Witches and demons roam 19th-century Italy in Kingdom of the Wicked, an enthralling new series from Kerri Maniscalco. The YA saga marks the bestselling author’s first foray into the fantasy genre, as she’s known for her historical Stalking Jack the Ripper series. But Maniscalco’s talent for weaving haunting mysteries and smoldering romances into her writing carries across genres, and Kingdom of the Wicked is proof.
Intrigued? Here’s the description of the series’ first book:
Emilia and her twin sister Victoria are strega—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Victoria never shows up for dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin…desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find out who did this, and to punish them.
Wrath was the outlier among the seven demon brethren, always choosing duty over pleasure. So when ordered to find out who was killing off the young women who were to be his master’s bride, he didn’t hesitate. But upon meeting the fierce, desperate Emilia, it was clear this disturbing mystery would take a bewitching turn…
JIMMY Patterson Books will release Kingdom of the Wicked on September 15th, but you don’t have to wait to begin reading. We’re excited to share an excerpt of the first chapter below alongside the exclusive cover reveal.
Cover design by Liam Donnelly
If you love the excerpt below, you’ll want to pre-order the book here.
There are seven demon princes, but only four Di Carlo’s should fear:
Wrath, Greed, Envy, and Pride.
One will crave your blood. One will capture your heart.
One will steal your soul. And one will take your life.
—Notes from the Di Carlo Grimoire
Nonna Maria buzzed around the kitchen in our family’s restaurant like she’d guzzled every drop of espresso we used to make our famous tiramisu. Her mood was downright frantic. My twin was late for dinner service and our grandmother saw it as a portent of doom, especially since Victoria was out after dark on a holy day. Goddess forbid.
The fact that the moon was not only full, but also a putrid shade of yellow had Nonna muttering dire warnings which would normally lead my father to bolt the doors. Thankfully he and uncle Nino were in the dining room with a bottle of limoncello, pouring after-dinner drinks for our customers. No one left Sea & Vine without sipping the dessert liqueur and savoring the utter bliss that followed a good meal.
“Mock me all you like, but it’s not safe. Demons are prowling the streets, searching for souls to steal.” Nonna chopped cloves of garlic for the scampi, her knife flying across the worn cutting board. If she wasn’t careful, she’d lose a finger. “Your sister is foolish to be out.” She stopped, immediately shifting her attention to the little horn-shaped amulet around my neck. Worry lines carved a deep path around her eyes and mouth. “Did you see if she was wearing her cornicello, Emilia?”
I didn’t bother responding. My cornicello was silver and Victoria’s was pale gold. We never took our amulets off, not even while bathing. We broke every one of Nonna’s rules except that one. Especially after what had happened when we were eight…I briefly closed my eyes, willing the memory away. Nonna still didn’t know about the luccicare I saw shimmering around humans like a glittering lavender aura, and I hoped she never would.
“Mama, please.” My mother raised her gaze to the ceiling as if the goddess of sky might send an answer to her prayers in the form of a lightning bolt. I wasn’t sure if the bolt was meant for her or Nonna. “Let’s get through dinner service before worrying about the Wicked. We have more pressing problems at the moment.” She nodded to the sauté pan. “The garlic is starting to burn.”
Nonna mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “So will their souls in Hell if we don’t save them, Nicola,” and I bit my lip to keep from smiling.
“Something’s terribly wrong, I feel it in my bones. If Vicki isn’t home soon, I’ll go looking for her myself. The Malvagi won’t dare to steal her soul around me.” Nonna brought her cleaver down on an unsuspecting mackerel, its head flopping to the limestone floor.
I sighed. We could’ve used it to make fish stock. Nonna was really getting herself worked up if she didn’t notice. She was the one who’d taught us the value in using every part of an animal. Bones, however, could only be used for stock, not spells. At least those were the rules for us, Di Carlo’s. Le arti oscure was strictly forbidden. I scooped the fish head into a bowl to give to the alley cats later, banishing thoughts of the dark arts.
I poured some chilled sangria for Nonna, adding extra orange slices and sugared peels to sweeten the red wine. In moments, condensation bloomed like morning dew across the glass. It was mid-July in Palermo, but the temperatures felt closer to those in August, which meant the air was stifling at night, even with our windows open to welcome the ocean breeze.
It was especially hot in the kitchen now, though during colder months I still wore my long hair up because of the soaring temperatures created by our oven fires.
Sea & Vine, the Di Carlo family trattoria, was known across Sicily for our sinfully delicious food. Each evening our tables were crowded with hungry patrons, all waiting to dine on Nonna’s recipes. Lines formed in the late afternoons, no matter the weather. Nonna said simple ingredients were her secret, along with a touch of magic. Both of those statements were true.
“Here, Nonna.” I slid the drink along the counter in front of her, smiling as she paused long enough in her worrying to sip the sweet wine. My mother mouthed her thanks when my grandmother’s back was turned and I grinned.
