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Excerpt Reveal: A Sorceress Comes to Call by T. Kingfisher

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A Sorceress Comes to Call

From New York Times bestselling and Hugo Award-winning author T. Kingfisher comes Sorceress Comes to Call—a dark reimagining of the Brothers Grimm’s “The Goose Girl,” rife with secrets, murder, and forbidden magic.

Cordelia knows her mother is . . . unusual. Their house doesn’t have any doors between rooms—there are no secrets in this house—and her mother doesn’t allow Cordelia to have a single friend. Unless you count Falada, her mother’s beautiful white horse. The only time Cordelia feels truly free is on her daily rides with him.

But more than simple eccentricity sets her mother apart. Other mothers don’t force their daughters to be silent and motionless for hours, sometimes days, on end. Other mothers aren’t evil sorcerers.

When her mother unexpectedly moves them into the manor home of a wealthy older Squire and his kind but keen-eyed sister, Hester, Cordelia knows this welcoming pair are to be her mother’s next victims. But Cordelia feels at home for the very first time among these people, and as her mother’s plans darken, she must decide how to face the woman who raised her to save the people who have become like family.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of A Sorceress Comes to Call by T. Kingfisher, on sale 8/06/24


CHAPTER 1

There was a fly walking on Cordelia’s hand and she was not allowed to flick it away.

She had grown used to the ache of sitting on a hard wooden pew and being unable to shift her weight. It still hurt, but eventually her legs went to sleep and the ache became a dull, all-over redness that was easier to ignore.

Though her senses were dulled in obedience, her sense of touch stayed the strongest. Even when she was so far under that the world had a gray film around the edges, she could still feel her clothing and the touch of her mother’s hand. And now the fly’s feet itched, which was bad, then tickled, which was worse.

At the front of the church, the preacher was droning on. Cordelia had long since lost the thread. Lust and tithing were his two favorite topics. Probably it was one of those. Her mother took her to church every Sunday and Cordelia was fairly certain that he had been preaching the same half-dozen sermons for the past year.

Her eyes were the only muscles that she could control, so she was not looking at him, but down as far as she could. At the very bottom of her vision, she could see her hands folded in her lap and the fly picking its way delicately across her knuckles.

Her mother glanced at her and must have noticed that she was looking down. Cordelia’s chin rose so that she could no longer see her hands. She was forced to study the back of the head of the man in front of her. His hair was thinning toward the back and was compressed down at the sides, as if he wore a hat most days. She did not recognize him, but that was no surprise. Since her days at school had ended, Cordelia only saw the other townsfolk when she went to church.

Cordelia lost the tickling sensation for a moment and dared to hope that the fly was gone, but then the delicate web between her thumb and forefinger began to itch.

Her eyes began to water at the sensation and she blinked them furiously. Crying was not acceptable. That had been one of the first lessons of being made obedient. It would definitely not be acceptable in church, where other people would notice. Cordelia was fourteen and too old to cry for seemingly no reason—because of course she could not tell anyone the reason.

The fly crossed over to her other hand, each foot landing like an infinitesimal pinprick. The stinging, watering sensation in her eyes started to feel like a sneeze coming on.

Sneezing would be terrible. She could not lift her hands or turn her head, so it would hit the back of the man’s head, and he would turn around in astonishment and her mother would move her mouth to apologize and everyone would be staring at her for having been so ill-mannered.

Her mother would not be happy. Cordelia would have given a year of her life to be able to wipe her eyes. She sniffed miserably, her lungs filling with the smell of candles and wood polish and other people’s bodies. Under it all lay the dry, sharp smell of wormwood.

And then, blessedly, the preacher finished. Everyone said, “Amen,” and the congregation rose. No one noticed that Cordelia moved in unison with her mother.

No one ever did.

“I suppose you’re mad at me,” said her mother as they walked home from church. “I’m sorry. But you might try harder not to be so rebellious! I shouldn’t have to keep doing this to you, not when you’re fourteen years old!”

Cordelia said nothing. Her tongue did not belong to her. The person that smiled and answered all the greetings after the sermon—“Why Evangeline, don’t you look lovely today? And Cordelia! You keep growing like a weed!”—had not been Cordelia at all.

They reached home at last. Home was a narrow white house with peeling paint, set just off the road. Evangeline pushed the front door open, walked Cordelia to the couch, and made her sit.

Cordelia felt the obedience let go, all at once. She did not scream.

When Cordelia was young, she had screamed when she came out of obedience, but this gave her mother a reason to hold her and make soothing noises, so she had learned to stay silent as she swam up into consciousness, out of the waking dream.

The memories of what she had done when she was obedient would still be there, though. They lay in the bottom of her skull like stones.

It was never anything that looked terrible from outside. She could not have explained it to anyone without sounding ridiculous. “She makes me eat. She makes me drink. She makes me go to the bathroom and get undressed and go to bed.”

And they would have looked at her and said “So?” and Cordelia would not have been able to explain what it was like, half-sunk in stupor, with her body moving around her.

