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Snackable SFF To Help You Get A Jump On Your Reading Goals

Here at Tor, we love a good list of good books, and we compile a lot of them! Having more books than time to read is an all too common dilemma, but fear not—we’re bringing back our list of “snackable” SFF books. 

These titles are either easy to devour in one sitting or compact enough to not overwhelm your TBR pile!  Among the highlights is When Among Crows by Veronica Roth, a perfect pick for those who appreciate a powerful, succinct narrative.

Dive into all our recs below! 


when among crows by veronica rothWhen Among Crows by Veronica Roth

Pain is Dymitr’s calling. His family is one in a long line of hunters who sacrifice their souls to slay monsters. Now he’s tasked with a deadly mission: find the legendary witch Baba Jaga. To reach her, Dymitr must ally with the ones he’s sworn to kill. Pain is Ala’s inheritance. A fear-eating zmora with little left to lose, Ala awaits death from the curse she carries. When Dymitr offers her a cure in exchange for her help, she has no choice but to agree. Together they must fight against time and the wrath of the Chicago underworld. But Dymitr’s secrets—and his true motives—may be the thing that actually destroys them.


Image Place holder  of - 54Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

“I’m cursed, haven’t you heard?” Outside the last city on Earth, the planet is a wasteland. Without the Archive, where the genes of the dead are stored, humanity will end. Antigone’s parents – Oedipus and Jocasta – are dead. Passing into the Archive should be cause for celebration, but with her militant uncle Kreon rising to claim her father’s vacant throne, all Antigone feels is rage. When he welcomes her and her siblings into his mansion, Antigone sees it for what it really is: a gilded cage, where she is a captive as well as a guest. But her uncle will soon learn that no cage is unbreakable. And neither is he.


Nettle & Bone by T. KingfisherNettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

Marra never wanted to be a hero. As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince. Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.


Book of NightBook of Night by Holly Black by Holly Black

Book of Night is a decadent bookly snack. Its mood is both scrappy and sultry, full of long shadows, mystery noir, and twisty emotions. Charlie Hall is a thief, or she was. Now she just wants to tend bar and recover from her gunshot wound in relative peace. But in a world of power-hungry shadow magicians who will always want to take from each other, good thieves are in high demand. Unlike Charlie and an entire cadre of manipulative magi, Book of Night won’t place high demand on your TBR. It’s a friendly, snackable length, and it definitely should be your next read!


Legends & LattesLegends & Lattes by Travis Baldree by Travis Baldree

This book isn’t just snackable. It’s delicious! Battle-hardened adventurer Viv has decided to hang up her sword to build a more fulfilling life for herself as the proprietor of Thune’s first coffeeshop. We’re talking lattes, we’re talking cinnamon rolls, we’re talking good times and found family. This is the perfect comfort read to pair with a snack at your coziest local coffee spot.


The Echo WifeThe Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey by Sarah Gailey

Don’t let the relatively short length of this powerful novel fool you, this snack delivers an acutely emotional flavor. Evelyn Caldwell’s research was instrumental in the progression of cloning technology. Martine is a submissive clone of Evelyn that her husband created using that research so he could cheat on his wife with an adjusted version of his wife. Pretty gross, but don’t worry, he’s dead. And now Evelyn and Martine have to clean up after that death.

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Ancient Magic in Modern Cities

Modern cities can hold ancient magic, some more literally than others. Check out our favorite cities turn magical epicenters below!


when among crows by veronica rothChicago in When Among Crows by Veronica Roth

Pain is Dymitr’s calling. His family is one in a long line of hunters who sacrifice their souls to slay monsters. Now he’s tasked with a deadly mission: find the legendary witch Baba Jaga. To reach her, Dymitr must ally with the ones he’s sworn to kill. Pain is Ala’s inheritance. A fear-eating zmora with little left to lose, Ala awaits death from the curse she carries. When Dymitr offers her a cure in exchange for her help, she has no choice but to agree. Together they must fight against time and the wrath of the Chicago underworld. But Dymitr’s secrets—and his true motives—may be the thing that actually destroys them.

