Helen Vaughan doesn’t know why she and her mother left their ancestral home at Harrowstone Hall, called Harrow, or why they haven’t spoken to their extended family since. So when her grandfather dies, she’s shocked to learn that he has left everything — the house, the grounds, and the money — to her. The inheritance comes with one condition: she must stay on the grounds of Harrow for one full year, or she’ll be left with nothing.
There is more at stake than money. For as long as she can remember, Harrow has haunted Helen’s dreams — and now those dreams have become a waking nightmare. Helen knows that if she is going to survive the year, she needs to uncover the secrets of Harrow. Why is the house built like a labyrinth? What is digging the holes that appear in the woods each night? And why does the house itself seem to be making her sick?
With each twisted revelation, Helen questions what she knows about Harrow, her family, and even herself. She no longer wonders if she wants to leave…but if she can.
Well, this was damn good.⠀
Buddy read this with my main spooky pal (and soon to be published author), Ally Russell, and I’m happy to say we both dug it a hell of a lot. Which is only slightly surprising, considering we both went into this book with wildly different assumptions: Ally thought this was a middle grade affair; I thought it was a new adult sort of deal. Both of us thought it was a murder mystery with hints of horror. It took a couple of chapters for us to realize that, actually, this is a YA horror story, and that — ha ha!— we were both bamboozled by blurbs. (Whoever wrote this was Knives Out meets The Haunting of Hill House: you are a sick and twisted person.)
It was probably these misconceptions that made Kate Alice Marshall’s These Fleeting Shadows feel slow for me at the beginning (I wanted a murder mystery, what can I tell you). Eventually, though, the story managed to hook me with all its fascinating intrigue and, most crucially, its impeccable atmosphere (Marshall can set a mean mood). I finished the book sure that it will end up being one of my favorite reads of this year.
Shadows is also part of that growing, provocative trend of Lovecraftian revisionism, subverting the often racist and misogynistic tropes that plague the subgenre by spinning eldritch yarns from the perspective of its most marginalized characters. Our heroine in this instance is Helen, a young woman who, due to the machinations of her most manipulative family, doesn’t feel at all in control of her life. Helen’s story is about reclaiming autonomy, of getting back her very sense of self. Her journey is harrowing, and at times difficult to witness, but that only helps make the explosive denouement that much more cathartic.⠀
These Fleeting Shadows is truly a wild, wild ride. I’m fairly sure it’s the only book I’ve read where the tone changes constantly — and often suddenly — but still manages to work for the story. There’s a certain chaotic thread that runs throughout, and the way the book is written complements it exceedingly well. Brava, Marshall.⠀
Very much recommended.