Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows is an even darker retelling than Grimm’s original tale of The 12 Dancing Princesses and we’re 100% here for it. (Minor spoilers within.)
House of Salt and Sorrows combines The 12 Dancing Princesses and gothic romance
The classic fairy tale The 12 Dancing Princesses, which was sometimes also called The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes, was originally published by the Brothers Grimm but has been retold time and time again throughout history. House of Salt and Sorrows is the newest, and we can’t stop thinking about it. This article contains minor plot spoilers.
What makes House of Salt and Sorrows stand out? For one, the retelling mixes the dark and shocking Grimm’s fairy tale version with that of a gothic romance. The imagery conjured by debut author Erin A. Craig is nothing short of both haunting and mesmerizing.
The world-building surrounding an isolated island where their faith revolves gods of the sea and returning to said sea upon their deaths is as creepy as you can imagine it being.
The book starts with a funeral, where we find out that, unlike the original fairy tale, there aren’t going to be twelve dancing princesses, because Annaleigh’s family has been devastated time and time again by her sisters dying one by one.
News of her step mother’s pregnancy brings Annaleigh out of her life of perpetual mourning and into a life where she and her sisters are allowed to wear colors other than black and attend balls for the first time in years. Not everything is as it seems, though, as Annaleigh begins to suspect that her sister’s death was not an accident, but that she was murdered.
This sets up House of Salt and Sorrows as a gothic romance perfectly. Gothic romance as a genre has specific criteria that need to be met, which is so rarely utilized in media in recent years. Haunting and addicting, I hope that House of Salt and Sorrows is the first book of a resurgence of the genre. After the success of Crimson Peak in 2015, which absolutely terrified me in the best way possible, it’s no wonder I compared it to House of Salt and Sorrow every step of the way.
What makes ‘House of Salt and Sorrows’ a gothic romance?
Setting: a haunted house
House of Salt and Sorrows is set in a “haunted” house, or rather, it’s said to be cursed. Highmoor is on a craggy cliff, overlooking an unkind sea with jagged rocks and crashing waves.
It’s picturesque, if you’re looking to get murdered. The setting of gothic romances are usually set in a seemingly haunted house or castle. Highmoor gave me major Crimson Peak vibes… in other words: if this house was real I wouldn’t go near it to save my life!
The atmosphere of House of Salt and Sorrows fits gothic romance as well, with creepy family portraits, eerie descriptions of burial vaults, along with haunting imagery throughout keeps the reader in suspense with every turn of the page.
The weather is terrible the entirety of the book, with storms, fog, and other atmospheric and perfectly timed phenomenon such as howling winds and eerie noises that can’t be explained.
Character archetype: damsel in distress
All gothic romance has a damsel in distress, and Annaleigh fits the stereotype perfectly. So many terrible things have happened to her and her family that she starts second-guessing what she believes to be true, and her descent is terrifying on its own, and captivating to read.
Common element: disturbing dreams
Paired with the damsel in distress trope is the disturbing dreams that run rampant in gothic romance and literature. Annaleigh’s dreams and the superstitions surrounding her family and their supposed curse fits perfectly into the gothic mold.
Common element: ghosts
Ghosts and monsters play a huge part in gothic romance, and House of Salt and Sorrows has them in the most unique of ways that I wasn’t expecting. The genre of gothic romance may be hundreds of years old, but this book kept me on my toes the entire time.
Common element: madness
The heightened sense of drama from the unexplained deaths, inner torments, and gas-lighting adds melodrama to the book that fits the themes and atmosphere where death plays a major part. A common element found in gothic romance is that the damsel in distress is thought to be going mad, and House of Salt and Sorrows adds this in hauntingly as both Annaleigh and the reader become unsure of what is real and what isn’t.
Sometimes cliche is exactly what is both needed and wanted
We’re at a point where we are told time and time again that cliches are overdone, that stereotypes are bad and how books should be unique, but there is a reason we reach for retellings and stereotypes: we crave a good cliche and most of the time we do actually want what we expect.
Gothic romance is full of cliches and stereotypes, and we love it. We love being scared, of the unknown where there is a haunted house and a murder, where you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. Not everything we read and watch needs to be subversive all of the time. It’s easy to get swept up into the mysteriousness and eerie tragedy that befalls the heroines of gothic romance. It’s a perfect step into escapism and away from real life.
There is something freeing in reading something with common cliches, where the wind will howl at the perfect point, lightning will strike exactly when it should. What would Frankenstein be without the famous “he’s alive” moment, or in Crimson Peak when everything falls into place eerily and perfectly. Gothic horror and romance are built upon these stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good.
House of Salt and Sorrows is beautifully haunting, and Erin A. Craig’s usage of gothic imagery and elements only adds to the Brothers Grimm’s story of The 12 Dancing Princesses, making it unique and breathtakingly haunting.
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