San Madrigal has risen! After 15 long years, the ancient Caribbean island has finally been revived, but Mateo and Chela’s journey is far from over. Following the revelations of Ballad & Dagger, these two gods-turned-teenagers now understand the true nature of their destiny. And with trouble brewing both at home and abroad, it’s finally time for Mateo and Chela to step up, defend their communities, and show the world just how powerful they really are.
Discover how it all ends when Last Canto of the Dead hits stores 5/16. Until then, read an exclusive chapter excerpt right here:
She sits beside me in this little motorboat; the wind makes a huge and glorious halo out of her beautiful hair. All around us, the crashing waves of the sea. Up ahead, the three peaks of our homeland rumble upward into the sky. Our lost island has returned, and so have we.
A few weeks ago, Chela was just a girl in my neighborhood whose bat mitzvah I’d played piano at. I barely knew her. Now I will fold my life in half and break open the world to keep her safe and right here by my side.
I know. . . . Both dramatic and fast, Mateo. But listen: our . . . whatever this is—love, for sure, although that barely seems to encompass it—goes back centuries. Not being poetic here. Chela and I were spirits once, just spirits. And we surged across the water searching for safety and found it by creating this island—San Madrigal, the first freedom seekers called it when they landed here, refugees like us. And as the strange city at the foot of those three peaks grew and sang and came to life, so did our love, our partnership, our bond.
We were just spirits, ethereal things of the salty air, and we knew one day we’d enter human forms, find true homes in those bodies, in each other, and we did, we did.
But somewhere in there, other forces came into play: sabotage, empire, disaster. Our memories were shattered, those three peaks sank, and the people of that lost island found a new home in Brooklyn, New York: Little Madrigal.
Well, that’s about as smoothly as I can put it all together, anyway. Like I said, at some point the spirit I am, Galanika the Healer, became one with the boy I am, Mateo Matisse, brilliant pianist and chaotic teenager, thank you very much. Everything that happened before then comes to me only in scattered shreds, and usually only when I’m close to Chela.
Chela. The short, fierce girl beside me holds so many truths at once:
Okanla the Destroyer.
San Madrigal the Creator.
Burakadóra, she who punctures holes, to her gangster cousin, Tolo.
To my higher spirit self, that buff old island santo Galanika, she is a million mystical memories—warrior, lover, confidante, muse.
But to me, Mateo, she is just Chela, the blazing, unstoppable force of nature at my side. The one who gets me, who sees through me, believes me, checks me. She is just Chela, and that’s all I ever want her to be. She’s a terrific dancer and a terrible singer. She saves her smiles for when she really means them. She doesn’t get shook by demons or bullies, and she’ll tell you the truth even if it means cutting your throat. She’s also very good with blades, of which she has two.
And that’s another thing I’m grateful for right now, since we’re about to land on the shores of a long-lost island that’s probably inhabited by demons in the thrall of a two-hundred-year-old maniac named Archibaldo, who happens to be my ancestor. Uh, long story.
“It’s time,” Chela says as the beaches of San Madrigal rise to the surface of the frothing water up ahead. The sandy embankment leads to a grove of trees, and beyond that, the stucco rooftops rise and fall around the two bell towers of the old synagogue that Chela’s father, Rabbi Hidalgo, used to run.
It’s real, San Madrigal. This isn’t a corny poster or simulation. This is the place where I, Mateo, was born, but I barely saw it. (I was only one year old when it sank.) The place, lifetimes ago, that I, Galanika, helped found and became one of the leading saints of. The beaches glisten; water pours from the windows and doors of the buildings. There’s not a single sign of life from what I can see, but what does that mean in a world of ancient spirits and creepy old guys named Archibaldo? Nada.
Standing hand in hand, Chela and I turn to each other, and in her eyes I see that special look she saves just for me, that easy glint of affection. A sly smile, eyebrows raised. It’s so much, that glance says. No one but us has done this, understands this, will live this moment.
The bottom of the boat wedges against the sand with a bump.
Now all we have to do is survive.
I drop anchor and leap over the gunwale, feel the warm Caribbean waves slosh against my knees. Step onto the shore. Madrigal.
Immediately, a song rises within me.
I recognize it. It’s the same lonesome, joyful hymn that I felt come to life within Chela when I went to heal her, the night I realized I had feelings for her.
This, though, the song of the island—it’s like a variation on the theme. Whereas with Chela it came in sonorous, reverberating harmonies, the San Madrigal version arches upward in a single melody line that seems to stretch over the thunder of a hundred pounding drums. A phrase, a pause, another phrase. Lonesome, full of love, full of life.
The world is made of music—mine is, anyway. It’s what holds it all together. So I take note of the song, store it away in my memory banks to play with later when I’m back at the keyboard.
Right now I’m home, in a weird, off-center sort of way. But what is home? I spent most of my childhood in hotels all over the world, waiting for my parents to finish their shifts saving lives in local clinics. It’s only recently that our little enclave in Brooklyn truly became a place where I felt like I belonged, and even that is all tied up with me being a big-deal spirit and kinda-sorta saving the day. My tía Lucía’s apartment felt like home, but ever since everything went to hell and she was killed there, it hasn’t felt like anything but a morgue.
