Rosalinda is trapped on Sinner’s Isle, an island filled with young women like her—Majestics, beautiful witches loathed by society for their dangerous magic yet revered by powerful men who want to use them.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Angela Montoya’s Sinner’s Isle, a young adult romantic fantasy—available now from Joy Revolution.
Rosalinda is trapped on Sinner’s Isle, an island filled with young women like her—Majestics, beautiful witches loathed by society for their dangerous magic yet revered by powerful men who want to use them.
For years, she has been kept under the watchful, calculating eye of Doña Lucia. Now eighteen, Rosa will be the prized commodity at this year’s Offering, a fiesta for the wealthy to engage in drink, damsels, and debauchery. That is why she must flee—before someone forces the vicious phantoms within her to destroy everything she touches.
Handsome, swashbuckling Mariano has long sailed the high seas as the Prince of Pirates. Then the king’s fleet attacks his father’s infamous ship, leaving him marooned on Sinner’s Isle with only an enchanted chain meant to lead him to his heart’s desire. Instead, he falls into the hands of a brazen (although) bewitching headache—Rosa.
Together they must outwit each other and their enemies before the Offering ends and it’s too late to escape the perils of Sinner’s Isle.
One Day Before the Offering
The salt-stained breeze tugged Rosalinda’s hair from its braid and whipped it about like angry serpents. She shoved the tendrils behind her ears and scowled, half expecting storm clouds to form above her head to match her darkening mood. But the sky was annoyingly blue.
Squalls never touched Sinner’s Isle, after all. Even storms shunned the Majestics. If only the young king and his court would offer the same kindness. She knew that was a foolish dream. King Sebastián had left his castle and was currently sailing through the treacherous seas. He was coming for her.
“Señorita, your braid has come undone,” Cora, a maidservant, said from within Rosa’s bedchamber. “Please, come off the balcony so I may finish getting you ready.”
Rosa ignored Cora, keeping her eyes focused on the sea. The only glimmer of freedom she’d had in her eleven years on the isle. She was eighteen now. A woman. Though considered less than one because of the power she possessed.
In silence, she left the balcony, swept over to the vanity bench, and sat down, placing her hands on her lap. She kept perfectly still, her spine straight, her chin high. Just as she’d been taught to do since she was a little girl. But inside, in the hidden depths of her soul, she raged like a snared beast.
Cora clicked her tongue as she shuff led in front of Rosa. Cora’s wrinkled face and skin were covered with plain muslin, as were all the servants of the palace. Doña Lucía, their mistress, would not have her guests see anything on the isle but beauty, perfection, and vitality. And age, especially on a Majestic—a woman with magic coursing through her veins, blessed by the goddess Xiomara herself—was the opposite of those things, in la doña’s eyes.
“You are a mess, señorita. And after all the work I just did.” She pinned loose strands of Rosa’s nearly black hair back into place. “Stay still, por favor.” Cora raised a single finger and brushed it over Rosa’s mouth.
A trail of ice followed her touch. It stung, but that was nothing new. Magic always found a way to hurt.
Rosa’s eyes flicked to the looking glass and watched as the soft pink of her lips turned into a deep plum. Cora’s glamour magic wasn’t extraordinary. Nothing of true value in the Kingdom of Coronado. Nothing worth paying the church a high tithe for. But perfect for a day like this.
“There you go, señorita. As pretty as ever.” Cora patted Rosa’s cheek. “Now, I must attend to the rest of the young ladies before the king’s arrival.”
As soon as Cora left, Rosa slumped.
The door to her bedchamber creaked open, then quickly slammed shut.
“Forget something, Cora?” she asked, not bothering to raise her eyes from her lap.
“Sí, my brain. Have you seen it?”
Rosa’s head snapped to the door. Juana, her dearest friend, stood panting as though she’d come running from the other side of the isle. Chest heaving, she rested her hands on her hips, her dark-brown skin glistening with sweat. She wore a soft-pink gown with gold embroidery. Her black hair was pulled into a bun with a few tight curls framing her pretty face. Irritation was etched on her features.
