A Drop of Venom

A Drop of Venom

by Sajni Patel
A Drop of Venom

A Drop of Venom

by Sajni Patel


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Circe goes YA in this unapologetically feminist retelling of the Medusa myth steeped in Indian mythology, a YA epic fantasy addition to the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.

All monsters and heroes have beginnings. This is mine.

Sixteen-year-old Manisha is no stranger to monsters—she’s been running from them for years, from beasts who roam the jungle to the King’s army, who forced her people, the naga, to scatter to the ends of the earth. You might think that the kingdom’s famed holy temples atop the floating mountains, where Manisha is now a priestess, would be safe—but you would be wrong.

Seventeen-year-old Pratyush is a famed slayer of monsters, one of the King’s most prized warriors and a frequent visitor to the floating temples. For every monster the slayer kills, years are added to his life. You might think such a powerful warrior could do whatever he wants, but true power lies with the King. Tired after years of fighting, Pratyush wants nothing more than a peaceful, respectable life.

When Pratyush and Manisha meet, each sees in the other the possibility to chart a new path. Unfortunately, the kingdom’s powerful have other plans. A temple visitor sexually assaults Manisha and pushes her off the mountain into a pit of vipers. A month later, the King sends Pratyush off to kill one last monster (a powerful nagin who has been turning men to stone) before he’ll consider granting the slayer his freedom.

Except Manisha doesn’t die, despite the hundreds of snake bites covering her body and the venom running through her veins. She rises from the pit more powerful than ever before, with heightened senses, armor-like skin, and blood that can turn people to stone. And Pratyush doesn’t know it, but the “monster” he’s been sent to kill is none other than the girl he wants to marry.

Alternating between Manisha’s and Pratyush’s perspectives, Sajni Patel weaves together lush language, high stakes, and page-turning suspense, demanding an answer to the question “What does it truly mean to be a monster?”

Endorsed by Rick Riordan, author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, now a hit series on Disney+.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781368092685
Publisher: Disney Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/16/2024
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 28,138
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Sajni Patel is an award-winning author of women’s fiction and young adult books. Her works have appeared on numerous Best Of the Year and Must Read lists from Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Apple Books, AudioFile, Tribeza, NBC, Insider, and many others.

Read an Excerpt



As integral to life as breathing. They prowled through the shadows all around. Eyes as cavernous as the Blood River. Talons sharper than winter-steel swords. Minds as adept as any human’s. Plotting behind dense foliage. Stalking from the jungle canopy. Lurking in the depths of calm waters.  Calculating, cunning, and deadly. Make no mistake. Monsters, contrary to popular belief, were intelligent. 

These were tales as old as creation, of beings born from nightmares: those who crawled through dimensions, said to have no souls, preying on humans if only to wreak havoc and satiate their bloodlust. Legend said these monsters originated from the depths of the universe where light had never reached, born in inky shadows and drawn to this world to hunt weaker creatures: humans. To bring balance, the vidyadhara gifted these weak mortals aid from their abode in the heavens—the floating mountains.

But mortal kings schemed to gain celestial knowledge from them, forbidden truths that could lead to unnatural things. They bided their time, and on the deathbed of the first king, his sons enslaved the vidyadhara, clipped their wings, and stole their wisdom. Anarchy ensued. Imbalance spread across the realm, stretching as far as the glistening sea, as deep as the shadowy chasms, and as high as the speckled night sky.

As humans evolved and villages joined other villages to rise in defense, something new was born. They were the slayers: warriors who trained from childhood to hunt and kill monsters. They were men of fame, adored by all, envied and desired, and lavishly celebrated by the kings of this new realm.  Their weapons gleamed as they razed the land like an angry scythe. Fires set the world ablaze, and venom rose from its ashes.

The slayers were said to be immortal: For every monster slain, a lifetime was added to their own. Monsters were said to be inherently evil—deserving of death upon first sight.

But that was the thing about myths and legends.

