From authors Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige comes a dark contemporary fantasy about a prestigious sorority of witches and two girls caught up in its world of sinister magic and betrayals. We’re excited to share an excerpt from The Ravens, available November 3rd from HMH Books for Young Readers.
At first glance, the sisters of ultra-exclusive Kappa Rho Nu—the Ravens—seem like typical sorority girls. Ambitious, beautiful, and smart, they’re the most powerful girls on Westerly College’s Savannah, Georgia, campus.
But the Ravens aren’t just regular sorority girls. They’re witches.
Scarlett Winter has always known she’s a witch—and she’s determined to be the sorority’s president, just like her mother and sister before her. But if a painful secret from her past ever comes to light, she could lose absolutely everything…
Vivi Devereaux has no idea she’s a witch and she’s never lived in one place long enough to make a friend. So when she gets a coveted bid to pledge the Ravens, she vows to do whatever it takes to be part of the magical sisterhood. The only thing standing in her way is Scarlett, who doesn’t think Vivi is Ravens material.
But when a dark power rises on campus, the girls will have to put their rivalry aside to save their fellow sisters. Someone has discovered the Ravens’ secret. And that someone will do anything to see these witches burn…
The sisters sat in a semicircle on the south lawn. Dahlia picked up a bottle of bubbles, the kind they’d all played with as kids, and blew them up into the air. A distraction spell, to keep the rest of campus from noticing what they were doing. Each girl held a Kappa Book in her lap. From far away, they looked like an ordinary study group. But from up close, they were deciding the fates of the next class of Ravens.
“In front of you, you’ll find a full profile on each girl whose ability was strong enough to ignite a sparkler last night,” Dahlia said. “Let’s start reviewing our potential sisters.”
Scarlett sat between Mei and Tiffany, only half paying attention as the book spread across her lap shimmered, its blank pages shifting to display images of the freshmen who’d attended their recruitment party the night before.
“The next girl is named Starla. She’s the oldest of three girls…”
Scarlett stared at the face of a white girl with wavy brown hair, and for a moment, it was almost like Harper was looking up at her. Her breath caught in her throat. But when she blinked, the picture rearranged itself. The girl’s hair was two shades lighter than Harper’s, her nose longer and her lips wider.
Scarlett shook her head slightly. She was just spooked because of her dream. But that’s all it was. A dream.
Or was it?
A dream didn’t explain the necklace. Then again, there were a million necklaces like that out there. Even Scarlett had something similar in her jewelry box back home, a sweet-sixteen gift from her parents. There was no proof that the necklace had ever belonged to Harper. It had probably been wedged there for ages. It was just a coincidence that Scarlett happened to find it that morning.
Earth to Scarlett. Tiffany’s voice sounded in Scarlett’s head, and she felt a gentle nudge to her thigh.
Scarlett looked up, startled to find the entire circle’s gaze on her. One of Dahlia’s perfectly plucked eyebrows was raised as if she was waiting. “Um, yes. I agree,” Scarlett said uncertainly, hoping they were asking if she was on board with the first potential.
Dahlia nodded, seemingly pleased. “Cast your votes.” She opened a box of snow-white ravens’ feathers and passed them out, were a sign of bad luck or ill intent, but, like witchcraft itself, their history was so much more complicated than that. As early as ancient Greece, they were associated with prophecy, singled out to keep the deity’s secrets and share its wisdom. Witches, like ravens, understood the secrets of the universe, and both got a bad rap for it.
It was why, hundreds of years ago, the founders of the coven had named themselves the Ravens. They’d continued to call themselves that even after they’d incorporated as a sorority, cloaking themselves in the protection of the Greek system. What better way to hide in plain sight while recruiting and initiating new members into their coven?
To vote a Raven in, one simply changed the color of the feather from white to black, a blank canvas transformed by knowledge and ability. By power. When Scarlett was a little girl, she’d dreamed of the day the feathers would transform for her.
Now Scarlett forced herself to focus on the task at hand. One by one, starting with Dahlia’s, the feathers ruffled, as if disturbed by an unseen hand, the white slowly filling with an inky, iridescent black.
Technically the feather ceremony was a mere formality—this was just the first step; the real choosing would happen during the first test night, when the sisters saw what kind of crop they were working with this year. If they were lucky, they’d find at least one girl per suit, which would keep the house well rounded. Wands witches like Dahlia worked fire spells. They tended to be healers and athletes. Swords witches like Tiffany specialized in air—literal and influence. Pentacle witches like Mei worked with earth magic, such as glamours that altered the appearance of things in the physical realm. They usually had serious green thumbs too.
A Cups, Scarlett was best around water spells—scrying, manipulating minor bodies of water, altering the chemistry of liquids (including beverages). Cups witches were also rumored to have the advantage when it came to casting love spells, though Scarlett herself had never needed to.
