When I first picked up The Poisoned House by Michael Ford, I was excited to say the least. A book set in a rich household in 1850s London – it doesn’t get much better for a historical-fiction lover.
Upon noticing the subtitle, however, my excitement died to a single, “Oh.” The Poisoned House: A Ghost Story. A what? Why did they have to ruin a perfectly good set-up by making it a ghost story? I grumbled to myself.
I was in denial, but I will say it now: I was wrong. Yes, I was being silly in judging this book by its cover because every word written inside further proved me wrong.
Abigail, or Abi for short, is a mere scullery maid in nineteenth century London. Her life is cruel, her future is bleak, and her opportunities for a better life are slim to none. Ever since her mother died less than a year ago, Abi’s life has gone downhill. The master of the household she works in is slowly slipping into insanity, and she labors under the command of a ruthless housekeeper. Abi struggles with her own grief over the death of her mother, fighting the overwhelming and all-too-real sense of loneliness. But worst of all, a supernatural presence is attempting to contact Abi to expose a crucial secret that threatens everything Abi has ever known.
I think that Victorian London is a perfect era for the plot to thrive in. Although Abi is confined to her petticoats and corsets, she still finds ways to get around the limits of a woman’s social acceptability. Despite having to abide by strict gender roles that are in play during the 1800s, Abi shows the reader what true bravery and defiance is. While keeping the story historically correct, nothing seems to be restricted by the limitations of historical accuracy. I was glad that I never found myself wishing, “If only they had cars” or complaining, “Her long skirts are keeping her from doing anything exciting.”
The mood of The Poisoned House is enticingly sinister. The first sentence, “The stone steps to the basement were ice-cold under my bare feet” ensures that the reader is thoroughly chilled. And the rest of the story follows in suite with night-time excursions and murders galore. More than once I found myself huddled with the book reading deep into the night, swearing that I could feel “spirits” in the room.
The plot flourishes with conspiracy, lies, desire, and pain, all covered by a mask of secrets. Riveting and spellbinding, The Poisoned House is a masterpiece. I felt as if every point in the story was a climax, and it was still completely believable – despite being a ghost story.
Morgan Smith is a 13 year old living with her family and cat, Holly, in a small house in Pennsylvania. She loves pretty much every genre of books, from cheesy romance novels to dry nonfiction stories, but her favorite books are historical fiction. She has loved to write and read for as long as she can remember, and she also loves to swim, sew, cook, and so much more.