“Fast-paced and refreshing.” – SLJ, starred review
“The perfect blend of history and dark fantasy.” – Mary Taranta, author of Shimmer and Burn
“Thrilling, romantic, and addictive.” – Rosalyn Eves, author of Blood Rose Rebellion
“The only cure is to finish it.” – Lyndsay Ely, author of Gunslinger Girl
After unwittingly helping her mother poison King Louis XIV, seventeen-year-old alchemist Mirabelle Monvoisin is forced to see her mother’s Shadow Society in a horrifying new light: they’re not heroes of the people, as they’ve always claimed to be, but murderers. Herself included. Mira tries to ease her guilt by brewing helpful curatives, but her hunger tonics and headache remedies cannot right past wrongs or save the dissenters her mother vows to purge.
Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon is more kitchen boy than fils de France. But when the Shadow Society assassinates the Sun King and half of the royal court, he must become the prince he was never meant to be in order to save his injured sisters and the petulant dauphin. Forced to hide in the sewers beneath the city, Josse’s hope of reclaiming Paris seems impossibleuntil his path collides with Mirabelle’s.
She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. They are sworn enemies, yet they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and former nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?
|Publisher:||Page Street Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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My laboratory reeks of death. Not of blood and flesh and decay, but the garlicky bite of arsenic, the musty essence of hemlock, and the sweet smell of oleander — like rose water and citrus. The lethal perfume tickles my nose as I rush about the hearth, stoking the fire and whisking the steaming concoction in my cast-iron kettle.
Today I will kill a man.
Not directly, as I won't be the one to tip the poudre de succession into his wine, but my hands made the poison, so I suppose I am responsible in part. This should probably strike fear into my bones or make me tremble with remorse or, if nothing else, have me worried for my soul, but a smile bends my lips as I add a pinch of sulfur to the draught and watch the garish yellow particles flutter down like snowflakes. Sinking and swirling and vanishing.
While the mixture bubbles, I return to the sideboard and thumb through my notes. Is it belladonna or lead I need next? The poison is a new one, called Aqua Tofana. Mother acquired the formula from an associate in Italy. It's a devilish little brew, rumored to be most effective at disposing of bothersome husbands and rivals at court — one of Mother's many services.
Some claim she's a witch. Others a saint. I see no difference; the people of Paris worship her either way.
Behind me, the potion hisses, hungry for the next ingredient. I pick through a bowl of dried belladonna, grind the darkest, most potent berries, and tip the powder into the pot, adding an extra scoop for good measure. I'll spare no mercy for a lecherous toad like the Duc de Barra. Not when I've seen the purple bruises marring the duchesse's arms and that ghastly cut across her cheek. Not when I've heard her wailing from Mother's salon, recounting how the duc beat their son near to death for attempting to shield her.
Gritting my teeth, I raise my spoon like a dagger and plunge it into the cauldron. Beads of sweat trickle down my face, and my woolen dress clings to my chest, but I stir with ruthless vigor until the concoction reduces into a shimmering crystalline powder. Careful not to touch a speck of it, I spoon the poison into a phial and bury the cork with the heel of my hand.
De Barra's death will not be quick or painless. I made certain of that. His reckoning will burn like fire down his throat and eat like maggots through his flesh. He will see red, breathe red, bleed red until not a drop of life lingers in his veins. Until he's cold and stiff, lying facedown on his parlor rug.
Ordinarily, I take no such pleasure in death — I can count on one hand the number of times I have provided poison to Mother's clients — but if ever I were to relish the role of reaper, this is one such occasion.
Au revoir, Monsieur le Duc.
I situate the phial on a tray and return to the hearth, where my more innocent elixirs are boiling. The largest cauldron holds an elderberry infusion to counteract headaches; the one beside it contains a watercress and fennel seed hunger tonic, which we distribute to the beggars on the rue du Temple when the rutting Sun King fails to issue rations; and the hanging copper teapot brims with a valerian root extract that smooths even the deepest wrinkles.