DarkerShadeMagic 9781250891211 CVRrev1.inddLondon in the Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

one for my enemy by olivie blakeManhattan in One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

In modern-day Manhattan where we lay our scene, two rival witch families fight to maintain control of their respective criminal empires. On one side of the conflict are the Antonova sisters — each one beautiful, cunning, and ruthless — and their mother, the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants, known only as Baba Yaga. On the other side, the influential Fedorov brothers serve their father, the crime boss known as Koschei the Deathless, whose ventures dominate the shadows of magical Manhattan. After twelve years of tenuous co-existence, one family member brutally crosses the line. Bad blood reignites old grudges; at the same time, fate intervenes with a chance encounter between enemies. In the wake of love and vengeance, everyone must choose a side. As each of the siblings struggles to stake their claim, bloodshed in inevitable. The question is: Whose?

blood jadewTokyo in Blood Jade by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle

Emiko Soong, newly minted Sentinel of San Francisco, just can’t catch a break. Just after she becomes the guardian for a sentient city, a murder strikes close to home. Called by the city and one of the most powerful clans to investigate, she traces the killer whose scent signature bears a haunting similarity to her mother’s talent. The trail will lead her back to Tokyo where the thread she pulls threatens to unravel her whole world and bring dark family secrets to light. Meanwhile, the General rises in the East and Emiko must fight the hidden enemies of his growing army who are amped up on Blood Jade, while keeping her promises to her brother Tatsuya as he prepares for his tourney. Her duties as Sentinel and her loyalties collide when she must choose between hiding her deepest shame or stopping the General’s relentless march.

the library of the dead by t l huchuEdinburgh in the Edinburgh Nights series by T. L. Huchu

The Library of the Dead introduces readers to Ropa, a precocious and cynical teen who can talk to ghosts. She explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh searching for clues to uncover what’s behind the evil bewitching all the children, leaving them shells of themselves. Along the way she encounters an occult library, a magical mentor, and some unexpected allies. This atmospheric, paranormal fantasy series continues with Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments.

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Tor’s Whimsically Energizing Spring Quiz

Can you hear the sound of many birds calling? Their song heralds the arrival of Spring. Listen, they’re saying 🎵Tweet, tweet! Take this quiz! Read a book! Whistle, tweet!🎶”

(accept cookies in the popup to view the quiz!)



And while you’ve got books on the brain, check out When Among Crows by Veronica Roth!

Pre-order When Among Crows Here:

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Every New Book from Tor this Spring

We’ve got something to put a spring in your step this season! Check out this rundown of every new title from Tor over the next few months 😎


April 2, 2024

a view from the stars by cixin liuA View from the Stars by Cixin Liu

A View from the Stars features a range of short works from the past three decades of New York Times bestselling author Cixin Liu’s prolific career, putting his nonfiction essays and short stories side-by-side for the first time. This collection includes essays and interviews that shed light on Liu’s experiences as a reader, writer, and lover of science fiction throughout his life, as well as short fiction that gives glimpses into the evolution of his imaginative voice over the years.


April 9, 2024

lyorn by steven brustLyorn by Steven Brust

Another Opening…Another Cataclysm? Vlad Taltos is on the run. Again. This time from one of the most powerful forces in his world, the Left Hand, who are intent on ending his very lucrative career. Permanently. He finds a hidey-hole in a theatre where the players are putting on a show that was banned centuries ago…and is trying to be shut down by the House that once literally killed to keep it from being played. Vlad will take on a number of roles to save his own skin. And the skins of those he loves. And along the way, he might find a part that was tailor-made for him. One that he might not want…but was always his destiny.

forge of the high mage by ian c. esslemontForge of the High Mage by Ian C. Esslemont

After decades of warfare, Malazan forces are poised to consolidate the Quon Tali mainland. Yet it is at this moment that Emperor Kellanved orders a new, some believe foolhardy campaign: the invasion of Falar that lies far to the north . . . And to fight on this new front, a rag-tag army raised from orphaned units and broken squads is been brought together under Fist Dujek, and joined by a similarly motley fleet under the command of the Emperor himself. So the Malazans head north, only to encounter an unlooked-for and most unwelcome threat. Something unspeakable and born of legend has awoken and will destroy all who stand in its way. 


