Stephanie's Reviews > Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino
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Jul 04, 12

POSTED ORIGINALLY: Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling
by Michael Boccacino
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks: An Imprint of Harper Collins
Original edition (July 24, 2012)
File Size: 5 KB
Print Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Original edition (July 24, 2012)
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
Disclosure: E-Galley provided by writer without expectation. No remuneration was exchanged and, except as noted, all opinions herein are my own.

When the nanny to the young Darrow boys is found murdered on the outskirts of Blackfield, Charlotte Markham, the recently hired governess, steps in to take over their care. During an outing in the forest, they find themselves crossing over into The Ending, the place for the Things That Cannot Die, where Lily Darrow, the late mistress of Everton, has been waiting. She invites them into the ominous House of Darkling, a wondrous, dangerous place filled with enchantment, mystery and strange creatures that appear to be, but are not quite, human.

However, everything comes with a price, and as Charlotte begins to understand the unspeakable bargain Mrs. Darrow has made for a second chance at motherhood, she uncovers a connection to the sinister occurrences in Blackfield and enters into a deadly game with the master of Darkling, one whose outcome will determine not just the fate of the Darrows, but of the world itself.

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling is a Victorian gothic tale about family ties, the realm beyond the living, and the price you pay to save those you love.

JANE EYRE meets THE NIGHT CIRCUS meets ALICE IN WONDERLAND and Edward Gorey with a little Tim Burton thrown in for good measure. Seriously, this story was a surprise from quite early in the book. It starts off gloomy and very Gothic with an air of despair as befits a tragic governess. There are immediate questions and dire warnings. Of course, the Nanny has been murdered and wild animals are suspected because she's been torn apart; that would make for a very short book. The book is much more than a murder mystery, I asked Michael about that:

I think it's much more of a dark adult fairytale than anything else. There are Gothic trappings, certainly, but I think there's a fable-like quality that runs much more deeply (and consistently) through the narrative. I am a massive, incredible nerd about all things related to Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton, and Steven Moffat. I think each of them tell very complex, adult stories using familiar, nostalgic narrative devices, and it gives everything they write this sense of timelessness and melancholy... which I love.

From talking with Michael at a BEA event I knew the story would head down a spooky, spiderweb laden and dark trail filled with misty bogs and such. I was totally unprepared for the unconventional and wholly original mythology lurking on the other side of the mist separating two worlds. I asked Michael about the fables that serve as children's bed time stories. I asked him if he wrote them and he said he did. They're pretty remarkable.

While the world here is not rule driven, Michael certainly creates a fantasy unlike anything I have ever read. The voice he gives his heroine, Charlotte, is undeniably female. This is a goal rarely met by male authors. In fact, the only other writer I know who is consistently able to pull it off is Chris Bohjalian.

Because it was not what I expected I found myself wondering about Charlotte's sanity; I think that she would be worried about her sanity as well. Perhaps this is a dream? Michael says it is a real experience for the characters, but that there is plenty of allegory.

There are really three books in Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling: one is the everyday life of an upper class British family of the Victorian period. The second is the story of another plane of existence filled with myth and mist "The Ending." The human world and the The Ending are And then there are the fables. The story becomes a bit nebulous as the lines between life, death and the other side start to shift. There are things that go bump in the night, and the day as well.

Here is a brief excerpt from one of Michael's favorite scenes. Charlotte is walking with her young charges as they explore a map they dreamed of.

"...Dreams are my favorite things in the world. Sometimes they even come true, but sometimes we must learn when to wake up.”
Paul ignored me and pointed excitedly at something up ahead. “There!”
The path ended at a small fallow creek, but began again on the other side to disappear around a dark, massive cage of roots at the base of an ancient oak tree. Whatever lay beyond the magnificent tree was obscured in a thick, roiling patch of fog. James wrenched himself free from my hand and leapt over the creek, bounding into the mist before I was able to stop him.
I quickly hoisted my dress up to my waist and jumped over the brook, glancing back at Paul to wave him on. Together we chased his brother into the mist.
The air around us grew heavy with a dampness that remained even as the fog subsided, and we found ourselves in the middle of a vast orchard. While it had been daylight mere moments before, the moon now hung low in the sky, larger than I had ever seen. It was so vast and oppressive I felt that if I were to reach toward the sky I might be able to push the orb back where it belonged, high above on the black velvet mantle of the night.
“It’s nighttime here.” Paul was behind me, hugging himself against the cool air.
“Perhaps I misjudged the time,…”
Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling, page 54

The characters are somewhat who you would expect them to be , if life went on as expected, that is. But, when challenged, their true personalities, and strengths, come out, and they're anything but what you would expect.

I am confident in recommending this story to you. I've really never read anything quite like this dark and unique tale. It's a mystical and mysterious journey through a dream of life that haunts the dead and undying.
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