Title: The Ancestor
Author: Danielle Trussoni
Published: 7th of April 2020 – William Morrow
Format: eARC – 368 pages
“No one ever thinks that books need tenderness, but they do, quite a lot, in fact.” – The Ancestor
Hello Hello! How are you?
I’ve just recently finished this book and I can’t wait to talk to you all about it! I was so surprised when Danielle reached out to me on Instagram. Last year when I started my Bookstragram account, I had a few author requests, but since I’ve had my blog, they’ve all gone through there. But I was so happy when she started telling me about her book, and although I was sceptical about it because horror and gothic novels are not usually my cup of tea, after reading the praise it has already had, I decided I needed to read it to find out more about it! I’m so glad I did.
Thank you so much to Danielle for reaching out to me and to both Danielle and Julie, her publicist, for sending the book to me. I received this book for free but all my opinions are my own! Keep reading to find out all about this very unique tale!
A bewitching gothic novel of suspense that plunges readers into a world of dark family secrets, the mysteries of human genetics, and the burden of family inheritance.
It feels like a fairy tale when Alberta ”Bert” Monte receives a letter addressed to “Countess Alberta Montebianco” at her Hudson Valley, New York, home that claims she’s inherited a noble title, money, and a castle in Italy. While Bert is more than a little skeptical, the mystery of her aristocratic family’s past, and the chance to escape her stressful life for a luxury holiday in Italy, is too good to pass up.
At first, her inheritance seems like a dream come true: a champagne-drenched trip on a private jet to Turin, Italy; lawyers with lists of artwork and jewels bequeathed to Bert; a helicopter ride to an ancestral castle nestled in the Italian Alps below Mont Blanc; a portrait gallery of ancestors Bert never knew existed; and a cellar of expensive vintage wine for Bert to drink.
But her ancestry has a dark side, and Bert soon learns that her family history is particularly complicated. As Bert begins to unravel the Montebianco secrets, she begins to realize her true inheritance lies not in a legacy of ancestral treasures, but in her very genes.
The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni is a standalone novel described on Goodreads as an adult gothic horror novel. Having read it, I wouldn’t say that it’s “Stephen King” horror, but some things that take place in this book are horrific. We follow Bert (Alberta) Monte who is struggling to come to terms with her life, her marriage is going badly and she has just recently lost a child. She receives a letter in the post one day with a seal at the bottom showing a pair of mountains with a castle between them, and this is where the story takes off. She visits her husband Luca’s grandmother to ask her to translate the letter to her, and she comes away scared but intrigued to find out more. She eventually goes to Italy herself and ends up in the Montebianco Castle, the castle of her ancestors, and now her new inheritance.
As I have already said, I don’t read horror. I read The Shining by Stephen King a few years ago and it traumatised me to the point that I couldn’t sleep for a few days (yes, I know, I’m a wimp aha). But last year, I read The Meadows by London Clarke, which I would also describe as a gothic horror story, and I loved it! So, when Danielle told me about her book, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I am easily frightened, and this book didn’t frighten me at all, but there are things within the story that can appear scary, it definitely has a very gothic vibe to it, with the castle situated in a desolate Italian valley, closed off from the outside world.
We first meet Bert in New York where she lives, but the rest of the story takes place in the Aosta Valley in Italy, near the village of Nevenero from which her grandfather and other inhabitants fled after WWII and emigrated to America. The Montebianco estate is situated between two enormous mountains, in the shadow of the Mont Blanc, from which the castle and the family got its name.
I really enjoyed this setting, it was a change to have a book set in a desolate landscape, where only the people with the highest survival skills can pull through the freezing winter. The castle seemed very gloomy and gothic, but it wasn’t portrayed as you would imagine a horror movie would show it. It was definitely intimidating, the rooms going on forever, Bert getting lost nearly every time she ventured into the castle, the rooms shadowed and dark, but it wasn’t frightening.
I think that Danielle did a great job of setting the scene with this castle looking over the abandoned village of Nevenero. The castle shows in its structure just what the Montebianco family has become, barely a husk surviving through the winter. I really felt that you could get a feel of this family and the secret they hide within the castle walls from the actual castle itself, as well as the grounds on which it was built.
There are quite a few characters in this novel, including the lawyers that look after the Montebianco estate, Luca (Bert’s husband), Nonna Sophia (Luca’s grandmother), Bernadette, Greta, Dolores, Sal, Basil, etc, but I think the two most important characters in this book were Alberta and Vita.
