Book Review: The House of Dead Maids + Author Guest Post

Book Review: The House of Dead Maids + Author Guest PostThe House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on September 14th 2010
Pages: 146

Young Tabby Aykroyd has been brought to the dusty mansion of Seldom House to be nursemaid to a foundling boy. He is a savage little creature, but the Yorkshire moors harbor far worse, as Tabby soon discovers. Why do scores of dead maids and masters haunt Seldom House with a jealous devotion that extends beyond the grave?

As Tabby struggles to escape the evil forces rising out of the land, she watches her young charge choose a different path. Long before he reaches the old farmhouse of Wuthering Heights, the boy who will become Heathcliff has doomed himself and any who try to befriend him.

Today, I'm happy to be a part of The House of Dead Maids blog tour. I will review the novel and then you will read a bit about the author's research for the setting of the novel! 🙂 Enjoy!

If you look at that cover, you may get seriously spooked out. I haven't read a spooky book in so long and couldn't resist another novel by the lovely Clare B. Dunkle. Wow. Let's just say that this book will definitely keep you up at night and I highly suggest to read it in daylight. Dunkle mixes a meld of classic writing with such horror and suspense, that you will jump if anyone interrupts you while reading (I certainly did). I actually have not read Wuthering Heights (bad me) but I'm definitely intrigued to learn just what the little boy in the book becomes as the character Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. I think the author did a fantastic job of staying true to the classic voice in the novel while still chilling you to your bones. Definitely a novel to pick up when you need a good, intriguing scare.

Tabby is a god-stricken young girl who tries her best to make the most of her situation. She cares for her young charge even if he sometimes is rather impossible and terribly cruel for a child his age. She is more clever than some of the characters I have been reading lately and it was quite a nice break to see someone so in depth and so classically written.

Final Verdict: I think those in love with classic novels or spooky stories will really enjoy this novel. Also, those who have read Wuthering Heights will definitely be making connections I couldn't and I really do want to find a copy of that book now.. pronto. 🙂

– – – – –

Clare Dunkle on Researching the Setting for her novel, The House of Dead Maids:

I first read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in childhood, and my oldest memories of it are visual: the image of Catherine’s little hand dragged against the broken glass of the casement window and scenes of the farmhouse’s great room, with half-savage hunting dogs lurking in the corners. I knew that a companion story to that classic would need a setting with as much stern presence and brooding atmosphere as the original, and I wanted all the details to be accurate.

My family was fortunate enough to be living in Europe when I wrote the book, so we took a trip to Yorkshire at the same time of year as in the setting of The House of Dead Maids. The weather cooperated beautifully: first, two days of chilly rain and clouds so dark that we needed our headlights on in the daytime; then, three days of brilliant sunshine. We were able to tour the moors under all kinds of weather and see everything Tabby would have seen.

I wanted The House of Dead Maids to sound like a Victorian novel. That meant I needed to describe old things in old words, so I haunted antique auction websites and pored over the informational guides I had purchased in England. To catch the right words, I studied the vocabulary of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, which I had downloaded in keyword-searchable form, and I frequently consulted the usage examples in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Seldom House is not a nice place, and its masters have not been nice people. I didn’t want Tabby to find a single comforting thing there. That’s why the carved heads on her clothes press are roaring and the birds on her beaded mirror are fighting. That’s why grotesque old paintings and exhibits of weaponry predominate.

In order to set up echoes with the text of Wuthering Heights, I paid special attention to its literary motifs (the recurring objects, concepts, or structures in a work of literature). The image of the “plundered nest” is important in Wuthering Heights; among other things, it symbolizes the loss of childish innocence and joy. So I put such a “nest” into The House of Dead Maids: the little collection of playthings hidden below the clothes press and passed down from one set of doomed children to another. Writing the scene reminded me of a similar scene in Lucy Boston’s wonderful ghost story, The Children of Green Knowe, but her children play with splendid toys. Tabby’s hoard contains such items as feathers and buttons: the playthings of poor children.

The Children of Green Knowe, which I read in childhood, also introduced me to topiaries in English gardens. That book contains an enchanted and sinister topiary bush which can move about on its own. If you’ve never read it, I heartily recommend it.

Miss Winter’s rooms look nicer and more up to date than does the rest of the house, but Heathcliff (Himself) is excited to find a bizarre item of decoration there: a genuine horse’s hoof. It’s in this story because I discovered such a hoof when I was sixteen years old in the family room of an Irish bed and breakfast, and I’ve been wondering about it ever since. Presumably, the horse it had belonged to was a beloved pet or remarkable race horse (or, more likely, a cavalry mount). But really … a hoof?!

The “voodoo” dolls Tabby and Heathcliff find are typical of sympathetic magic practiced all over the world, and definitely practiced in England at the time. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff comments that he has witnessed the child Isabella lying on the floor and screaming “as if witches were running red-hot needles into her.” By this he means that she is screaming as if she is being tortured by “voodoo” doll—screaming even though no one is near her to cause her pain. (Witches purportedly heated up the needles they used on such dolls so that they would slide easily into the wax.) I drew inspiration for Miss Winter’s “voodoo” dolls from this reference, as well as from the stories of the Brontë children playing with their toy soldiers. It made me smile to think of Tabby and Heathcliff turning these objects of hatred and violence into toys, and I liked the idea of Heathcliff affecting the character of Emily Brontë’s brother Branwell by inspiring him to play with a pirate doll named Rogue (which Branwell Brontë did in real life).

If you’d like to take a quick virtual trip to Yorkshire, you may visit my website and find photographs of my research for The House of Dead Maids here:

In that set of webpages, you can find numerous topiary bushes that look both sinister and enchanted. And I’ve placed a description of some of Wuthering Heights’ most common literary motifs here:

All of them have parallels in The House of Dead Maids. Also, if you’d like a taste of history, I’ve added numerous pages about the Brontës to my site. You can read about the Brontës’ doll-characters and about Branwell’s Pirate Rogue here:

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15 responses to “Book Review: The House of Dead Maids + Author Guest Post

  1. Anastasia

    WOAH, that’s a super creepy cover. It sounds like a great book, though, so I’m totally entering the contest, and if I don’t win it I’m going to buy it or something. Even if it DOES end up scaring me so much I can’t sleep, haha. 😀

  2. Tina (Book Couture)

    Hey! I stumbled onto your blog, and just had to leave a comment telling you how wonderful I think it is! Your design is pretty, and your content is great!

    Please keep it up, I’ve followed you for more. 😀

    Best Wishes,
    ●▬▬▬๑۩Tina @ Book Couture۩๑▬▬▬●

  3. Cecelia

    I wasn’t sold on this one, but the connection to Wuthering Heights certainly made a difference in my opinion. I’ll have to check it out!

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