Book Review: Jacqueline Ross’ Blackwater is a uniquely Australian Gothic horror

Blackwater Jacqueline Ross

Grace, recently married and heavily pregnant, heads to Tasmania to visit her new husband’s terminally ill father. King has spoken little about his family, and wants nothing more than to say goodbye and leave.

But once they reach Blackwater, King’s crumbling childhood home, things are far from right. There’s a darkness here that Grace can’t shake, and Ruth, King’s strange twin sister, offers no comfort, just frightening warning: “a baby will never be born at Blackwater“.

The Gothic elements are rife in Jacqueline RossBlackwater, and to say I ate them up would be an understatement. A young bride joining a strange new family. A village full of gossipy locals and curious loyalties. A dilapidated house filled with secrets. And, of course, a sinister curse. With the plot’s tendrils rooted in Tasmania’s dark convict past, Blackwater is an atmospheric and uniquely Australian page-turner, perfect for spooky season.

Nailing the slow burn, the encroaching dread of Blackwater will have readers absolutely reeling every time Grace returns to that unnerving house. And though King’s decline upon arriving at Blackwater never really gets the arc it needs, its nonetheless a visceral and discomfiting descent, indicative of Ross’ great ability to unsettle, disgust, and disturb.

Ruth, too, with her strange habits and growing agitation, is grotesquely compelling. A few side characters fall victim to being little more than plot advancement, and there’s a supernatural element that isn’t explored as much as I’d like, but a lot can be forgiven with a short-ish page count and bucket loads of Gothic-tinged unease.

Building to a quick paced conclusion that, like all good horror, plays merrily with feelings of both hope and hopelessness, Blackwater certainly hits more than it misses – and when the atmosphere is this good, you won’t mind a couple of one-dimensional characters anyway.


Jacqueline Ross’ Blackwater is available now through Affirm Press. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE

Jodie Sloan

Living, writing, and reading in Brisbane/Meanjin. Likes spooky books, strong cocktails, and pro-wrestling.