Eden is a mining town down on its luck, sat in the shadow of the Gravely’s coal power plant. The only thing it’s known for is the mysterious 19th century children’s author, E. Starling and the house she left behind. No one in town knows the Starlings, but that doesn’t stop the gossip, the town’s bad luck attributed to whoever lurks behind those iron gates.
Opal lives in the Garden of Eden Motel with her brother Jasper, living on an agreement her deceased mother made with the begrudging owner. Her main priority in life is getting her brother out of town, he’s smart and deserves so much more than this place can ever offer. Opal, not so much, she’s resigned to her fate. When a chance encounter with Arthur Starling leads to a job offer, she sees this as her chance to save her Jasper.
I love a story about a sentient house and Starling House didn’t fail to deliver. The story is dark and the characters aren’t always nice people, but I think that makes it all the more rewarding when they do show kindness. Oh and how refreshing it is to have a love interest who is first described as ugly, rather being all unrealistic muscle and chiseled features!
I dream sometimes about a house I’ve never seen.
The starting line is a nod to Rebecca, who dreams of Manderley after she’s been there and been traumatized by the place. But Opal has never been inside of Starling House when she starts dreaming of it. As the story progresses, the importance of dreams becomes clear. The line echoes in various forms, as she becomes more familiar with the house.
The coal company as the non-supernatural big bad was a great choice. It has scarred both the landscape, but also damages the health of those left in Eden. It lends the town a kind of grubbiness, both physical and of the capitalist greed of the company’s owners, and the continued generational harm of their actions. And of course, their actions are intertwined with the supernatural element, the things that the warden is trying to hold back.
On the other hand, Starling House doesn’t care about heredity, instead it chooses its wardens by its own set of rules. They’re not related, but they all end up carrying the name of Starling, and allowing the mysterious tales to persist across generations.
I’m so glad I gave Alix E. Harrow another chance, since I didn’t like The Thousand Doors of January as much as everyone else seemed to, but this is much more my style.
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