Published by Balzer & Bray on May 28, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT, Magical Realism
Source: Edelweiss, Blog Tour
Ruby Chernyavsky has been told the stories since she was a child: The women in her family, once possessed of great magical abilities to remake lives and stave off death itself, were forced to flee their Russian home for America in order to escape the fearful men who sought to destroy them. Such has it always been, Ruby’s been told, for powerful women. Today, these stories seem no more real to Ruby than folktales, except for the smallest bit of power left in their blood: when each of them comes of age, she will have a vision of who she will be when she dies—a destiny as inescapable as it is inevitable. Ruby is no exception, and neither is her mother, although she ran from her fate years ago, abandoning Ruby and her sisters. It’s a fool’s errand, because they all know the truth: there is no escaping one’s Time.
Until Ruby’s great-aunt Polina passes away, and, for the first time, a Chernyavsky’s death does not match her vision. Suddenly, things Ruby never thought she’d be allowed to hope for—life, love, time—seem possible. But as she and her cousin Cece begin to dig into the family’s history to find out whether they, too, can change their fates, they learn that nothing comes without a cost. Especially not hope.
Today I’m sharing an excerpt and giveaway for The Wise and the Wicked. Epic Reads aptly calls it a lush, dark, and unforgettable story of the power of the past to shape our futures—and the courage it takes to change them.
I’m reading this one now, and I’m loving the LGBTQ rep in the book. For now, I’m sharing just a little taste of what you can expect with this story …
EXCERPT FROM EPIC READS WEBSITE
(Click the link to read even more—all the way through chapter 4)
In an old house built of bloodred bricks, with a tea shop in the converted front rooms, there lived three sisters and their mother.
Solnyshko, the eldest, was willow-tree tall and sweet. Zvyozdochka, the middle child, was beautiful and sharp as a cut diamond. The youngest, Zerkal’tse, was small but hard, like an unshelled nut. Each was different as could be from her sisters, except that all three had their mother’s eyes, the deep green of leaves in the part of the forest where sunlight doesn’t reach. Of course they did; you can always recognize heroines in stories by their eyes, a sign of powerful gifts within. And this was a family with very powerful gifts.
Or they had been, once upon a time.
Once upon a time, their ancestors had lived inside an immense forest of towering pines beside the republic of Russian Karelia, south of the White Sea.
Once upon a time, the forest was cold and foreboding, and braved only by those seeking miracles. Those who’d heard whispers that the woman in the woods could foretell a person’s fate, could grant wisdom and health, and—if the seeker was worthy—could ward off death itself. She and her daughters
were revered and respected by those who believed. They were legends.
But the world around them changed, as it does. The cities to the west were touched by war. Political factions wrestled for the land, fighting and dying and destroying, in the way men do. Farms lay fallow; bridges and buildings were demolished. Factories and processing plants sprouted up. Typhus and cholera and diseases of deprivation burned through settlements, killing thousands.
So it was that the people became fearful for their lives. Stirred by rumors—by stories—and hungry for the power to save themselves, a band of city-dwelling men went into the forest. They trampled brush that had gone unstirred for centuries, hacked through delicate black thorns, and sloshed through clean river water with their foul boots to steal the secrets of the woman in the woods for themselves.
Long had the woman believed they would come. She had heard the tales of the settlements from miracle seekers, caught the stench of desperation and decay and greed on the westerly wind. She knew of the darkness in these men that stained what was good, like blood in water. And so she was prepared.
She sent her daughters away on a ship bound for America to protect them. But they left their greatest secrets behind, and by the time they’d crossed the ocean, they had become shadows of themselves, believing it better to be small and safe than strong and hunted.
This was the legacy of Solnyshko, Zvyodochka, and Zerkal’tse. Deep green eyes, greatly weakened gifts, and the stories their mother—the granddaughter of the woman in the woods—told them in their beds in the old brick house. Each night, she passed along what diminished wisdom their ancestors had brought with them to their new home, this foremost: that the world has never been very kind to powerful women.
Ruby was in the tub with a teacup of Stolichnaya, when her sisters rattled the door.
“Occupied!” she called, hunting for a spot to stash the cup before they barged in. There wasn’t any. Their only bathroom was tiny, stuffed with a pedestal sink, toilet, and a cracked claw-foot tub that took up three-quarters of the black-tiled floor. The whole house was like that: small, splintered,
overcrowded. There was nowhere to hide, and no space to keep secrets, at least not between the sisters. With a resigned sigh, Ruby plunged her cup beneath a veil of bubbles and let it sink, hitting the bottom with a small, sad thunk. She squirted another dollop of Dahlia’s Flower Empower bath bubbles into the water, snatched whichever book topped Ginger’s pile on the toilet tank, and settled back just as the door burst open.
