The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne by Ann Radcliffe was the second book that I had to read for my gothic module at university. I had heard a lot about Radcliffe prior to reading this short novel because of her masterpiece: Mysteries of Udolpho (which I haven’t personally read, but I have heard nothing but good things about it). The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne was Radcliffe’s first published piece of work, so whilst it was not a life-changing read, it was definitely entertaining.
Years ago, when Young Earl Osbert of Castle Athlin was a boy, his father was ambushed and slain by Baron Malcolm of Dunbayne. Now Osbert has come into his majority, and in the company of a sturdy and heroic young peasant named Alleyn he’s gone to avenge his father’s murder. What waits for them at the castle of Dunbayne is not vengeance but a fate that neither one of them imagines: not just conquest or defeat, but a terrible challenge – and the romance of a lifetime.
I don’t know why, but I enjoyed this short novel much better than The Castle of Otranto. I say I do not know because The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne has less of a storyline and, is more or less description and lacks fully complete dialogue.
Radcliffe shows us the ongoing war brewing between two rival families and the tension that seeps into both castles because of this. We see entrapment, romance, hidden identities, secret passageways and brutality – all of the themes that make a gothic novel. However, the one thing that seemed to be missing was the spookiness. There were no supernatural elements at all and that really surprised me. It seemed more like a family drama novel than a gothic one… If I was rating this on its gothicness, then I would definitely give it a lower rating, but since I am reviewing the novel in itself and not in the genre, then that’s why I give this a 3.5 and not a 2.
I felt very attached to the characters and I cared for Mary deeply as she was always getting in the middle of things and she would always put herself in harms way so that she could save her family. It was little things like this that pointed out that it was a female that had written this book. Ok, the female was still being slightly overruled by the patriarch, but not as much… And she had slightly more of a voice than any of the female characters in The Castle of Otranto.
Overall, this book was an enjoyable read. It wasn’t as gothic as I thought it would be, so I think that I definitely shall be reading Mysteries of Udolpho so that I can get a proper sense of Radcliffe’s writing for the gothic genre.