Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling #gothicfiction #historicalfantasy

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Happy hump day! Today, I have a difficult three-star review to share. I often think these are the hardest to write, because the book had good points and those that came up short. Half of this story held me mesmerized. The other half… not so much. See what you think.

BOOK BLURB:

From the Bram Stoker-nominated author of The Luminous Dead comes a gothic fantasy horror–The Death of Jane Lawrence.

“Intense and amazing! It’s like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell meets Mexican Gothic meets Crimson Peak.” —BookRiot

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. 

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

“Don’t read this one alone at night; Caitlin Starling has done it again. Unsettling, atmospheric, and downright brutal at times, The Death of Jane Lawrence will continue to haunt you long after you leave Lindridge Hall…if the house lets you leave, that is.” —Genevieve Gornichec, author of The Witch’s Heart

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for my ARC.

I loved the first quarter of this book. Jane is an intelligent, sensible woman who proposes a marriage of convenience to Dr. Augustine Lawrence. Although he declines at first, the two soon come to a business arrangement of how the marriage will be conducted. He has certain ground rules involving his family estate, Lindridge Hall, and Jane agrees to his terms.

What starts out as a beautifully Gothic and atmospheric read morphs into a convoluted plot of dark spirits, superstition, and ritual magic.

All of those would normally result in a stellar read for me, but the execution and underlying threads fizzled. On the plus side, the characters of Jane and Augustine are well developed and the awkwardness of their relationship, especially at the beginning, held me enthralled.

Secrets abound, especially as related to Lindridge Hall, a locked cellar door, rituals, and Augustine’s past. The writing is descriptive and dense, beautiful language that needs to be savored. After Jane is introduced to Augustine’s colleagues, who form a magical cult, the plot gets messy.

There are moments of surgical gore, plenty of metaphysical posturing, and a chapter near the end that borders on the abstract. The final conclusion was fantastic, but the path to reach that point was muddled and overly long. I’m sure many readers will enjoy this book for its dark imagery, odd alternate reality, and Gothic feel. This is one that comes down to a matter of preference.

58 thoughts on “Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling #gothicfiction #historicalfantasy

  1. Good review! I read this one too (through NetGalley). I loved it for the same reasons you didn’t. “Metaphysical posturing” is a good way to put it, and yeah, abstract-y in places. Like you said, preferences can vary between readers, and that’s what makes the bookish world interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true, Priscilla. I really loved the relationship between Jane and Augustine, and the spookiness of Lindridge Hall. I loved the language too, but the other elements didn’t work for me. I know many readers loved this book!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m torn. I love gothic horror, but the muddled and the abstract make it seem like it’s having an identity crisis. Probably a pass for me. But the premise sounded promising. Thanks for your honest opinion, Mae.

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    • Staci, I felt like I was torn reading the book. Parts of it were SO GOOD, but then other parts just seemed to drag and really go off the deep end. I recommend seeing if your library has an e-copy if your interested. I was glad I got an ARC.

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    • I totally agree about the price tag, Lauralynn. I got an ARC, but would have been disappointed to have paid full price. You might try grabbing an ecopy from your local library. Most have new releases!

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  3. I think writing and editing a good gothic tale, today, must be quite tricky. There are so many ways it can just not live up to expectations, especially since different people have very strong and different opinions on various aspects of the genre. It’s always good to try a book if the blurb catches your attention. So glad you did like some major aspects of the book, at least. This one didn’t really catch my eye but I’m so glad for your insight ❤️. Excellent review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tessa. This is one of those books had I grabbed a sample, I would have been hooked. The first half was just SO GOOD, I couldn’t put it down. But the second half left me just wanting to finish, something I had to do since it was an ARC. At least the ending was good.
      Gothic fiction really does seem to generate multiple opinions on what is required for the tale!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great review. You covered all the reasons for reading this genre–all of which make me NOT read it–eruditely, excitingly, and energetically. I got an excellent sense of the power of this book and when/where it went off the rails. Nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Not one of my typical choice of genres. Since I’ve been adding so many books lately, I have no trouble turning this one down. Thanks for the honest review. Mae!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think if she’d even pared some of it down, Sally. It would have worked better. Also setting it in a dark-mirror Victorian England kept throwing me. I’d be settled into the gothic feel of the book then be wrenched out when the alternate reality was mentioned. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think 3 stars are tough reviews to write, Mae, especially when it seems like reading preference may be in play. This doesn’t sound like a read I’d be able to sustain based on your comments. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful review. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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