I mentioned in an earlier review that I really enjoy books set in England. When I was looking at titles on Netgalley and saw The Poisoned House by Michael Ford, it was not only set in London, but Victorian London AND it was a ghost story. Also, super creepy cover art. I had to request it.
Life can be cruel for a servant girl in 1850s London. Fifteen-year-old Abi is a scullery maid in Greave Hall, an elegant but troubled household. The widowed master of the house is slowly slipping into madness, and the tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs. Cotton, punishes Abi without mercy. But there’s something else going on in Greave Hall, too. An otherworldly presence is making itself known, and a deadly secret will reveal itself—a secret that will shatter everything Abi knows.
The Poisoned House starts off very cleverly. Old diary-like pages were found in a locked drawer and donated to a library. They tell a fantastical tale, but the events were so long ago. Did they really happen as written? The reader is transported back to 1855 and meets the novel’s protagonist, Abigail Tamper. The first person narrative of the story allows for the reader to slip seamlessly into the past, and Mr. Ford does an excellent job of taking you back to a time where a fifteen-year-old girl with no social standing or family is able to solve the mystery that haunts Greave Hall.
Books set in Victorian England can be tricky as so much research on behavior and etiquette is involved. A story can become too bogged down in all the minutia and lose readers to boredom, but if you don’t adhere to the strict nature of that time period, you can lose readers due to inaccuracies. I felt like The Poisoned House was an excellent example of how to write a novel set in the Victorian era and have it be both fascinating with all the intricacies, as well as very relatable to readers who might not be familiar with how strict it truly was. Perfect blend for a YA ghost story.
Greave Hall is filled with secrets and overseeing all of it is one of the most awful characters I’ve read in quite awhile, Mrs. Cotton. As Housekeeper, she’s in charge of everything, and she truly is just despicable. The reason behind her extreme cruelty towards Abi is just one of the hardships the poor girl has to over come. I really liked Abi as a main character. She has faced so much over her short life, but still has this innate strength about her that makes her perfect to center a book around.
As The Poisoned House is a ghost story, there are “ghostly” things that happen, and there were several times I had to laugh at myself for just how scared I let myself get, but that’s also a sign of just how well Mr. Ford has crafted his novel. There are several seriously creepy moments that left my heart pounding. Fair warning if you’re easily rattled, but another aspect of the book that I throughly enjoyed is Abi’s resolve to solve the mystery, it was carried out so well. Abi uses her wits (okay, she gets some help from beyond the grave and from a great set of supporting characters that are part of her her “downstairs” life) and figures things out to a very satisfying conclusion.
The Poisoned House will be released in the US on September 1st. If the words “Victorian ghost story” intrigue you, I highly recommend picking up a copy and enjoying it on a dark and stormy night.