Friday, October 22, 2010

The House of Dead Maids

Dunkle, Clare B. The House of Dead Maids. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

When Tabby Ackroyd arrives at Seldom House, she finds her place there unlike any other job she's ever had. She's a maid, specifically the Young Maid, but she's not really expected to do anything until the Young Master, her charge, arrives. No one knows the Young Master's name, including the Young Master who refers to himself as Heathen Git. Tabby is determined to save the boy, who she calls Himself, and bring him to the light despite the darkness of Seldom House. And despite the previous Young Maid, now dead, cold and eyeless, who won't leave Tabby and her charge alone.

This cover grabbed me at ALA. I walked past the huge poster of the girl with no eyes probably a dozen times before I decided I just had to have a copy of this book. That girl on the cover is so enthralling. And a little disturbing. And she doesn't disappoint. This book is enthralling. And a more than a little disturbing. Tabby's life at Seldom House is odd, creepy, and plagued by ghosts, some seemingly kind and some openly menacing.

The House of Dead Maids has a wonderfully creepy and complicated set-up. It is hard to guess what is really going on at Seldom House with its old maid and young maid, neither of whom are actually maids, and its old master and young master, neither of whom act like the wealthy landowners they're supposed to be. Everything is a, from the way the house is run to the way the townspeople react to those in it. In the beginning, it's not so weird that it alarms Tabby, every town and house has its quirks, but it does make her feel vulnerable and a little off-kilter. It's in this state that she starts to encounter the ghosts, one in particular that she might have know in their lives before Seldom House. The mood ranges from a little dark to pretty darn scary. When we finally see what is really going on at Seldom House, there are a few holes left in the story, but they do not detract from the rapidly increasing creepy factor that just keeps getting higher the more things are explained.

Much has been made of The Heathcliff Connection in this book. Himself, or Heathen Git, is supposed to grow up to be Brontë's Heathcliff, and Tabby, a real historical person, grows up to be the Brontës' maid and teller of late night ghost stories. While this is kind of cool, I do think that The Heathcliff Connection is being emphasized a bit too much (on the blogs, by the publishers, in the jacket copy). It didn't seem to have too much to do with the stories, The House of Dead Maids or Wuthering Heights. Tabby's real life connection to the Brontës, on the other hand, was pretty interesting, especially when an explanation involving the hauntings at Seldom House is given for why the real life sisters cared for this maid so devotedly for her entire life. The epilogue offers more information about the historical Tabby, which I found very interesting and much more related to the story in this book than the (I felt) forced Heathcliff Connection. The epilogue also contains a plug for the author's website where there is more information about the historical Brontës, Wuthering Heights, and Tabby Ackroyd.

This is a very spooky, scary story that is a perfect Halloween read, and with the extra awesome cover it will be perfect for Halloween displays as well. For Brontë fans, The Heathcliff Connection will be an added bonus to a book that is a great keep-the-lights-on story for the rest of us as well.

Book source: Arc picked up at ALA.

PS - And there are illustrations! Little ones at the beginning of each chapter. Some of which make that cover art look as harmless as a tea party.


anachronist said...

A really nice book in the creepy sense of the word. Eyeless monsters have been around for some time but it does seem to be an interesting read - thank you for your review! I am not a big fan of Mr. Heathcliff but I might check it out!

Heather H. said...

The cover alone made me go, "Oooh, must read! GIMME!" Now your review has made that want less irrational. I just love creepy reads!

Lawral the Librarian said...

anachronist - I'm not a huge Heathcliff fan myself, but that didn't get in my way for this book.

Heather H. - It really is such a great cover! I grabbed it based on that alone and was so happy when the book measured up to it!