REVIEW: Diavola by Jennifer Thorne

Jennifer Thorne brings supernatural terror to an already dysfunctional family vacation in Diavola, which follows the Pace family on their ill-fated Italian holiday. Although the family’s surname translates to “peace” in Italian, they are not given a moment’s rest as their rental home turns out to be an infamous haunted house, feared and shunned by the local populace.

DiavolaThe lead protagonist in Diavola is Anna Pace, the black sheep of the family who is treated like an outcast and can never live up to their expectations. Rightfully or not, Anna takes the blame for many of the family’s misfortunes. Thorne reaches a T. Kingfisher-level of narration with Anna: she is smart, funny, and so vibrantly engaging that it’s impossible not to love her.

As in her previous novel, Lute, Jennifer Thorne both embraces and upends the trope of naïve, unbelieving Americans who face a supernatural threat in an historic European setting. Diavola exploits this clash of cultures to great effect, skillfully walking the line between camp and deathly serious horror. At its best, the laugh-out-loud moments in Diavola are worthy of Oscar Wilde’s classic short story, “The Canterville Ghost,” which also features an American family who take up residence in an old European haunted house while expressing a stubborn disbelief in local legends.

Although this approach risks becoming self-parody in less capable hands, Jennifer Thorne’s incisive, sardonic writing strikes just the right balance between humor and horror. She is also an expert at characterization: a large part of what makes Diavola work so well is that the Pace family is so believable in their dysfunction.

I especially enjoyed the final third of the novel, where Thorne brilliantly ties together the various threads of the story while delivering plenty of unexpected twists. I was delighted by Anna’s character growth in this final part of Diavola as she addresses issues of loneliness and belonging while fighting back against the embodiment of fear itself.

Altogether, Diavola is a must-read for horror fans, delivering a thrill ride that is equal parts fun and terrifying.

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.