A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading the first two books in J.D. Horn’s Witching Savannah series (The Line and The Source), and really enjoyed them. Too many review commitments prevented me from getting to the third book, but I was super excited when a publicist contacted me about featuring J.D.’s latest in the series, Jilo, which although technically book four, can be read as a stand-alone. Today, I have an excerpt from the book, and the publisher is offering up a copy to one international winner as well! Keep reading for details, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post:-D
1950s Georgia: King Cotton has fallen. Savannah is known as the “beautiful woman with a dirty face,” its stately elegance faded by neglect, its soul withering from racial injustice and political corruption.
The dark secrets of Savannah are intertwined with the story of the young Jilo Wills who rises to become a legendary part of the most powerful family of witches in the South. The origins of the famed Taylor witch family finds its roots with Jilo’s great-grandmother, Tuesday Jackson, and her grandmother, May Wills, both who used their sorcery to influence the city’s powerbrokers. The two matriarchs, however, die before they can provide Jilo with a solid education in the magical arts. In desperation to make a quick buck, Jilo takes advantage of the family’s reputation and her scant magical knowledge to create a “Mother Jilo” persona. But soon, Jilo is forced to accept the full weight of her legacy when it becomes clear she is the one that the mystical witch world has been waiting for. Jilo becomes the unbreakable link between the past and future witches of Savannah.
In this standalone introduction to one of the Witching Savannah series’ most vivid and beloved characters, readers are swept away by the resourceful and determined Jilo as she comes of age, strives to master formidable magical skills in the face of overwhelming adversity, and forges her strange destiny against the turbulent backdrop of the civil rights struggle in the American South.
May wrapped her hand around a steaming cup of chicory, shuddering at the thought that what was left of Rosie’s boy lay not much more than a stone’s throw from her property line. It shamed May to think she didn’t even know the child’s name. It shamed her worse to think Rosie might be wondering where he’d got to. She shook that thought off. From what she knew of Rosie, the woman probably had not even noticed the boy was missing. Still, the mother in May ached for her.
Rosie’s boy had been killed for the kind of dark magic some folk thought could be bought from the Red King with blood. Could another magic, her mama’s kind of magic, have protected him? Would the boy be home in his own bed right now, rather than rotting out in a field behind her house?
May set aside her cup.
God must have heard the boy’s cries. Why hadn’t He protected the boy? Seemed like He made a habit of letting good, innocent folk die. May knew the thought was blasphemous, but she couldn’t shake it; it was like a small stain on her soul. She prayed for forgiveness and to gain understanding. A roar of distant thunder sounded like an angry response from God Himself, and a sudden gust of wind blew the back door clear open.
May pushed back from the table and rose, but as she reached out to shut the door, a movement near the tree line caught her eye. She stepped over the threshold, onto the upper step, and craned her neck to get a better look. The quickly advancing storm sent out a bright flash of lightning that for one moment brought full light, then in the next plunged the world into darkness, dazzling May’s eyes. That split second had given her the impression of an approaching white dog, but there were no dogs like that in the area. She descended the stairs and took a few steps toward the trees, then stopped as hard and as sure as if she had walked into a wall. Her heart began to pound, her pulse throbbing in her neck even though she felt like every drop of her blood had pooled in her legs. The creature she’d thought to be a dog rose up on its hind feet.
It was no dog at all.
There, at the far end of her yard, coming toward her, she saw the pale figure of that poor, butchered boy, shuffling forward with an awkward gait, stumbling, falling, rising again.
“Sweet Jesus,” her words straddled profanity and prayer. A sweat broke out all over her body, and though she was desperate to move, to flee, she found herself nailed to the spot. The child’s pale naked skin shone nearly blue in the darkness, a fish-belly white in the next flash of lightning, and as the body drew closer, she could see that the wound to the boy’s chest and stomach had been sewn together like some kind of rag doll with a thick, dark cord in a zigzag by a rough and cruel hand.
The eyes, too, had been sewn shut, large black Xs securing the lids. Still, the child’s corpse carried on, coming straight toward her as sure as if it could see May frozen where she stood. Its arms spread wide, looking like it sought to embrace her. May could see the child’s lips moving, even though no sound came out.
In the final moments before dead hands would touch her, her instinct to survive overpowered the terror holding her in place. May lifted one foot and stepped back. Then the other. She turned and began to flee, but something stopped her. Even though her eyes swore to her that it couldn’t be true, she was overcome by a feeling of horrible certainty. She stopped and turned to face the monstrous sight that was now only a bit more than an arm’s length away.
“Mama?” she asked, and the pale, destroyed body of the child fell to its knees before her. It raised its face toward heaven and lifted its arms in supplication, before lowering its hands to the sides of its head. Its lips opened wide, and May sensed that if it could make a sound, it would be howling.
She trembled as she took a cautious step toward the body. “Mama, is that you?” Without even releasing its hands from its ears, the body began to nod, over and over, swaying side to side as it did. “Who did this to you, Mama? What can I do?” Her questions tumbled out, one on the coattails of the other.
The body released its head, and began banging on its seamed chest with a fist. May froze for a moment, unsure, until her breaking heart overcame the last of her fear. Her mama was somehow trapped in this white boy’s ruined body, and she’d do anything to free her from this prison. She’d give her own life if that’s what it took.
May knelt before the body. Even though the stench of rotting flesh nearly made her vomit, she took the body into her arms and held it tight. A cry for justice issued from her heart. Who would have—could have—done this to her mama?
“I love you, Mama,” she said. “We’ll fix this. We will.” But even as she said the words, she felt the body go limp in her embrace. The seam that had been made in the boy’s chest split open, and shards of the broken pottery they’d left on her mama’s grave spilled out and fell to the ground. Her mind flashed back to that young buckra at the cemetery. But no, that made no sense. What need could a wealthy man like that have for dark magic? His kind already ruled the world. And if such a man were responsible for this evil, how could May even dream of justice?
May jerked back, releasing the body of the dead child. The corpse fell on its side, then rolled back. “Mama,” she cried, but a sense of calmness descended on her. A spark of golden light rose from the corpse and floated upward, winking once, twice, then disappearing into the night sky. Her mama was free.
A torrent of rain washed over her as the sky above continued to roil with fire. As the storm raged, May dragged the body away from her house, just beyond the tree line. She went back to the shed to fetch Reuben’s old shovel, then did her best to give the poor child a good Christian burial.
May never spoke of that night, not to a living soul.
About the Author:
J.D. HORN was raised in rural Tennessee and has carried a bit of its red clay with him while traveling the world, from Hollywood to Paris to Tokyo. He studied comparative literature as an undergrad, focusing on French and Russian in particular. J.D. also holds an MBA in international business and worked as a financial analyst before becoming a novelist. Along with his spouse, Rich, and his furry coauthors, Duke and Sugar, J.D. divides his time between Black Butte Ranch, Oregon, and San Francisco, California. Previous titles in the bestselling Witching Savannah series are The Line, The Void and The Source.
And now for the giveaway! Open to everyone (U.S./Canada will receive a signed physical copy of Jilo, International entrants will receive a digital copy). Please fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter. Good luck!