A little something for everyone. That's the Shadow Society's promise. And Mother will have my head if her order isn't ready by sunup, when her consultations begin. Which will be any moment now, judging by the pale gray light streaming through the shutters, casting ladder-like shadows across the floor. My heart leaps into my throat and my hands flutter like frantic birds as I dash from pot to pot. I was so absorbed with the Aqua Tofana I paid little heed to everything else.
I dip a finger into the plum-colored elderberry infusion and wince — still cold and clotted — and when I peek inside the copper teapot, a sticky, sour-smelling syrup spatters my face.
Merde. I can already hear Mother hissing her customary diatribe. Don't you care for the cause, Mirabelle? For the people of this city? Who will succor them if we do not? Surely not the glorious Sun King. If it were left to him, the better half of the kingdom would die of pox and he'd be glad of it. Then he could reallocate the funds he uses to put moldy bread in our bellies to build more gilded palaces like that monstrosity at Versailles.
Mother's intensity may be overwhelming, but her goals are admirable. We are the saviors of Paris. And if I want her to respect me and trust me and welcome me into her inner circle, I must prove I am more responsible than Father.
"Gris, I need the watercress now!" I bellow over my shoulder. He's hunched over the ancient claw-foot table in the center of the room, furiously chopping herbs. The laboratory isn't large — it's a one-room garden house with crooked shelves built into the stone walls — but it's more chaotic than a battlefield. Curtains of steam hover about our heads, thick as cannon smoke, and the rumble of the bubbling cauldrons sound like a hundred marching feet. I can hardly hear myself think.
I cup my hands around my mouth to call out again, but Gris leans over me and sweeps the herbs into the appropriate pots. Then we stand there, watching, as the bubbles devour the tiny particles. "I added a pinch of butterbur to the elderberry infusion," he says. "It should come into effect twice as quickly. And three sprigs of rosemary to the wrinkle salve. Now it doesn't smell like feet."
"Good, good." I reach for my stirring spoon and expect Gris to do the same, but he thumbs the cutting board and continues to peer into the cauldrons.
"Do you think she'll notice?"
No. Mother never notices the improvements we make to her draughts. But I can't bring myself to say this. Not with Gris standing there looking so hopeful and earnest, with his cinnamon eyes peeking out from beneath his sandy mop of hair. He's the most imposing person I know — a good head taller than me and built like an ox — but where Mother is concerned, he will always be a skinny, orphaned eight-year-old desperate to prove she did right by taking him in.
I seize Gris's goggles from the hook beside the hearth and fling them at his chest. He yelps and scrabbles to catch the strap. "What was that for?"
"A watched pot never boils. You know that. And if we fail to finish these draughts before Marguerite arrives, Mother will definitely notice that." I tighten my own goggles for emphasis.
Gris glances once more at the pots, then quickly out the window at the house before finally donning his eyewear.
Like two parts of a well-oiled machine, we fall into the easy rhythm of our work: he whisks the curls away from my face when I lean forward to grind herbs, and I dab the sweat from his brow while he stirs the cauldrons. After more than a decade of toiling side by side, his arms feel like an extension of my own; we know what the other needs without having to utter a word. We're so consumed with our alchemy, I scream and Gris bangs his head against the hanging pots when the laboratory door flies open.
"Must you barge in here like a brigand?" I whip around, ready to scowl at my sister. But it isn't Marguerite who has come to collect Mother's order.
It is Mother herself.
The stirring spoon drops from my fingers and rolls into the coals, making the fire crackle. Gris straightens and furiously brushes the yellow flecks of camphor from his hair and tunic. Which seems a wasted effort, since Mother herself looks so uncivilized. I gape at her filthy, loose-fitting shift. Stare at her dirt-smeared cheeks and the threadbare cap atop her tangled hair. She looks like a fishwife. And, worse, she smells like one. I cover my nose, but the vile odor seeps through my fingers, strangling me.
"Lady Mother!" I stammer. Ordinarily, she is immaculate — clad in the finest satins and silks. Rumor has it that it's more fashionable to be received at our shabby house on the rue Beauregard than the palace at Versailles, but she looks nothing like the most powerful devineresse in Paris or "Queen of the People" at present.