Every suit had both minor arcana—easy everyday spells—and major arcana. The latter were things witches could do only in extreme circumstances or by expending a ton of energy. A Cups could create a rainstorm like the one Scarlett had conjured when Minnie died; a Swords could summon a tornado or hurricane; a Wands could burn a forest to a crisp if she desired; and, in theory, a Pentacles could set off an earthquake, though to Scarlett’s knowledge, no one ever had.
But the reason it mattered so much who they picked to join Kappa was that the Ravens had discovered how to bind their magic to one another’s. Each full moon, they performed a house-wide union ritual that gave each Raven the ability to use the minor arcana of every suit, not just her own. It was what made them the most powerful coven in the world.
And these weren’t the only decisions happening today. This was also the meeting when Dahlia would pick jobs for the top contenders for president. Scarlett was keeping her fingers crossed for membership chair. Everyone knew it was the most important job—the lucky sister was tasked with ushering the new members through the pledging process, essentially mentoring the newest class of witches. It was the only leadership position in the house, and if the membership chair did a good job, she almost always ended up president.
And if Scarlett got the job she wanted, she had the perfect way to celebrate. She was meeting up with Mason after this for a proper hello… assuming she could get herself in the right mindset for it after everything that had happened this morning.
Dahlia finished the vote for a girl named Kelsey; only a handful of feathers changed colors. Next up was a gorgeous South Asian girl with a chin-length bob and piercing brown eyes.
“Sonali’s mother, Aditi Mani, was a Raven,” Dahlia said. “And although we don’t show special favoritism toward legacies, it is something to take into consideration, since we know magical ability tends to run in families, and her mother was a fairly powerful Cups witch. Yes, Etta?”
Next to Dahlia, Etta was sprawled barefoot on the grass, dressed as usual like she was about to audition for the part of a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, her skin milky-white in the sunlight. “You said she wants to go into politics. Are we talking Reese Witherspoon in Election… or Elizabeth Warren in 2020?” The other girls around the circle leaned in with interest. Etta’s concern was valid. Witches with political ambitions were always viewed with more scrutiny. Ravens who mixed power with politics had to be beyond moral reproach.
“Hazel, you spoke to her more than I did,” Dahlia said. “What was your read?”
Across the circle, Hazel, a Korean-American sophomore from Florida and a Wands witch like Dahlia, looked up from her hymnal. She wore leggings and a running shirt, though judging by her perfectly sleek bun and the lack of sweat on her face, Scarlett guessed it was because she planned to go for a run after this meeting, not that she’d just come from one. Then again, with Hazel, it was hard to tell. She was Westerly’s resident track star, and she had a sprint time that made Scarlett feel terrifyingly out of shape. She also somehow made athleisure look elegant even at a mixer, while Scarlett always felt underdressed in gym clothes, even at the gym. “She’s whip-smart, ambitious, but still scrupulous. More of an idealist than a charmer.”
“I’m all for a Raven in the White House.” Etta nodded and relaxed.
“And her name will be Scarlett Winter,” Tiffany teased with a smile to Scarlett.
Scarlett returned the smile, loving that Tiffany always had her back.
“But Etta’s right, we should stay vigilant on this one,” Jess, the lead reporter for the Gazette, added in what Scarlett had come to recognize as her “I’ll get to the bottom of this myself” tone. Jess’s suspicion made Scarlett want to root for the new political witch. She knew now what color her feather would be.
“Do your worst, Lois Lane,” Dahlia quipped. “All those in favor of extending a bid to Sonali?” Each girl around the circle picked up her feather. Scarlett snatched hers up from where it had fallen beside here. Again the feathers ruffled and deepened to the shade of midnight. At a whispered command from her, Scarlett’s changed color too, making for a unanimous vote. She gazed around the circle at all the other Ravens, her sisters, with pride. These were girls who, once upon a time, had faced this same process. Whatever faults they might have, they were bound by more than just magic. The Ravens were a sisterhood. A beautiful, diverse sisterhood built on love and power. The girls they voted in now would become their Littles, the next generation. Girls who would one day carry on their legacy.
“Next up is Reagan Ostrov, who has a very interesting background.” The image of a girl with fiery red hair filled the page, and as Dahlia spoke, words appeared showing her history and potential futures. There was a murmur among the Ravens.
“She’s a witch, although her family descends from a different coven in New Orleans. She’s fully aware of her powers, but it’s unclear what level of control she has. There was a fire at her old school. It was discovered quickly, and luckily no one was hurt.” Dahlia’s smile was grim. “It started in the theater, where, coincisentally, Reagan had just been passed over for the lead in the school play. It took four fire trucks to put it out.”
“Looks like we have a Fire sign on our hands,” Mei said.
“Obviously, she is powerful, but she poses a risk. This kind of magic cannot be done publicly.”
“You can’t be suggesting we don’t invite her?” Scarlett asked, surprised. Scarlett had always subscribed to the notion that Kappa was as much about sisterhood as it was about magic, but Dahlia looked at it a little differently. She wanted Kappa to be the best—the best sorority and the best coven. And to her, that had always meant initiating the most powerful witches.
