Book Review: The Haunting of Ashburn House

IS IT FRIDAY
LIGHT THE CANDLE

Synopsis: Adrienne, a down on her luck freelancer receives a miracle in the form of Ashburn House. The inheritance is a house she has never seen and comes from an aunt Adrienne thought never existed. But when Adrienne lays eyes on Ashburn, she remembers it from a terrifying night in her childhood. Adrienne soon discovers cryptic messages carved into the walls and furniture. And when night falls, Adrienne realizes she’s not the only one in Ashburn House. The dead are restless and they’re coming for her.

Image of a book with a dark blue and black cover. On the cover is a old house with one window lit. The text on the book reads 'Darcy Coates The Haunting of Ashburn House'

Thoughts: I’m a sucker for haunted houses, but I’m almost offensively picky with my haunted house reads. Or movies. I demand the best of the classic tropes but heaven forbid if nothing new is brought to the table.

When I picked up The Haunting of Ashburn House, I had seen a number of other Darcy Coates books, but hadn’t read any. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical. Was each book going to be a half-hearted revamp of the last one? But, I was looking for some inspiration for my own haunted house collection, and having limited options at the time, I decided to grab the book. Let that go on my list of “Good Life Choices.”

The Haunting of Ashburn House gave me what I wanted and far more. I found myself reading beloved haunted house tropes, fresh takes on said tropes, plenty of opportunities to screech at the delightful plot twists and, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I was genuinely scared by a book.

It seems strange to me, but the biggest reason I was scared while reading was because I was scared for Adrienne. Down on her luck, a trope to be sure, but the reasons for her misfortune were relatable and realistic. Freelancing can be hard at the best of times, but when trying to freelance after the death of a parent, trying to find a home, and pay the bills? That would describe a number of people these days. But Adrienne has some tools in her arsenal. Her strengths: intelligence, curiosity, logic, and hope. Unfortunately for her they’re also are her weaknesses. The balance between how these things are both strengths and weaknesses is beautiful. The humanity of all characters, not just Adrienne, highlights the terror the dead bring. Not once does it feel trite or overused. Just the right mix of humanity’s good and bad is used to push the suspense and plot forward.

The suspense is in equal parts due to the mystery surrounding how Adrienne came to own Ashburn House and the disturbing things that are happening. The pacing on this is something that I as a writer am envious of. Almost immediately we get a disturbing event, followed by an aftershock of sorts. This repeats with events getting bigger and the ‘aftershocks’ coming more quickly and becoming larger themselves.

With that said though, the tropes that I loved also made things seem predictable at first. The tropes (furniture moving when no one is around, odd sounds, a cat that seems too on edge) did their job, adding to the atmosphere and rising dread. But Coates did a brilliant job of turning these tropes into something new and fresh. Every time I thought I figured something out I would find out I was so close, but just off the mark, the revelation all the more shocking and delightful because of it. This book was so fun to read because of that perfect blend of new and old.

Re-reading this book (something I plan on doing very soon), will be even more of a joy because I can find those hints that I missed before. I know that this book will remain fresh no matter how many times I read it. I’ve found a new book to add to my favorites shelf, as well as a new author to delight in.

While haunted houses are a staple of horror, The Haunting of Ashburn House brings something new and lively to the bookshelf. This is the first book I’d recommend to anyone looking to read something within the haunted house genre. And even if you aren’t a horror fan, I strongly recommend you steel yourself and read this book. The humanity of the characters, the mystery, and elegance of the writing is truly worth the read.

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