Saturday, June 3, 2023

Review: The Secrets of Hartwood Hall by Katie Lumsden

by Katie Lumsden
Release Date: February 28, 2023
2023 Dutton
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593186923
Audiobook: B0B94HZ1ZQ
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

It's 1852 and Margaret Lennox, a young widow, attempts to escape the shadows of her past by taking a position as governess to an only child, Louis, at an isolated country house in the west of England.

But Margaret soon starts to feel that something isn't quite right. There are strange figures in the dark, tensions between servants, and an abandoned east wing. Even stranger is the local gossip surrounding Mrs. Eversham, Louis's widowed mother, who is deeply distrusted in the village.

Lonely and unsure whom to trust, Margaret finds distraction in a forbidden relationship with the gardener, Paul. But as Margaret's history threatens to catch up with her, it isn't long before she learns the truth behind the secrets of Hartwood Hall.
My Thoughts
The Secrets of Hartwood Hall had a lot of components I enjoy in a historical Gothic novel: the creepy house, secrets galore, tensions between characters, strange figures in the house, an abandoned section of the house, and the list goes on. But while all the elements were there, the characters were pretty one-dimensional and the story itself was disjointed, to the point where I got wrenched out of it pretty much destroying any tension that had been built up to that point.  
I didn't mind Margaret's character and I liked how she tried to figure out what was happening. She wasn't satisfied with the answers she was receiving and couldn't understand why the villagers were treating everyone in the house with antagonism. Having grown to enjoy her time at the house, she was growing concerned that something was not right either with the house or the people in it.  Margaret turns to Paul, the gardener, for answers to her questions.  I enjoyed Paul's character as well as he was down-to-earth; he listened to what Margaret had to say about the happenings in the house, but he was not necessarily willing to take everything at face value, something I liked.  And although I liked the characters, especially little Louis, I didn't really see much development and they were pretty much one-dimensional throughout the book. They did however, hold up the book.
As for the plot, well, this is where I had some issues.  I liked the first third as there were mysteries to solve and I didn't really know what was going on, ut then it started to drag, and some things that I thought weren't really all that important tended to go on and on while other events that would have added to the story happened quickly and moved on. And the dialogue didn't always flow well with what was happening, something that was jarring and threw me right out of the story, interfering with the tension and suspense that had slowly, and I mean slowly, been building up.  And while I suspected what was happening quite early, the last third happened quite quickly, with the denouement happening too rapidly, but it effectively destroyed any suspense that had been building up yet again and I finished the book feeling disappointed, but happy the story finally ended.  Yes, that lovely Gothic style does reveal itself in parts, and it's too bad the author didn't focus on allowing that skill to shine through the entire book.
The Secrets of Hartwood Hall definitely had some moments that were interesting, and you could see the Gothic style coming through in certain sections of the book. Unfortunately, the plot and the character development were a bit lacking and I was not a fan of how quickly the author sped through the mysterious elements and focused on elements that did not add that lovely suspense or tension to the story. I do feel there is work to be done on character development as some of Margaret's actions seemed to be contrary to the person to whom we were introduced for most of the book when we got to the end of the book; I didn't hate the conclusion, but felt it didn't match who she was throughout the book.  I will definitely read another novel by this author however, as I enjoyed her writing style and thought there was a lot of potential in this one. 



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