The House of Sorrowing Stars
By Beth Cartwright
- The House of Sorrowing Stars
Author: Beth Cartwright
Publisher: Del Rey
- ISBN: 9781529156393
- Published: February 2022
- Pages: 392
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 11/02/2022
- Language: English
Grief can feel like a weight that you carry with you. The luckiest people will feel the weight get lighter as time moves on, always there, but more bearable over time. In The House of Sorrowing Stars by Beth Cartwright there is a home that captures all the real stories of sorrow in its vast library. Some people’s pain is so immense that they travel to the house in the hopes of a key that will free them. The magic only works if those that own the house are able to wield it and in recent times they too are broken. Who can fix the suffering of these healers?
Liddy lives a life of relative privilege as the daughter of a marchpane merchant. Her job is to deliver these sweet treats to rich clientele. Her wealth gives her some freedom, but her life is still not her own when she is arranged to marry an unsuitable, but rich, suitor. Her escape comes in the form of a mysterious letter and a bulb. She is to plant the bulb and make her way to The House of Sorrowing Souls. On arrival she is to make marchpane for the residents and the local village. It is not long until Liddy realises she is there for other reasons, can she heal the house and its magic?
I do not often read gothic horror, but when I do, I invariably enjoy it. Especially when it is as captivating as this book. The tale starts simply enough and could be any costume drama. It has the feel of an Emma or Pride and Prejudice but from a slightly lower social standing. Just reading about Liddy and her work with marzipan was nice, but you get the sense early on that the book is going to take a different direction.
This is where the gothic elements come in. Interspersed through Liddy’s story is a narration that seems to come from an entity that is watching from above. We learn before Liddy does of a house that holds all the sadness of others, its role to release the pain and allow people to move on. Liddy is drawn towards this house and all the drama within.
Here the book turns a little Wuthering Heights as the mysterious occupants of the house seem half mad, but what with? Anger, grief? Liddy curious nature means that she must explore. The house itself becomes a character as it is full of locked rooms and surprises. Over time Liddy begins to realise that she is at the house for more than sugar work. When she starts to have feelings for the occupants, she becomes part of the house’s legacy.
The gothic elements of the book work well and Cartwright could have played the book as straight fiction, but there is also a rich seam of magical realism that I enjoyed. The reader discovers more about the people in the house, but also how the house works. The library is key, and Liddy finds herself drawn to the texts contained within.
The book has strong characters, and they develop as the story progresses. Towards the end we start to understand their madness. One scene is particularly impactful as we discover the fate of one poor unfortunate. This one incident led to all the sorrow and grief after. Like any good gothic horror, there are moments of darkness in Sorrow that unsettle a reader, but there are also moments of light. I finished reading the book with a lighter heart and impressed with the magic on show.
Written on 11th February 2022 by Sam Tyler .