"In her debut, Laurens weaves an intricate, suspense-filled tale mingling everyday teen angst with otherworldly sorcery...A cinematic, page-ripping debut." —Kirkus
"Laurens' debut reads like a modern version of The Craft." —Booklist
“With magic and mystery at the fore, Laurens hooks readers’ attention...Deftly plotted, with engaging, realistic characters, this paranormal debut has appreciable depth.” —Publishers Weekly
- Pages: 384 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Razorbill
- ISBN: 9780593117279
An Excerpt From
A Wicked Magic
Spring of Sophomore Year
The May before Johnny Su kissed her, Dan and her best friend, Liss, rolled back the rug in Liss’s bedroom. Dan marked straight lines with white chalk on the hardwood, while Liss compared her work to a drawing in a musty book.
“The angle should be ninety degrees.” Liss drummed her fingers against the book’s cracked black cover. “We need to get this exactly right.”
Dan sat back on her heels. The symbol was two feet wide and looked something like an asterisk, or two K’s stuck together back-to-back. “Is this okay?”
Liss scrutinized the page, then Dan’s work. “Better than okay—perfect,” Liss declared. “Now the candles.”
Dan sat on Liss’s bed and rubbed chalk from her hands, while Liss went about positioning the six candles: two red, two white, two black. They had worked all week carving other symbols copied out of the book into the wax. Neither of them knew what the symbols meant, and they weren’t exactly something you could type into Google.
“Should we be doing this outside?” Liss looked up from the book with a conspiratorial smile. “What if we unleash some crazy power, and there’s like, a magical explosion and we craterize all of North Coast?”
“Then I don’t think being outside would help.”
“That was a joke, Dan.” Liss shot her a look that said Don’t ruin my fun.
Liss had started talking about doing the spell the minute they found the book. Of course it wasn’t actually a spell, because that kind of thing wasn’t real, but the book made it easy to pretend it could be. The book had this fetid, mushroomy smell that was clearly gross, but was also so alluring that Dan had once stopped herself from burying her nose in its spine. Even weirder, most of its pages—which numbered in the hundreds, after the spell at the beginning—were blank, except for water stains and the occasional smear of ink. Dan had the uneasy feeling that the book wanted them to do this spell, which was definitely creepy and definitely not something she was going to admit to out loud. But creepy or not, there was next to nothing to do in sleepy, foggy North Coast, California, and Dan and Liss had a whole weekend to kill.
Why not cast a spell to turn themselves into witches?
“You still want to do this, right?” Liss asked. It sounded like an instruction.
Dan fiddled with the backing of a pin from her jean jacket, running the sharp part across the pad of her thumb. “Obviously,” Dan answered.
Liss compared her work to the open page beside her. Across the top, neat cursive letters spelled out “A Spell for the Making of Naive Witches.” Then she looked up at Dan. Liss’s blue eyes were hungry and sparkling. She flicked the wheel of a lighter, springing a tiny flame to life. “Then let’s do some magic.”
Dan sat on the floor across from Liss. The white candle she had carved stood in front of her, the red to her left and black to her right. She grabbed the other lighter, and they began.
They spoke an incantation as they first lit their red candle, then their black. Already Liss’s bedroom felt strange and somber, darker than it had been moments ago despite the light from the candles. Dan shivered and the feeling lingered in her fingers and toes and deep in her chest, as if some energy in her body was waiting, trembling.
Magic wasn’t real, Dan reminded herself; nothing bad was going to happen. Nothing was going to happen at all. She and Liss took up their black and red candles, and brought them together to light the white.
The white wicks caught.
Immediately the air in the room was moving. It started as a slow churn, then kicked up into vicious gusts of wind that snaked around them. A punch of adrenaline pushed Dan’s heartbeat into high gear. The wind roared in her ears, her mouth, her nose, heaving like the waves of the nearby Pacific Ocean. Across from her, Liss’s eyes went wide with fear. The wind pressed against them, ropes holding them in the whirlwind, yet somehow neither of them broke off the words of the spell, as if something beyond them were pushing them on, pushing the very words into their mouths.