Rosa pinched her lips together to keep from smiling. Many of the girls under Doña Lucía’s watch happily wore the fine dresses laid out for them, but not Juana. She hated the idea of a dozen layers of skirts around her legs. She loathed face paint too, and yet, there she was with rouge on her cheeks.
“Aren’t you fetching?” Rosa teased.
Juana plucked a flower from her hair and crushed it in her palm. “They tried to shove me into a gown cut so low, I might as well have been naked.”
Rosa grinned. “I can picture it now: you, standing there on the docks, in nothing but your heeled slippers and tiara.”
“Oh, sí. I’d catch the attention of the entire armada. Probably even that beastly king.” Juana tapped a finger against her chin. “On second thought, that wouldn’t be so bad. I could tell him I’ve seen his future and that he’s doomed to spend the rest of his days with his head up his culo.”
Laughter bubbled out of Rosa.
Juana paced across the room and collapsed onto a chaise longue near the balcony doors. “I had to run once the servants started chattering about using magic to elongate my lashes. If Doña Lucía finds out…”
“The mistress is too busy with fiesta preparations to worry over your lashes.”
“You and I both know that’s a lie.” Juana chewed on her fingernail, something she only did when her mind was caught in a spiral of worrisome thoughts.
“I know better than to believe you actually care what Doña Lucía will do,” Rosa said.
Juana once spent several days locked in her room when she broke Doña Lucía’s prized vase. Well, she didn’t break it. Rosa had. But Juana took the blame. She was always doing things like that. Sticking up for Rosa. Shielding her. With the reasoning that she was three months older and therefore much stronger than Rosa ever could be. Besides, she always said. I hardly like you, let alone anyone else. A few days of peace and quiet will be a delight.
“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Rosa said as she sat beside Juana.
Juana met Rosa’s gaze. “I’ve known this day would come for so long. But now that it’s here and our plans are falling into place, I can’t help but feel something will go terribly wrong.”
Rosa knew the dangers that came with running away from the isle. She’d seen what happened to girls who tried to f lee. Seen them tortured by la doña’s all-female guards until their screams died in their throats. Watched as they were dragged into the depths by tlanchanas as soon as they reached the turquoise waters surrounding the island. But facing las sirenas to evade the Offering was worth the risk.
“I…” Rosa’s mouth opened and shut. She tried to form the proper words to make Juana understand why they had to leave. Tonight.
“You don’t have to say anything.” Juana squeezed her hand. “You never do. Not with me. But that doesn’t make me any less frightened.”
“I’m sorry,” Rosa said. And she was. She was sorry for everything they were made to endure. Sorry a Majestic’s power was coveted and hated. Sorry their worth was measured by their tithe—how much someone was willing to pay the church for a Majestic’s services.
It hadn’t always been this way. Only a century ago, Majestics lived freely within the island kingdom. They’d healed the ill, calmed the seas, called down rain from the skies to help farmers produce bountiful harvests. But when the former monarch, King Sebastián’s great-great-grandfather, learned he could weaken a Majestic’s power with iron on their skin, everything changed.
He rounded them up and carted them to his castillo, placing rings of iron in their earlobes to keep them weak, only taking them out so he could use their power to turn his wasteland of a capital city into a flourishing paradise. It took a heavy toll on the Majestics, for their power was like a living well inside them. When it ran dry, so too did their life force.
After decades of mistreatment, the Majestics fought against the king and his guards, but they could only withstand for so long before their dampened magic was depleted completely. Hundreds of powerful Majestics lost their lives during the rebellion. An entire generation of elders was gone in months.
The church began to spin tall tales to their flock, sending out pamphlets that deemed Majestics “sin in the flesh.” Many who had once sympathized with the Majestics turned their backs on the witches for fear of being cast into one of the seven hells. People started hunting Majestics to rid the lands of wicked magic.
But the king would not let his only access to true dominance die off like the church and its flock wanted. Neither would the nobles of the land, who clamored for power too.
