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The Hawkweed Prophecy
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- Trade Paperback $10.99 $12.99 CAD
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A stunning debut tells a bewitching story: two girls, one ancient prophecy. Only one can be queen of the witches.
Poppy Hooper and Ember Hawkweed couldn’t lead more different lives. Poppy is a troubled teen: moving from school to school, causing chaos wherever she goes, never making friends or lasting connections. Ember is a young witch, struggling to find a place within her coven and prove her worth. Both are outsiders: feeling like they don’t belong and seeking escape.
Poppy and Ember soon become friends, and secretly share knowledge of their two worlds. Little do they know that destiny has brought them together: an ancient prophecy, and a life-changing betrayal. Growing closer, they begin to understand why they’ve never belonged and the reason they are now forever connected to each other.
Switched at birth by the scheming witch Raven Hawkweed, Poppy and Ember must come to terms with their true identities and fight for their own place in the world. Enter Leo, a homeless boy with a painful past who — befriending them both — tests their love and loyalty. Can Poppy and Ember’s friendship survive? And can it withstand the dark forces that are gathering?
The uniform felt like a straitjacket, secondhand and too small. Poppy’s father had learned long ago never to invest in a brand-new one. When she was a child, Poppy had been nervous about starting at a school, daunted even. Now, as a teenager, she was numb to all that. It was just the uniforms she hated—the idea that by wearing the same clothes, you’re on the same side, like a team, or an army, all with the same sense of purpose. More like inmates, Poppy thought to herself bleakly, as she regarded her reflection in the mirror. Maroon—the bright ones were the worst. It was like she was donning a disguise. But she knew she was different, always had been, and no uniform could hide that. For this was going to be Poppy’s eleventh school.
Poppy finally found her shoes in the bottom of a box that hadn’t been unpacked yet. Outside the window, litter and leaves were lifting in the air, leaping across the street, and she stopped and watched them for a while, wondering dispassionately how long she was going to last at this next place. A whole year was her record. Something always went wrong. Either intentionally or by accident, Poppy would break too many rules, cause too much disruption, or lose her temper, and disaster would strike. Like the time Mrs. Barker, her science teacher, slipped and fell, fracturing her wrist. Mrs. Barker had sworn Poppy had tripped her, and despite Poppy’s protestations that she’d merely looked at her teacher, this offense had been the last straw. Her father had been called from work, and Poppy had been expelled in disgrace. Other schools had been more kind about it, suggesting gently but firmly that theirs was not the right environment for Poppy and that she’d be better suited elsewhere.
John Hooper, Poppy’s long-suffering father, had tried everything. He’d sent Poppy to the most expensive, traditional boarding schools, to the most progressive and nurturing day schools in the country, and even once to a convent. (That had not ended well—a broken stained-glass window dating back centuries and a vast restoration bill.) But the last expulsion had been the worst yet—a series of prank fire alarms that unleashed the wrath of the fire brigade and the local police department.
Poppy remembered seeing her father emerge through the smoke. There was no rush or panic, just the slow, heavy footsteps of a man resigned to disappointment. In all the heat, his eyes were cold blue ponds; when he saw her, they iced over. On the way home Poppy tried to deny the pranks, but he didn’t want to hear it.
“Stop! Just stop!” he ordered.
“But I—” Poppy didn’t get a chance to finish.
“Not another word.”
And she knew he meant it.
They drove back home in the most itchingly uncomfortable silence. Poppy stared out of the car window at all the people busying themselves with the mundanities of life and wondered if a single one of them could understand her. Had any of them ever felt as she had? For Poppy hadn’t touched the alarm. And she hadn’t started the fire. Yet she knew as an inexplicable truth, deep down inside of her, that somehow she had been the cause of it.
She had been frustrated, angry, sad . . . the desperate urge for the day to stop had rushed up and out of her. She had needed a break, just a moment of change, and the next thing she knew, the alarm had been blaring and the teacher had stopped her tedious testing and kids were jumping out of their seats, and she had been outside in the fresh air, and for those next few minutes, she’d felt calm.