The candles blew out and an absolute darkness filled the room.
The ground slid out from under her. Dan was careening, falling, then borne up by that wind, raging and playful and thunderous. She was a leaf carried by a gust, she was a bird in a storm, she was dust in the air. She was carried off in darkness, deeper and deeper.
Something was changing inside her, growing and blooming, expanding until it pressed up against the boundary of her skin from within. It squeezed the air from her lungs, the blood in her veins and arteries throbbed against it. It was too much—too much power, more than she was built for, and if she couldn’t contain it—
But just in time it was retreating, the pressure collapsing. Whatever it was that had been growing was now folding in on itself, smaller and smaller, as if this new strange force was concentrating itself inside her. The wind was dying too, the roar of it quieting, and everything began to still.
Dan was afraid to open her eyes. When she finally did, she was sitting on the floor in Liss’s bedroom, the rug rolled back. Her heart was racing and jaw clenched, and Liss was there, out of breath. It was moonlit dark in the room, but the world felt stinging and bright, distilled in a way that was almost nauseating. Dan was sure, all at once, that every star in the sky was staring right at them, that the world was paused for them, its breath held, waiting and watching for what they would do.
Between them, the book was splayed open. Its pages turned lazily, petals from the head of a dying flower caught in the waning wind. They had been blank but were now crammed with text, diagrams, lists. Dan turned to the first page. Where the text of the spell they had just done should have been, it read The Black Book—IIV.
Dan raised her eyes to Liss. Slowly, they both began to grin.
“That might have actually worked,” Dan whispered.
All summer, Dan waited for magic to change her life. She and Liss had transformed themselves, together, so Dan expected to feel different—better. As the long days went by, if anything she felt worse.
Then, the first week of September, Johnny Su kissed Dan in the parking lot of 7-Eleven. Pressing her up against the dull silver paint of his thirdhand Volvo, Johnny smelled like weed and Doritos and a particular kind of shampoo, and Dan wondered if she could learn to like that strange combination, or the strange feeling of his tongue in her mouth. It was her first kiss. It lasted only a few moments, but as they pulled apart and he laughed his bashful, charming laugh, Dan wondered if maybe it wasn’t magic that would change things. Maybe it was this.
She had been halfway right.
By the middle of October, Liss was dating Johnny.
Four months after that, Johnny was gone, his car abandoned where Hare Creek Road crossed Escondido in a perfect X. The police called him a runaway or maybe a suicide.
Dan and Liss knew better. Johnny wasn’t just missing. He’d been taken into the cold February night by something the girls didn’t understand. But magic gone wrong wasn’t the kind of thing you explained to the police, or to anyone else.
Not when you didn’t know what kind of creature had stolen him away, where they had gone, or whether Johnny was alive or dead.
Not when you’d just stood there and let it happen.
And especially not when everything, in the first place, was your fault.
Monday, December 8, Senior Year
The singer howled into the mic, and a strange body slammed into Dan’s shoulder. She careened into a set of unfamiliar hips, shoved herself off a sweaty back, until someone else crashed into her. Their bodies churned against one another, and Dan let them carry her.
Watch out for your face, nose especially.
Fists up at the chorus. And always, always singing, until your throat was dry and vocal cords wrecked, but it didn’t matter, because you couldn’t hear yourself anyway, not over the music, the music, the music.
The guitars groaned out into silence as the singer shouted his thanks to the crowd. The lights came up and Dan found herself undeniably at the Fort Gratton Teen Oasis, which was not cool at all. The sweaty, bruised kids made the wall-size mural of a tropical island look even more pathetic than it usually did.
