25 Aug 2023

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays: IN CHARM'S WAY by Lana Harper (Excerpt)

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays introduces readers who are unfamiliar with the Adult SF/F genre to books, authors, and discussions all about the vast expanse of the world of Adult SF/F!


Author: Lana Harper
Series: The Witches of Thistle Grove #4
Source: eARC via Publisher
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication Date: August 22, 2023

A witch struggling to regain what she has lost casts a forbidden spell—only to discover much more than she expected, in this enchanting new rom-com by New York Times bestselling author Lana Harper.

Six months after having been hit by a power surge that nearly obliterated her memory, Delilah Harlow is still picking up the pieces. Her once diamond-sharp mind has become shaky and unreliable, and bristly, self-sufficient Delilah is forced to rely on friends, family, and her raven familiar for help. In an effort to reclaim her wits and former independence, she casts a dangerous blood spell meant to harness power with healing capacities.

While the spell does restore clarity, it also unexpectedly turns Delilah into an irresistible beacon for the kind of malevolent supernatural creatures that have never before ventured into Thistle Grove. One night—just as things are about to go terribly sideways with a rogue succubus—a mysterious stranger appears in the nick of time to save Delilah's soul.

Gorgeous, sultry, and as dangerous as the knives she carries, Catriona Quinn is a hunter of monsters—and half-human, half-fae herself, she is the kind of sly and morally gray creature Delilah would normally find horrifying. Though Delilah balks at the idea of a partnership, she has no choice but to roll the dice on their collaboration. As the two delve deeper into the power that underlies Thistle Grove, they uncover not only the town's hidden history but also a risky attraction that could upend Delilah's entire life.

Flames and stars, living in this town could be exhausting.

I sank down by the tree's base, pebbles and blades of grass pressing imprints into my bare knees. Then I closed my eyes and reached for the flower, cupping my hands around it without grazing the petals.

Sensing the flow of magic, Montalban brought her focus to bear on the spell, too, facilitating my work with it. She couldn't make me stronger than I was; that wasn't how familiars helped. But her added attention was like a lens held to the sun-anything I cast, she rendered finer and more precise.

Like most magically imbued flora, viridians couldn't just be plucked by mundane means. They needed to be harvested with the use of a particular preservation spell, to keep their potency intact. Magical botany was like that; infinitely fascinating and challenging, and also finicky as fuck. Hence, why I loved it. It demanded expertise and finesse, a deep understanding of theories and disciplines that the other Thistle Grove families largely cast aside in favor of relying on their natural talents. Even the Thorns didn't bother with it much, given their affinity for magically coaxing plants into simply doing whatever it was they wanted them to do.

But arcane knowledge, and its practical applications . . . that was where Harlows shone.

Especially this Harlow.

I took a slow breath, twitching my fingers into the delicate position called for by the spell, lips parting to speak the incantation. The words floated into my mind's eye in swooping antique copperplate; I could even picture the yellowed page upon which the rhyming couplets had been inked.

Then the entirety of the charm sluiced out of my head like water sliding through a sieve.

All of it, vanished in an instant. The words themselves, the lovely script, the aged grain of the paper. Where the memory had lived, there was now nothing. A cold and empty darkness, a void like a miniature black hole whorling in my head.

The panic that gushed through me was instantaneous, a prickling flood that engulfed me from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes, a flurry of icy pins sinking into my skin. And even worse was the terrible sense of dislocation that accompanied it, as if the entire world had spun wildly on its axis around me before falling back into place subtly misaligned. I'd known that spell, only moments ago. Now, I didn't. It was simply gone, lost, as if it had been plucked directly out of my head by some merciless, meticulous set of tweezers.

"Crawwww!" Montalban croaked into my ear, shifting fretfully from foot to foot as my distress seeped into her.

"I'm okay," I managed, through the terrible tightening in my throat. "It's okay."

But it wasn't. It felt nauseatingly like existing in two realities at once. One in which I was the old Delilah, a living library, a vast and unimpeachable repository of arcane information. And another in which I was a tabula rasa, almost no one at all. Just a facsimile of a person rather than anybody real and whole.