“I give up,” her father uttered suddenly after he’d pulled into their driveway. He was facing straight ahead as though he couldn’t even bear to look at her. They sat there, both as motionless as the car, and then the door was open and he was out, marching toward the house, keys clenched in his fist. Once he was inside he immediately fetched their suitcases and told Poppy to start packing. And that was how Poppy now found herself living in a new house, dressed in yet another school uniform, and about to start her eleventh new school.
Her father had left for work already. He and Poppy were beyond the usual niceties of father and daughter. No kiss on the cheek, breakfast on the table, no good luck or even good morning. Poppy knew he was trying hard just to tolerate her. He had already started his new job, the only one he could get at such short notice, one with an even lower salary than before. Their standard of living had been gradually reduced with each new move—but they had never traveled so far away from her mother before.
Poppy was more than used to her parents living apart. Her mother had spent so much time in and out of different treatment centers and rehab facilities that Poppy had stopped associating her with home a long time ago. Yet this move felt different, as though family ties would snap under the strain of all these miles between them. She packed her school bag in the quiet, empty house and admitted to herself how much she would love to turn and see her mother there, like other mothers, reminding her not to forget her books and to wrap up warm because it looks cold outside. And then Poppy felt like a fool for even imagining such a thing. She doubted her mom would even miss her. She probably wouldn’t even be conscious that she’d gone.
Melanie Hooper had been awake when Poppy and John went to say their good-byes. She had spent most of the last few years asleep or in a medication-induced stupor, but on this occasion, she was alert and even dressed in something other than pajamas. She was still lying on a bed—Poppy tried to think when she had last seen her mother upright—but the curtains in the room were open, and the light offered some hope in the otherwise dull and austere atmosphere.
John broke the news they were moving up north and Melanie shed a tear. Like a child, she repeated after John that it was “for the best” and she promised to be brave.
When John stepped out for coffee, Melanie grabbed Poppy’s hand. “What was it this time?” she asked feverishly.
“A fire,” Poppy mumbled.
“It’s not your fault,” her mother said urgently, squeezing Poppy’s hand more tightly.
Poppy couldn’t breathe; the sudden prospect of understanding had caught in her throat. She looked into her mother’s eyes and let her limp fingers softly squeeze back. Melanie’s nails dug into Poppy’s palm. Her lips pursed.
“It’s the devil in you,” she whispered.
Poppy flinched like she’d been struck and pulled her hand away just as her father walked in and passed Melanie a glossy magazine that she cooed over with delight. The intensity in her face vanished and her usual misty expression returned.
What Poppy didn’t know was that, after they left, Melanie woke in the night with tears running down her face. It took three members of staff to restrain her.
“My baby! My baby,” she wept in despair, and the tears kept falling until she was sedated and the drowsiness took hold.
As she fell back asleep, the dreams became hazy, less real—memories from a life long ago, lived by a person she could hardly recognize . . .
A woman with soft, blonde hair and pretty features was watching a baby as it lay in a crib. Herself and Poppy, Melanie realized faintly from the depths of her dream. She’d been watching Poppy for hours, she remembered, unable to pull herself away. The phone was ringing in the distance, but she chose to ignore it. She had dark circles beneath her blue eyes. She had pins and needles in both feet. Her lower back ached. She was tired—she’d never felt so tired.
Poppy, however, never seemed tired at all. Dressed in a pink vest with a bunny on the front that clashed with her dark, wild looks, Poppy stared back at her. Only a few weeks old and she showed not a trace of emotion—she seemed so in control, so independent.
A storm of thoughts tossed around Melanie’s mind.
She’s only a few weeks old and she doesn’t need me!
Is she normal? She’s not normal.
Why don’t I love her? Of course I love her!
Then, guiltily—what kind of mother am I to even think such a thing?
The next thought came out of her mouth as a scream. The words followed, words of shock yelled down the stairs, through the house: “John! John! Poppy’s eye just changed color.”
Melanie sprang to her deadened feet and, ignoring the pain, picked Poppy out of her crib, holding her at arm’s length so she could look more closely. Sure enough, one of Poppy’s blue eyes was now green and a black dot had emerged from it, a satellite to the pupil. She gave a shiver, quickly put Poppy down, and backed away from her daughter. Her husband was at the door, out of breath.