April 23, 2024

necrobane by daniel m. fordNecrobane by Daniel M. Ford

Aelis de Lenti, Lone Pine’s newly assigned Warden, is in deep trouble. She has just opened the crypts of Mahlgren, releasing an army of the undead into the unprotected backwoods of Ystain. To protect her village, she must unearth a source of immense Necromantic power at the heart of Mahlgren. The journey will wind through waves of undead, untamed wilderness, and curses far older than anything Aelis has ever encountered. But as strong as Aelis is, this is one quest she cannot face alone. Along with the brilliant mercenary she’s fallen for, her half-orc friend, and a dwarven merchant, Aelis must race the clock to unravel mysteries, slay dread creatures, and stop what she has set in motion before the flames of a bloody war are re-ignited.


April 30, 2024

web of angels by john m fordWeb of Angels by John M. Ford

Originally published in 1980, the legendary John M. Ford’s first published novel was an uncannily brilliant anticipation of the later cyberpunk genre—and of the internet itself. The Web links the many worlds of humanity. Most people can only use it to communicate. Some can retrieve and store data, as well as use simple precoded programs. Only a privileged few are able to create their own software, within proscribed limits. And then there are the Webspinners. Grailer is Fourth Literate, able to manipulate the Web at will—and use it for purposes unintended and impossible for anyone but the most talented Webspinner. Obviously, he cannot be allowed to live. Condemned to death at the age of nine, Grailer must go underground, hiding his skills, testing his powers- until he is ready to do battle with the Web itself. With a new introduction from Cory Doctorow, written especially for this edition.


May 7, 2024

the silverblood promise by james loganThe Silverblood Promise by James Logan

Lukan Gardova is a cardsharp, academy dropout, and—thanks to a duel that ended badly—the disgraced heir to an ancient noble house. His days consist of cheap wine, rigged card games, and wondering how he might win back the life he threw away. When Lukan discovers that his estranged father has been murdered in strange circumstances, he finds fresh purpose. Deprived of his chance to make amends for his mistakes, he vows to unravel the mystery behind his father’s death. His search for answers leads him to Saphrona, fabled city of merchant princes, where anything can be bought if one has the coin. Lukan only seeks the truth, but instead he finds danger and secrets in every shadow. For in Saphrona, everything has a price—and the price of truth is the deadliest of all.


May 14, 2024

when among crows by veronica rothWhen Among Crows by Veronica Roth

We bear the sword, and we bear the pain of the sword. Pain is Dymitr’s calling. His family is one in a long line of hunters who sacrifice their souls to slay monsters. Now he’s tasked with a deadly mission: find the legendary witch Baba Jaga. To reach her, Dymitr must ally with the ones he’s sworn to kill. Pain is Ala’s inheritance. A fear-eating zmora with little left to lose, Ala awaits death from the curse she carries. When Dymitr offers her a cure in exchange for her help, she has no choice but to agree. Together they must fight against time and the wrath of the Chicago underworld. But Dymitr’s secrets—and his true motives—may be the thing that actually destroys them.


