Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino
When the nanny to the young Darrow boys is found murdered on the outskirts of Blackfield, Charlotte Markham, the recently hired governess, steps in to take over their care. During an outing in the forest, they find themselves crossing over into The Ending, the place for the Things That Cannot Die, where Lily Darrow, the late mistress of Everton, has been waiting. She invites them into the ominous House of Darkling, a wondrous, dangerous place filled with enchantment, mystery and strange creatures that appear to be, but are not quite, human.
However, everything comes with a price, and as Charlotte begins to understand the unspeakable bargain Mrs. Darrow has made for a second chance at motherhood, she uncovers a connection to the sinister occurrences in Blackfield and enters into a deadly game with the master of Darkling, one whose outcome will determine not just the fate of the Darrows, but of the world itself.
Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling is a Victorian gothic tale about family ties, the realm beyond the living, and the price you pay to save those you love.
This book’s front cover states it is “A Victorian Gothic Tale” and therefore cannot be accused of false advertising. It certainly delivers on this point.
For all its inventiveness, disturbing imagery and atmosphere, I did find it hard to connect with the main characters.
Charlotte Markham is a gutsy and strong protagonist, yet despite all the tragedy in her life, and the turmoil and danger surrounding her during the events of the novel, she seems remarkably calm and stoic. I wanted more emotion and fear from her. I would have cared for her plight a lot more if she seemed more human. Also, the boys in her care: Paul and James seemed remarkably unaffected by the strange and frightening realm they found themselves in.
This is a place populated by the dead, ghosts and ghouls and some hellacious supernatural creatures, yet no one, not even the children seem that much bothered.
There is a malevolent feel and tone to everything, and you can sense danger with every turn of the page, but somehow it still felt a little flat at times.
Boccacino can be proud of this first novel, and his afterword about what inspired him to write it is both moving and powerful. If only his characters could have shown more emotion too and this could have been a classic.
For fans of Gothic horror and the supernatural this won’t disappoint, but like me, you may feel that something is missing.
Daniel Cann, 7/10
Feisty young governess Charlotte Markham discovers a dark alternate world called The Ending, the place for things that cannot die, in which the deceased mother of the two boys under her care has been waiting. She invites them into the ominous House of Darkling, a wondrous, dangerous place filled with enchantment, mystery and strange creatures that are not quite human...
The invitation of “We bid you welcome to the House of Darkling” was quite luring, and I accepted it without any reluctance. And I’m glad that I did. The House of Darkling is just magnificent.
Let’s start with the characters. Charlotte Markham, a governess, and now taking care of the children of Henry Barrows, features as the main protagonist and you see the story through her eyes in a third person way. Charlotte was for me a great character, part motherly towards the children, part caring towards Henry and when actions require, even a heroine. Her character grew strongly after Charlotte and the children stumbled, through the mists, upon The House of Darkling. I especially liked the way she reacted to the whole scene, this led me to believe that Michael Boccacino really thought this part through, a very natural reaction. In their first encounter I perceived her as quite shocked and actually hesitant on another visit to the house. So what would you do if you feel obliged for the sake of the Barrows children to visit again? Take the necessary precautions of course... This was exactly what was done, bearing a cross and being very cautious of the things that Lily said to her. Even going as far as taking a drink and reminding herself to keep her lips sealed because it might be poisoned. Portraying Charlotte in this manner gave a good constructed feeling of both Charlotte and the idea behind the book.
The other characters are just detailed enough to support Charlotte or to go against her, with their intentions and actions all made clear. Although I found that Henry was maybe a bit too easily convinced that The Ending existed. I do think that the children James and Paul showed both a great change between young boyish adventure and being frightened during the exploration of The Ending and the House of Darkling.
Not only are the characters great and their descriptions livid the environment adds a great atmosphere to the book. Both Everton and House of Darkling are lavish and very vivid. As Charlotte, James and Paul encountered the House of Darkling through a mistbank, everything changes to the otherworldy, starting before they even enter the house. The tour they receive gives a great feel to the house and everything that is present, all very alluring and mystifying. What really gave the otherworldy, dark fantasy and oftentimes also a creepy feel were the inhabitants of the House of Darkling and the daily business of the House. Like there are the Candleman, living creatures with a wick on top their heads, guiding visitors through the dark corridors. The others inhabitants vary from human appearances to part wooden and while some might appear normal, do not let that fool you. Some of them truly fit in to one of those oddities roadshows, and reinforced the gothic feeling to The House of Darkling. All of this does produces an interesting, very imaginative and on top of all unique picture of House of Darkling.
A nice addition into the book are the stories that are being told to James and Paul by Lily, their mother, as they stay over to sleep in the House of Darkling. The stories range from laughable moments to very sinister and darkly moments. Precisely what one might expect from bedtime stories. This further build up the dark feeling of the (physical) House of Darkling and The Ending.
As the plotline draws to an end, there was a nice enlargement of what I thought might be the clue to everything. Charlotte comes closer to the possible murderer of Nanny Prum, through her visitations of the House of Darkling and several memories that spring to mind as she is thinking back to past occurrences. The plot was smartly constructed and left for me nothing left to be desired.
As far as a debut goes, this is one of the better that I have read so far. I was pleased with how everything was just enough; the descriptions and actions of the inhabitants of the House of Darkling could have been overdone but this was reined in and just enough to keep up the curiosity. The book is well written and reads away easily. Although Michael Boccacino tries to steer you in the book, there was no force pushing me, and did not at all feel limited in indulging me into the book.
I’d like to thanks Titan books for kindly providing me with the review copy.
Jasper de Joode, 9.2/10
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