“What’s happened? What’s wrong?”
“John! You’ve got to come and see this.”
The pediatrician hadn’t been able to explain it. It was a strange phenomenon, but apparently babies’ eyes do change color, and Poppy’s had merely turned more quickly. Different color eyes were rare but not unheard of and, she suggested, rather an attractive feature to possess. Melanie smiled weakly, unable to express why she felt so unsettled by this development. The doctor, a young woman so polished that her hair and skin seemed to reflect the light and cast a shadow on Melanie, scribbled something down on Melanie’s notes.
“Are you getting enough sleep? Any sleep?” she asked with a smile.
Melanie wondered whether to come clean and then decided she was too exhausted to try to explain. “Sleep’s not really the problem,” she sighed.
It was only a white lie. Poppy never disturbed them. If she was able, Melanie could be having twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. The brand-new baby monitor had never picked up a sound. So Melanie would lie in bed each night, the long, long minutes ticking by, wishing for just one cry from her baby.
The doctor added another sentence to the notes. “Isn’t your mom lucky to have you?” she said to Poppy in that voice grownups reserve for young children.
Melanie didn’t begin to weep until she was outside.
It wasn’t their last visit to the doctor, merely the beginning of a series of appointments that were to become more and more regular over the following months. Poppy did not smile. She didn’t laugh . . . or gurgle . . . or even cry. Other mothers envied such an easy baby, and their compliments made Melanie doubt herself even more. How could she ever tell them that Poppy wasn’t easy—she was different, strange, not . . . not normal?
Melanie would look into Poppy’s contrasting eyes and try to make some connection, but Poppy would stare back, unblinking, giving nothing away. Melanie loved her baby. She really did. But she knew it to be absolutely true that her baby did not love her. And no amount of baby books and teddy bears and musical toys seemed able to change that. The only thing that inspired a reaction from Poppy was the cats.
They came at night. At first just one, then a few, then more and more. They would sit on the roof and the windowsills and meow to the moon as if heralding Poppy’s arrival into the world. They left mice on the doorstep as an offering to her, even on one occasion a baby squirrel. Melanie screamed when she saw it and sent John outside to dispose of it. If ever a cat got inside the house, it would climb into the crib, and Melanie would find it curled around Poppy, encircling her head protectively. Poppy would look up at Melanie, and her eyes would be shining bright, happily almost.
So Melanie went back to the doctor with these various complaints, and the doctor would nod and jot things down and then ask again how she was coping and if she was getting enough sleep, until one day she prescribed her some mild antidepressants and sleeping tablets just to help her through this difficult time. Melanie wanted to protest, but the prescription in her hands felt like a relief. If she couldn’t find a remedy for Poppy, at least she could find one for herself.
So when the flies dropped dead onto the beige carpet in Poppy’s room, black and dry so they crunched if you stepped on them, Melanie didn’t scream. She just simply vacuumed them away. And when Poppy wrote strange signs on her dolls’ stomachs, or made the taps turn on and off while she sat trapped in her high chair, or hummed tunes Melanie had never heard of but that made spiders spin webs across the ceiling like a lace shawl, or screamed so piercingly high that glass would crack—Melanie just reached for another little pink pill to beat the baby blues.
John remonstrated with her. He pleaded and begged, grew angry and violent, wept with despair.
“She’s not ours,” Melanie kept repeating. “She doesn’t belong to us.”
John punched the wall, then called for the doctor. An ambulance arrived and took Melanie away for treatment until, a few months later, she returned, bright and clean and repaired. However, it didn’t take long before she broke down again.
“Where’s our baby?” she would cry. “Where can she be?”
The doctors diagnosed postnatal depression and told John in grave voices that this could be an extremely serious condition. He would need to keep a close eye on his wife and be extremely patient with her. John tried his best, but as his wife’s mind slipped away, it took with it his future, and he found it impossible to keep his anger to himself. When he yelled at Melanie that she’d “gone mad,” Poppy—a toddler by then—looked at him sympathetically. When she saw him packing a suitcase full of her mother’s clothes, she brought him the book Melanie was reading and her perfume and face cream. Things, in fact, that he would have forgotten.
