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House of Salt and Sorrows

House of Salt and Sorrows

by Erin A. Craig

Narrated by Emily Lawrence

Unabridged — 12 hours, 50 minutes

Erin A. Craig

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Get swept away in Erin A. Craig's mesmerizing House of Salt and Sorrows. As one by one her beautiful sisters mysteriously die on their isolated island estate, Annaleigh must unravel the curse that haunts her family. Be careful who you dance with....

In a manor by the sea, 12 sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor with her sisters and their father and stepmother. Once there were 12, 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 her sister's deaths were no accidents. The girls 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. House of Salt and Sorrows is a spellbinding novel filled with magic and the rustle of gossamer skirts down long, dark hallways. Get ready to be swept away.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Evocative details and lyrical, moody prose distinguish this tale—with strong allusions to “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”—of 12 sisters who seemingly fall under a curse, resulting in their deaths under tragic and violent circumstances over the course of several years. Debut author Craig stages the narrative in an enigmatic island realm set apart from the outside world and governed by a mythology that is connected to the ocean. The sisters (only seven remain when the story begins) live with their father and his significantly younger new wife at seaside manor Highmoor. Fearful of meeting fates similar to their siblings’, all but one sister, Annaleigh, seek refuge through pageantry and nights spent dancing until dawn (fairy tale–like details abound: velvet-draped ballrooms, extravagant “fairy shoes”). Craig offers a well-placed element of grotesquerie as the sisters become puppetlike pawns controlled by a malevolent force. Certain elements—including a duplicitous central character’s arc and the story’s budding romance—carry a degree of predictability, but these are minor distractions in an otherwise richly conceived story that blends mythic and Gothic storytelling. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sarah Landis, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Aug.)

From the Publisher

"It’s a fairy tale, a young-adult romance (though gothic enough for adult readers) and a whodunit too."—The Wall Street Journal

"An eerie, lovely Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling full of ghosts and gods and a fascinating waterfront world and I'm reading it from behind my fingers."—Melissa Albert, New York Times bestselling author of The Hazel Wood

"Chilling and atmospheric."—Laura E. Weymouth, author of The Light Between Worlds

“Evocative details and lyrical, moody prose  . . . a richly conceived story that blends mythic and Gothic storytelling."—PW
"The novel’s vivid, evocative atmosphere will please fans of the gothic . . . chills aplenty."—The Bulletin
"Equal parts gothic fairy tale and romance . . . compulsively readable."—SLJ
"This moody maritime retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses blends elements of suspense and horror for a gothic twist on a familiar tale. A memorably built world populated with a hauntingly doomed family."—Booklist




School Library Journal


Gr 8 Up—An accomplished first novel, equal parts gothic fairy tale and romance. Teenage Annaleigh and her seven sisters live in their ancestral house of Highmoor with their father and stepmother, the Duke and Duchess of the People of the Salt. Their family has been in near-continuous mourning for years after the deaths, one by one, of the girls' mother and four older sisters. Desperate for some happiness and an escape from their island community, the girls find a hidden passageway and begin a series of secret nights dancing their shoes into tatters at darkly splendid balls. The foreboding atmosphere intensifies, and eventually Annaleigh decides to forgo the parties and unravel the mysteries surrounding her family's ongoing tragedies. Loosely based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," the novel takes place in a 17th-century European–sounding world where an invented pantheon of gods guide, and sometimes afflict, their human devotees. The author's background in theater design surely contributed to Annaleigh's first-person narration as she tells the sisters' story in lavish visual detail. Well-described settings with rocky shores, obsidian fireplaces, and satin gowns bring this magical realm to life. Nuanced heroes and villains with complex backstories reveal their motives throughout the narrative, and the cause—and resolution—of the family's sorrows is both unexpected and thoroughly satisfying. VERDICT Compulsively readable, with sweet young love and truly creepy horror. First purchase for school and public libraries.—Beth Wright Redford, formerly at Richmond Elementary School Library, VT

Kirkus Reviews

Mysterious deaths plague an island dukedom in a loose retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses."

Annaleigh Thaumas has spent the last few years mourning her mother and several sisters, who died in succession under increasingly eerie circumstances. Her remaining sisters chafe under the lifestyle restrictions of formal mourning on their small, isolated island home, especially their inability to wear pretty clothes and flirt with boys. When their young stepmother persuades their duke father to let them wear bright colors and start dancing again, Annaleigh and her sisters are relieved, especially when a mystical door in the family crypt conveniently transports them to glamorous ballrooms that provide venues to show off their new wardrobes. Annaleigh and her sisters read like interchangeable paper dolls, their painstakingly described gowns, jewels, and shoes the most distinguishing features about them; they spend their time screaming, swooning, and alternately competing for and cowering behind the men in their lives. The island setting is extremely one-note, as if an ocean-themed children's party became an entire culture, and there is no consistent interior logic to the rules of magic and gods that seem to shift, like the tides and the weather, according to narrative convenience. The writing is self-consciously stiff, and the story reads like a mood board, full of repetitively atmospheric images and scenes but never creating a substantive whole. All characters are white.

