On Clare Dunkle’s House of Dead Maids


This book wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I thought that it was a prequel to Wuthering Heights and it is…sort of. More accurately, House of Dead Maids is a fictional tale about what inspired Emile Bronte to write Wuthering Heights. I guess I was confusing Dunkle’s narrator, the maid Tabby Aykroyd, with Bronte’s character Nelly Dean. I’ve read Wuthering Heights twice, but years ago, and I can’t remember many of the details.

So, Dunkle wrote a story inspired by Wuthering Heights about the inspiration behind Wuthering Heights. I kind of like the circularity of it. Attaching your novel to a classic is an ambitious move on an author’s part. There are bound to be lovers of the classic predisposed to pick apart your novel. I also think that it’s a very straightforward move on the author’s part. Writers are influenced by the books they read; so much writing is inescapably derivative. A retelling, prequel or sequel openly acknowledges that influence.

House of Dead Maids differs from Wuthering Heights by being YA horror instead of a tragic romance. While I don’t think this novel will give me nightmares, the youth of the main characters made the story particularly frightening at moments.

Tabby, the narrator, is sent to Seldom House as a nursemaid to the boy who will become known as Heathcliff. He’s a brat and I wanted to put him in timeout for most of the novel. However, like Tabby I cared for his well being and he had his endearing moments. Tabby is only twelve years old, struggling to be an adult as she and Heathcliff are haunted by the former maids and masters of Seldom House. Seldom House is almost like a character itself instead of a setting, heavily inspired by Wuthering Heights, though more sinister, especially after the mystery is revealed.

House of Dead Maids can stand on its own as a story. At the same time, it did make me want to reread Wuthering Heights. I liked House of Dead Maids better than Dunkle’s By These Ten Bones and less than The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy.

I enjoy the style and brevity of Dunkle’s novels. I don’t see many novels under 300 pages these days. I love to read mammoth 500+ page novels as well, for different reasons. Sometimes I want a story to last for days; other times I like reading a complete tale during a few lunch breaks. In content and page length, Dunkle provides variety from the typical YA novel.