June 11, 2024

rogue sequence by zac toppingRogue Sequence by Zac Topping

Ander Rade is a super-soldier, a genetically engineered living weapon, and has been dutifully following orders since he gave himself to Xyphos Industries’ Gene-Mod Program several years ago. But when a mission goes sideways, he’s captured, imprisoned, and forced into brutally violent fighting pits for the better part of the next decade…until agents from the Genetic Compliance Department of the United American Provinces appear in the visiting room. Things have changed since Rade was captured. Shortly after his incarceration, the World Unity Council banned human genetic engineering and deemed all modified individuals a threat to society. Overnight, an entire subculture of people became outlaws simply for existing. But instead of leaving Rade locked behind bars, the GCD agents have come with an offer: Freedom in exchange for his help tracking down one of his former teammates from that ill-fated mission all those years ago.

icehenge by kim stanley robinsonIcehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson

SF titan Kim Stanley Robinson’s breakout novel, now in a Tor Essentials edition with a new introduction by Henry Farrell

Decades before his massively successful The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote one of SF’s greatest meditations on extended human lifespan, the limitations of human memory, and the haunted confabulations that go with forgetting. On the North Pole of Pluto there stands an enigma: a huge circle of standing blocks of ice, built on the pattern of Earth’s Stonehenge—but ten times the size, standing alone at the edge of the Solar System. What is it? Who could have built it? The secret lies in the chaotic decades of the Martian Revolution, in the lost memories of those who have lived for centuries.


June 18, 2024

craft: stories i wrote for the devil by ananda limaCraft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil by Ananda Lima

At a Halloween party in 1999, a writer slept with the devil. She sees him again and again throughout her life and she writes stories for him about things that are both impossible and true.

Lima lures readers into surreal pockets of the United States and Brazil where they’ll find bite-size Americans in vending machines and the ghosts of people who are not dead. Once there, she speaks to modern Brazilian-American immigrant experiences–of ambition, fear, longing, and belonging—and reveals the porousness of storytelling and of the places we call home. With humor, an exquisite imagination, and a voice praised as “singular and wise and fresh” (Cathy Park Hong), Lima joins the literary lineage of Bulgakov and Lispector and the company of writers today like Ted Chiang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.


June 25, 2024

the daughter's war by christopher buehlmanThe Daughter’s War by Christopher Buehlman

Galva — Galvicha to her three brothers, two of whom the goblins will kill — has defied her family’s wishes and joined the army’s untested new unit, the Raven Knights. They march toward a once-beautiful city overrun by the goblin horde, accompanied by scores of giant war corvids. Made with the darkest magics, these fearsome black birds may hold the key to stopping the goblins in their war to make cattle of mankind. The road to victory is bloody, and goblins are clever and merciless. The Raven Knights can take nothing for granted — not the bonds of family, nor the wisdom of their leaders, nor their own safety against the dangerous war birds at their side. But some hopes are worth any risk.

foul days by genoveva dimovaFoul Days by Genoveva Dimova

As a witch in the walled city of Chernograd, Kosara has plenty of practice treating lycanthrope bites, bargaining with kikimoras, and slaying bloodsucking upirs. There’s only one monster she can’t defeat: her ex, the Zmey, known as the Tsar of Monsters. She’s defied him one too many times and now he’s hunting her. Betrayed by someone close to her, Kosara’s only choice is to trade her shadow—the source of her powers—for a quick escape. Unfortunately, Kosara soon develops the deadly sickness that plagues shadowless witches—and only reclaiming her magic can cure her. To find it, she’s forced to team up with a suspiciously honorable detective. Even worse, all the clues point in a single direction: To get her shadow back, Kosara will have to face the Foul Days’ biggest threats without it. And she’s only got twelve days. But in a city where everyone is out for themselves, who can Kosara trust to assist her in outwitting the biggest monster from her past?

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Excerpt Reveal: When Among Crows by Veronica Roth

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when among crows by veronica roth

Step into a city where monsters feast on human emotions, knights split their souls to make their weapons, and witches always take more than they give.

Pain is Dymitr’s calling. To slay the monsters he’s been raised to kill, he had to split his soul in half to make a sword from his own spine. Every time he draws it, he gets blood on his hands.

Pain is Ala’s inheritance. When her mother died, a family curse to witness horrors committed by the Holy Order was passed onto her. The curse will claim her life, as it did her mother’s, unless she can find a cure.

