House of Salt and Sorrows
by Erin A. Craig
I picked this book up from Target on a whim (during quarantine when I had to physically go into the store to pick up my prescriptions). The cover was so beautiful and intriguing I just had to know more about this book. The synopsis included some of my favorite things: a castle on the coast (I can practically smell the salt air), princesses, and fairytales. I was caught like a fish, hook, line, and sinker.
This book, right off the bat, was a grim dark, twisted version of a fantasy retelling. It reminds me a lot of the real story of Cinderella, the version that is decidedly not told to children. The first chapter opens with the funeral of one of Annaleigh’s twelve sisters. We learn quickly that a few of her sisters have already died, including their mother. Through Verity, Annaleigh’s youngest sister, we learn about their deaths in very gruesome and grotesque detail.
With most books, I try to start them without knowing much about the plot. I highly recommend going into this story as blind as possible. All you need to know beforehand is that this doesn’t hold back from gore, it’s a dark twisted fairytale, and you should probably keep a light one while you’re reading.
I did not know what I was getting myself into when I picked this book up. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was spooked while reading. I’ve never read or seen anything regarding the 12 dancing princesses fairytale. Maybe this book would feel more generic if I was intimately familiar with this particular tale, but I was mesmerized page by page. I was so focused on this story, that I was genuinely surprised when Annaleigh got a love interest (yay!!). This version of the fairytale included ghosts, romance, an unreliable stepmother, an unreliable narrator, gods, goddesses, and magic.
The writing was so well done. There was a really nice balance of descriptive settings, inner monologue, and external discussions. I can so vividly see this book in my head while reading (and even days after), which made some of the gorey scenes all the more upsetting. In a way, this book reminded me of Percy Jackson, but for a much older audience. We know we’re fighting an evil force, we just don’t know who or what that force is. The end of this book is as much a physical thriller as it is a psychological one. I did not have the foresight to imagine what could possibly happen next.
If you like fairytales in all their raw, dark, twisted, gorey glory, then please give this book a shot. I was blow away by this book that I happened to pick up on a whim, but so excited to read it again one day.
If you can see past all the death, it does have a ‘happy’ ending. Which I know a lot of us need right now.