Before long, it was just the two of them.
Before leaving for her new school Poppy placed food for the cats under the hedge at the side of the house. They weaved in and out of her legs, rubbing their fur on her skin in gratitude. There was a chill in the early autumn air, and Poppy relished the warmth of their touch. It had felt cold ever since she’d arrived up north to this far edge of the country, like she had left the sun behind forever. This piece of land, jutting out to sea, felt like the precipice of the world, like there was nowhere to run but into the icy waters to drown. At first Poppy had wondered how she would survive in such a desolate place, the town barren of charm or interest, the hills and their forests on one side and the bleak gray sea on the other. Then, just as she was about to despair, the cats had appeared. It had taken them seven days and several hundred miles to reach her. Her spirits had soared when she’d spotted them on the rooftop, making themselves at home.
As if sensing her thoughts, the ginger cat that Poppy called Minx gave a meow, and Poppy reached down to stroke her. Minx was the cat she felt closest to. She’d known her since she was a tiny kitten, fitting so lightly in the palm of her hand. Minx wasn’t the sleekest or the strongest of the group, but for some reason, Poppy had connected with her. A few years ago Poppy had tried to take her indoors, thinking she might persuade her father to keep Minx as a pet. But Minx had wriggled and squirmed and run back outside. She wasn’t happy within the four walls of the house, and Poppy didn’t persist because neither was she. Occasionally Minx would climb in her bedroom window in the dead of night and lie above her head like a fur hat, but then she’d slink away again before dawn would break.
Poppy scratched Minx’s chin and heard her purr contentedly. She wished she could huddle up with the cats and spend the day in their company, away from all the people and all the stress, just as she’d done when she was small. They were her only real companions, but she had to keep them a secret if she wanted to avoid her father’s suspicions. As Poppy had grown up, she’d learned to hide the things she guessed would bother her father. So for a long time now, the cats had sensed they must stay away, only coming to her when she was alone. The spiders would also scurry out of sight when John returned home, and the insects would flitter into the shadows.
In this way Poppy had managed to deceive her father into believing there was nothing mysterious or unnatural about her. And as she’d grown from a little girl into a teen, it became easy for John to blame Poppy’s troubles on her mother. On the odd occasion Poppy would reason this too. She told herself her mother’s breakdown had been a traumatic event, that she must be scathed by it even if she wasn’t conscious of it. She lacked a female role model, a mother’s love. No wonder she had anger issues. But then something truly weird would happen—like how she knew Uncle Bob was going to die before the summer came, and how two days later he announced he was terminally ill. He died at the end of May, and the day after his funeral the sun began to shine.
After that, Poppy stopped making excuses for herself and tried very hard to accept that she was different. So much felt beyond her control or understanding, but as long as she kept her head down at school and as long as she kept covering her tracks at home, her dad would choose not to look too closely at any evidence she might have failed to hide. Denial was a powerful thing, and a part of Poppy admired her mother for not having been held under its sway. It was lonely, though, all this pretense. There was no hiding that.
Poppy looked around the classroom. On the far side, middle row, she could see one empty desk. It was next to the window. Outside stood a tree almost near enough to touch. Its branches swayed in the wind, beckoning Poppy closer. She moved quickly and quietly to the seat, her head bowed, eyes fixed ahead. She was about to sit down when she felt the hairs on her arms bristle.
“What d’you think you’re doing?” The accent was harsh this far north, the vowels spiky and serrated like the thistles that spread across the fields.
Poppy straightened. “Sorry,” she mumbled without looking up.
“Find somewhere else to sit.”
Poppy glanced at the girl, taking in her angry, narrowed eyes and lips pursed in confrontation. “It’s all yours,” she said in a low voice as she turned away.
The other kids started to laugh. A gust of wind shook the tree and rattled the windows. Poppy glanced around her, hoping and praying for another desk.