A compromise was thus made. Majestics were exiled to a tiny island at the center of the sea. A Majestic could only live outside the confines of Sinner’s Isle if she and her powers were bound to a person of influence once she was of age. A person chosen by the king and the cardenals of the church for their loyalty to the throne and their gods. There the Majestic would spend the rest of her days meeting their demands, no matter what they may be.
A mischievous thought popped into Rosa’s mind. “Care to go on an adventure before this wretched day begins?”
Juana arched a brow. “Do you even need to ask?”
Rosa grabbed Juana’s hand and led her toward the door. Rosa opened it. Servants ran back and forth, carrying vases bursting with white lilies and baskets of fresh linens. A f lurry of Majestics in stunning gowns passed by, giggling and gossiping with nervous excitement. When the corridor was clear, she led Juana to the right.
“Where are we going?” Juana asked, looking over her shoulder.
“To la capilla,” Rosa replied.
Juana balked. “The chapel? Why?”
“Just wait.” Together, they hustled up long and winding steps, toward the highest point of the palace. It was where they were supposed to say their prayers to the dioses. To the gods who had turned their backs on them long ago.
Burning incense clogged Rosa’s nostrils, followed by the sickening memories of hours spent on her knees, begging for forgiveness for something she had no control over—being a Majestic.
La capilla was small, sparse, meant for only a few sinners at a time. At the very front of the circular room stood an altar with glowing candles and twelve small figurines sculpted in the dioses’ likeness. There had been thirteen gods, but Xiomara was cast aside like the Majestics she created.
“Are you going to tell me why we’re in here?” Juana asked, pinching her nose. She detested the way la capilla smelled.
“I was thinking of that book.” Rosa gestured toward el libro de salvación. It was a version of the pamphlet printed and given to every household in the kingdom, and the scripture Majestics on the isle memorized and recited the moment they were old enough to speak.
Majestics are sin in the flesh, it stated.
They know nothing but destruction and lust.
They will pull the piety out of a gods-fearing soul, causing men to commit damnable acts because it is in the Majestic’s nature; it was what they were born to do.
Rosa flipped the pages until she found what she was looking for. Juana peered down and read. “‘The lowest pit in the seventh hell is reserved for the Majestic and those who worship her.’” She scoffed. “Are you trying to make me feel better or worse about today?”
“Keep reading,” Rosa urged.
She moved away, searching for a bit of ink or chalk that was used to practice their scriptures.
Juana rolled her eyes but continued. “‘Salvation may come for a Majestic, praise be to the dioses, if she lays down her will, her sinful nature, and offers herself and her magic to a pious man who serves his king and country well. Only then may she enter el cielo when she has parted from this world.’”
Rosa’s eyes caught on a pencil under one of the benches. She snagged it and shuffled back to the altar.
“Here.” She offered it to Juana. “I think it’s time we write our own story for a change.”
A brilliant smile filled Juana’s face. “You are diabolical.”
“I learned from the best.”
With a laugh, Juana snatched the pencil and began scribbling words into the holy book. Replacing sanctified verses with foul language. Swapping the word man for donkey. Rosa giggled so hard, tears fell down her cheeks.
When the pages were filled with Juana’s markings, she plucked up one of the figurines from the altar. As she started drawing a beard on the statue of Izel, the dios of nature, Rosa walked to the lone window within la capilla. The salty breeze kissed her light-brown cheeks as she eyed the entire isle, laid out before her like a living platter.
The tlanchanas’ den sat at the edge of a cobalt bay—at first sight, they appeared to be beautiful women bathing in the sun, but below the water’s surface their serpentine tails flicked and slithered in the sea as they waited for their next meal. The tiny village that housed the servants of the isle and their families nuzzled against a lush forest teeming with wildlife. There were also the Baths and the temple where some priests were housed. A network of dirt roads wove through it all, leading up to the Palace of Majestics, where Rosa and Juana resided.
Every woman on Sinner’s Isle was a Majestic, from the lowliest servant to the mistress of the isle herself. But only the very young, or the ones with giftings worthy of the king and his court, were allowed to live and study within the palace walls.
