EXCERPT and GIVEAWAY
The Wicked Awakening of Anne Merchant
(V Trilogy Book 2)
(V Trilogy Book 2)
by Joanna Wiebe
The Wicked Awakening of Anne Merchant is the second book in the V Trilogy by Joanna Wiebe. Also available: The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant.
The Wicked Awakening of Anne Merchant is currently on tour with Reading Addiction Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
Life and death, light and dark, spirit and flesh-on Wormwood Island, the lines are always blurred. For Anne Merchant, who has been thrust back into this eerily secretive world, crossing the line seems inevitable, inescapable, destined.
Now, as Ben finds himself battling for the Big V and Teddy reveals the celestial plan in which Anne is entwined, Anne must choose: embrace her darkly powerful connection to a woman known as Lilith and, in doing so, save the boy she loves … or follow a safer path that is sure to lead to Ben’s destruction at the hands of dark leaders. Hoping the ends will justify the means, Anne starts down the slippery slope into the underworld, intent on exploring the dark to find the light. But as the lure of Lilith proves powerfully strong, will Anne save others - only to lose herself?
I know, when I look at Dr. Zin, that the devastating effects of my faulty escape were even farther reaching than I’d worried. Here stands a man who was once plastic surgeon to celebrity clientele, a man who struck me as dazzling when I first saw him, a man who could have been the poster boy for “the beautiful people”—and you would never know this man is the same man.
Raw redness covers his neck in thick flame-shaped patches, the tender-looking bottoms of which disappear under his shirt collar and the sticky tips of which stretch over his jaw where they climb like thin claws up the sides of his once-immaculate face. His broad shoulders droop under the weight of a thousand invisible demons. The black bag he carries dangles precariously on his fingertips, which have uncoiled from a fist exhausted by clenching. His feet in their scuffed wingtips are wobbly. A frown is carved into the flesh of his face. And his eyes—they are the most irreparably damaged of all. Though not burned like his skin, they are puffy with heartache and aberrantly dark; they are like the half-open flaps of a dingy cellar, revealing a darkness stacked high with shadowy boxes and crates packed to bursting courtesy of fifty years of soul-crushing experiences, not the least of which happened the other night.
As I feel Hiltop’s hungry gaze observing my reaction to this weakened, beat-down and scarred version of Dr. Zin—a version that is her own making—I look away from it all. My horror will only please Hiltop more, but what she thinks about me right now is the least of my concerns. Because this is my fault. Dr. Zin’s life would be perfectly normal, and Ben would be safe in his father’s house, if not for me. I want to tell him how sorry I am for what they’ve done to him, what they did to punish him for his son’s actions. But my lips are sealed. I don’t dare say a word, though I can’t help but think, God, is there anyone on earth I don’t have to apologize to?
“What’re these kids doing here?” Dr. Zin asks in a slur that can only mean one thing: AA is officially over for him. Hiltop crosses the room to stand next to me and interlocks our arms like we’re old friends. She explains cheerily to the parents, “We’re writing a piece for the school paper.”
I jerk my arm free.
“What paper?” Dr. Zin asks her. She glares at him. “Oh, sure, um, the paper.”
Under my breath, I hiss at Hiltop, “You burned him? Will your punishments never end?”
“Burned Zin?” she whispers back. “On the contrary. He earned those burns in the car accident he caused years ago. I’ve simply… allowed his true self to shine through again.”
“Hush. He asked for them. As a reminder that he is responsible for Ben’s situation.”
Dr. Zin speaks directly to Dia Voletto this time. “May I present Mr. and Mrs. Robert Smith.” His voice cracks as he offers his black doctor’s bag to Dia. “And the vials, produced in triplicate, of the blood of their son, Damon, the next candidate for vivification at Cania Christy.”
The Smiths stand straighter and try to mask their excitement as the stage is set for this moment they’ve been waiting for—this real-life act of wondrous magic.