“Got nowhere to go?” the girl taunted.
A skinny boy with long hair pulled out his chair. “She can have mine, Kelly.”
Poppy stared at the boy, trying to decide whether to trust him. Past experience told her not to. From the girls, she got dislike and aggression. But from the boys, she sensed fear. She didn’t understand why. She was small, unthreatening. They were so much stronger. But she saw it now in this boy’s eyes, underneath the bravado and the posturing.
“Do you want it or not?” he challenged, holding onto the back of the chair and moving it so she could sit.
Poppy felt all the eyes in the room upon her and realized that she didn’t have much choice. She walked past some other girls, and the overpowering scent of perfume, gum, and Diet Coke made her want to gag.
“Thanks,” she muttered to the boy.
As Poppy sat down, there was the scrape of chair legs on flooring and a heavy thump as she hit the ground. A pain shot up her spine. The kids broke into laughter, some embarrassed with their hands over their mouths, others in unfettered delight. Poppy stared at her shoes. Her voice was loud in her head, trying to drown out the uproar—ignore them . . . just ignore them . . . don’t get angry . . . breathe . . . just breathe. Hot tears stung her eyes as the voice tried hard to calm her. She blinked them back. She looked up at the boy, who shrugged belligerently but then blinked nervously. Poppy scanned the room, taking in all the grinning faces, monstrous in their howls of laughter.
The tree branch slapped the window and the kids flinched. The crack it left in the glass seemed small but it spread, slowly at first . . . then ripping along the windows until they shattered. The glass splintered, and tiny shards dropped like hail onto the class. The kids screamed and tried to cover themselves.
“It’s in my hair!” yelled Kelly, the desk girl, her hands picking frantically at the glinting sparkles in her hair. Unbeknownst to her, a trickle of blood ran from her forehead to her ear. “What are you looking at?” she yelled at Poppy.
Without replying, Poppy got up and sat down at the boy’s seat, pulling it firmly behind the desk. He stepped away from her, and she began to coolly and calmly unpack her bag. She set out her books so they lined up neatly and opened her pencil case, carefully laying out a pencil and pen. The boy just stood there, his mouth open, watching her numbly.
“Got nowhere to go?” Poppy asked pointedly. Looking spooked, he backed away further, tripping over someone’s backpack as he went.
Kelly was brushing the glistening specks of glass from her skirt. “You’re a freak!” she accused.
“Tell you what,” Poppy picked up the pen and clicked it open, “you stay away from me, and I’ll do the same for you. How does that sound?”
Kelly raised her eyebrows challengingly.
“And you might want to wipe that blood off your face,” added Poppy in her most matter-of-fact voice.
Kelly dived for her bag and rummaged through it, grappling for the hand mirror buried in its depths. She flicked it open and shrieked when she saw the blood. Poppy shook her head. She’d encountered tough girls like Kelly before—they liked scratching and punching with words, talking a fighting talk, but anything resembling a real wound, and they crumbled. Kelly ran out of the room, clutching her head, barging past the teacher as he was walking in. He watched her go as though such scenes of hysteria were utterly to be expected, then entered the room and saw the damaged windows. At that moment the wind shook the building and surged through the remaining jagged glass so that, inside the classroom, papers rippled, skirts billowed, and hairdos ruffled.
“Mark,” the teacher yelled to the chair boy. “Don’t just stand there looking foolish. Go get Mr. Harding.”
Mark, relieved to get away, sprang into action instantly. The teacher looked around.
“Okay, everyone. Settle down.” His eyes rested on Poppy. “New girl, right?” He looked down at a list on the top of his folder. “Poppy Hooper?”
“You picked quite a day to start. I see you found yourself a desk all right.”
Poppy gave the smallest hint of a smile. “No problem, sir.”
It took two to extract venom from a snake. Sister Ada, whose cracked, leathered skin resembled that of the adders in her basket, instructed the girls to split into pairs.
