She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.
Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.
Almost powerless in a house with a mind of its own and no way to escape, Madeline Usher is doomed to suffer the family “illness” without any friends or family. Her parents are dead, her brother has been sent away, and she is at the mercy of unpleasant doctors, one of whom seems to be slowly losing his mind. Madeline is completely at a loss, but rather than simply succumb to the evil of the house, she fights back in every way she can figure out how. The house itself is a character more evil than any of the madmen running through the story, but the house also has weaknesses. Griffin runs the novel parallel to the original Poe story in such a way that the ending is believable even knowing “The Fall of the House of Usher”. The novel puts things vaguely hinted in the short story a bit more explicitly. The house is a bit fixated on incest, so there is an undercurrent of Madeline’s relationship with her brother sometimes being unhealthy. The novel also makes it fairly clear that Roderick was sent away from school over “rumors” concerning him and another male student. What can be inferred from that statement is at the reader’s interpretation.
The main interesting feature is that the book is bleak, Gothic horror that doesn’t always show up in the YA genre. There is no happy ending (though there is a sliver of hope at the end that the short story doesn’t provide) and the setting is oppressive, but it’s one of the most straightforward attempts at the Gothic novel I have seen in a while.
4 out of 5