We can hardly wait for the release of The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches (August 2022) by Sangu Mandanna—so we couldn’t wait to get our hands on this cover reveal and exclusive first chapter! This uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family—and new love—changes the course of her life gives us all the feels, with a side of powerful feminine magic.
In The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, Mika Moon is one of the few witches in Britain, and she knows how to hide her magic and keep her head down. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age, she’s used to being alone and following the rules—with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos “pretending” to be a witch. No one will take it seriously, right? Then someone sends her an unexpected message, asking her to travel to the mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic, Mika decides to break the rules and go. Amidst the lives and secrets of her three charges—along with an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, and two long-suffering caretakers—Mika starts to find her place at Nowhere House, daring to dream that she might actual belong somewhere. Then there’s also . . . Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House who would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is an irritation, albeit an appealing one.
But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect the found family she didn’t know she was looking for.
Read on for an exclusive excerpt below—and can you believe this gorgeous cover?!
The Very Secret Society of Witches met on the third Thursday of every third month, but that was just about the only thing that never changed. They never met in the same place twice; the last meeting, for instance, had been in Belinda Nkala’s front room and had involved freshly baked scones, and the one before that had been in the glorious sunshine of Agatha Jones’s garden. This meeting, on a cold, wet October afternoon, happened to be taking place on a tiny, abandoned pier in the Outer Hebrides.
A pier. In the Outer Hebrides. In October.
Of course, they weren’t actually called the Very Secret Society of Witches. They weren’t called anything at all, which was why Mika Moon had decided to come up with a name for them herself. She had cycled through several alternatives first, like the League of Extraordinary Witches and the Super Secret Society of Witchy Witches. She was still rather fond of the latter.
The ridiculous names were mostly to annoy Primrose, the ancient and very proper head of the group, a position Primrose had presumably bestowed upon herself at some point in the past hundred years or so. (This might have been something of an exaggeration on Mika’s part, but it was impossible to tell how old Primrose really was. She wouldn’t say.)
Now, huddled as deep into her coat as she could get, Mika rocked impatiently on the balls of her feet as twenty other witches joined her on the pier. This, she supposed, was another thing that almost never changed: their number. Mika was one of the newest additions to the thing-that-was-definitely-not-a-society, and she’dbeen part of it for almost ten years, which meant it had been a very long time since they’d welcomed anyone new. This was not to say that there were only twenty-one adult witches in all of Britain; witches were uncommon, certainly, but Mika knew that there were others out there. Primrose, who had appointed herself the duty of finding and inviting new witches to the not-society, had mentioned that some had turned her down over the years.
Mika found it difficult to believe anyone had been able to resist Primrose’s persuasions (which an uncharitable person might say better resembled genteel bullying), but still, it was rather comforting to know that this small, soaked group on the pier wasn’t all that was left of them.
Not that their numbers mattered. These meetings were the only time any of them were ever supposed to speak to one another. Primrose Beatrice Everly would never dream of telling anyone how to live their lives (so she said), but she was of the firm opinion that Rules would keep them all safe and so those Rules ought really to be followed. Too much magic left unchecked in one place, she said, would draw attention. For the sake of all of them, they had to lead separate lives. There could be no connection between any of them, no visits, no texts, no emails—nothing, in short, that could lead anybody from one witch to another.
(Primrose, of course, was an exception to the Rules. Mika supposed it was just one of the many privileges of being the oldest, most powerful, and bossiest.)
Consequently, any sense of community and kinship in the group had to be crammed into these short hours once every three months, which made it a very nebulous sense of community indeed.
As rain dripped steadily down from the cold, muddy grey sky, Primrose cleared her throat. “How are we all, dears?”
“Wet,” Mika couldn’t resist pointing out.
“Your contribution is noted, thank you, poppet,” said Primrose, unperturbed.
“We’re pretending to be a book club, Primrose,” Mika replied, exasperated. “We don’t need to hide in the middle of nowhere! Why couldn’t we just meet for a sodding coffee somewhere with central heating?”
“I, for one, think our safety is worth more than our comfort,” Primrose said, and then went straight for the jugular: “But, considering the most irregular way you spend your time, dear, I am not in the least surprised that you don’t seem to feel the same way.”
Mika sighed. She’d walked right into that one.
At thirty-one, she was a rather young witch in a group that mostly skewed older (while she didn’t exactly have a handy spreadsheet with each witch’s age on it, she was quite sure that she, Hilda Kim and Sophie Clarke were the only ones this side of forty), so she should perhaps have been a lot more intimidated by Primrose than she actually was. But the truth was, she knew Primrose a lot better than most of the other witches here, and she and Primrose had had a wobbly relationship since before Mika could remember.
The problem, really, was that witches were always orphans. According to Primrose, this was because of a spell that went wrong in some bygone era. Mika was certain this tale was a figment of Primrose’s imagination, but she also had no better explanation because the fact remained: when a witch was born, she would find herself orphaned shortly thereafter. It didn’t matter where in the world the witch was born, and the cause could be anything from an innocuous illness to an everyday accident, but it was inevitable. Some witches were then raised by grandparents, or other relatives, and, in time, came to discover the existence of their own magic. All things considered, assuming that they weren’t catastrophically reckless with their spellwork, they grew up to lead quite normal lives.
