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“Whether there is or isn’t a curse, people believe in it. We’ve been tried and found guilty in the public’s opinion. Nothing will change their minds, no matter how many pretty parties Papa throws. We’re cursed, and no one will ever believe otherwise,” Camille. –House of Salt and Sorrows
House of Salt and Sorrows
by Erin A. Craig
Annaleigh Thaumas was once one of twelve sisters, but four of them have gone to an early grave. After burying four sisters who were lost to various circumstances—the plague, a freak accident, a suicide, and falling from a cliff—the townspeople start to whisper that the Thaumas girls are cursed. Despite a large estate and a grand coming out party, no one is interested in courting the sisters, even though five of them are already of age. Despairing of ever finding a match, the sisters stumble upon a magic door used by the god Pontus. It will take them anywhere they desire, and soon the girls are wishing themselves to a new ball every night, hoping desperately to find a suitor from far away who hasn’t yet heard a rumor of the cursed Thaumas sisters.
But Annaleigh starts to wonder if there is something sinister behind her sister’s deaths. As she tries to discover what happened the night her sister fell from the cliffs, she discovers that she was pushed. Someone murdered her, and they might be coming after the rest of them next. Haunted by horrifying visions, Annaleigh doesn’t know if the ghosts of her dead sisters are trying to warn her, if they’re angry with her, or if she is simply going mad. As the hauntings escalate, Annaleigh becomes desperate for answers. When she meets a handsome man named Cassius, who seems perfect and wants to help, Annaleigh falls for him instantly but doesn’t know if she trusts him. And even worse—can she trust herself?
House of Salt and Sorrows is a delightful tale of magic and wonder. Erin A. Craig paints vivid pictures of fairy shoes and magical balls, and does a skilled job developing a wide cast of characters. While the number of sisters can be hard to keep track of at the beginning, the Thaumas family takes readers on a fun adventure that is worth the ride. There are some inconsistencies and implausible occurrences in the beginning of the book that might turn off more advanced readers, but most of them are actually resolved by the end of the book. While a magical story, there are disturbing images in the second half of the book when the Harbinger of Madness and Nightmares starts tormenting Annaleigh. House of Salt and Sorrows is sure to enchant readers who are brave enough to stomach the more graphic images without having nightmares.
- Annaleigh accidentally bursts into her father’s room when he is having intercourse with his wife, Annaleigh’s stepmother. “From the noises coming out of the bed—its drapes blessedly closed—it was suddenly painfully obvious that Papa was not sleeping. Morella’s cries of ecstasy turned into a strangled howl of frustration.”
- Rosalie jokes about finding a man. “‘I need a man at home on the ocean. One who can handle the curves and swells of the waves.’ She ran one hand down the curve of her own hip, dipping theatrically, her voice growing husky. ‘One who can maneuver his ship into any port, however tempestuous. . . One with a very large, very thick, very hard. . . mizzenmast.’”
- Annaleigh gets lost and ends up in the red light district. “The first storefront I saw was bathed in a pink glow, and my stomach turned as I guessed at what merchandise was sold behind such lurid trappings. . . Some had girls in the windows, waving and posing. Others were awash with tinsel and gaudy paste jewels.”
- Cassius kisses Annaleigh. “His mouth was warm against mine and softer than I’d ever imagined a man’s could be. My skin sizzled as his hands cupped my cheeks and he pressed a kiss to my horsehead before returning to my mouth. I dared to bring my fingers up to explore his jawline.”
- Cassius kisses Annaleigh again. “I tilted my chin, and his lips were on mine, soft and achingly sweet. I ran my fingers up his chest, letting them linger on the back of his neck and twist into his dark curls.”
- Cassius and Annaleigh kiss one more time. “Cassius released a murmur of pleasure before sweeping me into a kiss. His mouth was soft against mine before his arms tightened around me, pulling me into a more intimate kiss, a sweeter ache.”
- Annaleigh discovers her little sister Verity has been drawing horrible images of her dead sisters, who Verity says have been haunting her. “She flipped to a scene in black and gray pastels. In it, Verity cowered into her pillows as a shadowy Eulalie ripped the bedsheets from her. Her head was snapped back unnaturally far . . . Octavia curled up in a library chair, seemingly unaware that half her face was smashed in and her arm was too broken to hold a book straight…I turned the page and saw a drawing of all four of them, watching Verity as she slept, hanging from nooses.”
- A man saw Annaleigh’s sister fall from a cliff. “I’ll never forget that sound as long as I live…Like the slap of meat landing on the butcher’s block.”
- Annaleigh sees a dead man who died from falling. “Edgar lay in a growing spread of blood, his body broken and smashed on the cobblestones. His spectacles lay feet away, one of the lenses cracked.”
- At a party buffet, Annaleigh sees “A sea turtle…showcased on a bed of dead eels.” She sees the turtle’s head move and thinks maybe she can save him, but then, “The turtle’s eyelids burst open as a string of fat white maggots fell from the hole. They poured out of the poor loggerhead’s skull onto the platter. His body was full of them, ready to explode.”
- Annaleigh discovers her friend has been dead for weeks and his body was possessed by a goddess. Annaleigh sees the goddess come out of her friend’s body. “Thick, vicious phlegm spewed from his mouth, landing on the floor like globs of tar. His body shook from the force, struggled to expel whatever was lodged deep in his throat. When his lips began to peel away, curling back like rolls of coiled tree bark, I pressed my face into Cassius, fighting the urge to throw up…Fisher’s body lay split open, pieces and parts flung out in a gruesome explosion. In the center of this absolute horror stood a figure, her back turned to us. Covered in viscera, she rolled her neck from side to side, stretching her muscles, delighting in her sudden freedom after such a tight confinement.”
