Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

by LaDarrion Williams
Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

by LaDarrion Williams


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Notes From Your Bookseller

Leaving for college is complicated enough, but what if you don't even know the truth of your own story? Dark academia and magic collide in this fresh fantasy perfect for fans of Legendborn.

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A teenager on the run from his past finds the family he never knew existed and the community he never knew he needed at an HBCU for the young, Black, and magical. Enroll in this fresh fantasy debut unlike anything you've seen before.

Ten years ago, Malik's life changed forever the night his mother mysteriously vanished and he discovered he had uncontrollable powers. Since then, he has kept his abilities hidden, looking out for himself and his younger foster brother, Taye. Now, at 17, Malik is finally ready to start a new life for both of them, far from the trauma of his past. However, a daring act to rescue Taye reveals an unexpected connection with his long-lost grandmother: a legendary conjurer with ties to a hidden magical university that Malik’s mother attended.

At Caiman University, Malik’s eyes are opened to a future he never could have envisioned for himself— one that includes the reappearance of his first love, Alexis. His search for answers about his heritage, his powers, and what really happened to his mother exposes the cracks in their magical community as it faces a reawakened evil dating back to the Haitian Revolution. Together with Alexis, Malik discovers a lot beneath the surface at Caiman: feuding covens and magical politics, forbidden knowledge and buried mysteries.

In a wholly unique saga of family, history and community, Malik must embrace his legacy to save what's left of his old family as well as his new one. Exploring the roots and secrets that connect us in an unforgettable contemporary setting, this heart-pounding fantasy series opener is a rich tapestry of atmosphere, intrigue, and emotion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593711927
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 05/07/2024
Series: Blood at the Root , #1
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 4,753
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.60(d)
Lexile: HL670L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

LaDarrion Williams is a Los Angeles based-playwright, filmmaker, author, and screenwriter whose goal is to cultivate a new era of Black fantasy, providing space and agency for Black characters and stories in a new, fresh and fantastical way. He is currently a resident playwright/co-creator of The Black Creators Collective, where his play UMOJA made its West Coast premiere in January 2022 and produced North Hollywood’s first Black playwrights festival at the Waco Theater Center. Blood at the Root is his first novel. His viral and award-winning short film based on the same concept, is currently on YouTube and Amazon Prime.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Pride is the devil.

And it definitely got a hold on me because that’s the only thing that gets me through. Walking through this ghetto-ass world, I have to pay an abundance of broken memories and pride to live and survive.

With a thickness in my throat, I have a storm gathering inside me. I mean, I don’t know what it is, but all I know is that the weight of the world and past sins make my shoulders slump while I hustle my way into town. A whistle, then a loud pop, sizzles through the humid air. Right after, a trail of smoke follows. From my perspective, the Fourth of July ain’t changed for real. People doing the same old, same old. Barbecuing. Drinking. Playing loud-ass music and popping firecrackers. Carrying on like their lives can’t be destroyed in a single night.

Ten years later, and with fifty dollars and a few pairs of pants and shirts and my clean-ass Nike Dunks, I have nothing else but questions and pain—which is more than some folks got, I guess.

My phone vibrates against my leg.

You still coming to get me?

It’s a text message from my foster brother, Taye. He ain’t supposed to have a phone. If he gets caught, I ain’t buying him another one. It took me damn near three months of mowing lawns, cleaning up trash in the neighborhood, and low-key scamming and hustling just to get him that one. We needed to stay in constant communication because for the past few months, we’ve been devising a plan on how to see each other again. So that means kidnapping is on my agenda for today.

He sends a hurry up meme.

I click out of my messages, making my way deeper into town.

When I was first at the orphanage, I always wondered why I couldn’t go stay with folks from the neighborhood. Everybody in Liberty Heights talked—and they were not trying to take me in after the fire, my mama’s death, and, not to mention, me waking up surrounded by dead bodies. The rumors of me having something to do with my mama’s death flooded Liberty Heights like a river of blood.

I can remember it still, the red-and-blue lights slicing the dark. Smoke rising to the sky while hungry eyes crawled on me as I was ushered out of the house, unburned and disoriented. Confused social workers and police scoured the entire yard, questioning everybody in the neighborhood, but all my neighbors ain’t want that smoke.

Too many questions.

One of the questions being: Did he really kill his mama? Another one I heard whispered through the winds was how the hell did I make it out alive while three other bodies ended up crumpled under the debris, burned beyond recognition. Just catching the little conversations from the police and one of the firefighters, everyone assumed my mama was one of them. No matter how many times I told them there were five other people—my mama and those four strangers—in that house when the fire started. No one wanted to hear it. They told me I must have remembered wrong. I didn’t want to believe my mama was gone or that it was my fault. I thought she must have gotten out somehow, that she’d come back for me.