But some witches, like Mika, were the daughters of witches. And some of those witches, like Mika, were also the granddaughters of witches. It was unusual, certainly; most witches, only too mindful of the axe over their heads, chose not to have children of their own, but it did sometimes happen.
And so, when Mika Moon, the orphaned child of an orphaned child of an orphaned child, found herself left in the care of an overworked social worker in India in the early nineties, Primrose found her, brought her to England, and deposited her in a perfectly proper, comfortable home with perfectly proper, comfortable nannies.
Mika remembered none of this, of course, but she remembered growing up in the care of nannies and tutors of all genders, ethnicities, and temperaments, each of whom was only permitted to stay for as long as it took to catch a glimpse of something magical (which was not long) before they were replaced. So Mika remembered having plenty to eat, a warm bed, and all the books she could possibly read, but very little in the way of companionship or love.
And she remembered Primrose, who visited from time to time, usually to hire a new caregiver or to remind Mika of the Rules. Mika’s feelings about Primrose were, thus, mixed. Primrose had kept her safe, for which she was grateful, but she also resented having such an inconsistent, autocratic figure in her life. Once she reached adulthood, the nannies and tutors went away, Mika declined Primrose’s offer to stay and moved out of the house, and, for the past thirteen years, she had more or less only seen Primrose on the third Thursday of every third month.
While it seemed to Mika that she had never done anything Primrose approved of, she had not done anything Primrose especially disapproved of, either. At least, not until last year, when Mika had started uploading videos to her social media accounts.
Hence their present feud.
For the moment, Primrose seemed to have moved on. “Is anyone having any trouble?” she asked the gathering.
“I’m having a hard time not telling my fiancée the truth about my magic,” Hilda Kim offered. “I feel like I’m hiding so much of myself from her, and I hate it.”
“You could always try not getting married,” said Primrose, who felt it was everyone’s duty to make sacrifices for the greater good. “And while you ponder that, dear,” she went on, when Hilda opened her mouth and then shut it again as if she’d thought better of whatever she was about to say, “Is anyone having any actual trouble? Any inquisitive neighbours asking too many questions? Any uncontrollable magical outbursts?”
A chorus of shrugs and heads shaking. Primrose shifted her gimlet eyes from one witch to the next, lingering a little too long on Mika. She looked rather disappointed when no one spoke, like she’d been hoping to be able to chastise someone for being careless.
“Then,” Primrose continued, an enormous spellbook materialising in her hands, “does anyone have any new spells to share?”
There were a few: a spell for more restful sleep, a potion that would temporarily turn cat fur pink (only cat fur, and only pink), a spell for the finding of a lost thing, and a spell to instantly vanish dark circles under the eyes (upon hearing this last one, Primrose, who hoarded her own spells like a dragon hoards gold, looked incredibly annoyed that she hadn’t been able to figure it out first).
When the spellwork part of the meeting was complete, Primrose cleared her throat. “Finally, does anyone have any news they’d like to share?”
“It’s okay to say it’s time to gossip, Primrose,” Mika said merrily. “We all know that’s what comes after the spellwork.”
“Witches don’t gossip,” sniffed Primrose.
This was patently untrue, however, because gossiping was precisely what they proceeded to do.
“My ex-husband wanted to get back together last week,” said Belinda Nkala, who was in her forties and never had time for anyone’s nonsense. “When I turned him down, he informed me that I am apparently nothing without him. Then he left,” she added calmly, “but I fear he’s going to be suffering from an inexplicable itch in his groin for a few weeks.”
Several witches laughed, but Primrose set her lips in a thin line. “And have you been playing such petty tricks lately, Mika?”
“Oh, for the love of fucking god, Primrose, what does this have to do with me?”
“It’s not an unreasonable question, precious. You do like to take risks.”
“For the millionth time,” Mika said, irked beyond belief, “I post videos online pretending to be a witch. It’s just a performance.” Primrose raised her eyebrows. Mika raised hers right back. “Hundreds of people do the same thing, you know. The whole witch aesthetic is very popular!”
“Witchcore,” Hilda said, nodding wisely. “Not quite as popular as cottagecore or fairycore, but it’s up there.”
Everyone stared at her.
“I didn’t know fairies were real!” shouted Agatha Jones, who was almost as old as Primrose and tended to believe all young people needed to be shouted at lest they miss the import of her pronouncements. “Whatever next!”
“You see, Primrose?” said Mika, ignoring this interruption. “People call themselves witches all the time. I’m not putting myself or you or anyone else at risk. Nobody who watches my videos thinks I’m actually a witch.”
It was unfortunate for Mika, then, that at that precise moment, over five hundred miles away, in a big house in a quiet, windy corner of the Norfolk countryside, a man in a magnificent rainbow scarf and enormous fluffy slippers was saying exactly the opposite.
From THE VERY SECRET SOCIETY OF IRREGULAR WITCHES by Sangu Mandanna, published by Berkley, an imprint of The Penguin Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Sangu Mandanna.