ARC Review – ‘Belladonna’ by Adalyn Grace

TITLE: Belladonna
AUTHOR: Adalyn Grace
GENRE: YA Fantasy
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 416 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Little Brown and Company on August 30th, 2022
RRP$28.56 AUD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace brings to life a highly romantic, Gothic-infused world of wealth, desire, and betrayal.

Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa 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 remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.

However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine. 

Belladonna is the first in a new series by New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace, who is well-known for her duology All the Stars and Teeth. Her previous series was set in a fantasy world with intricate magic, mermaids, and pirates, but Belladonna positions itself in a more down-to-earth Victorian-inspired setting. However don’t make the mistake of picturing Bridgerton as this Gothic-inspired murder mystery with paranormal romantic fantasy elements is more along the lines of Crimson Peak meets Stalking Jack The Ripper.

The killer premise of a young woman teaming up with Death himself to investigate a potential murder is uniquely intoxicating, and the suggestion that Death is a love interest will seal the deal for many readers. Death is a tricky character to portray in a believable manner that conveys the full weight of his immortal existence and countless years of reaping souls while also making it plausible that he might become invested in one particular human, but the author pulls it off with style. She cleverly builds up a mystery surrounding our heroine who somehow survives Death’s touch as a baby, causing him to catch glimpses of her impossible future even though nobody has ever come out alive after an encounter with Death. It’s easy to understand why Death would become fascinated by Signa Farrow and keep tabs on her throughout her life because she is something unheard of and offers the prospect of companionship to a previously solitary entity.

Of course, being able to survive a social encounter with Death not a guarantee that Signa would have any inclination to spend time with him! She understandably has a grudge against Death given that as a young orphan, she was forced to move from one household to another with increasingly less hospitable guardians since they kept dying in an untimely fashion around her, leading to the rumour that she is cursed. All Signa wants is the security of a permanent home with a loving family and Death is a threat to that dream, causing her to be very hostile towards him in their initial interactions. But when it appears that her late aunt was murdered and there is the chance her killer may strike again, Signa must reluctantly ally with Death in order to protect her newest household.

Signa and Death’s dynamic is very tropey and reminiscent of other books where the plucky young heroine is pitted against an amoral adversary in a position of power who has a fondness for her. As someone who finds that to be pure catnip, I relished in every scene between them. And unlike many books with a similar dynamic, Death is actually a legitimate love interest rather than purely the villain which means we see a satisfying romantic arc develop between them. Fans of tropes like hate-to-love and forced proximity will be very pleased with their relationship!

While the romantic element is a big part of the appeal of Belladonna, it doesn’t overshadow the murder mystery plot at Thorn Grove which is a thrilling, atmospheric enigma that thoroughly bamboozles Signa and the audience with multiple red herrings and dead ends on the way to a stunning conclusion with shocking but satisfying twists. Signa’s investigation into the fraught history of the Hawthornes and the resulting puzzle pieces she tries to assemble is genuinely intriguing and it’s easy to invest in her efforts to safeguard her new family. The side characters feel like realistic, complex human beings and Signa’s growing connection to her cousins is especially rewarding to witness.

This highly imaginative and excitingly original premise is supported by lush evocative writing, magical world-building and a gripping, well-crafted storyline. Meshing multiple genres with ease, Belladonna will enchant readers who enjoy romantic fantasy, gothic vibes and murder mysteries. An addictive and atmospheric dark upper YA novel, this is fair warning to you all not to start reading late at night unless you want to be up past dawn turning the last page!

Disclaimer: digital copy provided free from the publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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