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SYFY WIRE Fangrrls book club

Exclusive: Leanna Renee Hieber reveals the cover for her new Spectral City book, A Summoning of Souls

By Carly Lane
Leanna Renee Hieber

Author Leanna Renee Hieber has captivated fantasy and romance readers alike with her ability to meld mystery and magic in her stories. We at SYFY FANGRRLS are especially fans of her Spectral City series, which follows the adventures of gifted medium Eve Whitby as she leads a team of all-female spiritualists in her police department's Ghost Precinct. Between catching killers, solving ghastly crimes, confronting spiritual threats and navigating her growing relationship with the dashing Detective Horowitz, Eve definitely has her hands full more often than not.

SYFY FANGRRLS is thrilled by the opportunity to exclusively reveal the cover to Hieber's upcoming Spectral City sequel, titled A Summoning of Souls, along with an exciting first look at the prologue and a special note from the author!


Dear Reader:

I am thrilled and honored to share the cover of A Summoning of Souls with you today, the brilliant Lou Malcangi has done an incredible job yet again with these stunning covers at Kensington. The covers he creates evoke and illuminate the mystical and otherworldly aspects of this series so perfectly.

If you'll permit a moment of artistic vulnerability, I want to say how much this series means to me. All authors are attached to their books and characters, but not always in the same way. There are some books that transcend to a different plane, nestle a bit closer to the soul. That's how the Spectral City series has been for me. This character-driven, Gothic, gaslamp fantasy series starring a psychic girl gang and their favorite friendly ghosts advising the NYPD on weird crime has become something so special to me in a way I can only hope to show you by the truth of my characters' relationships with one another. This inclusive, found family of quirky characters is bound up by so much heart amidst fighting eerie and harrowing foes.

As a New York City ghost tour guide, a job that as you can imagine supplements my novels rather brilliantly, I walk my audiences through a series of haunted places and try to make history and haunting as deeply human as it may be evocative. The Spectral City novels extend that mission even further; I hope you have all the sensory experiences of Gilded Age New York and feel you're adventuring in the capable hands of talented locals.

I dedicated this book "To the spirit world, may we be a force for good…" I have always felt the spirit-world pressing in on me, a bit like my heroine Eve does, wanting to be felt and heard. If there's one thing I hope you'll take away from these books, it's love. All kinds of love across all kinds of identities, abilities, cultures and relationships; be they complicated, fraught, passionate, familial, a refuge, a colleague, a friend, mentor, inspiration, living or dead. May you greet these characters as friends and family and above all; may you be entertained.

Cheers and Happy Haunting, Leanna

Manhattan 1899

Margaret Hathorn wafted along Fifth Avenue in her favorite ballgown, forever sporting the opulent fashion of the eighties; her skirts doubled with a fine bustle decked in bows and gathers, her dark hair pinned up with a few cascading ringlets.

To the living eye, the young woman was transparent and all in greyscale, but Maggie's favorite dress had been a bright rose as pretty as she'd once been praised to be. Glancing down at her rustling skirts, an undulating pattern hovering over the cobblestones, to her eye, the rose was faded but it still held a whisper of blushing color, a little slip of life.

At present, the wraith was on an important mission.

Looking in the front windows of opulent mansions, Maggie startled the occasional child who was looking out of them. The act, if she were honest with herself, gave her a distinct delight. It wasn't that Maggie wanted to be a terror, but she had to take her pleasures where she could. And Maggie had always liked to be seen; whether in an admittedly shallow life, or now as a more mature ghost.

For some, becoming a ghost wasn't a choice. But for Maggie, she retained every bit of agency she wanted. No, she couldn't pick things up or feel touch and embraces like she used to, but one adapted. At any point she wished, she could say goodbye to her loved ones, corporeal and non, and leave for that Sweet Summerland the Spiritualists spoke of; eternal rest in some wonderful Elysian Field. Someday. But not yet. There was so very much to do.

Death had rearranged Margaret Hathorn's priorities. Having been caught up in all manner of terrible things she'd unwittingly unleashed, she was murdered nearly two decades prior. Having sacrificed herself to save others, the act absolved her of torments caused by her ignorance. Her spirit lived on to make sure that Eve Whitby, the daughter of those she gave her life for, had a ghostly auntie always watching over her. It was Maggie and Eve's mutual mission to help make New York that much safer and brighter, instilling a spectral purpose she'd never had as a snobbish socialite.

The spirit paused before the target address. Every time Maggie tried to return to this terrible house, her spectral form quailed, as if the wisp of her that remained could not bear to confront this place of trauma again.

The Prenze mansion. Patriarchs of tonics and dubious cure-alls, the Prenze twins had made a fortune off chronic pain and symptoms of disease the medical profession had yet to cure. One twin, Albert Prenze, had died in an industrial accident at one of their London warehouses. Or so it had been said.

Albert was, in fact, alive, operating under a false name and acting from the shadows. Even his twin brother Alfred didn't know he was alive.

