Review copy provided by the publisher.
It’s hard to think of something that’s less “my jam” than very Gothic, very Southern fantasy. (Is it Southern Gothic if it’s Gothic in the sense of a doomed romance between a girl and a creepy house, and also is Southern? I am not clear on that part. It’s sure got the decay and the poverty and–fantastic nightmares, they say? Yes, it has those. Okay. Southern Gothic turned up to eleven.) And yet this is so beautifully done. I kept running around telling people, “I have never seen a better use of Tractor Supply in a fantasy novel.”
Opal has been raising her brother Jasper the best she knows how, out of a shabby motel room in a town that has seen better days but honestly not that much better. She manages to get a job cleaning the enigmatic Starling House, which is beyond filthy and beyond mysterious. Its sole inhabitant, Arthur Starling, is a little bit Byronic hero, a little bit college junior living in way more squalor than he wants to admit to. The rumors about him are intense, the rumors about the house even more so. And rightly so, because this house wants Opal. What Opal wants is tuition to get Jasper to school somewhere far away and better than this. This is the town that killed their mother, and she doesn’t want it to eat her brother too.
She’s not paying a lot of attention to whether it gets her.
Luckily, Jasper and Arthur are. And they’re not the only ones. Over the course of the book, the secrets of Starling House reveal themselves a little at a time, and so does the siblings’ place in the community, which is not quite what Opal had always assumed–except for the places where she’s absolutely, belligerently right. This is acutely observed about small town relationships, families, and the ways we sometimes take care of each other better than we take care of ourselves. Its squalor is purposeful, its decay sure-handed. If ever you want a creepy magic house story from the near South, oh, this is the one. If you think you don’t…you still might.