This entire book was the right kind of dark, macabre, mysterious, and so very much brimming with tension one would expect when it comes to a girl at first hating Death and then finding that he isn’t so bad after all. I’m really glad I read this as part of my spooky reads for the month, because it was just so well done. Definitely have more notes and quotes to talk about, as I also read this as a read-along for the Fairyloot edition, but yes. Loved it!
by Adalyn Grace
Hodder & Stoughton, August 2022
YA mystery, paranormal
Rated: 5 / 5 cookies
A girl confronts Death—and her own deathly powers—in this Gothic-infused, romantic young adult fantasy.
Nineteen-year-old Signa Farrow, orphaned as a baby, has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her last remaining relatives are the Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at the glittering and gloomy estate of Thorn Grove. Thorn Grove’s patriarch, Elijah, mourns his late wife, Lillian, through wild parties and drink, while eldest son Percy grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and daughter Blythe suffers from the same mysterious illness that killed her mother. And when Lillian’s spirit confronts Signa and claims she was poisoned, Signa realizes that Blythe could be next to die.
Signa’s best chance of uncovering the culprit and solving Lillian’s murder is an alliance with Death himself—the very man she hates most. And Death, that fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side, shows her that their connection may be more powerful than she ever dared imagine.
I thought this would be an appropriate review to put out this week, in honor of Spooky Season! I read the book as part of the FairyLoot read-along for October, so I had finished it in time to be able to write a proper review of it for today.
BUT FIRST. Can I just take a moment to put the FL edition cover right next to the US cover?
Now normally I don’t tend to love faces on covers, but that US edition is GORGEOUS. I wouldn’t have minded getting a hardcover of that. That being said, the rest of the FL edition, from the painted edges, the custom endcovers, and the illustrated hardback made owning an exclusive copy worth it as well. I might just get myself another copy anyway, because it’s definitely a book I’d recommend to my classroom readers.
SO. Back to the review.
Gothic fiction is not my thing. It’s not even my cup of tea, and I drink a lot of tea. A LOT. But I figured, since I did enjoy Mexican Gothic despite its purely Gothic backdrop, that I should try another one as part of my goal to read something spooky during October. This was one of the first I’ve actually read that I’ve received from FairyLoot. Which is saying much, because I’ve had a subscription to FL since last March (oops?)…but anyway.
Surprise, surprise! I absolutely loved it.
The overall premise of Belladonna is that Signa Farrow–constantly followed by Death since birth–is tired of being passed around from one relative to another. After the death of her most recent relative, she makes her way to Thorn Grove in hopes that this time, Death will leave her alone. Unfortunately, upon arrival, Signa learns that the Hawthorne family has already been visited by Death–Lillian Hawthorne had recently passed six months prior, and it appears her daughter has caught the same affliction and is nearing death herself. While Signa would love nothing more than to just worry about making her long-awaited debut for the year (she is, after all, nearing 20 and haven’t had a social season as of yet), she’s realizing that she needs to find a way to save Blythe from her mother’s terrible fate. And to do all she can, she ropes in Sylas–a TDH snarky stableboy (who’s kind of a sweetie pie, to be honest)–and makes a deal with Death himself in order to solve the mystery of Lillian’s demise and prevent Blythe from succumbing the same way.
The fact that there is fantasy in this Gothic story is probably one of the major reasons that I loved this book. Death himself is personified in more than one form, and it’s clear that Signa possesses some kind of power to have made Death curious over her. There’s a paranormal aspect to Thorn Grove, and Signa herself sees ghosts in areas where hauntings occur. Belladonna is also a bit of a romance; and honestly, I am utterly here for Death and Signa’s banter.
Really? We’re giving nicknames now, Death?!
Signa did remind me a bit of Evangeline Fox (from Once Upon a Broken Heart, which I’ve yet to review on my blog, but I’m getting there!) for her extreme naivety and expectations of society and normalcy. While Evangeline wishes to be swept up in some whirlwind romance, Signa hopes to be free of Death in order to live a normal life where romance, marriage, and happiness is in the cards for her. I did find Signa a bit inconsiderate in the beginning of the book, but I can kind of forgive her for this because she rarely had any interaction with people her age. She based most of her knowledge on the advices of an etiquette book, which I’d hoped she’d chucked out the window by the end of the book, honestly. Thankfully, there is development going on throughout Belladonna, and Signa starts to realize that her expectations far contradict what makes her truly happy.
But there was something else now. A curiosity. A darkness that had been brewing within her all these years that was perhaps not so dark as she’d once believed. She’d felt power. She’d felt the heat of her skin beneath a man’s touch. She’d felt what it was like to sneak out and ride horseback beneath the moon.
And she liked that darkness more than she cared to admit.
As for Death himself…
Okay, see, when you say shit like that, it is a known truth that I. Will. SWOON.
Death is the nicer version of Jacks (also from OUaBH, and FUNNILY ENOUGH, also calls the main character “Little Fox” which–damn, these pet names though!) with the sassy and trolling personality of Cardan Greenbriar (The Folk of the Air series). He has an invested interest in Signa, and it’s clear that while he’s this powerful entity–I mean, he’s DEATH, for goodness’ sakes!–the allure of Signa as a mystery brings him to her on a constant basis.
AND HE HAS LIIIIIIIINES. So many of them are especially empowering and supportive of Signa’s growth in both ownership of herself and the power within her.
I swear I took several pictures of just quotes from both Signa and Death, sometimes of their banter as well.
In any case, Belladonna had a lot going for it that I loved: the pacing, the sucker punch of the first two pages (seriously, Adalyn Grace had us running immediately by the Prologue), the setting, the paranormal mystery, the characters, and the romance. I definitely had no issue shipping Death and Signa, despite what appears to be the weirdest love triangle ever. (I mean, how do you compete with the personification of DEATH, anyway?!)
5 out of 5 cookies! I can’t believe I now have to wait until next year for Foxglove!
On a final note, I hadn’t realized I have a copy of Adalyn Grace’s All the Stars and Teeth, which I’d received from OwlCrate ages ago, when I used to be subscribed to them. I should check that book out too!