None of these details would be important to Maggie had Albert Prenze not made two things very clear: He was intent on destroying any ghost he could, no matter if they wished to haunt on and help mortals or not. And he was sure Eve Whitby and her Ghost Precinct of the New York Police Department was an obstacle in his aim.

Well, the man wasn't wrong; they were obstacles. And living and dead, they were about to fight back. Maggie just didn't know how. Thus, her research expedition.

Floating into the Prenze hedgerows, she waited. The thick, manicured branches around her made her feel safer, as if she were in the brambles surrounding an evil fairy-tale castle.

Again, Maggie tried to remember what exactly happened the night she'd disappeared. When Albert Prenze had tried to break what remained of her soul in two, never to haunt again. She'd been drawn to the mansion by the spirit of children that wanted her help. For whatever reason, she'd been able to get in that night, but never since. She remembered the electric lights had been odd, and perhaps a malfunction in what she now knew was an electrical blockade, snapping at spirits like a switch to keep them from coming in or out.

When she had gone inside, she did as the two siblings had asked and she managed to muster a small burst of physical force to send a collection of postmortem photography flying. In doing so, she'd roused the attention of their present nemesis. He had sent his house guests out of the room, turned to her with a cruel sneer, and flipped a switch that tore her out of existence.

As if swatting Maggie from this memory, a ghostly, wrinkled hand slapped against the glass of the thin basement window. Maggie started, almost tumbling out of the hedge.

"Help us," came a desperate, elderly voice trying to travel the distance to her spectral ear. "He wants to kill us all. End us forever."

"We'll do everything we can," Maggie murmured back, unsure if she could be heard.

The sharp whinny of a horse as a driver cracked a whip was like an extension of the faint scream she heard coming from that cellar room. Looking behind her, she wanted to get the attention of the living, "Do you hear that? Can anyone help them?" But she couldn't.

So much was happening in New York City, so many people in their own little worlds and here in the finest part of town, and everyone's little world was opulent and more important, it was clear, than anything that happened in anyone else's. These ghosts were alone, for all they knew, with no one but themselves to care.

"We care; we'll find you. Hold fast," Maggie said, doubting she could be heard from the hedgerows, but she had to say it. She had been abandoned before, in life, by society's finest, and it was the worst of betrayals because they of all people could have afforded to help her.

Maggie was startled by a presence appearing beside her, a dark-haired little girl in a white dress singed at the hem who immediately began exclaiming in a thick Polish accent, "They're trapped! I have to show them the way out!" The ghost of Zofia Berezowska was about to float forward toward the window when Maggie grabbed her and held her close.

The ten-year-old ghost that had died at work in a garment district fire had devoted her spectral life to helping the living out of myriad dangers, pointing the way out when smoke cleared or pushing something over to sound an alarm or summon help, fearless in rushing to the rescue.

"Zofia, love, not here." Maggie clutched the young ghost she thought of as a little sister even tighter, her voice breaking. "Not here you can't! Don't you know this place is dangerous? This is the Prenze mansion, the place I thought killed me!" The first time she'd been murdered was quite enough, and she didn't like the prospect of dying a second time.

"Then why are you here?" Zofia threaded her fingers through Maggie's. "I came looking for you. After losing you, don't you think I might look after you better than before?" They floated together, weightless but connected.

It had taken Maggie time to get used to how much touch was different in death. An embrace was half as full as the fortitude of life. Of course, neither she nor Zofia could touch the living at all beyond the caress of a cold breeze, so the ability for a spirit to have solid contact with another spirit was one of the comforts of this existence. Maggie tried very hard to appreciate her existence as one of floating, subtle, muted nuance. As it registered to her senses, death was full of gentle touch and quiet whispers. Death was soft and delicate.

The girls stared at the imposing mansion before them, the hands at the window, imploring, pointing. "That's more than I can bear," Zofia said.

"And that's why I'm back," Maggie countered. "I don't know how we're going to prove the evil of this house in ways that the living can prosecute, but this now our sole focus."

"What if we could compel someone living to go in for us?" Zofia asked. "Someone who isn't Eve or any of the precinct operatives, seeing as they're known now by the family."

"That…could work," Maggie said, her mind already whirring. She'd taken note of several Sensitives in the city, not those as gifted as ran the Ghost Precinct she worked for, but ones who did see or sense. "We might find an ally I hadn't thought to utilize.… Good thinking, little one!" 

Zofia looked up at Maggie proudly, and for a moment in those wide, dark irises of the child's eyes, Maggie saw the reflection of the fire that had signaled her doom. Even ghosts were haunted. The choice was theirs if they would let it entirely define them, or motivate them to a new mission.

There was movement in the basement. A form loomed in a dim doorway before darkness overtook the cellar level again. The ghostly palms withdrew from the barred windows, but the sounds of sobs overtook the exterior garden.

A murderer of ghosts, living like a king in the finest part of Manhattan.

"The Ghost Precinct has to root him out," Zofia murmured. "Force him into the light."

"I already have an idea. Tell the girls I'm off on an experiment and not to worry if I'm not back for a bit. Let's see if I can scare up some help."

A Summoning of Souls will be released on July 21, 2020.