When the steam cleared, Ginger leaned against the frame, long fingers twisting the doorknob back and forth in its socket. “A little Tolstoy before bed?” she asked, lemon-mouthed.
Ruby glanced down at the spine of the book. “Anna Karnina is awesome.”
Her sister snorted. “Kar-e-nin-a.”
“I said that.”
“Uh-huh. Just get out of the tub. I need the mirror.”
“But I’m at the best part,” she protested as Dahlia slipped into the bathroom beside Ginger.
“What part is that?”
“. . . Where everyone is like, ‘Oh my god, Anna Kar-enin- a, she’s so crazy.’ You know?”
“Ah, yes, that classic scene,” Ginger deadpanned.
Ignoring them, Dahlia smiled sunnily. “Time to get out, Ruby! Polina’s coming over.”
“Okay, yeah,” Ruby relented. She reached for her towel, but stubbornly waited to take it until they’d turned to leave.
“Whatever, it’s all fogged up in here anyway,” Ginger muttered on her way out.
Once they’d gone, Ruby fished the teacup out of the bath. The Stoli had been hard-won; her sisters kept the vodka in the back of the highest kitchen cabinet, not an easy climb for her five-foot body. She didn’t know why they bothered. A little vodka wasn’t going to kill her.
That isn’t how Ruby dies.
She scrubbed a towel over her head until her jaw-length brown hair puffed up around her ears like ruffled feathers. She wrapped the towel around herself and headed toward her bedroom at the end of the narrow hall, but paused in Dahlia’s doorway.
As always, her oldest sister’s bedroom looked like an occult shop rammed by a tornado. Colorful beaded necklaces glittered in piles on the rug. Tarot cards and finger-thick crystals spilled across her desk beside a day-or-two-old bowl of cereal.
Ruby liked this room. She liked that she could plunge her hand into any pile and pluck out something she’d never seen there before: a silver ring with an opal the size of a grape, or a black candle that smelled like pepper, or an entire loaf of bread in its plastic package.
Her middle sister settled at the vanity and cleared a spot with her elbow, scowling but silent. Dahlia had three years on Ginger and eleven on Ruby, and was undeniably in charge, even if it was Ginger who made sure their bills were paid, their groceries shopped, and their small, scrubby lawn weeded in spring.
Ruby was banned from Ginger’s room, and that was fine. From the hallway, it looked like a dentist’s office—softly colored, clean, and cold.
“What’s up, Ruby?” Dahlia chirped as she stepped into a silky, voluminous skirt patterned with blackbirds and ivy vines, the one she wore for clients. Ginger had a skirt just like it.
“Is Polina bringing somebody?” she asked, eyeing her sister’s outfit.
“Someone’s meeting us here.”
Dahlia hesitated, sorting out how much to tell her, Ruby knew. She wasn’t allowed to see clients with her sisters, judged too young for the “sensitive nature” of the family practice. She did not yet have her own skirt. Ginger dotted on cherry lipstick in Dahlia’s mirror, pressing together and then popping her lips. “She’s from out of town. Nobody you know.” Recapping her lipstick, she swept a highlighter stick above her cheekbones, flecked with the same perfect constellation of freckles as Dahlia’s. They’d inherited them from their mother, just like the straw-gold hair they dyed regularly. They did this at home, so every six weeks when they emerged from the little bathroom, it was splashed and stained, as if they’d been in there murdering fairies with jewel-colored blood—right now, Dahlia’s was a bright sky blue, Ginger’s a bold sapphire. They’d tried to convince Ruby to join them, but her overgrown pixie cut was too dark for dye to show; it only made her look pale and ambiguously Goth. Although her mother’s nickname for her had been zerkal’tse—little mirror—she’d never looked much like her, or like Ginger (zvyozdochka, the little star) or Dahlia (solnyshko, the little sun.)
Except for their eyes—Chernyavsky eyes.
About The Author
Rebecca Podos’ debut novel, THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016. Her second book, LIKE WATER, won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s and Young Adult. THE WISE AND THE WICKED, her third novel, is forthcoming in May 2019.
A graduate of the Writing, Literature and Publishing Program at Emerson College and the Creative Writing Program at College of Santa Fe, Rebecca’s fiction has been published in journals like Glimmer Train, Paper Darts, and Smokelong Quarterly. By day, she works as a YA and MG agent at the Rees Literary Agency in Boston.