02 October 2023

Review: The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox

The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox book cover

I was in the mood for a gothic historical fiction novel set on the coast when I picked up The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox recently. It's 1846, and Gabriel Stone is looking for a sea change after the death of his wife when he moves to rural Pale Harbour in Maine and takes up the role of Minister. Pale Harbour locals believe reclusive widow Sophronia Carver is responsible for the death of her husband and have openly called her a witch.
"Now here was a woman who might have been the picture of widowhood in an illustrated encyclopedia. From her high-necked black dress to the tightly pulled-back hair to the disapproving pucker in her brow, she radiated severity. Though at about forty, she was younger than the white-haired and bent-backed old woman that he had been imagining." Page 42
Just as the Minister is surprised to find the widow to be an attractive woman in her 40s, she too was surprised to meet a strong and well-built Minister, not the withered and weak man of God she was expecting. I couldn't help but roll my eyes here, suspecting a romance to transpire. And it does.

The Widow of Pale Harbour is a slow burn narrative with increasing occult pranks designed to scare the widow, however the forbidden love trope did nothing for this reader.

It's clear early on (and in the blurb) the work of Edgar Allan Poe is important to our suspect, and having recently re-read The Raven poem last month, I enjoyed this unexpected cross-over connection:
"..familiar not just with the poem, but with how fantastically popular it had become. Fashionable families held dinner parties and read the poem aloud around the fire, students recited it in diction classes, and a number of magazines and newspapers had already run parodies of the spine-tingling composition." Page 93
Even with this Poe angle and the whodunnit mystery, there was way too much romance and not enough action for my liking. Admittedly, there is the hint of a threat in the leaving of occult poppets and charms, menacing notes and vitriol from the local villagers, but it didn't really light my fire. 

I have a copy of The Orphan of Cemetery Hill by Hester Fox on my virtual TBR, and I'm hoping I'll enjoy it more, without an overwhelming romance element driving the plot. Set in 1844, Tabby works with her adopted father as caretaker of a large cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts and has the gift of being able to speak with the dead. Now that sounds interesting!

My Rating:

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