She pins me in place with her inky stare and clears her throat.
I hurriedly draw out the sides of my soot-stained petticoat and lower into my most practiced curtsy. Gris follows suit and sketches a bow. "To what do we owe this honor?" I ask.
She waves a hand and ventures into the room, sidestepping a stack of dusty grimoires and an overturned sack of milk thistle. "Can't I visit my beloved daughter and favorite son without cause?"
Gris looks like he might die of happiness, and for half a second, I allow myself to hope. But then Mother flashes her most honeyed grin — the one she reserves for noble clients — and dread coils in my belly like a sickness. She does nothing without reason. And she hasn't stepped foot inside the laboratory in years. The garden house reminds her too much of Father. I remind her too much of Father. I quickly scan the laboratory for the true purpose of her visit, and my pulse pounds at my temples. She has a dozen reasons to eviscerate me. The mess, for one. When Father was chief alchemist of the Shadow Society, these floors were as pristine as glossed parquet and the cauldrons gleamed like fresh shoe polish. But my mind works better when I am mired in mixtures. When I'm surrounded by my phials and bottles and barrels — a part of my alchemy, both body and spirit. Besides, Father's methods proved ineffective. What use are alphabetized cupboards when your experiments are so explosive that they quite literally blow you to bits? Mother should be glad that I strive so hard to be his opposite.
So it must be the late order. I rush to her side, already babbling excuses, but instead of stalking to the hearth and clucking her tongue at the disastrous array of half-finished tinctures, she moves to the board instead. "Is this my special concoction for the Duc de Barra?" she asks, holding the Aqua Tofana toward the firelight.
"And you altered it according to my instructions? So it kills upon contact with the skin?"
"Of course." Aqua Tofana is usually dispensed in liquid form, but Mother asked me to reduce it to a powder. So it's twice as potent. "He'll be dead from the barest brush of his fingertips."
Mother's grin curls all the way up to her eyes, and she looks truly pleased. Proud, even. Then she does something that has happened only in my most outlandish of dreams. A favor usually reserved for my older sister. She places a hand on my back and leans in close. Her dark hair dances around my shoulders and her almond-scented breath puffs against my cheek. "Well done," she whispers.
I do not move or breathe or blink for the space of five heartbeats as a tiny seedling of pride sprouts inside my chest. I know better than to let it take root. She will change her mind. Or her praise will transform into a barb, as it always has before. But when neither happens, the shoots curl around my heart and grow. Mother is like the sun. Vibrant and flashing. It's impossible not to bask in the warmth of her esteem — no matter that I'll likely be burned.
Though, perhaps not. This could be a sign — a beacon of change. Perhaps she's finally beginning to trust and appreciate me.
I look again to Gris, and we exchange a bewildered smile.
"Don't stand there gawking like a dullard," Mother says with a laugh, linking her arm through mine. "We've much to do."
That jerks me from my stupor and I spring toward the hearth. "Of course. The rest of your order is nearly ready. We'll bring it along —"
"Gris can finish the order." Mother tightens her grip on my elbow. "You shall come with me."
My eyes widen and I try not to stutter. "Surely I'm not invited?" She has never welcomed my presence at her consultations; she and Marguerite handle that side of the business. I am hardly better than a servant. A lowly lab rat. Unless that is changing too ... A thread of excitement hums through my core, but I bite down hard on my lip. Best to keep my delight hidden, or Mother will sniff out my desperation. She despises weakness above all else.
"Don't be daft." Mother shakes the phial at me. "You are the genius behind the poison, so you must witness my triumph."
My brow furrows. I fail to see anything particularly triumphant about watching a man suffer — even one so wanton and despicable as the Duc de Barra — but I know better than to argue. If Mother considers his death a victory, it must be. And she wants me to take part in it.
