Three women. A cursed house. Generations of lives at stake. The Abandoned Heart by Laura Benedict—the 3rd novel in the acclaimed Bliss House series—reveals the secret that started it all.
The Abandoned Heart by Laura Benedict is an impressively sprawling ghost story, weaving together the lives (and deaths) experienced by the women of Bliss House shortly after its completion. Through their eyes, the reader meets Randolph Bliss, the man who purchased the property after being warned of its past and who constructed the house that haunted inhabitants in both Charlotte’s Story and Bliss House.
Randolph Bliss is a man of odd proclivities, possession, and cruelty. He’s a man who uses people and laughs at their weaknesses. He also appears to be slowly driven insane by his own house.
The hall blazed from the newly electrified chandelier. The rest of the house had been electrified two years earlier, in 1912, but the chandelier had to be taken down and wired. The electric light gave everything in its glow a harsh look that Lucy didn’t like. It made her feel too exposed.
“He’s in there plotting with Aaron. I can hear them all the way down in the library. They’re plotting to take over everything that belongs to me, and they must be stopped. Just because that creature is my child doesn’t mean he will inherit everything. There are others, Amelia. There are others, as you well know!”
It wasn’t the first time he had called her Amelia. During the day, he rarely confused her with his long-dead wife. But at night he was obsessed with Amelia. Obsessed with either believe Lucy was she, or that she was walking the halls of Bliss House, her footsteps pounding in his head.
Not that he probably doesn’t deserve to be driven insane, mind you. He’s the sort of man who takes what he wants and, rather than not caring about who he hurts, he seems to delight in it. He also delights in the company of as many women as he can cajole, manipulate, purchase, or charm along the way. From Amelia—held to him by a child and the obligations of her parents and society to the mistress in the cottage, trapped like an exotic animal in a zoo—to the young woman he seduces one spring evening at a party, his story is the story of these women who know of each other but cannot compare stories and traumas.
The heart of the book, though, is the lives of these women and their children.
Madame Jewel had told her she was not owned by Randolph, but obligated. Standing in the rising moonlight, watching as Mason helped Randolph into the carriage, Kiku saw no difference between ownership and obligation. With Randolph in side, Mason startled her by putting a gentle hand on her arm and whispering, “Get on in. We’ll get you home soon.”
Mason had helped her into the carriage, and as he indicated that she should cover herself with the blanket, he said, “I’ll tell you when we get out of town and you can sit up.”
The details of the women’s lives and their distinct personalities, hopes, dreams, and trials make the book come alive, and it’s certainly a creepy gothic ghost tale, perfect for October. The clear level of research stood out, too, but not in an overt or show-offy way—rather, in small details like the mentioning of the electrified lamps, the unseemliness of a certain ballroom wallpaper, and the women’s clothing.
The sunlight from the windows and the double French doors leading to the patio illuminated the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of peacock feather eyes painted on the wall. It was a kaleidoscope of greens and blues and just a hint of gold. In one unfinished corner was the scaffolding the artist had rigged so he could work comfortably near the ceiling.
“Mercy,” Odette put a hand to her throat. “Why would anyone want such an evil, evil thing in their house?”
He showed her into a spacious bedroom that was softly lighted and decorated with sumptuous bouquets of hothouse flowers, despite the cold outside. The walls were covered in an ocean blue fabric with two different intricate mosaic borders of rust and greet, and the curtains and bedclothes were embroidered with bouquets of peach, rust, and pale blue flowers nestled in delicate green leaves. A rich carpet that was of a color similar to the blue walls, with twinning ribbons of green woven into it, covered most of the wood floor. Their home in North Hempstead was lovely, but it had been decorated some years earlier and was much simpler. Though she might have said she would have preferred the simplicity of that house, she was pleased with the room and with the thought he had put into it.
Despite being part of a trilogy, it’s unnecessary to have read the other two books before beginning The Abandoned Heart. In fact, as the trilogy moves back in time—beginning with the end of Bliss House—it would be just as easy to start with the home’s origins, its original ghosts, and its original curses.
My lone complaint was that the mystery surrounding the series of underground rooms tunneling away from the house was hinted at, but never fully solved. Perhaps it’s the nature of reality that one only knows what one knows—none of the women telling their story knew the true nature and purpose of that construction, they could only guess. Or, perhaps it’s Benedict’s desire to let the imagination fill in the gaps, as it does with any good ghost story. The things that bump in the night are scarier if you don’t know what they are.
Accompanying the trilogy, Benedict has also written a Bliss House short story titled “Cold Alone” (released last year)—just in case you can’t get enough of the creepy, wicked house either.
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Neliza Drew lives in South Florida with her husband and too many cats. When not writing, she teaches kids how to punch each other. Her debut novel, All the Bridges Burning, has been called “a triumph.” She can be found online at nelizadrew.com and on Twitter and Instagram as @nelizadrew.