American heiress Ruby Vaughn is content to leave the past behind her and focus on her life in Exeter working in a bookstore. But the past isn’t done with her yet. Ruby is tasked with delivering a package to the Cornish countryside—a place that she has sworn never to return after things with her once dearest friend Tamsyn fell apart. The past may have drawn her back in, but Ruby is the one who makes the decision to let it fester. When Tamsyn’s husband is found dead and the bells of Penryth Hall toll for the first time in thirty years, Ruby finds herself working alongside Ruan Kivell, the person whose package Ruby came to town to deliver, to find out what happened that night and prevent the supposed curse of Penryth Hall from claiming its next victim: Tamsyn.

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in an atmospheric gothic mystery story, Armstrong has got you covered. The world building is beautiful, utilizing prose that is reminiscent of the classics while not making me (someone who is not a huge fan of reading the classics) want to fall asleep. It was like journeying to the Cornish countryside and stoked at the embers of my wanderlust—which is both a wonderful and terrible thing.

The focus of the story is squarely on Ruby, Ruan, and Tamsyn, but Armstrong manages to flesh out even minor characters in a way that had me wanting more. The relationship dynamic between Ruby and both Ruan and Tamsyn was so lovely to watch play out, especially as the two are such different parts of Ruby's life—Tamsyn being part of her past and Ruan being part of her present. Armstrong plays with these dynamics in a way that had me completely unsure who I was rooting for in the end (because, let's be honest, I'm always rooting for some kind of romance!)

Throughout the story, I found it difficult to figure out what was going to happen next, which I absolutely loved! An added layer to the questions of what happened the night of Tamsyn's husband's death was the questioning of whether curses, magic, and the like were pieces of superstition or if Ruby has actually entered into a bit of a magical locale. And the ending! It completely threw me for a loop—not once did I see that coming! The story wraps beautifully and, in my opinion, leaves the door open for more exploration with some of these characters. I don’t know what the author has planned, but I definitely wouldn’t mind revisiting these characters—especially Ruan (insert all the heart eyes here).

Jess Armstrong’s debut novel THE CURSE OF PENRYTH HALL is available now and you can pick up a copy for yourself here.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will be supporting indie bookstores as well! If you prefer Amazon, visit my Amazon storefront and click on the list titled "2024 Book Recommendations."