One fateful night in Chicago, Dymitr comes to Ala with a bargain: her help in finding the legendary witch Baba Jaga in exchange for an enchanted flower that just might cure her. Desperate, and unaware of what Dymitr really is, Ala agrees.

But they only have one day before the flower dies . . . and Ala’s hopes of breaking the curse along with it.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of When Among Crows by Veronica Roth, on sale 5/14/24


A PRELUDE

This isn’t the forest guardian’s usual haunt. Every other day of the year, he stands guard over the huddle of trees in the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary along Lake Michigan, where the water’s stink is rich as chocolate to his bone-dry nose. But every year in June, on Kupala Night, he makes the journey to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in West Town to guard the fern flower as it blooms.

He doesn’t like it here. He doesn’t like how his hooves sound on the wood floor, sharp and echoing. He doesn’t like the ceiling that blocks his view of the stars. And he doesn’t like religious spaces, in general—the obsession with wrong and right, purity and pollution, modernity and eternity, it doesn’t make sense to him.

But this is a natural place for deep magic, because it was bought at a great price. People came from the old country to the new to earn their bread, and they scraped the very bottoms of their wallets to build this place for themselves, though their wallets were not very deep. That kind of sacrifice creates a debt, and there’s nothing magic likes better than the great hollow of a debt. And so magic nestled here, heedless of what the adherents of this particular religion would think of it. It draws the leszy here, too.

The sanctuary is still and silent. The leszy tilts his horned head back to look at the mural painted on the dome above him. All the host of heaven, perched on clouds, stare back down at him.

The sanctuary doors open, and when the leszy lowers his head, a mortal man stands at the end of the aisle.

Unearthly smoke curls around the man’s black boots, the remnants of a sacred fire. There are many sacred fires lit on Kupala Night; this man must have leapt across one, to receive its blessing. Likewise, there’s a spray of white flowers— wormwood—tucked into one of his buttonholes, no doubt plucked from a vila’s crown of greenery. If the leszy’s senses hadn’t already told him this man wasn’t ordinary, those two blessings would have done so. He came prepared for the task at hand.

And there is only one task that could possibly be at hand: plucking the fern flower when it blooms.

The man stops at a distance from the leszy, and holds his hands behind his back like a soldier at ease. He looks wary, but not frightened, and that’s stranger than all the rest of him.

He only comes up to the leszy’s breastbone, and he’s half as broad. The leszy has the body of a man stretched beyond its capacity—long arms that end in big, clawed hands; sturdy, split hooves; and a stag’s skull as a head. His staff is the size of a sapling. Moss grows on his broad, flat shoulders, and flowers bloom in his eye sockets.

“Turn back,” the leszy says. His voice is like a tree tilting in the wind.

“My lord leszy,” the mortal man says to him, with a quick bow. “There are rumors of the fern flower in Edgebrook Woods and in all the parks that border Lake Michigan.”

“Then what reason can he possibly have for coming here?” the leszy asks.

The man tilts his head. His hair is the gray-brown color as the tree bark in the leszy’s usual sanctuary. His eyes are the same shade, as if painted with the same brush.

“One thing all the rumors have in common is you,” the man says. “So I followed you here.”

The leszy stands in silence. He remembers very little about his journey from the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary earlier that day. Cacophonous streets crowded with metal and plastic. Air thickened by exhaust. The sky crowded by buildings. He was guided only by his own sense of purpose—A holy kind of purpose, he thinks, with the mural of the heavenly host still staring down at him.

He doesn’t recall the man. But since the man stands before him with no apparent motive for deception, the leszy supposes he’s to be believed.

“So where does it bloom? In the courtyard? In the stoup of holy water?” The man tilts his head again, and a mischievous smile curls his lip. “In the altar?”

There’s something in the cadence of his voice that the leszy recognizes from long ago.

The leszy came here as so many of his kind did, less than a century ago, to escape the cruelty of the Holy Order that hunts all creatures who walk or crawl this earth. They came among mortals who were escaping other cruelties— mortal ones, though no less harrowing for it. He thinks fondly of the refuge those mortals offered him, the kinship they found in shared pain and shared escape.