As I watch Dr. Zin swing unsteadily back and forth on his heels, only skittishly looking my way, Dia opens the black leather bag, the very one Teddy mentioned yesterday. He reaches into it. The Smiths gasp as he withdraws a long, glistening vial of deep mahogany-colored blood. Damon Smith in a bottle. Dia steps forward and wraps his hands around it.
Almost the moment he touches it, a piercing shrill fills the office, ripping my gaze from Dr. Zin. I clap my hands to my ears—the Smiths do, too—as dense air whooshes over us, seeming to fly in from behind the plaster walls. The chandeliers swing. Paintings rattle. Light-colored fragments appear from nowhere and fly toward Dia, in all directions, and then fuse, with a great sucking force that tugs at my skirt and shakes the books on the shelves, into a glowing, growing sphere in the center of the room. Dia is smiling. Dr. Zin just keeps rocking on his feet; he’s seen this a zillion times.
The Smiths, as thrilled as ever, cling to each other, welcoming this unearthly synthesis. I shield myself from the flying spots of blue and white light. Dia’s grin spreads. Hiltop’s eyes glisten—she almost looks emotional. No one can tear their gaze away as a human is re-created before us, recreated in a spectacle that is like all things on Wormwood Island: terrifying and hypnotizing at once.
And then, in a whirl that leaves me choking on my own breath, it’s done. Damon Smith stands in the suit they buried him in. His back is to me and Hiltop; he’s next to Dia. His parents reach for him, but Dr. Zin holds them back.
“Not yet.” Dr. Zin clears his throat and, flipping open a small notebook, reads to the boy, “Damon Archibald Smith, welcome to the Cania Christy Preparatory Academy. You died of leukemia approximately five days ago in Boston, Massachusetts. You have been granted a second chance at life here on Wormwood Island by the venerable Headmaster Dia Voletto. To give you this chance, your parents have agreed to the following terms of admission: to finance the construction of Cania College on Wormwood Island and to guarantee its completion by the end of this school year.”
For the first time, the mention of Cania College interests me. What if there’s a chance that Ben can go there? If he’s decided not to throw himself on Garnet’s mercy—to date her and leave me—is there any chance he could graduate, move along to the college, and try his hand at winning life there?
But, no, surely that’s not possible.
Dia wouldn’t give us more time on earth. Why would he? Is he the devil with the heart of gold? He sent Teddy away to look for a new home for Mephisto. Is this all just about broadening their reach? High school students weren’t enough. Next up? College students. And then what? A junior high on whatever island Mephisto takes over? An elementary school? A bank, hotel, grocery store, airport, stock exchange?
As Dr. Zin finishes his robotic speech, Hiltop joins Dia at his side.
“Please take a moment to absorb this information, Damon, following which we will reunite you with your mother and father, answer your questions and proceed with the rules of the school, the assignment of your Guardian, and the declaration of your prosperitas thema.”
“It’s your turn now,” Hiltop tells Dia with a nudge. “Take control.”
She’s broken her cover, but the Smiths would never know it. Tears stream down their faces and run into their mouths as they look at the boy they surely thought they’d never see alive again, a boy who is free of cancer. You can see them restraining themselves, clenching their fists and gritting their teeth to keep from flinging themselves at him.
“Oh, Damon!” his mother cries.
Damon, I notice, has been rocking on the spot. And now, with the cry of his mother, he pivots toward her. In a slow, swaying motion. He faces Dr. Zin and his parents. I can’t help myself: I sigh with joy for the Smith family. I get it. I get why parents give up so much for this opportunity.
But he doesn’t stop. He pivots toward me. Only when he faces me does my stomach turn. Damon looks so frail and lost.
And far too lost.
When I was vivified yesterday, I felt wonky for a while. But not for long. Did I look like Damon looks? His face is ghostly pale. His jaw is slack, his head tipped unnervingly. His irises are thin yellow lines circling his oversized pupils.
Something is very, very wrong.
When the Smiths stop sobbing with joy long enough to realize that there may be little to be joyful for, the only sounds in the room become the low wheeze that leaves Damon’s mouth in choppy spurts and the creaking of the floor as he turns toward new noises.
“What’s going on?” Dia asks Hiltop through a clenched smile. “Why does he look like that?”