But from the whispers from the cackling play aunties and uncles of the neighborhood, my mama was for sure killed that night. And with everything and everyone around me believing she was dead and gone, I guess I just got tired of fighting it. But that was a long time ago.

One thing I did know is those folks didn’t want anything to do with me. So to the group home I went.

Do I blame them? Part of me did. But part of me kinda understood because my mama was everybody’s friend and auntie in Liberty Heights, and they looked at me as her murderer.

Never thought I’d end up where I am now. No family for real, and with this magic that I don’t have no idea about. I’ll say this: it ain’t like what people see on TV. It’s lonely as hell, and when it comes to these powers, I’m still afraid to even show them to myself.

When I first arrived at the orphanage, I met this girl Alexis, and we were at each other’s throats. Constantly fighting and bickering. Ya know, kid shit. Alexis always thought she was smarter than me and better than me at everything. Even for a little kid herself, she had the confidence of a grown woman. I couldn’t stand her ass. After some months of me being there, she started playing mean jokes on me. One time she made a bucket of old rainwater fall on my brand-new Easter outfit. Another time she pushed me out of the swing. But there would be times when I was around her, I’d get this crazy feeling of, like, we were connected in some way. With my seven-year-old brain, I ain’t really know how to communicate that.

But one night I saw her do magic. Bright purple and gold stretched from her hands like lightning and a gaggle of stars. It swirled and bent all around her, as if it was trying to protect her. She made the crummy backyard of our orphanage the most beautiful thing in the world. She made it our sanctuary.

She was just like me.

But she wasn’t afraid of her magic, even though her birth parents abandoned her when they found out their little girl had it. For a few months, she made me less afraid too.

And then like always, my lil’ bit of happiness got snatched away. Alexis was adopted and was gone. An older Black couple came in. The man had thick glasses. A scrunched-up face that reminds you of a pastor at a Baptist church. His wife was pretty, though. Young. I took her as an elementary school teacher. Not even an hour after they showed up, they decided to adopt Alexis and make her a part of their family.

My best friend, my first love, driving away . . . and never seeing or hearing from her again was the second heartbreak my young self experienced. Just thinking about it, I feel my heart beat faster and my lungs fight against my chest.

After that I tried to pretend my magic didn’t exist. All it did was remind me of pain. But I couldn’t always control it. Sometimes I managed to make little stuff fly, or make the channels flip on the TV without so much as a thought, or make the basketball go right in the net from half-court. Then Taye came to the orphanage and caught on fast to what I could do.

At first, he wasn’t even supposed to know about it. I wasn’t trynna show regular people my magic. I set those rules for myself because that’s how it was in the movies and comic books. People ain’t supposed to know you got magic powers, right? For their sake or whatever.

“I promise, I ain’t gon’ tell nobody,” he’d say, like I was the biggest superhero.

Taye doesn’t understand. He’s young. But spending the past ten years trying to find the good in my magic and understanding the magnitude that it brings doesn’t make me feel like nobody’s hero.

I’m the villain in everybody’s story.

Walking along the edge of town, I feel sweat ski down my neck. The oppressive humidity got my clothes sticking to me like syrup. I guess the old folks are right when they say, Alabama got some funny-made weather.

Speaking of funny-made weather, I twirl my fingers and manage to create a small breeze to cool myself down. That’s pretty much the most I can do without tiring myself out anyway. The few little tricks make me feel groggy and sluggish. Like I ate a triple burger with cheese and extra pickles from Whataburger. Even after ten years, I’m still a lil’ hesitant on using this magic stuff. I don’t trust myself with it. Most times, I can’t help it, but when I can, I try to avoid doing anything that’ll get attention on me again. Or get anyone else hurt.

And the only reason why I do the small stuff like this is because I remember how back at the group home, Taye’s eyes were cocked like a pistol whenever I did my magic.

He would say to me, “You doing ya magic makes me feel safe.”

I suck my teeth just thinking about it. My magic makes him feel safe. . . . It shouldn’t make nobody feel safe because it took my mama away from me.

When Taye got placed with the Hudsons two years after he arrived at the home, he held on to me for dear life, crying and begging them to take me with them. They agreed. Hell, that was an extra check for Carlwell from the state. His ass didn’t mind none.

And I didn’t mind either, as long as I was with Taye. I’ve been trying to get back to him since Carlwell kicked me out two years ago, and today it’s finally happening.