Being made obedient felt like being a corpse. “My body’s dead and it doesn’t do what I want,” Cordelia had whispered once, to her only friend, their horse Falada. “It only does what she wants. But I’m still in it.”

When she was younger, Cordelia would wet herself frequently when she was obedient. Her mother mostly remembered to have Cordelia relieve herself at regular intervals now, but Cordelia had never forgotten the sensation.

She was made obedient less often as she grew older. She thought perhaps that it was more difficult for her mother to do than it had been when she was small—or perhaps it was only that she had learned to avoid the things that made her mother angry. But this time, Cordelia hadn’t avoided it.

As the obedience let go, Cordelia swam up out of the twilight, feeling her senses slot themselves back into place.

Her mother patted her shoulder. “There you are. Now, isn’t that better?”

Cordelia nodded, not looking at her.

“I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”

“Yes,” said Cordelia, who could not remember what it was that she had been made obedient for. “I will.”

When her legs felt steady enough, she went up the stairs to her bedroom and lay on the bed. She did not close the door.

There were no closed doors in the house she grew up in.

Sometimes, when her mother was gone on an errand, Cordelia would close the door to her bedroom and lean against it, pressing herself flat against the wooden surface, feeling it solid and smooth under her cheek.

The knowledge that she was alone and no one could see her—that she could do anything, say anything, think anything and no one would be the wiser—made her feel fierce and wicked and brave.

She always opened the door again after a minute. Her mother would come home soon and the sight of a closed door would draw her like a lodestone. And then there would be the talk.

If Cordelia’s mother was in a good mood, it would be “Silly! You don’t have any secrets from me, I’m your mother!”

If she was in a bad mood, it would be the same talk but from the other direction, like a tarot card reversed—“What are you trying to hide?”

Whichever card it was, it always ended the same way: “We don’t close doors in this house.”

When Cordelia was thirteen and had been half-mad with things happening under her skin, she shot back “Then why are there doors in the house at all?”

Her mother had paused, just for an instant. Her long-jawed face had gone blank and she had looked at Cordelia—really looked, as if she was actually seeing her—and Cordelia knew that she had crossed a line and would pay for it.

“They came with the house,” said her mother. “Silly!” She nodded once or twice, to herself, and then walked away.

Cordelia couldn’t remember now how long she had been made obedient as punishment. Two or three days, at least.

Because there were no closed doors, Cordelia had learned to have no secrets that could be found. She did not write her thoughts in her daybook.

She kept a daybook because her mother believed that it was something young girls should do, but the things she wrote were exactly correct and completely meaningless. I spilled something on my yellow dress today. I have been out riding Falada. The daffodils bloomed today. It is my birthday today.

She gazed at the pages sometimes, and thought what it would be like to write I hate my mother in a fierce scrawl across the pages.

She did not do it. Closing the door when she was home alone was as much rebellion as she dared. If she had written something so terrible, she would have been made obedient for weeks, perhaps a month. She did not think she could stand it for so long.

I’d go mad. Really truly mad. But she wouldn’t notice until she let me come back, and I’d have been mad inside for weeks and weeks by then.

Since her mother was home today and unlikely to leave again, Cordelia took a deep breath and sat up, scrubbing at her face. There was no point in dwelling on things she would never do. She changed out of her good dress and went out to the stable behind the house, where Falada was waiting. The stable was old and
gloomy, but Falada glowed like moonlight in the darkness of his stall.

When Falada ran, and Cordelia clung to his back, she was safe. It was the only time that she was not thinking, not carefully cropping each thought to be pleasant and polite and unexceptional. There was only sky and hoofbeats and fast-moving earth.

After a mile or so, the horse slowed to a stop, almost as if he sensed what Cordelia needed. She slipped off his back and leaned against him. Falada was quiet, but he was solid and she told him her thoughts, as she always did.

“Sometimes I dream about running,” she whispered. “You and me. Until we reach the sea.”

She did not know what she would do once they reached the sea. Swim it, perhaps. There was another country over there, the old homeland that adults referred to so casually.

“I know I’m being ridiculous,” she told him. “Horses can’t swim that far. Not even you.”

She had learned not to cry long ago, but she pressed her face to his warm shoulder, and the wash of his mane across her skin felt like tears.

Cordelia was desperately thankful for Falada, and that her mother encouraged her to ride, although of course Evangeline’s motives were different from Cordelia’s. “You won’t get into any trouble with him,” her mother would say. “And besides, it’s good for a girl to know how to ride. You’ll marry a wealthy man someday, and they like girls who know their way around a horse, not these little town girls that can only ride in a carriage!” Cordelia had nodded. She did not doubt that she would marry a wealthy man one day. Her mother had always stated it as fact.

And, it was true that the girls Cordelia saw when riding seemed to envy her for having Falada to ride. He was the color of snow, with a proud neck. She met them sometimes in the road. The cruel ones made barbed comments about her clothes to hide their envy, and the kind ones gazed at Falada wistfully. That was how
Cordelia met Ellen.

“He’s very beautiful,” Ellen had said one day. “I’ve never seen a horse like him.”

“Thank you,” said Cordelia. She still went to school then, and talking to other people had not seemed quite so difficult. “He is a good horse.”