Mrs. Smith echoes his concern, but louder. “Damon?”
Damon shifts on instinct toward each new sound he hears, pivoting in the center of the room.
Mrs. Smith stumbles back. Away from her husband. Away from what should be her son but clearly isn’t. The blood has drained from her face just as it’s drained from Damon’s. Mr. Smith is no less horrified by the possibility of what has happened here than his wife; he’s just slower to react, slower to believe it could be so.
“Tell me this sometimes takes a while.” Mr. Smith’s deep voice fights a tremble. “Tell me it’s normal for my boy to seem so… soulless. This will change. He’ll be his old self soon. Tell me, Dr. Zin. It just takes a minute for his soul to meet his body. Isn’t that right?”
“It looks to me like the body of your boy is with us,” Dia says like some sort of rookie policeman poking around the scene of a murder, “but his soul’s long gone. Probably moved on to its next life.”
Dia raises an eyebrow in Hiltop’s direction, and I realize that Hiltop’s walking our new headmaster through the vivification process; this is Dia’s first time. She steps up swiftly to calm the Smiths, though her message does little to end Mrs. Smith’s whimpers. The child they thought they’d be holding is, once again, being taken from them.
A lump is in my throat. I can’t swallow it down.
“My apologies, but this happens from time to time, as I’m sure Dr. Zin told you,” Hiltop says, flicking a stony glare as she walks by an unfazed Dr. Zin. “Cania Christy cannot guarantee that every child can be vivified. Naturally, understanding that we could not fulfill our end of the exchange, your contract is now null and void.”
“What do you mean this happens? What do you mean no guarantee? Why can’t you do what you said?” Mrs. Smith looks frantically at each of us. She bounces on the spot as if torn between rushing to hold the animated body of her son, a body that appears far healthier than Damon must have been in his last days, and cowering from the dismal monster that teeters in confusion. “Where’s Damon? Where’s my baby
boy? What is this atrocity? Zin didn’t tell us anything about—what the hell is this?” She shoots a stinging glare at me and Hiltop. “Did you know this would happen, you little scamps? Is this some sort of edgy story for your stupid paper?”
My tongue knots. Hiltop looks expectantly at Dr. Zin, who, inebriated, shrugs like it’s not his problem.
“Would you like me to walk them out?” Dr. Zin asks Dia.
“No!” Mr. Smith insists. “No. That’s not the answer. There’s no walking us out. No. No, make Damon be here. It doesn’t get simpler than that. You said you would. What more do you need? What more can I give you?”
I drop my eyes the moment Mr. Smith fumbles to remove his watch, as if this is one of those problems you can solve by hocking your Rolex. When I dare to look up again, I find him with his hands fidgeting helplessly at his sides; his fingers are stripped of rings; his jewelry is pooled in Dia’s hands alongside the vial of blood.
His wife bolts from the room. She slams the door and attracts Damon’s vacant stare.
Mr. Smith’s reddened gaze falls on the boy. “Why is he like this?”
Hiltop nudges Dia, who hands the jewelry back to Mr. Smith and says, “Each of our souls is on a continuum. It stops in bodies—in different lives—along the way. Being Damon was just one stop on his journey. Usually we’re able to vivify before the next stop. That wasn’t the case today.”
“Are you talking about reincarnation?”
“So, wait,” Mr. Smith sniffles, taking a silk handkerchief from his coat and blowing his nose as his gaze rolls to and from the rocking boy. “Are you saying that Damon—hold on, can you please do something to get rid of this abomination? It breaks my heart to see him like this. Even if it’s just his body.”
Dia holds the vial up and, without a thought, tosses it into the fireplace. In moments, the glass heats enough to shatter, drizzling blood into the flames. Damon Archibald Smith gradually vanishes; Mr. Smith turns his eyes away like he’s been slapped, and I’ve gotta say that, as cool as I think I am with death thanks to growing up in a funeral home, even I have to glance away.
Again, Mr. Smith blows his nose. When he turns back to Hiltop and Dia, he looks more composed.
