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Starling House


Starling House

Bestselling fantasy author Alix E. Harrow --- the Hugo Award winner whose books create accessible, magical worlds and tackle complex themes like feminism and agency --- returns with STARLING HOUSE, an unforgettable contemporary gothic novel perfect for the spookiest of all seasons.

Opal doesn’t believe in curses or cursed towns exactly, but if she did, her hometown of Eden, Kentucky, would serve as a good model. Formerly the number one coal town in the nation, it has now been mined to its bare bones. What’s left behind is a rotten riverbank, a power plant, two Dollar Generals, and a lot of down-on-their-luck residents who would leave in a heartbeat…if any of them could afford it. This includes Opal, who has been the single caregiver for her younger brother since their mother died in a freak car accident. She has never been beloved by the town. This could be because she is the child of a single mother, or because she never went to church, or because she can’t help but steal to get by. But she wants more for her gifted brother, who she has vowed to help attend an expensive school.

"I could go on and on about this exquisite, spellbinding book, but we’re going to have to invent more words first: none of the ones we have could do Harrow or her latest any justice. STARLING HOUSE is a must-read."

Besides her brother and some petty theft, Opal lives on her obsession with Starling House, a crumbling mansion at the heart of Eden, owned by the eccentric, aloof Starling family. Opal’s first brush with the Starlings came from the cult classic The Underland by Eleanor Starling. A dark fairy tale picture book, it released to horrified, indignant reviews, calling it an assault on all things good, Christian and human. But Opal devoured the book, with its simple pen-and-ink drawings of twisted creatures and the little girl protagonist. Eleanor never published another book, but being close to her famed manor, Opal can sense her spirit there, always watching from one lit window.

As Opal finds herself constantly drawn to Starling House, she happens upon the present owner, Arthur --- or, as he would call himself, the current warden of the house, which seems to have a mind and spirit of its own. For reasons Arthur can’t fathom, the house wants Opal. Although he knows he is costing her more than she ever would willingly give, he asks her to work as a housekeeper, hoping that her nearness will assuage the house. But of course, Starling House wants much, much more than that.

As Opal starts to clean the rotting, cracked, rodent-infested home, it seems to be responding to her care, creaking less and shining more. She also learns more about Arthur, who she finds to be both anger-filled and guilt-ridden, though she can’t figure out why. Meanwhile, Arthur grapples with his own private war, the culmination of generations of wardens hiding and fighting the house’s evils...and keeping the world, who hates, fears and ignores them, safe despite it all. A perfect blend of horror, southern gothic, mythology, and even searing explorations of racism and historical oppression, this is a book as rich as its main character: the house itself.

Alix E. Harrow has done it again. Much like her previous works, THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY and THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES, STARLING HOUSE is a gorgeously written, creatively conceived fantasy. But in Harrow's talented hands, the story takes on the air, tone and depth of a classic gothic horror, refreshed and revitalized by her keen takedowns of systemic oppressions. The characters may be my favorites not just of Harrow’s but of the genre itself. They are believable, relatable, flawed and fighting their own private battles played out on the very real battlegrounds of isolation, prejudice and, yes, haunted houses. Harrow writes them as if they could walk off the page. Beyond that, she gives compassionate, tender attention to the stories that live on long after us and encourages us to ask who is telling each story and why.

I could go on and on about this exquisite, spellbinding book, but we’re going to have to invent more words first: none of the ones we have could do Harrow or her latest any justice. STARLING HOUSE is a must-read.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on October 13, 2023

Starling House
by Alix E. Harrow

  • Publication Date: October 3, 2023
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Gothic
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250799058
  • ISBN-13: 9781250799050