House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin Craig

Four of the twelve Thaumas sisters have died, and people are beginning to think that the family is cursed. The girls are desperate for suitors and jump greedily at the chance to use a magical door that will take them anywhere they desire.

Caveat before I begin this review: Despite spending most of the last seven years reading primarily speculative fiction, I’ve not been in the mood for it in months. It’s also been some time since I was reading young adult fiction regularly. I knew I wasn’t quite in the right mood for this one, for both of those reasons, and I probably should have sent the book back to the library. The writing was compelling enough for me to keep going anyway. So while this review is negative, I wanted to state these things – in another mood, and perhaps when I was reading a lot of YA, this might have worked for me. Right now, it did not.

So. This is a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses fairy tale. Historically, I’ve not been a fan of fairy tale retellings, but I’ve never read (or heard) this particular tale and so I thought the retelling aspect wouldn’t matter. As it turns out, it did. Fairy tales have a certain quality to them, characters who are archetypes rather than actual people with personalities, and stories that are simple and moral-driven. To make a retelling work, you have to rise above those things, and not root so deeply in the fairy tale itself. Often, retellings are too rooted in the original for me, which is why I’ve historically disliked them. And I found the same in this book. Characters changed moods and personality traits regularly, for no particular reason except that it helped the plot along. I got all the sisters, including the narrator, confused for the entire book. Because this was a novel rather than a fairy tale, it didn’t have the same air of dreaminess that would make these shifts and blurred personalities okay. Furthermore, while I can’t say if the plot stuck to the original tale (since I don’t know it), it did feel a bit forced and unnatural at times, as if moored to a previous story.

The end-result for me was a disjointed tale that felt a bit flat. There were all these elements – the dances, the sibling relationships, the island culture, the immortals, the curse, the ghosts, the love story – but none of them really meshed together. It was simultaneously too much and too little.

I feel like this could have been better with a bit of tweaking to make it come together as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts. Like I said above, it may have just been my mood. It’s a shame, though. I really wanted to like the book.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2019, Prose, Young Adult and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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