A bright white sail flashed in the distance. Rosa bit her lip and squinted as she leaned forward. Another sail popped into view. And another still. She shifted her weight, her pulse racing as dozens of ships blotted out the horizon.
“They’re here,” she said, her voice as soft as the rippling waves breaking on the shore far below. Perhaps if she spoke the words quiet enough, it wouldn’t be so. The ships would simply cease to exist. Yet no matter how many times she blinked, they remained. Before long, the vessels were passing between the bone-white statues standing sentry over the bay.
The darkness inside her, the sick shadow magic that wished to hurt and destroy, stirred to life. The wicked phantoms stretched and sighed as though waking from a deep sleep. She forced her breathing to calm. The last thing she needed was to worry over her powers. Especially when the king and his guests had finally arrived.
They were here for the Offering, an event that happened every year at the beginning of the new lunar cycle. For seven days, the ruler and noblemen of the Kingdom of Coronado would come to pay their tithes and worship the dioses. Not with heads bowed and songs of praise for their creators, but with fiestas, drinks, masquerades, and extravagant costumes. And the Majestics who had come of age or had yet to be chosen would be paraded around like peacocks in full bloom, hoping to be plucked from the isle to serve and cleanse their souls.
Rosa whipped around, feeling ill. Hand on her stomach, she rested her back against a cool wall. Juana’s grin fell. She dropped the statue, the clay figurine smashing to a dozen pieces on the f loor.
“Is it time?” she asked.
Rosa gulped. “Sí.”
She and Juana had turned eighteen since last year’s Offering and were ready to be presented to the recently crowned king. Only a month had passed since his father’s death, but the rumors of treason and uprising had found their way to the isle. Some said the deceased king simply had a bad heart, some said it was poison. Whatever the case, the new king would come to the Offering, even though he was in mourning, because he needed to choose a Majestic for himself. One to stand at his side and protect him until he took his final breath.
There was little doubt he’d choose Rosa; her powers were unrivaled. What young king wouldn’t want someone who could unleash a host of wicked phantoms upon the world? Someone who had unstoppable weapons at her fingertips?
At the thought of them, Rosa felt the shadows writhing inside her veins.
It will be you, they whispered into her mind. He will choose you and you’ll be lost to Juana forever. He will force you to use us to do unspeakable things.
The welcoming bells rang in the tower. Ships were cluttering the bay. Rowboats were being dispatched.
Rosa took Juana’s hand. “We must go.”
You don’t have to do this, her shadows said, a thousand voices bleeding into one. We can set you free. We can make this easier if you let us do your worst.
Chills rippled over Rosa’s skin as their silky declarations echoed inside her brain. She’d never do such a thing. Not again. She’d seen what the darkness within her could do if left unbridled, if she didn’t remain in constant control. She’d destroyed before when her mind and heart were strained, and her willpower was broken.
The bells clanged louder.
“We really should get going,” Rosa said. “We don’t want to ruin our plans before they’ve even begun.”
Juana nodded. She started to walk with Rosa, then stopped. “One moment.” She paced toward the altar, grabbed the burning stick of incense, and threw it out the window. She grinned as she dusted off her hands. “Much better.”
They laughed as they ran out of la capilla for what they prayed would be the last time.
A lone figure halted at the base of the staircase. Her umber-colored hair cascaded down her back, tiny pink flowers woven in and out of her curls. Lola’s medium-brown skin glistened in the morning light, porcelain smooth, save for the branding that had been scorched into her cheek when she was a child.
All Majestics were marked with a short, thin line across their neck once they were bound to their host. Lola’s was something altogether different, though. The scar on her face was given to her by a magic dealer who had laid claim to her before she’d been taken to Sinner’s Isle. Committing such an act was against the laws of both the church and kingdom, but one who worked in the dark markets didn’t worry over what was and wasn’t permitted.
“What are you doing here?” Lola’s eyes snapped to Juana, searching for an answer.
Juana rubbed the back of her neck and peered down at her slippers.
“We wished to say our prayers,” Rosa offered.
“I see.” Lola’s gaze didn’t leave Juana’s face.