There was so much to get wrong, and so little one knew of their true origins.

Manisha (Five Years Ago)

All monsters and heroes have beginnings. This is mine.

Silt and cinder covered Manisha’s face, gray snowflakes burdening her lashes and sloughing from her feet as she scrambled up a tree. She wasn’t trying to flee or hide (nagin did not run); she searched for an opening to unleash a counterattack.

The roar of the Fire Wars was blistering and deafening. Chaos unfurled—meant to destroy, even when it couldn’t obliterate resilience. The realm sat on the brink of oblivion, crumbling at the hands of the men who had forged its beginnings. A world built in blood shall drown in blood. And so the Nightmare Realm flowed red, a waterway of slain bodies carving through its heart. But today was not the day Manisha and her family would be sent down the Blood River. Not if they could help it.

Her eldest sister, Eshani—the most levelheaded of the three—came crashing through the jungle ferns, half kneeling, half squatting on the back of her giant tiger, Lekha. Eshani plucked an arrow from her quiver and unleashed it into the thicket, earning screams from invading soldiers. Her arrows never missed, not when the winter-steel tips hungered for vengeance.

Lekha roared, flashing razor-edged teeth and a mighty jaw. The ground shuddered like thunderclaps threatening to smite all in their path, Lekha’s big paws pounding the ground like a battle drum. Eshani backflipped off, landing on her haunches at the base of the tree her youngest sister climbed.

“Manisha!” Eshani called.

But Manisha was scampering higher, coughing as the sizzling air turned hotter by the minute and ignoring how every breath scorched her insides.

In the near distance, a row of the King’s army fought the remnants of the once-mighty naga. Manisha’s mother and aunts and second-eldest sister, Sithara, stood among the resistance. They were wild and wonderful, goddesses in their own right, wielding every weapon they could carry. Tridents and spears, swords and knives, arrows and axes.

The battle raged on, erupting with showers of arrows, clashing daggers, and a cacophony of wails. The blood of Manisha’s people splattered against the green and brown of the forest, dusted with ashes. Her eyes brimmed with tears. A scream trapped itself in her chest. They couldn’t die like this! They just wanted freedom. Why couldn’t the King leave them alone? Hadn’t he contributed enough bodies to the Blood River without adding theirs?

A soldier struck Mama. A vicious rage exploded through Manisha. She might’ve only been eleven, but she wasn’t a stranger to violence—or the need to defend her loved ones. Papa wasn’t here anymore to help protect Mama, so the sisters had to.

Manisha released an arrow. The one arrow split into three. Two hit the soldiers advancing on Mama. The third arrow careened into the main attacker’s forehead, slitting all the way through his skull. The squelching sound made her shudder. But better him than her mother.

Papa had said naga arrow tips were made from winter-steel, the strongest metal in the land. Razor sharp and dipped in the blood of their foremothers, said to be more poisonous than any cobra, the naga people’s namesake.

“What are you doing?” Eshani snapped, her hand suddenly on Manisha’s shoulder.

“I had to save her,” Manisha protested.

“She’d want you to save yourself first!” Eshani tugged her arm and, together, they darted across tree limbs.

A quake rocked the land. A shrill pierced the air, nearly knocking them from the canopy. A horde of giant, angry boars rushed through the battle, bigger than tigers, with skin too thick for even winter-steel to pierce. They bared sharp teeth and even sharper fangs. Their eyes bulged dark red like clotted blood.

The boars gored soldiers with their two-foot-long tusks. Screams filled the air, already stifled by chaotic ruin. They ran off into the smoky distance, writhing soldiers impaled on carmine-stained tusks.

Manisha shook at the sight, but she couldn’t pity those sent to kill her family.

“Let’s go!” Eshani screamed as the branch broke beneath them.