More about costume than character or story. (Fairy tale retelling. 14-18)

Product Details

BN ID: 2940172227615
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 01/28/2021
Edition description: Unabridged
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

CANDLELIGHT   REFLECTED   OFF  THE  SILVER ANCHOR etched onto my sister’s necklace. It was an ugly piece of jewelry and something Eulalie would never have picked out for herself. She loved simple strands of gold, extravagant collars of diamonds. Not . . . that. Papa must have selected it for her. I fumbled at my own necklace of black pearls, wanting to offer her something more stylish, but the battalion of pallbearers shut the coffin lid before I could undo the clasp.
“We, the People of the Salt, commit this body back to the sea,” the High Mariner intoned as the wooden box slid deep into the waiting crypt.
I tried not to notice the smattering of lichens growing inside the gaping mouth, drawn wide to swallow her whole. Tried not to think of my sister—who was alive, and warm, and breathing just days before—being laid to rest. Tried not to imagine the thin bottom of the coffin growing fat with condensation and salt water before splitting asunder and spilling Eulalie’s body into the watery depths beneath our family mausoleum.
I tried, instead, to cry.
I knew it would be expected of me, just as I knew the tears were unlikely to come. They would later on, probably this evening when I passed her bedroom and saw the black shrouds covering her wall of mirrors. Eulalie had had so many mirrors.
She’d been the prettiest of all my sisters. Her rosy lips were forever turned in a smile. She loved a good joke, her bright green eyes always ready for a quick wink. Scores of suitors vied for her attention, even before she became the eldest Thaumas daughter, the one set to inherit all of Papa’s fortune.
“We are born of the Salt, we live by the Salt, and to the Salt we return,” the High Mariner continued.
“To the Salt,” the mourners repeated.
As Papa stepped forward to place two gold pieces at the foot of the crypt—payment to Pontus for easing my sister back into the Brine—I dared to sweep my eyes around the mausoleum. It was overflowing with guests bedecked in their finest black wools and crepes, many of them once would-be beaus of Eulalie. She would have been pleased to see so many brokenhearted young men openly lamenting her.
“Annaleigh,” Camille whispered, nudging me.
“To the Salt,” I murmured. I pressed a handkerchief to my eyes, feigning tears.
Papa’s keen disapproval burned in my heart. His own eyes were soggy and his proud nose was red as the High Mariner stepped forward with a chalice lined with abalone shell and filled with seawater. He thrust it into the crypt and poured the water onto Eulalie’s coffin, ceremonially beginning its decomposition. Once he doused the candles flanking the stony opening, the service was over.
Papa turned to the gathered mass, a wide shock of white streaked through his dark hair. Was it there yesterday?
“Thank you for coming to remember my daughter Eulalie.” His voice, usually so big and bold, accustomed to addressing lords at court, creaked with uncertainty. “My family and I invite you to join us now at Highmoor for a celebration of her life. There will be food and drink and . . .” He cleared his throat, sounding more like a stammering clerk than the nineteenth Duke of the Salann Islands. “I know how much it would have meant to Eulalie to have you there.”
He nodded once, speech over, his face a blank facade. I longed to reach out to ease his grief, but Morella, my stepmother, was already at his side, her hand knotted around his. They’d been married just months before and should have still been in the heady, blissful days of their joined life.
This was Morella’s first trip to the Thaumas mausoleum. Did she feel uneasy under the watchful scrutiny of my mother’s memorial statue? The sculptor used Mama’s bridal portrait as reference, transmitting youthful radiance into the cool gray marble. Though her body returned to the sea many years ago, I still visited her shrine nearly every week, telling her about my days and pretending she listened.
Mama’s statue towered over everything else in the mausoleum, including my sisters’ shrines. Ava’s was bordered in roses, her favorite flower. They grew fat and pink in the summer months, like the plague pustules that claimed her life at only eighteen.
Octavia followed a year later. Her body was discovered at the bottom of a tall library ladder, her limbs tangled in a heap of unnatural angles. An open book adorned her resting place, along with a quote etched in Vaipanian, which I’d never learned to read.
With so much tragedy compressed into our family, it seemed inevitable when Elizabeth died. She was found floating in the bathtub like a piece of driftwood at sea, waterlogged and bleached of all color. Rumors ran from Highmoor to the villages on neighboring islands, whispered by scullery maids to stable boys, passed from fishmongers to their wives, who spread them as warnings to impish children. Some said it was suicide. Even more believed we were cursed.
Elizabeth’s statue was a bird. It was meant to be a dove, but its proportions were all wrong and it looked more like a seagull. A fitting tribute for Elizabeth, who always so badly wanted to soar away.
What would Eulalie’s be?
Once there were twelve of us: the Thaumas Dozen. Now we stood in a small line, my seven sisters and I, and I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a ring of truth to the grim speculations. Had we somehow angered the gods? Had a darkness branded itself on our family, taking us out one by one? Or was it simply a series of terrible and unlucky coincidences?
After the service, the crowd broke up and began milling around us. As they whispered their strained condolences, I noticed the guests were careful not to get too close. Was it in deference to our station, or were they worried something might rub off? I wanted to chalk it up to lowbrow superstition, but as a distant aunt approached me, a thin smile on her thin lips, the same question flickered in her eyes, just below the surface, impossible to miss:
Which one of us would be next?

Customer Reviews