Colleen Mondor Reviews These Fleeting Shadows by Kate Alice Marshall

These Fleeting Shadows, Kate Alice Marshall (Viking Books for Young Readers 978-0-593-40511-6, $18.99, 357pp, hc) August 2022.

These Fleeting Shadows is described by the publisher as ‘‘The Haunting of Hill House meets Knives Out,’’ which is certainly apt but really nowhere close to what this creepy novel with its unforeseeable plot twists and complex characters is all about. Yes, the house is haunted, and yes, the family is out for blood, but murder is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what author Kate Alice Marshall has planned for readers. There are ghosts (or what seem to be ghosts), there are mysteries, there are secrets and lies and a legacy of dark medi­cal experiments; there is a journal written in code, and bones that must be collected, and a witch who is awesome, and no one can be trusted, and a heroine who – OH HOLY HELL – is not what she appears. Mostly, These Fleeting Shadows is pitch-perfect reading for a dark and stormy night and the autumn book you have likely been waiting for.

Soon after her estranged grandfather’s death, 17-year-old Helen is surprised to discover that he has left her the family estate and all of his extensive wealth (we’re talking $40 million). The catch is that she has to remain on the premises, with no excep­tions, for a full year. As she and her mother fled Harrow a decade earlier, this is quite a challenge. But if Helen doesn’t comply, her extended family loses everything. The pressure to come through for these people, who include her grandmother, a great uncle, and her mother’s two siblings and their spouses and children, is immense. She might not know any of them, but she still feels responsibility. But that is not the real reason why Helen caves in and agrees to the terms of the will. She is haunted, perhaps even permanently damaged, by whatever drove her mother to flee the family. Bad things happen around Helen, including a horrific episode with a childhood friend that left her unable to attend school. Soon after arriv­ing at Harrow for the funeral she becomes convinced that only by staying in the house and getting to the source of her family’s secrets will she figure out what is wrong with herself. So begins the year from hell, not only for Helen, but for everyone she cares about.

Okay, things get wild really fast in These Fleeting Shadows. There’s the little dead girl who talks to Helen, and the dark shadow thing that bites her in the middle of the night, and the journal entries that reveal her ancestor was engaged in summoning a god that he then controlled via nefarious means and used in pursuit of wealth and power. Helen’s relatives range from nice to horrible, but she can’t trust anyone other than her mother and stepfather, who aren’t always in residence. The Harrow Witch, a young woman who knows a lot about the family and the house, is at first an enemy but eventually becomes a valued friend (and more!) when Helen needs her the most. But whatever you think is happening with this book is – trust me – is not everything that is happening. This family has so many layers of bad that it is hard to keep track of who has done what to do whom. And that ancestor is a real piece of work. Perhaps what is most distressing about the book, however, is the author’s afterword when she relates who it is based on. That is the real stuff of nightmares and a story I have not been able to forget.

These Fleeting Shadows has all the necessary elements of an outstanding haunted house yarn, but it goes way beyond expectations. Marshall’s complex plot, which relies on cues from so many different sources, is effective right through to the final pages, and her many characters stand out on their own while building a chorus of intentions and objectives that range from self-serving to downright evil. I’m still reeling from just how chilling some of them were and how much Helen had to struggle against their machinations. This is a book that earns its very satisfying ending and a main character who wins my award for most original backstory of any hero I’ve come across in a long time. Love Helen, love the Harrow Witch, and definitely looking forward to Marshall’s next project.

Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website:

This review and more like it in the Sepetmber 2022 issue of Locus.

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