Dan pushed her hand through the snarls of her wet hair, tied it up into a bun, and pulled her sticky T-shirt away from her skin. Her heart was beating all over her body, keeping time to the now-vanished song as her breathing came back to steady. This was only some band from an hour inland. Dan didn’t even really like them. It didn’t matter: at the end of each show a part of her that felt alive and vibrant with the pulse of the music and the sheer here-ness of throwing herself against others darkened.
She shrugged herself together, stretched her shoulders, and turned toward the emergency exit at the back. She navigated through the couples holding hands and past the tiki-themed hut selling water and juice (no soda; parents had protested), and made her way to the pool of red light under the exit sign.
Her mouth pulled into a smile at the short girl in cat-eye liner and round glasses.
“Have fun up there?” Alexa held out Dan’s sweatshirt to her. “You look like a total wreck, so I’m guessing yes.”
Dan yanked on the sweatshirt. When she looked up, Alexa was grinning at her. “What? Did you meet a cute girl or something?”
“You know I never actually meet cute girls, right?” Alexa laughed.
They walked out to Alexa’s car. The fog was lying heavy, casting a halo around the single orange light in the parking lot. Alexa pulled her oversized cardigan closer around herself.
“Did you have a good time?” Dan asked. “I mean, their songs are kind of dumb, but it was fun, right?”
“Yeah, I’ve never been to a show like this before,” Alexa answered. “You got so into it.”
Dan pulled her sleeves over her hands against the chill in the air and shoved them into her pockets, then glanced at Alexa, unsure. This was Alexa, Dan reminded herself. There wasn’t any malice in it. “I just like it, you know? It’s like it helps you forget, for a while.”
Dan shrugged. “Everything. Yourself.”
Alexa cocked an eyebrow at her but nodded as she unlocked the car. She leaned across to let Dan into the passenger side, then dug around in her bag for Dan’s phone. “By the way, your phone’s been ringing. The same number’s called like six times.”
Dan slid into the car and grabbed her phone. She glanced at the screen, then shoved it into her pocket. “Whatever.”
“Whatever,” Alexa agreed sternly.
The engine shuddered to life. Dan flipped through the CDs she’d burned for Alexa when she found out her battered Toyota had no digital input. Dan slipped a CD into the player and the car filled with music.
“God bless The Cure,” Dan said as Alexa steered the car onto Highway 1, back toward Dogtown.
The coast road unwound before them, just a few feet at a time of white and yellow lines caught in Alexa’s feeble headlights. There were places where the road ran inland, the sharp turns smoothing and solid ground on both sides, but for most of the way from Fort Gratton back to Dogtown, the asphalt clung to the cliffside in near-switchback turns so sharp the headlights illuminated barely anything of the road. To the right, there was nothing but the flimsy guardrail, crumbling sienna and ochre rock, and a long, steep drop into the ocean. Tonight the fog was thick enough that Alexa flipped the wipers on every few minutes to clear the mist.
“I hate these roads at night,” Alexa said. “Especially going south.”
“Want me to drive?” Dan’s feet were perched on the dash, her head resting against the window.
“Lorelei says I have to get used to it. When we moved out here, she gave this little speech. The most important thing about living in a small town is being able to get away. I think she got me the car because she felt bad. No more buses for you, she said.”
Dan snorted. “There are no buses out here.”
They crested a hill and Dan looked out at the Pacific, or what would have been the Pacific if there had been any light to see by. It was beautiful during the day, but at night, she’d never liked the ocean. So much darkness, the water the same black as the sky. Some nights it was like a curtain had been drawn closed around them, separating the tiny, scattered towns of North Coast from the rest of the world.
Then the road veered inland, away from the cliff, and they hit a pocket of cell coverage. Dan’s phone lit the car up white.
Call me Dan seriously please
She shoved it back into the pocket of her hoodie.
“That’s the same number?” Alexa asked. “What do they want?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” Dan pulled her knees in to her chest, catching the heels of her sneakers on the seat. It wasn’t comfortable, but it stopped her from checking her phone every few minutes.
She wasn’t going to answer. Even if you were asked nicely, you didn’t have to do everything you were told.