Effy Sayre has always found escape in the works of Emrys Myrddin. It’s been one of the few things that’s kept the architecture student going. So when the family of the recently deceased Myrddin announces a contest to redesign the author’s family estate, Effy can’t help but enter. And when her design is picked it seems like fate. Once she arrives at Hiraeth Manor, she finds a crumbling disaster as well as an unwelcome companion in a literature student invited there by Myrddin’s widow and determined to prove that Myrddin didn’t write his most famous work. Even so, he does convince Effy to help him with his research. As the two work together to discover the truth, they find that the secrets they’re uncovering may be more dangerous than they ever expected, and the house might not let them leave.
This was a good book but a hard one for me to read which was part of what made it good. Effy spends the entire novel working through her trauma, and it’s one that really resonated with me. I related a lot to Effy and the way her trauma manifested. While my circumstances were different, I’ve had the situation where it took time to escape the person who was the problem and even after you escape, the fear can linger. In my case it was a stalker and a work place that did nothing to protect me combined with a very small town where it could be hard to truly avoid someone, but I viscerally felt Effy’s fear and discomfort reading this book. It did a very good job of portraying that; I actually had to take a break from reading several times. I also liked the fact that Effy is told that her efforts to survive are enough; that just because she didn’t fight back doesn’t make her weak. I do have a few quibbles with some of the author’s choices but those are more to do with personal taste than anything else.
I realize that makes the novel sound darker than it is. Some of that is my personal reaction to the book. Overall, I thing it is a pretty well balanced in its handling and doesn’t go overboard with it’s portray of Effy’s trauma and yet is still creepy and atmospheric when it needs to be. I also feel like the fact that I have read a lot of YA fantasy over the years as a Teen Librarian means that a number of things I found obvious or predictable might not seem that way to a teen. And even so, I was still very invested in the story and what happened. The mystery was an interesting one, and the writing was lovely. The romance strikes the right note for me too which can be hard in a story like this. It’s a little too intense for me to call it a favorite, but I would definitely recommend it to folks who like dark academia or a gothic flavor to their fantasy. Four out of five stars.