He dwelt elsewhere before, playing guardian to a small patch of woods in the old country, right along a river, as is his preference. But he came here to escort a mortal woman. Or more accurately—to escort the plant that the woman carried. A fern swollen with the potential to flower on Kupala Night.

She, too, was driven by almost-holy purpose, unable to explain her attachment to the plant that she carried across the sea. He can feel the dirt that she scraped from beneath her fingernails after she lifted the fern from its pot to place it upon the altar, and the roots of the plant twisting into the stone there, impossibly. He can smell the incense from the thurible and he can hear, somehow, the chanting voice of Baba Jaga, the one who bewitched them all—

“What is he?” the leszy asks the man.

“I am a supplicant,” the man replies.

“He is a fool. Turn back.”

“I know you guard the fern flower. I know you’re tasked with keeping out the unworthy. How do I prove to you that I’m worthy?”

“He expects answers but does not give them. Turn back.”

“I am,” the man says gently, “a supplicant. And I won’t turn back.”

The leszy leans into his staff. The man has now refused him three times.

“A contest,” the leszy says. “If he wins it, I will stand aside. If he loses it, he will turn back.”

“A contest of what?”

“Something he can do that I can also do. Does he dance?”

The man smiles. “No, my lord. Not unless enchanted by vila.” He taps a toe on the floor, to draw attention to the trace of sacred fire still clinging to his boots.

“Does he sing?”

The man shakes his head.

“He is raised to violence, as all of his kind are,” the leszy says. “Perhaps he can wield a bow.”

“As it happens,” the man says. “Yes.”

The leszy nods. He raises his staff—an old branch, crooked and dry—and suffuses it with life to make it pliant, like a young sapling. Then he reaches up to his eye socket, and plucks one of the flowers that grows there. It comes out with blossom and stem and white root all together, pinched between his claws.

All the plants of his forest owe him a debt, so when the leszy asks, the plant responds, growing long and thick as string. He fastens each end of it to the now-bent staff to make a bow.

The man watches. He marvels, as a mortal marvels, but his breath doesn’t catch.

The leszy has known men for centuries. The ones who know how to see him also know that they should fear him.

The only ones who don’t fear him are the ones who prefer him dead. This one is an oddity, neither fearful nor murderous.

“What is he?” the leszy asks again, picking up a pencil from the nearest pew to grow it longer and sharper, so it resembles an arrow.

“I’m a supplicant,” the man says. “That’s all.”

“It’s not ‘all,’ or even much of anything.”

“It’s enough.”

The leszy can’t argue with that. Having finished fashioning the bow and two arrows, he sets them aside on a pew while he finds a target. Though he doesn’t share this mortal reverence for the saints, he doesn’t like the idea of using one of them as target practice. It seems unwise.

The leszy urges one of the plants in his eye socket to bloom, filling the space of the one he plucked. He points at one of the paintings on the wall diagonal from him. They’re fixed between the windows, each one depicting a significant moment: a man on a cross, a man multiplying bread and fish, a woman washing a man’s feet. But this one is in a garden.

“The target will be that one’s eye,” the leszy says.

At the mortal man’s raised eyebrow, the leszy adds, “Surely you do not object to the eye of a snake as a target?”

“My objection is to the defacing of private property. I have no interest in getting arrested,” the man admits.

“I will mend it when we are finished.”

The man nods. The leszy nocks the arrow and draws the bow taut. He breathes the musty smell of incense. He releases the arrow, and it stabs directly into the eye of the serpent, curled around a young woman’s ankle in the Garden of Eden.

He then offers the bow to the man.

“If he nestles his arrow beside mine,” the leszy says, “I will consider him the victor.”

The man takes the bow from him. At first, the leszy isn’t sure he’ll have the strength to draw it—the leszy is much larger than the man, and if he were ordinary, he wouldn’t even be able to pull the string. But whatever he is, he’s stronger than most. He places the arrow and draws it, and breathes deep and slow.

