First Lines: My name is Louisa Rose Ditton. I work and live at Coldthistle House, a house for boarders and wanderers. A house owned by the Devil.
I’m going to start by saying that I’ve never read anything by Madeleine Roux before, but I always hear about her. My students love the Asylum series; I just haven’t gotten around to it. So when I had the chance to read this as an ARC from Edelweiss, I jumped at the chance. (The book officially released yesterday…I’m only a little behind.)
After escaping from an abusive boarding school for girls, Louisa is grateful to find work as a maid at the Coldthistle House. But soon after arriving, she realizes that things aren’t right here. Things that go bump in the night are actually real…and dangerous. The owner, Mr. Morningside, isn’t simply interested in taking in boarders; he’s out for revenge. He and the staff pass judgment on those who are too far gone to be saved and execute them. Quickly, Louisa begins to fear for a kind and charismatic young man named Lee. She doesn’t think he deserves the ultimate judgment, so it’s up to her to prove he’s innocent. But in a house owned by the Devil, how can Louisa know who to trust?
Let’s take a little stroll through my likes and dislikes.
I really liked the concept. Set in the 1800s, the Devil owns a mansion and exacts revenge against people who commit atrocious crimes. Alright, that sounds interesting. Pour on top of that a healthy mix of supernatural beings who add flavor to this story and you have something guaranteed to catch my attention (and apparently make me use food-related metaphors). I love supernatural stories, and the weirder the better. This wasn’t the weirdest thing I’d ever read, but it had its moments. And I’m all for that.
I really liked the cast of minor characters. Louisa’s friend Lee was sweet and open in a way that contrasted nicely with the world that she’d grown up in and the one she currently found herself in. He was innocence in all the darkness. And the others in the mansion like Poppy, Mary, and Chijioke were interesting counters to what was happening as well. Even though they were part of it all.
What I didn’t like may be a slightly longer list.
I wasn’t crazy about Louisa, the main character. She spent a lot of her time being in denial, which seemed to just make the story longer and more boring because she’s hearing things from twenty different directions and she’s choosing to ignore them all. It was annoying, even if I understood her motivations. She was also a pretty typical maiden-in-distress that only sometimes was able to save herself. Look, I know in the 1800s it was seen more that women needed men to save them. We’ve got plenty of fairytales from that period that proves it. And I’ll admit that I’m getting used to historical novels where the women are gutsy and strong. But I still believe there had to be women throughout history (and more than just a handful) that could save themselves, especially girls like Louisa who were poor and beaten down. Those are your fighters and she just wasn’t.
I thought the plot was slow and unsurprising. The book jacket basically tells you everything big that happens in the book, so there were no twists or big reveals. And the “twists” that were there were hardly what I would call surprising. There was no sense of suspense at all throughout this entire story. Ok, maybe once or twice, but it didn’t last very long.
I also thought some of the writing choices were strange. We get to read excerpts from a guide Louisa finds and they come at the beginning of many of the chapters. However, sometimes those excerpts were longer than the chapters themselves and by the time I got done with the excerpt, I’d forgotten what was happening in the chapter before. So it made the story feel a bit choppy and then I tended to forget about what the excerpts had said because there was no context for it in the story and it didn’t seem to fit with the action anyway. (They do come into play later, but not for a long long time.)
A point that’s neither here nor there but is worth mentioning is that I had an ARC copy, which means a lot of the interior pictures were not there. The illustrations for Morningside’s book were there, but photographs/other artwork were not. So I know I’m missing out on something that probably could have enhanced my reading of this book. C’est la vie.
Overall, I just wasn’t very impressed by this. It wasn’t scary, I couldn’t really get into the main character’s mindset, and the action really never went anywhere.