Starling House by Alix E Harrow (Speculative Fiction)

Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 3/5 Characters: 3/5
A haunted house in a dying town (the inaptly named “Eden”). Somehow bound up with snarly Beasts, the house attracts a new Warden to defend itself (and the town?) through the dreamworld whenever the current Warden dies or disappears. And yet somehow Opal — struggling to keep herself and younger brother going long enough to get out of Eden — finds herself attracted to the house and the strange, gaunt, and equally haunted Warden against her better judgement.
I’ve read and loved (5 star reviews) every Harrow book to date, but I admit to being a bit disappointed in this one. Wonderful writing, as always, and characters that I cared about, but the characters were all stereotypes — nicely drawn stereotypes, but stereotypes nonetheless. And the “bad guys” didn’t even have the depth of a decent stereotype. Additionally, the pace was quite slow and I felt like I had to read a lot of words before the story inched forward. I’m sure the extra prose added deeply depicted ambiance, but I grew impatient. It’s got all the feeling of a nice creepy horror story with a good ending, some recovery-style positive self-discovery, and an odd, but compelling, love story along the way.

Just a couple of quotes:
“It’s just that I had to work eight Entire hours with Lacey Matthews, the human equivalent of unsalted butter.“

“Mr. Cole is a nice man, but he doesn’t know what to do with people raised on the underside of the rules, where the world turns dark and lawless, where only the canny and cruel survive.”

“Even if it’s only a foolish old house with ambitions of sentience.”

Thank you to Tor Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on October 31st, 2023