I’m discovering that I have a thing for historical fiction with a dash of romance and a hint of paranormal/spookiness. I feel like this very specific genre needs a clever name, since there seem to be a lot of books that fit in it nicely.
The Widow of Pale Harbor is the second novel by Hester Fox. I read her first, The Witch of Willow Hall, earlier this month. The two books have similarities: a gothic feel, strong female characters trying to make their way in 19th century America, creepy central mysteries, a little bit of witchcraft, and a little bit of romance. Both are well written, engaging, and great reads for me.
The titular character of The Widow is Sophronia Carver, a wealthy recluse in 1846 whom the townspeople suspect of being a witch and the murderer of her husband. Sophie lives with her spinster maid friend, Helen (who is also a real witch) in Castle Carver, editing her deceased husbands magazine and generally being shunned by everyone in town. Gabriel Stone is a recent widower and the new minister in town, hoping to leave behind the ghosts of his own past.
Strange, unsettling things are happening around town, and Gabriel and Sophie quickly realize that all of them are related to stories by Edgar Allan Poe that have been published in Sophie’s magazine. As the mystery culprit escalates from creepy pranks and threatening notes to gruesome murder, our characters struggle with who to trust and their own developing feelings for each other.
This book was pretty much un-putdownable, and I read it in a day. The writing is atmospheric and hauntingly beautiful, the mystery kept me guessing for quite a while, and the romance was just perfect: not too much, but enough to get me invested. I loved Sophie and Gabriel, and it was nice to have the story from both of their points of view. The Poe elements were very cleverly done and ratcheted up the tension and creepiness. A perfect read for a chilly, fall day.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the free copy in exchange for an honest review. I’m looking forward to more books from Hester Fox.