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Book Review: Belladonna by Adalyn Grace

Book Review: Belladonna by Adalyn Grace

It might technically still be summer but for many a reader, the transition to autumn reads has already begun. Adalyn Grace’s latest novel fits the brief to a tee. With its ghostly gothic setting and atmospheric autumnal aesthetics, Belladonna feels like a story that was made to be read during the season of falling leaves and warm spiced drinks. A captivating blend of heart-fluttering romance, spooky chills, Victorian sensibilities and a murder mystery that wouldn’t be out of place in an Agatha Christie story, this is the perfect novel to get readers in the mood for the colder, darker months.

For as long as Signa Farrow has been alive, the people entrusted to care for her have suffered untimely deaths. Orphaned as a baby and passed from one guardian to the next, she has grown up lacking love and companionship, valued only for the inheritance awaiting her when she comes of age. As she approaches her twentieth birthday, Signa is sent to live with her remaining relatives – the elusive and eccentric Hawthorne family – at their gloomy country estate. But Thorn Grove is a house in mourning, and with Signa’s cousin Blythe gravely ill, death is waiting to claim yet another victim.

Blythe isn’t the only one suffering in Thorn Grove. Her father, Elijah, is haunted by the loss of his late wife Lillian, and spends his nights partying and drinking too much, whilst his son, Percy, grapples with the family’s waning reputation. But the house is quite literally haunted too. Signa’s uncanny link to the dead allows her to cheat death and see spirits, and when Lillian’s restless ghost claims she was poisoned, Signa is determined to help her family, enlisting the help of surly stable boy Sylas. But it is Signa’s alliance with Death himself – an alluring shadow who has plagued Signa her whole life – that holds the power to open up her world and give her the answers she needs.

His presence was intoxicating and familiar, and it took Signa by surprise as it always did—writhing shadows cast into the vague shape of a human. So dark and void of light that it was painful to look at him. And yet looking at him was all Signa could do. All she could ever do. She was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. And so, it seemed, was he to her.”

Belladonna is a very different book to Grace’s debut, All the Stars and Teeth, and its swashbuckling sequel, All the Tides of Fate, which were expansive, seafaring adventures helmed by a loveable motley crew. The characters populating this novel are just as endearing but for different reasons. For starters, they exist in a historical world dictated by strict rules and codes of conduct. Signa has an extraordinary – if macabre – power but she’s still beholden to her place in society as a woman. She’s naive and unworldly too, which makes this very much a coming-of-age story about a girl becoming a woman – with all that entails.

The entire vibe of this book is so different to Grace’s previous fantasy offerings too. Everything from the glittering yet gloomy house, to the dreamlike but poisonous secret garden, to the Bridgerton-esque balls is beautifully gothic and dripping in wealth. Belladonna immerses readers in a decadent darkness that’s tempting and enthralling, complete with a murder mystery that makes almost everyone a suspect at one point or another. It’s a genuine joy to unravel.

Yet the real draw of this novel is without a doubt the relationship between Signa and Death – a character she tries to kill at the beginning of the novel, but who she eventually begins to understand isn’t the enemy she always thought him to be. There’s a thread connecting Signa and Death, and untangling what they might feel for one another is just as enjoyable as trying to figure out who poisoned Lillian, and who might still be trying to harm her children. If you’re seeking a new favourite romantic pairing, one that’s equal parts fire and reverence, Signa and Death are it.

Captivating as Belladonna is, this review does come with a warning: once you’ve fallen in love with this story, which you’re almost certainly likely to do, you’ll be left with the most delicious of cliffhangers – not to mention a book hangover that will last for days. But it’s a price that’s absolutely worth paying.


Belladonna is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 30 August 2022

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