Gothic novels are my catnip. I think they're probably the genre of book I probably enjoy most because of the creepiness and the meticulous plotting that goes in to creating not just the mystery element but also the atmosphere. But, like all books, the Gothic genre has its hits and its misses, and this was more miss than hit.
THE WIDOW OF PALE HARBOR starts out promisingly enough in the way that it introduces our two main characters. Sophronia is haunted by the (figurative) ghost of her dead abusive husband, and struggles with her agoraphobia in her isolated mansion on the hill. Everyone thinks that she's a witch who probably murdered her husband, and the fact that her house servant practices herblore certainly doesn't help matters. Lately, she's been the victim of cruel pranks involving letters, ravens (dead and alive), and effigies, intent on making her squirm.
Gabriel is a man who has come to the small village of Pale Harbor to be a minister of Transcendentalism. He is doing this, despite a very painful lack of any religious training of any kind in homage to his late wife, who was fascinated by the religious movement and wanted him to practice the beautiful words that he used to transcribe for mere pennies. By preaching, he hopes that he will be able to honor her in death as he was unable to in life-- until he meets Sophronia.
The biggest detriment to this book is the insta-love between the hero and heroine. In the beginning, I was very much on board with the claustrophobic small town vibe, spiritual and religious and taking god-fearing to extremes that had the faintest whiff of witch-hunting fervor from the century prior. I could have even bought the doomed romance, had it been spaced out a bit, but with both parties being widowed, and haunted by their spouse's passings (albeit for different reasons), it felt a bit weird that they would be so eager to leap into a new relationship, given what we knew of their characters.
As for the mystery element, that was what I liked best about this book, although it wasn't quite the dark and disturbing read I'd wished for. The Edgar Allen Poe-inspired pranks and murders that had me picking up this book in the first place definitely don't quite capture that breathless horror that had Poe terrorizing the Victorians back in the day. I didn't actually guess who the culprit was until the end, so that was nice, but the ending was anticlimactic and falls prey to the usual "bad guy" tropes.
THE WIDOW OF PALE HARBOR is not a bad book, but it isn't a standout in the genre, either. It's bland, it's blah, but that's okay. Pick this up if you want a quick, breezy read that will pass an afternoon without too much brain drain, just as long as you don't mind a syrupy, saccharine serving of romance paired alongside your milquetoast murder mystery.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars