Epeolatry Book Review: Diavola by Jennifer Thorne
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Author: Jennifer Thorne
Genre: Ghost Thriller/Witch & Wizard Thriller/Family Life Fiction
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Release Date: 26th March, 2024
Synopsis: Jennifer Thorne skewers all-too-familiar family dynamics in this sly, wickedly funny vacation-Gothic. Beautifully unhinged and deeply satisfying, Diavola is a sharp twist on the classic haunted house story, exploring loneliness, belonging, and the seemingly inescapable bonds of family mythology.
Anna has two rules for the annual Pace family destination vacations: Tread lightly and survive.
It isn’t easy when she’s the only one in the family who doesn’t quite fit in. Her twin brother, Benny, goes with the flow so much he’s practically dissolved, and her older sister, Nicole, is so used to everyone―including her blandly docile husband and two kids―falling in line that Anna often ends up in trouble for simply asking a question. Mom seizes every opportunity to question her life choices, and Dad, when not reminding everyone who paid for this vacation, just wants some peace and quiet.
The gorgeous, remote villa in tiny Monteperso seems like a perfect place to endure so much family togetherness, until things start going off the rails―the strange noises at night, the unsettling warnings from the local villagers, and the dark, violent past of the villa itself.
(Warning: May invoke feelings of irritation, dread, and despair that come with large family gatherings.)
What’s more special than family, especially at this time of the year? Large groups of people cramming under a single roof and putting on a strong face to get through it all. But eventually, Uncle Jimmy will start with the politics, or Grandma Karen will criticize how the kids are dressed. Be careful not to blame the house with the loud bangs and moved furniture—you might just find yourself being called the crazy one in the family.
Introducing Diavola by Jennifer Thorne, the perfect way to remind yourself that you don’t have it that bad with your family. Set in Monteperso, Italy, the reader is introduced to the Pace family while taking their annual trip. Anna, the main protagonist, arrives in Italy first, hoping to avoid traveling with her family. When she finishes her diversions, she arrives at a stunning villa to join her mother and father, sister Nichole and her household, twin brother Benny and his boyfriend Christopher. What ensues is a dramatic show of tension that revolves mostly around Anna. Past wounds are reopened with the rejoining of characters and new wounds are formed with the discovery of new secrets. All the while, something in the house isn’t quite right.
What Thorne does well in this book is create a wonderfully realistic sense of tension. During the most heated discussions, it feels like the reader is in the room with the family while all their dirty laundry is aired. That sense of cringy awkwardness is built from interactions with which many readers may sympathize. All of this before the ‘haunted house’ aspect begins.
Turning to the horror, Thorne fantastically builds up the history of the villa, the spirit that inhabits it, and the town’s role played in recent disappearances. Multiple family members help build the fear within the villa, dismissing their encounters as coincidence or believing that nothing happened at all. Eventually, Anna is left on her own to deal with the entity, and with no one left to help her, she’ll resort to dark paths to rid herself of the spirit.
Humor is not lost on the reader, either. Some of the conversations between family members will give readers a knowing chuckle, as they might remember a similar conversion in their own family. Other moments had me laughing out loud. During one scene, Anna—doing her job as a graphic designer despite the haunting—creates a rather unfortunate ad for a potential client known for their hot dogs.
There are lots of little easter eggs for those familiar with Italian superstitions and folklore. Many of the trinkets and protections mentioned were not lost on me and have made a fond place within my family memories.
Diavola by Jennifer Thorne is a roller coaster of a novel that will have readers examining their own family experiences. The ending is supurb and offers a satisfyingly different conclusion to this already unique tale. For fans of horror done differently, Italian horror, or just great novels, I can’t recommend Diavola enough.
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Joseph Pietris is a member of the United States Coast Guard by day and heavily involved in the horror community by night. His work has appeared in several anthologies. When not writing, he’s produced reviews and interviews preferring those works generally lost in the cracks. As an associate editor, Joseph has weeding through the submission piles of horror podcasts.
Joseph’s work can be found at Amazon.com: Joseph P. Pietris: books, biography, latest update