Even before he releases the arrow, the leszy knows the man won’t win. His hands are too unsteady on the bow, the weapon too big for him. The arrow buries itself in the serpent’s throat, just below the target. The man’s head drops, and he offers the bow back to the leszy.

It’s only then that his hands tremble.

“Please,” the man says.

The leszy has heard men say a thousand things. Dares and challenges, questions and demands, prayers and bargains. He has rarely heard them beg.

“Please,” the man repeats. “I know enchantments surround the fern flower, and they’ll test me. All I ask is that you let me be tested.”

The leszy detaches the string from the bow, and straightens it, dries it, stiffens it until it becomes his staff again.

“Many have sought the fern flower,” the leszy says. “They seek a talisman that will bring them happiness and wealth, power and wisdom. Or they wish to trade it so they can carve a new path for themselves, or bring illumination to their short and dark lives. Sometimes, the most selfless among them even seek special healing for brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and lovers. For which of these purposes does he seek the fern flower?”

“None,” the man replies. “I seek it for a stranger. A . . . creature.”

The leszy knows that men lie. He tilts his head back to look at the ceiling again, the crowd of people draped in robes and listening to holy pronouncements.

“Kupala Night is a night of whims,” the leszy says, and he steps aside, gesturing to the altar behind him.

“Thank you,” the man says softly.

“Once he faces this test, he may wish he hadn’t thanked me.”

With a tap of his staff, the enchantment that shrouds the altar lifts. Growing from the center of the stone top is a lush green fern.

The flower is about to bloom. The air feels like a stitch drawn taut against a hem, or lips braced against a whistle. The man walks past the leszy to the altar, and it’s fitting, the leszy supposes, that someone who calls himself a supplicant should approach an altar in this way.

Something shifts in the center of the fern: a stem. It grows like a drawbridge raising, the leaves around it creaking and shuffling to accommodate it. It grows like time speeding forward, but only in this sliver of space that the fern occupies. The leszy watches as the bud of the flower swells, and when it breaks open, the man falls to his knees. He reaches for the flower, but halfheartedly, as if he doesn’t expect to touch it.

And indeed he doesn’t.

Power surges in the air. It rages around the man like a powerful wind, though the pages of the hymnals left open on the benches and the delicate violets in the leszy’s eye sockets don’t stir with its force. It’s so strong that it lifts the man from the ground and splays his limbs, as if he’s a puppet raised by its strings.

The man screams, but only for a moment before the force—whatever it is—wraps around his mouth and silences him. His fingers constrict in the air at odd angles, as if they’re breaking—no, they’re the spasms of someone in pain.

The leszy steps back down the aisle when the girl appears.

She’s young. Hardly more than a child. Small, with sallow cheeks and a bare rib cage instead of a chest, though the rest of her appears to be covered in flesh. Beating in the rib cage is a heart, black as tar, that follows the same syncopated rhythm as a human heart. Her eyes are milky white all the way through. She carries a sickle far larger than she is, with a wicked, gleaming blade.

She is a południca—a noonwraith. She’s not at home in the dark any more than the leszy is at home indoors. But for the fern flower, she makes an exception. All of those whom Baba Jaga tasks with its protection do.

She looks up at the man, and blinks slowly.

“What is within you?” Her voice is high and girlish. She tilts her head to the other side, the movement a little too fast, a little too bent. “I must know.”

She drums her fingers on her breastbone, and the man collapses to the ground, the force holding him up disappearing. She bends down and wraps her long, clawed fingers around his jaw. She wrenches his face toward hers. He’s trembling, and his eyes are full of tears.

“Give me your name, and I will be able to open your heart,” she says.

His next breath shudders on the exhale, and he doesn’t respond. He is watching her black heart pulsing between the rib-bars of its cage.

“I must open your heart to determine if you are worthy of this prize,” she says.

