3.5 stars, actually for me and my personal tastes
This is kind of a beauty and the beast retelling where a girl goes to sacrifice herself to a mysterious “dark creature” in a mansion (overgrown with roses) near her village and ends up having a strong emotional relationship with the creature instead.
Willow has a falconer best friend, a mysteriously absent adored older sister, and as the book starts, a mother who is dressing her for a “sacrifice.” Willow lives in a village in the woods that has no sun…thus plants and herds are dying.
They think a mysterious forest creature is the cause of this, and have tried sacrificing animals, but now have upped the ante to humans. (And here begins the fuzziness that lead me to 3.5 stars despite the strong, compelling voice of Willow, our plucky narrator. The village is sacrificing her? Her parents go along with this after the mysterious loss of their other daughter? If the animals didn’t work, why humans? If the mansion is so close, why haven’t the hunters checked it out before?)
The dark creature turns out to be a tormented soul, and of course Willow must save him.
There’s more fuzziness in the exact nature of what the darkling is, and how he controls his appearance, and how he is supposed to fight off the thing tormenting him. There’s alot of creepiness in the way Willow goes around the house in constant danger, and most of the book is Willow and the darkling finding out about each other’s histories.
But the biggest fuzziness for me was the darkling. He was very…..unsolid for me as a character. He kind of just reacted to Willow’s demands and the tormentor’s demands and had little say for himself other than explaining his backstory. And so for me the emotional connection between Willow and the darkling fell flat. I like beta heroes, but he was super-beta.
So not to my taste.