A runaway works at a boardinghouse for the damned in late-Georgian–period England.
In a prologue, Louisa informs readers that she works for the Devil among other odd and cursed employees, cleaning up after the deaths of those who visit Coldthistle House. After fleeing an abusive, governess-training boarding school, Louisa scrapes by telling fortunes until she’s rescued from a sticky situation by a crone who promises employment at Coldthistle House. On the way, they’re joined by fellow Coldthistle-bound travelers: a wealthy (if unpleasant) man and his charming nephew, Lee, who takes to Louisa right away despite the fact that he’s a guest and she’s to be a new servant. Once they arrive, the crone quickly transforms into the much more proper house matron and manager, Mrs. Haylam, and Louisa’s other new co-workers quickly befriend her. But soon Louisa uncovers just how supernatural the eerie proprietor, Mr. Morningside, and the rest of the residents are. All guests are sinners marked for death. Louisa must help Lee with a mystery of his own and prove he doesn’t deserve a grisly end—or discover if he does. Characters’ emotional connections create wonderful tension. Periodic illustrations and excerpts from fictional supernatural texts provide concise exposition. Most characters are white, while many are inhuman. Louisa’s a classic Gothic narrator, her diction recalling genre standards. The ending is satisfying without ruling out sequels.
Atmospheric, moody, and great fun. (Horror. 13-adult)