S.T. Gibson's Latest Book Features an Occult Secret Society and a Devilish Deal — Read an Excerpt! (Exclusive)

In 'Evocation,' the first in a new series from the author of 'An Education in Malice,' readers discover a dark world beneath the one they think they know

<p>Angry Robot Books; Elizabeth Unseth</p> From left: <em>Evocation</em> cover; S.T. Gibson

Angry Robot Books; Elizabeth Unseth

From left: Evocation cover; S.T. Gibson

What's more fun than an occult secret society? How about an occult secret society, an ancestral deal with the devil and a love triangle?

The latest from S.T. Gibson, author of the fantasy delight A Dowry of Blood and the dark academia page-turner An Education in Malice, is called Evocation and it does all of that and so much more.

Out now from Angry Robot Books, Evocation introduces us to David, Rhys, Moira and Leda as they navigate their magic-riddled city, secret societies that function like frat houses, familial bonds that stand the test of time (and death) and, of course, the tangled webs of love and rivalries. It's the first in a new, four-book series, The Summoner's Circle, so there's more where this comes from.

Take a peek inside the world of Evocation with an excerpt shared exclusively with PEOPLE below.

<p>Angry Robot Books</p> 'Evocation' by S.T. Gibson

Angry Robot Books

'Evocation' by S.T. Gibson

The Society hall was in Cambridge, within a stone’s throw from Harvard Yard. Unlike the lineaged Freemasons or undergraduate social clubs that met in stone buildings guarded by wrought-iron fences, the Society favored discretion. The main entrance was beneath a Cantonese restaurant, down a grimy flight of stairs that seemed more likely to lead into a college dive bar than anywhere else.

David rapped crisply on the door. It slid open two miserly inches. A pair of rheumy eyes peered at him behind the chain pulled taut across the opening.

“Password?” a man asked.

“Gerald, I helped get your daughter out of her DUI; I think we’re well beyond this now.”

The guardian huffed and slammed the door shut, but a moment later, metal clunked, and the door was opened.

“Welcome back, Mr Aristarkhov,” the Society’s ancient footman said, his wispy white hair stirring in the breeze of the AC. Gerald had been there before David had been initiated and would probably be there after David retired. He was an artifact of grander times, when secret societies would employ staff at their séances to refill the glasses of enraptured onlookers. Currently, one staff member to answer the door, run the coat check and serve drinks with the utmost discretion was all the Society could afford. But the High Priest liked to think that with time, new members and new money would find their way into the brotherhood’s ranks, and the staff would grow. Gerald was, in this way, aspirational.

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David slipped off his blazer and held it out on two fingers, then brushed past Gerald and slipped beneath the draped curtain that separated the foyer from the clubhouse.

Despite relatively small square footage and a lack of natural light, the clubhouse had an antiquated grandeur that even David, with his taste for the modern, could appreciate. Overstuffed armchairs sat atop oriental rugs, and the bulbous sconce lighting along the wall evoked the Victorian without going full set piece. The paintings on the wall showed off autumnal pastorals and hunting scenes.

It was a love letter to the idea of a gentleman’s club, of what they were supposed to have been like before wing night at sports bars and neon-lit strip clubs had taken over.

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Most of the men – retired bankers and middle managers and professors – mingled freely throughout the room. There were 20 on a good day, closer to 10 on most. At the turn of the twentieth century, occult orders had been the height of fashion for any young man of means. In the past, the Society had been a center of political might, a place for power brokers to discuss the future of cities and even nations. But now, such societies tended to attract eccentrics and social climbers, people who were either all-in on the promise of attaining universal secrets or simply there to hob-nob.

David, who had been raised in and around occult societies, didn’t fall into either camp. He was totally disillusioned with the concept of supernatural enlightenment, knowing damn well that most people used magic to secure mundane boons, and there were very few people in any given room that he ever felt the need to impress.

Put simply, the Society was a demon-summoning social club, and while everyone had their own reasons for bending spirits to their will, they were all united by self-interest and a desire for comradery. When you got right down to it, an occult fraternity wasn’t much different from a Greek one. David had never been in a college frat, but he had been in a men’s a capella group at Williams, and that was basically the same thing.

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David’s crowd was already congregated in their usual spot: a conspiratorial semicircle of chairs in a far corner. In the winter, the fireplace would cast a cheery glow on the corner. But now, three men talked in the dim light cast by a standing lamp.

David caught the flash of dark eyes and the curl of mussed black hair as one of the men glanced briefly over his shoulder. He sighed. Rhys had beat him there.

David snagged a bottle of Perrier from the refreshment table and crossed the room to their usual corner. Cameron Casillas, a theology professor at a nearby divinity school, followed, sweeping into an ancient loveseat while David stood and did his best to look blasé.

Rhys glanced up at him from his favorite red velvet armchair. He looked as he always did: slightly underfed, terminally scholastic and two weeks overdue for a haircut. But his eyes were just as ferociously intelligent as ever, the set of his mouth just as doggedly determined. Rhys was a man who would not be moved about many things: his punctual arrival to Catholic Mass no less or more than eight times a year; his conviction that one ought not be seen out of doors in a t-shirt and jeans after the age of 20; and last year’s decision that David Aristarkhov was in his black books, with all non-Society socializing privileges revoked.