A pang of sorrow ran through Rosa. Although Juana had never said as such, Rosa knew she loved Lola fiercely. But love was pointless for Majestics; their sole purpose was to serve their host. Their kingdom.
A group of young Majestics scampered past.
“Hurry up, sisters,” the smallest shrieked, her golden hair bouncing about her face. “You’ll be late.”
“Remember, girls,” Lola called after them. “You are not of age and not to be seen. Stay away from the throng.”
“We know, Sister Lola,” they yelled. Giggling and chattering.
“We really should hurry,” Rosa said, noting the stiffness in Juana’s back, the tightness to her mouth. “Doña Lucía will have our heads if we’re tardy for the king’s arrival.”
Tension buzzed between the three girls.
“Come,” Lola urged. “Let’s see what this young king is like. Perhaps he isn’t so bad. Perhaps he is kind.”
Rosa snorted. “The previous king was a monster. Surely, his son is the same.”
In silence, the girls moved. Even with her mind trapped in fear, Rosa caught the shared glances between Juana and Lola. She saw the way they held each other’s gaze and spoke one million verses to one another without a single word uttered. But whatever was said between them, it must not have been what either wished for, for they both frowned and tucked their heads low.
The warm air brushed against Rosa as she stepped out of the palace and wove through the cobbled path leading to the bay. Waxy palms reached overhead, offering glimpses of shade. A tiny, lime-colored bird fluttered about before landing on the shoulder of a pearly statue of Izel, the same god that Juana had just defiled with a pencil. It chirped and sang until f lying away into the thicket. The world around them seemed so peaceful. So serene. And completely at odds with her warring mind and the shadows scratching against her ribs.
What would happen to her if their escape plan failed and the king took her away?
Away. The word brought tears to her eyes.
Away. Without a chance of seeing Juana again. Coronadian law forbade two or more Majestics from being in the same room after they left the isle. Rosa couldn’t stomach the thought. Nor could she let a man, or anyone, have control of her or her shadows. And she’d rather bite out her own tongue than bind herself to anyone unworthy of her heart.
“Have you heard stories of King Sebastián?” she asked Lola, needing to get her thoughts in line.
Lola was two years their senior and well-liked by her peers and anyone else who visited the isle, but that could’ve been because of her power. She drained away inhibitions, made even the hardest of hearts turn to her side. Thus no secrets could get past her, and that was why the church chose her to be Doña Lucía’s successor whenever the time came.
“I’ve heard a few things,” Lola said. “People spread gossip when they are jealous.”
Rosa pursed her lips.
“They say he is selfish and spoiled. That he is sour and insolent.”
All the more reason to leave, Rosa thought.
“But he’s still a boy really, only nineteen.”
“And we are eighteen. Alas, here we are,” Rosa said bitterly.
Salt and brine filled her senses as they came to the open air of the bay. The towering statues constructed in the likeness of Xiomara loomed over the entrance to the cove. The diosa was said to have used her power of seduction over the other dioses. She had them so transfixed that they did not see her siphon bits of her magic to human women, giving them a tiny amount so that they could defend themselves against those who oppressed them.
When the dioses broke from their trance and saw what she had done, they stripped her of her hair and clothing and tied her in chains of iron before throwing her into the sea. As she lay drained on the seafloor, the last shards of her magic broke apart and seeped into the hearts of las sirenas, turning them into the vicious beasts that everyone called tlanchanas.
They were her rage. The Majestics, her heart.
A breeze ruffled Rosa’s mango-colored skirts, and she squinted against the sun bouncing off the sapphire waters. Rosa raised a hand to shield her eyes, then gasped. Never, in all her years on the isle, had there been so many vessels come to anchor. Wide and squat. Long and ornate. Gold-flaked. Glossy. But there was one that stood out among the rest. A jet-black ship with the king’s crest painted on its sails.
“The whole Kingdom of Coronado seems to be here,” Rosa said.
“Sí, they’ve come to see the new king pick his protector. All eyes will be on you.” Lola’s eyes cut to Rosa. “You’d do well to remember that.”
