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Alix E. Harrow’s new novel a 'contemporary Kentucky gothic'

Left, the cover for the book "Starling House" includes illustration of several starling birds, some holding keys; Right, photo of the author in a sunlit prairie.
Elora Overbey, 2023
Author's website
Alix E. Harrow is the author of Starling House.

“Starling House” is a gorgeous modern gothic fantasy.

Writer Alix E. Harrow is the author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January and The Once and Future Witches. Her new book is a gorgeous modern gothic fantasy called Starling House.

In this story, Opal — an orphan, high school dropout, full-time cynic and part-time cashier — is determined to find a better life for her younger brother Jasper. One that gets them out of Eden, Kentucky.

"What if that town had survived and what would it be haunted by?"
Writer Alix E. Harrow on Paradise, Kentucky — the inspiration for her novel "Starling House."

Eden is a veritable ghost town, with its remaining residents living lackluster lives and staying clear from the infamous Starling House, known to be haunted and plagued by mysterious deaths.

In a recent What We’re Reading interview, Harrow explained Eden is an homage to the real-life town of Paradise, Kentucky, made famous by the 1971 John Prine song in which its residents had to be relocated and the town bulldozed due to the toxic effects of coal mining.

Harrow explained she wanted to explore the questions: “What if that town had survived and what would it be haunted by?”

The protagonist Opal is a strong woman with frequently questionable judgment. She’s not above lying or stealing to support herself and her brother.

Harrow commented that many reviewers have been calling Opal “a morally gray character,” but Harrow considers her very relatable.

What interested her in Opal is the idea of a person who is so focused on survival and doing only what they must to get by, but who is “beginning to make room in their life for what they might want or what they might dream of.”

The story of Starling House has many elements to it: murder, mystery, fantasy, romance, fairytale.

But Harrow reaffirms “gothic” as the correct genre category, defining it as “an element of a haunted-ness and an unsettling-ness” rather than being scary. Horror elements and fairy tale elements…that’s gothic.”

Learn more about writer Alix E. Harrow on her website.

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Tammy works at Bemidji State University's library, and she hosts "What We're Reading," a show about books and authors.