The Society for Soulless Girls

The Society for Soulless Girls

by Laura Steven
The Society for Soulless Girls

The Society for Soulless Girls

by Laura Steven

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

This book ticks a great many boxes — an LGBTQ dark academia retelling of Jekyll & Hyde with a slow-burn romance. If any one of those catches your fancy, you're in for a treat. If more than one does, then hold on tight.

A sapphic enemies-to-lovers retelling of Jekyll & Hyde, this dark academia thriller follows two roommates who must solve an infamous cold case of serial murders on their campus after an arcane ritual gone wrong prompts another death.

Ten years ago, four students lost their lives in the infamous unsolved North Tower murders at the elite Carvell Academy of the Arts, forcing the school to close its doors.

Now Carvell is reopening, and fearless freshman Lottie Fitzwilliam is determined to find out what really happened. But when her beautiful but standoffish roommate, Alice Wolfe, stumbles upon a sinister soul-splitting ritual in a book hidden in Carvell’s library, the North Tower claims another victim. Is there a killer among them . . . or worse, within them?

Exploring possession and ambition, lust and bloodlust, femininity and violence, The Society for Soulless Girls is perfect for fans of The Secret History, A Lesson in Vengeance, and The Grimrose Girls.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593703939
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 09/19/2023
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 165,199
File size: 4 MB
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Laura Steven is an award-winning author from the northernmost town in England. She has published several books for children and young adults; her debut novel, The Exact Opposite Of Okay, won the inaugural Comedy Women In Print Prize, while The Love Hypothesis was optioned for TV by an Emmy-winning team. Her books have been widely translated, and her work has appeared in The i Paper, The Guardian and Buzzfeed.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


Lottie


Every kid has a moment in their childhood when they realize just how terrifying the world can be. A moment when they realize there are far scarier things out there than bigfoot and bogeymen and monsters hiding under beds. For my grandparents’ generation, it was pretty much the entirety of World War II. For my parents, it was the Cold War. For my friend Shannon, it was the unconscionable existence of the Teletubbies.

For me, it was when a girl from my hometown died in the North Tower murders at Carvell Academy of the Arts.

Nineteen-year-old Janie Kirsopp was a quietly intelligent violinist in her first year at Carvell. Her parents had driven her the hundreds of miles from Sevenoaks, our small town just south of London, to rural Northumberland, said tearful goodbyes to their shy, uncertain daughter, and promised they’d have the best Christmas ever to make up for their time apart. Janie had begged them to take her home, said she’d made a mistake and that she didn’t want to be so far away from them, that she’d request a transfer to one of the elite music programs in London instead. They had kissed her on the forehead and told her to stick it out for a couple of months and see how she felt then.

But in a couple of months, Janie was dead.

I was only nine when it happened, but I remember how her pretty, hooknosed face had dominated newsstands across Sevenoaks. Photos of Janie on holiday in Spain as a child, of her toothless first school picture, of her performing at the Royal Albert Hall with the National Youth Orchestra. Splashy headlines about hot new leads in the case, about prime suspects and grisly forensic evidence.

The notion of murder was completely abstract to me until I saw my own parents crying at her funeral. They knew the Kirsopps from church and had attended Janie’s christening when she was a baby. They could still remember her white tulle dress, her ivory sandals the size of seashells, her shining, cherubic eyes as she was baptized. And now her body had been shattered at the bottom of a cold stone tower hundreds of miles away.

That was my before and after. I was just a child, yet my understanding of reality shifted on its axis.

Janie’s death was the second in a string of four unsolved murders that ultimately led to Carvell’s closure. So my parents understandably had reservations when I announced, less than a decade later, that the soon-to-be-reopened arts academy would be my first choice of university.

Well, “reservations” is putting it mildly. My mother threatened to saw my legs off if I so much as mentioned it again.

At first they thought I was messing with them, playing the kind of cruel joke only teenagers have the genuine apathy to execute. Then, when I was invited to interview at the academy, they flatly refused to drive me up. I’d always been stubborn, so I caught three different trains until I was within throwing distance of the campus, then got a taxi to take me the rest of the way.

A shiver had run down my spine as Carvell Academy came into view at the end of the sweeping driveway, the spires and crenelations of the North Tower silhouetted against a gray autumn sky. There was something so alive about the old convent, something that swooped and pulsed like a murmuration of starlings. I’d always romanticized the university, despite its history; it brought to mind old parchment and knee-deep piles of crunchy red leaves, cellos and dark windowpanes and snow.

