Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (Dark Victoriana Collection) (Volume 1) Paperback – September 27, 2015
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About the Author
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The writing is phenomenal. It's not a long book, and the author makes every word count. Her descriptions are perfectly refined to give the reader exactly the amount of detail you need. The plot certainly isn't action-packed (that wouldn't fit the genre at all), but the slow build works very well as you focus on the psychological aspects of the story. I was never bored because the tension constantly increases as matters of the heart grow more and more complicated.
This book is, after all, about how these characters are "darkened." I absolutely loved how I started thinking one character was maybe an okay person, but then they grew to be terrible. And then another character did the same thing to me. And then another. Several times I said to the pages "Oh, no..." because a character would do something so evil to another character (keeping it vague here to avoid spoilers, but I literally gasped several times). But, because the author does such a good job developing these characters, everything they did felt like a natural progression of their true nature. And you STILL cared about them.
So, yeah, I recommend this one. It's not the kind of book you often see anymore, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Christie Stratos’ writing is fantastic, it pokes and prods the psychological buttons of the reader to illicit the emotions felt by the characters. The pain, the anguish and the sometimes hopelessness Abigail feels is heart breaking. Elizabeth causes pain towards her friend and she feels no better afterward, Abigail follows this same dark path in regards to her little sister with similar results. Neither realizing that the outwardly directed pain is the result of a darkened heart, one in desperate need of healing. This theme is weaved throughout the story, the writing is expertly done and this is a real treat. Along with the feeling of anxiety felt by Abigail due to her Mothers horrible treatment the emotions drawn are real enough to feel. As Abigail moves from a child to an adult she becomes her Mother’s daughter, the last person she would like to become.
I was really able to connect with Abigail, to her struggles and pain, she was such a well-developed character that I thought I knew her. Her relationship with her Mother was tangible and wonderfully constructed, that kind of writing is what makes this book a great read. The distant and mostly non-existent relationship with her Father only added to her struggle to find her way in life. This book is filled with what makes us what we are, the relationships we have with others, and this message wasn’t lost on me. It didn’t hit me over the head but instead it was perfectly placed just below the surface as the story was told.
Christie Stratos has written this story in such a wonderful way and brings the 19th century to life. With details encompassing the Whitestone’s home, to the way her characters lived, to their erstwhile communication, the writing is amazing. As the story neared its conclusion I was so wrapped up in the Whitestone’s I started to get that an all too familiar feeling. I was going to miss them and I didn’t want them to vanish back to the lonely pages inside a closed book. This is when I know I’ve read a really great piece of writing, connecting to the characters in this way I know the story will stay with me for a very long time.
I was completely mesmerized by this slice of the 1800’s as Christie presented it to us. She wrapped up the story in such a great way that when I turned the last page I immediately wanted more. But all was not lost! I discovered there is more to come in the next year and I can’t wait to take the way back machine to the 19th century again. Anatomy of a Darkened Heart is a fantastic book and a very excellent debut novel. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, well done Christie…very well done.
As such this is among the finest books I've read in a long time. Please note how I didn't say independently published books. I said books. No distinction necessary. I had been very curious about this book for a long time and when I read the first four pages, I was surprised to see my expectations not only surpassed, but shattered.
This is not a light read. This is not a joyous journey of wonder. This is a beautifully dark exploration of how small decisions can get away from us and how the condition of being broken can be either inherited or embedded within a family.
The story takes us through the many dark crevices within the Whitestone home. How a façade of a marriage ends up setting into motions things that will affect a family for years on end. While many books have characters that are likable, this book does not bother with likableness. Richard Whitestone, Elizabeth Whitestone, Abigail Delilah Whitestone, Emma Whitestone, and even Christopher Whitestone all have attributes that you would not be fond of, and yes, that is an understatement.
Likable they are not. Fascinating they are. Unquestionably so.