Gris beams and raises a celebratory fist as Mother tugs me into the garden. The morning air is deliciously cold and it slams down my throat like a hammer, enlivening my mind and making my skin tingle. Every window of our cottage is ablaze with candlelight and movement. Shadows dash behind the velveteen curtains as Marguerite and La Trianon arrange their gilded Marseille decks and fill the scrying bowls with water. In lieu of morning birds, the chatter of anxious customers queuing up and down the rue Beauregard welcomes the sun. Like a windup clock, the Shadow Society is grinding into motion, and I am to be a part of it.
Matching Mother's stride, I hold my head high as we slip through the kitchen door. Command respect. Prove you belong. But my feet stutter to a halt the moment we enter her salon, and for once it has nothing to do with the oppressive black curtains and damask papering. The room writhes like a hornet's nest, packed wall to wall with visitors. And these are not the poor serving girls or the cotton-headed duchesses they often entertain. These are the leaders of the Shadow Society.
La Trianon, Mother's second, quits pacing and fastens her watery eyes on me. Ordinarily the old woman's eyes glint with fire and spark with mischief, but today they are drooping and exhausted — the same dirty gray as the snow in the gutters. Mother's infuriating lover, the royal sorcerer, Lesage, winks at me from where he lounges on a divan, and Marguerite whispers with her fiancé, Fernand, in the corner. On the other side of the room, Abbé Guibourg, the priest who oversees the Society's spiritual affairs, pulls his rosary beads through his knotted fingers. And beside him, Mother's most prominent client, the Marquise de Montespan, former maîtresse-en-titre to His Majesty, Louis XIV, whips her lace fan back and forth with agitated strokes.
Warning bells blare in my mind. Why are they assembled at such an hour? They can't all have a vested interest in the Duc de Barra. He is one man, of little consequence, especially to someone as elevated as Madame de Montespan.
"What's all this?" I ask, trying to keep my face blank and serene. Like Mother's.
"We are waiting for you. Clearly." Madame de Montespan rolls her eyes as if I am the simplest creature alive. I cringe without meaning to, and she titters behind her fan. I wouldn't be laughing had the king dismissed me in favor of a younger mistress, I long to snap at her, but I bite my tongue and turn to Marguerite. She will enlighten me. But she looks pointedly at Mother's arm, linked through mine, and her lips flatten.
My sister and I are either best friends or mortal enemies depending on one important variable — Mother's favor.
"Up. All of you. It's time to be off." Mother claps and waves down the hall. Abbé Guibourg rises with a grunt and shuffles to assist Madame de Montespan, but La Trianon wrings her gnarled hands through her skirt and looks pleadingly at Mother.
"Please reconsider, Catherine. This is madness. We'll burn at the Place de Grève."
Mother's dark eyes flash, and she advances on the old woman. Not yelling. Mother never yells. She whispers, which is far more terrifying. "Do you mistrust my judgment?"
"Of course not." La Trianon retreats behind the divan like a mouse cornered by a cat. "I wouldn't dream of it."
Mother points down the hall. "Then go."
Lesage extends his arm to La Trianon in vicious mockery, and with Mother watching, she can't refuse. Marguerite sends another glare in my direction, then stomps down the hall with Fernand. But her hostility wicks away like water off a duck, for Mother continues walking arm in arm with me. She clutches the crook of my elbow tightly in one hand and the poudre de succession in the other. I try not to look overly pleased as I climb into the six-horse carriage waiting on the street.
We ride in silence over the Pont Neuf and out of Paris, onto the dusty, rutted country roads. I glance around the carriage, at Mother beside me and Marguerite across from me, certain they'll tell me where we're headed and what they've planned now that we're en route. But they purposely avoid my gaze.
I swallow back a knot of disappointment and shift in my seat. I suppose this is to be expected. It's my first foray into the Shadow Society. In order to be trusted with greater knowledge, I must first prove myself in small things. And if this is some sort of initiation or a test of loyalty, I intend to pass. Better than pass — I intend to excel. I paint a smile on my lips that I hope mimics Mother's — oozing lethal confidence — and fold my hands in my lap.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "An Affair of Poisons"
Copyright © 2019 Addie Thorley.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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About the Author,