Read an Excerpt From Lucha of the Night Forest

A scorned god. A mysterious acolyte. A forgetting drug. A dangerous forest.

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Lucha of the Night Forest, a young adult fantasy by Tehlor Kay Mejia, out from Make Me a World on March 21.

A scorned god.
A mysterious acolyte.
A forgetting drug.
A dangerous forest.

One girl caught between the freedom she always wanted and a sister she can’t bear to leave behind.

Under the cover of the Night Forest, will Lucha be able to step into her own power… or will she be consumed by it?



It wasn’t until she reached the quiet of the road west that Lucha let herself feel the weight of all that had befallen her today.

The empty house. The streak of good days broken; the cycle reset again. How many times had Lucha relaxed? Let the burden of care fall from her shoulders? Thought of the future in a tenuous, hopeful way?

It didn’t matter how many times. The result was the same. One night, the end of the workday would arrive, and her mother would not. Lis would grow restless and irritable as the time between meals stretched.

That was when Lucha would take the road north. To earn the bounty that would keep them fed until their mother returned from the forgetting that had tempted her.

Yet despite the resentment that dogged her steps, Lucha found them taking a comfortable rhythm down the dark path. Out here, it was easy to believe nothing existed beyond the dense, tangled mass of life surrounding her.

Inside the city, the forest’s presence felt ominous. But out here, when Lucha was alone, it gentled. Curious, rather than punishing. The leaves glinted, welcoming in the moonlight. The paths opened wide to her steps.

Without evidence of the kings and their edicts around her, it had always been easy to believe there was something more benevolent in these woods than monsters.

A breeze kicked up, whistling in the trees. The dead underbrush whispered; the living vines chattered. There was an energy here Lucha had always been drawn to. Something bigger than her small life and all the fetters that kept it that way.

She checked her bearings once more. Half a mile to the coordinates Alán had given her—from there, it would be up to her to find the nest. Luckily, this wasn’t her first hunt.

Lucha examined each tree: the tall álamo temblóns, with slender white trunks and spade-shaped leaves that shook when the wind blew; the massive circumferences of the montezuma, bark folded in on itself again and again. It created secret hollows and lines like an old fortune-teller’s face. Then there was the llorón, whose feathered branches hung to the ground. The leaves were black as night. They danced in the slightest breeze.

These were usually the first to show the white.

“Got you,” Lucha said, grabbing the offending branch when she spotted it at last. It was thin and supple, and it pulled back against the intrusion. Pale among the richness surrounding it, its leaves were furled and leached of all color.

Lucha followed it until she found another, and another. The dying spread. A tangled web, leading her deeper. It wasn’t long before she found another offender—a pale vine hanging from a massive espino. Big as her thumb, it was covered in thorns that would break off in your skin if you weren’t careful.

Next was a jacara. Stripes of its deep purple blossoms pale as death in the moonlight. She didn’t have to look hard to follow the path now. She left the road. The white was everywhere—the smell of lye and rotting thick in her nose, warning her away…

The glade, when she found it, had been devastated. Trees ripped from the ground. Enormous claw marks across the earth. Everything lifeless and pale. On the back of Lucha’s neck, her skin prickled. The quarry she’d come seeking was near.

Eyes forward, she told herself. This is no time to lose your nerve.

Behind a bone-white stump she crouched, waiting. Moonlight was the only illumination, but with her eyes held wide it was enough. It wasn’t conscious, exactly, the way she prepared. More an agreement she came to with the glade. She closed her eyes despite the danger, acknowledging the power here, feeling it acknowledge her. Did this ritual help her stay hidden from the beasts? Her skeptic’s mind said no, but one didn’t abandon superstition at a time like this.

“Where are you?” she asked the night, settled at last. And the night responded.

The creature entered the glade from behind. Branches fell from their trees, the earth beneath her trembled. Lucha barely whirled around in time. In the stories, they were called sombralados, and to see one was to be marked for death. If that were true, Lucha thought, she’d be dead fifty times over.

It stood at least three times taller than her, its wings unfolding into a massive black banner against the ghostly pale of the grove. A crow, shadows cloaking its bones in place of feathers. Its red eyes burned demonic in its skeletal face.

This close, Lucha could see the dark mist clinging to its bones. It paced the rotten-smelling grove, digging its shining, vicious talons into moss and vines. Earth flew up in clumps behind it.

