Published by Delacorte on August 6, 2019
In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they 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 ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters 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.
When I was very young, my mother bought me a giant compendium of fairy tales. It was lushly illustrated, the pages were gold-edged and the cover was bright blue and a little poofy, you could mash on it a bit. It had lots of great stories, ranging from the classics to some of the ones less well-known, like The Steadfast Tin Soldier. But my most favorite, my beloved, was The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Twelve beautiful princesses sneaking out of the castle, going dancing each night. Their suitor trying to figure out how they are getting out, how their slippers are wearing down to nothing. The imagery of these young women going through forests made of bejeweled leaves, the suitor sneaking behind them and snapping them off to show the king what his daughters are doing. I still remember those illustrations to this day, that story is part of the tapestry of stories that makes up my childhood.
House of Salt and Sorrows? Well, it’s basically the story I grew up with, only terrifying. And it’s awesome.
How I’d Describe This Story to a Friend
Annaleigh Thaumas’s life pretty much sucks. Her sisters are dying, one by one, following their mother in rapid succession. Once there were twelve, and now, just eight. To make matters worse, her father has remarried to a young woman from a far-away island who is at most seven years older than her, and to top it all off she’s pregnant with what she swears she just knows will be her father’s first-born son. Nobody will dance with them at events because word on the street is their family is cursed: if you dance with a Thaumas girl you, too, will die. So yeah, Annaleigh is having a pretty shitty time.
And then, one day, she and her sisters discover a way to escape the drudgery, the curse on their family. A magical portal, to go to far-away places and dance with anyone who will have them! They wear through their shoes and sleep until the afternoon, purpling bags under their eyes. But they don’t care – they’re so happy, why would they stop now? Only something seems a little shifty about these dances, something is not quite right, and Annaleigh’s youngest sister, Verity, keeps drawing these very terrifying pictures of her long-dead sisters in terrifying positions. She can see them, you know. Annaleigh could too, if she’d only look for them.
Only then, Annaleigh does. And suddenly Verity’s little doodles aren’t as fictitious as she once believed. Maybe there’s something sinister going on underneath all these paste jewels and dances …
The Bottom Line
For a book with so many characters, they are all exceptionally well-developed. Erin Craig does an amazing job at ensuring we know the Thaumas daughters and their differences, as well as their father and stepmother, some of the villagers they run across, the love interests … they all have perfectly-done personalities and are such fun to explore. From Camille – now the oldest, and boy crazy enough to rival Stacy from the Baby-Sitter’s Club – down to precocious little Verity, I adored every single sister. Both love interests were fleshed-out and I genuinely liked both, and didn’t even mind the budding love triangle – a trope I usually can’t stand.
This doesn’t even begin to get into the setting – the chill in the air as winter sets in on the island the Thaumas clan calls home, wind whipping through the large empty castle. You taste the brine when you stand with Annaleigh in the catacombs, and you see the glittering jewels and baubles, the masks and decadent dresses at the balls the girls visit. You fear when they do, and worry when they worry. Not to mention the Poe references that delighted my heart – House of Salt and Sorrows was initially a Poe retelling, and there are so many nods to the master of short-form horror himself here.
I absolutely adore a good thriller, and I pride myself on guessing the twist ending almost every single time. But House of Salt and Sorrows did what almost never happens – it bamboozled me, more than once! I would think I had it all figured out, and then Erin A. Craig would say “nah, watch this,” and flip the whole thing over. It was a delight, and I think I cussed out loud at this book the most I’ve ever cussed at a book before – a show of affection, generally. House of Salt and Sorrows has my whole heart, and if you haven’t dipped your toe into the murky depths of the Thaumas clan yet … please do. They’re just dying to meet you. [*Haunted Mansion ghost host laugh*]
“Flushed with starlight and moonlight drowned,
All the dreamers are castle-bound.
At midnight’s stroke, we will unwind,
Revealing fantasies soft or unkind.
Show me debauched nightmares or sunniest daydreams.
Come not as you are but as you wish to be seen.”