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The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle
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Oct 08, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: first-reads
Read in October, 2010

How I coveted The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle once I saw its ghoulish cover (It reminds me of one of my favorite childhood series - Scary Stories with Stephen Gammell's nightmarish illustrations). And upon finding out that it was a prequel of sorts to Wuthering Heights - well it was just all over for me. Had to read it.

At 146 pages, The House of Dead Maids is a slim volume that's full of gothic creepiness. Not a word is wasted. You don't need to have read Wuthering Heights; this novel can stand on its own. But if you have read Wuthering Heights, in this book you'll find faintly similar themes of unholy, jealous love that transcends death and ghostly apparitions. Dunkle has given us a tale with echoes of Wuthering Heights but added so much more by weaving in it fantastically weird folklore about masters and maids and their sinister connection with the Yorkshire Moors.

Heathcliff, here a very young, feral six-year-old, is one of the main characters and already exhibits the traits of the classic hero - misunderstood, willful, proud, and godless. He is the "master" of Seldom Place and young Tabby Akroyd has come to be his "maid." We see Heathcliff or "Himself" because he refuses to give his name, through Tabby's eyes. She's been told that she's to care for "the master" but ominous Seldom House and its other occupants, the cold Ms. Winter, the untrustworthy Jack, dour Mrs. Sexton, and the oddly jovial Arnby, make her suspicious of her and "Himself"'s true purpose. Why have they been brought to Seldom House and who is the dead maid that keeps haunting her?

"A black dress next to my black dress. Gray hands reaching for mine.

"The old looking glass in the beaded frame returned only a suggestion of features. I longed to see my new clothes, and as I stepped into the passage, I was just turning over in my mind where I might have seen a better mirror. When first I caught sight of the small figure in black, I thought it was my reflection.

"She stood very still in the dusky passage where the light was poorest. Like me, she wore the black dress that proclaimed her a maid of the house, but whereas mine was new, hers was spoiled by mildew and smears of clay. Thin hair, dripping with muddy water, fell to her shoulders in limp, stringy ropes. This was my companion of the night before--and she was dead."


The House of Dead Maids cannot get any more perfect in terms of the best kind of my type Halloween scary story. It starts out disturbing, turns alarming, and before you know it the full, dreadful truth is exposed like an open grave. Loved it from beginning to end - superbly crafted, dark and shuddersome (that's a real word - look it up!).

Oh, and I almost forgot, this is probably guilding a lily but there are also amazingly macabre illustrations by Patrick Arrasmith. Go to Clare Dunkle's website to view a slideshow of them and all sorts of goodies like her inspiration for The House of Dead Maids, photos of the Yorkshire Moors, and tidbits about the Brontes. Apparently the character of Tabby Akroyd was based on the Brontes' own housekeeper.
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