by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, Larkin Reed
I love a good Gothic novel, so I could not have been more eager to finally be able to sit and crack open this story. Amber House delivers a gothic/horror/scary tale in all its intrinsic glory. It involves a young girl, called Sarah, who returns with her family to the old family estate, Amber House, to bury the matriarch of this strange, strange dynasty. They decide to stay for a couple of weeks and very soon Sarah discovers shadows, echoes, and mysteries in every corner of this ancient place. Mysteries of her ancestry, of the past lives that walked among the halls and rooms she now occupied; disturbing revelations about her cold, abrupt mother, ones that threaten to loosen the already delicate ties holding the two of them together; and frightening enigmas about the house itself, a house that seems to have a life and purpose of its own.
So let’s check the list, shall we? This book includes all the right horror fundamentals: faint laughter of children who aren’t there; visions in mirrors, in dreams, and even when awake; that cold, pointed feeling that raises the hair on the back of your neck because you know someone is watching you; characters descending into madness; little girls in white dresses darting from corner to corner always in your peripheral sight; wet footprints on wooden floors as main character gets out of the bath to follow a noise (I mean, goodness gracious on that one!)…and et cetera. In many ways, due to the absolute readablity of this book, it read like a film. Which I don’t think diminishes its “writing pedigree”. It was just so vividly detailed that the scenes were seamlessly imaginable.
It felt like these characteristics came from a handbook on how to write scary stories — and yet, the supernatural niche of it is pleasantly original. It suggests the theory that some houses hold memories of the past, where, quite literally, images or imprints of specific moments are seared into objects long-loved by their long-gone owners. And that these “echoes” let you enter into another time, allow you to peek in on the before. I won’t lie, it did get a bit confusing, especially near the end when they sort of introduce a semi-new notion which turns out to be a very critical tool in the climax and denouement. It was lightning-bolt fast, intense, and satisfying. And I forgive the confusion — besides, I blame that largely to my mental inadequacy.
The characters are all pretty wonderful. Sarah is a funny voice to listen to; she isn’t anything too special but she’s down to earth, soft, shy, harsh, angry, polite, and brazen in all the right places. Her younger brother, Sammy, is a sweet little thing, and as they say, “his enthusiasms are infectious”. The mother is effectively distant, and as Sarah discovers more about her childhood, we come to understand why.
Now, the two love interests. I only fell for one. And I fell for the right one. But of course, because this book is near 400 pages, Sarah spends some time being oblivious. Frustrating because, hello, the other guy is totally generic and gross…but oh, just wait. Just wait. Because this particular romance is different, and complicated, and oh so heart twisting. Yes, it twists your heart — painfully, hopelessly, shockingly. It held me at arm’s length for a long time so that when those yearned moments came, my heart exploded the tiniest, tiniest bit. It was like my lungs were deprived of oxygen and the story kept teasing them with the anticipation of a deep breath. However, I do think The Right Guy could’ve been further developed because while he does feature quite a lot, he is still shrouded in mystery…having said that, I still want one of him. Please and thanks.
And now to the heart of the story…it’s about family, and the parts of your ancestors’ history that contributes to shaping your identity. Exactly how much is passed down to us, without our knowing? How much of our nature have we inherited? What part of us is us, and what part is them? It’s also about belonging to a line of memories, of past achievements and failures and ambitions and our responsibility of keeping these memories alive. It’s about the complexities of our choices and the power of will; how endless branches of what-might-have-beens erupt from a single point of contact. And of course, family dysfunctionalities. The bizarre, tense dynamics between members who must co-exist but cannot connect. It is most exemplified in the relationship between mother and daughter…when, as we get older, we learn that our parents too lived a life just for themselves, that they too have demons they must hide — sometimes, especially from us. This is a story of a broken family, severed by many things: infidelity, running away, alcoholism, lack of communication, mental disability, death, and the unceasing consequence of grief and guilt held for far too long.
This was such a good and satisfying read. I urge anyone who reads this review to please mark this book as to-read. Just leave it there on your shelf. If this isn’t your cup of tea, let it sit patiently, until you have a free afternoon, or a quiet evening when you can devote a few moments to the first chapters of Amber House. I couldn’t wait to get home to continue reading and when I did (and if there were witnesses), I would’ve been found gripping my hair, shouting at my Kobo, pinching the bridge of my nose, huffing and puffing and all those spells we readers are susceptible to when in the clutch of terrific storytelling. Despite my enthusiasm, I’ll concede that it wasn’t technically flawless, as there were loose ends I wished were tied up, little things that weren’t explained, and the ending left me with some questions I desperately need answers to. And I don’t think the weight of the theme of family was executed as smoothly at the close (as it was rushed and left me winded), but that may just be me still feeling bitter over the too-soon Epilogue. I did not see it coming, and I was not ready.
Rated 4 out of 5 stars
This review also appears on Goodreads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.