YA Weekend: Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Hardcover: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | Audiobook: Hachette Audio (June 11th 2019)
Length: Hardcover: 352 pages | Audiobook: 12 hrs and 42 mins
Narrators: Marisa Calin, Polly Lee, Gemma Dawson, Allan Corduner, Steve West
I’ve read all of Dawn Kurtagich’s YA horror novels so far and Teeth in the Mist is probably the most elaborate but also the toughest to get into. A loose retelling of the legend of Faust who sells his soul to the devil for knowledge and power, the novel weaves together past and present to tell the stories of sixteen-year-old Zoey Root, a modern-day high school student, as well as Roan Eddington, a young woman who lived nearly 170 years before.
In 1851, Roan finds herself moving into Mill House, a remote mansion in the Welsh mountains owned by her new guardian Dr. Maudley following the death of her father. It is said that the house is haunted by the ghost of its architect’s wife, who was burned at the stake as witch. When Roan arrives, she discovers others around her age at the mansion, including Rapley, Maudley’s adopted son, as well as Emma and Seamus, Irish siblings who are also wards of the doctor. Together they find that Mill House is also home to something more sinister with roots to an ancient secret.
Shifting gears to the present day, Zoey has always held a fascination for the burned-out ruins of Medwyn Mill House, and not only because of its atmosphere and intriguing history. Years before, her father made a research trip there to learn more about the circumstances behind his birth, only to return a shadow of himself, having lost his mind and most of his memory. Like him, Zoey also possesses supernatural gifts—which come at a high cost. By retracing the steps her father took, she is determined to find out what happened in the hopes of getting some answers for them both.
Spread out in between Zoey and Roan’s perspectives is also a third point-of-view, presented to us in the form of diary entries written by a sixteenth century woman named Hermione. Newly married to a man with plans to construct the largest water mill in the area, her writings reveal clues from the past about the unsettling provenance of Mill House.
All these disparate and complicated threads are pulled together in an organized enough manner, though I won’t lie, it made for a rather dull, sluggish beginning. The first half of the novel sought to establish the three characters, separated by the centuries. It’s difficult to tell at first how their storylines are related, but in time their connections are revealed, and mainly, they have to do with Mill House and the man who built it. Then, of course, there are the allusions to Faust and his infamous deal with the devil. In addition to exploring this theme, the early plot also attempts to expand upon the classic story by moving beyond the basics.
Still, despite the lackadaisical pacing of the first half, Teeth in the Mist intrigued me with the interplay between its three timelines. Dawn Kurtagich is fast becoming a well-known name in YA horror, not only establishing herself as an authority when it comes to creating atmospheric settings but also a creative genius when it comes to presentation—as in how to play with the structure and format of a story to make it compelling and fun for the reader. For example, these methods were used in her last novel And the Trees Crept In to a great extent, where coming across disjointed prose and different font sizes and styles on the same page in order to portray the unraveling sanity of the main character was fairly common. It’s meant to pull you in and make you feel more immersed, and it’s very effective.
I also think the story picks up in the second half, as the links between the three women became more apparent and dynamic. Because of the constant shifts, however, I didn’t feel that Teeth in the Mist was quite as creepy or moody, possibly because keeping up with all the moving parts was also a lot more demanding on my attention and drained my mental energy.
Still, overall I enjoyed the book. I’ve had several busts this year already when it comes to horror YA, and at the very least I wasn’t disappointed in Teeth in the Mist even though it is probably not Kurtagich’s best. That honor still belongs to The Dead House, but I will still rabidly look forward the author’s books and I’m eager to see what she’ll write next.