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The House of Dead Maids Hardcover – September 14, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 6 Up–Beginning with her selection from a group of orphan girls by the aloof Miss Winter, 11-year-old Tabby narrates a tale about her service at Seldom House, a crumbling, remote manor on the English moors. Strange events occur almost immediately: she is given a large room but is locked in at night and soon encounters the eyeless ghost of another young maid named Izzy. Tabby is told that she is to care for the young master, who will arrive shortly. He proves to be a dirty urchin who has a quick temper and imperious manner and is referred to by the old master as “a heathen git.” As the children roam the house, grounds, and surrounding hills, more and more ghosts appear to them. Finally they encounter a group of grimy, moldering maids on the moors. Determined to learn why Izzy seems to be trying to warn her, Tabby explores the manor and finds that a gruesome fate awaits her and her young master. Not until the last chapter do readers discover that this story is a prequel to Wuthering Heights. Dunkle has incorporated real people (Tabitha Aykroyd was the Brontës' housemaid, well-known for telling her young charges “otherworldly tales”), fictional characters (the boy is revealed to be a young Heathcliff), and the ancient Druidic practice of human sacrifice into a tense tale of supernatural doings. Whether or not the story will lead readers to Emily Brontë's classic novel remains to be seen.–Kathryn Kosiorek, formerly at Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brooklyn, OHα(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

If the prospect of a prequel to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights won’t exactly set most kids’ hearts aflutter, the chilling jacket illustration of a pale girl without eyes might do the trick. As prequels go, it’s no Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), but it’s no slouch either, channeling Brontë’s gothic atmosphere for a tale more thoroughly soaked in ghostly mayhem. Eleven-year-old Tabby Aykroyd (modeled after the real-life servant of the Brontës, who allegedly told the sisters many a terrifying tale) is hired out to Seldom House, a moody estate in need of a nursemaid for the new master, a feisty young boy (Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, though here he is referred to as “Himself”). Ghosts are afoot in Seldom House, but that doesn’t flap the unflappable Tabby—what’s scary is that the ghosts are maids, just like her. Arrasmith’s drawings, which begin each chapter, promise an intensity of horror not matched by the understated prose; still, though, Dunkle’s period detail and the delicious pagan rituals of a fantastic, Shirley Jackson–style climax overcome the predictable plot arc. Grades 7-10. --Daniel Kraus
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 18 years
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 930L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); 1ST edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091168
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,523,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Clare B. Dunkle was born Clare Buckalew and grew up in Denton, Texas. She earned a B.A. in Russian with a minor in Latin from Trinity University in San Antonio and worked in Trinity University's library after earning her M.L.S. from Indiana University. For seven years, she and her family lived in the Rheinland Pfalz region of Germany not far from the Roman city of Trier. Her daughters attended a boarding school there and read her first four books as a series of letters from home.

Dunkle's debut novel, THE HOLLOW KINGDOM, won the Mythopoeic Award for Best Children's Fantasy Book in 2004. Her books have earned spots on a variety of "best book" and "core" lists, including three Bank Street nods, and her fiction has earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and The Horn Book. After a short stint back home in San Antonio, Texas, she again lives in Germany, where she writes dark fantasy and science fiction for teens. In her spare time, she reads Victorian ghost stories.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Clare B. Dunkle has tried out a lot of different genres -- a fantasy trilogy, a sci-fi duology, and a masterful historical horror tale. "The House of Dead Maids" easily fits into the last category, with ghastly dead girls slipping through a strange cursed house, but Dunkle makes the living characters just as creepy... even a strange little boy with no name.

Tabby Ackroyd is the new "young maid" at Seldom House, charged to take care of a wild, nameless boy (known as "Himself"), who is apparently the new master of the house (even though he's not related to the OLD master). But Tabby soon discovers that there's something horribly wrong with her new position -- nobody except her cares about Himself, there isn't a church nearby, and strange ghostly girls with pitlike eyes keep appearing.

But the most horrifying discovery is when Tabby realizes that one of the dead girls was the previous maid -- and she's only one of many maids who has died there. As she tries to protect herself and Himself from the evil forces surrounding (and filling) Seldom House, Tabby begins to realize that the danger is not just aimed at the little boy, but at herself as well.

"The House of Dead Maids" has some interesting literary connections -- Tabby is based on the Bronte sisters' housekeeper, and Himself... well, you'll find out who he is, and why his wild, passionate ways are so important. But even if you're unfamiliar with Bronte lore, this book is still a magnificent story -- think a gothic horror story for kids.

Most of this comes from Dunkle's command of language and atmosphere. The entire book drips with dank, heavy gothic atmosphere and a general feeling of impending doom ("She was nothing but a hollowed-out skin plumped up with shadow").
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on August 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At first I was not into the spirit of the book, being old and jaded, but quickly brought myself back to my younger teen years when I loved a good scary yarn, whether it was Poe or Bronte or Lovecraft. This is a short little book but ranks high on atmosphere and spookiness. Ghosts just aren't ghosts but smell of rot and have no eyes. The heroine is an eleven year old orphan who is taken to a house out on the moors to take care of another young orphan. It helps here to have read Wuthering Heights, this being the story of a young Heathcliff! There's a mystery here at the house and a whopper of one it is. It might be too scary for some young minds. Recommended only for those who like real horror. The scary atmosphere is kept high on every page and culminates in real grisliness. You find out why this is the "House of Dead Maids". NOT to be read at night!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Simone VINE VOICE on August 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Young maid Tabby Aykroyd is recruited by the imposing elder maid Miss Winter to come serve at Seldom House as nursemaid to a young, wild self-proclaimed "heathen git" who is nameless, unchristened. She finds herself in a household of taciturn servants and in charge of a rebellious child who proclaims himself master of all he surveys. Very quickly, she realizes that the house is haunted by the ghosts of ghoulish dead maids, gray, horrid things with dark holes where their eyes and mouths should be. Why are these terrifying specters appearing before her? What are they trying to communicate? And what are the ghosts that her nameless charge-- whom she has named Himself-- claims to see?

The atmosphere of Dunkle's novel is brooding and atmospheric throughout. A darkness prevades every page, and rich description is abundant. It is eerily provacative in the way of a good ghost story, shot through with descriptions of the creepy old house, wild moors, and the mysterious village. There are no spots of light, no safe places of retreat for Tabby or for the reader: all is darkness, and the reader feels Tabby's claustrophobia and isolation acutely. Psychologically, Dunkle has created quite the ideal setting for a ghost/suspense story.

In terms of readership, Dunkle does not "dumb down" the text for her juvenile readers. The vocabulary is advanced but not overwhelmingly challenging, and there is a suitable amount of period colloquialism. Indeed, Tabby's frequent references to her faith (which she uses to justify why the ghosts should not hurt her, to counteract superstition) recall an earlier era and lend to the novel's historicity. All of this makes the novel more engaging for the interested adult reader as well.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jen VINE VOICE on August 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The story is fairly creepy and mildly disturbing, depending on your nature or personality. I am a fan of Edgar Allen Poe and enjoy creepy, disturbing books and some movies, so this one was not so shocking for me. I sometimes prefer the books aimed at young adults/teens because they are more focused on telling a story rather than giving unnecessary details, explicit language, or sexual references, and this one is no exception. The book is well written and the story is easy to follow without a lot of pointless details. While the story flows smoothly and does not have a lull in the middle, it almost feels as if there are minor parts missing that would give more to it, or at least settle the curiosity of readers. It is a good story, it just feels a bit unfinished.
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