The Witch Haven
by Sasha Peyton Smith
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Releasing on August 31, 2021
YA FICTION-Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Witches
The Last Magician meets The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy in this thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards.
In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.
Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.
Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?
CONTENT WARNINGS (mild spoilers below): The Witch Haven deals heavily in themes of grief, as much of the story centers around the main character, Frances, trying to solve the murder of her brother.
Additionally, the book opens with a scene of an attack that the main character assumes will turn into sexual assault, though her attacker is killed before anything sexual in nature happens. In this scene, she is also choked. If you wish to skip the opening chapter and jump right into chapter two to avoid this scene, you are welcome to do so, though Frances does have recollections of the event and feels angry about it through the course of the book.
Other warnings: blood, murder both on page and off, drowning, absentee parents, the main character’s mother resides in an asylum for assumed mental health issues, discussions of Native American boarding schools, and emotional manipulation.
Congratulations on your debut book! What inspired you to write The Witch Haven?
Thank you so much! The Witch Haven takes place at a school for witches disguised as a tuberculosis sanitarium, and was inspired, in part, by my grandmother’s time spent in a tuberculosis sanitarium in the 1930s. I’ve always loved history, and writing a historical novel gave me an excuse to go on a bunch of weird research deep dives. As someone whose desk is currently littered with crystals, writing a witchy book felt natural.
What was your favorite part of writing The Witch Haven?
This might be a strange answer, but how many incredible people it brought into my life! Writing requires being so deeply in your head, it can feel really isolating. When I first started writing, I read that you were supposed to find critique partners, and like many writers, I reached out into the void of the internet to see if anyone wanted to exchange work. Through that, I found some of my very best friends. Getting to count so many talented writers among my friends and colleagues is the greatest gift this journey has given me. I could never publish a book again and it all will have been worth it for the people it brought into my life.
What can readers expect from your main character, Frances?
Frances is a 17-year-old seamstress determined to solve the murder of her brother. She’s grieving deeply through the course of the book and that makes her a little reckless. She’s lonely and kind and well-intentioned and sarcastic. I joke that she’s my ode to angry girls. I remember having this great big well of FEELING inside of me at 17. I tried to give Frances some of that same emotional intensity.
What has been your favorite part of being a debut author so far?
The readers sliding into my DMs to scream about the twist at the end of the book!! I cackle like a movie villain every time. It’s been so fun to see reader’s reactions in general to the book, but getting an Instagram message that simply says “SASHA. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE.” Will never get old.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Find your people! Writing can get lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Social media can also sometimes curate the illusion that everyone is friends without you. It often feels like everyone is going to a birthday party that you weren’t invited to. This isn’t true! Find one or two people you trust to bounce ideas off of, vent to, and support. Finding your person might take a minute, but I promise it is worth it. I never could have done this alone.
What do you hope readers take away from The Witch Haven?
The Witch Haven is a book about friendship and grief and the question of who gets to have real power. I hope that it makes readers feel the same great big feelings I feel when I read one of my favorite young adult novels. I hope it is fundamentally an entertaining ride, and I hope it makes you want to text your best friend or your sibling that you love them.
Sasha Peyton Smith grew up in the mountains of Utah surrounded by siblings, books, and one very old cat. She attended the University of Utah and the George Washington University where she studied biology and public health. She is not a witch, though she does own a lot of crystals and always knows what phase the moon is in. She currently lives in Washington D.C. with her partner and collection of porcelain hands. Her debut novel is THE WITCH HAVEN, coming fall 2021 with Simon and Schuster.
Enter for a chance to win one of two (2) physical finished copies of THE WITCH HAVEN by Sasha Peyton Smith! Open USA only.
Giveaway starts: Monday, August 30, 2021
Giveaway ends: Monday, September 6, 2021 at 12:00 a.m. CDT