Updated: Dec 19, 2021
October has just passed but that doesn't mean you have to stop reading scary stories around the fire. If you are looking for the next scary story, House of Salt and Sorrows might just be your best bet!
I have a confession. Two actually. First, I have always been a bit of a scardy cat. I'm not one to watch scary movies. I got nightmares after watching "The Boy in Striped Pajamas" with my dad at sixteen or seventeen (though I now own the book). I avoid spooky books of all kinds.
That's why I was surprised to find I enjoyed House of Salt and Sorrows so much.
The second confession: as a kid, I watched a lot of Barbie movies. You know the ones I'm talking about? The cheesy movies where Barbie and her friends go on some adventure or where she is a mermaid, princess, or mermaid princess?
Why do I bring this up? Because this book, which I was surprised to enjoy because of all its spooky elements, reminded me of a Barbie movie.
Here's how I would describe the book. We're going to imagine we have a nice big cauldron-like you might find in Harry Potter. Let's ready the cauldron by putting it over the hearth and heating it up.
Alright. Now take the Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses movie and throw that in. Make sure to get the three little girls and the pretty dancing shoes.
Right, now throw in a dash of creepy ghosts. We are talking about ghosts that resemble the people who died down to the injuries they suffered when they died (broken necks, smashed-in faces, bloated bodies from drowning).
Mix that around a little and then add a weeping woman. No, not a crying old lady but a creepy, thin, pale woman weeping black tears like oil dripping down her face.
Mix that around well and sprinkle with a dash of sea salt.
There you have it: House of Salt and Sorrows! Need I say more?
In reality, this book seriously is a mix between the Barbie movie and ghosts and spookiness with a sea-side setting that really works for the book. Though I felt the author could have improved in a few areas, I loved the book and was seeking something like it so desperately that I turned to the author's other book (Small Favors) to try to find the same mood that this book had.
I did feel that the book started both too fast and too slow. The author throws the reader into the scene where four of the Thaumas sisters have already died. It seems as though the reader is starting out in the middle of the action instead of at the beginning. And yet, the action begins very slowly as the main character takes quite a while to decide she wants to pursue answers for a single sister's death (what about the others? and why didn't she start questioning earlier?)
The author also seems to struggle with creating her religion. I loved the complexity of the religion that she created for her world. In fact, I loved the entire world that the author created. I felt she did an excellent job of worldbuilding, explaining to me (the reader) how her world worked and who (as well as what) lived in it.
My only problem was with the explanation of the gods in her book. For about three-quarters of the book, the gods that the characters worship seem to be distant beings that once created the world and now are worshipped by the people in it. To me, they seemed fantastical like a myth or a fairytale. It was as though the gods were something religious to worship but that they also had lots of fairytales and myths surrounding them. The best comparison I can give is if we were to worship mermaids or the loch ness monster today. They are mystical beings that are not real but so many tales are told of people spotting them.
Then, three-quarters of the way through the book, the gods are revealed to be more like the Greek or Roman gods (think Percy Jackson and the Olympians). I don't believe the Greek and/or Roman gods to be real (and I am unsure that anyone alive today does) but during that time period, the people did truly believe that these beings who created the Earth and controlled just about everything in it were real and close by. Stories were told of the ways that the gods interacted with humans, often creating offspring and causing chaos. In Percy Jackson and the Olympians as well as Heroes of Olympus this is modeled well as the whole plot is centered around the Greek and Roman gods and myths being real.
This is more like what Craig is going for with her religion: gods that created the universe but also interact with mortals. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that this was clearly conveyed early on so when this was revealed, I felt that it was a little bit weird. I wanted to ask "are you throwing in random elements now because you don't know where to go with this?"
As I took a step back and looked at the book as a whole, I could see that Craig had tried to portray this element early on (thus it wasn't a random addition at the end) but it was something I felt could have been done better. Aside from this, I absolutely loved the book!
I imagine fans of thriller or horror books would enjoy House of Salt and Sorrows (though I don't read this genre and can't properly suggest it). Anyone who is a fan of darker fairytale twists would also enjoy the book as well as those who enjoy books set in a classic "fairytale" or "fantasy" time period. The book has great worldbuilding, stunning settings and excellent description, beautifully developed characters, and an interesting plot. You will not regret reading this twist on the 12 dancing princesses!