“After escaping a harsh school where punishment was the lesson of the day, seventeen-year-old Louisa Ditton is thrilled to find employment as a maid at a boarding house. But soon after her arrival at Coldthistle House, Louisa begins to realize that the house’s mysterious owner, Mr. Morningside, is providing much more than lodging for his guests. Far from a place of rest, the house is a place of judgment, and Mr. Morningside and his unusual staff are meant to execute their own justice on those who are past being saved.
Louisa begins to fear for a young man named Lee who is not like the other guests. He is charismatic and kind, and Louisa knows that it may be up to her to save him from an untimely judgment. But in this house of distortions and lies, how can Louisa be sure whom to trust?
Featuring stunning interior illustrations from artist Iris Compiet, plus photo-collages that bring Coldthistle House to chilling life, House of Furies invites readers to a world where the line between monsters and men is ghostly thin.”
My Thoughts: I love a good horror story. I love stories that incorporate myths and folklore. I especially love stories that explore the fluid definitions of guilt and innocence. Madeleine Roux‘s House of Furies is all three, and I adored every word of it.
I personally would not classify House of Furies as a young adult novel. Even though Louisa is seventeen, her demeanor and attitude are of someone much older and more experienced in the world. Her life experiences are of events that rapidly make adults out of children. Similarly, set in the late 1800s, there was no such thing as a young adult back then. The age at which someone was considered an adult occurred much earlier and often with a brutality most children today will never experience. Ms. Roux stays close to this precedent with the harsh realities Louisa faces at her boarding school and later on the road. When she arrives at Coldthistle House, she is not an innocent to the ways of the world. To pitch this as a YA may mislead readers into thinking that Louisa is too young or incapable of dealing with everything she discovers at her new place of employment. She is more than capable of doing so.
Not only is Louisa capable of understanding everything to which she is exposed at Coldthistle House, she is able to wrestle with the fluctuating definitions of guilt and innocence. Living on the streets with no family and no legitimate means of support tends to skew your view of guilt, and Louisa is no different. As she discovers more about Mr. Morningside and his methods of hospitality, she must also wrestle with the idea of judgment. When is it okay to steal, to lie, or to kill, if ever? Should the person who steals out of greed face the same punishment as someone who steals out of need? This is “Dexter” crossed with “Downton Abbey” for the younger crowd…with monsters.
Ms. Roux does an excellent job balancing the different elements of this surprisingly complex novel. There are moments of levity and sweetness to counteract the more terrifying scenes. It is easy to fall in love with Louisa as she tries to hide her vulnerability underneath a brusque exterior. Her longing to belong is palpable, even while her tough talking and frank curiosity create for more than one amusing scene. Louisa is anything but a stereotypical Victorian-era girl, and the story is better for her run-ins against convention.
House of Furies is the first book in a new series, and that will deter some readers from experiencing this delightful, fun, and yet thought-provoking story. However, it does not appear as if this is going to be a series in which each book builds off the other. Based on the ending, one could consider House of Furies a stand-alone novel as there are not many unanswered questions left to carry forward into a second novel. It also remains to be seen how tiresome Louisa becomes in future stories. There is just enough character growth in this one to add interest and depth to the story, but future novels may be less successful without adequate character development. While the first book is so much fun to read, time will tell on whether this is a series to follow.
One cannot talk about the book without discussing the monsters in the book. Ms. Roux does the obvious comparison of monsters and men but she does so in a way that is refreshing and satirical. The creatures Louisa meets, whether human or something other, are some of the more fascinating elements of the story. Ms. Compiet’s illustrations are exquisitely drawn and really do help flesh out the myths come to life. Mr. Morningside is enigmatic but charming, and his guests border on the hilarious in their protestations and machinations.
There is enough darkness to the story to warrant the horror classification, but House of Furies is so much more than that. It is also a bit of a comedy, something of a historical commentary, and a little sociological debate. The characters are a delight, and the question regarding Lee’s stay in Coldthistle House is fast-paced and entertaining with its diversions. While it is not the type of literature that will stand up to continued scrutiny, it is a diverting novel that provides a much-needed escape from our current reality.