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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

New Release: The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

In her debut work, Alexis Henderson delivers an immersive and thrilling ride with a young, diverse heroine you can’t help but root for. We invite you to get lost in the Darkwood with us. And while the oppressive, puritanical society might be no less dark than the current world outside, the journey of Immanuelle Moore will inspire you to find the power within yourself to make your voice heard and bring light where you can.

by Alexis Henderson

July 21, 2020
368 pages
Publisher: Ace
Berkley Publishing Group
Genre: Horror | Sci Fi & Fantasy
A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet's word is law, Immanuelle Moore's very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

Buzzfeed – “17 Summer Must-Reads For Fantasy Lovers”

Goodreads – “The Hot Books of Summer”

Publishers Weekly STARRED Review – “Bewitching… Riveting… An exciting new voice in dark fantasy.”

Booklist STARRED Review – “Horror meets fantasy in this witchy story that will appeal to readers of The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Immanuelle Moore knelt at the foot of the altar, palms pressed together in prayer, mouth open. Above her, the Prophet loomed in robes of black velvet, his head shaved bristly, his bloodied hands outstretched.

She peered up at him-tracing the path of the long, jagged scar that carved down the side of his neck-and thought of her mother.

In a fluid motion, the Prophet turned from her, robes rustling as he faced the altar, where a lamb lay gutted. He put a hand to its head, then slipped his fingers deep into the wound. As he turned to face Immanuelle again, blood trickled down his wrist and disappeared into the shadows of his sleeve, a few of the droplets falling to the stained floorboards at his feet. He painted her with the blood, his fingers warm and firm as they trailed from the dip of her upper lip down to her chin. He lingered for a moment, as if to catch his breath, and when he spoke his voice was ragged. "Blood of the flock."

Immanuelle licked it away, tasting brine and iron as she pressed to her feet. "For the glory of the Father."

On her way back to her pew, she was careful not to spare a glance at the lamb. An offering from her grandfather's flock, she'd brought it as a tribute the night before, when the cathedral was empty and dark. She had not witnessed the slaughter; she'd excused herself and retreated outside long before the apostles raised their blades. But she'd heard it, the prayers and murmurs drowned out by the cries of the lamb, like those of a newborn baby.

Immanuelle watched as the rest of her family moved through the procession, each of them receiving the blood in turn. Her sister Glory went first, dipping to her knees and obliging the Prophet with a smile. Glory's mother Anna, the younger of the two Moore wives, took the blessing in a hurry, herding her other daughter, Honor, who licked the blood off her lips like it was honey. Lastly, Martha, the first wife and Immanuelle's grandmother, accepted the Prophet's blessing with her arms raised, fingers shaking, her body seized by the power of the Father's light.

Immanuelle wished she could feel the way her grandmother did, but sitting there in the pew, all she felt was the residual warmth of the lamb's blood on her lips and the incessant drone of her heartbeat. No angels roosted at her shoulders. No spirit or god stirred in her.

When the last of the congregation was seated, the Prophet raised his arms to the rafters and began to pray. "Father, we come to Thee as servants and followers eager to do Thy work."

Immanuelle quickly bowed her head and squeezed her eyes shut.

"There may be those among us who are distant from the faith of our ancestors, numb to the Father's touch and deaf to His voice. On their behalves, I pray for His mercy. I ask that they find solace not in the Mother's darkness but in the light of the Father."

At that, Immanuelle cracked one eye open, and for a moment, she could have sworn the Prophet's gaze was on her. His eyes were wide open at the height of his prayer, staring at her in the gaps between bowed heads and shaking shoulders. Their eyes met, and his flicked away. "May the Father's kingdom reign."

The Prophet's flock spoke as one: "Now and forevermore."

Immanuelle lay by the river’s edge with her friend, Leah, shoulder to shoulder, both of them drunk off the warmth of the midday sun. Yards away, the rest of the congregation gathered in fellowship. For most, the shadow of the Sabbath slaughter had already faded to a distant memory. All was peaceful and the congregation was content to abide in that.

At Immanuelle's side, Leah shifted onto her back, peering into the thick banks of the clouds that loomed overhead. She was a vision, dressed in sky-blue chiffon, her skirts billowing gently with the breeze. "It's a good day," she said, smiling as the wind snatched her hair.

In the Scriptures and the stories, in the stained-glass windows of the cathedral or the paintings that hung from its stone walls, the angels always looked like Leah: golden-haired and blue-eyed, dressed in fine silks and satins, with full cheeks and skin as pale as river pearls.

As for the girls like Immanuelle-the ones from the Outskirts, with dark skin and raven-black curls, cheekbones as keen as cut stone-well, the Scriptures never mentioned them at all. There were no statues or paintings rendered in their likeness, no poems or stories penned in their honor. They went unmentioned, unseen.

Immanuelle tried to push these thoughts from her mind. She didn't want to be jealous of her friend. If there was anyone in the world who deserved to be loved and admired, it was Leah. Leah with her patience and virtue. Leah, who, when all the other children at school had scorned Immanuelle as a child of sin, marched across the courtyard, took her firmly by the hand, and wiped her tears away with her sleeve.

Leah, her friend. The only one she had.

And Leah was right: It was a good day. It would have been nearly a perfect day, if not for the fact that it was one of the last of its kind, one of the last Sabbaths they would have together.
About the Author:
Alexis Henderson is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America's most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories. Currently, Alexis resides in the sun-soaked marshland of Charleston, South Carolina.

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