Alberta: She is the heir to the Montebianco estate and title, and everything else that goes with a centuries-old heritage and a horrific family secret. I grew to love Alberta throughout this novel, she starts out a bit rocky, she doesn’t really know who she is, she feels like she has a problem because of her difficulties to have children and her marriage failing, but as the story progresses, you really get a feel for who Alberta is and you realise that she was just lost and needed some guidance. I really enjoyed reading the story from Alberta’s perspective. You quickly understand that she has already lived this and is retelling it a few years after the events, but I couldn’t help but feel panic for her at times, even though I knew that she would make it out at the other end and live to tell the tale, while I was waiting for the reveal to happen and for things to be explained, I was worried that something bad would happen to her!
Vita: We only meet Vita about halfway into the novel, and I have to admit that she was one of the reasons that made this story horrific. Before meeting her, when the characters talked about her, I had a sense of apprehension and dread, and I was expecting to be afraid when I would finally meet her. But she quickly grew on me, she is a very unique person, but once you understand her, she is a great addition to the story. I loved learning all about her life, her family secrets, what she discovered, what happened or was done to her, it felt really vivid and it was a great experience.
Family/ancestry/heritage: this is the most prominent theme throughout this book, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I’ve always been fascinated by ancestry and family heritage and have read great books about this theme (Tapestry by Beth Duke and Roots by Alex Haley are among my favourites), and this one is right up there with the most fascinating and unique books I’ve ever read. In this whole book, Alberta is trying to grasp her past through her ancestry, she learns all about the history of the Montebianco family, but also about the evolution of man and life going back hundreds of thousands of years. I loved reading all about this and learning about it with her.
Family secrets: From the moment Alberta takes the letter to Nonna Sophia and then delves deeper into what she knows about her family history, she realises that there is a deep, dark secret, passed down through the generations but never spoken about. As she learns about this secret, it is really interesting to see the story unfold, and even when you think you know the whole secret, there is still more to find out, more surprises and more revelations in the next pages. I don’t usually enjoy family secrets, but this book was able to capture my attention and I had a great time reading about the secrets of the Montebianco lineage.
The Beast of Nevenero: This is another theme that only appears a few chapters into the book, but I think it is also one that goes right to the end of it. I don’t want to say too much, but this is the reason why so many people fled Nevenero, and I suppose it’s also the reason why we could call this book a horror novel. I was so intrigued about this part of the book and I was really astonished when things were revealed, I had never imagined what would happen, but I think it worked out great.
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
I’m so glad that I decided to give this book a chance because it really surprised me. When I read the blurb and the praise that was included in the press release that Danielle provided me with, I knew that I wanted to read it, I was very intrigued and wanted to find out more. I wanted to experience this book for myself. As I said, I was sceptical, to begin with. Horror is not a genre I read, at all, but this was such a nice surprise. If you are like me and don’t read horror, I think there is still a chance that you will like this, because it’s not your usual horror story.
I’m really glad every time I have an author request and I can’t help but feel so privileged, especially when I get to read so many amazing, unique, different, interesting books that I would NEVER have read if I had just read the blurb on Goodreads. This is one of those books, you know you are going to like it, but until you read it and live through the Montebianco experience, you don’t really know what you are missing.
I gave this book 4 stars and I really liked it. Sometimes this story slowed down a bit so my attention wavered, I’m struggling to concentrate at the moment, so that doesn’t help, but in some instances, I felt like maybe some things were a bit too obvious. It didn’t, however, take away from the ending that I wasn’t expecting, the last 10% of the book was a total surprise and I really did enjoy the whole story. I think my favourite part of this book was maybe Eleanor’s memoirs and learning from Basil and Vita all about this family. It was such a fascinating read and the writing style was a nice, flowing one that grabbed my attention and was easy to read. I would recommend this book to anyone, I don’t think you have to like gothic and horror books to like this, it’s a really unique take on a horror and gothic story and I think it can please a lot of readers.
Once again, thank you so much to Danielle for reaching out to me and for offering to send me the book. I really enjoyed reading it and I’m definitely going to read some more books by this author.
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed this review. See you soon, stay safe,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – DANIELLE TRUSSONI
Danielle Trussoni is the New York Times, USA Today, and Sunday Times Top Ten bestselling author of the supernatural thrillers Angelology and Angelopolis. She currently writers the Horror column for the New York Times Book Review and has recently served as a jurist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Trussoni holds an MFA in Fiction from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she won the Michener-Copernicus Society of America award. Her books have been translated into over thirty languages. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her family and her pug Fly.
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