I wasn’t sure why Nonna was so agitated tonight. Over the last several weeks my twin had missed quite a few dinner services and had snuck in well past sunset, her bronze cheeks flushed rosy and her eyes bright. There was something different about her. And I had a strong suspicion it was because of a certain young vendor in the market. Domenico Nucci, Jr.
I’d stolen a peek at her diary and saw his name scribbled in the margins before guilt had overtaken me and I’d tucked it back under the floorboard where she’d hidden it. We still shared a room on the second floor of our small, crowded home, so there weren’t any secrets between us.
I could hardly blame her if she wanted to keep just one.
“Vicki is fine, Nonna.” I handed her some fresh parsley to garnish the shrimp. “I told you she’s been flirting with the Nucci boy who sells arancini for his family near the castle. I’m sure he’s busy with all the Santa Rosalia festivities tonight. I bet she’s passing out fried rice balls to everyone who’s overindulged. They need something to soak up all that sacramental wine.” I winked, but my grandmother’s fear didn’t abate. I set the rest of the parsley down and hugged her close. “No demon is stealing her soul. I promise. She’ll be here soon.”
“One day I hope you’ll take signs from the goddesses seriously, bambina.”
Maybe. But I’d heard stories about red-eyed demons my whole life and hadn’t seen one yet. I wasn’t too worried about things suddenly changing now. I left Nonna to the scampi and smiled as music filtered in between the sounds of knives chopping and spoons stirring. It was my favorite kind of symphony—one that allowed me to focus entirely on the joy of creation.
I inhaled the fragrant scent of garlic and butter.
Cooking was magic and music combined. The crack of shells, the hiss of pancetta hitting a hot pan, the metallic clang of a whisk beating the side of a bowl, even the rhythmic thwack of a cleaver against a wooden cutting board. I adored each part of being in a kitchen, especially with my family. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to spend an evening. Sea & Vine was my future and it promised to be filled with love and light.
My mother hummed along while forming marzipan into fruit shapes. “He’s a nice boy. Domenico. He’d make a good match for Vicki.”
Nonna tossed a flour-coated hand in the air, waving it around as if the idea of an engagement with a Nucci stunk worse than the streets of the nearby fish market. “Bah! She’s too young to worry about marriage. And he’s not Sicilian.”
My mother and I both shook our heads. I had a feeling his Tuscan roots had little to do with Grandma’s disapproval. She didn’t want us leaving the house, and if she had it her way, we’d live in our ancestral home—in our little quarter of Palermo—until our bones turned to dust. Nonna didn’t trust anyone else to watch over us as well as she did. Especially a mere human boy.
“He was born here. His mother is from here. I’m fairly certain that makes him Sicilian,” I said. “Stop being grumpy. It doesn’t suit someone as sweet as you.”
She harrumphed, ignoring my blatant attempt to charm her, and went back to worrying. Stubborn as a mule, as my grandfather would’ve said. “Sardines washed themselves onto the shore. Gulls didn’t touch them. You know what that means? It means they’re no fools. The devil’s stirring the seas and they’ll have nothing to do with his offerings.”
“Mama,” my mother groaned and set the almond paste down. “A boat carrying kerosene crashed into the rocks last night. The oil killed the fish, not the devil.”
Nonna shot my mother a look that would sink lesser souls to their knees, begging for mercy. “You know as well as I do it’s a sign the Malvagi have arrived, Nicola. It’s been eighteen years. They’ve come to collect. You’ve heard of the bodies. The missing hearts. Is that a coincidence, too?”
“Hearts?” My voice shot up several octaves. “What are you talking about?”
Nonna clamped her mouth shut as if she’d let a secret slip. My mother whipped her head around, forgetting about the marzipan again. A look passed between them, so deep and meaningful chills crept down my spine.
“What bodies?” I prodded. “What missing hearts?”
Our restaurant was busier than normal while we prepared for the influx of people attending the festival from the mainland, and it had been days since I’d listened to gossip swirling around the marketplace. I hadn’t heard anything about bodies, let alone missing hearts.
My mother gave my grandmother a look that said “You started this, you finish it,” and went back to her candy shaping. Nonna settled onto a rocking chair she kept near the window, clasping her wine tightly. A breeze lifted the oppressive heat. Her eyes fluttered shut, as if soaking it in. She looked exhausted. Whatever was happening was bad.
“Nonna? What bodies?”
“Two girls were murdered last week. One in Sciacca. And one here. In Palermo.”
Sciacca—a port town facing the Mediterranean Sea—was almost directly south of us. It was a little jewel on an island filled with visual treasure. I couldn’t imagine a murder there. Which was ridiculous since death didn’t discriminate between paradise and hell.
“That’s awful.” I set my knife down, pulse pounding. I looked at my grandmother. “Were they…human?”
Nonna’s sad look said it all. Strega. I swallowed hard. No wonder she was carrying on about the Wicked returning. She was imagining one of us discarded in the streets, our souls being tortured by demons while our blood slipped through cracks in the stone.
