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There Is A House In Blackfield Wood They Call The Setting Sun

Meghan's too jealous over the amazingness of the UK cover and the crappiness of the US cover to come up with a very good teaser for this review of Michael Boccacino's Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling.

There Is A House In Blackfield Wood They Call The Setting Sun

BOOK REPORT for Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino

Cover Story: House of Snoozeling
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Lovecraft
Bonus Factors: Monsters, Governess, the Afterlife
Relationship Status: Let me introduce you to a friend of mine

Cover Story: House of Snoozeling

The photo is murky and semi-atmospheric, but it's also rather … dull. It's a stock photo of a rusty garden gate, and yellow just isn't my favorite color. However! It's a grownup book, so at least we dodged the fancy dress/big face/PDA bullet, yeah? It's not a terrible cover, but look how AWESOME the UK cover is? WHY, PUBLISHERS, WHY?!?

The Deal:

After the horrible death of her husband in a house fire, Charlotte Markham becomes a governess to the two Darrow boys, Paul, 13, and James, 5. The boys' mother died a year earlier, and they've been under the care of their nanny while their father more or less vanishes into his grief. Then Nanny Prum is violently murdered, and something wicked is stalking the village of Blackfield, and the children's already disturbing dreams get more disturbing. One afternoon, Charlotte and her charges go through a portal in the woods to The Ending, a place without death, where the boys' mother Lily is waiting in the House of Darkling. Charlotte wants the boys to have more time with their mother, but she's afraid the price of this time has something to do with the nasty goings on in the village, and she doesn't know if she can truly win the game she plays against the creepy master of Darkling. She only knows she can't afford to lose.

BFF Charm: Yay

I'm fairly confident I'd give Charlotte my BFF charm, despite her Victorian governess reserve. The poor woman has lost her entire family and has very few friends, and I'd like her to have someone she can confide in about her fears of Darkling and her growing feelings for Mr. Darrow, her pupils' father and her boss.

I also want to give a great, big, shiny BFF charm to Paul, who's so confused and sad and bitter, but who sees the world more clearly than many 13 year olds. Paul, it's ok just to be you! Life is sucky, but not unbearable when you have friends who love you!

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

The attraction between the newly widowed (widowered?) Mr. Darrow and Charlotte is delicious. Anyone who's ever read a Gothic novel knows you can't resist a governess/master of the house match up, unless the mistress of the house is still living, in which case it's gross and creepy (exception for Mrs. Rochester, because even though I've read Wide Sargasso Sea and I KNOW Mr. R's all wrong, I still can't help but swoon all over the place in Jane Eyre). Anyway, Darrow and Charlotte take solace (not that kind, you perv. It's the Victorian era!) in each other from their losses, meeting at night in the music room or having afternoon tea at midnight. It's all very restrained, but that makes even a handshake give tingles.

Talky Talk: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Lovecraft

Boccacino makes no secret of his adoration of Susanna Clarke's Victorian fantasy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, also known as the only fairy book I can stand, and it comes across in the book. It's not in a derivative way, but rather in the exploration of legends of other worlds with rules that don't apply in the human world. There aren't fairies in this book, btw, just really, really gross monsters. Lots of them. With tentacles. The creepy House of Darkling is filled with secret chambers and hidden cabinets, and you never know if you'll find harmless sentient candles or Cthulu when you open a door. It's vivid, but still dark and a little repressed.

Bonus Factor: Monsters

Lord, the monsters. I haven't run into this many monsters in a book since Where the Wild Things Are, and these are decidedly not as cute. Their motivations, and their choice of … I'll say attire … are creepy and a nice twist on the magical Victorian genre.

Bonus Factor: Governess

Who can resist a good governess Gothic? Not I! The servant who's most despised by both staff and family, who has to put up with all kinds of nonsense without complaining, and who can silence a pack of unruly preteens with one withering glare -- the governess is a perfect heroine, and it's nice to see her get her due here.

Bonus Factor: the Afterlife

Boccacino comes up with a fascinating alternative to life or death, and questions immortality.

Casting Call:

I promise I wasn't even thinking about The Golden Compass movie when I cast this book.

Daniel Craig as Mr. Darrow

Nicole Kidman as Charlotte Markham

Nicholas Hoult as Paul Darrow

Relationship Status: Let Me Introduce You To a Friend of Mine

I enjoyed my time with this book, but all the while I kept thinking how much some friends of mine would love it and would fight each other over having to share it. Friends who illegally obtain the Dr. Who Christmas Special because they.just.can't.WAIT. Friends who've read every H.P. Lovecraft story ever written, and friends who just might write Raven King/Cthulu slash fic.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from HarperCollins.  I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling is available now.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.