yet although I do have Picture The Dead on my shelf (after reading your review). I might give this one a go seeing as it's not too scary.

    The House of Dead Maids cover still freaks me out when I see it. I am such a scaredy cat.

  5. Sounds like a solid read, just not the best in the bunch.
    I think I'm going to put it in the maybe pile, because I do love me some Gothic, I just don't read it much.

  6. I haven't read a lot of gothic fiction so it might work for me. The cover is spooky but The House of Dead Maids cover really creeps me out!

  7. i don't think i've read any gothic fiction before, unless if wuthering heights count as gothic, and i didn't even finish that one.

    but yeah, great review! i'll be sure to keep my expectations low when i go in. i don't get scared very easily either :D

  8. hmmm.. I think I would have expected something a bit scarier too. The cover is downright creepy. I am new to Gothic lit, so I think I might check this out.

    Thanks, Smalls.

  9. I've never read gothic fiction and since I'm a big scaredy-cat, I think this one would be a good way to get introduced to the genre. Thanks :)

  10. Yep. Just finished this one last night. It almost became a DNF for me, but I'm glad I stuck with it as I did like the ending. The story just fell a bit flat and like you said, there was no real fear or spark.

    Mrs. Cotton. That scene with the pail will haunt me more than any of the ghost scenes ever will.

  11. Too bad this didn't get there. The idea behind it sounds fantastic. I wouldn't mind the non-scare factor...I'm not into being scared. But I wouldn't like the blase characters.

  12. Gothic fiction newbie here. Also, it really doesn't take too much to scare me, honestly. So likely I would like it more than you did. I even find the cover a bit freaky.

  13. I've not tried this genre before. I think I may like this one, since you say it would be good for newies to Gothic fiction.

  14. I've never really delved into Gothic fiction before, so maybe this would be a good one to start out with. I definitely like the sound of it. Haha, plus I'm such a weenie I'll probably get scared anyways :p Great review!

  15. I love Gothic fiction...especially the old zebra Gothic romances with the girls running away from a dark castle. Anyways...I thought this one was gonna be scary! Look the cover? Man! I'm bummed. Still, I'm looking forward to reading it. I have it for review. Glad to hear the villain is good!

  16. Btw...The House of Dead Maids cover really creeps me out! How come I have to look at when I scroll down, huh? LOL

  17. Bookworm1858, Mrs. Cotton reminded me of Mrs. Danvers too. Though Danvers is a lot more skulking :P

    Nic, Yup, sounds like this would be a perfect introduction then!

    Leanna, Agreed. I liked it while I was reading it, but it hasn’t stuck with me like other books.

    The Slowest Bookworm, I’d read Picture The Dead first. They’re very similar in some ways, but I liked PtD better. Haha, I’m still freaked out every time I see the House of Dead Maids cover too!

    Alex, Yes, exactly. Solid, but there are better out there.

    Alyssa, That cover creeps me out too! Those freaky eye sockets, eeek!

    Aleeza, I’d count Wuthering Heights as gothic, but this is a very different book. :)

    Missie, Yes! The cover is creepy (actually, that’s the one scene that did scare me).

    A Canadian Girl, Sounds perfect for you!

    Logan, Yes, there was that indescribable spark missing. Aaaah, yes that pail scene was exactly what I was talking about. I HATED her for it and it was awful.

    Alison, The characters were ok. More that I won’t remember them.

    Aylee, you scare easily?! Could have fooled me with those Monstrumologist books!

    Gina, I think you might like it, but I’d recommend reading Picture the Dead first. :)

    T.B., Haha, yes, this sounds good for you then! Very low scare factor.

    Julie, The cover scene was the only one that scared me, otherwise nope. Not scary. Hope you like it! The villain is so, so evil. Like Logan said, that pail scene is horrific. Haha, yes The House of Dead Maids cover freaks ME out too! :P But the book is so good!

  18. Okay Small,
    You and I have written back and forth about animals. Is this one I should skip? Cause if I read that pail scene and it makes me cry I'm not ever sending you another ARC again!
    Feel free to email me.

    Didn't you ask me if I'd read this one? Or was that the Poison Studies?

  19. The cover is enough to creep me out! I am not so sure I want to read a horror story, but I LOVE Gothic novels. A hard choice...lol

  20. Heather, DON'T read it! You won't like the pail scene at all and, really, there are much better gothic books out there to try that don't have horrible scenes like that. (It was Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, not this book)

    Book Geek, This is very tame as far as scary books go. At least I thought so, and I'm a wimp!


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