And the missing hearts…
I shuddered despite the sweat beading my brow. I didn’t know what to make of that gruesome detail. Nonna often chided me for being too skeptical, but I still wasn’t convinced the Malvagi were to blame. The Wicked were sent to retrieve souls for the devil, not kill. And no one had seen them wandering our world in years.
Humans murdered each other all the time, though, and they definitely attacked us when they suspected what we were. Whispers of a new band of strega hunters had reached us last week, but we’d seen no evidence of them. But now…
“What did you mean about the Malvagi coming to collect?” I asked.
Nonna didn’t seem inclined to respond, but saw the determination in my eyes and knew I’d keep asking. She sighed. “There are stories that claim the Wicked will return to Sicily every few weeks beginning now, searching for something that was stolen from them.”
This was a new legend. “What was stolen?”
My mother stilled before shaping the marzipan again. Nonna sipped her wine carefully, gazing into it as if she might divine the future in the pulp floating on the surface. “A blood debt.”
I raised my brows. That didn’t sound ominous at all. Before I interrogated her further, someone rapped on the side door where we brought in supplies. Over the chatter in the dining room, my father called to uncle Nino to entertain the dinner guests. Footsteps thudded down the hall and the door creaked open.
“Buonasera, signore Di Carlo. Is Emilia here?”
I recognized the deep voice and knew what he’d come to ask. There was only one reason Antonio Bernardo, the most newly appointed member of the holy brotherhood, ever called on me here. The nearby monastery relied heavily on donations and charity, so once or twice a month I made dinner for them on behalf of our family restaurant. It not only made me feel good, it also kept anyone from noticing we never attended church services.
Nonna was already shaking her head as I wiped my hands on a towel and set my apron on the island. I smoothed down the front of my dark skirts, cringing a little at the flour splattered across my bodice. I looked like a queen of ash and probably stank like garlic. I swallowed a sigh. Eighteen and doomed to reign over fish carcasses forever.
“Nonna, there are plenty of people in the streets celebrating Santa Rosalia. I promise I’ll stick to the main road, make dinner quickly, and grab Vicki on the way back. We’ll both be home before you know it.”
“No.” Nonna was out of her chair, ushering me back like a wayward hen towards the island and my abandoned cutting board. “You mustn’t leave here, Emilia. Not tonight.” She clutched her own cornicello, her expression pleading. “Let someone else donate food instead, or you’ll find yourself joining the dead in that monastery.”
“Mama!” My mother scolded. “What a thing to say!”
“Don’t worry, Nonna,” I said. “I don’t plan on dying for a very, very long time.”
I kissed my grandmother then snatched a half-formed piece of marzipan from the plate my mother was working on and popped it into my mouth. While I chewed, I stuffed a basket with tomatoes from our garden, fresh basil, homemade mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, and a small bottle of balsamic. I added a jar of salt and a loaf of crusty bread we’d baked earlier, then quickly ducked out of the kitchen before I was wrangled into another fight.
I smiled warmly at fratello Antonio hoping he couldn’t hear Nonna condemning him and the entire monastery in the background. He was young and handsome for a member of the brotherhood—just three years older than me and Vicki. His eyes were the color of melted chocolate, and his lips always hinted at the sweetest smile. I’d give anything to see it fully again—he’d grown up next door to us and I used to dream about marrying him one day.
Too bad he’d devoted himself to chastity, I was certain half the Kingdom of Italy wouldn’t mind kissing his full mouth. Myself included.
“Buonasera, fratello Antonio.” I held my basket of supplies aloft, ignoring how odd it felt to call him “brother” when I had some very un-sisterly thoughts about him. “Does bruschetta sound all right?”
For his sake, I hoped so. It was quick and easy, and though the bread tasted better brushed with olive oil and lightly grilled, it didn’t require a fire to make.
“It sounds heavenly, Emilia. And please, Antonio is fine. No need for old friends to stand on ceremony.” He gave me a shy nod. “Your hair looks lovely.”
“Grazie.” I reached up and brushed my fingers against a flower. When we were younger, I had begun weaving apple blossoms and plumeria in my hair to set me and my twin apart. I reminded myself Antonio was involved with the Almighty now and wasn’t flirting with me. No matter how much I sometimes wished otherwise.
He raised his dark brows at the tinny sound of a pot hitting the stone floor. “The brotherhood and I won’t return to the monastery until after the festival, but if you could leave the food there for us, it would be a true blessing.”
Nonna’s hysterics grew louder. He was polite enough to pretend he didn’t hear her dire warnings of demons killing young women in Sicily and stealing their souls. If I didn’t get him out of our restaurant immediately, we’d all be cursed. I gave him my most winning smile, hoping it didn’t look like a grimace. “I’ll leave them where I always do.”
His attention slid behind me as Nonna’s cries finally reached us; a tiny crease forming in his brow. Normally she was careful around customers, but if she started muttering a protection charm where he could overhear her, our bustling family restaurant would be ruined.
If there was one thing humans feared as much as the Malvagi, it was witches.