His tongue darts out to wet his lips. He says, in a weak, cracking voice: “Dymitr.”

“Dymitr,” she whispers, and she releases him.

She steps back and sits on the edge of the altar, and the leaves of the fern stretch toward her. She wears a ragged white dress, tattered at the hem and open across her bone torso. She drums her sternum again, considering the man. Then she gestures, sudden and sharp.

The man gasps, and his shirt opens over the chest, baring the red rosette he painted over his heart—another protective symbol, the leszy notes—

And then a spray of blood strikes the altar like a dusting of holy water as his skin peels away from his chest—

And then muscle and bone, cracking and breaking apart, though his screams are, yet again, inaudible—

And the leszy stares at the man’s heart, pulsing red and strong in his chest. Blood trickles down the man’s breastbone. The noonwraith’s eyes glow like the moon. She taps a claw against her lips.

“Oh, my,” she says softly, after a moment. It’s a sigh, and the leszy can’t tell what kind.

“What is it you see, my lady?” the leszy finally dares to ask.

She looks at him as if only just noticing him, though they’ve met before. Few mortals make it to this point, but “few” is not “none.”

“He will have the flower,” the noonwraith says.

“My lady?”

“That is my word. And my word is my word.”

With that, she turns and walks away, and with each step she takes into the church sanctuary, she descends farther into the earth, as if walking down a staircase. The man’s ribs knit together over his heart, and his muscle and skin layer back over bone, and he collapses forward with a moan. He is sweat-soaked and trembling.

And just out of reach in front of him: the soft red light of the fern flower, now in full bloom.

Copyright © 2024 from Veronica Roth

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Ancient Magic in the Modern Age: 4 Spins on Baba Yaga

by a cat

This article is about high magic and high-rises! That’s right: We’ve got the comfortable amenities and coldness of modernity mingling with the evocative mystique of legend, right here. Read on to see how Baba Yaga’s getting on in the present age! 


Spring's Arcana by Lilith SaintcrowImage Placeholder of - 54The Dead God’s Heart Duology by Lilith Saintcrow

In her new duology, Lilith Saintcrow introduces us to a wide and dangerous America full of terror, wonder, and hungry divinities that would love to eat Nat Drozdova. Of course, Nat can’t let that happen because A) sounds like a rough way to go, and B) she has a mission to complete. 

In Baba Yaga’s imposing and cold skyscraper office, the old witch made Nat a deal: If she returns to Baba Yaga a lost relic of great power, her mother will be delivered from the illness that threatens her life. 

This duology opens with Spring’s Arcana and explosively concludes in The Salt-Black Tree, so you can read the whole story back-to-back right now. The wilderness that belongs to the old gods and the new is waiting. 


one for my enemy by olivie blakeOne for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

Olivie Blake takes us to the bright lights and long shadows of Manhattan in One for My Enemy: a modern retelling of Romeo & Juliet where dynasties of cunning witches hold the wealth and power. 

The daughters of underground alchemist and poison-purveyor Baba Yaga are faced with the sons of Manhattan’s shadow-kingpin, Koschei the Deathless. All will have to choose where they stand, and decide they want bad enough to lose everything else. 


Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken BebelleEbony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle

Admittedly, the Baba Yaga connection with this thrilling urban fantasy is a bit stretched, but when you’re searching for information about adaptations of Baba Yaga online, a prominent result is the following: “Why is John Wick called Baba Yaga?” 

This is a fair question, but not one this article is going to answer. Instead, we’re going to talk about Ebony Gate, a contemporary fantasy set in San Francisco’s Chinatown that’s got the vibes of John Wick, but with dragon magic. 


when among crows by veronica rothWhen Among Crows by Veronica Roth

The release date for this new novella from Veronica Roth is a fair while away, but we’d be so wrong not to include it on this list. When Among Crows is a contemporary fantasy where the various entities of Slavic folklore have come to settle in modern Chicago. It’s a story about the families we make, and the families we destroy. 

On Sale 5/14/24

 

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