The House of Sorrowing Stars, Beth Cartwright

Now, this books wrapping said that it was the perfect read for fans of The Night Circus and The Binding. The synopsis caught my eye but I was slightly on the fence with this book as The Night Circus is one of my absolute favourite books whilst The Binding was perhaps one of the most disappointing reads for me. Naturally, curiosity prevailed and I had to find out where I stood with this book and what I would think. In hindsight I am sooo happy that I made the impulsive decision to buy it as it was one of the best books that I read this year. Definitely in the top five of 2022. 

Liddy works alongside her father making their famous marchpane when she receives a mysterious invitation with a flower bulb and incredibly specific instructions. With her curiosity mounting and feeling trapped by her mothers expectations to marry, she accepts the invitation and travels to the House of Sorrowing Stars. The house is ancient and tired full of sorrow, sitting on an island where the flowers of Sorrowing Stars bloom underwater and shine as dusk falls, few visit but only by invitation. The house has few inhabitants including the stern and unsettling landlady Vivienne Castellini, the recluse keymaker Raphaelle, a quiet but loveable gardener called Ben, and Eloura a mysterious lady of the library. There are also a handful of guests, including a resentful major drinking his sorrows away and a couple mourning their loss. It is guests such as these that Liddy has been invited to help, or so that’s what she’s been told but as her stay progresses, she realises larger hopes have been placed on her stay. 

Cartwright has created such a beautiful and magical story whilst dealing with difficult themes such as grief and sorrow so delicately. It’s a balanced mix of fantasy and realism, tip-toeing the line between a whimsical world alongside everyday heart-wrenching themes and situations. 

***Spoilers ahead***

Themes such as loss and heartbreak, as well as love and longing are strong throughout this work. Alongside the fantastical elements that really capture your imagination, there are also the sombre and more melancholic elements of the book. For instance, the cathedral-like library with its doomed ceiling and large, imposing space; is full of books and steaming teapots. The library is logged by emotions, all bound the same way and all stories of grief or loss. The teapots that scatter the library are brewed from the books, their sadness being relieved slightly with each read until it’s released entirely; and the writer of the tale is then unburdened from those weighty emotions. Another part of the book I enjoyed was the whole concept of the taglocks. Visitors to the House of Sorrowing Stars bring three items to the key maker: something of theirs, something of the person they have lost and something they shared together. These are the tag locks and these are used to make a key which will unlock the door deep within the library. The door has many keys that unlock it but for everyone, it leads to a place for grief to go and a place they can shed all the heavy loads that come along with it. 

I really loved the characters throughout this book. All of which were so strong and well developed but also uniquely flawed. The signora of the house, Vivienne Castellini wants to help people with their loss and help mend things as she’s done since she was a child but she has to do it from a distance due to her power of psychometry (the ability to read things that she touches). The key maker Raphaelle, is near enough a recluse in his room making the keys of the visitors with only his own grief as company but when Liddy meets him, a warmth and care exudes from him. 

This book was beautiful. The plot points were so cleverly laid out and weaved together and although it was slow in parts, it was slow in a necessary way. It was gentle and heartwarming. Above anything else though, the imagery was outstanding to me. I was absolutely mesmerised by it. Cartwright created such an intoxicating atmosphere, both charming and enchanting but so timeless. I would perhaps place this book in a gentle gothic genre. There was a whimsy to it but in a dark-fairytale type of way. 

I’d also say that this is the type of book you want to read from the pages rather than listen to. I often like to switch between a physical book and audible but some books you simply can’t do that with because spoken words can’t capture the magic in the same way. There were parts of the book that I became so intoxicated and drawn in by with the imagery, that I had to reread sections to make sure I was still following the tale. They make you heady and intoxicated, and in this way I found The House of Sorrowing Stars to feel quite similar to The Night Circus. The only way I can put it is, it’s the type of writing that you can’t help but get wrapped up in; it makes you feel like butter on warm toast. 

I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the fantasy genre or magical realism. It’s also a great book for anytime of the year I’d say. It doesn’t lean into any time of the year so I think you could get away with enjoying it on either a summer holiday or a winters evening. For me, this will definitely be a tale I revisit when I want the warm and fuzzies. Have you read The House of Sorrowing Stars? Let me know what you thought?

Cheerio for now!

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