“House of Salt and Sorrows” by Erin A. Craig is a creative and, at times, shocking retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” by the Grimm brothers. Unlike the Grimm fairy tale, in this young adult version, the oldest of the dozen sisters have already died by the time the story begins.
Annaleigh, the sixth sister, narrates the tale. Only one sister remains older than she, Camille, who is in line to inherit the dukedom that their father now controls. Their mother died while giving birth to the youngest sister, Verity, who is now a young girl. Their father recently remarried, and even if their stepmother delivers a son, their island rules dictate that oldest child inherits regardless of gender. Their stepmother is not happy to hear this.
At the start of the story, Annaleigh and her family are attending the funeral of Eulalie, the sister who fell from the cliffs and died. We learn about the strange custom of consigning the casket to the sea instead of burying it. We also learn about the grief and the endless mourning the sisters have been subjected to because of the never-ending deaths of the daughters of the duke.
Annaleigh is more observant than her sisters, and when she begins to suspect that Eulalie’s death was not an accident, she decides to investigate. Her suspicions are confirmed, but soon others are in danger, and Annaleigh is unsure of what is real and what is not.
In fact, toward the end of this novel, the reader becomes very unsure about what is “real” and not “real” in this fantasy. The solution to the mystery is bizarre and nightmarish, but then so are most of Grimm’s fairy tales. This fractured fairy tale is certainly not sugar and spice, but rather horrific in nature, although the ending might not be totally Grimm.
It’s a wonderful read and very engaging. The writing is descriptive and vivid. I’d say this is definitely not a young adult book for middle grade readers, but rather readers from 12 and up. It works wonderfully for adults as well.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, , for review purposes.