This novel is an unexpected delight that grows steadily more compelling as its pages fly by. Waldherr plays with gothic tropes, from the plot devices of misty moors, unexpected fires, and uncovered letters to the gendered conventions of tragic romance. The novel builds into a surrealist, haunting tale of suspense where every prediction turns out to be merely a step toward a bigger reveal.
... an accomplished debut novel ... a sensual, twisting gothic tale that embraces Victorian superstition much in the tradition of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights; the mystery is slyly developed, while the love story is tastefully titillating ... In a novel that blurs the line between life and death, nothing can be taken for granted, and just when you think you have everything figured out, Waldherr turns the tables once again. This means that at times the narrative becomes convoluted and certain plot points don’t come to fruition, but it’s still an absorbing read.
There is a Scheherazade-like structure to Isabelle’s tale, and the haunting beauty of the love story makes Ada and Hugh come alive as characters. As in many gothic stories, the moldering old house that represents family tragedy is a fitting, creepy backdrop to the mysteries of the past. Waldherr avoids cliché in her rich descriptions and hints of supernatural presence that never cross into melodrama. Additionally, while most gothic tales offer only darkness and tragedy, a surprising amount of light and joy imbues the ending here. Fitting, perhaps, for a novel that uses stained glass as a symbol for heavenly possibility, even in the face of death ... Waldherr writes that 'love stories are ghost stories in disguise.' This one, happily, succeeds as both.