Read an Excerpt From Romina Garber’s Castle of the Cursed

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Castle of the Cursed, a YA gothic romance by Romina Garber—out from Wednesday Books on July 30th.

After a mysterious attack claims the lives of her parents, all Estela has left is her determination to solve the case. Suffering from survivor’s guilt so intense that she might be losing her grip on reality, she accepts an invitation to live overseas with an estranged aunt at their ancestral Spanish castle, la Sombra.

Beneath its gothic façade, la Sombra harbors a trove of family secrets, and Estela begins to suspect her parents’ deaths may be linked to their past. Her investigation takes a supernatural turn when she crosses paths with a silver-eyed boy only she can see. Estela worries Sebastián is a hallucination, but he claims he’s been trapped in the castle. They grudgingly team up to find answers and as their investigation ignites, so does a romance, mistrust twined with every caress.

As the mysteries pile up, it feels to Estela like everyone in the tiny town of Oscuro is lying and that whoever was behind the attack has followed her to Spain. The deeper she ventures into la Sombra’s secrets, the more certain she becomes that the suspect she’s chasing has already found her… and they’re closer than she ever realized.

“If you’re finished, follow me,” she says, picking up my glass of water and leading us out.

I grab my bag and trail her back to the gargoyle staircase that branches up in a Y shape. This time, she starts climbing, and after a moment’s hesitation, I follow.

The gargoyles’ eyes seem to trail us. I count ten steps to the middle landing, then twelve more as we go up the right side of the Y and cut down another crimson corridor.

“This is the extent of the house that’s habitable,” she says, stopping at a closed door after twenty-three steps. “Most of the structure is in disrepair and off-limits, so there are rules for living here.”

She stares at me grimly, and I flash to the photograph of the purple room. Beatríz looked younger than Mom then, but now she has aged past her older sister.

“Rule number one: You are not to explore the castle beyond where I show you,” she says, holding up one finger. “And rule number two”—she raises a second finger—“you are not to invite anyone over. ¿Está claro?”

I nod in agreement because it’s the path of least resistance.

“I have arranged for you to receive Spanish tutoring in the mornings. I wasn’t sure if you would need it, but I think you do. Afternoons, you will report to the clínica and help me there, then we will come home together to eat.


I want to shake my head in refusal, but it’ll be easier to just disappear. So I nod again.

Yet in my mind, I’m already retracing the steps to the front door. I don’t have a cell phone, but there will be public phones in town. I can take a cab to the airport and fly back to D.C. I’m sure Lety will let me back into the center. I still have a couple of weeks before I turn eighteen. I can figure something else out—

“My room is two doors down,” says my aunt, handing back my glass of water. When I reach for it, she holds out something small in her other palm.

I was informed my aunt would have my prescriptions and would continue to administer my doses because I’m not to be trusted with pill bottles after what I did at the center. But this doesn’t look like any medication I’ve ever taken.

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Castle of the Cursed

Castle of the Cursed

Romina Garber

The pill is black and shriveled and makes me think of the seed of a sickly tree.

“This is the equivalent of what you’re taking,” she says, with a bite of impatience.

I don’t reach for it.

“Is there a problem?” she probes.

I stare at the seedlike thing in her hand. There’s no way that’s medicinal. It looks more like poison. I look at her, and I’m not sure if I’m frowning or glaring. Is there a difference? Whatever the name of the expression, I’ve no doubt she’s picking up on my refusal.

“Your doctors weren’t sure you could handle this transition,” she says, closing her fist. “If that’s the case, we’ll have to find a new arrangement.”

I can’t believe it’s possible to dislike my mother’s sister this much so soon.

And yet, it’s barely been a couple of hours, and I already despise her.

Since I’m going to spit it out anyway, I open my palm to accept her pill. Yet part of me wants to call her bluff and dare her to call the center. I doubt she would have gone through the trouble of bringing me here just to ship me right back.

I tip the black seed in my mouth and chase it with water. Seeming satisfied, my aunt says, “Buenas noches.”

As soon as she shows me to my room, I slip inside and spit the pill into my hand. Then I stuff the seedlike thing into an inner pocket of my duffel for future investigation.

My new bedroom is the size of an apartment and comes complete with its own bathroom and an empty closet that could double as a second bedroom. My parents and I could have lived comfortably together in here.

