Katherine by Anya Seton was one of the best books I read in 2020 and just one of the best I’ve read in general. I knew I wanted to read more by her but I kept getting distracted with other books. Finally, I decided to pick up one of her earliest releases, Dragonwyck. This book is a Gothic romance (though, that’s debatable) that was published in 1944. I had high expectations because of how much I Ioved Katherine and thankfully, I was not disappointed. This review will be spoiler free.
I like to give a heat level rating for all books with romance. If you’re curious about my rating system, you can check it out here.
First published in 1944, Dragonwyck was a national bestseller that was made into a major motion picture starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price in 1946. A classic gothic romance, the story features an 18-year-old Miranda Wells who falls under the spell of a mysterious old mansion and its equally fascinating master. Tired of churning butter, weeding the garden patch, and receiving the dull young farmers who seek her hand in marriage, Miranda is excited by an invitation from the upstate New York estate of her distant relative, the intriguing Nicholas Van Ryn. Her passion is kindled by the icy fire of Nicholas, the last of the Van Ryns, and the luxury of Dragonwyck, and a way of life of which she has only dreamed. Dressed in satin and lace, she becomes part of Dragonwyck, with its Gothic towers, flowering gardens, acres of tenant farms, and dark, terrible secrets. This compelling novel paints a marvelous portrait of a country torn between freedom and feudal traditions; a country divided between the very wealthy and the very poor. Poor tenant farmers at Dragonwyck, the European royalty who visit, and American icons such as Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and the Astors are vividly brought to life. This is a heart-stopping story of a remarkable woman, her breathtaking passions, and the mystery and terror that await her in the magnificent hallways of Dragonwyck.
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This book is described as a Gothic romance but I really don’t agree with that. It’s Gothic, yes but not romantic. Nicholas Van Ryn is a sociopath and while he’s described as being incredibly handsome, he’s also completely crazy. This is something that we, as the reader, are aware of for most of the book but poor Miranda is not. I honestly never liked Nicholas so this book just didn’t have that romantic aspect for me. I did love Miranda, however. I’ve always been a fan of the naive main character who has to grow up quickly and is thrust into a world totally different from what they’ve known. This is probably due to all the books by V.C. Andrews I read as a teenager.
Dragonwyck actually made me think of quite a few different books by Andrews because they share many of the same Gothic elements. However, every book by Andrews is MUCH more salacious. This book really wasn’t focused on sex at all and the scenes that were in it, were fade to black. While there is a “romance” between Nicholas and Miranda, the focus of the story is more on the mystery of what is going on inside the mansion and with Nicholas.
I think what I loved most about this book, though, was the growing sense of dread throughout it. It’s obvious something isn’t right and as you keep reading, that “oh no” feeling continues to grow until the climax. There’s also a supernatural element that added to the creepy vibes.
Along with what was going on inside the mansion, I really enjoyed the mid-1800s New York setting and how Seton included some of the political tension that would eventually lead to the Civil War. Just like in Katherine, Seton created descriptive scenes that fully immersed me in the story. My only slight complaint would be how predictable everything was. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully into the story until the very end and enjoyed it enough to give it five stars but I was never really shocked by anything that happened.
If you’re looking for romance, this probably isn’t the book for you but if you want a Gothic mystery filled with tragedy, I can’t recommend Dragonwyck enough.
So far, I’ve read two of Anya Seton’s books and both have been five star reads. I think that’s definitely a sign that I need to buy more of her books. Have you read anything by Seton and does this book sound like one you’d enjoy? Let me know! Thanks for reading and have a great day!