Book Review: Charlotte Markham & the House of Darkling

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino

Another book I am thankful to have received for review  this summer from William Morrow Paperbacks was Michael Boccacino’s Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling.  I am a sucker for a great title and book cover, and this one really came through on both of those.  A rusty gate as the background of an intriguing title…yes please!  I’m always ready for a bit of Victorian Gothic suspense and fantasy.  Katherine Webb, author of The Unseen (which I reviewed recently) said this book was “A lyrical and visceral adventure into a realm beyond time and death.”  That is a perfect description!
From the back cover:

When the nanny to the young Darrow boys is found murdered on the outskirts of Blackfield, Charlotte Markham, the recently hired governess, steps in to take over their care.  During an outing in the forest, they find themselves crossing over into The Ending, the place for the Things That Cannot Die, where Lily Darrow, the late mistress of Everton, has been waiting.  She invites them into the ominous House of Darkling, a wondrous, dangerous place filled with enchantment, mystery and strange creatures that appear to be, but are not quite, human.

However, everything comes with a price, and as Charlotte begins to understand the unspeakable bargain Mrs. Darrow has made for a second chance at motherhood, she uncovers a connection to the sinister occurrences in Blackfield and enters into a deadly game with the master of Darkling, one whose outcome will determine not just the fate of the Darrows, but of the world itself.

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling is a Victorian gothic tale about family ties, the realm beyond the living, and the price you pay to save those you love.

There is quite a bit of craft involved when choosing names for characters, I think.  And Michael Boccacino nails his choices like a seasoned expert, despite this being his first novel.   The entire concept of this novel, with its themes of loss and love and life and death, is executed perfectly.  I was pulled in from the beginning, and did not want to put it down.

The feel of this book reminded me a bit of my beloved Jane Eyre, with a dose of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (both books I recommend heartily, if you’ve never read them) thrown in.  And I am not the only person to make those comparisons – I encountered several reviews after reading the book that drew the same conclusions.  Charlotte Markham, and really all of the characters, are fully realized – they have flaws, and Boccacino takes the time to let the reader know how others in the book interact and respond to those flaws.  This style of of writing allows for a very intimate portrait of each character.  It is easy to see and feel Lily Darrow’s devotion to her children (even in death), Charlotte’s concerns of the constraints of society versus the growing feelings for her employer, and even the indifference of the inhabitants of the House of Darkling.

The book is dark, yet there is humor and intense caring to be found.  The concepts of how Death works in both “real life” and  for the “Things Above Death” is fascinating.  I loved every page of the book, and was particularly touched by the P.S. (Insights, Interviews, and More) section at the back.  Boccacino laid himself bare in that section, and it makes the novel he wrote all the more interesting.

This is a book I will re-read, and recommend to everyone.  I loved it!  Pick a dark and stormy night (ok, any rainy day will do), grab a blanket and a cup of hot tea, and settle in for a fantastic read.

Quick Facts:
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (July 24, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062122614
ISBN-13: 978-0062122612
Author’s Website: Michael Boccacino
Facebook: Michael Boccacino
Twitter: @mboccacino