I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Last Heir to Blackwood Library by Hester Fox. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In The Last Heir to Blackwood Library, Ivy Radcliffe is scraping by in London. The country is still reeling from the effects of the Great War, even a few years later, and Ivy herself is grappling with the grief of losing her family during that time. So when she learns the shocking news that she is the last surviving relative of a nobleman, she is eager to start a new life in the northern parts of England. She moves to Blackwood Abbey, her inheritance, and decides to restore its grand library. But the longer she lingers in those old halls, the more she suspects that there is something cursed about this place. Her own mind seems unreliable, and so do the people around her. In her more lucid moments, she wonders if this place is haunted, and becomes determined to discover what is really going on here.
To start with, the setting of this place is like if Downton Abbey were rundown and possessed by a creepy ghost. In other words, it is fantastic. I really enjoyed watching through Ivy’s perspective the opulence of this place, even though it’s years past its prime. You really get a sense of its sinister grandeur, and getting to know the servants who run the place was fun too.
As for the servants—and indeed, all the characters—I thought it was a good cast, but I wanted a bit more time to get deeper into their personalities. Ivy is pretty well fleshed out, being the POV character, but I felt things were more lacking with the Hewitts and even Arthur, the man Ivy meets in town who starts to woo her. And as for Ralph, the second most important character and Ivy’s chauffeur, I have thoughts.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Ralph (I did), but I think there needed to be a lot more development and depth given to his arc, and his bond with Ivy. I think the main contributing factor to this lackluster relationship was, unfortunately, a major plot point. Simply being in the Abbey causes Ivy’s memories to be finicky and often inaccessible, meaning that she often doesn’t recall things that happened to her, even recently. It’s an intriguing device that makes for a cool mystery, because we get to watch her try to unravel the truth even while risking forgetting everything she learns the next time she sleeps. However, it does no favors to the connection between the characters. I just didn’t care about Ralph and Ivy as a duo, because she barely remembered anything about it, and therefore, we didn’t see it. So the way it progressed was fine, but I wasn’t invested in it at all.
I also wanted more supernatural elements than there were. The first few chapters after arriving at Blackwood led me to think that there would be way more ghostly events. And there were some, but not nearly as many as I think there should have been. I thought there would be apparitions and visions and more things mysteriously moving on their own. Sadly, there wasn’t nearly as much as I expected. Moreover, the way we dealt with the antagonists (both otherworldly and human) felt pretty anticlimactic and a little rushed.
So in the end, The Last Heir to Blackwood Library wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a great read for me. I liked Ivy as protagonist, but the memory loss element of the story kind of threw a wrench into the gears. None of the characters were complex enough for my tastes, and the core bond between Ralph and Ivy especially suffered. That said, there are some solid creepy scenes, the setting is delightfully ominous, and the mystery was interesting. I just wanted it to go a little farther. Still, if you like historical mysteries with a supernatural touch, this might interest you!
The Last Heir to Blackwood Library will be published on April 4th, 2023!