Signa Farrow is immune to death… but she’s not immune to his charms.
[Please Note: I was provided a free Advanced Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher via Netgalley]
Belladonna might just be the perfect Halloween read; from the spooky Victorian-era Gothic inspired setting to the whodunnit mystery and the sweepingly fantastical romance, it couldn’t be more season appropriate if it was pumpkin-spice scented.
In this novel, we follow our protagonist Signa Farrow who is not like other girls. She’s immune to death, but unfortunately, no one else around her is. Signa’s early life reads a lot like a series of unfortunate events where with each untimely demise, she finds herself going from a bad situation to a worse one over and over and over again.
All of this is Death’s fault, who is depicted as a human-esque anthropomorphic figure made from shadows, or so Signa believes. And even though he insists that he’s been trying to help her all along, she doesn’t believe him… because he’s… well, Death.
After yet another tragic event leaves her guardian-less with mere months until she comes of age and inherits her parent’s fortune, Death leads her to Thorn Grove where her cousin has died of a long, mysterious illness and her daughter has fallen ill with the same symptoms. The Lord of Thorn Grove, Elijah, has completely dissociated in his grief and is squandering the family fortune and besmirching their good name by hosting debauched balls and staying drunk and disorderly at. all. times. Which, of course, puts the entire future of the family in jeopardy.
Signa can see more than just Death however, she can see spirits that linger and choose not to move on, and after communing with her cousin’s lost and angry soul she discovers that Lillian was poisoned, and whoever murdered her is now trying to kill her daughter too. Now Signa is in a race to find a killer before he completely destroys the only family she’s ever felt welcomed into, while simultaneously trying to heal deep rifts between the people who live at Thorn Grove.
This book reminded me of The Masque of Red Death meets Crimson Peak with its sweeping moors, vast gothic estates, and Bridgerton-worthy romance arc. While locations in the book were described well, the worldbuilding at large was a bit vague. For example, Thorn Grove where most of the book takes place was easy to picture during the read; however, it’s never explicitly stated if this book is set in a Victorian-era inspired fantasy world or if it’s meant to actually be set in England during a specific time period. So this isn’t a book you can expect too many details from in terms of scenery or location. Though, by the end of the novel it’s clear that this is the first in a series and readers might expect that the worldbuilding will be expanded upon in future installations.
However, the magic system and the mystery elements were simply delightful. This novel didn’t take itself too seriously, which made a lot of the darker material much easier to digest and keep the reader from feeling too weighed down by trauma to enjoy the story. And while I normally don’t stray towards mystery or thriller novels, I have to admit I had fun trying to puzzle out who the killer was as we got to know more about the inhabitants of Thorn Grove.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to touch on the romance arc in this novel. While the romance in this novel is intended for Young Adult audiences and clearly supposed to be a sub-plot; the author spent a lot of time focusing on it, at times veering from the overall mystery, though it wasn’t overly distracting from the main plot. Signa definitely has a case of ‘special-girl syndrome’ when it comes to the romantic interests in this book; in my personal opinion there were too many different options for the main romantic interest and it got confusing at several points. Also, because of the murder mystery plot I didn’t trust myself to get too close to any of them (just in case they turned out to be the killer, but this was actually part of the fun).
The most complicated part of the romance arc in this novel is how much I really enjoyed the tension between her and the main romantic lead, though I thought there were several things about that relationship that were problematic and although written well, overall it made me uncomfortable. Strangely, with the spooky atmosphere woven throughout this book, the discomfort and distrust felt in the romance arc fits kind of perfectly. Also, there was one graphic scene which was a little bolder than I normally see in YA fiction (not fade-to-black), but not overly graphic for readers who tend to prefer their romances clean.
All in all, I liked this book. I thought it was imaginative and atmospheric without trying too hard. The modern influences made this fantasy world feel accessible and realistic, and I found myself rooting for this poor, grief-stricken family as they tried to stitch themselves back together. The romance, though problematic in my opinion, was written really well. The mystery was well-balanced and came to a satisfying conclusion. It’s clear by the ending that this is not the last book in this series and I’m definitely curious to see what more Adalyn Grace has in store for us.