HarperVoyager will publish a debut trilogy set in a West Africa-inspired fantasy kingdom, by Rena Barron (pictured). The acquisition follows 10 years of rejections for the author.
Natasha Bardon, publishing director at the HarperCollins imprint, jointly acquired world English rights with HarperTeen US for The Last Witchdoctor and two subsequent titles from Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary. The Last Witchdoctor will be published in September 2019 in the UK.
The trilogy is set in a world “where magic and gods mix like oil and water, and the key to salvation lies in our ability to be human”. Born to a family of powerful witchdoctors, 16-year-old Arrah fails at rituals, fails at bone magic, and fails to call upon the ancestors, the publisher says. Much to the disappointment of her mother, she can’t even cast the simplest curse. Arrah can only perform magic the way a charlatan must: by trading years of her life without knowing how many each ritual will take. When she trades years to see the future, she discovers an unspeakable betrayal and the beginnings of a plot to wake the Demon King whose thirst for souls has already destroyed one realm. Arrah realises she must do all she can to stop him.
Barron, who lives in Chicago and works at an advertising agency, grew up in Alabama and as a child reportedly learned of Vodun, a religion that later found offshoots in voodoo, which served as inspiration for her series. New Leaf principal Joanna Volpe, agent Suzie Townsend and head of film and television Pouya Shahbazian reportedly flew to Chicago within 12 hours of reading the manuscript to meet Barron, "snatching her off the market".
Bardon said: “We were thrilled, on both sides of the Atlantic, to receive Rena’s debut: both HarperTeen US and HarperVoyager UK felt that we had found something really special in Rena’s magical story.” She described The Last Witchdoctor as “fast-paced and full of feeling, with a deeply rich world told through a fresh perspective that readers will love”.
“We can’t wait for the whole world to fall under its spell,” she said.
Barron said: “I wrote for many years before working up the courage to share my work. After 10 years of querying and hundreds of rejections, people told me to give up, but I refused. I thought about little me, who had never seen a reflection of myself in a book growing up, and wanted to help change that for future generations. That pushed me to keep going.
“When Harper Teen and HarperVoyager offered on The Last Witchdoctor I was thrilled. The editors at both publishers really understand and support my vision for the story and have been amazing advocates.”