Cover Image: House of Shades

House of Shades

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Member Reviews

Set in victorian London, this dark drama follows a woman doctor through her journey to uncover the past. This mysterious read will keep you guessing and in love with the gothic themes. I could not put this down!

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With due respect to the “Bridgerton” miniseries, most people of African descent in Regency and Victorian Britain did not live among the upper classes. Hester Reeves, the heroine of Lianne Dillsworth’s second novel, “House of Shades,” is far more typical in her background. A “doctoress” (healer, because in 1833 a woman could not earn a medical degree), Hester has spent most of her career working with streetwalkers among the stews of London, but at the beginning of the novel, a recommendation from her pastor has landed her what looks like a great job: care for an elderly industrialist at his London mansion for four weeks, and she will earn ten pounds, which at that time is enough to support herself, her husband, their as yet unborn baby, and her younger sister in relative comfort outside the city.

The salary has a special importance for Hester, who vowed to her dying mother that she would protect the younger sister, sixteen-year-old Willa, from harm. But Willa, as resistant to adult restrictions as most teenagers, has become involved with her boss at the factory where she works, so removing her from London and its temptations is an essential part of protecting her, at least in Hester’s eyes.

From the beginning, the job is not quite as advertised. The mansion, Tall Trees, looms above Hester—cold, oppressive, daunting. The staff consists of a friendly young maid and a stern housekeeper bent on getting Hester out of the house as soon as possible, even if it means lying about her to the homeowner, Gervais Cherville, and his son—Willa’s would-be seducer. Gervais himself welcomes Hester’s remedies, but she soon recognizes that he suffers from syphilis. That heightens her concern for Willa, consorting with a man who may have inherited the disease from his father. Then Hester learns what else Gervais Cherville wants from her, and before long, she’s submerged in the tortured heritage of slavery in the United Kingdom, from the depths of poverty to, yes, those upper classes of “Bridgerton” fame.

This is a Gothic novel in every sense, from its opening paragraph to its classic conclusion, but its unflinching if never preachy focus on nineteenth-century race relations and its professional, pregnant, happily married heroine give it an interesting twist. Hester is at times too principled for her own good, but her devotion to her family and her patients make us pull for her all the way.

I plan to interview this author on my blog (link below) in mid-July, when the book comes out.

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House of Shades follows Hester as she begins a four week job as nurse to an dying man. She feels something dark in the house as soon as she enters, and she starts uncovering the secrets of the family. Soon, her employer asks her to help him make atonement for some decisions in his past, which bring up more secrets, until Hester is in too deeply.
I don't think this is a bad book, it is historical fiction, depicting London as it begins to disallow any kind of slave labor. Hester is a Black woman, and so we are following her journey to discover more about her background. However, based on the description, I was expecting more of a Gothic tale where the house was a character, instead this was more of a family drama. It described as dark and immersive, neither of which came across to me in this read. For readers of historical fiction and stories and interfamilial relationships, this would be one to pick up.

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Haunting? Cursed House? What or who is causing the perpetual tragedies befalling this family of former slave owners? Who will protect them, and do they even deserve it? I enjoyed this novel even as I was repulsed by the community's treatment of persons of color. Interesting twists in this mystery.

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I wanted more from this book. It reminded me of Riley sager in some contexts. I thought it was easy to read and straightforward but I didn’t feel like the characters had an depth

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