“Once There Were Twelve of Us.”
House of Salt and Sorrows open on a funeral. The Thaumas family is burying their fourth daughter, Eulalie – the fourth oldest, and also the fourth to die mysteriously. Now only eight sisters remain, and the guests whisper quietly behind their backs: “Which one will be next?”
Those living in the surrounding area believe that the Thaumases are cursed, unlucky, and accident prone, but Annaleigh, the sixth sister, thinks differently. Most people accept without question that Eulalie’s death was an accident, that she simply fell. Annaleigh, however, is determined to find out who killed her sisters before they can claim another. But the murders are not the only strange things happening. The youngest sister, six-year-old Verity, claims to be haunted by the ghosts of her dead sisters. The rest of the family dismisses this, but when Annaleigh sees the horrific drawings in her sister’s sketchbook, she knows her sister could not be making this up. After seeing the drawings, Annaleigh starts to see her sisters’ ghosts herself. She tries to get help from her family, but they all believe she’s going mad, and Annaleigh begins to question her own sanity.
As Annaleigh tries to solve this mystery, things become more, not less, mysterious. She meets a beautiful stranger with secrets of his own. Her sisters begin to attend magical balls, hoping to find suitors that know nothing of their curse, but Annaleigh has her own suspicions about these balls. And before the story comes to a close, more will die.
Before you step into the pages of this novel, just remember that nothing is as it seems.
There are so many things to love about House of Salt and Sorrows. It’s a retelling of a lesser known fairy tale, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” which happens to be one of my favorites. The fairytale itself is creepy, and there are many opportunities to heighten the creepiness, which the author takes full advantage of in this retelling. The story leads you down a road full of twists, each one more shocking and interesting than the last. I can’t count the number of times I would come to the end of a chapter and gasp or scream in shock. (On an unrelated note, my family is very concerned about my sanity, much like Annaleigh’s.)
Another wonderful thing about this book is the setting. It’s set on a small string of islands, complete with waves crashing against high cliffs, a small port town, and a lighthouse. I swoon. The dark setting really adds to the darkness and mystery of the story – it’s easy to imagine ghosts stalking the hallways and causing trouble. For me personally, the sea aesthetic is my favorite aesthetic for fantasy, so I am in love with the island of Salten and the manor house, Highmoor.
I also really enjoyed that in this book, each sister had a personality. Often in retellings of this fairytale, all the sisters except the main character are insignificant and indistinct from each other, but in this book, each of the eight sisters is important and are for the most part quite different from each other. Verity especially is absolutely delightful—she’s sweet, sassy, and extremely wise for a six-year-old. I predict that everyone who reads this book will fall in love with her. One of the prominent themes in this book is sisterhood, a theme we don’t see enough today, in my opinion, and you can see in their interactions how much they care about each other. The romance too, between Annaleigh and the mysterious stranger, while only a side plot, will no doubt make you wish you had a Cassius of your own.
Stephanie Garber said that this book will make you feel like you’ve stepped inside a fairytale, and she is right. This book will feel like someone put a spell on you. This book will transport you onto a dark clifftop, where you can see the waves crash beneath you and feel the salt in the air. And who knows, maybe you’ll see some ghosts.