House of Roots and Ruin

House of Roots and Ruin

by Erin A. Craig
House of Roots and Ruin

House of Roots and Ruin

by Erin A. Craig

Hardcover

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

Set twelve years after House of Salt and Sorrows, House of Roots and Ruin brings readers back to Arcannia and the lives of the remaining Thaumus sisters, this time following youngest sister Verity. Infused with all of the haunting gothic elements of the first volume, this is a mesmerizing return to a decadent world full of darkness.

"When the youngest Thaumas sister, Verity, leaves Salann for the lush Bloem on a painting commission, she quickly discovers that the intriguing Laurent family isn't as perfect as they appear"--]cProvided by publisher.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593482544
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 07/25/2023
Series: Sisters of the Salt Series
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 2,761
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.90(d)
Lexile: HL720L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Erin A. Craig is the New York Times bestselling author of House of Salt and Sorrows and Small Favors. She has always loved telling stories. After getting her BFA in Theatre Design and Production from the University of Michigan, she stage-managed tragic operas filled with hunchbacks, séances, and murderous clowns, then decided she wanted to write books that were just as spooky. An avid reader, an embroidery enthusiast, a rabid basketball fan, and a collector of typewriters, Erin makes her home in West Michigan with her husband and daughter.

Read an Excerpt

1

The paintbrush was too wet.

Pigment concentrated through the boar-­hair bristles, sluicing out in irregular blots and smudging the line I’d wanted crisp.

“Hold still,” I murmured, barely moving my lips as I dabbed the brush on a rag, lest I somehow jar the moment before me and lose its magic forever. “Just one minute more.”

The corner of Artie’s lips trembled as if fighting the urge to break into a grin.

“I’m almost finished,” I promised. “Just . . .” I flicked the brush across the canvas, capturing the gleam of impish merriment brightening my nephew’s eyes. “There. It’s perfect.”

“I want to see! I want to see!” Artie exclaimed, falling out of his carefully arranged pose and tumbling over himself as he dashed behind the easel. His eyebrows fell. “That’s not what I look like. Is it?”

I studied the rendering with a critical eye before glancing back to the little boy before me. Thick waves of dark hair like mine, like most Thaumases, but with his father’s button nose. “I think it’s a fine likeness.”

“Very fine,” a voice affirmed from the doorway behind us.

“Mama!” he cried, racing off to give his mother a hug. “Am I done now?”

Camille raised an eyebrow at me, seeking confirmation. I set down my palette and nodded.

“All done.” Camille pressed a swift kiss to the top of his head before he was off, racing down the hall, breathless with pent-­up energy.

“How was he?” she asked, entering the Blue Room to study the portrait more closely. Her amber eyes missed nothing. “This arrived for you this morning,” she said, handing me a thick envelope. It was marked with several palace seals.

Mercy.

“A little squirmy but that’s to be expected.” I ran my thumb under the flap, ready to rip open the envelope and dig out my sister’s letter, but I paused, watching Camille take in the painting.

“It’s a lovely painting,” she complimented. “I can’t believe he’s five now. Where have the years gone?” My sister brushed a strand of burnished auburn hair from her face and her fingers fluttered over the corner of one eye, feeling at the nonexistent lines she worried were beginning to creep in.

“My birthday is coming up, you know,” I mentioned, keeping my voice as light and casual as I could.

She frowned as though I’d accused her of something. “I wouldn’t forget that, Verity.”

“I didn’t mean— Only . . . maybe we could talk about what we should do this year?” I turned on my stool, looking up. “I thought perhaps we could go to the mainland? To the capital? Mercy said—”

“It’s not Mercy’s place to say anything,” Camille said, glancing at the envelope in my lap. I could see she wanted to snatch it up and read the missive for herself but instead she stepped forward, squinting at a brushstroke.

“She said that I could still be presented at court, if we wanted to. Eighteen is a little older than most girls, but—”

Her sigh stopped me short. “I would have loved to take you at sixteen. You know that.”

“Only I was at Hesperus, helping Annaleigh with the baby,” I supplied, knowing her excuses by heart. “But last year—”

“Last year we were in the middle of the east wing renovations. It was hardly the time for a long, extravagant trip.”

“I know,” I said, tucking a bit of hair behind my ear. She was bristling for a fight, and if she started snapping, I knew it would be impossible to sway her. “I know, I know, I know. But now . . . the house is all done. The children are old enough to travel. I’m sure they’d all love to see Arcannus.”

Camille shook her head, backing away from the canvas, her eyes drifting around the room as if looking for something to improve. She approached a chaise and plumped a down pillow until it stood on its own like a tuft of meringue. “Oh no. The children would never come with us to court. They’d stay behind with their governess, of course.”

I took a quick breath, hope reaching high into my chest like a man drowning at sea and grasping for a life raft. “But we . . . we could go? Oh, Camille, think of how fun it will be! We haven’t been to the mainland since Mercy moved to court. Annaleigh could come, too, and I’m sure Honor would join us. Foresia isn’t that far from the capital, and perhaps even Lenore . . .” I stumbled to a halt as I always did whenever Lenore came up.

My third oldest sister was a complete mystery to me.

“Lenore is Lenore. I doubt she’d . . .” Camille ran a quick hand over her hair again, as if assuring herself that everything was still in place. “All of that does sound . . . It could be quite agreeable,” she allowed. “But your birthday is next week. There’s no possible way we could have everything ready by then. The travel alone is a full day by our fastest clipper. Perhaps we could arrange something this fall? Before Churning.”

