ARC Review: THE HOUSE OF SORROWING STARS by Beth Cartwright

I received an ARC from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in white on navy with orange flowers and
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: Standalone

Synopsis:

Book cover for THE HOUSE OF SORROWING STARS: title in white on navy

How do you heal a broken house? First you unlock its secrets.

Alone on an island, surrounded by flowers that shine as dusk begins to fall, sits an old, faded house. Rooms cannot be rented here and visits are only for those haunted by the memory of loss.

When Liddy receives an invitation, she thinks there must be some mistake – she’s never experienced loss. But with her curiosity stirred, and no other way to escape a life in which she feels trapped, she decides to accept.

Once there, she meets Vivienne, a beautiful, austere woman whose glare leaves Liddy unsettled; Ben, the reserved gardener; and Raphael, the enigmatic Keymaker. If Liddy is to discover her true purpose in the house, she must find the root of their sorrow – but the house won’t give up its secrets so easily . . .

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

THE HOUSE OF SORROWING STARS is a gorgeous book about grief and healing and secrets.

It is the sort of book that could be set in a historical period, tucked away somewhere in a less-populated part of the world, but it’s never specified. The world building on that front is very light. No specific designs of dress, no specific names of places, just hints of it being old from the sorts of attitudes people have. My guess is late 1800s Spain, but that’s very much a guess! It gives the book a sort of timeless, liminal feeling. It could happen anywhere in Europe (possibly also America) at any time.

Instead all the focus is on the just-not-quite-our-world House of Sorrowing Stars. There are flowers under the lake, books that crumble after being read enough time, and a minor sentience to the house. The lyrical prose really makes it feel other-worldly, a space to go and come to terms with loss, where there’s a subtle magic in the air.

As genres go, this is very much on the edge of fabulism and fantasy. The magic is subtle and treated very much as not ordinary but not extraordinary. It is part of the world in an unremarkable way, tucked away and not shaking foundations.

It’s the sort of book that would often be called “quiet” in SFF (which is a term that can be misused to dismiss books. This is not a category that should ever be dismissed!) It’s not an epic story of kings and gods and battles, but a more human (and much more profound) story of grief.

The grief itself, the stories behind them, are all so human. Each time you think there might be a magic involved in how the event of loss came to be, it then shows you that no, the event was so very human and without magic. It made it feel more real, more like it was taking the full weight of grief and carefully, gently lifting it away. After two intense years of grief in a pandemic, it was so nice to read a book all about grief, but it also about the hope of it becoming bearable and not weighing so much.

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