I’m thrilled to have a copy of The House of Sorrowing Stars by Beth Cartwright on my TBR ready to read on my holidays. Even better, I have an exclusive extract to share with you today too.
Beth Cartwright last featured on Linda’s Book Bag when I was lucky enough to share an extract from Beth’s debut novel Feathertide here.
Published today, 10th February 2022 by Penguin imprint Del Rey, The House of Sorrowing Stars is available for purchase through these links.
The House of Sorrowing Stars
How do you heal a broken house?
First you unlock its secrets.
Alone on an island, surrounded by flowers that shine as dusk begins to fall, sits an old, faded house. Rooms cannot be rented here and visits are only for those haunted by the memory of loss.
When Liddy receives an invitation, she thinks there must be some mistake – she’s never experienced loss. But with her curiosity stirred, and no other way to escape a life in which she feels trapped, she decides to accept.
Once there, she meets Vivienne, a beautiful, austere woman whose glare leaves Liddy unsettled; Ben, the reserved gardener; and Raphael, the enigmatic Keymaker. If Liddy is to discover her true purpose in the house, she must find the root of their sorrow – but the house won’t give up its secrets so easily . . .
An Extract from The House of Sorrowing Stars
From the Prelude
The quiet is deep this evening. It arrives on tiptoes, but if you listen carefully enough you can still hear what it leaves behind. Fading light holds the wispy notes of birds as they finally settle to sleep. The water is calm, but it gently laps the shore. Her window is ajar and the scents of hibiscus and oleander drift in from the garden below. I listen for every small sound she makes: a gentle sigh, the shuffle of paper on the desk where she is sitting, the tapping that her feet make upon the wooden floorboards. She is restless, and uncertain; I can tell. She is taking her time. She picks up her pen and dips it into a pot of the finest blue ink. After a moment’s hesitation, she begins. She has written letters before, but something about this one is different. There is more thought and deliberation, as though she is hoping to impress the recipient, or perhaps convince them of something. Usually a letter is finished faster than it takes a pot to boil on the stove, or for the leaves to be swept from the path, but not this one. I can hear the scratches made by the nib as the words emerge across the thick vellum paper; it is like the quiet, purposeful rustle of a nesting mouse. There is a deftness, an assuredness to her stroke, but then abruptly she stops. The pen lingers a little too long on the page, leaving a dark clot of ink behind. I hear her tut as she lifts the pen from the paper and sets it down. It rolls along the desk and she is too slow to catch it before it clatters to the floor. Instead of stooping to search for it, she leans back in her chair and closes her eyes, exhausted by her own words. Fine lines pattern her pale marble face and speak of things lost. She lifts her hands and wipes them across her cheeks as though she could rub the lines away, but grief cannot be erased so easily. Her once-bright eyes are tarnished, dulled by anguish, and I can see the swift clenching and unclenching of muscles in her firm jaw. There are so many words to be spoken, but there is no one to hear them.
Eventually the quiet music of the garden interrupts her thoughts; she opens her eyes, reaches down to retrieve her pen and continues her task. When she has finished, she pushes her chair back to stand. It scrapes noisily against the floor, disturbing the now resting birds, and a squabble and a flutter of annoyance come from the tree outside. Allowing the ink to dry, she walks across the room to the window and pushes it wide open. The air is still, warm and heavy with fragrance. There is little relief or, if there is, she cannot find it. She rests her elbows on the ledge and listens to the evening’s quiet incantations, breathing it all in, wondering. She looks more tired than usual – there is a strange transparency to her eyes, and the skin below them is a mottled lilac. Suddenly she splutters and then coughs, and then the cough turns into a spasm. Covering her mouth with the crook of her arm, she tries to muffle the sound, in case the Keymaker hears her. It is unlikely that he will come to see if she is well, but if he does, he could find the letter and she can’t let that happen. She waits for the coughing to pass. For a while it sounds like there are peppercorns loose in her chest, but eventually the rattling settles. When it does so, she pulls the window sharply closed and drops the latch with a gentle thud. Crossing back to the desk, she sees the little square of marzipan sitting there and holds it up between her fingers. She spends the next few minutes inspecting it carefully from all its different angles. To anybody else, it is quite ordinary and unremarkable – a table decoration, a birthday gift, a sweet treat – but to her it is so much more. When she puts it back on the desk there are small sugary granules still on her fingers and she brushes them away in mild irritation. Then she picks up the letter and wafts it in the air, like a white flag of surrender, before folding it and placing it carefully into a waiting envelope. She pauses. I can almost hear her mind whirring, as she wonders whether to read it one last time. Deciding against it, she reaches hastily for a taper. Like a drop of blood impressed with the image of a key, the wax safely seals the message within. The thrum of her heartbeat is soft and expectant, like the wings of a bird waiting for release, suddenly alive with possibility. She mutters something, half-prayer, half-spell, and I feel a strange flutter of hope. Letter in hand, she leaves the room. All we can do now is wait.
Isn’t that delicious? I can’t wait to read The House of Sorrowing Stars.
About Beth Cartwright
Beth Cartwright has taught English in Greece and travelled around South East Asia and South America, where she worked at an animal sanctuary. A love of language and the imaginary led her to study English Literature and Linguistics at university, and she now lives on the edge of the Peak District with her family and two cats. Feathertide was her debut novel.
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