Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling: A Novel by Michael Boccacino
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
Goodreads: Debut novelist Michael Boccacino invites readers into the world beyond the realm of the living in Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling, a Victorian gothic tale of the strange and supernatural. But all who enter this house must beware--for there is a price to pay for visitors who wish to save those they love. The story of a British governess and her young charges seduced by the otherworldly enticements of a mysterious mansion in the forest following the inexplicable death of the former nanny, this Tim Burton-like tale of dark fantasy is a bewitching treat for fans of horror and paranormal fiction, as well as readers who love creepy gothic tales and mysterious shadowy English manor houses. Not since Suzanna Clarke introduced Jonathan Strange to Mr. Norrell, and Neil Gaiman's Coraline crawled through a secret door into a twisted and sinister mirror world, has there been a journey as wondrously fantastic and terrifying as Charlotte Markham's adventures in the House of Darkling.
My thoughts: Can I rate it 3.75? It's not quite four stars for me but that's due to my own preferences and not the author's writing style. I'm not a huge fan of Gothic fiction, although I LOVED Night Circus. In order to impress me, Gothic fiction must be incredibly good AND (this is where I failed) the story has to grab me completely.
My rating increased dramatically when I read the back of the book (not the ending, mind you) with Michael Boccacino's reasons for writing the book. He didn't really know it, initially, but he was trying to make sense of and deal with the death of his mother years before. Once I was able to reframe the book in this perspective, I appreciated it much more.
What I didn't love was the dark feeling in Darkling which, duh, it has to be dark. It's not dark, visually, just a heaviness about it that reeks of death and doom. For the creatures in The Ending are doomed to to immortality, regardless of the state. They are a miserable bunch and highly disturbing. This is what nightmares are made of. I was also unclear what, exactly, the creatures were. If they were not humans that had died, what were they?
Back to the impressiveness of the book - and it is impressive, regardless of the subject matter and the confusing nature of being. Starting with the easy parts, the humor is, at times, dark but also truly entertaining. It is funny. When describing a certain character and including the irritating habit of her haughtiness or whatever else, the author also includes how the other characters respond to the character flaw. Acting one way but feeling another and it is so very true to human nature but quite faux pas to point it out, it made me laugh. It is meant to be funny and slightly satirical but only as much as the reader wonders if s/he may be guilty of the same behavior.
Once in the House of Darkling (and the land nearby), I was continually amazed at the imaginative creatures, structures, plants, animals, and whatnot. First Charlotte and the boys enter the house and the house changes as they walk through. The detailed weirdness can not be ignored and is admired. Better yet, the creatures that show up at the dinner party and their behavior was both incredibly imaginative and disturbing. Adding the reaction to the host's and the chef's additional menu item via James and Charlotte only added to my enjoyment. And revulsion.
Bottom line is that Michael Boccacino is an amazingly talented writer. He painted pictures with words that my own limited imagination could never conjure. I am in awe of his mind and his ability to convey through the written word what he sees when he closes his eyes. And, I must admit, deeply disturbed.
The impressiveness wins out, though.
*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.