House of Salt and Sorrow Review

An eerie retelling of a classic fairy tale book cover

“House of Salt and Sorrow” was written by Erin A. Craig, and it was released in 2019. Craig graduated with her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and daughter. “House of Salt and Sorrow” has sold over 100,000 copies since its release. 

The best way to describe this story in a few words is a gothic version of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” fairytale. In the Grimm’s fairy tale, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” a worried king sends the princes of his kingdom the challenge to solve the mystery of his 12 exhausted daughters – they sleep all day and every morning their shoes are found by their beds worn through.

The novel opens with a somber scene of one of the daughters being laid to rest after a mysterious accident takes her life. The main character, Annaleigh, has lived through the death of her mother, who died during childbirth, and the deaths of four of her older sisters, each death mysterious and strange. 

During this somber time, the whole family observes strict grieving protocol, only wear black gowns and are shut in the island estate. This all changes when their father takes a new bride who becomes pregnant just a month after their marriage. The new stepmother distastefully announces that she is pregnant on the same day as the fourth daughter’s funeral. With all the changes in protocol happening, visitors are let into the estate when previously they were not allowed until 6 months after the funeral, and the mourning period gets completely ignored. Things seem to turn for the better until another accident happens. 

With the change in protocol following the funeral and the announcement of the stepmother’s pregnancy, there are many things happening: people from the past coming back into the sisters’ lives with no explanation and parties and festivals and other sorts of merriment that the girls hadn’t experienced for years due to the deaths and mourning periods of their mother and sisters. One would think this would be a good thing, but Annaleigh doesn’t think things are quite right. The arrival of an old childhood friend and a dashing new stranger align with the girls running to a magical party to dance with strangers and wear beautiful gowns. 

This novel is full of magic, ghosts, demigods, tricksters, magical doorways and more. With every turn of the page, the reader gets entranced in the story and romance of the girls. The world building done in this novel is exceptional. The detail to the religious practices, the rituals of grief, and even the detail of the town and its traditions make for a well-rounded story.         There were a couple places in the book where the storyline is slightly confusing and characters could easily be confused for others, but overall, the story is a well written one. From the description of the island to the ritual of burial that is specific to the family, even the myths within the story are well described and explained. I would give this book a 9/10. I would also highly recommend this book to anyone who likes the fantasy genre and retellings of traditional fairytales.