Ember glanced around at the girls sitting cross-legged under the shelter of the wide-branched ash tree in the northwest corner of the camp. All of them were now getting to their feet and making a beeline for their chosen partner. Ember sat and waited, but as always, no one picked her. It still hurt to be alone and last, even after all these times, especially since today it meant partnering with Sister Ada. She was one of the elders who, despite her respect for Charlock, found it hard to hide her deep aversion for Ember, always with a pointed word or stabbing look, crossing the camp to avoid her. Now Ember had to stand next to her at the front of the class, so close she could see the hairs on Sister Ada’s chin and study the loose, reddened wattle skin hanging from her neck.
Sister Ada picked up one of the adders, holding it firmly in her hands and pointing it toward the old, glass jar on the weather-worn table. Ember wanted to run from the lesson, but she wasn’t sure of whom she was more frightened—the adder or Sister Ada.
“The fangs must pierce the membrane that covers your glass jar. This will induce the snake to bite.” In one deft move, Sister Ada had her snake in the required position, fangs inserted through the membrane.
The snake eyed Ember beadily as if blaming her for its predicament. Ember tried to stop shaking.
“Seems this feller doesn’t want to cooperate.” Sister Ada looked at Ember suspiciously. “I’m sensing deep discomfort.”
Ember, who never thought she’d have something in common with a snake, felt a brief pang of sympathy for the creature. It didn’t want to be here anymore than she did.
“Ember, rub your finger between its eyes. Snakes detest that. Should make him angry enough to bite.”
Ember willed her hand to move, but it wouldn’t. She started to feel sick.
“Sister Ada, she’s going to vomit again!”
"Brignull's The Hawkweed Prophecy is a deft exploration of friendship, sacrifice, and betrayal. I can't decide who I love more, the sweet and trusting Ember or the spunky, dark Poppy. You can't help but cheer for both girls, and ache when they are pitted against one another. I was completely absorbed in the sinister, complicated world of magic and witches. The coven is described so confidently and beautifully, it's hard to emerge from the novelw ithout wondering if these women are operating somewhere just below the surface of our world. Full of romance, heart, and suspense, readers will find themselves staying up all night just to spend a little more time with Ember and Poppy."
—Madeleine Roux, author of the Asylum series
—Laini Taylor, author of The Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy
"Irena Brignull's The Hawkweed Prophecy is a book of wicked, beautiful magic. Compulsively readable and delightfully gritty, one does not mess with these Hawkweed witches."
—Kendare Blake, author of Anna Dressed in Blood, and Three Dark Crowns
"Wise, weird, a touch evil and totally charming, Irena Brignull's tale of magic in our time is as rich and complicated as sisterhood. From the first page, I felt drawn into a modern classic."
—Anna Godbersen, author of The Luxe, and Bright Young Things series
"I loved this book! Irena has created such a beautiful complete world-our world, and nestled within it, a simmering world of magic. The Hawkweed Prophecy has everything: friendship, desire, delicious earthy magic, secrets and spells, and at its centre, the wonderful young Poppy, on a journey of self-discovery."
—Karen Foxlee, author of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, and A Most Magical Girl
- "The Hawkweed Prophecy was bewitching from the get-go. Irena Brignull does an amazing job weaving a tale of pure magic in this debut novel. She'll have you on a roller coaster of emotions from the very first page. Get ready to be spellbound."—Paige McKenzie, author of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl series
"Brignull develops story and characters slowly, long, luxurious sentences balancing the magic and the mundane expertly and building the world of the witches by showing how out of place Ember is in it. Tension builds inexorably to the inevitable witch showdown, which brings small victories but not a happily-ever-after for all. The third-person narration switches focus from character to character as they make frustrating, heart-rending, totally believable choices. Fantasy and nonfantasy readers alike will appreciate this gritty and intriguing coming-of-age story."
"Brignull...debuts with an instantly engrossing novel...It's a fantasy with the air of a classic, yet one that's also entirely contemporary in its tight focus on identity, friendship, and romance. Ages 12-up."
—Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
"For fans of mysticism and witches, this is a must-buy."
—School Library Journal
- "Witchy, soulful, vibrant, mysterious."—Rachel Ashworth Writes
- On Sale
- Aug 15, 2017
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Hachette Books