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“David,” he said coolly. “How was the deposition?”

“No worse than expected,” David said.

David thumped Nathan Vo, the venture capitalist, amicably on the shoulder, and Antoni Bresciani, who stood at Rhys’s side with a glass of bourbon in hand, got a firm handshake. A Harvard business grad from a large Italian family, Antoni has been initiated less than a year ago but has quickly found his place in the quintet of younger men. They were a subculture within a subculture, and age gave the five a bond monthly brunches and gossip-swapping strengthened.

Rhys glanced down at his watch.

“When are we going to start?”

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“God knows, with Wayne running things,” Cameron said. Their High Priest was not known for his punctuality. “He’s probably gearing up to give us another lecture on recruiting new blood.”

“Ugh,” Nathan groaned. His broad, Californian accent made everything he said sound particularly laid-back. “Evangelism.”

“Maybe if he started reading the ten applications a year we get from qualified women we wouldn’t have to rehash this discussion every week,” Rhys said, bringing his drink to his lips.

“Don’t start that again,” David said. “I’m too old for another controversy.”

“If you ask me, Wayne’s retirement can’t come fast enough,” Rhys said with a frown.

“You’re saying you could do better?” Nathan asked, scandalized eyebrows shooting up towards his hairline. How he had managed to survive this long in a Society run almost entirely on backroom deals and scheming, David had no idea. Nathan had a relentlessly upbeat air that would have been annoying if it wasn’t so goddamn genuine.

“I’d be sure we start on time, for starters,” Rhys replied.

“You know you have my vote,” Antoni said.

David wasn’t surprised by the show of support. Induction into and advancement through the Society wasn’t just determined by how well a man performed in his evaluations. At least two thirds of the active members had to vote in favor of any candidate, which led to its own rash of controversies.

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Most recently, there had been an argument over whether or not transgender men could be inducted. Nearly all the brothers had favored amending the bylaws, but a handful of the older men, the kind who liked to brag about having gay friends but still voted Republican, had dug in their heels, resulting in a stalemate. David, Cameron and Nathan had refused to drop the issue, but Rhys in particular had gone to bat for Antoni, who had demonstrated immense natural talent during his evaluations.

In an impassioned speech – sketched out on little notecards, no less – Rhys had managed to sway enough of the fence-sitting members, and the bylaws had been amended. Since then, Antoni and Rhys had become fast friends, bonding over their Southie upbringings and their shared passion for dead languages. Antoni would put Rhys’s name down for High Priest without hesitation.

“Don’t encourage him,” David responded. “Think of all the homework he’d give us.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making sure everyone in this Society is actually progressing in their magical practice and not just showing up to brownnose,” Rhys said. “Or do you want it to devolve entirely into an Elks Lodge situation?”

“I just think the High Priesthood should go to someone with the sort of social prowess it takes to command a room like this,” David said. “Someone with a natural magical aptitude who’s been in the occult community for decades.”

“Someone like you?”

“Your words, not mine.”

 Rhys was excellent at controlling spirits; that much was true. But he was still young, and too radical in his views to sit well with the older set. David, at nearly 30, had mellowed out enough to gain the respect of the senior members. He came from an aristocratic background that bestowed ample social graces and family connections. Rhys, for all his intelligence and politeness, still radiated an ambitious middle-class energy that made old money nervous. 

“Moira has a client who might be interested in talking to you,” Rhys said to David. “They want a séance.”

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“You could just give her my number, you know,” David said, doing his best to extend the olive branch. He didn’t dislike Rhys’ wife, not strictly speaking, and he knew from reputation that she was one of the city’s best tarot readers. Magical competence was enough to make him respect anybody, even if he didn’t exactly want to cozy up to them. “I can be nice.”

“I somehow doubt that. Either take the client or don’t; I don’t care either way.”

David’s temper sparked, but he smothered it down. There would be no reasoning with Rhys here, where they were surrounded by other people. Still, he was running out of patience for the injured, icy shoulder Rhys kept giving him. How many times did he have to say he was sorry? It had been six goddamn months.

But David didn’t press as they abandoned their glasses and slipped through the door into the perfumed darkness of the inner sanctum where rituals took place. He knew his chances of stealing a word during the ritual were zero, since Rhys attended to their cosmic playacting with rapt attention. He liked to insist he wasn’t as religious as he used to be, but David knew that Rhys’s moralistic affliction had only gotten worse with age. Eucharist or the cup of initiation, it was all the same.

As far as David was concerned, if Rhys wasn’t willing to play nice, David didn’t have to obey the rules either. He hated apologizing, as a general rule, since he didn’t often believe himself to be in the wrong, but a grand gesture along those lines might be the only thing that would help the situation.

A house call had gotten him into this mess. Maybe another one could fix it.

Extracted from Evocation by S.T. Gibson, published by Angry Robot Books. Copyright © S.T. Gibson 2024

Evocation by S.T. Gibson is out now, and available for preorder, wherever books are sold.

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