The Black Witch
An Epic Fantasy Novel
By Laurie Forest
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: May 2, 2018
Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.
When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecare, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother's legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people - including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians - is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.
As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits...if only she can find the courage to trust those she's been taught to hate and fear.
"Take that, you stupid Icaral!"
I glance down with amusement at my young neighbors, a basket of freshly picked vegetables and herbs balanced on my hip, a slight near-autumn chill fighting to make itself known through the warm sunlight.
Emmet and Brennan Gaffney are six-year-old twins with the black hair, forest green eyes and faintly shimmering skin so prized by my people, the Gardnerian Mages.
The two boys pause from their noisy game and look up at me hopefully. They sit in the cool, sunlit grass, their toys scattered about.
All the traditional characters are there among the brightly painted wooden figures. The black-haired Gardnerian soldiers, their dark tunics marked with brilliant silver spheres, stand valiantly with wands or swords raised. The boys have lined the soldiers up on a wide, flat stone in military formation.
There are also the usual archvillains - the evil Icaral demons with their glowing eyes, their faces contorted into wide, malicious grins, black wings stretched out to their full size in an effort to intimidate, fireballs in their fists. The boys have lined these up on a log and are attempting to launch rocks at them from the direction of the soldiers with a catapult they've fashioned from sticks and string.
There are assorted side characters, too: the beautiful Gardnerian maidens with their long black hair; wicked Lupine shapeshifters - half-human, half-wolf; green-scaled Snake Elves; and the mysterious Vu Trin sorceresses. They're characters from the storybooks and songs of my childhood, as familiar to me as the old patchwork quilt that lies on my bed.
"Why are you here?" I ask the boys, glancing down into the valley toward the Gaffneys' estate and sprawling plantation. Eliss Gaffney usually keeps the twins firmly near home.
"Momma won't stop crying," Emmet scowls and bangs the head of a wolf-creature into the ground.
"Don't tell!" Brennan chastises, his voice shrill. "Poppa'll whip you for it! He said not to tell!"
I'm not surprised by Brennan's fear. It's well-known that Mage Warren Gaffney's a hard man, feared by his fastmate and children. And the startling disappearance of his nineteen-year-old daughter, Sage, has made him even harder.
I look to the Gaffneys' estate again with well-worn concern.
Where are you, Sage? I wonder unhappily. She's been missing without a trace for well over a year. What could have possibly happened to you?
I let out a troubled sigh and turn back to the boys. "It's all right," I say, trying to comfort them. "You can stay over here for a while. You can even stay for supper."
The boys brighten and appear more than a little relieved.
"Come play with us, Elloren," Brennan pleads as he playfully grabs at the edge of my tunic.
I chuckle and reach down to ruffle Brennan's hair. "Maybe later. I have to help make supper, you know that."
"We're defeating the Icarals!" Emmet exclaims. He throws a rock at one of the Icarals to demonstrate. The rock collides with the small demon and sends it spinning into the grass. "Wanna see if we can knock their wings off?"
I pick up the small figure and run my thumb across its unpainted base. Breathing in deep, I close my eyes and the image of a large tree with a dense crown, swooping branches and delicate white flowers fills my mind.
Frosted Hawthorne. Such elegant wood for a child's plaything.
I open my eyes, dissolving the image, focusing back in on the demon toy's orange eyes. I fight the urge to envision the tree once more, but I know better than to entertain this odd quirk of mine.
Often, if I close my eyes while holding a piece of wood, I can get the full sense of its source tree. With startling detail. I can see the tree's birthplace, smell the rich, loamy carpet beneath its roots, feel the sun dappling its outstretched leaves.
Of course, I've learned to keep these imaginings to myself.
A strange nature fixation like this smacks of Fae blood, and Uncle Edwin has warned me to never speak of it. We Gardnerians are a pure-blooded race, free from the stain of the heathen races that surround us. And my family line has the strongest, purest Mage blood of all.
But I often worry. If that's true, then why do I see these things?
"You should be more careful with your toys," I gently scold the boys as I shake off the lingering image of the tree and set the figure down.
The sound of the boys' grand battles recedes into the distance as I near the small cottage I share with Uncle Edwin and my two brothers. I peer across the broad field toward our horse stables and give a start.
A large, elegant carriage is parked there. The crest of the Mage Council, Gardneria's highest level of government, is artfully painted on its side - a golden M styled with graceful, looping calligraphy.
Four military guards, real-life versions of Emmet and Brennan's toys, sit eating some food. They're strapping soldiers, dressed in black tunics with silver spheres marking their chests, with wands and swords at their sides.
It has to be my aunt's carriage - it can't possibly be anyone else's. My aunt is a member of our ruling High Mage Council, and she always travels with an armed entourage.
A rush of excitement flashes through me, and I quicken my pace, wondering what on all of Erthia could have possibly brought my powerful aunt to remote Halfix, of all places.
I haven't seen her since I was five years old.
We lived near her back then, in Valgard, Gardneria's bustling port city and capital. But we hardly ever saw her.
One day, clear out of the blue, my aunt appeared in the front room of my uncle's violin shop.
"Have you had the children wandtested?" she inquired, her tone light, but her eyes sharp as ice.
I remember how I tried to hide behind Uncle Erwin, clinging to his tunic, mesmerized by the elegant creature before me.
"Of course, Vyvian," my uncle haltingly answered his sister. "Several times over."
I looked up at my uncle with confused surprise. I had no memory of being wandtested, even though I knew that all Gardnerian children were.
"And what did you fine?" she asked probingly.
"Rafe and Elloren are powerless," he told her as he shifted slightly, cutting off my view of Aunt Vyvian, casting me in shadows. "But Trystan. The boy has some magic in him."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Vyvian, quite."
And that was when she began to visit with us.
Soon after, my uncle unexpectedly soured on city life. Without warning, he whisked my brothers and me away to where we now live. In tiny Halfix. At the very northeastern edge of Gardneria.
Right in the middle of nowhere.
Like what you read so far? Buy the book here, and don’t forget to pre-order book two in The Black Witch Chronicles, The Iron Flower, on sale next month!
Excerpted from The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, copyright 2017 by Laurie Forest. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins Publishers.