Title – Ashthorne
Author – April Yates
Genre – Historical fiction, Gothic horror
Publisher – Ghost Orchid Press
In the aftermath of WWI, Adelaide Frost seeks employment as a nurse at Ashthorne – a manor house that has been designated as a convalescence center for soldiers of war. She is sternly informed not to make contact with the house owners, Mr. Ashthorne, and his daughter Evelyn. Her job requires her to work for the injured soldiers without asking any questions. A resident doctor operates in his treatment room, that no one has access to besides the doctor and the patients.
Something is amiss at Ashthorne. Initially dismissed as the after-effects and trauma of fighting and being rendered disabled by war, Adelaide learns there’s more to the soldiers’ wanting to kill themselves and not coming out alive from the doctor’s treatment room. Evelyn has her own suspicions about the evil lurking within her father’s home, but her investigations haven’t revealed much so far. Now, with Adelaide’s help, the two women seek to uncover the truth behind Ashthorne. What happened to Evelyn’s mother, why does her father blindly believe the doctor, who is the priest with much say in the town’s proceedings, can the nurses be trusted, why is the land on which Ashthorne stands so important?
In a short, compact, and concise novella, April Yates packs a punch of a story that covers so much in so few words. I was introduced to Yates’ writing in the short story First Harvest from Blood and Bone, edited by A.R. Ward. I loved that anthology and found every story so outstanding that I looked forward to her debut book. And Yates doesn’t disappoint. With Ashthorne, she creates a world that brings together historical fiction with gothic horror, thriller, and romance. And there’s another world within this world that addresses post-traumatic stress disorder, rehabilitation, homosexuality, religion and medicine, and the role of women in society.
The characters are multi-layered and well-developed. The storyline involves several tangents, but they all fall together nicely. The plot is to the point and quick-paced. Sometimes, novels are so long drawn out, that one wonders why the author had to drag a story that could have been said in a few words. With Ashthorne, you hope for the opposite. The novella is so well written, that one hopes it could have been a longer novel. I would have liked to learn more about the caves and the history of Ashthorne that makes the grounds significant. I love books that blur the lines between thriller and horror, and Ashthorne keeps you wanting to read more.
A haunted house story that incorporates witchcraft, demons, mysterious mirrors, and basements to beware of. As a historical fiction sapphic horror story, Ashthorne is splendidly written and deserves to be read. April Yates is an author to look out for. And kudos to the cover designer!
My rating – 5/5