Release Date: August 1, 2011, already released in the UK
Publisher: Albert Whitman and Company
Received: ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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.
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.
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!
Feel free to ask in the comments!
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