This has always been my favorite Duncan, and the only one I've reread several times since I was a teenager. When Kit Gordy enters a private school, sh...moreThis has always been my favorite Duncan, and the only one I've reread several times since I was a teenager. When Kit Gordy enters a private school, she's shocked to discover that there are only three other students, and she's disturbed by the school itself, whose atmosphere she immediately feels is evil. Eventually, Kit makes a chilling discovery about why she and the other three girls were the only ones selected; I don't want to reveal this, as it would be a massive spoiler, but this aspect of the plot just fascinates me. Kit herself is a particularly attractive, down-to-earth heroine, and the grim ambience of the school is spine-tinglingly effective, even years after I read the book for the first time.(less)
I think this is nearly as good as Rebecca; the tale of two men's obsession with a mysterious woman is taut and suspenseful, and it ends on an interest...moreI think this is nearly as good as Rebecca; the tale of two men's obsession with a mysterious woman is taut and suspenseful, and it ends on an interestingly ambiguous note.(less)
Joan Aiken is a master at creating atmosphere, and Midnight Is a Place is no exception; the book could well be called a Gothic novel for children, wit...moreJoan Aiken is a master at creating atmosphere, and Midnight Is a Place is no exception; the book could well be called a Gothic novel for children, with its orphaned hero (and heroine), disagreeable guardian, mysterious events, and gloomy setting. Lucas Bell, an orphan, lives with his guardian, Sir Randolph Grimsby, and his tutor, Julian Oakapple, in an old mansion called Midnight Court; soon after the arrival of Anna Marie, another orphan and the grandchild of the previous owner of Midnight Court, Lucas and Anna Marie are forced to fend for themselves on the streets of the dismal city of Blastburn. There is never a dull moment; the story speeds along, through the dangerous mill where the workers may be crushed by a press or drowned in glue, to the sewers where man-eating hogs run in packs. The force of Aiken's imagination is present on every page, in the suspenseful story, the memorable characters, and the ominous atmosphere. (less)
Fingersmith is an engrossing tale of deception and duplicity, set in Victorian London and boasting a plot worthy of Wilkie Collins, the master of the...moreFingersmith is an engrossing tale of deception and duplicity, set in Victorian London and boasting a plot worthy of Wilkie Collins, the master of the Victorian sensation novel. Sue Trinder is an orphan, brought up by Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer", who raises the babies of other women and sells them to those who want them. One day, the con man Gentleman arrives with a proposition for Sue: she will become the maid of Maud Lilly, an heiress, and help Gentleman to marry Maud and then put her away in an insane asylum (shades of Collins's The Woman in White), whereupon Gentleman and Sue can split her fortune.
From there on, the plot becomes Byzantine in its twists and turns, as Waters explores the growing relationship between Sue, Maud, and the rest of the people who populate Fingersmith's pages. With compelling, complex characters and the detailed historical background of the oft-ignored seamier side to the Victorian era, Fingersmith is a truly gripping book; I almost couldn't put it down. (less)
Daniel Sempere's father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in their city of Barcelona, where Daniel is allowed to choose one book. He choose...moreDaniel Sempere's father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in their city of Barcelona, where Daniel is allowed to choose one book. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by forgotten author Julián Carax. Yet quickly Daniel finds out that Carax is not as forgotten as it would seem, and he is drawn into a quest to find out Carax's fate.
I liked this so much that when I got to within about 150 pages of the end, I committed what is often a cardinal sin in our family and withdrew into my cousin's living room by myself to finish it. (Actually, nobody seemed to mind.) It's maybe a little longer than it needs to be, but the mix of Gothic suspense and historical fiction really, really worked for me. I love Wilkie Collins, and this reminded me very much of his books. (less)
Clearly when I decided to read some Gothics lo those many years ago, I should have started with Walpole and Lewis before Mrs. Radcliffe, because The C...moreClearly when I decided to read some Gothics lo those many years ago, I should have started with Walpole and Lewis before Mrs. Radcliffe, because The Castle of Otranto and The Monk are a lot more entertaining than The Mysteries of Udolpho (horrid bits aside). Anyway, this 1796 Gothic has lustful monks, scheming nuns, demons, magic potions and spells, bandits, and lots more -- never a dull moment! (less)
Far more Gothic than The Smile of the Stranger, this second in the Paget family series follows two distinct plot threads which come together explosive...moreFar more Gothic than The Smile of the Stranger, this second in the Paget family series follows two distinct plot threads which come together explosively at the end. When 16-year-old Fanny marries 48-year-old Thomas Paget, they go to live at the Hermitage, while its owner, Thomas's cousin Juliana (from the previous book), is away in Europe. Fanny doesn't take long to realize the error she made in marrying the brutal Thomas, who controls her just as he controls his daughters, his mother, and even the ash tree outside their window, which he has tied down to prevent its growing up to seek the light. While Fanny is learning to deal with her new life, so are Thomas's cousins Cal and Scylla, who have grown up in India but must leave hurriedly and make a dangerous journey back to England.
