**** Harkworth Hall, by L.S. Johnson

Harkworth Hall

“Ask him about his wives.”

Caroline Daniels must marry, and marry well. But in her remote corner of England eligible suitors are few and far between, and none hold a candle to her closest friend, Diana Fitzroy.

When Sir Edward Masterson arrives, he seems the answer to Caroline’s financial worries, though she instinctively dislikes the reticent, older merchant. Soon Sir Edward has set his sights on acquiring both Caroline and the decaying Harkworth Hall.

Caroline’s future seems secure, save that Sir Edward’s enigmatic secretary hints at a dark secret, and Sir Edward shows an unusual interest in the nearby bay. To discover Sir Edward’s true purpose, Caroline will have to face the horror beneath Harkworth Hall—and the woman who will change her life.

Finally, the wlw gothic/supernatural romance novel that I was waiting for. I didn’t know that I was waiting for it, but after reading it I can safely say that this book fills a hole in my life. (I originally called it regency, but now I’m not sure? Everyone says gothic, so that’s what I’ll go with. I do not know these things I’m sorry)

From the very first line in the blurb I was hooked. « Ask him about his wives » reminded me of the story of Bluebeard, which was such a beloved horror story for me and my best friend in college that I just had to read this book. Add to it that the main character would rather marry a woman than a man, and I am hooked. I do not get enough queer books to review, and a queer genre book is just hitting the jackpot.

Right away, the writing is engaging and crisp, and it doesn’t waste it’s time on long description. The book is short, but the story flow so well that you can easily read this book in one or two days and you don’t feel like you are missing anything – like a Neil Gaiman short story, everything that should be there is there. The plot is fairly straightforward, in a narrative sense. It starts slowly, then the mysteries pile up, the character decides to investigate, action happens, there’s a hint of a resolution – oh no, more things go wrong! – and then there’re an actual resolution and the sequel hook. This is by no means a bad thing. In these days when every media seems to want to bury me under flashbacks and « mindtwists » and plot holes, this classic manner of storytelling is like a breath of fresh air. It also gives us the time to unravel what’s going on at the same time as the main character, and establish it’s universe in a slow but reliable manner.

The main character, Caroline, is great in that while she knows how to shoot and ride, she doesn’t suffer from « not like the other girls » syndrome. She doesn’t spit on « girly » things, but rather follows and believes in the social conventions of the time, and is shocked but intrigued when she meets another character who does not follow those established conventions. Caroline is also a main character that is easy to like. She’s stubborn to a fault and too curious for her own good, but she is also courageous, dedicated to her family and unafraid to work hard when the occasion calls for it.

The mystery is interesting, and did not play out exactly how I thought it would, which is good. This is not flat-out horror, more like a supernatural thriller, but there is definitely suspence that culminates in a good old’ monster reveal, just how I like them.

The novel definitely has some exciting twists and turns, most of which playing on the reader’s assumptions of how this sort of book « usually » goes. I mean, even though I knew in advance that the book was self-described by the author as a wlw romance, I still wasn’t entirely sure if that’s the direction that it would take, and I was pleasantly surprised when my favourite character did indeed turn out to be part of the romance. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, but this all comes back to trust.

You might have heard me say this before, but when I read books whose author I don’t already know, I tend to read them while keeping myself at an « emotional distance », so to speak. Because rarely do authors manage to do their queer characters justice (or their female characters, for that matter), and so I’m always bracing myself for dissapointment. It’s a terrible way to read books, I know, but experience had taught me that it’s the only way. I don’t hold the same emotional distance while reading fanfics, or books by authors that have previously proven to me that they can handle queer or diverse characters in a respectful and engaging way. L. S. Johnson is now definitely a part of those authors I do trust, and I will savour her next novel with unbridled glee. (Not to mention that the sequel hook is great. My favourite trope will come into play in the next book, and I cannot wait. I might have stood up and paced around my home a little when I figured out where this was going, mouthing the name of the actual trope to myself. CANNOT WAIT you guys.)

I have already started reccing this book to everyone I know, and I’ll keep doing it until I can hold the sequel in my hands.


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