“I don’t want the contract to be null and void,” Mr. Smith says. “I died the day cancer took Damon, so I’ll be happy for the distraction of building your college.”
“We can’t bring your boy back,” Dia says.
“I will give you what you wanted—that college in the village—if you will tell me this: whom has my son been reincarnated as? When we’re finished building your college, I intend to move to wherever he is and watch him grow.”
Dia begins to protest, but Mr. Smith holds his hand up to silence him and turns instead to Hiltop.
“You,” he says to her. “You’re the one running this, right?”
“Until recently, yes. Now I’m more of an advisor.”
“And you, too?” He looks at me.
I stammer, “No. Not me. Not at all.”
“So you’re just a dead kid this actually worked on?”
Hiltop brings the conversation back on track. “I’m the one you want to talk to.”
“Have you still got what it takes to track a deceased child’s soul? Can you help me?”
I’m stunned at how much Mr. Smith knows. Do all parents know there’s more to Cania Christy than a magic show?
“I am always open to… interesting exchanges.”
“Good,” Mr. Smith says. He glances at Dia, too. “Good. I’m not here to judge. I just want to know what my boy is doing. Where he’s living. Who he was reincarnated as. Tell me that, and you’ll get your college.”
Praise for the Book
"The Wicked Awakening of Anne Merchant was amazing. An extremely fast paced and engaging plot with some truly surprising twists, this book is a must read. It's one heck of a second book and while it answers a lot of questions, we are still left with more also add in the extra characters and their stories, well let's just say that I need book 3 like yesterday. Its jam packed with action, magic, secrets, twists, and basically anything you want in a great read. There's so much I want to talk about but I can't because of spoilers so all I'll say is you need to read this series!! It's such a unique and amazing series and one that captured my heart. This is one of my favourite reads this year and I so cannot wait to see what happens next. It's a must read series!!" ~ Natalie @ Book Lovers Life
"I am really loving this series! The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant, book one in the V Trilogy, was so unique and captivating. I was so excited to continue Anne's story in The Wicked Awakening of Anne Merchant. I was expecting another compelling and intense read, and Wiebe did not disappoint. The Wicked Awakening of Anne Merchant was even better than its predecessor. [...] The premise of this series is so unique. I'm not going to tell you what it is, because it'll spoil book one for you, if you haven't read it yet. But suffice it to say, it's imaginative and really fun to read a story this different from others in the genre. Wiebe's pacing was perfect. The book moved quickly, but not so fast that I felt like I was racing to keep up. I had a very difficult time putting this story down once I started reading. It was good from beginning to end, with no slow spots. The Wicked Awakening of Anne Merchant is a compelling read. The slight cliffhanger ending left me aching for book three - and I cannot wait to see how Wiebe concludes this exciting series!" ~ Kelli of I'd So Rather Be Reading
"Love this girl's writing!" ~ Tina Mazutinec
"Oh My Gosh!!! This book was a whirlwind. My anxiety level elevated from the first to the last. I actually felt out of breath a few times with everything going on! [...] There are so many surprises. You do need to have read the previous book in the series to be able to understand this one. You will probably be better off if you read them in a row. I had a little bit of a problem picking up the thread with so much going on but it all worked itself out. And the ending … well, some things are brought to a conclusion but still, not the ending I needed. There is obviously more to come! Will I be continuing on, well, I have no choice. I have to see what happens next." ~ Carol
About the Author
By day, Joanna is a copywriter and the co-founder of Page99Test.com, a critique site for published and unpublished writers. As an undergraduate student, Joanna won several academic awards for excellence in creative writing: Canada's James Patrick Folinsbee Prize, which she won twice, as well as the Godfrey Prize.
After graduating, she lived for a year on the remote northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, which is the inspiration for the verdant Wormwood Island of the V Trilogy. She holds a BA in Honors English and an MA in Communications from the University of Alberta and lives with her partner Lance in Victoria, British Columbia.
The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant is her first novel and the first installment in the V Trilogy. It is followed by The Wicked Awakening of Anne Merchant.
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