There was a bite to Lola’s words. A warning that Rosa couldn’t quite decipher.
Lola stopped before Juana and lifted her hand to adjust Juana’s curls.
“Be strong. For me,” Lola whispered.
A flurry of servants rushed over and yanked them to a shaded stage where the other Majestics stood, waiting. Rosa and Juana were shoved to the front alongside the four other girls who’d come of age and were to be a part of the Offering. They acknowledged the girls with sympathetic nods but remained silent.
On the docks, men heaved sedan chairs onto their shoulders. They gritted their teeth while scores of guests dressed in layers of fine silks and lavish wigs climbed in and plopped themselves onto the benches. Their heads bobbed as they moved up the cobbled path and past the Majestics. Some flicked their fans and pointed. Others stared at the girls as though they were a well in the center of the desert, and they were desperate for a drink. The priests came next, donning their fancy robes and ridiculous caps. They said prayers for the Majestics. They snarled at their wickedness. Rosa’s skin itched with irritation.
Finally, King Sebastián came.
His sedan was large and wide and constructed with sleek black wood. The servants carrying it had sweat dripping down their temples, and they’d only begun their ascent up the hill. When Rosa regarded him, she sucked in a breath. He was handsome. No, that word didn’t fit. He was beautiful. King Sebastián had smooth medium-brown skin, high cheekbones, and arching brows. His lips were glossy and perfectly plump.
His eyes trailed over each woman before stopping on Rosa. The lips she’d thought lovely, pulled back in disdain. She struggled to keep her face neutral as they continued to stare at one another.
He looks down at you, her phantoms hissed.
She could not argue with that. King Sebastián seemed disgusted by their mere presence. She bet he was the kind of ruler who cared nothing for his subjects, especially the Majestic who would be serving at his side. Who knew what he would do with her phantoms at his disposal. Who would he have her hurt and for what purpose?
Even after he’d come and gone, Rosa’s eyes remained fixed ahead to calm her quaking nerves. She shuddered at the statues of Xiomara—shackled and stripped. Built as a reminder of what would happen to Majestics if they dared attempt to escape. What would she think of her Majestics now? This couldn’t be what she’d wished for. This couldn’t be the life she’d intended for them. A life without choice.
Shame blanketed Rosa’s shoulders. She turned her attention from Juana, who glared at her own slippers, to the other girls, who fidgeted with their gowns, to the Majestics who’d been offered in the years past but weren’t chosen because their powers were weak. Some looked excited, optimistic about being selected this time around, but many appeared tired and cold. They knew they’d have to cater to the whims and wishes of Doña Lucía’s esteemed guests during the fiesta.
Rosa’s shadows clawed up her throat and into her mouth. She clenched her fists. Kept her gaze focused ahead.
The phantoms whispered, Set us free and we could wreak havoc on anyone you wish.
She dug her nails into her palms, something she’d done since childhood, when her mamá would weave her hair too tightly into braids. The thought of Mamá made her eyes prickle with tears. This wasn’t what she’d wanted for Rosa’s future. Hadn’t Rosa’s family perished trying to keep her from this sort of thing? They’d fought so hard to see her safe. Bowing down to the young king would be like spitting on their graves.
Rosa turned to her dear friend. What would Juana look like in a year if they did not make it off this island? In five? Would her pretty brown eyes be sunken and lifeless? Would she be an apathetic version of herself, nothing but a hollow shell? Rosa blinked away the thought.
She’d never see Juana’s fire doused, nor her own. She was escaping for Xiomara, for her family, for Juana, and for herself. She’d have her freedom or die trying. Better to die a thousand wretched deaths than be a weapon for a vile king. For a monstrous ruler who’d sink his teeth into everything good in the world and tear it apart like meat from a bone.
Rosa gave Juana a single nod. And with that tiny gesture, that minuscule act, she said a thousand things. I will not watch your light dim. I will not bow my head and let the king have me. I will not suffer for his sake.
In the discreet movement, she said, Let’s get the hells off this isle.
Excerpted from Sinner’s Isle, copyright © 2023 by Angela Montoya.