From the Publisher
“Dark and beautiful, literary and lovely. . . . Worthy of sitting on a shelf next to Wuthering Heights.” Melissa Marr, author of Wicked Lovely
“This is literature. As such, Dunkle leaves no literary allusion untouched, no symbolic leaf unturned, in her quest to reveal the origins of Heathcliff and his unearthly yearning for Catherine Earnshaw-Linton.” San Antonio Express-News
“[A]n intriguing, enthralling prequel . . . beautifully written and compelling . . . Tabby's tale will carry you along to its chilling end.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“[A] beautifully written, dark tale . . . Those who have read Wuthering Heights will appreciate this brilliant, lyrically written tale, but it will engage even those who haven't read Bronte's masterpiece.” Buffalo News
“An engrossing thriller and worthy companion to its classic literary inspiration.” The Horn Book, Starred Review
“Dunkle has incorporated real people (Tabitha Aykroyd was the Brontës' housemaid, well-known for telling her young charges ‘otherworldly tales'), fictional characters (the boy is revealed to be a young Heathcliff), and the ancient Druidic practice of human sacrifice into a tense tale of supernatural doings.” School Library Journal
“[Dunkle] channels Brontë's gothic atmosphere for a tale more thoroughly soaked in ghostly mayhem. . . . a fantastic, Shirley Jackson–style climax.” Booklist
“For readers familiar with Brontë's novel, the final connection is a masterstroke; even those who don't get it will find this a keeper.” Kirkus Reviews
“The eloquent and proper style of the language, dialogue, ghostly descriptions, and chapter drawings contribute to the feeling of dread and fear at Seldom House. Young adult fans of Gothic novels are sure to enjoy this intriguing introduction to Heathcliff and use it as a lead into the discovery of Wuthering Heights.” Library Media Connection
“Be prepared with multiple copies of Brontë's classic, as Dunkle's darkly beautiful imagery and spooky setting will so thoroughly draw young readers in that they will be compelled to at least take a look at her inspiration.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
VOYA - Rachelle Bilz
Orphan Tabby Aykroyd lives at Ma Hutton's knitting school with several other girls until Miss Winter arrives and selects Abby to be a nursemaid at Seldom House. Optimistic at first, Tabby soon realizes that Seldom House is shrouded in darkness and mystery. Everybody who lives in the house dresses only in black; when Tabby encounters villagers, they touch her with metal as if she's some sort of charm; and many rooms in the house are locked or unused. At night, a damp, cold girl crawls into bed with Tabby, and the bedroom's mirror seems to be alive with shadowy figures. Tabby's ward proves to be a wild, unruly little boy, referred to as the master of the house even though he is an orphan like Tabby. Because he refuses to reveal his name, Tabby refers to him as Himself. The boy decides he must sleep in Tabby's room and chases away the girl, a ghost, not the only spirit that haunts Seldom House. After overhearing conversations and investigating different parts of the house, Tabby discovers that she and the boy are to be sacrificed in an ancient ritual. Through her wits and determination, Tabby endeavors to save herself and her ward from a horrible fate. Marrying information about the Bronte household with the best elements of a spine-tingling story, Dunkle offers teen readers an excellent ghost story and a tantalizing prequel to Wuthering Heights. This highly entertaining novel is sure to appeal to readers twelve and older. Reviewer: Rachelle Bilz
Children's Literature - Danielle Williams
Tabby Aykroyd believes she is meant to be a maid in a fine, noble house when she is taken from Ma Hutton's Knitting School; but the world she enters is chilling and dark and Tabby soon finds herself saddled with caring for a young boy with no idea who he is or where he comes from. This chilling prequel to Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights sets the stage for Heathcliff's strange arrival there and helps to explain some of the oddities of Heathcliff's character. Tabby and Heathcliff, referred to as ?heathen git' and ?Himself' in turns, have no idea what awaits them when they are taken to Seldom House. But the town and village are filled with such strange and disturbing characters that it does not take Tabby long to realize that their lives are in danger. Ancient rituals and ghosts of many dead maids and masters haunt Tabby and Heathcliff and the reader. Dunkle is a talented writer and a gifted story teller and weaves a chilling and engrossing tale that is difficult to set aside and will stay with the reader long after the last page is finished. Reviewer: Danielle Williams
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—Clare B. Dunkle's gothic tale (Holt, 2010) sets 11-year-old Tabby Aykroyd at a mysterious house on the English Moors where ghosts abound and the servants all seem to know a secret that is somehow connected to her and to the nasty boy who thinks himself "the master." Narrator Emily Gray masterfully moves from one character to the next as she voices the blasphemies of the young "master," the haughty superiority of the imperious housekeeper, and the cavalier demeanor of the older master and the townspeople who shun Tabby's attempts to become one of them. While the story is short, the tension is high, and Gray narrates chilling scenes of dead girls coming to bed for a warm embrace and toy dolls being found with steel needles running through them. Tabby's voice gets more secure as she begins to take control of her life, going from victim to victor, and listeners will celebrate the climatic scene of live burial when she repeatedly uses her wits to outmaneuver the evil forces around her, including the self-serving desires of "the young master." The story continues to reveal its connection to Brontë legacy. Young Tabby ends up at the home of the Brontës, and on many evenings she shares with the girls tales from the mysterious house from whence she escaped. Tabby is modeled after the Brontës' actual servant and the young master goes from being a "heathen git" to "Heathcliff in this prequel to Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.—Edie Ching, University of Maryland, College Park
