4 out of 5 Fated Stars
I am not a cover buyer. I just want to reiterate that. I am not a cover buyer. I am a bibliophile, and I love a well turned book. A decorative end page gets my heart racing. I’ve been known to check out the little cloth binding (the headband – yes, I looked it up) at the top of a hardback, where the pages are stitched together, to see what color it is. But I don’t buy books just based on covers.
But if I was a cover buyer… man would I have scooped up this one. I have wanted this book ever since I heard about it – and that was when it popped up on my recommended page from Amazon. And yes, damn, that cover. It is so haunting and so gothic, and if I love anything, I love a gothic haunting. I kept hoping it would come up on Book Outlet or get a $1.99 price drop on Kindle, but for so long, nothing doing. I finally ended up buying it used. I just hoped after all the waiting and finally getting it, it would live up to the cover.
So glad that it did.
It was an interesting reading experience. My first thought was that, wow, these chapters are super short. I also thought it was a little bit hokey and overdone, on the melodramatic side, just on first blush. It begins with a diary page of someone that isn’t even a major player in the story till later. That seems like the kind of thing agents always tell you not to do, but ends up being done so often. Those thoughts quickly went away as I got drawn deeper in. I sat and read at my desk, totally enthralled. The danger of reading at my desk is in the lure of the internet. It was to my surprise that I looked up at 11:00 pm and realized I hadn’t been pawed by the kitten that is the internet in over 3 hours. I don’t want to admit that’s a personal record or anything… but it might be.
This is a re-telling, or I prefer to say re-imagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher. I mean, it’s not a fairy tale, so I don’t like the term retelling. The story is told fromMadeline’s POV, whereas Poe’s tale focuses on the visitor who comes to see her brother. Actually, l haven’t read Fall of the House of Usher in a long time – I might do that before I finish writing this review.*
*And I did. Griffin did an amazing job of taking the bones of the story and expanding on it. I love when a reimagining is faithful and grows off the original. She took all kinds of little details and grew them into this novel. It’s really amazing.
Where Poe’s story is all about the visitor, The Fall is all about the family. The Usher’s are cursed. There’s a sickness that strikes the heads of the family, and falls even harder on their spouses. When a family member dies, the sickness is passed on to the nearest sibling. So Madeline and her brother Roderick grew up with ailing parents, in a sentient, crumbling mansion, rife with ghosts. To try and save Roderick, or at least to put off the sickness, his parents send him away from school before the house has grabbed hold of him.
That leaves poor Madeline alone with her cruel mother and ill father. The tone and atmosphere in this is everything you want from a gothic novel… and I want a lot from a gothic novel. It’s my favorite genre. The Fall is so haunting and richly detailed, also very mysterious. At first you don’t know if what is going on is all metaphor or what, and then you start to realize that Madeline is communing with the house. It speaks to her. It’s chosen her. Could you imagine your ancestral home being your best… homie? And imagine if that homie loved you and protected you and had your best interests at heart?
Yeah, that’s not the case, but wouldn’t that be awesome?
Imagine, instead, your best homie is jealous of your attention and doesn’t let you have other friends, or leave, or you know, live. At times the floor shakes to separate you from someone tryin’ to put the kissin’ on you, or if you aren’t kissin’ who the house wants you to, it might push you together. Physically, like with an earthquake or something. Only a housequake. Which is one of my favorite Prince songs. Or it might send you horrible nightmares. Paintings move around. Madeline forgets things, and then remembers things that she’s pretty sure she never knew as if they were her own memories – stories and things about people she never met. But she knows the stories are true.
As a child, she believed that the house was her best homie, but as she grows up and learns the true nature of the house, she longs to get away. But how can she when the house watches and listens? And then there are the doctors. This is one complaint I had – there are two doctors who are obsessed with the illness and curse of the Ushers. They studied her parents, they study her. They are always taking blood and examining her. Their machines run all the time – but what are the machines and what are they for? They are really built up, but never explained. Then a new apprentice comes, and his interests in Madeline and the house don’t seem to be what they should. Madeline finds an old diary (the nature of which is incredibly obvious, to all except Madeline – that was the only other thing that bothered me) and it suggests there might be a way for Ushers to break free. If only she can figure out the reason for the curse.
I really loved and recommend this if you love gothic horror. It’s not gross or anything, there aren’t jump scares, just very atmospheric and creepy. There is one other thing that I want to mention, and hope no one sees it as a spoiler, but the ending was left very vague. If you don’t like that, this might irritate you. I also have the other two books Griffin wrote based on Poe tales, the Masque of the Red Death, and I’m really looking forward to them.