Review — Dreaming Darkly by Caitlin Kittredge

A skull made of smoke hovering over a manison Dreaming Darkly
By: Caitlin Kittredge
Release Date: April 9, 2019
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Gothic horror holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Examples of the genre can be found everywhere, from popular TV shows to classic literature and, of course, young adult fiction. Caitlin Kittredge’s Dreaming Darkly is a great example of young adult gothic horror. All of the staples of the genre are present—an old house that’s both huge and spooky, family secrets, odd happenings that could be either natural or supernatural occurrences, and old mysteries that haunt the present.

After the death of her mother, Ivy Bloodgood is forced to move to Darkhaven, a small island on New England’s coast, to live with her uncle. The island is quintessential gothic horror fare. There’s a huge, old mansion that’s lost its former glory, a once prosperous family that’s dwindled to only a few members, a strange housekeeper, and rumors that keep the townsfolk at bay. This is Ivy’s new home—a house that raises more questions than answers, one where others refuse to tread.

Ivy has dozens of questions for her uncle, questions that seem unwanted. Her mother, Myra, had left home extremely young and never spoke about the family she’d left behind. While Myra wasn’t exactly winning any mother-of-the-year awards, Ivy can’t help but wonder if there was a very good reason for her mother to have run away. These are both themes that runs throughout the book. Family secrets and things that aren’t as cut and dry as they first appear are prevalent and are much of the driving force of the novel. Also important are family relationships, especially those between mothers and daughters, though this isn’t fully explored until the later half of the novel.

Things seem to be a lot stranger than simply the old grudge that keeps her family away from the only other family on the island, though. Ivy keeps waking in the middle of the night out on the grounds of the house for no explicable reason, and if it wasn’t for the boy she shouldn’t be making friends with, her situation would be more along the lines of dire than merely worrisome. Questions as to the nature of what is truly occurring arise. While the effects of whatever is going on are mundane enough, Ivy as well as the reader, can’t help but wonder if there’s something supernatural at play.

A myriad of questions pull both Ivy and the reader into the story, leaving readers eager to explore the now-silent halls of Darkhaven.

Though questions are answered, they tend to build up atop each other before anything can be made of them. While this is common within gothic fiction, it can feel more drawn out due to the pacing. Much of the book is slowly paced, with focus diverted from the odd happenings at Darkhaven to Ivy going to a new school and making new friends. This slows the book down considerably, and can feel almost distracting in certain places. However, it does add a good deal of characterization and fleshes out Ivy’s personality very well.

The last few chapters race ahead at breakneck speed. The story begins to wrap up all at once, the dominoes carefully set up in earlier chapters finally toppling. This build-up begins to pay off in a big way before coming to a complete halt and handing readers an epilogue. The novel feels as if it just stops right after the climax. Consequences of several big scenes late the novel are explained rather than shown, removing all sense of accomplishment or payoff. Events readers have been waiting for aren’t really shown, merely retold or vaguely mentioned, making the ending a bit of a let-down in rather unforeseen ways.

However, Dreaming Darkly is a very atmospheric book that captures the New England coastline very well. Ivy Bloodgood remains an intriguing character as well, her personality a direct result of her upbringing. The romance is rather light, though it is referenced in the blurb, with the majority of the focus remaining solidly on gothic horror and the mysteries of the Bloodgood family. This is a good inclusion in the genre and is worth checking out for fans of YA.

About author

Kathleen Townsend

Kate writes things, reads things, and writes about things she reads. She’s had a few short stories published, and works as a freelance editor. Favorite genres include epic & high fantasy, science fiction, time travel stories, video game related tales, light novels, and manga.

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