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When Charlotte Markham loses her husband in a fire she relinquishes her position of mistress of the manor to become governess to the two Darrow boys, who have also lost their mother. Everton is a sad house, following the loss of Mrs Darrow, but things take a tragic turn when Nanny Prum is killed is a most grisly manner. Haunted by nightmares, Charlotte finds herself led by visions when she takes the boys into the wood only to discover The Ending: the place for things that cannot die...
Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling is a gothic horror novel by first time American author Michael Boccacino.
Written in the first person, the tale is told from Charlotte’s perspective. The book opens with a murder in the house in which she is a governess. Apart from the events relating to this the first section of the book spends its time setting the scene, introducing us to the people who live and work in Everton, including its master Mr Darrow. I did think that this book would spend much of its time imitating a nineteenth century romance and whilst there are similar themes within the early chapters this all changes when Charlotte and the two boys step through into The Ending.
Although the residents of The Ending admit that there is a world outside the confines of the fine house's grounds, Charlotte is forbidden to stray outside. The House of Darkling is a place of wonders, where time moves at a different pace to the real world, books which can transport you to other places, collections of emotions, strange sights made stranger still when she discovers that the house continually remoulds itself in an effort to give the residents their heart's desires.
The greatest surprise, for the boys, as well as Charlotte, is to discover their mother, Lily Darrow, apparently alive, or at the very least not dead. Lily has made a bargain with the Master of The House of Darkling. The truth of the bargain will lead Charlotte into a deadly game for the children’s safety.
Motivation is central to give a book a core of believability and Boccacino spends time exploring Charlotte’s desire for her dead husband's return. A year after his death she remains in a state of mourning. This central theme of her life makes her want to believe in Lily's continued existence, for if she exists then maybe her husband does to. In turn this allows her the window of opportunity and suspension of disbelief, not only the visit Darkling, but also to return.
The book is written in a language and tone appropriate to the Victorian age and in this the author displays a very good ear. The only minor point is when Charlotte defines herself as Victorian. People will define themselves by their culture, but I’ve never heard of anyone defining themselves by the age they lived in. I have certainly never thought of myself as Elizabethan. It’s a minor niggle as both the worlds of the Darkling and the real world of Everton are well rounded creations.
It’s an impressive start for a first time novelist and I only had a few minor quibbles with the story, but overall, if you like Victorian gothic fantasy I think that there is much in this book to enjoy.