Falling was always a thrilling moment, one that seemed to pass in slow motion. Manisha caught glimpses of the floating mountains through the jungle canopy. She used to jump from higher and higher ledges, pretending to fly. Legends said the ancient ones could fly. Manisha wondered if they ever fell. If they ever twisted ankles and bruised knees and scraped cheeks. If they ever fell on their sisters and trapped them against jagged tree limbs and crooked roots.

She moaned, rolling off Eshani, her back screaming in pain. She bit her lip to keep from crying. Warriors didn’t cry over a few sprains, she reminded herself.

Eshani groaned louder with every movement. “You weigh a thousand suns,” she mumbled. 

“Oh no!” Manisha knelt beside her, helping her to sit up beneath a trio of weeping willow trees.

“It’s okay, little one,” Eshani grunted, even though she was only two years older than Manisha. She clutched her side. “Hide. Into the ditches.”

Manisha eyed the shallow graves before scuttling down and wrapping her dupatta around her face.

“Make sure you cover your entire head. Don’t move until someone digs you out, do you understand?” Eshani said, her words rushed.

“Yes,” Manisha whimpered, fighting instincts to lie in a curled position on the loose timber platform in the center. The grave was meant for a boy who’d died from his wounds. Nothing about this felt okay.
Eshani dropped banana leaves on top of her sister, long enough to cover her entire body, and then dirt.

As darkness descended around Manisha, her breathing turned ragged, harsh inside the cloth. The earth was hard and smelled of dirt and grass. The pocket of air was both cold from the clutches of the ground and warm from her labored breathing.

She stilled, ignoring the cramping in her legs and back, and clenched her eyes tight. Heat seeped into the ground as the fires raged. She took slow breaths, harnessing the meditation rites of her people to be anywhere except here. Her body went slack. Her mind drifted to a different plane, a place where she sat with her foremothers as they regaled her with the legend of the naga.

As Manisha listened to them drive off the distant, muffled sounds of war, she cradled her bangle to her chest. The band of four gold coils around an oval stone glowed in the dim. She brought it to her face. The small amber stone pulsated as a tiny serpent writhed inside. She glanced up in bewilderment, a dozen questions sitting on her tongue. In the distance, shadows broke and came to life.

“You will not die here,” her ancestors told her. “You are the daughter of Padma, the grandchild of Padmavati. You have the blood of your foremothers in you, the will of great queens,” they hissed, their eyes turning into glinting diamonds, their forms changing into specters with long, winding tails, their hair frostbitten white.

They spoke of the naga legends in haunting whispers, of how their people were special, significant. But Manisha supposed everyone said that of their own kind.

One voice rose above the others, as clear as day when she spoke. “The naga are meant to be great and unifying, ruled by queens who will rise from morbid origins.”

Manisha frowned. She’d never believed in kismet and karma. How could she when her people didn’t deserve this fate?

Her foremothers swarmed around her in a rush of winds, spiraling higher and higher into a hooded cobra made from a mass of a hundred upon a hundred serpents.

“Heed our wisdom,” they hissed as one. “Retribution will come from resilience. A reckoning as inevitable as venom.”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

A Drop of Venom is visceral, unflinching, and completely captivating. In blending Indian mythology with the tale of Medusa, Sajni Patel has created something powerful, furious, and truly magical. I couldn't look away.” —Sarah Underwood, New York Times best-selling author of Lies We Sing to the Sea

“With a powerful message that is as mesmerizing as its mythical monsters, A Drop of Venom is storytelling at its finest; tackling tough issues with both frankness and compassion.” —Farrah Rochon, New York Times best-selling author of Almost There: A Twisted Tale

“A vivid tale of myths and legends, Sajni Patel’s A Drop of Venom is a story of tragedy and retribution, and I drank it down.” —Kendare Blake, #1 New York Times best-selling author of Three Dark Crowns
"One of the most terrifying—and misunderstood—villains in mythology is finally given her due in this vivid fantasy laced with forbidden romance, unspeakable horrors, and the ever-alluring gray area between heroes and monsters." —Marissa Meyer, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lunar Chronicles

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