Welcome back to the blog book lovers! Today I’m really excited to share with you an excerpt of Stalking Shadows by Cyla Panin! This is a gothic Beauty and the Beast retelling and it’s now available for purchase. Read on to find chapter one of Stalking Shadows.
About the Book
A gothic YA fantasy debut about a young woman striving to break her sister’s curse and stop the killing in her small French town
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 LeClaire. But once she gets into the mansion, she discovers dark secrets hidden away—secrets of the curse, of Lord Sebastien . . . and of herself.
Sometimes she smelled like blood. It stained her, worming into her pores and spreading out under her skin. I pretended not to notice, but each time someone came close, I flinched. Worried that they’d discover her. That they’d take her away from me.
A sharp sting bit my hand and cleared the fog from my thoughts. A prickle from a cleaver leaf had nipped into the skin of my thumb. I flicked it out and took up my mortar, crushing and rolling the leaves and the honeysuckle buds in it under the pestle. A heady scent, green and sticky-sweet, curled up from my bowl.
“Don’t waste it, Marie,” Ama said. “I only found a couple bunches this morning.
“I’m not,” I told my sister. But I ran the mortar around the bowl again and let the juices dribble down into the bottom. Then I dipped a pale, white finger in and lifted it to my nose.
“Like nectar,” I said. “I wish I could taste it.”
“Well, you can’t.” Ama bent over the scrubbed wood table and pushed my hand away from my face. “Or it might be you I come after tonight. Make sure you wash your fingers with the soap.”
Ama’s pointed nose and prominent cheekbones gave her a sharp quality I knew only ran skin deep. Her hair, dark and
threaded with early gray, fell from its braid against her white skin. I wiped my hands on my apron and reached out to push a strand behind my sister’s ear. Her face grew harder, the lines deeper when she was close to turning. The change cur- dled my stomach, but I’d never tell her that.
“You’d know me, even then. I’m not scared of you, Ama.”
“You should be,” she said, slamming down a tray of little glass bottles so they clinked against each other. The frayed ends of her voice trailed over my skin and left prickles in their wake. I fumbled as I took one of the bottles. They were cheap things, edges and planes cut into them by the maker so they’d sparkle in the sunlight. The ladies clamored for them and the men knew it, so they gave up their deniers too. That was what mattered to me.
I selected a glass dropper from a little tray at my elbow and used it to suck up a few drops of the honeysuckle juice mixture. Then I let them fall, one at a time, into a small glass bottle with a rounded belly.
“Here,” Ama said, passing me the lavender water. “This one’s popular lately. Even the farmer’s wives have been wear- ing it.”
“I’m not after a farmer’s wife today,” I said, but I took the flask anyway and poured a little in. The scents danced at the
bottom when I swirled it, claiming each other. When I was done, the lingering notes of flora clung to the neck of the bottle.
“Who did you choose?”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “There’s enough meat on him.”
I never told Ama beforehand. If she knew who the victim would be, she’d go all jittery when we saw them in town. Better for her to be in the dark. I could carry the burden of selection myself.
My sister dipped around the room pinching a kerchief from the folded stack I’d placed near the washbasin, checking
her reflection in the small, round mirror hanging from a nail by the door, prodding the firewood with an iron poker. Her fluttering movements were carefully practiced to seem easy and frivolous, like those of a rich merchant’s daughter. She was so good at it now, at just fifteen, she forgot to stop doing it at home.
We’d watched the ladies in the shops together, how they lightly touched the baker’s hand when he passed them their bread or gently murmured over a new fan in the atelier. We’d studied them over the shoulders of the men and through clouded panes of glass until we could mimic them with precision.
With no dowries, we had to rely on charms. Money was hard to earn. Charm could be more easily acquired, for Ama at least. I was never very good at any of it, but that wouldn’t matter if she married properly to a good man who could give us a steady life.
The problem was, there was no one to teach her how to be the right kind of woman. Maman had died ten years ago trying to bring a dead baby into the world. I wanted Ama to be able to turn her head with an elegant extension of the neck and sweep her eyelashes onto her cheeks in just the right way to attract a good man. Papa couldn’t help us. He didn’t know anything about being accepted in this little town because he never had been a cobbler’s son with no talent of his own to sell, he’d relied on the strength of his arms and his love for the bite of fresh morning air and become a farmer. He hadn’t been very good at that either.