Enough of your tantrum, she thought. I want to go home.

As if it had heard her, the monster pointed its beak to the sky and opened it wide. The shriek it loosed rattled Lucha’s teeth in her skull. It was a sound no living creature could make. She found herself clinging to the stump that hid her, clinging to any good memory she could muster.

Root candy, she thought desperately. The feel of the sun on her shoulders. Her sister’s smile when it broke through her scowl. Soon, even those comforts were gone. The dissonance took everything but her last desperate thought. It’ll end. But when it did, it was almost worse. The sonic wave retreating; Lucha, weak-limbed and wobbling. She drew the feeling of the grove around her once more, fastening it like a cloak.

The sombralado paced, restless. Shadows scattered as it moved, then re-formed. It was now or never. Lucha’s heart pounded a deafening rhythm in her chest. Determined to be heard in all its glory in case it was silenced forever tonight.

Around them, the trees bucked and reared in the wind. In the center all was still. The eye of the storm, Lucha thought, her head clearing. It was what she called the times when her mother had come home prematurely. When the next disappearance loomed too close.

The memory reminded Lucha of her purpose. It melted her fear away. But the bird would not slow—just paced in its restless circles, frustratingly out of reach.

“I’m right here,” she whispered, tightening her grip on the knife. The monster did not turn.

At the sombralado’s feet were the bones of hunted creatures. Lucha couldn’t prove any of them were human, but she suspected she wasn’t the first cazadora to try her luck with this beast. The rest would have been burly men. They hunted in groups, most often, and split the bounty.

Lucha, by contrast, was slim as a sword in the moonlight. Two braids streamed down her back, her lightly freckled face turned upward. She might as well have been a sapling for all the attention the monsters paid her. Their indifference gave her a deadly advantage.

She remembered when she’d first discovered it. This ability to walk before them without attracting their ire. Lucha had only been thirteen, wandering too deep in the trees. The red eyes had passed over her then, as now, and when the call for cazadoras had gone up she’d tried her luck. Hoping it would hold.

It had. And it had again. Lucha had built a shaky life on this invisibility, but every time it was tested, she quaked to her core.

Every muscle in Lucha’s body tensed as tonight’s sombralado turned. Its gaze tracked the forest around it. Lucha’s instincts, as always, screamed at her to hide. She held her ground. The burning red eyes passed the place where she stood.

One heartbeat.


The eyes didn’t find her. Talons continued to ravage the ground.

Frustrated, the sombralado squawked, blowing the leaves back all around it. Lucha had always considered her invisibility a blessing. A way to feed her family. But tonight, she couldn’t help comparing the monster’s indifference to the blank face her soldado captor had worn as he choked the life from her.

South ward trash said his voice in her head. A waste of air.

“I’m not a waste,” Lucha said aloud, as if daring the creature to hear her. To turn. Under her feet, the ground began to tremble.

The sombralado stretched its flightless wings, scanning for the threat it could sense but not see. The trees. The pile of bones. It looked anywhere but at Lucha with her knife, coiled to spring.

There were more ghosts than the soldado crowding into the space between Lucha and this creature now. Alán came next, eyes trailing up and down Lucha’s body without permission. He didn’t see her, only wanted her for his own gain…

“Look at me!” Lucha cried. She forgot Lis, forgot her own empty belly. Forgot the ticking clock and the barren cupboards as the monster—like all the monsters before it—took the face of Lucha’s mother, and said she was nothing.

That it would never see her.

Never choose her.


In the fracture caused by her hurt Lucha felt the separation of herself from the forest. But she didn’t care.

Rejected by the forest. Rejected by the city. By her family. The tears made her half blind, but the bone of the knife knew its kin. Lucha followed it across the quaking ground toward the sombralado just as it turned to face her at last.

It was the shock of locking eyes with the monster that stopped her tears. There was no denying it. Her reckless, terrible pleas had been answered. The ground shook, and the ghosts abandoned her. Her mother, too. All that was left was this horrible bird, who had seen her at last. And Lucha with her knife—weak, and breakable both.

The forest revolted around her; the creature screamed again. The message was clear: She would die here. Die for her recklessness. For her pride.


Excerpted from Lucha of the Night Forest by Tehlor Kay Mejia. Copyright © 2023 by Tehlor Kay Mejia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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