Some may cite inspirations of Poe due to certain aspects like clocks, the wallpaper (which is almost a character unto itself), and other details like that, but throughout, what rings true for me is the author's love for Shakespeare. Interrelationships and how one person responds to the other are the core of this work. The human condition is a complicated maze, and sometimes good intentions (or supposed good intentions) lead to awful decisions, and worse outcomes.
The attention to detail in this book must be highlighted. Textures, symbolism, and words. Every word is placed where it has to be placed and sometimes a sentence can make you shiver or gasp.
When I heard the name of the Dark Victoriana Collection, I was curious. When I found out the concept of the novels, all set in the same setting although linked in details if not narrative, I was even more curious. Now that I have read the first entry in this collection, curiosity takes the better of me, and unlike some characters in the book, I shall see where it leads me with Miss Stratos's next offering, for which I truly cannot wait, but for now will have to.
Top international reviews
The problem of blame for this emotionally violent and dysfunctional relationship is not easy to assign. Richard, the father, taking an extreme Christian position on the failures of Elizabeth to produce a male child (something he tells her is easily within her power were she to pray hard enough), may well be the cause of everything that happens after. Richard himself, however, forms part of the stringent code of a Victorian society obsessed with religion and the belief in male heirs. Whatever the truth, the murky and maze-like circle of blame is something I love about this book. Cruelty begets cruelty, and my sympathies for each character shifted and reformed constantly as the story went on, keeping me emotionally invested to the very last page.
Moral ambiguity and psychological depth are forefront in the novel, but become particularly poignant in Abigail’s early years. There are times when the author delivers moments of sheer sadness of a tragic quality that profoundly moved me. That is not easy to achieve, whatever your talents as a writer. But it is not just Abigail who remains compelling, sympathetic and believable, all the characters (particularly Elizabeth, Richard and Mrs Hinsley), are gripping, marred as they are by questionable actions towards each other, which again made it difficult (in a good way) to know who to root for. Say what you like about the simple gift of a bird cage, here, it is conniving, vindictive, symbolically charged with meaning, and the gateway to another theme that runs throughout the book: revenge.
It’s not just the birdcage, but all the objects featured in the story have huge symbolic and expressive meaning. The grandfather clock, a key, a pearl- and gold-framed eye pin, a broken doll’s head, Indian Cress and Amaranthus flowers, and even wallpaper, all are carefully chosen and woven into the fabric of the story to exteriorise the characters’ dark emotional states.
This careful choice of objects is also reflected in the writing style itself. You can feel that every word and every sentence, gesture or action has been carefully thought out, which gives the novel real value. Most of us writers go charging into the story, smashing our way through with hammers. Not here. There is a real delicacy in the writing style. Restrained almost. Tense. Strange to remark about a novel set in America and written by an American, but the prose almost feels Japanese. I can only compare such delicacy to imagery: a dewy spider’s web trembling in a spring breeze, or gentle evening light trickling through a crystal decanter…
This is the first of five books of this new and brilliant foray into Victorian society that I strongly urge you to read. Psychologically compelling and full of depth, intelligent, beautifully written, literary but easily accessible, Anatomy of a Darkened Heart may well begin a new era of dark Victorian-era fiction.
The description of people and places is very minimal, something I typically prefer to long overblown passages, though in this instance I felt a little more might have helped. I also felt that a few "lighter" moments would have helped to break up the oppressive feel.
This isn’t a story with heroes and villains; you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to root for, but that only adds the creeping sense of misery constantly encroaching onto Abagail’s tragic soul. Whether Abigail is cursed from birth, or is merely a product of a cruel environment is not an easy question to answer, and Anatomy of a Darkened Heart is not a book that provides any easy answers.
The language is melancholy and beautiful, concise but with a Victorian flair that keeps you reading page after page, word after word. The imagery is so powerful and cinematic in nature, that to give even a single example in this review would ruin one of the many haunting, breathtaking moments that made reading the book such a special experience.
If you have any interest in the Victorian era, dark stories, or even just a love of beautiful writing, this is a book you must read.