The Widow Of Pale Harbor, by Hester Fox is gloriously Gothic, deliciously dark and magnificently mysterious. With secrets, murder and isolation, this book is creepy and captivating.
The Widow Of Pale Harbor, by Hester Fox follows the story of Sophronia ‘Sophy’ Carver and Gabriel Stone.
Gabriel arrives in Pale Harbor, a small remote village, as their new minister- a position he has taken as penance and as a way to deal with his past. Gabriel is struggling after having lost his wife in the past year, for which he blames himself, and see’s Pale Harbor as a way to move on and pay honour to her. However, upon arriving he soon begins to realise that this small, sleepy town is much darker than it seems. With strange occurrences and the rumour of the witch who killed her husband filling the town, Gabriel ends up becoming part of a much bigger, and more sinister mystery.
Meanwhile, Sophy is already at the core of the mystery. She is the widow that Gabriel has heard about. Sophy spends her days hidden away in her home, though it is more like a castle, where it is Safe. Safe from the townspeople, Safe from the rumours, but more importantly, Safe from whoever keeps leaving dead ravens on her doorstep. With only her maid, Helen, as company, Sophy finds herself feeling isolated and victimised, and then she meets Gabriel. Suspicious of each other until they begin to bond, the two end up facing the deadly mystery of Pearl Harbor together.
As the secrets begin to unravel you are left wondering, did Sophy kill her husband? And who is terrorising Pearl Harbor?
Well I have been so lucky this year with some amazing Gothic novels having been released (also as eARC’s via Netgalley) and I have had the honour of reading them! And The Widow Of Pale Harbour was another Gothic delight that I thoroughly enjoyed!
Hester Fox’s novel The Widow Of Pale Harbor was a wonderful and creepy read, perfect for October. It had so many trademark Gothic elements, but the book itself was completely original. The setting of the novel, starting with Pale Harbor, was well crafted and I really could feel just how small and isolated this village is, while also respecting the close knit community – which made the rumours surrounding Sophy even more interesting and the horrifying happenings even more harrowing. The other primary setting that added wonderfully to the Gothic infused horror was Sophy’s home, Carver Castle, the largest house in Pale Harbor. This took me back to the roots of Gothic and horror literature, while maintaining a fresh perspective! The house itself creates suspense with it being so large and isolated, inhabited only by Sophy and Helen- Helen is a suspicious character from the start with her use of herbs bordering on witchcraft- and it sits on a large piece of overgrown and dense land, adding to the lonely but creepy atmosphere.
I adored the settings used in the novel, they were creepy, added suspense, and made me really connect with the story.
The story/plot itself was very interesting and I was in constant suspense- in fact I actually ended up reading this in almost one sitting (darn sleep getting in the way)! Despite drawing from traditional horror and Gothic elements, this was definitely an original and unique story with the traditional elements actually aiding the story’s individuality. The separate elements of the story such as, Sophy’s past (what really happened is she guilty? Is she innocent?), Gabriel’s loss, Helen’s obsession, and the current torment that is rooted in Pale Harbor, all comes together extraordinarily well with it driving the characters emotions and actions, as well as setting up for the unexpected ending. This story had so many elements that were interesting ranging from romance to horror that it hit the mark on almost everything you could want from this genre.
The horror elements of the story, with some (Minor Spoiler) …. Edgar Allen Poe influences… (Spoiler over), were very well crafted, very creepy and definitely rewarded the build up of suspense, and maintained that suspense throughout the novel. The horror was unpredictable and horrifying – just how I like my horrors- and the gradual increase in the awful nature of these events worked very well and had me super anxious as to what they tormentor would do next! The suspense of the novel was also aided by the mystery that surrounded Sophy. The town banding together and spreading rumours as to her past and her witchy ways makes the reader question whether we can trust her- while I never thought she was doing these strange things in the village (because they were mostly targeting her), I did question her innocence regarding her husband and was conflicted as to whether or not she was capable of the murder the villagers were so quick to blame her for. This made her narrative fun to read and very interesting to think about.
Moreover, her housemaid, Helen, was also suspicious and shrouded in mystery. She uses herbs for spells, as protection for Sophy, has a questionable background and hates everyone but Sophy. I immediately did not trust her and as the book went on she added to the suspense with her spells, her obsession and her cold demeanour. Her character was the perfect addition to maintain the novel’s suspense but also to add a slight supernatural element as we never know for certain whether or not Helen’s spells actually worked- and the predictions she made for if the spell was broken made me question the fates of each character and kept me anxious enough that I needed to keep reading.
The romance element of the story, surprisingly, I quite enjoyed. I do not hate romance, but it is not my first choice of novel, however, when it is incorporated into a story I don’t mind it. My only issue with the romance in The Widow Of Pale Harbor was it was almost ‘insta-love’ and, since one of the characters is recovering from a loss this seemed a little too quick for me. However! I did not hate the ‘insta-love’ entirely as the story already had some spell casting and witchy atmosphere thus, I can accept that the love between the two worked extraordinarily well in regard to threatening Sophy and her protection spells. Moreover, once the two started to get to know each other, and trust one and other, the love between them was better (imo). I liked how they had feelings for each other but, for their own separate reasons, could not give into them – the conflict here was interesting to read and added a new dimension to the novel- and I enjoyed watching their relationship develop despite the views of the village and the secrets they were keeping. Furthermore, the slightly steamy scene in the midst of the chaos in the novel gave the characters the chance to break free from their past shackles and allow themselves intimacy they had denied for so long.
The ending and build up of the novel did surprise me. I did not guess who the tormentor was until right before the reveal- which was nice as I was still surprised with a hint of satisfaction -and the end sequences were really interesting! Also kind of mad at the way Hester Fox played me at the Bluff scene – I won’t go into details because spoilers but man did that mess with my emotions! I loved it because it was emotional, suspenseful and horrifying all at the same time. The ending for the tormentor (a little hint of classic endings) was interesting and the reveal very surprising (I certainly did not guess the motive) and the overall ending was sad but sweet – I appreciated the determination and sense of home created at the end.
The characters were incredibly well developed and I could easily connect with them, despite them being questionable, and the little hint of narrative we get from characters other than Sophy and Gabriel was delightful and a clever addition to the novel. Sophy’s character was intriguing to me as she was both the damsel in distress but also the independent and strong-willed heroine – the development was extraordinary and well written. Gabriel was also an interesting character, with his past and his own secrets he was also well developed and easy to connect with. Helen, Tom, and Fanny – other characters who we see relatively more of than most were also individual and in-depth despite not all being central characters and I enjoyed reading about them and their interactions with other characters. The ending for all of these characters worked very well for this novel.
The Widow Of Pale Harbor, by Hester Fox was a wonderful story of loss, torment, mystery and secrets. All of which were cleverly explored through the romance, horror and Gothic elements in the novel.
This was definitely a perfect October read which I recommend to anyone who loves creepy, spooky and harrowing novels!
*I received and eARC of #TheWidowOfPaleHarbor by Hester Fox from #Netgalley, @HQStories and at @HQYoungAdult HQUK in exchange for an honest review.*