Author: Erin A. Craig
Four of Annaleigh Thaumas’s eleven sisters have returned to the Salt, the brackish water that surrounds their lonely island home, their lives cut short, each more tragically than the last. Whispers throughout the Highmoor estate say the girls have been cursed by the gods.
When Annaleigh finds out that her sisters have been sneaking out to attend glittering midnight balls and dance until dawn, she’s not sure whether to stop them–or join them. And when she begins to see a series of horrific, ghostly visions and more sisters die, she realizes she must solve the mystery–with the help of Cassius, a sea captain who knows much more about her than he should–and unravel the Thaumas curse before she descends into madness or . . . it claims her next.
Murder, madness, or a curse? This book will keep you guessing until the end of what actually is going on. I went into the first portion of the novel thinking it was one way and then kept changing my answer all the way until the end. I had no idea that this story was a retelling of a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses (use the link if you want to read the story). I didn’t read the tale until after I already finished the novel so it’s not necessary to connect the two before reading. I ended up reading it after reading, but before writing this review as I was curious. If you did read the fairy tale before reading the novel, then it would give the reader an incite of some of the story that it is come.
Retellings can be tricky as sometimes they are just copies of the originals, but this novel managed to take the original tale and create a surrounding captivating story. While the dancing mystery and proclamation to allow the one who finds out the mystery of the shoes remains, there is a whole world of mystery added on which makes this story perfect for anyone who loves a good mystery with a hint of a fairy tale. It’s an amazing debut novel where you honestly can’t wait to see what they will release next.
Our narrator is Annaleigh , who is the second oldest Thaumas sister. She and her family live at Highmoor Manor in the Salann Islands and are ruled my Pontus (the God of the Brine who made the People of the Salt). There were originally twelve sisters, but we open at the funeral of the fourth sister to die and the number still alive is down to eight. The deaths started with her mother dying followed by one sister and then another who all died from seemingly unfortunate circumstances. The fourth sister to pass away was Eulalie ,who plunged to her death after falling off a cliff. Many believe that her death was an accident, but Annaleigh believes there is something more behind it.
As the deaths keep happening, many people believe that the family is cursed. The family is also facing yet another year of mourning with Eulalie’s death. Annaleigh’s stepmother, Morella, convinces the family that the year-long mourning again is too much and they should return to living their lives. This leads to the family throwing a ball and obtaining new clothes and shoes. The sisters end up attending many balls, which is what ties this story into the original fairy tale. The balls are mysterious and magical at the same time where the dancing never ends.
In addition to being a mystery/horror type novel, this is also a romance. Cassius was an amazing match for Annaleigh as the devotion between the two was heart-warming. It’s a slow burn romance as it’s not only intertwined with the great mystery of what’s going on at Highmoor, but it’s also mixed with a love triangle. Cassius was an interesting character as he was present and protective of Annaleigh, but still was distant enough, especially in the beginning, to where the romance doesn’t overshadow the mystery. Throughout the novel, we get pieces of his character, but there’s no in-depth character information for him as he is written more like a puzzle where pieces are slowly added one by one as you navigate through the chapter. His and Annaleigh’s relationship was enjoyable to read about and I wish it was further explored.
There are many moments where it was creepy as I read it on my kindle in the dark. Every creak made me jump slightly reading some of those lines. These moments happened, among others, when we experience Verity’s drawings of the ghosts she sees. This piece of the story was terrifying as this is a child who’s seeing horrible images in the ghosts of her loved ones. She sees their ghosts wandering around her and the ghosts appear as they died (broken bones, etc) and not as they appeared when they lived. As a word of caution, there is a lot of murder and portions that might not be for every reader as pieces of the deaths and bodies are described in more detail. (It was simply this person died; it was this person’s neck was –something – etc.). It’s not beyond gory or anything, but you should go into it expected a little detail. Also, it wasn’t the entire story so once you get past those pieces, then you move back into this story. The story truly flowed between genres seamlessly as you navigate between horror, mystery, and romance. This way no matter which genre you prefer, you’ll eventually circle back to your favorite.
There is a lot of world building happening at the beginning and middle of the story that it seemed the ending becomes rushed. The balance between light and darkness are well-mixed, but the story itself needed a little more detail and background added to some portions. The ending is well-written as it’s impossible to guess exactly what will happen as you read through the story. There are hints throughout so some readers may pick-up on what will happen in the end, but, for me, I still questioned my own conclusions. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that helped put me in a spooky-like Halloween spirit without having to read a blatant Halloween novel. I’ve read many re-tellings, but I haven’t come across as many Grimm’s fairy tales ones and now I’m going to be on a hunt for more!