We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Sasha Peyton Smith’s The Witch Haven, a historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards. Publishing August 31st with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.
Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.
Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?
With steely determination and an upset stomach, I march over to Maxine’s bag and pull out The Elemental.
The book flips open to the page detailing the Resurrection like it’s been waiting for me.
“You can help me or not, but if William’s killer is out there, murdering other people, I’m not going to sit around and do nothing. We can ask William who killed him. We could stop this from happening to more people.” My heart is pounding; my words come out aggressive and quick.
Maxine and Lena share an uncomfortable glance. They’re doing that more often as of late.
“I’ll do it myself then,” I respond to their infuriating indifference.
I pull off the scratchy mittens Finn gave me, and ghost the tips of my fingers over the onionskin pages. They’re as cold as the frost-slicked underbrush. Finn’s lantern casts them in a flickering orange light.
I stare back at the familiar illustration of a human figure sitting in front of a mirror surrounded by other objects. The objects needed for the spell are sketched in black ink and labeled in slanted handwriting. A scrying mirror, a vial of graveyard dust, a hairbrush labeled item belonging to the deceased, and a dagger called Fragarach.
Like most of the pages in this book, the marginal notes are in a mix of languages. Most are in what I think is Gaelic, but there’s one in English that stands out the darkest: Only effective if done soon after departure from this plane. It’s the note I think about when I can’t sleep.
The others gather around to read the spell over my shoulder.
“What’s Fragarach?” I ask.
“It’s a type of dagger, an old one,” Finn answers reluctantly. He scrubs a hand across his neck; there’s something tortured in the simple gesture. “I can help you get it, if you’re determined to do this.”
“We need it soon,” I say.
“Before any more bodies wash up on the bay,” Finn agrees. I’m relieved he’s seeing my point.
Maxine looks grave as she speaks up. “I’ve been a little bored, and this seems like a terrible idea. Why not speak to the dead and solve a few murders?”
Lena looks between the three of us like she’s doing a calculation, her eyes fluttering, brow creased. Finally, she closes her eyes in a huff. “I wish I could see how this turns out. I cannot.”
There is no moon tonight. The thicket of trees is the darkest I’ve ever seen it. Shadows stretch long, like hands reaching out, grasping at the dark. A shiver goes through me and it’s more than the cold.
“We’ll need to minimize the risk.” Finn’s eyes are big and soft. He looks more lost than I’ve ever seen him, which is strange, because I feel balanced on the precipice of finally finding something. “The head of the Sons has always been a bit of a collector. He keeps the magical artifacts in his office. How morally opposed are you to cat burglary?”
“Sweet of you to assume witches have any morals at all,” Maxine answers. “How very modern of you.”
“Can you make it to the Commodore Club on the Lower East Side this Saturday? There’s an event, everyone will be busy, and security will be lax. It could be our one chance to sneak into the office,” Finn explains.
The excited rhythm in my heart beats an answer: Of course, anything.
Lena frowns. “Why do you need us to break into your own organization?”
“I can’t magick objects as well as you. There’ll be locks and wards, and I don’t have the power to get through them myself. At least not quietly.”
“Yes.” My answer is immediate.
“It has to be two days from now?” Maxine asks, incredulous.
From somewhere nearby, an animal scurries in the underbrush. It sets my teeth on edge.
“What about the mirror?” I prod. We have to think of the big picture. If we’re going to do this, we need to do it properly.
“I’ll do some research” is Finn’s curt reply.
“Does your brother have a grave?” Lena asks quietly.
“Yes, in Manhattan. The dust will be easy.”
Maxine brushes a strand from her forehead. “And the ‘item belonging to the deceased,’ do you have anything of your brother’s?”
This question stings. “I don’t, but I know where to get one.”
And suddenly we have a plan. A plan that begins with us breaking into the Sons of Saint Druon.
I grip The Elemental all the way back to Haxahaven. It stays cold no matter how long I clutch it to my chest.
Maxine unlocks the gate, and we slip into Florence’s dark kitchen. She hasn’t stayed up for us tonight, but she has left a warm pot of tea on the stove.
“This is getting dangerous,” Lena says. Her voice is hollow. It bounces off the bricked floors.
“Yes,” Maxine agrees. “But at least it’s not boring.”
Excerpt from The Witch Haven, copyright © 2021 by Sasha Peyton Smith