Ivywood Manor (Driftless Unsolicited Novella)

Written by Tani Loo
Review by Linnea Tanner

When we first meet the nine-year-old Charlotte Herring in the prologue of Ivywood Manor, she is an orphan arriving at an extravagant manor in the winter of 1866. There she meets her adoptive family consisting of Mr. van Kirk, his wife, and son. On her first night at Ivywood Manor, Charlotte dreams of ravens circling in her head, setting a foreboding tone to the gothic novella. Fast forward to January 1885, and Charlotte is a young woman struggling to understand her place in the adoptive household. Mr. Van Kirk’s son, Victor, has returned from Europe with his fiancée. There are rumors that he has gambled away a fortune and is marrying her for money. The atmosphere ominously changes after their summer wedding and Victor returns with his wife to the manor. Tensions escalate as Charlotte discovers a dark secret about her heritage and her connection to Mr. Van Kirk.

Tani Loo has created a haunting, neo-Gothic tale about how a displaced, biracial woman must come to terms with her past and adjust to new circumstances that befall her. The story is rich in detail about the manor and everyday living. The changing seasons set the atmospheric tone of the tale. Although the story is told in first person from Charlotte’s perspective, I felt distant from her. Her internal thoughts and emotions about what is happening around her never fully bubble to the surface until the heartfelt moment when she discovers who she truly is.

Readers who enjoy gothic tales set in the backdrop of the Victorian British Empire might enjoy this novella full of dark secrets hiding behind every corner.