Sunday, July 7, 2019

Book Review: 'Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (Dark Victoriana Collection #1)' by Christie Stratos

Anatomy of a Darkened Heart by Christie Stratos
‘This was a child whose father didn’t want t see her and a mother who was afraid of her’

Author Christie Stratos earned her degree in English Literature and has published poetry and short stories in important anthologies. ANATOMY OF A DARKENED HEART is her debut novel – the first installment in a promised series – The Dark Victoriana Collection. 

Establishing a solid family of characters that will serve as the nidus for an ongoing collection of stories is a challenge, and placing that family (and events and symbols) in another era – here the Victorian period – adds to that challenge and is one that Christie Stratos clearly meets. The novel spans the years 1840 to 1862 and cleverly follows the birth and growth of the central character Abigail Delilah.

From her opening paragraphs – presciently dated October 31, 1840! – Christie gives birth to the theme of her story. ‘It was in the very moment of her birth that the ambiance changed. Everyone felt it. The room darkened, blackened to the point that the midwife paused, the baby still half inside her mother, to look around, frowning deeply. Elizabeth's heartbeat quickened. "The clocks…" the midwife muttered. They had stopped. There were two in the room, and they'd both stopped ticking simultaneously. The midwife looked right into Elizabeth's eyes with an expression that was half apologetic and half frightened. Clocks were only physically stopped—not supernaturally—when someone died or while mourning the deceased. But now the clocks had stopped by themselves, and nobody had died. Unless…"Is the baby all right?" Elizabeth shrieked, leaning forward as much as possible. She was covered in cold sweat and exhausted and scared. The midwife suddenly remembered to continue with the birth and gently helped the baby out the rest of the way. It made no sound. "Is it alive?" Elizabeth was frantic now. This was her first child and if it was stillborn…’

The tension created, and the atmosphere of Victorian times is established solidly, and the author offers a fine condensation for the plot: ‘Abigail Delilah is the firstborn of three Whitestone children - and she is the most regretted. But is it really her fault? She can't help that the revelation of Father's wretched secret coincides with her birth. She can't help the fear she feels during Mother's psychological - and physical - assaults. As the shadows grow stronger over her soul and the noose of pain tightens around her neck, Abigail will find out which is stronger: her family's wicked assumptions about her or her true self.’

Very skilled and sensitive writing from an author about whom we will doubtless be hearing much more. Highly Recommended!

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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