House of Salt and Sorrow
by Erin A. Craig
Trigger Warnings: Suicide, family death
“The children raced up and down the beach with silk kites painted like stingrays and seahorses. Glass orbs were strung across the town square like humpback’s bubble nets.”
**Spoiler Free** Review:
If you’re looking for a book jam-packed with ocean themes and imagery, that keeps you on your toes the entire time then I would recommend “House of Salt and Sorrow”. Two of the main subjects of this novel are the connection to the ocean and death, making it not for the faint of heart. The author, Erin A. Craig, does an immaculate job of immersing you into this gorgeous island home that you just wish you could visit, while also making you feel uneasy about every single character you’re introduced to, including the main character, Annaleigh, whose perspective the story is told from. You never know who to trust, and every time you think you know what’s going on, you realize you actually have no idea. This “fantasy” book definitely leans more heavily on the horror side, so be prepared. It also would have been nice to have a map of the land discussed, as throughout the book the characters travel to different areas and we are given information about the different rulers, which would have been easier to follow with a visual aid.
Full Review *Spoilers*
I personally try my best to rate books according to what they are, and though my personal taste has mostly moved past Young Adult books, I found ‘House of Salt and Sorrow’ quite enjoyable. It may have to do with the more mature themes of the book, but also probably how much incredibly lovely ocean imagery was packed in from the very beginning. The opening chapter truly set the mood for the entire novel, where the characters obviously share a deep connection to the ocean, returning to it in their death. Furthermore, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Annaleigh, as normally when you’re inside someone's head, hearing their thoughts, the character more times than not becomes insufferable (the greatest example of this being the #1 wizard of YA fantasy Mr. Harry Potter).
I found myself rereading the chapter that takes place at the Churning festival multiple times because I was so caught up in the scenery. Though this is a horror novel, I couldn’t help but wish I could be there drinking the salty drinks and enjoying the salty snacks.
This brings me to the usage of salt throughout the book. I truly thought I would get tired of it, but I really found all the different applications to be beautiful. Salt was used for sadness, to return lost loved ones to their ‘God’, in tears, and during the climax’s storm but it was also used to represent happiness- Annaleigh smelling like salt and the taste of salt in the air making her feel at home. Of course, it also came in the form of discomfort when they had to swallow a thimble of salt water. Salt came through as a wonderful representation of things often being multifaceted. Honestly, much like death. How death makes us unbearably uncomfortable and depressed, but that we can also find peace and oftentimes happiness in knowing our loved ones aren’t suffering and that maybe one day we’ll be reunited.
Now, I did give ‘House of Salt and Sorrow’ 4 stars and the reason mostly being in the odd execution of explaining the gods and goddesses. Though we get some insight into Pontus, the main god for the Thaumas family and the “people of the salt”, we only get a very brief introduction to the other gods and goddesses that are worshiped throughout other areas. To be honest, at first I thought Pontus was the main god for everyone in the fantasy land this story takes place in, and because the other gods and goddesses were barely mentioned I did not think they would be an important part of the story. Obviously I was wrong.
For me, I wish that we had firstly been supplied with a map of the fantasy world so that we could visually see the different areas and gain a better understanding of what god or goddess was worshiped where. This would also have been handy when the sisters plus not-Fisher-Fisher were ‘traveling’ through the magical door, allowing us to see just how far they were ‘traveling’.
I just believe a little more depth to the different gods and goddesses would have made the plot-twist that Cassius was a demigod not seem so odd or forced. It actually probably would have made the revolution much more intriguing. However, instead, because we missed out on truly understanding the meaning and significance of the different celestial beings, Cassius being a demigod almost came off a little silly. It also made the conclusion to the story feel rushed. Had we known a bit more the horrible scene of Fisher’s body being found with the Harbinger inside would have been much more of a blow. Unfortunately without the proper insight the scene at first is a bit confusing, and therefore you sort of miss the sad aspect and that only comes later when we find Hanna looking for him.
Finally, maybe it’s the twisted bitch in me, but I also wish the person behind the “curse” had been someone less obvious. It would have been a much more “holy shit” moment had it been someone like Camille, the eldest sister, that summoned Viscardi. Or even the youngest sister Verity accidentally doing it because she has constantly been surrounded by grief since the day she was born. Even better it could have been Annaleigh and really the entire time we were being completely deceived as readers. However, Morealla invoking Viscardi in order to get pregnant with the Duke’s son was incredibly predictable, though right out of a fairy-tale as the story is meant to be.