Kate’s Review: “House of Hunger”

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Book: “House of Hunger” by Alexis Henderson

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A young woman is drawn into the upper echelons of a society where blood is power, in this dark and enthralling gothic novel from the author of The Year of the Witching. Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation is all she knows. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper, seeking a bloodmaid.

Though she knows little about the far north–where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service–Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery–and at the center of it all is her.

Countess Lisavet, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when her fellow bloodmaids begin to go missing in the night, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home–and fast–or its halls will soon become her grave.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Alexis Henderson’s debut novel “The Year of the Witching” was my favorite book in 2020. Her unique and dark witchcraft story really connected with me, as Henderson took familiar witch themes and turned them into broader commentaries on identity, groupthink, and fanaticism, and hell yes did it work for me. It’s probably no shock that when I heard she was writing a new book I was very excited. And when I read the description of “House of Hunger”, and realized that it was going to be Henderson’s take on vampires, my excitement went that much higher. I’m very particular about vampire stories, as I’ve mentioned before, but I had high hopes and full trust in Henderson.

This book is just awesome. It’s a fascinating deconstruction and reworking of a typical vampire story, and it also delves into the always complicated themes of class and privilege from our society and applies them to a fantasy world that is well conceived and interesting. Henderson’s world of the North and the South has a great set up and some fantastic world building, and I had a solid feel for the world that the story is set in. The nobles of the north who take on the bloodmaids are never referred to as vampires, per se, though there are plenty of hints that this is kind of what we are working with here: they live in a part of the world that has longer nights than the area that our protagonist Marion comes from, for one. There is the very obvious aspect of the blood drinking, and the harkening back to Lisvet’s ‘illness’ (probably extreme hemophilia) and how she needs blood to survive. And there is also the aristocratic lives that the nobles live, a theme that has been connected to vampire lore from the early days of the genre. I liked that Henderson opted to not go full vampire in the story, as it makes Lisvet and the other nobles of the houses more mysterious and seductive, and gives the story more room to explore the mythology of the world at hand. And we slowly get to see the tension and threat build, going at a pace that makes not only Marion, but also the reader, in a ‘frog in the pot of boiling water’ situation, unaware of the actual threat at hand until it is far, far too late. There are so many unsettling aspects of this story in terms of horror, and once it builds to some of the bigger reveals it jumps off the page and is solidly scary, scary stuff.

Speaking of Marion, I really liked her as our protagonist, as she is so many shades of grey and incredibly multi-faceted as a character. She is the perfect way to explore the other themes of the upper class exploiting the lower classes out of the sheer desperation that the have nots experience. When we meet Marion she is living in poverty with a sick and abusive brother, working under a cruel mistress at a backbreaking job with nothing to show for it. Of course the temptation of escape to live in the opulence of being a bloodmaid is going to tempt her! Sure, you have to give your mistress your blood, but in exchange Marion gets pampering, glamorous housing, all the delicious food she can eat, and then the attention of Lisvet, who makes her feel special and extraordinary. Marion is desperate, but she’s also ambitious, and Henderson definitely delves into darker areas with her character as she sees things that are questionable, but opts to explain them away as she loves her new life as a bloodmaid and the perks that it seems to have. And oh the metaphors of a wealthy elite like Lisvet literally drinking the blood from a lower class girl with few options like Marion and her other bloodmaid companions! I mean, there is a reason that Lisvet’s last name is Bathory, after all. It’s a great commentary on how the haves take the have nots for everything they’re worth, and can make them think that it’s some kind of honor or choice.

“House of Hunger” is a fantastic horror dark fantasy. Alexis Henderson is a horror voice to be paying attention to, as her deconstructions of familiar tropes turn into stories that are so incredibly special and unique. Cannot wait to see what she does next.

Rating 10: Unsettling, suspenseful, and a well done exploration of the haves and have nots, “House of Hunger” is another successful horror novel from Alexis Henderson.

Reader’s Advisory:

“House of Hunger” is included on the Goodreads list “Bathory Books”.

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