review copy provided by Harper
Description from Goodreads:
Sex, Death, and Boarding School
When seventeen-year-old Andrew Taylor is transplanted from his American high school to a British boarding school--the English, hypertraditional, all-boys Harrow School--he finds his past mistakes following him, with an added element of horror: visions of a pale, white-haired boy from Harrow's past. Either Andrew is losing his mind, or the house legend about his dormitory being haunted is true.
When one of his schoolmates dies mysteriously of a severe pulmonary illness, Andrew is blamed and spurned by nearly all his peers. In his loneliness and isolation, Andrew becomes obsessed with Lord Byron's story and the poet's status not only as a literary genius and infamous seducer but also as a student at the very different Harrow of two centuries ago--a place rife with violence, squalor, incurable diseases, and tormented love affairs.
When frightening and tragic events from that long-ago past start to recur in Harrow's present, and Andrew's haunting begins to seem all too real, he is forced to solve a two-hundred-year-old mystery that threatens the lives of his friends and his teachers--and, most terrifyingly, his own.
I must state first thing that any book that deals extensively with Lord Byron will definitely be on my To Read List. A ghost story that involves Lord Byron in any way will be at the top of my To Read List. So, naturally, The White Devil was a book I just had to read.
There were so many things about this book that worked for me and only a few that kind of bugged me. I really think that what bothered me the most was the fact that the so-called experts on Lord Byron in the book kept saying that he was a spoiled rich kid. He was never really what we would consider rich -- he had a title and was able to trade on that and his fame and amazing looks to borrow money, but he was not rich. Right after reading the book, I would also have said that I didn't like the ending very much. But after some reflection, I have to admit that the ending does work especially within the context of a Gothic novel. I had to think back on some of Mary Shelley's more obscure novellas and remember how dark and unhappy the endings were.
The White Devil is an amazing, dark, haunting story that stayed with me long after I had finished reading it. It has everything a story about an extremely old, haunted, exclusive British boarding school needs. The atmosphere of the school as described in the book is almost palpable. The emotions run high and the story is very fast paced. I read it in just a day or two.
There are many quotes of Byron's poetry -- which I love -- and I think it really worked in the story. Andrew is supposed to be a Lord Byron look alike and he is to play Byron in the school play, so we get to watch him discover Byron's poetry and learn a lot more about Byron's life than he had ever anticipated. The research into Byron's life is due to trying to figure out what exactly is going on at the school. I thought the ghost story plot line worked pretty well in the novel. It wasn't really what I was expecting, but it did surprise me at first and I guess that is a good thing. I enjoyed the descriptions of the extensive research involved in solving the mystery and I especially loved the development and growth of poet/housemaster Piers Fawkes' character throughout the book.
I was very happy to see that the author quotes from "Darkness", one of my favorite Byron poems in the novel.
I had a dream, which was not all a dreamThe bright sun was extinguished, and the starsDid wander darkling in the external space,Rayless, and pathless, and the icy EarthSwung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
(Now that Byron has you in his grasp, you'll have to do a quick search to read the rest of the poem.Go read some Bryon.)