Dahlia shook her head. “Just that we have to be careful with her.”
Even before Dahlia had finished talking, all the feathers transformed. Reagan Ostrov was in, and Scarlett couldn’t help thinking that the Ravens would deserve what they got.
“Very well,” Dahlia said.
Something soured a little in Scarlett’s stomach when they all turned to the next page of the book, and she saw the annoyingly naïve, brown-haired white girl she’d handed a sparkler to staring up at her. Vivian Devereaux, the page said.
“She told me she didn’t even want to pledge,” Scarlett said before anyone else could speak up. “Why would we consider someone who doesn’t like us?”
“Did she actually say she didn’t like us?” Mei arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. Her hair, which she’d done in a sharp bob for the rush party, was waist-length and tipped in lavender today.
Scarlett waved a dismissive hand. “She said she’s not the sorority type—which she’s right about, by the way. So why waste a bid?”
Dahlia watched her through narrowed eyes. “Normally you’re all for inviting as many people as possible. What did you argue last year? ‘We’ll never know how strong someone is until we test them’?”
Dahlia was right. It was something Minnie had always told her.
Tiffany leaned forward. “I’m with Scarlett.” Scarlett flashed her best friend a grateful smile. “Besides, is this really all we know about this girl?” She gestured to the nearly blank page in the Kappa Book.
“She moved around a lot,” Dahlia said. “We found records from her most recent school in Nevada, but she only attended classes there for four months. Before that, she was homeschooled in a town near the Northern California border —”
“I think she has potential,” Mei said. “She doesn’t even know she’s a witch yet. I for one would like to see what she can do.”
“Scarlett.” Dahlia looked at her. “It’s up to you.”
Scarlett blinked in surprise. Normally decisions like this were the president’s to make. But she understood Dahlia’s underlying meaning: If you’re going to lead Kappa next year, you need to be able to make decisions for the group, not just yourself. After a slow, deep breath, Scarlett nodded. “You’re right, Mei. We should give her a chance.” Mei flashed her a smile. Etta grinned too. But Scarlett remained poker-faced as she held up her feather to darken once more. Just because she’d chosen to be magnanimous didn’t mean she had to like it.
They finished voting for the remainder of the potentials: a girl named Ariana Ruiz and one named Bailey Kaplan, who also didn’t know they were witches; a set of twins; and a legacy whose sparkler hadn’t ignited so much as sparked feebly. Scarlett doubted that one would pass the first rite.
When they finished, Dahlia cleared her throat. “Before you go, ladies, I have one more order of business.”
Scarlett sat up straighter, giving Tiffany an excited grin.
“Tiffany. Scarlett. Mei.” Dahlia eyed each of them in turn. “You three are my strongest junior witches.”
We’re your only junior witches thanks to the disaster freshman year, Scarlett thought, then pushed the thought away.
“To ensure that we have an incredible class of new sisters this year, I’m assigning each of you a special role. How you perform in these roles will help us decide on our next class of officers.”
Help you decide who’s stepping into your shoes, you mean. Scarlett fixed her eyes on Dahlia. Whatever it took, she needed to make sure it would be her.
“Tiffany, you’ll be taking on the position of social chair. Organizing all our events and functions falls to you.”
Beside Dahlia, Tiffany nodded eagerly. “I’ll do my best.”
“Mei, you’ll be our representative on the Panhellenic council. You’ll liaise with the other Greek organizations on campus and manage our alumnae relationships.”
Scarlett didn’t envy her friend that. It meant dealing with powerful women like Scarlett’s mother, who had strong opinions about how Westerly in general and Kappa in particular should run. She shot Mei a commiserating wince, and Mei plastered on a brave smile in return.
“You’ll be the membership chair. You’ll design the group Hell Week trials, vet our new inductees, and train them in basic spells— not just during Hell Week but all year, once we select our new sisters.”
Yes. Scarlet bowed her head to hide the sudden, huge grin on her face. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mei’s smile falter. This was the most important job, and everyone knew it. “I won’t let you down.”
“I know you won’t.” Dahlia nodded. “Remember, sisters, Hell Week, and the whole pledge process, is not about torturing anybody. It’s about finding rare and unusual talent among the sea of average at this school. We need to find girls who will uphold our legacy. Who, like us, are ambitious, talented, driven, smart, and powerful. True Ravens.” She closed her hymnal with a definitive snap and then, with a wave of her hand, burst the distraction spell. Scarlett and Tiffany got to their feet, the sounds of the main green rushing back into their circle.
“Ready for a little competition, sis?” Tiffany asked.
“Bring it on,” Scarlett said, locking arms with her best friend.
Tiffany grinned as her voice sounded in Scarlett’s head. May the best witch win.
Excerpted from The Ravens, copyright © 2020 by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige.