September 21, 2023

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Reviews, Author Interviews, and Discussion Posts by Susan Crosby

Alix E. Harrow’s Starling House Is The Best Adult Fantasy I’ve Read This Year

Starling House By Alix E. Harrow- Summary

Goodreads summary of Starling House by Alix E. Harrow (soft-spoiler review below):

A grim and gothic new tale from author Alix E. Harrow about a small town haunted by secrets that can’t stay buried and the sinister house that sits at the crossroads of it all.

Eden, Kentucky, is just another dying, bad-luck town, known only for the legend of E. Starling, the reclusive nineteenth-century author and illustrator who wrote The Underland–and disappeared. Before she vanished, Starling House appeared. But everyone agrees that it’s best to let the uncanny house―and its last lonely heir, Arthur Starling―go to rot.

Opal knows better than to mess with haunted houses or brooding men, but an unexpected job offer might be a chance to get her brother out of Eden. Too quickly, though, Starling House starts to feel dangerously like something she’s never had: a home.

As sinister forces converge on Starling House, Opal, and Arthur are going to have to make a dire decision to dig up the buried secrets of the past and confront their own fears or let Eden be taken over by literal nightmares.

If Opal wants a home, she’ll have to fight for it.

Starling House By Alix E. Harrow- Review *soft spoilers*

I would like to apologize in advance to Alix E. Harrow. I know this review is a mess because I can’t bring my thoughts together, so it will not do Starling House justice. But damned if I didn’t try.

I may have been on hiatus for the releases of Once and Future Witches and The Fractured Fables duology, but I think I’ve been pretty clear online how much I love Alix E. Harrow’s work. Having said that, Starling House is, by far, her best book. I was going to write a “Five Reasons To Read” post, but I just couldn’t do it. I was warned. Becky, my buddy reader (website linked), told me it was impossible to narrow this to five reasons. She is right. I am wrong.

Here’s the thing. There are easily 1001 reasons to read Starling House. However, those reasons are two critical elements of Alix E. Harrow’s writing. First, well… her writing. Second, her execution. Therefore, if I repeat myself on these two reasons, please understand I’m doing my best to review one hell of a book.

Alix E. Harrow

Thank you to Tor Books And Macmillan Audio for the advanced audio copy of Starling House by Alix E. Harrow, which releases on October 3rd.

In Starling House, Alix E. Harrow has written a book that is a gothic, supernatural mystery that never loses its humanity. The characters are executed as both flawed but easy to cheer on. Alix E. Harrow’s writing doesn’t falter on either side. Throughout the unraveling of this creepy, slow-roll mystery (that never is bogged down, losing you), you also get insight into the characters as individuals and their connections to each other. Opal is one of the funniest (dark-humor), smart-ass, stubborn, loveable characters I’ve encountered. This is the answer (format and all) when asked if she is okay.

I consider telling her the truth, I really do, but at this point it would take a bulleted multilevel list to account for all the fuckery I have encountered and endured over the last eight hours.

  1. My little brother yelled at me, which sucked, but he had a point, which sucked more
  2. I failed to accomplish the task Baine assigned to me, which means:
    1. She’s going to do something slimy and awful that might lose me custody of Jasper, which means
    2. I’ll have a homicide to plan on top of everything else.
  3. Arthur Starling almost murdered me and then kissed me and then tossed me aside like used gum, and I’m not sure which of those things upsets me more.

I settle for, “I’m fine. Go back to bed.”

And this is what makes Opal such an excellently executed character. Because you have this inner narrative, and then you have her at her rawest, most intimate thoughts, and they shatter your heart.

…he gives up and leaves me to decompose in peace. Some small, wakeful part of me wants to feel sad about that- is this how it feels? to be crossed off somebody’s list? – but most of me is relieved. It’s easier to fall apart when no one is watching you.

Tell me Alix E. Harrow isn’t a genius. I dare you. I could quote Starling House all day and still have more to quote for tomorrow.

There is a complicated bond between Opal and her brother, Jasper. Opal has raised Jasper since their mother’s death at a very young age. While they are as close as possible, boundaries are also needed but don’t exist. Their individual and relationship arc throughout Starling House is sweeping and brilliant. Meanwhile, Opal’s dynamic with Arthur (current Starling House occupier) is written with a sensitive, sometimes harsh, sometimes tender hand.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the supporting cast of characters is deep enough to provide support throughout the story and at pivotal moments.

Okay. I need to move on before this becomes longer than Starling House itself.

alix e. harrow

Meanwhile, the town of Eden and, more importantly, Starling House become characters themselves. Do not mistake either as just a setting. Each is alive with truths, lies, and superstitions. Alix E. Harrow keeps you guessing about the town, house, and characters. And this brings us to a critical part of Starling House. This isn’t just one story being told. Within the overarching plot, there are a multitude of stories told by a variety of characters. Alix E. Harrow skillfully layers these stories and the characters who tell them in ways that may or may not bind them without bogging down the main plot or confusing the reader.

Additionally, utilizing these stories takes Starling House past the typical “flashback” pieces to a more powerful way to tell the stories of the past and present. And at this point, I’ve probably confused the hell out of everyone. Don’t let that be a reflection of Starling House, which is a straight arrow that weaves everything together.

Summary Review

Due to everything happening around Opal and all that she is fighting for and fighting against, Starling House is devastatingly emotional. There is one particular chapter that I (out loud, literally) cried, cheered, laughed, and curled up like a scared kitten. And that is just ONE chapter. That should give you a pretty clear indication that Starling House doesn’t rest on its Gothic laurels. Alix E. Harrow consistently goes above and beyond to bring readers right into each scene. Through beautiful, emotive descriptions, unique scenes, and the character’s inner narrative, you don’t feel like you are reading a book.

When you put it all together, you feel like you are in a fever dream that Alix E. Harrow wrote for you. And you never want to wake up.

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