A haunting YA Gothic fantasy about a girl and a monster.

Lakesedge is a haunting YA Gothic Fantasy debut from Lyndall Clipstone. It is the story of Violeta and Arien Graceling, who were found as young children wandering the snowy woods and were taken in and raised in a small village. But as Arien grows older dark shadowy powers begin to overtake him, and Violeta does not know how to help him. Then Rowan Sylvanan, the Lord of Lakesedge and its surrounding villages, comes to take them back to his empty, overgrown mansion on the promise that he can help Arien. But people say that Rowan is a monster, that he murdered his whole family, drowning them in the eerie black lake of Lakesedge. Can Violeta continue to fight for her brother, or will she succumb to the monster that is by turns kind and cruel? And what of the strange visions and darkness that gathers around her at night – can she event trust herself?

Clipstone takes so many tropes of Gothic, fantasy, and YA fiction and pushes them to their limit, rendered refreshed and renewed under her particular style of prose and exuberant imagination. The story is dripping with teen angst, but the stakes are so high and the characters so invested that it’s impossible not to get swept up in their worries. The world-building is careful, deliberate, and believable, from the fairy tale villages that pay tithes to the Lord, to the pagan-esque festivals that they celebrate in tune with the seasons, to the general acceptance of queerness as unremarkable. The Gothic elements also hit every note perfectly: the huge empty house, the tangled and overgrown garden, the handsome monster, the heroine breathlessly keeping secrets and trying to fix everything through her own stubbornness. You feel you’ve read many versions of this story, and you have, but none of them are quite like this one.

Clipstone also includes well-placed references to other mythology, fairytales and stories: two children lost in the woods; pomegranates and their significance to the lord of the underworld; a locked garden; a piece of the love poem Song of Solomon. Lakesedge treads the line admirably between aesthetic and substantial. Readers may come for the beautiful girl in a decaying mansion ruled over by a monster, but they will stay for the excellent world-building, the well-rounded characters, and the pulse-quickening stakes that only get higher as the book goes on.

I already can’t wait for the second one!

This review was first published on ArtsHub.

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