The dissonance of it was horrifying, a primal terror unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. The way, I imagined, some people might fear death, that ultimate disintegration of self if you truly believed nothing else came after.

Though to me, the idea of living with a mind that couldn't be trusted felt worse than even the possibility of a truly final oblivion.

I sank back onto my haunches, wrapping my arms around my chest. Goose bumps had erupted along the expanse of my skin, and I broke into a clammy sweat despite the buzzy warmth of the air, the humid heat that permeated the forest from the lake. "It's okay," I whispered to myself under my breath, rocking back and forth, feeling abysmally pathetic and weak even as Montalban nuzzled my cheek, desperate to provide some comfort. "You're alright. Try to relax and let it pass over you. Like a reed in the river, remember? Don't fight against the current, because the current always wins."

Sometimes, the simple relaxation mantra Ivy had improvised for me from her meditation practice worked, bleeding off some of the panic. Other times, it did absolute fuck all.

The worst part was that no one understood why this was still happening to me. As a Harlow recordkeeper, I should have been shielded from a conventional oblivion glamour in the first place. Given our role as the memory keepers of our community, Thistle Grove's formal occult historians, we were all bespelled to be immune to such attacks. But Nina's form of the spell had been superpowered, whipped to unfathomable heights by the kernel of divinity that had been lodged inside her, the deity's favor she'd been granted by Belisama.

Why that entitled Blackmoore bitch had been deemed deserving of a goddess's favor in the first place was still beyond me.

In any case, even after the mega-glamour dissolved-helped along by my cousin Emmy's and my uncle James's efforts-I wasn't rid of it entirely. Six months later, I still sometimes lost memories like this, little aftershocks of oblivion riving through me even after all this time. Other times, I reached for knowledge that I should have had-that I knew I'd once possessed-only to discover an utter, sucking absence in its place. As if some vestigial remnant of the spell lurked inside me like a malevolent parasite, a magical malaria that only occasionally reared up.

The lost memories did return sometimes, if I relaxed enough in the moment, or if I was able to revisit their original source-reread the page that held the charm, pore over the missing diagram. But sometimes they simply didn't, as if my brain had been rewired and was now inured to retaining that piece of information. And it was all horribly unpredictable. Just when I'd begun to tentatively hope that I might be on the upswing, I'd tumble into yet another mental vortex, a churning quagmire where I'd once reliably found the diamond edges of my mind.

But the self-soothing methods Ivy had taught me were always worth at least a try. I repeated the sappy "reed in a river" mantra to myself several more times-trying my damnedest not to feel like someone who'd ever wear Spiritual Gangster apparel in earnest-all the while inhaling deliberately through my nose and exhaling out of my mouth. The familiar smell of Lady's Lake calmed me, too, the distinctive scent of the magic that rolled off the water and through the woods, coursing down the mountainside to wash over the town. It was the strongest up here, an intoxicating smell like some layered incense. Earthy and musky and sweet, redolent of frankincense and myrrh laced with amber and oakmoss.

As a Harlow, my sense of the lake's magic was both more intimate and more acute than that of members of the other families-and the flow of it up here, so close to its wellspring, reassured me. Left me safe in the knowledge that I was still Delilah of Thistle Grove, on her knees on Hallows Hill with her beloved familiar on her shoulder. A Harlow witch exactly where she belonged.

Abruptly, the harvesting charm slid back into my mind. A little frayed around the edges, some of the words blurring in and out of sight, as if my memory were a dulled lens that had lost some of its focus. But it was back, restored, intact enough that I would be able to use it to collect the viridian.

"Oh, thank you," I breathed on a tremulous sigh, my limbs turning jellied with relief, unsure whom I was even thanking. Ivy's mantra, the goddess Belisama, the magic itself? When it came down to it, it didn't really matter.

Sometimes, you had to take the smallest of victories and run with them.

Sometimes, they were all you had to cling to.

Excerpted from In Charm's Way by Lana Harper Copyright © 2023 by Lana Harper. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Have you read this series? What was your favourite part?

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