Meet the Zombie Witch of My Nightmares: A Review of The Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates
Happy February! Congratulations, we’ve made it a full month through 2021 and so far the year isn’t as bad as 2020. So that’s a plus. Now tell me, how was your January? Did it treat you all somewhat decently? I hope it did for the most part.
Anyway, I am still on a supernatural kick. I love all those paranormal shows, I enjoy a good cryptid story, and you all know I love a good haunted house tale. So to cleanse my pallet after my not-so-deep dive into the Vampire Royals series, I dove back into Darcy Coates’ canon. This time around, I picked up one of her earliest works: The Haunting of Ashburn House.
This book did not disappoint. It was just what I was looking for at this point in time. Not too psychologically damaging, not too basic where I thought I had read this story multiple times before; it was just right.
The Haunting of Ashburn House follows a young woman by the name of Adrienne. After the death of her mother, she’s in some serious debt and in need of a place to live. Her luck seems to change when she inherits an old mansion from a Great Aunt she didn’t even know existed.
The titular Ashburn House is a place of mystery and chilling secrets in a small, tight-knit community. Upon moving in, Adrienne learns that her new home is full of secrets and history she never wanted to learn about in the first place. Ashburn House has strange, disturbing messages carved into the walls and furniture, items move when she leaves the room, and deep in the woods surrounding the property lies a single grave with a chilling family secret that is ready to rear its ugly head.
Things don’t just go bump in the night here at Ashburn House, things scream and prowl throughout the darkness. Adrienne now finds herself chasing long cold clues to a sinister, decades-old murder mystery that is the key to staying alive.
Let’s see, we got spooks, we got a murder mystery, Adrienne has an awesome cat; we got everything we need for a good book.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this review, a spoiler alert is in order. But I do suggest staying around for this one because it’s really good.
Adrienne is the only character readers focus on. I think it was a smart idea for Coates to have Adrienne be by herself for the majority of the story; it adds fuel to the suspense and terror. Adrienne is a pretty strong character, but the events that occur at Ashburn House make her question her strength more than she ever has in the past. The things that go bump in the night don’t make her question her sanity, but she does question her safety which is perhaps scarier. She is new in town, in a massive rundown manor that’s isolated in the woods on the outskirt of community, she doesn’t have any friends just yet; literally anyone or anything could be stalking around her new home. That scares her.
I respect that her first instinct is to think there is someone trying to scare her out of her new house or just scare her in general. I respect that her first reaction to things falling off tables or moving when she knows she placed something in a certain spot is that her amazing cat Wolfgang did so with his big, fluffy body. Ghosts or the supernatural aren’t even on her radar. Everything has a logical explanation.
The stories she hears about her new home are just stories. They’re tall tales and legends. Rumors with no truth. Legends and stories just to occupy the town’s imagination. Adrienne has no reason to believe that these stories are anything but fiction, and for the most part, they are. The truth is something the town does not know, and it’s something that Adrienne won’t discover until things come to a head.
Now, Adrienne’s sanity doesn’t necessarily decline throughout the story. Like I said, she’s a strong character. She’s not the most physically strong, but mentally she’s as sharp as a tack. Instead of questioning if the things happening around her are actually occurring, she begins to contemplate if the events happening are indeed caused by a supernatural force. She doesn’t have answers at first. She tries to think logically, but those possible answers eventually run out. She only turns to the supernatural once her investigation leads her there. All roads lead to the supernatural and she follows them without question. I respect the hell out of her for that.
Even when she comes to the conclusion that the things happening are indeed caused by the supernatural, she keeps her head on her shoulders. She’s freaked out, I mean who wouldn’t be, but she knows running away isn’t going to solve her problems. Her plan is to freak out, research, freak out again, and get rid of her ghost problem. I respect that. I respect Adrienne so much! This is her home now and she’s not giving it up. She’s down to live with the ghosts if they’re friendly enough. The malevolent forces have to go though.