Me and Taye low-key already decided on a place to go: Cali. It’s far enough away for nobody to really notice us. This’d be our chance to start over. Hell, we deserve it.

So, on to part one of my plan: we need a car.

Which brings me to part two of my plan: I gotta steal one.

About two miles into town, things slowly become familiar. I come up to a bend that leads into a subdivision named Plantation South. A messed-up name, I know. It’s a haven for rich white and Black folks who think they are better than everybody. That old family money that gave people an out on life’s bullshit. Only in Alabama. Tall two-to-three-story homes. Autumn-baked streets paved with privilege and newly soldered tar. Stupid-looking yard gnomes and lawn chairs spread out in the manicured front yards, taunting us outsiders with a bullshit sign about ALL ARE WELCOME. Perched just right for everybody to see their fake-ass activism.

Just like the rest of the South, they try to hold on to things they should’ve let go of a long time ago. I guess we got shit in common.

On the left is a park full of exercise machines and a dog park. A small trail merges with the thick woods that bleed into Buck Creek, which runs through the city of Alabaster. Me and Alexis used to come here trick-or-treating during Halloween. I would dress up as a ninja, and Alexis would be a witch. They used to give out good candy: Reese’s. Butterfingers. Green Jolly Ranchers.

Even with magic powers, I’m still a nigga in the street, and I gotta be careful to not look too “suspicious.” My face shifts from intimidating to jovial—to keep my ass alive. I ain’t trynna end up like those people they post on social media. Nah. With me, I throw hands before I ever record a Karen or Dave with my phone for social media.

They got me fucked all the way up.

My headphones are wedged in my ears, blasting this artist called K. Starr. His EP bumping. Which helps me keep my head down, trying to be incognegro.

The front part of the neighborhood is pretty much out into the open. Walking along the road that curves before me, I hear kids in their backyards, sloshing around in their fancy pools and jumping on their trampolines.

A mixture of barbecue, chlorine, and sulfuric gunpower makes my nostrils flair with curiosity. It’s a funny thing about smells and how they can trigger memories you’ve tucked away for so long. I can’t even lie, that night still claws at me, trying to pull me down to that darkness that I spent so much time climbing out of.

One sniff, and you’re back to where it all began.

Nostalgia is a bitch, huh?

Soon as I find a hiding spot behind some of these bushes, I strip down to nothing but basketball shorts and a wrinkled T-shirt with Tupac from Poetic Justice that I bought from Walmart right when I left my last foster home, the Markhams’, back in Georgia. I wrap my headphones around my phone and place them and my clothes in my book bag.

My eyes scan the neighborhood in its entirety. I’m trying to pick the best car I can steal. No cap, I gotta be strategic about this because it’s something I gotta travel across the country with. Nothing too flashy, especially something the police ain’t going to be too quick to pull over.

Several cars are lined up in formation. The first one: Tesla.

Hell naw. They got those fancy computers. With the Find My iPhone app, I’m caught before I even hit the freeway. Shit smoootthhh, though. But pass.

Nissan Altima. Damn, the way my reflection slides across the tinted jet-black windows. That’s an automatic pull-over. So. I’m good on that one.

Dodge Avenger. Black. Not too decked out. Silver rims and a few dents decorate the side of the door. Also, the windows ain’t tinted that much. Just perfect for my first try at grand theft auto.

Body crouched low, I sneak up to it and crane my neck to make sure nobody sees me. The closed doors and muffled haughty laughter from inside the homes let me know that the coast is clear.

My hands wrap around the handle, pulling on it to open.

And . . . it’s locked.

Damn. A’ight. That means I gotta try the other way.

Like I said before, ain’t no manual to this magic stuff. And I for damn sure ain’t met nobody else since Alexis I can ask. I just know when I do use my powers, it’s a rush. It feels like that moment you are on the Goliath at Six Flags. It was my first time going to Six Flags with my senior class. The orange Goliath stood two hundred feet, and I felt closer to God more than anything. I felt free as the hot wind bit at my cheeks. I felt limitless when Downtown Atlanta glistened in the distance. And just like magic, trying to make stuff happen feels like slowly rising to the incline—you hold on to the handlebars, and you feel like you still have a little bit of control. Then the steep drop happens. A swooping feeling grows in your stomach when you know you gotta let go.

A deep breath meets adrenaline in my chest, and my fingers curl inward like legs on a spider. I tug on the energy that floods through me like an electrical current and try to open the car door.

And outta nowhere, the rain comes down in sheets, sideways. If there were an imaginary camera right now, my ass would look right at it like . . . This is the shit I be talking about.

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