My face fell.

We wouldn’t.

The weather would grow bad.

The twins would get sick.

Camille would have half a dozen excuses by then, none of which I could argue against because she was older and wiser and a duchess and you might be able to lead a spirited debate if it were simply the first two but her title was as formidable as a citadel high atop a hill. Bordered by a barbed stone wall. And a moat.

Camille crossed to the giant windows overlooking the Salten cliffs. She made a beautiful silhouette in front of the dramatic landscape, and my fingers itched to sketch her. I could envision the first long lines, gently curved to indicate the flow of her mauve skirts. It would be the perfect juxtaposition for the thick, short spikes I’d use for the cliffs.

“We should do something festive, though,” she mused. “What about a party?”

I was too surprised to respond. Once Camille fixed her mind on something, trying to budge her from it was like prying a barnacle off the seawall.

“What do you think?” she asked, turning back to me, the weight of her stare cool and steady.

“I think . . . that sounds wonderful! How many people could we invite? Mercy said the princesses have been wanting to visit. Spring would be the perfect time for them to see Highmoor. And if Beatrice comes, you know Phinneas will too, probably. Oh! The Crown Prince! At my birthday!” My heart fluttered as I recalled Mercy’s descriptions. “He’s supposed to be madly in love with dancing. Perhaps we could make it a ball! Not a terribly formal one, of course. I know how much work they take but maybe—”

“Enough!” Camille said, breaking through my haze of ideas like a battering ram. “You’ve overexcited yourself, Verity.”

“I haven’t,” I promised, feeling the heat in my throat even as I protested. My imagination had the tendency to run ahead of me, like a young colt racing after its own legs.

“You’re flushed scarlet,” she pointed out. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to mislead you with thoughts of a large affair. I only meant a family dinner. Something cozy and intimate. Cook has been eager to try out some new recipes with the spring vegetables. It would just be us. And Annaleigh and Cassius, of course.”

“Oh . . . of course,” I said, feeling small.

She wandered over to the shelves of books before pausing at a small portrait of all our sisters.

Well. Most of our sisters.

Back when there were eight of us.

We’d originally been twelve strong but our three oldest—Ava, Octavia, and Elizabeth—passed away in quick succession after our mother died giving birth to me.

Then, years later, Eulalie followed after them, slipping from the same cliffs Camille had just been in front of. The triplets died months after—two of them anyway—another tragic accident. Rosalie and Ligeia. They left Lenore by her lonesome, like a set of silverware missing its fork and knife. Though I was six at the time, I don’t remember their deaths, only the fallout. Lenore retreated deep inside her mind, a living ghost, eyes blank, lips forever drawn into a grim line.

Then . . . Papa and Morella, my stepmother. There had been a fire, a terrible one that nearly consumed the entire manor. I should be able to recall that night—I’m told there was a snowstorm, one of the worst our islands had ever seen—but there’s nothing in my recollection of it.

My very first memory is of a sunny afternoon on Hesperus, a little spit of land farthest west in the chain of Salann islands, where my second oldest sister, Annaleigh, lives, tending the lighthouse. My other sisters, Honor and Mercy, and I lived there for part of our childhood as Highmoor was rebuilt. Camille insisted on using as much of the original structure as safety warranted. The rest she faithfully re-­created, keeping everything exactly as it had been. Soft gray walls soaring four stories high and topped with a blue and green gabled roof. Two sprawling wings. A solarium filled with koi ponds and palm fronds. A great hall used for feast days honoring our patron god Pontus, king of the seas. A grand and glittering ballroom, almost never touched. All of it exactly as it had been in my early childhood, though I couldn’t recall a single instance of it on my own.

Camille and Annaleigh say it makes sense I’d not held on to the memories of that dark time of grief. They wished they, too, could discard those thoughts, those reminders of how painful life could sometimes be. But nothing about it feels natural to me.

Their faces—my father, my mother, so many of my sisters—haunt me, though I’ve no memories of them alive and whole and here. Their portraits remain, scattered throughout the manor, hung on walls, tucked onto shelves, desks, and bureaus. I should not be so familiar with Eulalie’s easy, winning smile or the dazzling russet hue of Rosalie’s curls, but I could sketch them in an instant. I’ve memorized every curve of jaw, arch of eyebrow. I know how Papa tilted his head while deep in thought, how Mama’s eyes sparkled, but I do not remember the sounds of their voices, nor how they took their coffee. Did Papa and I ever while away afternoons on the lawn, staring up at clouds? Did my sisters swim in little eddies of surf down by the north shore, their limbs long and white against the black sands?

This house has always felt full of ghosts to me—not of spirits in white sheets and chains, nothing as clichéd as all that—but of memories snatched away. Memories I’ll never be able to claim as mine.

Camille adjusted the framed painting before clasping her hands together, decision reached. “So. A family dinner. What do you think?”

Her hope was palpable, written in the crook of her lips, all the way down to her fingertips dancing lightly over the velvet chaise before her.

I couldn’t find it in myself to let her down.

It’s why at seventeen—almost eighteen—I was still at Highmoor, running after my nieces and nephew, watching them grow, watching Camille’s life proceed on ahead of her while mine seemed to be withering away in the wings. She needed me. She needed me here. And so I tried to tuck away my dreams of travel and adventure, my ambitions and desires. They didn’t go down easily. They were always there, always part of me, asking, begging, beseeching for more. More than this house, more than these islands.

Pontus help me, I wanted more.

“All right,” I agreed, forcing my lips into a smile.

For her.

For my sister.

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