Small Review's Reviews > The House of Dead Maids

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle
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Dec 09, 10

bookshelves: g-gothic, published-2010, g-retelling
Read in November, 2010

Summary:

Young Tabby Aykroyd has just been employed as a maid in the spooky Seldom House. The house is empty, understaffed, and lacking a proper employer. Soon after her arrival, however, the master of the house returns with a boy for Tabby to care for. This boy, known to Tabby only as “Himself” is an immoral imp ruled by his own selfish whims. As Tabby and Himself form a shaky relationship, both children begin to notice ghostly occurrences in the forms of young maids and masters whose urgency seems to increase with each encounter. What are the ghosts trying to tell them? Why have so many maids and masters died? Most importantly, can Tabby unravel the truth before she becomes the next dead maid?


Review:

The House of Dead Maids is written as a prequel to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, which is no small task. Equally haunting and atmospheric, THoDM is more than worthy to stand up against Bronte’s classic. I loved Wuthering Heights, but I’ve always had two nagging questions: Where did Heathcliff originally come from, and where did he go when Catherine first spurned him? Dunkle’s THoDM not only answers both of those questions, but it does so in a way that is completely and totally satisfying. I really can believe that Himself would grow up to become the horrible Heathcliff and I can completely believe Heathcliff would be the type of person to partake in the awful secret of Seldom House (if you couldn’t tell, I’m NOT one of the people who finds Heathcliff dreamy. I thought he was a raving, though entertaining, lunatic).

THoDM works beautifully as a prequel, but it also manages to stand out as an engrossing story in its own right. I don’t know how frightening the story would be to a horror aficionado, but I am a wimp and I was totally scared. Even the cover creeped me out and I had to turn the book over so the cover was facing down when I went to sleep at night (sad, yes, I know, but there’s also a really creepy scene with a ghost at night in a bed). These ghosts aren’t benevolent ghosts the main character will counsel and possibly fall in love with. Oh no, these ghosts are more like zombie wraiths (and not the kind of zombie the main character will counsel and possibly fall in love with).

The ghosts weren’t the only scary part of the book. The living people were just as scary as the ghosts (maybe even scarier) and behaved just as crazily as Bronte’s nutty characters (minus the overwrought speeches and love). As Tabby begins to uncover the mystery of the dead maids, she discovers the real reason she was brought to Seldom House. For such a slim novel, Dunkle did a truly excellent job of dropping hints in a way that kept me reading rapidly to discover more clues but didn’t feel like she just dumped it all on me all at once.

The final clever twist of this story was the way Dunkle wove in actual fact. Not only did she tie her story in with Wuthering Heights, but she also made references to Bronte’s own servant: A woman named Tabby who is said to have told the Bronte children dark and scary stories, much to young Emily’s delight.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this short prequel and I’m very, very happy I decided to pick it up. If you haven’t read Wuthering Heights, don’t worry. It’s not necessary to have read the original to understand this story, and this story doesn’t give away any spoilers for the original. Fans of Gothic fiction, Wuthering Heights, and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill should be sure to check out this most excellent book.
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