Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

39679076House of Salt and Sorrows is a standalone YA gothic murder mystery set in a high fantasy world.

This book doesn’t get that heterosexuality is not a personality trait.

I’m not saying this to be funny: no one in this book had a personality. I can’t tell you anything about the main character apart from the fact that she’s attracted to Cassius and cares for her sisters; she was more a placeholder than a character. The boys were even worse, existing in the book just to be handsome, vaguely mysterious, and exchange possessive glares that the book will carefully specify are masculine while fighting for the main girl.
And while I knew, getting into a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling, that not every sister was going to be developed, I didn’t expect their attraction to boys to replace the personality of all of them (in the older ones; the younger one is never anything more than a “creepy little girl” stereotype.)
Four sisters are dead at the beginning of the book, and the living ones are worried not because of that, or not because maybe they’re going to die next, but because their supposed “curse” scares men away and they think they’re going to grow old and die unkissed, without ever having danced with a boy.
Yeah. Priorities!

So, let’s be kind and say that this book is plot-driven.
The plot wasn’t that great. House of Salt and Sorrows is a gothic mystery with a really interesting premise and solid background, but the execution ended up being really messy. All the tension relied on the usual “is the main character *gasp* insane or is that magic?” trope, which is cheap and I hate it, especially when the answer is so obvious and when the book constantly approached even only the possibility of mental illness in really insensitive ways.
By the way, in case that wasn’t already clear: there is no diversity whatsoever in this book. The whole cast is all-straight, and, unless I missed something, also all-white and all-abled (which: the realism, where?). There’s one old blind man whose entire personality was “crazy” who appeared for half a scene, and that’s it. No diversity, bland unnecessary romance, love triangle… did we all somehow time-travel to 2013?

The mystery was kind of underwhelming, but it wasn’t terrible. The foreshadowing was somewhat unsubtle and heavy-handed at times, but it didn’t give away the whole story immediately as many YA mystery books do; the revelation wasn’t the most unpredictable thing ever, but it was fine – I was mostly annoyed by how rushed the resolution was.

And I still didn’t dislike this, not really.
I mean, I clearly had many problems with it, but the thing is, it kept my interest. I’m barely reading these days and I finished it really quickly – which yes, that also means that there wasn’t much substance to it, but it was a fun ride most of the time, and I wanted to know what happened. I never really thought about DNFing it.

Another reason I didn’t dislike this book is that I got into it for the island gothic aesthetic, and in that aspect, it didn’t disappoint at all.
Have you ever watched a movie or a show in which the acting was bad and the plot was mediocre but the setting and the costume design made it worth watching at least once, purely as eye candy? House of Salt and Sorrows is the book version of that. The descriptions are beautiful, and the island atmosphere is perfect. I loved all the mentions of coastal marine life, the descriptions of tide pools, all the details this book gave me about buildings and dresses and shoes and accessories.

This is deeply forgettable and really flawed, and not something I would ever reread, but it was worth reading once just for that.

My rating: ★★¾

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12 thoughts on “Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

  1. I have seen this book mentioned everywhere lately and there are so many positive reviews, but after reading yours I’m a bit nervious about reading it, especially since I’m someone who enjoys character driven stories. I’m not sure what I’ll do about this one, but still, great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I prefer character-driven stories as well, but I have to say that as far as keeping me engaged, this never failed – it’s just the kind of fun read I will remember for the descriptions and forget everything else about. Anyway, I hope that if you end up trying it works for you more than it did for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve seen quite a bit mixed reviews on this book, which honestly makes me want to read it, just to see where I would fall haha
    Great review!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well you’ve got me torn- I don’t really want to waste time reading a less than 3 star book (especially with all the issues you’ve noted) but I too crave a good island/coastal setting once in awhile. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great, honest review, love! I was really excited to read this one, so it’s a shame to hear that the characters act more as placeholders than anything else. Their priorities also seem pretty awful – caring more about frivolous matters and their love lives, rather than their dead sisters? Yikes! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked this! And yes, they were so dull and stagnant, which really was a shame, because I think that having had solid and believable characters would also have made the weaker points of the plotline make more sense.

      Like

  5. Love that you’re so honest! I felt the same way about the characters, they were all a bit bland, and I felt like the MC’s romance was a bit out of nowhere? Like handsome guy comes out of nowhere, bam she’s in love with him.

    I ended up giving the book 3 stars, mainly because I also enjoyed the whole atmospheric goth aesthetic part of the book. The world that it took place in was pretty interesting, even though the world-building wasn’t fantastic, I was interested in finding out more about all the gods and the faith system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The worldbuilding wasn’t the best, yes – what we were shown about the world was so fascinating that I’m still sad the book didn’t spend more time developing it. I think knowing more about the gods would have made the mystery feel more grounded, too.

      I agree about the romance being rushed – and with characters so lacking in personality, even if it hadn’t been rushed it wouldn’t have felt real.
      And thank you!

      Like

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