Pagan magic, Heathcliff's back story and a lot of scary dead maids: Dunkle's knack for the creepy (By These Ten Bones, 2005) sets spines tingling. Woodcut-style chapter-head illustrations ratchet up the spook factor, especially those depicting corpses and ghosts. When Tabby becomes the "Young Maid" at Seldom House, she finds herself in a strange world, where she is expected to do little other than look after a bloodthirsty, nameless little boy, the "Young Master." Seldom House and the neighboring village have no church, and dead maids haunt Tabby. Gradually she realizes she and the Young Master are marked for sacrifice ("It's an honor to be given to the land," one of the villagers tells her). While it seems clear from the start that Tabby will survive (she narrates the story from a later vantage point), it is not until the end that the connection to Wuthering Heights becomes clear. For readers familiar with Brontë's novel, the final connection is a masterstroke; even those who don't get it will find this a keeper. (Horror. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
I WAS NOT the first girl she saw, nor the second, and as to why she chose me, I know that now: it was because she did not like me. She sat like a magistrate on the horse hair sofa, examining me for failings. “Stop staring,” she snapped. “You’d think I was a world’s wonder.”
I looked away, thinking my own thoughts. She couldn’t stop me from doing that. She had a sweep of thick brown hair tucked up into a bun, and she wore a somber black wool dress. Her hands were soft: lady’s hands. Her face was anything but soft. It looked cold and hard and pale, like stone. Like a newly placed tombstone.
“I mustn’t take a half-wit, though,” she said reluctantly, as if she would like to do it. She seemed to consider idiocy the greatest point in my favor.
“Oh, our Tabby’s no half-wit,” countered Ma Hutton. “She just has that look. You did say you wanted to see an ugly one, miss.”
I stared at the braided rag rug, thinking about the black dress. She was in mourning. For whom? She was a handsome woman and might once have been beautiful.
“Tabby’s the best knitter in the school,” Ma Hutton was proclaiming. “She can turn out a sock in a day. And handy! She’s stronger than she looks, and she sews a pretty buttonhole, miss.”
“No scars,” interrupted the woman. “You can swear to that, you said. This is of the utmost importance. I cannot bear deformity.”
“She hasn’t a scar that I recollect,” Ma Hutton said slowly, beginning to fidget with her hands. She was wanting to knit, I knew. She hated to put down her knitting. “Tabby hasn’t worked in the fields, have you, child? She’s done light work.”
“No broken bones? I must be positive on this point.”
Ma Hutton signed for me to speak.
“I’ve broken naught, miss,” I answered, meeting the woman’s gaze as a token I was telling the truth. She winced, and her eyes glittered. When a dog looked like that, people knew to leave it alone.
“No relations, you said,” she reminded Ma Hutton, turning away from me.
“None, miss,” Ma Hutton assured her. “Tabby doesn’t even know where she’s from.”
Before a kindly soul had brought me to Ma Hutton’s knitting school, I had grown up in the kitchens of big houses, polishing boots and running errands. I had been told that my surname was Aykroyd, although I knew no one else who had it. Most likely it had been my mother’s name. I could dimly recall a face when I thought of mother, although the face was so young and frightened that it confused me. The one thing I held as a certainty had been dinned into my ears by angry cooks and house keepers. I had no father at all, quite a failing in a little child.
“She’ll do,” said the woman. “Tell her to fetch her things.”
I hadn’t much to take from the room I shared with eight other girls, except an old greatcoat someone had given me out of charity and the pattens, or wooden clogs, which we wore outside in the mud. Then I went to the room where Ma’s students sat knitting and bade them good-bye.
One of the girls who had been passed over came to whisper with me in the doorway. “She’s been here before, that woman,” she said. “She took Izzy with her last time.”
I said, “I don’t remember a girl named Izzy.”
“It was years ago, when I was new here. Izzy must be grown now, and run away with a soldier most likely, and miss needs a new girl to beat with her hairbrush. I got a shivery feeling when she talked to me. Didn’t you? I wouldn’t be you for a thousand pounds.”
I returned to the parlor. Money had changed hands while I was gone, a substantial sum by the look of things because Ma Hutton’s typical good humor had blossomed into rapture. She went so far as to wax sentimental over me, though I had never been a favorite, and bade me keep my knitting needles and my ball of worsted in its little rag pocket as a parting gift from the school. “And wrap up warm,” she counseled, pulling the greatcoat around me. “I don’t doubt you’ll have a long journey.” But where we were going, I hadn’t the heart to ask, and no one bothered to say.
