Seventeen-year-old Marie mixes perfumes to sell on market day in her small eighteenth-century French town. She wants to make enough to save a dowry for her sister, Ama, in hopes of Ama marrying well and Marie living in the level of freedom afforded only to spinster aunts. But her perfumes are more than sweet scents in cheap, cut-glass bottles: A certain few are laced with death. Marie laces the perfume delicately--not with poison but with a hint of honeysuckle she's trained her sister to respond to. Marie marks her victim, and Ama attacks. But she doesn't attack as a girl. She kills as a beast.
Marking Ama's victims controls the damage to keep suspicion at bay. But when a young boy turns up dead one morning, Marie is forced to acknowledge she might be losing control of Ama. And if she can't control her, she'll have to cure her. Marie knows the only place she'll find the cure is in the mansion where Ama was cursed in the first place, home of Lord Sebastien LaClaire. But once she gets into the mansion, she discovers dark secrets hidden away--secrets of the curse, of Lord Sebastien . . . and of herself.
Heading to the lord's manor, Marie finds Sebastien, a young man who fiercely protects his sick little brother, Lucien. Marie agrees to help his brother while she searches for the magic that cursed her sister. With the villagers on the hunt for the beast, Marie worries she may be too late.
What I loved: This was a book that grips the reader from the start. I was completely caught up in the intrigue around Marie and Ama, the curse, and the deaths in the village. Her journey to the manor and what she finds there also adds to the air of mystery. The pace was perfect, keeping the reader hooked throughout, with just the right amount revealed along the way. I also appreciated that there was minimal romance (if any), more of friendship and respect in general, and the focus remains on the power of sibling love (Sebastien for Lucien and Marie for Ama).
There were some intriguing secondary themes around witch accusations, religion, family, the ethics of survival, and mob mentality that add to the story. I really appreciated the primary theme around siblings, which really shines.
Final verdict: Atmospheric, intriguing, and enthralling, STALKING SHADOWS is an enchanting historical fantasy read that I would highly recommend.