I occasionally have trouble with books with parallel plot threads, ending up more interested in one than the other, but Aiken kept me interested in both and tied them together very nicely at the end (though the climax did feel a bit rushed). The Gothic atmosphere in this book is particularly effective; Fanny feels the pain of the imprisoned tree as her own pain, while Scylla and Cal dream of it along their own dangerous journey. (less)
This is a fascinating combination of dark fantasy, Victorian novel, and boarding school story. Gemma Doyle is sixteen and living in India with her par...moreThis is a fascinating combination of dark fantasy, Victorian novel, and boarding school story. Gemma Doyle is sixteen and living in India with her parents when her mother dies mysteriously, a terrifying event which Gemma witnesses in a disturbing vision. She is sent back to England to Spence, a girls' boarding school, where she finds her way into an influential clique and learns more about her mother's and her own connections with a mystical group called the Order. I must admit that I wasn't convinced by the Victorian setting, as Gemma's attitudes and speech patterns were on the modern side, but the story is powerful and the writing compelling; so much so that I was disappointed at the ending's lack of resolution to the book's major storyline. However, I find that this is the first of a planned trilogy, so I'm hopeful that the sequels will provide a better payoff. (ETA: they did, but at the cost of being overly long and drawn out.)(less)
Jamaica Inn is a dark, grim, yet exciting Gothic; after Rebecca, it's one of du Maurier's best-known books. (I thought I hadn't read it before, but af...moreJamaica Inn is a dark, grim, yet exciting Gothic; after Rebecca, it's one of du Maurier's best-known books. (I thought I hadn't read it before, but after the ease which with I guessed most of the plot, I think I probably have, years ago.) After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan goes to live with her aunt and uncle, who keep Jamaica Inn, avoided by respectable travelers and shadowed in mystery. When Mary discovers the awful doings of her uncle and his band of followers, she is torn between trying to end their activities and protecting her sad, nervous aunt.
As I said, I guessed most of the plot fairly quickly, but du Maurier's tense pacing managed to keep me in suspense most of the time anyway. I liked the plucky, intelligent heroine and thought the other characterizations were well-done, particularly of Mary's brutal uncle. I wasn't entirely convinced by the romance, but overall, the book worked for me quite well; I was particularly struck by du Maurier's vivid sense of place, of the gloomy moors and the wild sea coast. (less)
Still not Katherine (all right, all right, I should just reread that already), but a reasonably good Gothic set in 1840s New York. Many of the standar...moreStill not Katherine (all right, all right, I should just reread that already), but a reasonably good Gothic set in 1840s New York. Many of the standard ingredients are here, all well done: a young, beautiful naïve heroine comes to work as a governess in the magnificent mansion of a wealthy, dark, enigmatic man with a jealous wife. There are also a young, red-haired doctor, a mysterious and frightening servant, a family curse, and a ghost. Also, apart from the fairly effective Gothicness, there's a lot of interesting stuff about the upper and lower class ways of life in early 19th-century New York, plus convincing cameo appearances by Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe, among others.(less)
I'm not sure why I rather enjoy this one, because I can see clearly that the Gothic elements just do not work. I think I just like the characters and...moreI'm not sure why I rather enjoy this one, because I can see clearly that the Gothic elements just do not work. I think I just like the characters and am willing to put up with the wooden Gothicness.(less)
In 1920s Barcelona, David Martín is struggling to get by as a writer and longing to be noticed by the lovely Cristina, daughter of his mentor's chauff...moreIn 1920s Barcelona, David Martín is struggling to get by as a writer and longing to be noticed by the lovely Cristina, daughter of his mentor's chauffeur. When David discovers that his true métier is for Gothic, sensational stories, he comes to the attention of the mysterious publisher Andreas Corelli, who offers him a fortune to write a shocking book which will be the keystone to a new religion. His involvement with Corelli, however, does not lead David to fame and fortune, but deeper and deeper into a maze of fantastical, dangerous events.
I loved Zafón's previous book, The Shadow of the Wind, to which this is a prequel of sorts, but alas, I was disappointed in The Angel's Game. I still love Zafón's very vivid, visual, almost Hitchcockian style -- I noticed myself visualizing scenes in detail more than I usually do -- and the use of books as keys to the story, and I appreciated the subtle links with The Shadow of the Wind. However, I did not love the characters; I found David selfish and Cristina nearly a non-entity. I don't require that a novel's characters be perfectly admirable, or they would be boring, but I do want them to have more depth and at least some likeability. (I did really like David's devoted friend Isabella, and had more of the book been about her, I would have liked it more.) The plot veers wildly about and finally devolves into an ending which simply baffled me. In the end, though the lush writing and tense action kept me reading to the end, I found The Angel's Game more style than substance. (less)
I remain unconvinced by the setting of these books; the language isn't quite right, and the tone seems often a little modern. (Possibly reading these...moreI remain unconvinced by the setting of these books; the language isn't quite right, and the tone seems often a little modern. (Possibly reading these after Possession, which does the Victorian period gorgeously, did them a disservice.) I also wonder whether Bray worked out the entire plot before writing the books, because it doesn't always hang together well, and the pacing of the beginning of the books is on the slow side before they each speed up and gain intensity. However, I can forgive these faults for the sake of Bray's engagement with issues around female power and sexuality, class, and race, her variety of characters (especially Gemma), and the marvelous, dark, magical atmosphere she creates. I like that the magic has a price, and Bray isn't afraid to sacrifice her characters when the story demands it. I'm very interested to see what she comes up with next.(less)
This is the original Gothic novel, and it's darned entertaining, much more so than I found Mrs. Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. Okay, maybe Walp...moreThis is the original Gothic novel, and it's darned entertaining, much more so than I found Mrs. Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. Okay, maybe Walpole didn't exactly mean (most of the time) to make the reader laugh, but who could help it, faced with enormous people-crushing black helmets ("an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers"), family curses, bleeding statues, telltale birthmarks, ghostly sighs, and all the rest? The characters are fairly one-dimensional (except perhaps for Manfred, the villain of the piece), but the fast pace and amazing events make Otranto what the late lamented Common Reader would have called "a Thumping Good Read".(less)