Author: Lyndall Clipstone
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Synopsis: GoodReads | StoryGraph
Notable Notables: Original fantasy world, a death god is here
Recommended Readers: Young adult readers who like emotional stories
CAWPILE Rating: 4.57
Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Violeta Graceling travels with her younger brother, Arien, to Lakesedge estate, expecting to be at the mercy of the Monster of Lakesedge. The lord of the estate, Rowan Sylvanan, is said to have drowned his parents and brother in the lake. However, once she arrives, neither lord nor lake are what they seem. She discovers that Rowan has a connection to the Lord Under, a sinister death god that makes bargains for a terrible price. She vows to save Rowan, the estate, and herself, all while discovering why she is also being drawn to the Lord Under.
I was so, so hopeful for Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone, a novel that promised to be about monsters and magic, told in a lush gothic style—but was it truly a gothic work in the end?
My verdict is that, no, it’s not gothic enough to be called a gothic novel. It has some of the trappings, of course. There is a neglected mansion with a creepy lake; there are foreshadowing nightmares, high emotions, supernatural activity, and of course a romance. But it’s missing key elements to tie it all together, and without them, the novel sadly lacks substance.
First, there is no real mystery or suspense. What mystery there could have been is given away in the official synopsis of the book alone, and what isn’t can barely be considered mysterious or suspenseful. There is no climactic reveal. There is no wife in the attic, no surprise incest, no hauntings by the ghost of one’s daughter, not a single moment that finally exposes the truth of the horror and monstrosity the characters have been facing. Instead, you’re told about what it is and what the stakes are from the beginning, one after the other as they become relevant, and without that mystery, the plot turns into a slog. You’re just reading ritual, failure, ritual, failure, waiting for the version that will finally take—and guess what? You’ll know what version that will be, too.
Second, there is no real development of a villain, something that far too many YA novels lately are completely neglecting in general. Gothic fantasy and romance should be the one place where authors have free reign to do whatever they please with a villain, but even Lakesedge takes the safe and easy road. The book focuses too much on the formless Corruption in the lake and not enough on the Lord Under for the latter to be the believable True Villain of the story. Rowan, especially, becomes nothing more than a blameless victim rather than the Byronic anti-hero he starts as.
Yes, the so-called Monster of Lakesedge is just a dude. A boy to be precise. Yes, we are back to the “he’s a monster but he’s a boy” thing. I won’t lie; I was really hoping the rumors about Rowan were absolutely true, that he had deliberately done what everyone accused him of doing. Even if he wound up regretting it in the present, it would’ve been so novel, having a male love interest with a bit of spice to him. It also, funnily enough, would’ve made the book more gothic. He would’ve been more of a Mr. Rochester by maybe, consciously, doing a bad thing, even just one bad thing.
Sadly, he is just a victim of his ill-made bargain rather than someone who deliberately fell into and chose to conduct immorality despite knowing the consequences. He even starts off as a bit of an ass but instantly turns into a soft boy because the heroine has a few bruises on her wrists. The instant switch of personality made the blossoming romance between them boring and too fast to be considered earned, steamy, or full of doomed, unwanted longing in any real capacity. The book even tries to do a thing where Rowan and Violeta hate each other at first before just as quickly yanking it back. Either commit, or don’t.
As for Violeta, I started off caring about her so much. That feeling wavered the more I read, and once she crossed into the mindset of “I alone can do this. It’s the only way,” my only question was, “Why?” She and the plot completely lost me at this point, and I threw my hands up and wondered why the other characters were even here. That included her brother, who was so dear to her at the beginning. I mean, they grew up weathering parental abuse together. Arien still matters to her, but I learned then that their sibling bond didn’t have much substance past the first third of the book. That wasn’t the real point of Violeta’s journey or even what the plot truly cared about.
In fact, the further you read, the more you realize that pretty much none of the other cast members (Clover, Florence, Arien) matter compared to Violeta. Rowan matters less and less as the story progresses as well. I kept getting Clover and Florence mixed up because I didn’t understand why they were there or what they truly added to the plot.
There is some LGBT representation, but it is so negligible it’s barely worth mentioning. Just a throwaway line that Rowan is bisexual and tiny, unmemorable scenes of Clover having a crush on Thea in the village. I think they might hold hands at one point; I truly can’t remember. Another review also claimed that Violeta is demisexual, but I did not pick up on that at all (even though I tend to lean that way myself), so can I even call that representation if I didn’t even notice?
The writing is generally fine. It’s descriptive enough and conveys Violeta’s emotional state easily, but it is very typical of what YA is putting on the market now. You can expect lots of repetition to convey emphasis but which too often runs counter to that very emphasis. Too many “ands” between nouns instead of the blessed comma. Lazy descriptions of repeating a word to emphasize how the state of something is—”cold and cold and cold”—instead of being more creative. If you like this writing style, you’ll likely love the book, but I have seen it too much recently to find it shiny and new anymore. I’m rather tired of it.
I likewise found myself tired of Violeta transforming into the new “it’s my choice” female character we have now. It’s replacing the Strong Female Character™ at this point. Look, I get it. Consent is sexy or whatever, but the “it’s my choice” mantra is getting so old to read. It’s lazy female empowerment, and seeing as how Violeta is the kind of character that does do whatever she wants without anyone really stopping her or truly contesting her, it’s also a bit meaningless.
It also made it very funny when she turned to the Lord Under with righteous fury at one point, claiming how he tricked and deceived her. But, sis, I thought it was all your choice? What do you mean? lol. You chose to bargain with him, you chose to be here, and you chose to trust him despite admitting you shouldn’t. Why is it never a female character’s fault for her own actions anymore?
I kept wondering where the Darkling energy was that other reviewers mentioned. At what point did a Darkling and Alina moment happen in this book? Just having characters with light and shadow magic isn’t enough nor is it the point. For anyone here to be the Darkling, they have to be evil and sexy, subject to mortal greed, ambition, and excuses for being evil for the greater good, but armed with immortal power. That’s not quite the Lord Under in his aloof, alien nature as a death god, and it definitely isn’t soft boy Rowan.
It’s quite a shame because glimmers of the world-building did intrigue me. There isn’t too much world-building here admittedly because the world is very, very narrow, but even hearing mentions of alchemist culture, recognizing the dual worship of the Lady and the Lord Under, and seeing what the world Below was like was scintillating. I wish more had been devoted to these things than constantly describing what the Corruption was like.
Truthfully, the only way I’d be interested in the sequel is if the Lord Under played a much bigger role and if his and Violeta’s bond actually deepened beyond being convenient for the plot. I need to understand why she’s actually different compared to Rowan or anyone else in regards to this death god and why this bond between them formed in the first place. That sole mystery was the one thing that wasn’t adequately touched on or answered, and I fear that Lakesedge thought it was. Otherwise, it’s a miss for me.