London: 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches. Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine.
The first in a thrilling new series from the author of the critically acclaimed Winter Trilogy.
“Gorgeously romantic” (Amanda Craig).
Find Witch Finder at Amazon.
“Luke Lexton, you're come here to our meeting house, you've given the secret passwords and entered into our circle. What is your purpose here tonight?” “I wish to join the brotherhood,” Luke answered. His voice was very low, but he was relieved that it sounded firm to his ears, no trace of his fears in the words. “Before I put to you the trial by knife and the trial by fire and the trial of the hammer, I must tell you this; once you join the Malleus Maleficorum there is no way out except one: death. D'you understand?” “I do.” “I give you this last chance, you may go freely now with no hunt at your heels. Do you wish to leave, or join us, now and forever?” Luke's heart was pounding in his ears and he found his fists were clenched, his bitten nails ground into his palms. “I wish to join you,” he said harshly. “Now and forever.” “Good,” the man said, and his voice beneath the black mask held a smile. “Good man.” He paused for a moment, and Luke passed his tongue over dry lips, tasting salt sweat from the heat of the fire and the close-packed bodies in the room. Then the man carried on. “Three trials you must face, to join the brotherhood. Three trials, and if you fail 'em, now or after, death. D'you understand, Luke Lexton?” “I understand.” “Then let the trials begin,” said the masked man, and there was a hushed murmur around the group, though Luke could not make out any words. He looked around the circle, searching for his uncle's face, but he could not recognise him. William Lexton was a tall man; Luke was six foot and his uncle topped him by an inch, but in the flickering firelight the silhouettes seemed to wax and wane like shadows, growing taller against the wall and then dwindling back, until Luke could not have said which shape was which. “The first trial is the trial by knife,” said the man. He drew back his black robe, and in his hand was a long knife, with a wicked edge and a point that glinted in the firelight. Luke swallowed. His uncle had told him nothing of what would happen tonight, saying only that it was not worth either of their skins to spill the secrets of the brotherhood to an outsider. Luke would know the day after his eighteenth birthday, and not a moment before. But something in his eyes had told Luke that his uncle feared for him, and pitied him, and now he began to understand why. The knife must have been six, eight inches long, and as wicked and sharp as the tongue of a nagging woman. “Take the knife, Luke Lexton.” Luke put out his hand. He let it hover over the hilt of the knife for a long moment, trying to summon up the courage to do what he knew he must. It was too late to turn back, too late to run now. As the man had said, there was no way out, except one. Don't be a bloody coward. The voice in his head was harsh with fear and fury. Don't disgrace yourself, you piss-drawers. If you fail now... His fingers closed over the hilt of the knife. It was warm from the fire, and fitted into his palm. “This test is a test of obedience, and purpose, Luke Lexton. By taking this test you show that if you are tasked with something you will do it, without question, without counting the cost to yourself. If you falter, if you lack purpose and resolve, we are all lost. Only by the strength of one can we all succeed, understand?” “Yes,” Luke said. His voice sounded strange and grim in his own ears. “Yes. I understand.” “Good. Put the knife to your belly.” He felt sweat prickle across his face and spine and for a moment he didn't believe what he'd heard. This couldn't be right – they couldn't mean him to stab himself, surely? “What?” “Put it to your belly,” said the man, and there was a steel in his voice that made Luke realise his role was not to question, but to obey. He shrugged off his coat and muffler, and then put the tip of the knife to the flesh of his belly, in the soft place beneath his ribs, where there was nothing to stop its slide but skin and muscle. He felt a sickness in his gut as the point bit, and a tiny fleck of blood stained the whiteness of his shirt. “Now, stab yourself Luke Lexton, and if you value your life and the brotherhood, hold fast. Do you understand?” “I understand,” Luke said. A kind of hopelessness rose up in him; the realisation that the only choice before him was death or disgrace. He gripped the knife, feeling the hilt slip beneath his sweating palms, and he tightened his grip until his fingers hurt and the tendons on the back of his hand stood out, shadowed in the firelight. For a minute he thought of dropping the knife, of running – but there was his uncle. And more: at his back there were the shadows of his mother and father and all they'd suffered. If he couldn't do this thing for his own honour, surely he could do it for theirs? Remember why you want to join,the voice in his head hissed, full of venom. Remember what it's all for. Do it, you coward. He lifted the knife, and stabbed it into his gut, gasping as the hilt hit hard against the skin of his belly and he could go no further. For a minute he felt nothing, but then pain blossomed across his side, and the blood began to trickle down his belly, soaking into the worn cloth of his work trousers. He felt sick, sick with pain, sick with the knowledge of what he'd done. “Take it out,” said the man, his voice hard and clipped. Luke closed his eyes, dreading the slick grating tug and the mortal gush of blood and guts. Then he pulled.