Our tired cottage was testament to that. Maman had liked the brightness of the little house made of yellow plaster with windows set into it like two startled eyes. She’d told me that more than once when we’d been outside pulling away at the dirt and dropping seeds in the holes, but I imagined she was making the best of it for me.
The kitchen, the table, and the two padded chairs we kept before the fire were all in one room. Papa slept in the bed-
room with a real bed, while Ama and I had a mattress filled with straw in the loft. We didn’t always like sharing, but at least we stayed fairly warm in the winter from the heat of both of us in the bed.
And we’d done what we could to make it comfortable. With a little of the money we made selling perfumes, we bought a bit of cotton and sewed up pillowcases. I bargained for the ends of a roll of muslin from the seamstress and
sewed them into soft curtains and an impractical tablecloth. I tried to add touches of home here and there, but no one
had ever showed me how and I was afraid I was getting it all wrong.
Dirt stuck to the floorboards and the flagstone at the entry. Dust settled over our two earthenware candlesticks no matter how often I buffed them with a scrap of cloth. And I never could scrub away the black stains clawing their way up the fireplace.
I scraped at one now with the tip of my fingernail. The fire popped in the hearth, and I jumped out of the way of the sparks just in time. Smoke stung my nose the chimney needed cleaning. Another task to add to my list after I sorted Ama out for this month.
I walked to the door and it whined over the stone floor as pulled it open to let in some of the crisp late autumn air. I let it fill me, wash over me, numb me for a moment to what I had to do today: Mark another victim. Take another life. The top of the church spire rose over the peaked roofs of the village street. I hoped the warmth of the sun would be strong
enough to last until we were ready to walk down the path to the market.
“Close the door now, Marie,” Ama said. “It’s cold.”
It wasn’t, not really, but her perception was growing more and more skewed each time she came back into her skin. It was more delicate and grew cold more easily than the fur.
“Papa needs to clean the chimney. It’ll be a long time before the curtains air out,” Ama said, fluffing the thin fabric hanging at one of the two windows in our cottage. “And what about us?” She lifted her arm and sniffed her wool sleeve.
I shook my head at her and gripped the iron door handle to pull it closed, then stopped. A little doll sat on the doorstep. Big eyes, clumsily stitched, it stared up at me over spikey, black- threaded teeth. A shiver started in my toes and rippled through my veins.
“Is that a . . . monster?” Ama said, pressing her chin on my shoulder. I hardened then, snuffing out my unease and letting the hot flame of anger lick my stomach. The little beast, a crude linen doll, was the second I’d seen in as many months. Someone had come from the village and dropped it in front of our door on purpose. There were no other cottages close enough beside us for it to have been meant for anyone else. Someone was trying to scare us.
“Market will be starting soon,” I said, but Ama didn’t look at me. Her eyes were trained on the doll on the doorstep. “We should go.”
I pinched the doll between my fingers and carried it over to the hearth, feeding it into the flames. The edges caught and the orange flames ate up the linen, leaving brittle black ash in their wake.
“Do think it’s from a children’s game? They must have been playing in the field.”
Sometimes the village children did run through our empty patch of land, gone to grass. They’d dare each other to
run into the trees bordering the field, counting how long each of them could stay in the shadows of the woods without fleeing. People died in there, even before Ama started to turn. Animals killed them or they simply never made it out. The mothers in our village had done a good job warning their children of the dangers the wolves and the stags and the whispers of the forest witch’s magic.
“You’re probably right, Ama. It’s just a game.”
I took up a padded basket from the table, nestled the bottle of honeysuckle essence into the bottom, and added an assortment of rose and lavender water.
Ama tied her fichu around her neck and handed me mine, which I
knotted with surprisingly steady hands.
“Let’s go find your victim.”
About the Author
Cyla Panin is an MG and YA writer who prefers to look at the world through a dusting of magic. After spending most of her childhood wanting to escape into the wonderful worlds her favourite authors created, she’s now using her own words to craft magical places. When not writing, Cyla can be found playing dinosaurs with her two young boys, watching swashbuckling and/or period TV shows with her husband, and, of course, reading.
Her YA fantasy debut, STALKING SHADOWS is a gothic, feminist fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast. To protect her sister, Marie laces perfumes with honeysuckle to mark victims for Ama to hunt when she transforms into a beast at night. But when a child in their town is killed, Marie is forced to acknowledge that she might be losing control of Ama—and must instead find a cure for this curse. It will be published by Amulet/Abrams in fall 2021.