I’ve been wanting to read House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig for a hot minute, and finally caved.
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters and their father and stepmother. Once there were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last — the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge — and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Disturbed by a series of ghastly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that her sisters’ deaths were no accidents. The girls have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who — or what — are they really dancing with?
When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family — before it claims her next.
Annaleigh and her family live on an island within a chain known as Salann. The world building is so incredibly detailed that it felt as though I was right there in the book. Rocky islands with black sand beaches and a strong seafaring tradition was the perfect setting for the story. The author beautifully rendered this world, with customs, gods, holidays, foods, and traditions that were highly specific but never boring. Additionally, each of the other areas of the world have different customs, gods, holidays, and traditions. It was an easy story to get lost in with these descriptions.
I didn’t realize that this was a fairy tale retelling at first, and never heard of this specific fairy tale. Clearly my fairy tale education is sorely lacking. The story interested me right from page 1, although it moved a bit slowly at first. I felt that the story needed time to develop, and it gave me time to get to know each of the characters. Annaleigh becomes more convinced that her sisters died under suspicious circumstances, and resolves to find out what really happened. She meets a handsome, mysterious man who isn’t from her chain of islands, and is greatly flustered by her growing attraction to him. Her youngest sister is seeing ghosts, which is quite alarming, until a friend of Annaleigh’s points out:
“‘She’s been in mourning since the day she was born. When has she not been surrounded by grief? … That has to affect a person, don’t you think?’”
When the villagers start whispering about the curse on the family, the girls start sneaking out of the house to dance until all hours of the night.
“She went dancing every night instead and slept in later and later, often not waking until well after three in the afternoon.”
Annaleigh seems to be the only one that has concerns about sneaking out of the house to dance, but her sisters don’t see anything wrong with it. Instead of being shunned by potential suitors, they have the opportunity to mingle with people who don’t seem to know … or care about the supposed curse.
Nothing about the story is as it appears. There were so many plot twists that I found myself questioning who was behind anything. The start was alluring but slow, and the pace picked up, going faster and faster until the incredible final chapters. I was prepared to be disappointed, but I certainly wasn’t let down. This book is definitely worth a read.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 15
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars