Age Range: 12 - 18 years
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Series: The Black Witch Chronicles (Book 1)
Paperback: 672 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Teen; Original edition (August 7, 2018)
Powerful magic. A deadly legacy. A world at the edge of war.
Prepare to be spellbound by The Black Witch.
Evil looms on the horizon, and for Elloren Gardner, granddaughter of the last Black Witch, pressure to live up to her magical heritage is building. Elloren’s people, the Gardnerians, believe she will follow in her grandmother’s footsteps. But Elloren is utterly devoid of power—in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.
Granted the opportunity to study at the prestigious Verpax University, Elloren sets out to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But the university may be the most treacherous place of all for the granddaughter of the Black Witch, and Elloren soon realizes that the world she knows is not what it seems. If she is to survive the coming danger, she’ll have to free her mind from the assumptions she was raised with, and learn to trust the very people she’s been taught to hate and fear.
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Meet the author - Laurie Forest
Laurie Forest lives deep in the backwoods of Vermont, where she sits in front of a wood stove drinking strong tea and dreaming up tales full of dryads, dragons and wands. She is the author of The Black Witch Chronicles, including The Black Witch, The Iron Flower and the prequel e-novella Wandfasted. Enter her realm online at www.laurieannforest.com
Connect with LaurieWebsite
That night I’m in my quiet bedroom, softly illuminated by the gentle glow of the lantern on my desk. As I pack, my hand passes through a shadow, and I pause to look at it.
Like all Gardnerians, my skin shimmers faintly in the dark. It’s the mark of the First Children, set down on us by the Ancient One above, marking us as the rightful owners of Erthia.
At least, that’s what our holy book, The Book of the Ancients, tells us.
The traveling trunk Aunt Vyvian has brought for me lies open on the bed. It hits me that I’ve never been away from my uncle for more than a day, not since my brothers and I came to live with him when I was three, after my parents were killed in the Realm War.
It was a bloody conflict that raged for thirteen long years and ended with my grandmother’s death in battle. But it was a necessary war, my beleaguered country relentlessly attacked and ransacked at the beginning of it. By the time it ended, Gardneria was allied with the Alfsigr Elves, ten times its original size, and the new, major power in the region.
All thanks to my grandmother, The Black Witch.
My father, Vale, was a highly ranked Gardnerian soldier, and my mother, Tessla, was visiting him when Keltic forces struck. They died together, and my uncle took us in soon after.
My little white cat, Isabel, jumps into my trunk and tries to pull a string from my old patchwork quilt. It’s the quilt my mother made while pregnant with me, and it’s linked to the only vivid memory I have of her. When I wrap myself in it, I can hear, faintly, the sound of my mother’s voice singing me a lullaby, and almost feel her arms cradling me. No matter how bad a day I’ve had, just wrapping myself in this quilt can soothe me like nothing else.
It’s as if she sewed her love right into the soft fabric.
Next to my trunk stands my apothecary kit, vials neatly stacked inside, tools secured, the medicines meticulously prepared. I’ve inherited this affinity for medicinal plants and herbs from my mother. She was a gifted apothecary, well-known for several creative tonics and elixirs that she developed.
Beside my apothecary supplies lies my violin, case open, its amber, lacquered wood reflecting the lantern light. I run my fingers along the violin’s smooth surface.
I made this instrument, and there’s no way I can part with it. I’m not supposed to know how to make violins, since women aren’t allowed in the music crafter’s Guilds. My uncle hesitated to teach me, but as time went on, he became increasingly aware of my natural talent and relented.
I love everything about violin-making. My hands have always been drawn to wood, soothed by it, and I can tell just by touching it what type it is, whether or not the tree was healthy, what kind of sound it will support. I can lose myself for hours on end carving, sanding, coaxing the raw wood into the graceful shapes of violin parts.
Sometimes we play together, my uncle and I, especially during the winter evenings by the light of the hearth.
A polite knock on the door frame breaks my reverie, and I turn to see my uncle standing in the open doorway.
“Am I disturbing you?” My uncle’s face is gentle and softer than usual in the dim, warm light. His words, however, have a troubling edge of concern to them.
“No,” I reply tentatively. “I’m just finishing packing.”
“Can I come in?” he asks, hesitating. I nod and take a seat on my bed, which looks forlorn and foreign without its quilt. My uncle sits down next to me.
“I imagine you’re feeling quite confused,” he says. “Your aunt sent word a few months ago that she might be paying us a visit at some point, to discuss your future. So I started to make arrangements with the University. Just in case. I knew it was possible that she’d come for you someday, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be for a few more years at least.”
“Why?” I ask. I’m incredibly curious about why Aunt Vyvian has taken such a sudden interest in me—and why Uncle Edwin is so rattled by it.
My uncle wrings his clasped hands. “Because I do not believe what your aunt wants for your future is necessarily the best thing for you.” He pauses and sighs deeply. “You know I love you and your brothers as much as if you were my own children.”
I lean over onto his shoulder. His wool vest is scratchy. He puts his arm around me, and some of the stray hairs from his scraggly beard tickle my cheek.
“I’ve tried to shelter you, and protect you,” he continues, “and I hope that your parents, if they were here, would understand why I’ve made the decisions that I have.”
“I love you, too,” I say, my voice cracking, my eyes filling with tears.
I’ve wanted to venture out for so long, but it’s suddenly hitting me—I won’t see my uncle or my loving home for a long time. Maybe not until spring.
“Well, now, what’s this?” he asks, rubbing my shoulder to comfort me.
“It’s just all so fast.” I sniff back the tears. “I want to go, but… I’ll miss you. And Isabel, too.” Isabel, perhaps sensing my need for comfort, jumps onto my lap, purring and kneading me.
And I don’t want you to be lonely with me gone.
“Oh, there now,” my uncle says, as he hugs me tighter. “Don’t cry. I’ll take good care of Isabel, and you’ll see her soon enough. You’ll be back before you know it, with tales of all sorts of grand adventures.”
I wipe at my tears and pull away to look up at him. I don’t understand the urgency. He’s always been so reluctant to let me go anywhere, always wanting to keep me here at home. Why has he made such a quick decision to finally let me go?
Perhaps seeing the questions in my eyes, my uncle lets out a deep sigh. “Your aunt can’t force the issue of wandfasting as long as Rafe and I are here, but she can force the issue of schooling—unless I choose first. So I’m choosing. I’ve some contacts in the University’s apothecary school, so it was no trouble finding you a spot there.”
“Why don’t you want me to apprentice at the High Mage Council with Aunt Vyvian?”
“It doesn’t suit you,” he explains with a shake of his head. “I want you to pursue something…” He hesitates a moment. “Something more peaceful.”
He looks at me meaningfully, like he’s trying to convey a secret hope and perhaps an unspoken danger, then he reaches down to pet Isabel, who pushes her head against him, purring contentedly.
I stare at him, confused by his odd emphasis.
“If they ask you,” he says, focused in on the cat, “I’ve already wandtested you, and you have no magic.”
“I know, but… I don’t remember.”
“It’s not surprising,” he says, absently, as he continues to stroke the cat. “You were very young, and it wasn’t very memorable, as you have no magic.”
Only Trystan has magic, unlike most Gardnerians, who have no magic, or weak magic at best. Trystan has lots of magic. And he’s trained in weapon magic, which is particularly dangerous. But since my uncle won’t allow wands or grimoires in the house, Trystan’s never been able to show me what he can do.
Uncle Edwin’s eyes meet mine, his expression darkening. “I want you to promise me, Elloren,” he says, his tone uncharacteristically urgent. “Promise me that you won’t leave school to apprentice with the Mage Council, no matter how much your aunt pressures you.”
I don’t understand why he’s being so grave about this. I want to be an apothecary like my mother was, not apprenticed with our ruling council. I nod my head in agreement.
“And if something happens to me, you’ll wait to wandfast to someone. You’ll finish your education first.”
“But nothing’s going to happen to you.”
“No, no, it’s not,” he says, reassuringly. “But promise me anyway.”
A familiar worry mushrooms inside me. We all know that my uncle has been struggling with ill health for some time, prone to fatigue and problems with his joints and lungs. My brothers and I are loath to speak of this. He’s been a parent to us for so long—the only parent we can really remember. The thought of losing him is too awful to think of.
“Okay,” I say. “I promise. I’ll wait.”
Hearing these words, some of the tension leaves my uncle’s face. He pats my shoulder approvingly and gets up, joints cracking as he stands. He pauses and puts his hand affectionately on my head. “Go to University,” he says. “Learn the apothecary trade. Then come back to Halfix and practice your trade here.”
Some of the creeping worry withdraws its cold hands.
That sounds just fine. And perhaps I’ll meet a young man. I do want to be fasted, someday. Maybe, after I’m fasted, my fastmate and I could settle here in Halfix.
“All right,” I agree, bolstered.
This is all sudden and unexpected, but it’s exactly what I’ve wished for. Everything will work out for the best.
“Get some sleep,” he tells me. “You’ve a long ride ahead of you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I say. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Good night. Sleep well.”
I watch him leave, his shy, friendly smile the last thing I see before he gently shuts the door.