- When Annaleigh hears a horrible cackling in her head, “I smacked my temple to dislodge this most unwelcome intruder, but the cackling only grew. I hit myself again. And again, using more force…If I could just break it open, even a little, the voice could escape and leave me in peace.”
- Annaleigh’s stepmother reveals that she met Annaleigh’s father when she was a prostitute. When he got bored of her, “He struck me. In front of his new little whore. He didn’t even care that she saw. He called me names, screamed, berated me.”
- Annaleigh’s stepmother is killed by a Trickster. “Cries rose from the chaos, and for one awful moment, they echoed the sounds I’d heard her make when I’d walked in on her with Papa. But the pleasure was short-lived, and her whimpers of ecstasy soon turned into shrieks. The shrieks turned to screams. And then the screams cut off into silence.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Annaleigh’s sister Lenore drinks champagne at her coming out party. “She downed a glass of champagne in one swallow…I began to suspect that was not her first or second glass of champagne.”
- Before going to a ball, Annaleigh’s friend snagged “three glasses of wine.” He says, “I filched it from the kitchen—thought we might need a little courage.”
- At a feast, “wine flowed freely all evening. The women sipped with restraint, but the men were already a little worse for wear.”
- Annaleigh’s father gets drunk at a feast and becomes belligerent. “‘Stop meddling with me! He roared, lashing his arm out to knock her aside.” When someone tells him that he is drunk, he replies, “And if I am? This is my house. My home! You can all be turned out into the cold if you don’t like it.”
- Annaleigh goes to many balls, which usually serve wine and champagne. At one, there “was a fountain spouting wine. Couples in formal court fashions mingled around the circular base, sticking out cups to catch the scarlet liquid as it flowed from an ornate bronze battle scene.”
- A man at a party offers her a drink from her flask. Annaleigh declines.
- Annaleigh’s stepmother admits that she “mixed a bit of hemlock into [Annaleigh’s mother’s] nightly medicine, and [Annaleigh’s mother] died in her sleep, none the wiser.”
- Damn is used a few times. A man says, “Damned storm took us three days off course.” When drunk, Annaleigh’s father says, “Damn this coffee and damn these madeleines! Where’s my brandy?”
- Cassius was born out of wedlock, so he tells Annaleigh, “I’m a bastard.”
- Phrases referring to the gods are used occasionally as exclamations. For example, Hanna says, “Be sure to space them out evenly, and for Pontus’s sake, don’t set them too close to the plants!”
- A dressmaker hints that she “design[s] dresses for the goddess of beauty.”
- Annaleigh thinks her dead sisters are haunting the manor. “As she leaned in to find the stopper, a hand reached out of the water, grabbing her neck and dragging her under. Elizabeth surfaced from the churning waters, her eyes filmed a sickly green.”
- It’s said the gods had magic doors to travel to and from the mortal realm. Annaleigh and her sisters find a hidden door that takes them wherever they want, and they use it to go dancing at elaborate balls every night in the hopes of finding a suitor.
- Annaleigh’s sister Verity says their dead sister and their sister’s dead fiancé are in the room. Annaleigh doesn’t look, but she hears “a soft rustling, silk skirts raking across the marble tiles. . . the footsteps stopped behind me, and I suddenly felt them, felt their presence.” When Annaleigh asks her dead sister who killed her, the ghost “shoved me forward with such force, I struck my head on the marble tiles.”
- Annaleigh remembers how a performance caught fire and “One of Pontus’s daughters. . . summoned a waterspout to rain down its fury upon the flames. When the fire was out, the stage was a mess of puddles and soot, but everyone cheered for the goddess’s quick thinking.”
- Cassius reveals he is the goddess Versai’s son, which makes him half-god.
- When in Versai’s temple, Cassius and Annaleigh see “Versai’s postulants. The Sisters of the Night. They live at the abbey, tending to the wishing wall and paying homage to my mother. They’re about to begin their first service of the day.”
- Annaleigh meets Kosamara, “Harbinger of Madness. . . And Nightmares.” Annaleigh discovers that Kosamara has been plaguing her sisters with the goal of driving them mad to the point of killing themselves.
- Things start to fly off shelves and the piano plays by itself. Annaleigh thinks it’s a poltergeist.
- It’s revealed that Annaleigh’s stepmother summoned a Trickster to make Annaleigh’s father love her and marry her. To seal the deal, she had to let the Trickster “ravish me.” When she gives birth to twins, one is Annaleigh’s father’s son and the other is a monster that the Trickster comes to claim.
- Annaleigh’s world has many gods. “Other parts of Arcannia worshipped various combinations of gods: Vaipany, lord of sky and sun; Seland, ruler of earth; Versai, queen of the night; and Arina, goddess of love. There were dozens of other deities—Harbingers and Tricksters—who ruled over other aspects of life, but for the People of the Salt, Pontus, king of the sea, was the only god we needed.” While the gods used to be “much more active in the affairs of mortals,” they have become less and less involved over time.
- The islanders believe Pontus created them. “The High Mariner says Pontus created our islands and the people on them. He scooped salt from the ocean tides for strength. Into that was mixed the cunning of bull shark and the beauty of the moon jellyfish. He added the seahorse’s fidelity and the curiosity of a porpoise. When his creation was molded just so—two arms, two legs, a head, and a heart—Pontus breathed some of his own life into it, making the first People of the Salt. So when we die, we can’t be buried in ground. We slip back into the water and are home.”
- At her sister’s funeral, Annaleigh’s “Papa stepped forward to place two gold pieces at the foot of the crypt—payment to Pontus for easing my sister back into the Brine.”
- At a feast, the Higher Mariner says they are gathered “to give our thanks to mighty Pontus for his great benevolence, blessing us with a season of bountiful plenty.”
by Morgan Lynn