The thing that made me fall truly in love with the campus, swiftly and irrevocably, was the cat. There were rumors that Salem, a sleek black Bombay known to have wandered around the campus before the school’s closure, was actually immortal; her soul was said to be the same as it was hundreds of years ago, back when the convent was still operating. The tour guide told us that Salem stalked the same route around the priory every day, visited the same glade every afternoon to bathe on the trees’ sun-dappled branches and curled up in front of the log fire every evening after a little nip of brandy and milk. When I saw her slinking along a window ledge of the chapel on my campus tour, I felt as though I was witnessing something ancient and sacred, something tapped into a supernatural pulse. I wanted to be part of that more than anything.

Be careful what you wish for, as my beloved Goosebumps books used to say.

Now I could practically feel Dad’s apprehension as we pulled up that same sweeping driveway on my first day as a Carvell student. He gripped the stitched-leather steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles turned white. I knew he was thinking of Janie--tulle dress, tiny sandals, cherubic face, dead body. I knew he was thinking of how he would never survive if that was me. I knew he was wondering if it was too late to fetch my mum’s hacksaw.

After I was offered a place, my parents eventually came around to the idea of me attending Carvell. They weren’t happy about it, exactly, but they didn’t expressly forbid it. Despite its ten-year closure, Carvell still offered one of the most prestigious and competitive English literature programs in the country, with published authors and internationally acclaimed academics among the glittering new faculty. Before the closure, there was one eccentric lecturer--Professor Sanderson--who taught a gothic literature seminar that was rumored to send students mad. I didn’t tell Mum and Dad about that one. Especially since most of the original professors were set to return this fall.

Plus, the nightlife was practically nonexistent--there was just one student union and a couple of old-fashioned parlors on the campus--so the chances of me choking on my own vomit or drowning in a river after a night of partying were slim. The field hockey scholarship sealed the deal. I was the star midfielder throughout high school, and my love of sports was secondary only to my love of books--Carvell offered me both.

Still, now that we were actually here, traipsing around Willowood Hall in search of my room, I could tell Dad was having second, third and ninth thoughts.

“Are you sure about this, kiddo?” he asked, lugging a box of books.

He looked up at the North Tower, squinting against the late-summer sun, teeth working at the corner of his mouth like they always did when he was nervous. He’d worked in construction for decades, so he was no stranger to physical risk, but it was different when it came to me. He couldn’t even stomach watching me play field hockey. So leaving me at the site of Janie’s death on the day of my nineteenth birthday--the same age she was when she died--was a little too much for him to handle.

I grinned, hoisting my field hockey bag farther up my shoulder. “Of course I’m sure, you goof.”

In truth I was nervous too, but I didn’t want to show it.

The apprehension wasn’t just about the school’s bloody past, or what would happen if old demons came back to haunt it. I was also afraid that I would fail under the lofty academic pressure. Because the reality was that I’d lived in the same small house in the same small town all my life.

What if I didn’t rise to whatever challenges were in store for me at Carvell? What if I was only a great field hockey player--and a great writer--in the small world of Sevenoaks? I was about to find out.

Fixing a confident expression on my face, I gave my dad a final reassuring beam and took a step in what I hoped was the direction of my dorm.



Chapter 2


Alice


Within fifteen minutes of arriving at Carvell, I already wanted to slit someone’s throat.

The tweed-clad woman in front of me glared at her clipboard as though it had personally wronged her. “Name?”

I shifted on the heels of my Doc Martens. They squeaked conspicuously on the checkerboard floor of the cavernous entrance hall. “Alice Wolfe. Philosophy.”

Judging by the woman’s disdainful expression, I got the feeling she’d been roped into these tedious welcome greetings in the absence of any student volunteers. Which made sense, because I was one of the first students to walk through the doors in nearly ten years.

Her watery blue eyes scanned a list. “You’re not on here. Did you submit your enrollment paperwork before the deadline?”

Through gritted teeth, I replied, “Yes.”

She gave a terse schoolmarm tut, pushing her half-moon glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. “You mustn’t have, because you’re not on here.”

Anger snapped across my chest like an elastic band, a hot, familiar sting. I couldn’t keep it from my voice. “Well, I definitely did. So it must be a cock-up on your end.”

At this the women inhaled sharply, as though the unsavory word had caused her physical pain. Eyelids fluttering with distaste, she replied quietly, “There’s simply no need to be so rude. I assure you this is no fault of our administrative staff. I’m afraid you’ll have to resubmit your paperwork.”

I’d spent hours on that godforsaken paperwork the first time.

Breathe. Just breathe.

I lowered my voice and said, “I’ve already done the paperwork. Please, would you check again?”

