We’re absolutely delighted to be able to give you an exclusive look at Hannah Mathewson’s upcoming adventure Witherward before its release in 2021. In fact, not only can we show you the exquisite cover (above) but we also have an exclusive extract of the novel itself!
Firstly, here is a synopsis…
Welcome to the Witherward, and to a London that is not quite like our own. Here, it’s summertime in February, the Underground is a cavern of wonders and magic fills the streets. But this London is a city divided, split between six rival magical factions, each with their own extraordinary talents – and the alpha of the Changelings, Gedeon Ravenswood, has gone rogue, threatening the fragile accords that have held London together for decades.
Ilsa is a shapeshifting Changeling who has spent the first seventeen years of her life marooned in the wrong London, where real magic is reviled as the devil’s work. Abandoned at birth, she has scratched out a living first as a pickpocket and then as a stage magician’s assistant, dazzling audiences by secretly using her Changeling talents to perform impossible illusions. When she’s dragged through a portal into the Witherward, Ilsa finally feels like she belongs.
But her new home is on the brink of civil war, and Ilsa is pulled into the fray. Beset by enemies on all sides, surrounded by supposed Changeling allies wearing faces that may not be their own, Ilsa must use all the tricks up her sleeve simply to stay alive.
Not enough to get you excited? Check out the extract here…
The mist off the Thames was mingling with the smog, and through it four figures were lurking by the next turning. There was no doubt they were looking in the girls’ direction.
Other girls might have brushed off their trepidation in that well-mannered way that got women into trouble, but Ilsa and Martha knew better than to trust in human decency. It was why Ilsa tended to disguise herself as a man when she walked home at night.
Gathering her wits, Ilsa steered them east to follow the river, but when she hazarded a glance over her shoulder, her heart started up a galloping rhythm. The four figures were following them.
“Is it them?”
“Can’t tell,” said Martha, picking up pace. “If we get across the bridge, there’s a pub on the other side. We can hide in there.”
But it was a long way to the bridge, and there was nothing but a deserted fish market along the way. If Ilsa had been alone, she’d have made herself a blackbird and flown to safety, but by Martha’s side, all they could do was try to lose them. It felt like having her arms tied behind her back, in a knot Ilsa didn’t know how to slip.
The further they got along the waterfront, the quieter the sounds from the Strand and the theatre district beyond grew. Soon, the only sign they weren’t alone in the city was the sound of footsteps twenty paces behind them in the smog. Ilsa’s own feet threatened to betray her with every step; they were pounding over the slippery cobbles too fast, and not fast enough. Her breath came in jagged gasps, Martha’s an echo beside her, the footsteps behind them gaining with every minute. The bridge was still invisible in the night when the shapes of two men were illuminated under a streetlamp ahead.
They had cornered them.
“Martha –” she whispered. If she was a wolfhound, could she take them all down before they hurt her friend? If she was a hawk, could her talons blind them quick enough? And if they did – could she trust the other girl to keep her secret? Without her magic, helplessness seized her.
But Martha had survived as a human girl for nineteen years, and she dragged Ilsa under the cover of the fish market and into a maze of crates and pallets.
“This way,” she murmured.
They weaved a random path through the market with their pursuers on their heels. A left, a right, another right, until they had obscured themselves deep within the warehouse. When they stopped, and held their breath, there were no footsteps nearby. “Let’s hide in here,” said Martha, and she pushed Ilsa towards a narrow gap between two stacks of crates. “You first.”
Panic seized her in a crushing grip at the sight of the crevice. “No! I can’t –”
But with a firm shove from her friend, Ilsa was between the crates, and her wits failed her. The stacks on either side pressed in and down on her like living things. She pushed further into the gap, hoping to find it open at the other end, but she was met with a brick wall. The air felt thin and hot. Her ribs were tightening around her lungs like a cage.
A creak of wood. Martha’s head snapped towards the sound and her eyes widened. Ilsa could see nothing, but there must have been no time left to hide; Martha freed her hand from Ilsa’s and quickly slid an upended pallet across the gap between them so that Ilsa was hidden – and confined. Nausea swept over her. She thought up the most fearsome creature she could imagine, but she couldn’t summon the form, not from this cage. Her body couldn’t shift when all it knew was how close the walls were. She was a heartbeat away from bursting from her hiding place in her own fragile skin when, between the slats of the crate, their pursuers came into view.
They were not men; not ordinary men.
Their faces were almost unremarkable but for their eyes, which were milky white. One had produced a strange sort of lamp, and in its white glow, their skin had a sheen to it, more like silk than sweat, and so bloodless it appeared silver.
“It’s her, isn’t it?” one said to their companion, who seized Martha by the arms. A third, a woman in men’s breeches, came close to Martha’s face. Before Ilsa could react, an arm restrained her from behind, and her whole body jerked in terror. A gloved hand covered her mouth; a male body pressed her tightly to him. It wasn’t possible. There couldn’t be anyone there, behind her, in that tiny crevice. Her fear was playing tricks on her.
“Bastards!” screamed Martha, kicking against the one who held her. “Get your hands off me!”
“Yes, it looks like her,” said the woman. “Do it.”
Helpless, hidden, immobile, Ilsa could do nothing as the third being unsheathed a blade, and dragged it across Martha’s throat.
Hannah Mathewson’s Witherward is set to publish in February 2021.