It’s horror time! Or at least mild discomfort time. Spoilers ahead.
Author: Rory Power
Genre: Young adult, horror, science fiction
The Raxter School for Girls has been under quarantine for nearly two years. Hetty and her friends have fallen victim to the Tox, a disease that manifests in the form of grotesque mutations. When Hetty’s best friend Byatt disappears, Hetty will do anything to find out what happened to her—including breaking quarantine.
This wasn’t a bad book at all. It had important themes, such as female friendships and teenage girls’ alienation from their bodies. Plus, there’s a sapphic frenemies-to-lovers romance, which is like my favorite trope ever. AND LOOK AT THAT COVER.
However, it was boring. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but it was nowhere nearly as horrifying as I thought it would be. The body horror was occasionally disturbing, but I expected to be so utterly terrified I couldn’t sleep at night. I had high hopes for the Hetty/Reese romance, but there wasn’t any chemistry to it.
I have heard some reviewers claiming the characters are underdeveloped, but I didn’t feel that way. Hetty’s loyalty to Byatt and Reese’s love for her father were interesting and thoroughly explored. My favorite character was Byatt, because she was a savage. One of her first POV chapters has her talking about how she killed off an imaginary best friend to make her real friend jealous. Like, your fave could never.
Also, for a book that claims to be feminist and queer-friendly, this was kind of white. Rory Power unfortunately uses the “white as default” trope, with only a few minor characters of color.
The writing was excellent. The sentences were short, raw, and powerful, each one hitting home with force. Readers may tire of the sentence fragments, though.
That ending was literally the worst. Not that it was especially bad, but that nothing was wrapped up. I’m fine with endings that leave some things hanging, but a cliffhanger at the end of a standalone book is really not the best idea.
House of Salt and Sorrows
Author: Erin A. Craig
Genre: Young adult, horror, fantasy
Annaleigh Thaumas and her eleven sisters live in a manor by the sea with their father and stepmother. One by one, the girls have died in violent, mysterious ways. Annaleigh suspects that her sisters were murdered and enlists the help of a stranger named Cassius to solve the mystery.
Oh man, was this book disappointing. I love gothic horror, but this wasn’t scary at all. There was some creepy imagery, what with the younger sister’s drawings, but it didn’t do much for me. And I hated the plot twist. Literally half the horror/thriller adjacent novels out there use the “protagonist was insane all along” twist, and I’m getting tired of it. All of the other twists were fine, but why this?
On top of all that, this book was overwhelmingly white and het. It tried to be somewhat feminist by making the heroine dream of being a lighthouse keeper, but it was outweighed by the use of the “evil stepmother” trope. And was it really necessary to bring Cassius back from the dead?
I didn’t hate this book entirely, though. Though it might not have been that scary, the aesthetic of manors and ballgowns and curses worked well enough. I also liked the sisterly relationships and wished they had been developed as much as the romance.
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a mildly spooky fantasy novel, this book is for you.