September 19, 2014

Review: Of Monsters and Madness

A gothic, Poe tale with a creeptastic cover? I am on board.

Title: ‘Of Monsters and Madness’
Author: Jessica Verday
Pages: 288
Publisher: Egmont
Available: NOW at your local library or bookstore
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Summoned to her father's home in 1820's Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father's assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they're letting on.

My Thoughts:

I am struggling a little with this book because I have mixed feelings. I liked a lot about it, and I disliked a little about it, but sometimes that little dislike is enough to ruin the whole experience of the novel.

First, let me deal with the plot. This I enjoyed, for the most part. I enjoyed being a part of gothic Philly—the sites, the sounds, the murders. We meet Annabel Lee just as she is about to meet her father for the first time, and it is a precarious time in Philadelphia because of mysterious deaths. Murders. And Annabel Lee’s household seems to be in the middle of it all—but the question revolves around how the puzzle pieces fit together. Some of that will be answered by novel’s end.

While I have read other reviews that said they did not find this novel to have a gothic feel, I have to politely disagree. Gothic lit deals more with setting than with the plot, and with that the author does deliver.

Actually, the author delivers a lot with this novel, until the ending. This is where Verday lost me as a reader, but I plan to read the next installment just to see where she takes her plot. If I am not satisfied with the next step, then I will not return as a reader.

That’s about all I can say without revealing important plot points—and trust me, they would ruin the overall storytelling for you.

Now I want to deal with the characters of the novel, namely the novel’s main character, Annabel Lee herself. Man, I loved her character. I enjoyed experiencing her building relationship with her grandfather (making me miss my own) and her friendship with her maid. She is what made me keep wanting to turn the page. She immersed me into the world, experiencing it with her as events unfolded. Her confusion and curiosity were my confusion and curiosity. For me, this is where the story thrived. It was Annabel Lee and her relationships with the other characters that kept me coming back to the novel.

One character I could have done without? Edgar Allen Poe. I am sorry to say it, but for me, he just added nothing to the story. He felt more of a burden on the page than anything else. Every time I saw him coming, I shuddered. And not in the way the author was intending. His original introduction into the story worked, but as a whole, this story belonged to Annabel Lee—and his character seemed to not be having it.

I am a fan of Poe’s work. I find him a fascinating man with many layers to his life as well as his work. I enjoy reading “imagined” fictional tales of many American writers; but this one did not work for me in the way I was hoping.

Maybe I missed something vital—maybe I am not being fair to Mr. Poe’s character. And as I stated above, I plan to read the next installment to see where the story goes next. But if he is on the page in the same way, I will not be a returning reader.

Now, I don’t want that to discourage you from making your own decision. I still think the novel is worth reading, I really do. But what the author was trying to accomplish with his character did not work for me—but that does not mean it won’t work for you.

Do I recommend this book?

With reservation—yes. If you are a Poe fanatic and devour all books Poe, then definitely add this one to your list. If you enjoy reading “fictional” author imaginings, then add this to your list. But if you are looking for a scare to pump your heart and keep the lights on at night, this might not be for you. It is not that type of book. It is just an interesting look into Poe (who is really in the book very little), but most especially an interesting take on Annabel Lee.

Let’s talk about books—what’s your favorite Poe tale?

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator


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