Book Review: “The Orphan of Cemetery Hill,” by Hester Fox

I am very delinquent on this review – this week has been hectic, since I am changing jobs in a couple of weeks and needed to get affairs in order. As such, I read The Orphan of Cemetery Hill in almost no time, but took almost a week to review it. This is my first Hester Fox experience, and I was… underwhelmed. Still holding out hope that her other books on my list are a better fit. I am still honored and grateful to have received Orphans as a Goodreads Giveaway, and all opinions are my own.


From the Publisher:

The dead won’t bother you if you don’t give them permission.

Boston, 1844.

Tabby has a peculiar gift: she can communicate with the recently departed. It makes her special, but it also makes her dangerous.

As an orphaned child, she fled with her sister, Alice, from their charlatan aunt Bellefonte, who wanted only to exploit Tabby’s gift so she could profit from the recent craze for seances.

Now a young woman and tragically separated from Alice, Tabby works with her adopted father, Eli, the kind caretaker of a large Boston cemetery. When a series of macabre grave robberies begins to plague the city, Tabby is ensnared in a deadly plot by the perpetrators, known only as the “Resurrection Men.”

In the end, Tabby’s gift will either save both her and the cemetery—or bring about her own destruction.


What I Loved:

  • The History. The Orphans of Cemetery Hill takes place in pre-Civil War Boston, where wealth inequality is rampant and science, spirituality, and religion are converging for a battle of the hearts and minds of the people. There are seances and prayers, formal Christian burials occurring at the same time as men of science unearthing fresh corpses to dissect and try to discover the path to immortality. It sounds like a lot, but it somehow all works here. Hester Fox gives us a really unique look into a less written about time in U.S. history. I love how well researched this was. I also loved that we got to see the UK and the US; it provided a really great comparator.
  • The Side Characters. I didn’t much care for either Tabby or Caleb (more on that below); however, I loved Eli the cemetery caretaker, Mary-Ruth the watcher, and Alice the sister. Eli, a quiet and gentle escaped slave, takes Tabby in as his own and cares for the dead as though they were his family; Mary-Ruth is a loyal and feisty friend; and Alice is conflicted but always thought of her sister, even while in exile. Somehow, these characters were more complex emotionally than the two lovers we are supposed to root for.

What Didn’t Work For Me:

  • Tabby and Caleb. Our heroine Tabby is strong on her own – she has a great detecting streak, and her powers are interesting – but the minute you add Caleb, she falls apart into a ball of female goo. This brought insta-love to a whole new level, with Caleb and Tabby meeting early on (at 5%) and Tabby being infatuated. (Quote: “He could have asked her to cut off her thick red hair, and she would have asked him how much he would have. Her head told her that she couldn’t trust him, not completely, but her heart wanted more than anything to earn another smile from him.“) When Tabby and Caleb meet years later and under more somber conditions, their apparent love for each other hasn’t abated, and Caleb cheats on his fiancée by kissing Tabby, then has the audacity to blame Tabby. Caleb, for his part, is supposed to by a sympathetic character, but has a bad habit of carousing with women and being rude to his mother whenever he feels like life isn’t perfect. He is supposed to be filled with self-loathing for his gambling and prostitution problem, but it is all superficial, and doesn’t make him at all more likeable. These two characters don’t fit together, and Tabby as our heroine would have been infinitely better written if Caleb didn’t exist.
  • The Murder Mystery. I don’t require a murder mystery, of course, but I hate it when a book sets up a murder and then reveals the killer immediately, and the rest of the book having a plot around proving it. This works better on the big screen as a plot device, but in the book, it just ended up taking away most of the suspense and a lot of the “spookiness” I was planning to enjoy. The villain felt flat to me, and his motive felt unbelievable. Even the big reveal was anticlimactic.

Conclusion:

I was prepared to love Orphans, and was left feeling “meh.” The insta-love felt dated in a way, and by the time we reached the end of the book, there wasn’t much left to solve or root for. I did absolutely love the history and setting, and felt a small amount of spooky that I was aiming for, but overall, but my favorite. Three waves out of five, mostly for the killer historical research and sense of place. I would definitely recommend to readers interested in US history pre-Civil War and those interested in occult history. Order here and here!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Orphan of Cemetery Hill,” by Hester Fox

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