REVIEW | Yellow Jessamine | Caitlin Starling

But she had not gotten to where she was by being meek, only paranoid. Only proud.

I love this little novella and if you like disaster lesbians, poisonous gardens and mysterious, monstrous sicknesses, this is a must read. I also highly recommend The Luminous Dead by the same author – and The Death of Jane Lawrence, coming in October.

Rating: 4 stars!

Trigger Warnings: drug use, murder, gore.

About the book:

Powerful shipping magnate Evelyn Perdanu lives a tight, contained life, holding herself at a distance from all who would get close to her. Her family is dead, her country is dying, and when something foul comes to the city of Delphinium, the brittle, perilous existence she’s built for herself is strained to breaking.

When one of her ships arrives in dock, she counts herself lucky that it made it through the military blockades slowly strangling her city. But one by one, the crew fall ill with a mysterious sickness: an intense light in their eyes and obsessive behavior, followed by a catatonic stupor. Even as Evelyn works to exonerate her company of bringing plague into her besieged capital city, more and more cases develop, and the afflicted all share one singular obsession: her.

Panicked and paranoid, she retreats to her estate, which rests on a foundation of secrets: the deaths of her family, the poisons and cures that hasten the dissolution of the remaining upper classes, and a rebel soldier, incapacitated and held hostage in a desperate bid for information. But the afflicted are closing in on her, and bringing the attention of the law with them. Evelyn must unearth her connection to the spreading illness, and fast, before it takes root inside her home and destroys all that she has built.

What did I think?

Everyone knows I adore Caitlin’s work, and The Luminous Dead was one of my favourite books that I read last year (see the rest of the list here). I read Yellow Jessamine for the first time in November as the first book in my clearurshit readathon TBR, and decided to read it again this month so that I could review it. Definitely wasn’t just an excuse to reread Evelyn’s atmospheric and creepy story about a travelling sickness, a woman who is mired in her own paranoia and obsession and fear.

The atmosphere in Yellow Jessamine is as flawless as I’ve come to expect from Caitlin. Eerie novellas are some of my favourite types of read, and I love the way that YJ builds. The mysterious sickness starts off distant and gets closer and closer, creating a really tense reading experience as I waited to find out what the hell was going on under the surface. Evelyn is blatantly hiding far too many secrets, and I loved the way they unfolded throughout the course of the novella as Evelyn is drawn closer to the centre of her own web of lies and they all start to unfold around her. I adore the way that, even in just 130 pages, there were twists and turns that could take me by surprise. And, speaking of length, Caitlin knocks it out of the park with tight and concise writing. Not a word of description is wasted in this story, and when I reread it, knowing the ending, it was just as impactful and potent as the first time because of the underlying imagery threaded throughout the entire story. It’s 132 pages of perfection, with brilliant pacing that built to an ending that was like a punch in the gut.

Unsurprisingly, I adored Evelyn and Violetta and their dynamic. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil a thing about this book, but I loved the way that the complexities in their relationship played out – especially when it came to that web of lies of Evelyn’s. Evelyn is every bit the disaster lesbian, seeing danger and consequences everywhere she turns. There’s also the soldier, and the role he plays is – oof – it’s incredible. I particularly love the way Evelyn acts with the soldier versus the way she acts with Violetta. We get to see two sides of her, one brutal and calculating and the other obsessive and devoted. Everyone should read this creepy novella, but try not to get dragged too deeply into Evelyn’s garden because who knows what you’ll find there.

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Release Date: 5th September 2020

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