Saturday, October 21, 2023

Review: Starling House by Alix E. Harrow

by Alix E. Harrow
Release Date: October 3, 2023
2023 Tor Books
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250799050
Audiobook: B0BVKWJ267
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Gothic / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.75 / 5 Stars

Opal knows better than to mess with haunted houses or brooding men, but an unexpected job offer might be a chance to get her brother out of Eden. Too quickly, though, Starling House starts to feel dangerously like something she’s never had: a home.

As sinister forces converge on Starling House, Opal and Arthur are going to have to make a dire choice to dig up the buried secrets of the past and confront their own fears, or let Eden be taken over by literal nightmares.

My Thoughts
Starling House was an interesting story, but not one that I thought was either horror or gothic, more along the lines of magical realism.  There were quite a few elements in this book that I enjoyed, but at the same time, there were some elements that I wished the author had developed more, including the main character.

So, let me start with our main character, Opal. At first, I enjoyed her cynicism as it seemed warranted. Her mother had died in a suspicious car accident a few years earlier and she was now raising her younger brother, Jasper, living in a motel and struggling financially.  She was worried about her brother and his future, understandably, but as the story wore on, her personality didn't change, at all, and this began to bother me about halfway through the book, especially as she was now working at the house and making a half-decent wage. I would have liked to have seen her grow and develop, take ownership over her actions, and realize she was responsible for the miscommunication between herself and her brother.  

It was about halfway through the book that I wished Jasper was the MC and not Opal. He had such an interesting perspective on life and I enjoyed the way the author developed his character. He definitely was not going to let Opal make his decisions for him nor was he going to be influenced in his morals and his ethics.  

While the plot was interesting, I definitely would not call it horror or gothic, but more in the vein of magical realism/fairy tale. Even the house had a personality, which I loved, rich in fantastical detail, and gave me such a Beauty and the Beast vibe I almost expected the teacups to start singing and the house to grow legs and walk down the main street.  But that couldn't make up for a story that was superficial and didn't really dig into the issues that plagued the town and the people. The author missed a fantastic opportunity to delve into the racial issues that existed in Jasper's world as he was being bullied by classmates as well as the racism that existed with the rich, white man who owned the mines and had black workers working for them, with little compensation, in the mines. And there were other issues that were hinted at, but glossed over as if the author was afraid of going too deep.  The author chose to focus instead on the romance between Opal and Arthur, something that seemed forced, something that I cringed at every time I read the scenes. 

Starling House had an interesting concept, and while I felt the pacing was uneven and I thought the secondary character outshone the primary characters, there was still plenty to like. The book felt more like a fairy tale than a gothic horror, but I actually didn't mind that too much as I adored the house and don't necessarily need a haunted house to be evil. Sometimes the author has no control over the marketing of their book and this may be the case.  I did think the book would have stood on its own without the romantic subplot as that is what jarred me time and again out of the story line more than anything else and I've never understood the need to throw that in as if the reader needs that in there. That being said, I would read anything by this author, so I will be picking up the next book when it is released.