Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

A complimentary advanced reader copy of this book was provided by Egmont in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!) My review was in no way influenced by this consideration.

The first line of the synopsis for Of Monsters and Madness says, “A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.”

So…that pretty much sealed the deal for me right there. Gothic? Check. Romantic? Historical? Check-check. POE? JUST HAND IT OVER, PLEASE. I’ve been in love with Poe’s delicious creepiness since I heard a radio show performance of “The Tell-Tale Heart” on cassette tape when I was twelve years old.

The story, in short, is this: Annabel Lee, whose mother has recently died, arrives in Philadelphia where she is to live with her father, whom she has never met. She grew up in England and then Siam (Thailand), and feels like an outsider in this large, American city. Annabel’s father is gruff and mercurial, and seems unhappy she’s in the house. He’s too busy with his work to take much notice of her, anyway, and spends most of his time in his laboratory. His assistant, though, seems very charming. Allan Poe helped save Annabel from drowning when she stepped off the ship to Philadelphia, and he’s very attentive. He’s also warned Annabel not to be outside alone–there’s a murderer on the loose, after all.

Of Monsters and Madness does not disappoint with the spook factor; it’s full of all sorts of shady, mysterious characters with suspect motives. Each of them is uniquely voiced and some are downright scary–Edgar is sometimes cringeworthy. If I have a complaint with regard to the characters, it’s that I wanted more from them. I believed several had more to do than they were given in the book: I never felt like I was sure what Brahm was about, and Mrs. Tusk seemed like she could have had a larger role. Cook and Johanna could have been fleshed out, as well. I adored Grandpere, though, and was so fond of the friendship between Maddy and Annabel. Allan was well-written, as well, and the chemistry between him and Annabel was palpable. While I didn’t feel like all my questions about Annabel’s father were answered, I did appreciate some of the complexities of his character.

I had similar questions regarding the plot, when all was said and done. I found myself running back to the internet to see if I’d somehow missed the fact that Monsters was the start of a series, but couldn’t find anything. When the book ended, so many questions were unanswered–where did Annabel’s scars come from? Why did her mother feel so strongly about them? How did Allan end up where he did in the last chapter, and what the heck is the last chapter even about? It seems tacked on, and like such a clear springboard to a sequel, creating more questions than it answers. It left me totally confused.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Monsters. The writing is compelling, the plot creative. I was delighted by the connections to Poe’s works and his life, and the quotes woven throughout are used cleverly. Verday’s characters leap off the page and demand attention, and push the story along at a good clip. Despite the questions I had in the end, I was always anxious to return to Monsters, and that’s a sign of a really good read, for me.

Some Gothic-horror style murder; otherwise clean.  3.5 stars, which would be higher, if I felt like there were not so many unanswered questions in the end. For pure enjoyment of reading, this was absolutely a 4+. Of Monsters and Madness releases tomorrow.

3.5 Stars

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