Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling

It’s safe to say this book was not what I thought it was going to be. I expected a creepy old house and a few ghosts but I did not expect a realm of immortal monsters and the need to sleep with a nightlight when I was done reading. It was eerie and gothic and at times disturbing. However, I think I actually liked it.

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino

Yes, 3 1/2 stars. I couldn’t decide if I liked it because it was a good book or if I liked it because I like anything that resembles gothic literature, so I compromised. It started out decently… Charlotte Markham, recently widowed, takes up employment at Everton as a governess for the two young Darrow boys. Mr. Darrow, also recently widowed, spends most of his time wandering in the shadowy hallways of Everton and staring morosely at a picture of his late wife in his study. When the nanny is discovered brutally murdered Charlotte is asked to take her place and care for the Darrow boys as well as give them lessons. She readily agrees, a decision that will take her to the brink of hell and back.

Well, not hell exactly, The Ending. The place for the Things That Cannot Die.

One night, Paul, the older Darrow boy, has a dream that their mother, the late Lily Darrow, was beckoning to them from a house in the woods. In attempt to help the boys “let go” Charlotte agrees to search out the strange house (which she is quite sure doesn’t exist) so they can say good-bye to their mother. What they discover is a house all too real, and all too strange, the House of Darkling. The house is owned by Mr. Darkling, a man who doesn’t claim to be mortal or even human. He has filled his house of curiosities with his even more strange collection. The pieces range from beautiful and whimsical to terrifying and grotesque. Charlotte doesn’t trust him or his house but is obligated to return each day so the children can spend time with their mother – who, though dead, lives within the House of Darkling.

The story quickly goes from strange to stranger… to disgusting. Darkling is home to many terrifying creatures which the author describes in full, gory detail. Monsters wear human skins like costumes that don’t fit them quite right, creatures disguised as humans suddenly burst forth from their skins in a bloody, gooey mess, and grimy little boys with black fingernails and keyholes for eyes scamper through the walls at night causing Charlotte to sleep fitfully (so she says). Charlotte soon finds herself in a twisted game, a battle of wits, with Darkling… while The Ending is at war with itself. As the story wages on Charlotte must come to terms with her husband’s untimely demise, her growing attraction to Mr. Darrow, her resent towards Lily (who is supposed to be dead), her growing attachment to the children, and finally to Death itself (er, himself).

I still can’t decide if this is a good book. There’s two story lines going on and one of them is really hard to follow. Charlotte is playing some sort of game with Darkling, a game of his own devising. At no point did I understand what that game was. There is also a war waging within The Ending, a war that made no sense to me whatsoever. Sigh.

One the other hand (the story line that actually made sense and caused me to give this book that extra 1/2 star) it’s filled with some pretty amazing characters. Charlotte is dealing with the loss of her husband (who was burned to death in his attempt to save her from the fire), she can’t help but feel attracted to Mr. Darrow (who obviously feels the same) which makes her feel guilty in a number of ways, she both resents and admires Lily Darrow who in turn both resents and admires Charlotte. The Darrow boys have to come to terms with their mother’s death several times over while she must come to terms with the fact that her time has passed. Mr. Darrow, though alive, must learn to live again; a task he both yearns to accomplish yet avoids. In the end this book is largely about death (or Death, depending on who or what); learning to let go, learning to cope, learning to overcome… from both sides of the spectrum.

Also, despite it’s sometimes gory qualities, I truly enjoyed my trip through The Ending. The author has painted a beautifully grotesque picture of another world. The ending (not to be confused with The Ending) was a little strange and far fetched but I’ve come to expect that from these modern gothics. Would recommend.

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