Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him.
By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
Publishing has been on an absolute role with gothic horror this year, and The Death of Jane Lawrence is just yet another incredible addition. Increasingly disturbing gothic medical horror, all the vibes of haunted mansions and medical practices, societies with secrets to hide, and a fascinating couple dynamic in Jane and Augustine.
As with all gothic horror, I must start on the vibes. The vibes, the atmosphere, the look-over-your-shoulder-just-to-make-sure-no-one-is-there impulses come out so well. Jane’s newfound husband, Augustine, runs the local medical practice and we immediately dive into the horrific aspect when Jane is called to assist in surgery and discovers a tumor of impossibly mangled flesh. Starling impeccably describes Jane’s spiral of disgust, yet fascination into this hidden side of her husband’s life and the luring madness that comes with Jane’s every discovery.
Of course, the most driving character in this book is Jane, who spends the beginning of the book maneuvering herself into a marriage of convenience. Jane has such a strong determination to continue working, her conviction that a traditional societal marriage would never work for her despite coming from an upper society where such things are expected. I don’t think this book is explicitly set in any particular historical time period, but I was getting strong Britain post-WWI, with the references to war and gas. What I love about her depiction is that Starling doesn’t go full #girlboss with Jane’s character like we often see with ‘Victorian noblewoman who’s not like other girls’ stories. Jane’s very much a product of her times and manipulates where she can to work around the parts she doesn’t like.
Plotwise, this book is slow. The first half really focuses on Jane and Augustine’s developing relationship (and damn are they cute together) and building up the mysteries around them. There are many visits to Augustine’s haunted manor, nights of disagreements between the newly wed couple, and all the while Jane attempting to piece together the inconsistencies in Augustine’s stories. The latter half is really where the horror aspect of this book comes in and damn is medical horror really disturbing. I’m taking off one star because I did find myself lost at the ending (or maybe I just couldn’t follow all the rapid plot twists). I think I would have done better had I read this book in print instead of audio.
As a side note, towards the end of the audiobook there were a couple moments where the narration sound completely changed, probably due to a re-recording being edited in where the narrator used a different mic/soundproofing setup. It’s not too distracting but it was very noticeable. Hopefully this was just an issue with the ARC and was fixed for release.
Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. The gothic vibes and the medical horror really shine in this book and Jane is such a complex and interesting character to follow.
r/Fantasy 2021-22 Bingo Squares:
- Gothic Fantasy
- Mystery Plot
- Published in 2021
- X of Y