Wednesday, October 20, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: House of Shadows

The Book: House of Shadows by Darcy Coates

The Particulars: Romantic Gothic Horror Suspense, Book 1 in series, Black Owl Books, 2015, In Print (Poison Pen Press 2020), Available digitally and for free with Amazon Prime (at time of this posting)

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Before the entire world shutdown thanks to The 'Rona, my last hurrah was attending the Public Library Association conference in Nashville in February 2020. An ARC of this was in the Sourcebooks booth and I was drawn to that creeptastic cover. 
Minor Spoilers

The Review: Buckle in kiddies, it's a damning with faint praise review. Words like "serviceable" and "workman-like" ran through my brain while reading this relatively short Gothic (my ARC copy clocks in at 259 pages). The kind of book that could have been really good if a bit more depth had been thrown into it.  Let me explain...

Sophie is attending the opera with her doting uncle when she meets Mr. Joseph Argenton, a wealthy, handsome stranger who slightly unnerves her even as he fascinates.  He has business dealings with her father and promises to call on their home the next day.  Which he does. Just after dear Papa learns that the ship-load of silks he invested in (all by himself) has been lost at sea, two of the crew members killed.  Papa breaks the news to Sophie just as Mr. Argenton arrives and bingo-bango, soon Sophie is accepting the man's proposal in order to save her family from financial ruin (there are three younger siblings).

They marry with great expediency and Joseph soon takes Sophie to his isolated family estate in the north (called, conveniently enough, Northwood). In residence are his Aunt Rose, Uncle Garrett, younger cousin Elise (around 12) and a host of silent, downcast servants.  If you've read even one Gothic you'll know that Aunt Rose is the evil one in this scenario, but cousin Elise has problems yo.  Anyway, Joseph is occasionally around but has to leave Sophie alone at times in a creepy house that she continually gets lost in, with Aunt Rose who hates her guts and strangeness starts happening right away.  And by strangeness I mean horror.  The walls have a tendency to drip blood, mysterious piano music plays in the night, and Elise is drawing a creepy shadow-like creature in a near trance.
If you've ever wondered what the term Wallpaper Historical means, well - this book.  When does it take place? Where does it take place?  Lord, who knows.  It's vaguely English and vaguely Victorian-y.  The back cover blurb for the second book specifically calls out Kensington - and that's all I've got.

Like all true Gothics this one has romance, horror and suspense, plus features a suitably creepy house - so it checks all the boxes.  The one box it doesn't necessarily check is with our hero.  While he's mysterious early on, that's dispatched right away and he takes on a "protector' role of the heroine. Well, sort of.  She's "known" the guy for a matter of days prior to the wedding but sets the land speed record for realizing she's in love with him. How? Why? When did this happen? Who knows! If you've ever wondered what the term Insta-Love means, well - this book.

And that's the problem - the heroine falling in love with a hero who essentially latches on to her in the beginning as a sacrificial lamb.  Then when he starts to feel all gooey about her - HE STILL LEAVES HER ALONE IN THE CREEPY HAUNTED HOUSE WITH HIS CREEPY AUNT EVEN AFTER SHE'S TRAPPED IN A ROOM AND BUCKETS OF BLOOD RAIN DOWN ON HER AND HE HAS TO BREAK DOWN THE DOOR TO RESCUE HER!  YES, HE LEAVES HER AFTER THAT EXPERIENCE TO GO INTO TOWN, LIKE WTF DUDE?!

And the heroine, bless her heart, never gets angry at him.  There's a brief glimmer of a moment when she gets angry that he seems to care about the house more than her but it's gone in a blink and we're back to her wanting to rescue him and he's the only one I trust and blah, blah, blah.

Which makes it sound like I hated this book. I didn't. Basically what this book was for me was Brain Candy. It was a book I could pick up, easily read, and not expend too much brain energy.  And after the last couple of weeks I've had at work? There's a lot to be said for Brain Candy. It was readable and undemanding. How's that for damning with faint praise?  
However, it also read fairly cinematic.  What it lacked in detail "on the page" I think would play very well as a screenplay and make a decent period horror piece.

Does it end happily? Sort of. The hero and heroine do ride off into the sunset. Does it end on a cliffhanger?  Sort of. There's an epilogue that definitely leads the reader to the next book in the duology, House of Secrets. Honestly it's series like this that tempt me to pony up for Kindle Unlimited. I might be curious enough to read it, but I'm not so sure I'm curious enough to buy my own copy. How's that for damning with faint praise?

Final Grade = C


Whiskeyinthejar said...

been really good if a bit more depth had been thrown into it.
I read Parasite by Coates and while it was short stories connected together by following the same plot, this was how I felt, too. I also thought it would make a great movie. To be fair, though, more depth is my #1 complaint.

The need for Brain Candy or fluff is so valid, I could not read only emotionally destroying stories, I need that cotton candy to cleanse the palate. I think Gothics are great at this, they have a fun sense of ridiculous. I'm going to add this to my tbr because I don't think I've ever read a review of a Gothic and not added it. The walls dripping blood was the hook, lol.

+1 for the bingo-bango

Jill said...

Boo! Gothics are so tricky to pull off I think, but very satisfying when things fire on all cylinders.

I read BRYONY AND ROSES by Ursula Vernon (a pen name? real name?) of T.Kingfisher)which was a charming retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It straddled YA and adult, I would say.
It is not very dense or spooky (so light on gothic), but it is long enough and "adult" enough that I wouldn't consider it a chapter read aloud for middle grade kids.
My favorite element was the heroine. Not Beauty, but Bryony, a pragmatic merchant's daughter who has fallen on hard times and likes to garden, but is not fond of roses (being the divas of the garden that they are). She and Beast had a good rapport and I liked both of them early on. Anything gothic comes from the house itself and the curse. There are some nice twists and suspense at the end. I'd give it an B+/maybe A, but with the caveat that it may not be "gothic enough" for someone looking for something really spooky and menacing.

eurohackie said...

I feel you on damning with faint praise, because that's how I felt about my choice for this month, "Bride of Moat House" by the supposed Grand Mistress of Gothic Romance and Suspense Norah Lofts. My book was just odd, in that it's basically told in passive voice by 3 different unreliable narrators (none of them the victim of any spookiness or harm, two of them the actual antagonists of the story) and there is very little suspense, much less romance. I didn't hate it, but I didn't really like it, either. The best thing about it was the length: 160 pages.

I have several books on deck this time of year, so while it was a disappointing read, it's no great loss. Can't say I'll especially be on the look out for any more of the author's work, though! LOL.

Wendy said...

Whiskey: Well this book is currently available for free if you're an Amazon Prime member and still looking for spooky Halloween reading ;)

Jill: I love Gothics, but yeah - I've probably read more bad and "ho-hum" than OMG GREAT! It's those OMG GREAT ones that keep me coming back. And your read sounds really good!

Eurohackie: Oh yikes. Yeah, that's a book I know to skip. I have a very checkered history with unreliable narrator.