A gothic fantasy so good even the house is invested!
Starling House Book Cover Starling House
Alix E. Harrow
Gothic Fantasy
Tor Publishing Group
October 3, 2023

A gorgeously modern gothic fantasy from the New York Times bestselling author of TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY--welcome to Starling House: enter, if you dare. I dream sometimes about a house I've never seen.... Opal is a lot of things--orphan, high school dropout, full-time cynic and part-time cashier--but above all, she's a determined to find a better life for her younger brother Jasper. One that gets them out of Eden, Kentucky, a town remarkable for only two things: 1) a surprising amount of unexplained bad luck and natural disasters 2) the only known sightings of E. (Eleanor) Starling, a reclusive nineteenth-century author whose only published book, The Underland, was considered almost as shocking as the author's later mysterious disappearance. But Starling left behind one other thing: the imposing house that bears her name. Everyone agrees that it's best to ignore the uncanny mansion, and its misanthropic heir, Arthur . Almost everyone, anyway.. I should be scared, but in the dream I don't hesitate. Opal knows better than to mess with haunted houses or brooding men, but still can't resist a chance to see inside Starling House. So when an unexpected opportunityunexpected opportunity arises, she jumps at it. Besides, it means double the money to put towards her brother's escape fund. But sinister forces are digging deeper into the buried secrets of Starling House, and Arthur's own nightmares have become far too real. As Eden itself seems to be drowning in its own ghosts, Opal realizes that she might finally have found a reason to stick around. In my dream, I'm home. And now she'll have to fight.

Alix E. Harrow’s Starling House caught me so thoroughly off guard. This story was spooky and beautiful and so very heart-wrenching. I can honestly say I laughed out loud (and then made my roommate come read particularly funny lines) and absolutely cried my eyes out. 

“She wears the scars well—she’s made her life into an act of defiance, a laugh in the dark, a smile with bloodied teeth—but he refuses to add even one more.”

Starling House follows Opal, living in a small, nothing town where things go wrong too often. Orphaned young, Opal has had years of doing everything in her power to take care of her brother. She’s sly and angry at the world, but she’s also lonely enough to cling to the dreams she has about the old Starling House. When she sees an opportunity to help her brother and satisfy the pull the house has on her, she becomes embroiled in the house, its mysteries, and Arthur the Starling heir. Working there Opal finds out how very not normal Starling House is but potentially also the source of the town’s tragedies. 

This is the first of Harrow’s books that I’ve read, but something about her writing just scratches an itch in my brain. She has this effortless kind of description that paints an absolutely bananas vivid picture without ever feeling heavy or clinical. I don’t know why I’m so deeply tickled by the way she describes people, but I wish people in my life would follow her lead. Remember Kevin from work, the one who’s the human equivalent of unsalted butter? Can you imagine? Truly the ideal world. The narration is presented like an article, with pithy footnotes off on tangents and quasi-monologues reading like interviews. While mostly the narrative follows Opal every few chapters we do get some of Arthur’s POV. 

“He was born in the House, but Opal was called, and the House calls the homeless and hungry, the desperately brave, the fools who will fight to the very last.”

I love an FMC that’s scrappy and angry and not afraid to bare her teeth. It just makes it all the better when she’s able to grow and be vulnerable. It was lovely to watch Arthur and Opal circle each other over the course of this story, so much reluctant growth to route for. Ugh, I wanted these two to have all the good things in the world. I’m also not sure how Harrow managed to make a sentient house precious, but the house is the lovable sidekick somehow. 

This book was the moody, gothic equivalent of that movie Monster House that scared the pants off me as a child and I loved it. I wouldn’t class it as horror, but there’s definitely a level of eeriness to make you want to swaddle yourself in a duvet while you devour it, and it’s twisty enough that you will be devouring it.