She issued a tight grimace. “I’m going to have to ask you to step aside and complete another set of forms. There are a lot more students I have to see.”

She looked down her nose at me, smug with self-importance, and the dam holding back my anger crumbled.

“For fuck’s sake!” I snapped. “Would it kill you to check one more time?”

She blinked sharply, as though a loud bang had gone off. Then, lips curling, she disappeared into a small office behind her welcome desk.

As usual, there was a soft ebb of pleasure as I let the anger out, followed by the cold tide of guilt and self-loathing, a deep undertow of shame.

Then came the acute sensation of being watched.

Following a tug of paranoia, my gaze landed on a tall, bespectacled man in a walnut-colored corduroy suit who was staring at me with an impenetrable expression. I recognized him as Professor Dacre, head of the philosophy program; his headshot had been in the brochure. And he’d just witnessed my outburst.

Hands folded over his sloping stomach, he gave me a chastising head shake, like a disappointed grandfather.

“Such wrath isn’t very becoming of a young woman, you know,” he said in a crisp academic tone. He adjusted his mustard-yellow tie.

I glared at him, momentarily speechless.

Did he actually just play the “unbecoming of a young woman” card?

Before I could sling a low and dirty retort in his direction, the woman reappeared from the office, cowed. Without meeting my eyes, she said, “We found your paperwork. Accommodation office is in the Jerningham building. Inauguration speech is at four p.m. in the chapel. Attendance is mandatory.”

The victory felt hollow. She handed me a dark-green lanyard that cheerfully proclaimed I’m a new student! and I scurried out of the entrance hall, head down to avoid the cold glares of the other students.

The campus was built in concentric semicircles around the grounds of a former convent, a proud stone building of stained-glass windows and ribbed vaults, flying buttresses and pointed arches, spires and towers and intricate tracery. The cobbled walkways were lined with black Victorian streetlamps and gnarled trees with branches like crooked bones.

Outside the entrance hall was a statue of Sister Maria, one of the last nuns to live in the convent before it was converted into an academic institution. Her stone hands were clasped in prayer as she stood vigil. The folds of her habit draped down to her ankles in rough-hewn ripples, and her chiseled face bowed in a way that made her eyes sink into shadows. The beads of the rosaries snaking around her wrists were fat, glimmering rubies, surrounded by shallow scratches where many a desperate thief had taken a chisel to the precious jewels. The attempts were fruitless; they may have been worth a fortune, but the rubies were embedded in the stone as though by some greater force.

Sister Maria had been the original North Tower victim, falling to her death a little over a hundred years ago. Whether she jumped or was pushed, nobody knew.

Laying down my monogrammed leather satchel on the cobbled courtyard, I stood against the statue for a few minutes, taking in great gulps of the late-September air and trying to gather my emotions.

Northumberland had always been home for me, and yet being here already felt all wrong.

I’d applied to the elite philosophy program as soon as Carvell reopened--if I was going to practice law one day and be a judge, if I was going to play god in the fates of murderers and victims alike, where better to cut my teeth than a place so famously steeped in death?

Plus, it was less than twenty miles from the town where I grew up and where my parents and brothers still lived. My mum had suffered from lupus since I was twelve, and it was getting worse every year. Even the prestigious universities in Edinburgh and Durham felt too far away. What if she took a turn for the worse and it took me hours to get home? What if . . . ?

I tried not to think like that.

After composing myself by Sister Maria’s statue, I headed back to the car park and yanked my suitcase out of my beat-up Ford. I frowned down at the campus map. Willowood Hall, where I’d be living for the next year, was adjacent to the central priory. Right opposite the North Tower, with its turrets and crenelations and dark, dark past.

Nerves writhed in the pit of my stomach like vipers, but not because of the proximity to the site of the murders. I’d been on edge about my new roommate all summer--about what it would be like to share a bedroom with another person after eighteen years of my own space. Another person who could well be the devil, or worse, a snorer.

Friendship, for me, was a long game. Something that could not be rushed or fast-tracked. My affections were not the quick flint of a forest fire, but rather grew like ivy; a slow creep over many years, difficult to destroy with a barbed comment or a careless joke.

Ever since my best friend, Noemie, moved away, the thought of getting to know new people felt overwhelming. Noemie and I had known each other since primary school, and become properly close in sixth form. But having been born in Canada, she’d just moved back to Toronto to study, and I was already daunted by the crater she’d left behind. There had been an almost romantic layer to our relationship, limbs tangled as we slept, though we never kissed. Love-yous exchanged with a kind of fake casualness. I’d never entirely unpacked what I felt for Noemie, and I was a little afraid to.

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