It’s hard to imagine Mom growing up in this castle. It’s even harder to imagine that I might have grown up here, maybe even in this very room, if not for whatever happened that sent Mom and Dad packing. Their decision changed my nationality, my language, my upbringing… and they never even bothered to tell me.

I push those thoughts away and try to focus on something else.

The bathroom has a raven-claw tub and no shower. I twist the brass tap to fill it with hot water. A collection of shampoos, conditioners, body gels, moisturizers, and bath bombs line the porcelain, all of them unopened.

I haven’t bathed unsupervised in months, haven’t had any privacy at all. It feels surreal to be completely alone like this, to know I could do anything I want without anyone stopping me. I could hold my breath underwater until the last bubble pops.

 I dunk my head and wait in muffled silence to be proven wrong.

As the seconds pass, the world gets too quiet. When the absence of sound becomes overwhelming, I wonder if that’s what death is, just an earsplitting silence for all eternity. I break the surface, gasping for breath.

When I finish bathing, I towel off and change into black tights and a hoodie. Then I break Beatríz’s first rule.

I wear socks but no shoes.

Padding across the icy hall, I stay close to furniture and other heavy items, where the floor is more settled and less likely to creak. Once I return to the landing of the Y-shaped stairs, I climb the twelve steps of the left branch.

The darkness feels deeper here, and my steps are muffled by giant mothballs. I use my key chain flashlight—an investigative necessity, according to Dad—to examine the hall’s peeling paint and cobwebbed corners. A trickle creeps up the back of my neck that isn’t a spiderweb.

I feel like I’m being watched.

I swing my light in a circle around me, but I don’t catch the whites of anyone’s eyes. Yet as I keep going, peeking into dilapidated bedrooms and bathrooms, the sensation of being followed only grows.

Only I hear no footsteps. Something brushes my cheek—

Sucking in a sharp breath, I spin and flash my light in every direction. The beam flickers, cutting in and out, before shutting off for good.

I toggle the switch, but the device is dead. I can see why the locals believe something is off about this castle.

I should head back to my room, but the bands of fear tightening around my chest excite me. The siren call of my heartbeat is too tempting to ignore. A monstrous shadow grows sharper as I approach the end of the hall, and once my eyes adjust, I see another gargoyle carved of black stone. Like the ones from the staircase, its expression is grotesque and its eyes follow me closely. Once I manage to look past it, I notice a nondescript door.

I swing it open to a swirl of silver, and I enter a starlit space with a wall of stained-glass windows. And I’m reminded of a different silver blaze.

In the early weeks after the subway, before medication drowned my dreams, I used to get the same vision, night after night. It wasn’t the twenty-five dead bodies, or the black smoke, or even my parents. It was the blast of silver right before the train came back into focus.

That’s how the dream would begin. Then the light would retreat into twin orbs—a pair of eyes.

He had dark hair, chiseled cheekbones, and a starry gaze. I must have made him up to watch over me at night.

I never remembered the details of our time together once I awoke; just the imprint of his face, and the way shadows danced around him, reflecting back not a man’s shape but a monster’s. I thought of him as my nighttime guardian, a gargoyle with an angel’s face protecting me from nightmares. I called him my shadow beast.

Yet the silver light in this room comes from the night sky, filtered through stained glass. The windows are cloudy with dust, but I can still make out their original designs: the eight phases of the moon.

This room has a hallowed feel to it, as if it was once a sacred chamber. Like a lunar temple for summoning gods. Or demons.

The walls look scratched, and as I approach for a closer inspection, I see that they’re covered with words. Even before reading them, I know what they say.

The same line has been etched into the stone, over and over and over again, in different handwritings and to varying degrees of legibility: No hay luz en Oscuro.

There’s no light in Oscuro.

The words are an incantation, and I’m thrust back in time to the purple room, as a memory overtakes my senses:

A black fire blazes through the room, singeing the wallpaper and producing clouds of smoke.

A person is screaming, and I see Mom framed in the doorway, her arms outstretched, horror splayed on her face. She looks like she’s desperate to reach something in the black flames—


Five-year-old me is being burned alive.

From Castle of the Cursed by Romina Garber. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

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