Thursday, September 30, 2010

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle

I saw this book in a publisher's catalog back in June and have been eagerly awaiting it ever since. The House of Dead Maids is, as it says on the cover, "the chilling prelude to Wuthering Heights". It mixes reality with fiction by having as its two main characters, Tabby Aykroyd, the real-life maid to the Bronte children and Himself, the boy we come to know as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
Tabby is living in an orphanage when she is commissioned to be a maid by a Miss Winters and taken to live at Seldom House. Expecting to be waiting on Miss Winters, she is perplexed when her only occupation becomes keeping the cook company in the kitchen. She's forbidden from doing anything else until she learns she is to be the companion to a child, "the Master", who will arrive any day. When the Master arrives with a Mr. Ketch, she learns that he is not the true master of the house and doesn't even have a name. She refers to him as Himself in her mind and sets about trying to tame the wild gypsy child. In the evenings they are visited by the ghost of a dead girl and Tabby begins to suspect that something is very, very wrong at Seldom House. As time passes Tabby and Himself discover disturbing evidence of a secret ritual that their presence is crucial to completing. 
Dark and gothic, this novel had me turning its delicious pages with satisfaction. I love all things Victorian and gothic and I was not disappointed by this little gem. As an explanation to the history of Heathcliff it was adequate, but as a novel unto itself it was fantastic.

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