A novel by Madeleine Roux
HOUSE of Furies, a satisfying tale of horror and mystery, has almost excelled rather well in a rare regard for young adult novels. And that is to tackle intriguing, even cruel, matters in the realm of ideas. Take for example the ideas of capital punishment (of evil punishing evil itself), chance and fatalism, and the unjustness of life itself. Such are the paradoxical and complex matters dealt with in this novel.
It’s quite rare feat for a young adult novel to be built around an idea instead of the usual character-plus-plot setup. Most young adult novels rely on their characters to tell the story.
The ones in the dystopian genre do hold surprisingly great ideas but at once shadowed by its character’s narrative. Usually written in first-person, young adult novels revolve too much on their narrator’s story. In most cases, these novels end up taking the background for granted, which in itself can be a whole story.
So far, the right balance between an idea and the storytelling is yet to be achieved. House of Furies come closer to that than most young novels I’ve read, and this one here doesn’t even fall under the dystopian genre. That makes this novel entirely significant even if it does not come off as excellent to some readers.
Cursed from Birth
Seventeen-year-old Louisa Ditton opens the story by narrating how she arrived at Coldthistle House as a maid, where — she soon finds out — the devil and the odd ones like her live.
Born in a dysfunctional Irish family, she has already seen a bad deal of the world. Life just seemed to start with the wrong foot her right from the day she was brought into the world. She herself feels alienated from the world because of how different she is to other people. All her life, she suffers from the people’s unjust judgments.
Her parents eventually “sells” her off into a school because they can no longer raise her. Unable to fit into her teachers’ ideals, she escapes from the harsh, punitive walls of Pitney. She describes the Pitney as something like a prison where students are all molded forcefully according to the conventions of the world.
Her escape takes her to Malton Market, where she learns to earn her living by deceiving and stealing — the true way of the world as she knows it.
Before an old crone took her to Coldthistle House to employ her as a maid, she has lived like a rat without a home, never knowing what the next day is going to bring. Now finally having a place to stay, Louisa wonders, “Again I felt a pang of doubt. An actual roof and a regular and regular meals sounded attractive, naturally, but I wondered at the cost.”
Despite sensing the strangeness of the house and great price she thinks she’s about to pay for it, she decides to stay, at the same time plotting her way to another escape when the right time comes, either back to Ireland to the Americas.
One can see from the plot how the character struggles whichever way she takes; it’s as if something pushes her back. Her relentless will to escape is constant throughout the story. But when she arrives at Coldthistle House, she realizes that escape is no longer possible. The house mysteriously locks her in.
The “odd ones” and the devil tell her that she is destined to stay in the house. That it’s to finally become her home is unacceptable to Louisa. She tries to escape, but all her efforts are proved futile. Later, it dawns on her that no one has ever accepted her for who she truly is except for the ones living at Coldthistle House.
On Capital Punishment
Mr. Morningside, the odd devil, runs the Coldthistle House, wherein the criminals of the highest degree around the world are “magically” compelled to come, regardless of “distance and inconvenience,” like rats drawn toward a trap. The criminals are to suffer their punishment: and that is swift, certain death.
Mr. Morningside’s system is said to be infallible in delivering justice to whoever deserves it. But Louisa discovers along the way that the system can’t be right all the time—that in such system, innocent people can get punished for the evils they never did, and that is simply unfair. When given a chance to escape the house, Louisa is compelled to come back to save Rawleigh Brimble, whom she believes to be innocent, but in the end, she fails miserably in protecting him.
Aside from criminals, odd ones like Louisa are compelled to come into the dark house. These odd ones are fated to work under Mr. Morningside, who provides them with shelter and food—all the necessary comfort the outside world can’t give them.
They are then required to partake in the execution of criminals that come into the house using their “magical powers” or “curses” they were born with. All the odd ones but Louisa accept Mr. Morningside’s method of justice. However for Louisa, it is not just right to murder someone even if they murdered somebody, as it only compounds the evil done to the world.
But “life isn’t fair for some of us,” says one of the novel’s characters, and the devil Mr. Morningside “makes it fairer” by delivering rightful justice through death.
And this is the irony: evil can punish evil, but in doing so, evil doesn’t end. What is then is justice? And how then is true justice exacted from the evildoer? How will life ever become fair for everyone? House of Furies arouses such terrifying questions.
I believe in making conscious choices, but I also believe that there are things that go beyond our choosing; that even if we were to make that choice, it won’t make much difference since we can only choose based on what the situation allows.
Louisa can “choose” to escape by simply running away, but that doesn’t mean she can truly do it. Wherever she goes, fate just catches up with her. The characters in the story can choose whatever they want to become, even if it goes against their true nature, but that doesn’t mean they will succeed.
They shall soon discover how futile and how impossible it is to deny their nature and that they can do nothing but accept the fate they are given. That is the torture of being a human being. Life’s unjust, but that’s just how life is, a curse to be cherished and to be realized as a gift.
In the House of Furies, some invisible power—oftentimes malevolent in character—takes over the fate of the characters, especially Rawleigh Brimble’s. And this is not karma in a fair sense of the word, since the characters are punished in the end for “what they do and not do.”
The cards are already given to the characters even before the story starts, and Louisa, from the way she herself sees it, can do nothing but to let fate run its course. But at the same times, she tries her best to avert the inevitable tragedy. (AP)