We were in April then, but the spring had been cold, and the day was misty, as dark at noon as it had been at dawn. The houses across the street looked gray and insubstantial, shadows rather than stone.
The woman in black pushed me towards an open cart waiting in the lane. Its driver had taken the precaution of bringing a lighted lantern with him, and he swung down from the seat and held up the light to view me. “What have you brought us?” he boomed. “Why, it’s a quaint little body, to be sure!”
It isn’t that I’m so bad to look at, for my nose is straight and I have all my teeth, but my eyelashes are sparse and pale, and my eyes are no particular color. Add to that my stature, which is very small, and you’ll find folks who call me a quaint body yet.
The man who bent over me was long-limbed, with a round face buffeted red by wind and weather. “Pleased to meet you, little maidie,” he said, shaking hands. “My name’s Arnby. You look a right canny lass. How old would you happen to be?”
“I’m eleven, sir. My name’s Tabitha Aykroyd, but people call me Tabby.”
“So many years packed in such a tiny frame! I can tell she’s got us a good one. Now, listen, little maid. If she gives you any cause for grief,” and he nodded towards the woman who stood behind me, “just you come tell me all about it, and I’ll soon set her to rights.”
This alarmed me, as it seemed an impertinence. I didn’t want to start off badly with my new employer. “Please, miss,” I said, turning to the woman, “what am I to call you?”
She made no reply, but pushed past me and scrambled awkwardly onto the seat of the cart. Arnby stood by and laughed to see her do it.
“She’d tell you to call her Miss Winter if she could swallow her pride to speak,” he said. “But call her the old maid, dearie. Everyone else does.”
Our journey took two long, tedious, dreadfully foggy days. The creeping mist swallowed us up and showed neither landmark nor horizon, and often Arnby had to walk ahead and lead the horse by the bridle. It seemed to me that we jolted up and down and went nowhere at all. I tried to knit my sock, but the cart shook so that it made me ill.
“It’s wondrous weather,” declared Arnby once, climbing back onto his seat. “The season’s so late that the ewes have lost lambs, and the planting’s only half done. The old earth’s tired, that’s what, and last year’s storms and floods have vexed her. People don’t think on the earth enough, and that’s what causes the trouble. They plow at her and rip food from her, toss their trash and middens on her, bore mine holes into her, and never a word of thanks do they say.”
“Shut up, old fool,” snapped Miss Winter.
They were like that the whole journey, silent or quarrelling, and I was sorely puzzled how to take it. At first, I had cast Miss Winter in the role of house keeper and Arnby as a servant, but seeing him speak so free, I thought he must be the farm steward and she a maid or cook. Soon I didn’t know what to think, nor what their relation might be. I couldn’t imagine steward and house keeper taking such a frightful journey together, and that just to fetch home a new maid.
The matter must have weighed on my mind, for as I dozed, I dreamt a strange thing. “Just you try it,” I thought I heard Arnby say, and his voice was as soft as silk. “I’ll grab you before you take two steps and smash your skull like pie crust. Why else do you think I brought my staff? We don’t need you, you know. Not the maids.”
I sat up in a great fright at this, sure I’d fallen in with robbers, but the two of them were silent, sitting side by side on the cart bench the same as they always did.
Arnby heard me move and smiled over his shoulder. “The little maidie’s been winking,” he said. “Did you have good dreams? Take care you don’t catch cold.” And he reached back to tuck me up warm in some sacking.
Partway through the second day, we left the horse and cart at a farm house and proceeded in a little open boat. Arnby plied the oars vigorously to make progress upriver. I found that mode of travel more interesting at first, for the fog couldn’t hold to the surface of the water where the current flowed, but tore into streamers or hung above us like a flimsy ceiling. When I looked to the shore, I could make out a few feet of steep bank here and there, or a line of trailing underbrush. Now and then I caught a glimpse of cliff walls.
But it was very gloomy on the river, with cold drops sliding down our hair and wetting our clothes; I soon was damp through and wished the endless bumping about would end. Then the river narrowed to a stream, shallow but fast, and Arnby had hard work to pole along the bottom. The night drew in, and Miss Winter began to fuss and scold, and I curled up in my greatcoat and tried to sleep to get away from them both.
How it ended I barely knew, but I remember the light shining on a small beach of shingle and Arnby carrying me along, while Miss Winter held the lantern before us and looked like nothing but a white face and a pair of hands with her black dress swallowed up in the night. I didn’t want to be held and would have liked to get down, but protesting the point seemed so like their bickering that I did not know how to do it politely, and at the last I felt so tired and unhappy that I did not do it at all.
And that is how I came to my new house, carried in like a wax doll, and a bad business it was then, and a worse business to follow.
Excerpted from The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle.
Copyright © 2010 by Clare B. Dunkle.
Published in 2010 by Henry Hold and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.