Review: House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
Release date: April 15, 2014
Source: e-ARC via Edelweiss
Length: 352 pages
Rating: Well... um... the cover's pretty?
Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.
Well, that book happened. Sadly, I can't drum up any more enthusiasm for this book beyond that. It's not the worst book I've ever read--it's not even the worst book I've read this week--but there doesn't seem to be much brewing beneath the surface, which is a real shame when you're dealing with something as rich as witches.
This book exists. There are words. They make sentences. Mostly I was just very whelmed by the whole experience, unable to fully invest in any of the characters, mildly intrigued by some of the magicky magicalness (probably the highlight of the book) and vaguely irritated by the tepid romance.
This book has a few really great concepts in here. Jo belongs to a dwindling witch bloodline. She lives with her grandmother and spends all her free time making potions out of bear heart and bat wings and other totally not gross things. There is a very strong theme of sisterhood and female power and all kinds of good stuff I love. Whipple's rules of magic are pretty cool, and I'll admit to being quite interested in a few of the mysteries presented. Jo, are main character who was once an ugly duckling and then literally overnight became the most beautiful girl in Iowa, actually has a few really strong moments, particularly near the end. I like the concept of these witches and Shadows and Curses sisterhood, etc.
I'm not even kidding about the "literally" part. She quite literally wakes up one morning, skips to the mirror, and poof! She she has been transfigured overnight. Like, I know puberty is dramatic, but honestly. It doesn't work quite like that.
With an entirely different approach, this plot could have really been something. But the writing and the characters had this irritatingly juvenile quality, and I'm not saying this because they're teenagers, since 99 percent of the characters I read about are teens. Watching Jo and her utterly cardboard boyfriend, Winn, wax rhapsodic about each other's beauty made me literally physically gag at one point. The conversations between the regular, non-witch teenagers are lame and devoid of life. The characters keep talking about how funny other characters are, but no one in the book actually is funny. Jo uses the term "pansy" for laughs, thinks that "ridiculous" and "hilarious" rhyme", and the closest anybody gets to making a joke is to talk about pudding. A lot.
Also, Jo's hot. Really hot. All the boys want her. They just do.
I was interested in the plot, but I wasn't interested in the characters, and that's never the way to get me to feel something. I wanted to love Kat and Gwen, Jo's best friends, whose love for Jo is the cornerstone of the novel. I wanted to care when they were in trouble. I wanted to care about Jo meeting the father she's never known, but you just don't. I cared a little about Jo and her grandma, but Jo only really got me to connect with her when she was thinking about her mom, who died when she was young. The arc of her grief was by far the strongest in the book.
Then there's Winn. What, exactly, was the point of Winn? Am I supposed to invest in a relationship whose roots occur off-screen, so to speak? Am I supposed to swoon over a boy we basically don't know? Levi, a much darker, more complicated character, could have been given as much screentime as Winn had, and it would have yielded better results. Levi was also missing the oomph I like in characters, but he had far more potential to be interesting than Winn did. That's the problem with a lot of this book--that so much of it simply feels like potential. There will be a cool MAGICAL THING happening but then, oh, look, we're with Winn again. Winn with the blond hair and gorgeous smile, yes, I know. You said. He finds you so hot. All the boys do.
There is so much self-mutilation in this book. Like I said, the magic has this fascinating base in that it's centered on the idea of balance. It's not the kind of magic where you wave a wand and a feather floats up to the ceiling. The magic in this book always comes with a price, and oftentimes it's yanking a tooth or a fingernail. I love that, but I didn't much like how easy all those things seemed to be. Jo yanks out "a handful of hair" very often and doesn't even flinch. A handful! I accidentally caught one piddling strand on my bra strap the other day and nearly cried.
|GPOY when anything happens to my scalp|
The opening paragraphs are fabulous, and evoke the kind of mood you'd expect from that haunting title and gorgeous cover. And then the novel totally shifts tone, and none of it matches the title or cover at all, which, let's be honest, were what drove me to try this book. I look at it and I think rich, gothic atmosphere and prose, creepy but beautiful magic, and a compelling mystery. But almost none of those things deliver. Oh, and how anticlimactic is the climax? It could have been great, but then it just... ends. Okay. Cool. Time for more pudding, I guess. (There is a lot of pudding in this book.)
House of Ivy and Sorrow is not a horrendous book by any means, but it's not the kind to make a lasting impression on me. Lukewarm writing and unmemorable characters cancelled out what promise I found in the concept and the plot.