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Erica’s Pick of the Week: Starling House

You would be forgiven for thinking Starling House is just another haunted house story. There’s a falling-down mansion with a tragic backstory, an orphaned heroine, and a tormented heir, all set in a town rife with corruption and secrets. But in Alix E. Harrow’s capable hands, those familiar elements are transformed into a richly textured story that is equal parts unsettling and compelling.

Starling House is the story of Opal: twenty-six, surly, and devoted to raising her brilliant and asthmatic younger brother Jasper. She works at the local Tractor Supply, which barely pays enough to survive. It certainly doesn’t pay enough to cover tuition at the fancy boarding school she’s convinced will be Jasper’s ticket out of Eden, Kentucky, their cursed and dying mining town – so when she’s offered an outlandish sum to clean Starling House, the local “haunted” house, she can’t say no.

Besides, Opal has dreamed of the eerie, crumbling mansion her entire life. She feels a connection to its most famous resident, a reclusive children’s author who supposedly killed her husband. The current Starling heir, Arthur, isn’t exactly welcoming, but the house itself wants Opal, so he lets her in. But as Opal begins to piece together the truth – about her past, the house, and Eden’s dark history – she’s unprepared for the horrors she’ll unearth.

Opal is an unforgettable (if not always likeable) character: she lies, she steals, she has a very foul mouth. But her love for her brother is fierce and all-encompassing. She is clear-eyed, resourceful, stubborn and prideful. Her poverty is not romanticized; instead it is brutal and hard to look away from. And once you understand the stakes – Opal is trapped in a town that is killing the person she loves most – you understand her desperation.

Gothic novels almost always contain a creepy old mansion, but few have the capricious, deadly  personality of Starling House. The House is oddly fond of Opal from the moment she first sets her hand on the front gate, but even that fondness can’t to save her. Instead, Opal must reckon with the complex and monstrous story of Eden and its inhabitants, leading to a resolution that feels both surprising and inevitable. 

Starling House is a book meant for a dark and stormy night – a perfect fit for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and readers who know that monsters in stories aren’t always inhuman.

Alix E. Harrow
Photo: Elora Overbey

Categories: Books and More

Tags: Books and More

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