- Author: Adalyn Grace
- Genre: YA Fantasy
- Publication Date: August 30, 2022
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Series: Belladonna #1
Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: death, abuse, murder, gore, blood, violence, vomit
New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace brings to life a highly romantic, Gothic-infused world of wealth, desire, and betrayal.
Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.
However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine.
I have to admit, I don’t take a lot of stock in not judging books by their cover. Because that’s the first thing that caught my attention, and I’m so glad that I was already half sold on the book because of this gorgeous cover. Because the story inside captured my attention even more than the cover did, with a style even more compelling than Grace’s previous books had.
We’re quickly introduced to Signa, our protagonist. She was orphaned as an infant, and despite a large trust waiting for her and no shortage of potential guardians, it doesn’t guarantee love or good care. The only constant in her life is the presence of Death. As in … the guy who comes to collect souls when people die. He shows up regularly, as the people around her die and she’s shuffled from home to home, never quite fitting in. It also doesn’t help that Signa sees ghosts. And when her most recent guardian dies 6 months before she is able to access her inheritance, she’s sent to the last relative she has left—the Hawthorne family.
But when she arrives at Thorn Grove, things aren’t copacetic. The wife has recently passed away from a mysterious illness, the daughter is suffering from the same thing and it isn’t looking good, and the father is collapsing under the weight of his grief. As Signa attempts to find her place in this gloomy, mysterious place, she’s drawn into figuring out what happened by the ghost of the recently deceased lady of the manor. She’s not sure who she can trust, and relies on the only person who seems willing to help: a strange groom from the stables who seems to have some secrets that she can’t quite figure out. Oh, and Death.
Along the way, Signa figures out a lot about herself and where she wants to be in society. She chafes between staying true to herself and the strict expectations of society. At first, she’s desperate to fit in, but over the course of the novel, as she begins to prepare to make her debut and socialize with other young women (and men) her own age, she starts to question what she really wants. There are several young women that she interacts with, and while Signa is concerned with making real connections with others and helping to save her cousins life, her peers seem more concerned with gossip and making a good match with a marriageable man. She also realizes that marriage will change her ability to be independent, since all of her assets will be transferred to her husband.
I loved the way she slowly came out of her shell, going from being isolated and mistreated to learning to become more social and trusting, as well as confident and expressing her own thoughts and desires more openly. And she’s very much a morally gray character, torn between doing the right thing as dictated by social terms and doing what she feels is right, which isn’t always the same thing. In addition, there was an amazing connection between Signa and Death, which I enjoyed seeing develop, since at first she didn’t trust him (understandably), but then she got to see a different side of him once she got to know him.
Obviously, this ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one. While everything felt wrapped up with this story, the cliffhanger perfectly sets the tone for book two. This was a masterfully written story that kept me intrigued and engaged for the entire story, and was perfectly paced.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 8
Categories: Book Review