The Death of Jane Lawrence
reviewed by Fiona Cook
There are books that defy the sophomore slump – and then there are books that absolutely blow it out of the water. Caitlin Starling has produced an absolute masterpiece with her second novel, and this gothic horror chills and delights.
Set in an era similar to our own Victorian time, but in a world distinctly different, The Death of Jane Lawrence begins with a bargain. A young woman seeks a husband willing to agree to a marriage framed as a business agreement; but he has requirements of his own, one of them that she never spend the night at his family’s crumbling manor, Lindridge Hall. Theirs is a world where the church is crumbling; science, mathematics and medicine replacing it in the minds of a people worn out and traumatized by war. But spiritualism and magic lurk around the edges of this newly enlightened era, and when a stormy night means their bargain must be broken, it becomes clear that the shadows are hiding more than just shabby furnishings.
Jane Lawrence is a heroine the reader will find it easy to root for – she’s a complex and brilliantly real character, one with flaws, struggles, compassion, and intelligence. There’s a genuine sweetness to the connection between herself and her new husband, and even side characters feel fully realized. It raises the stakes – when you care, as a reader, you’ve got so much more to lose when those characters are threatened.
The Death of Jane Lawrence is a book of many layers, and made up of some gorgeous writing that sucks you in right from the start – it had me gripped from the very first page, and thinking about it whenever my reading was interrupted. There’s just enough inspiration here from works like Crimson Peak and Rebecca to guide reader’s expectations, to help you settle comfortably in, before taking those expectations and ruthlessly using them against you. There are some absolutely delightful subversions of tropes – unexpected moments that nevertheless feel absolutely right – and they’ve resulted in a book that refuses to sit quietly in just one genre corner. Nor should it, as the blended elements here were balanced perfectly by the author; the resulting novel shows its genre roots, while building up to a whole that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
With this kind of work on just her second novel, Caitlin Starling is an author to watch. By turns chilling, romantic, and always entirely enthralling, The Death of Jane Lawrence promises a lot – and delivers.