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Blog Tour Review - The Only Way Out is Death by Varun Gwalani

 Blog Tour Review - The Only Way Out is Death by Varun Gwalani Twelve powerful people are kidnapped and imprisoned in an empty hotel. Each one of them has three choices: Live out the rest of their days peacefully in the hotel, Die by suicide so the rest of their companions can go free, Or murder one of their companions so they alone can go free. The Only Way Out is Death follows the story of these twelve people from the perspective of a young lawyer, Kiriaki, told as the events unfold. She has to forge messy alliances, navigate complex relationships and feuds, and, above all, try to stay alive. Meanwhile, the mastermind of this death game is lurking just out of view, watching them closely, making sure they are primed for murder. Will Kiriaki find the mastermind before it's too late for her? Will she outmanoeuvre the cutthroats before they cut her throat? There are twelve selfish lives in the hotel. Will it end in twelve selfish deaths? The Only Way Out is Death is a fascinating nov

Blog Tour Review - Starling House by Alix E Harrow

 Blog Tour Review - Starling House by Alix E Harrow

Step into Starling House - if you dare...

Nobody in Eden remembers when Starling House was built. But the town agrees it's best to let this ill-omened mansion - and its last lonely heir - go to hell. Stories of the house's bad luck, like good china, have been passed down the generations.

Opal knows better than to mess with haunted houses, or brooding men. But when an opportunity to work there arises, the money might get her brother out of Eden. Starling House is uncanny and full of secrets - just like Arthur, its heir. It also feels strangely, dangerously, like something she's never had: a home. Yet Opal isn't the only one interested in the horrors and the wonders that lie buried beneath it.

Sinister forces converge on Eden - and Opal realizes that if she wants a home, she'll have to fight for it. Even if it involves digging up her family's ugly past to achieve a better future. She'll have to go down, deep down beneath Starling House, to claw her way back to the light...



I adored reading Starling House. It's a stunning modern gothic novel. 

It unfolds at a really lovely pace. Things start fairly slowly, with a mysterious house lurking on the edge of a cursed town. Opal is curious about the house, and that curiosity transfers to the reader too. And with Opal, we slowly begin to explore the mysteries of the place and its connections to the town, its history and its mythology and where the two combine and collide. 

One of the key concepts of a gothic novel is that the building itself is a character in the story, and I don't think that's ever been achieved so accurately as in Starling House. The house has a weird, unsettling but beautiful sentience to it. It's subtle, at least to begin with, but as the novel progresses, as things get weirder and weirder, it is accentuated and becomes much more pronounced. There's so much mystery there and I love how there is just enough explanation to give your imagination a sense of direction as it wanders off down corridors of wonder.

Opal is a brilliant character. She's strong and determined, but also fundamentally flawed. She fits the story so well, and it's great watching her collide with the different forces trying to influence her, and finding her own way. The relationship between her and her brother is complex and realistic, and really fun to watch, and I loved the slow building of the relationship between her and Arthur. She really is the heart of the story, though she's not the only POV character. I think this is brilliantly put across by the simple technique of having her sections told in first person and Arthur's told in third person. It's like we're seeing half of the story through Opal's eyes, and the other half through watching over Arthur's shoulder, a literary trick that works so well and gives us one character we can really relate to, understand, empathise with and root for, and another character who is able to retain so much of his mystery and fundamental unknowableness. It's very clever.

Another literary element I thought worked brilliantly was the telling of stories within the novel. This happens various times, and always with a break in the text, a title, and a telling of the tale. But they retain the narrative voice of whoever is telling the story, which I really liked. Those stories really give a sense that what we're seeing is a mythology unfolding. It's the place where historical accounts meet fairy tales, a combination that captures so much of what Starling House is trying to do, and succeeds in doing. 

There's so much complexity to Starling House, but it never feels confusing. It's mysterious, for sure, but as the characters peel back the layers of that mystery it always feels like the pieces are dropping into place. But like all of the best fairy tales, much of it is left open to interpretation. It's beautiful in its mysteriousness.

There are real world issues combined too. Opal's life is not an easy one, and its clear how much she is struggling with the burdens laid upon her that she is unwilling to give up. The balance works, the reality and the mystery and the links woven between the two are compelling and engaging.

It's beautifully written too. The imagery used is, at times, simply stunning. I particularly loved the sensitive and insightful consideration of the difference between wants and likes. It feels so simple, but when it is applied to Opal, who has to struggle for everything, it is drastically different to when it is applied to her mother, or to other characters around her and it is used to both tell a fundamental truth and to illustrate the difference between different characters, their privilege, their personality, and their outlook on life.

Starling House is deep, mysterious and beautiful. A fantastic addition to the gothic litany.

🌕🌕🌕🌕🌕


Starling House by Alix E Harrow is out now, published by Tor Books.

I was given a review copy in exchange for an honest review and participation in this Black Crow PR blog tour.



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