I was on a bit of a roller coaster with this book and after finishing this book my feelings for it are conflicted. On one hand I really enjoyed the creepy boarding school vibe, the trippy ‘magic’, and the originality of the story. On the other hand there were some parts of the story that felt long and I enjoyed one of the stories/timelines much more than the other, or at least I think I did.
Set in dual timelines and told through multiple POV’s but also , Plain Bad Heroines, is a story within a story. While we get different POV’s through the story, ultimately we have one anonymous omniscient narrator. Apparently, by the end of the story we should know who this anonymous narrator is but I really have no idea who it was. Danforth writes this narration well, but the way footnotes are added gave me textbook vibes and flashbacks to grad school, which let’s be real isn’t a great thing. These footnotes are interesting, but made the writing a little choppy for me.
Outside of the narratator who is telling both stories, our two stories within our story are related but completely different. They even have a different ‘feel’ to them. So let’s break down our two stories.
The first, set at The Brookhants School for Girls in 1902, follows the death’s of three girls all on school grounds and found with a copy of Mary MacLane;s Memoir next to them. All three girls are known to be obsessed with the scandalous Mary MacLane and are apart of the Plain Bad Heroine Society, which was created in direct response to their infatuation with MacLane. As their murders are investigated we follow Brookhants’ Headmistress Libbie, and her partner Alex, as they try to understand the cause of these deaths. While doing so they begin to believe there is a curse on the school grounds at the root of their problems.
The second, set in present day follows the filming of ‘The Haunting of Brookhants’ based on the novel by Merritt Emmons, and inspired by the events of Brookhants in 1902. In this story we follow ‘It Girl’ Harper Harper, child star Audrey Wells, and author Merritt Emmons as filming of the movie gets under way. As filming unfolds, all three girls will start to walk a fine line between fiction and reality.
I can appreciate the two separate stories, but I never fully see where they both tie into each other, other than the present day story’s film being based upon the events of 1902. Both stories could have been completely independent books and still worked. They both see plenty of suspense building, and the heavy atmosphere really gives you all the creep factors. However, it’s not truly scary, at least to me it wasn’t. Both stories rely heavily on small events to keep the suspense factor rolling but it’s not gory or jump out of your sit scary.
I found that the first half of the book, I really preferred the present day story the best. The second half of the book though, I preferred the 1902 storyline. They somehow switch momentum midway, as if the focus of the book got distracted. I was still engrossed in the book, but it was a weird switch.
There is ALOT that goes on in this book.
There is humor, gothic horror, feminism, and history all rolled into one. This book is also long and it definitely feels that way, which is a negative for me. I love long books, they don’t scare me at all, but I also prefer to never have the actual thought of ‘How many more pages do I have?’ while reading. I had that thought multiple times throughout the book, and even though the actual writing kept me engaged, in my unprofessional opinion, there were definitely some parts that could have been shortened or taken out. 100 – 150 pages less of the story would have been perfect.
I was also not super satisfied with the ending, and if you follow me or have read other reviews from me, I am all about getting closure from my stories. I don’t like open endings, unless there is going to be a second book, and even then they kill me. I’m left unsure of the actual underlying magic/witchery/whatever that took place in the book, and the lack of answers really is a negative for me.
I hesitate to give this book 4 stars, but my true rating would be 3.5. Since I don’t do half stars though, and I also give the benefit of the doubt to writers, I’ve rounded up to 4 stars. This book is a prime example of being something I recommend for specific people only. If you like unique story telling, gothic writing, atmospheric novels, or you’re looking for something with LGBT references than this is for you.
Plain Bad Heroines is available now. Huge thank you to William Morrow for my copy in exchange for my honest review. If you liked this review please let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my Instagram @speakingof_books.