I also respect her fledgling friend group for helping her at the drop of a dime. Enter Jayne, Beth, Sarah, and Marion; four young women who are close in age to Adrienne. They’ve all lived in this town for their entire lives. They grew up hearing the ghost stories and legends involving Adrienne’s Great Aunt Edith and Ashburn House. The four of them are pretty interested in the house, and two of the four are very willing to share the legends surrounding Ashburn House when first meeting Adrienne.
Jayne’s the leader of the group; she’s a bit of a Karen. Marion is an extremely kind-hearted person who ends up being possessed on Adrienne’s property causing her to become a bit of a villain by the end of the book. Sarah doesn’t offer much to the plot but she’s willing to help Adrienne. And Beth is a thousand percent invested in the lore and history of Adrienne’s new home thus wanting to help Adrienne uncover the home's secrets at any given moment.
In their own ways, each woman is involved with helping Adrienne discovery secrets about Ashburn House and the property whether they know it or not. For example, Marion suffers an accident on Ashburn’s property but she isn’t discovered until the next morning. Adrienne is the one who finds her at a grave on the property that no one knew existed. This grave gives Adrienne more questions and leads to follow in her research.
Beth, for another example, works at the local library. She isn’t the most well versed in the town’s history, but she certainly knows how to track information down. It also helps that she has access to copies of the town’s local newspaper dating all the way back to turn of the 20th century. She’s the one to really help Adrienne dig into her family’s history and discover the truth about what happened in Ashburn House.
These friends are not set dressings. They actually add to the story. While they really aren’t characters who will receive any true character arc, they most certainly have their roles to play.
I haven’t even touched on the best character in this book yet: Wolfgang. Adrienne has a stray cat that she rescued as a kitten and he is the best character. He’s cute, fat, and highly food motivated; how could you not love him? Not only does Wolfgang survive the entire book, he helps his owner fight the monster at the end. 10-out-of-10 kitty, we have no choice but to stan.
At this point we should talk about the story’s villain. Coates created a pretty cool supernatural creature for The Haunting of Ashburn House. Without going into too much detail, our main villain is a cross between a witch and a zombie with some spider like abilities thrown in there for good measure. This is a terrifying creature that I never want to come across in my nightmares. It seems indestructible and I am not fit enough to outrun it or fight it off. I’d be at its mercy and it has none.
This monster is pretty cool, but my main fault with this book comes back to it as well. Coates created something that looks terrifying and pretty cool on the page, but she didn’t create good rules for her creature.
What do I mean by rules? Let me tell ya. In short, I’m referring to what this creature can and can not do. This witch zombie spider creature is not a God, it can not do everything and anything; it is bound by some limitations. And while it does have its limitations, the only way Adrienne finds out about those facts is because she finds a note that spells everything out for her.
This is lazy writing. Throughout the course of the book, Adrienne has fought for her life and right at the end she discovers a list of what the villain can’t do and ways to trap it. This book could have been elevated had Adrienne discovered these things for herself, either through researching or defending herself instead of just happening upon a note. Coates could have written a perfect book in my eyes had she not done this. Sadly, she chose to add this note right at the end making this creature’s rules feel like a total afterthought or because an editor or someone said the monster needed a weakness. They feel thrown in there just so the main character can have a better chance of beating this monster.
The entirety of this review is me saying, “hey, this book is good, but the ending could be better.” It’s kinda like Mike Flanagan’s Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, the show is amazing but the finale was a little disappointing.
The Haunting of Ashburn House is chock full of suspense, tension, and fear. Adrienne is totally a sitting duck and in immediate danger. I was at the edge of my seat while reading this book; I couldn’t put it down! But the end was a let down, and all thanks to one little note. Destroy the note! It shouldn’t exist! Give me the rules literally any other way!
Gosh, what a let down of an ending for this review. I still stand by my statement at the start of this post though. The Haunting of Ashburn House is a good book and worth a read if you ever get the chance. Just be warned the ending could be better.
Next week, I promise to end my supernatural kick. As it’s almost Valentine’s Day, perhaps I shall review some romance for you. We will have to wait and see though. Until next time, stay safe out there and have a marvelous day.