Truth is, the only time I really feel home, besides on the inside of a song, is when I’m with Chela. It’s weird: we’ve been inseparable these past few weeks. We’ve grieved together, loved each other. We know things no one else does, see the world like no one else can.
But there’s still so much we haven’t said out loud, like what exactly we even are, what our status is. It seems absurd to think about that in this moment of moments, but that’s how you know it matters. And when has anyone ever accused love of making sense?
I turn to back to tell her all this and freeze.
She’s still standing in the boat, her eyes wide, mouth hanging open. But now it looks like she’s about to scream.
“Chela! What’s wrong?”
Mateo Matisse Medina wants to know what’s wrong.
As if I could explain. Even he, the one person I know who also happens to be some kind of weird embodied spirit of our lost island, would have trouble wrapping his big head around this one.
For a moment, he wears that wide-open face of his—same one he made when he saw me take out that first bambarúto a couple of months back on the night of the Grande Fete. The night everything changed. That face . . . He’s just a kid, really. We’re both just kids. I saw him grow. . . . Right in front of me, the boy became something else—came into his own, really—and what a thing it was to see. Still is.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Mateo loves order, needs it to survive. Have you seen his bedroom? Mateo Matisse is the only teenager I know who folds up his pants and puts them away after taking them off . That’s why music has such a hold on him: he can write it down, fit it into a staff and time signature. It helps him make sense of this broken world, he’ll tell you poetically. As if. There’s no sense to be had, only chaos.
That’s good for me, though, because chaos is the only thing that makes sense to me, dissonance the only harmony I know. And chaos is what’s erupting all around, right now, except no one can know the full extent of it but me. Not even Mateo.
Why? Because even while whatever it is—I’m not exactly sure yet—is very much happening in the world out there and will soon be all around us, it’s also happening inside me, through me, from me.
When I don’t answer, Mateo’s face goes from surprised to concerned. Eyebrows scrunch like they’re trying to meet in the middle, and he cranes his neck, squinting at me.
I don’t answer because I can’t. There is no answer. It’s all so much more than words, even music (don’t tell Mateo) could encompass.
It’s bigger than everything, what I feel.
When I open my mouth, nothing comes out.
It started as the three peaks crested the waterline.
I thought it was just the thunder of all my power working—power I barely understand. Felt like a faraway train passing, a distant whisper that shook the foundations of the world, but the faraway was deep within me.
As the island rose, so did the feeling. It rose and expanded, a flower opening in my gut. Then another. The impossible sense of falling while standing still.
Surely, it’s my powers, I kept telling myself. Reassuring myself.
There are two spirits within me, who are me: Okanla the Destroyer and Madrigal the Creator. They’re opposites, and they’re the same—we’re the same. These are the riddles, divine and confounding, I’ve been living with recently. The Destroyer, I get. I’ve known, in some distant way, I’ve always known that Okanla lives within me, that I am her, even. I sense her flickering to consciousness in very particular moments, sometimes utterly mundane ones—at a club, when the beat really hits, in the midst of an extra-competitive soccer match. She simply rears to life; a howling, unstoppable ferocity surges, a wild and tactical ruthlessness takes over.
Then, more recently, there’ve been actual battles for her to relish, and that’s a whole other kind of holy terror I won’t even get into. But Madrigal—that gently glowing, floating patron saint of the island, that serene and benevolent creator—who is she? How is that me? What’s that got to do with me?
I know what. I possess the power to make life. To bring flesh to shadowy spirit forms. I’ve seen it happen. Felt it flow through me.
But it doesn’t make sense. She doesn’t feel like me, not the way Okanla does.
Of course, life doesn’t make sense. This broken world. We are one, we three, and the island is part of us, too. Madrigal created it, after all. It’s what creator spirits do. She, I, we, imbued it with that sweet, sweet creator-spirit essence, and so it’s an extension of this tangled mess of spirits and girl that is me.
And now, right now, I can feel the island come to life like a trembling earthquake in every cell of my body.
That’s what this is. Not my powers, not my fears. Not my death. It is the living island rebirthing itself, rising from the depths of the sea after fifteen long years of sunken hibernation.
I feel every shimmer of water slide off each leaf, the crumbly creak of stones and concrete resettling, cracking. Eyes open—many, many eyes—and blades of grass reach toward the sudden sky. Geysers of ocean course through the streets of me, gush forth from my houses and temples. I am once again whole, returned to a fullness I never knew I possessed.
And now I know why I’ve come, why San Madrigal had to rise. Why the spirit Madrigal had to return to the place Madrigal.
It wasn’t just because I can.
This land is me, unstoppably, undeniably me.
And I won’t have it overrun with beasts and some maniac who’s lived past his expiration date.
We vanquished a god several times over.
We witnessed visions of the past, saw my aunt Mimi betray the empire pirates she’d secretly aligned with, saw the storm I’d gathered to block Vizvargal’s return, the beginning of the end of this island, of our own amnesia as we entered these human bodies.
And now we’ve returned ourselves to ourselves, and San Madrigal to the surface.
Whoever I am, whatever the fullness of my powers entails, there’s no version of this where I cede a single inch of this island without destroying anything that tries to take it from me.