“I live just over the hill,” the other girl had said shyly. “You could visit sometime, if you like.”

“I would like that,” Cordelia had replied carefully. And that was true. She would have liked that.

But Cordelia did not go, because her mother would not have liked that. She did not ask. It was hard to tell, sometimes, what would make her mother angry, and it was not worth the risk. Still, for the last three years she had encountered the kind girl regularly. Ellen was the daughter of a wealthy landowner that lived nearby. She rode her pony, Penny, every day, and when she and Cordelia met, they rode together down the road, the pony taking two steps for every one of Falada’s.

So it was unsurprising when Cordelia heard the familiar hoof-beats of Ellen’s pony approaching. She lifted her head from Falada’s neck and looked up as Ellen waved a hello. Cordelia waved back and remounted. Penny shied at their approach, but Ellen reined her in.

Cordelia had never ridden any horse but Falada, so it was from Ellen—and from watching Ellen’s pony—that she learned that most horses were not so calm as Falada, nor so safe. When she was very young and the open doors in their house became too much, when she couldn’t stand being in that house for one more second, she would creep to Falada’s stall and sleep curled up there, with his four white legs like pillars around her. Apparently most people did not do this, for fear the horse would step on them. Cordelia had not known to be afraid of such a thing.

“Oh, Penny! What’s gotten into you? It’s just Falada.” Ellen rolled her eyes at Cordelia, as if they shared a joke, which was one of the reasons that Cordelia liked her.

“Penny’s a good pony,” Cordelia said. She liked it when Ellen complimented Falada, so perhaps Ellen would like it when she complimented Penny. Cordelia talked to other people so rarely now that she always had to feel her way through these conversations, and she was not always good at them.

“She is,” said Ellen happily. “She’s not brave, but she’s sweet.”

Ellen carried the conversation mostly by herself, talking freely about her home, her family, the servants, and the other people in town. There was no malice in it, so far as Cordelia could tell. She let it wash over her, and pretended that she had a right to listen and nod as if she knew what was going on.

Cordelia was not sure why Ellen rode out to meet her so often, when she could say so little, but she was glad for the company. Ellen was kind, but more than that, she was ordinary. Talking to her gave Cordelia a window into what was normal and what wasn’t. She could ask a question and Ellen would answer it without asking any awkward questions of her own. Most of the time, anyway.

It had occurred to her, some years prior, that not all parents could make their children obedient the same way that her mother made her, but when she tried to ask Ellen about it, to see if she was right, the words came out so wrong and so distressing that she stopped.

Something about today—the memory of the obedience or the fly or maybe just the way the light fell across the leaves and Falada’s mane—made her want to ask again.

“Ellen?” she asked abruptly. “Do you close the door to your room?”

Ellen had been patiently holding up both ends of the conversation and looked up, puzzled. “Eh? Yes? I mean, the servants go in and out of my dressing room, but I always lock the door to the water closet when I’m in it, because you don’t want servants around for that, do you?”

Cordelia stared at her hands on the reins. They were not wealthy enough to have servants, and there was an outhouse beside the stable, not a water closet. She pressed on.

“Does your family think you’re keeping secrets when you do?”

The silence went on long enough that Cordelia looked up, and realized that Ellen was giving her a very penetrating look. She had a pink, pleasant face and a kind manner, and it was unsettling to suddenly remember that kind did not mean stupid and Ellen had been talking to her for a long time.

“Oh, Cordelia . . .” said Ellen finally.

She reached out to touch Cordelia’s arm, but Falada sidled at that moment, and Penny took a step to give him room, so they did not touch after all.

“Sorry,” said Cordelia gruffly. She wanted to say Please don’t think I’m strange, that was a strange question, I can tell, please don’t stop talking to me, but she knew that would make it all even worse, so she didn’t.

“It’s all right,” said Ellen. And then “It will be all right,” which Cordelia knew wasn’t the same thing at all.

Copyright © 2024 from T. Kingfisher

Pre-order A Sorceress Comes to Call Here:

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Which Dysfunctional Space Crew Do You Belong In?

by a bunch of raccoons in a trench coat & a cat

In space, everyone can hear you scream when you realize your roommate steals your lunch from the community space fridge. Has anyone every made it through a space voyage completely functionally?

Find out which dysfunctional space crew is your ride-or-die with this quiz!



 

And while you’ve got books on the brain, Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini is out now in paperback! You should read it.

Order Fractal Noise Here

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Letter by Genoveva Dimova, Author of Foul Days

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foul days by genoveva dimova

We are excited to share a special letter from Genoveva Dimova, the talented author of Foul Days. In her debut novel, rooted in Slavic folklore and fast-paced fantasy, Genoveva introduces us to Kosara—a witch battling dark forces in the walled city of Chernograd. Join us as Genoveva takes us behind the scenes of her captivating world, sharing insights into her creative process and the rich storytelling that shapes Kosara’s perilous journey.

Read Genoveva Dimova’s letter below, and make sure to pre-order your copy of Foul Days, coming 6/25/2024.


by Genoveva Dimova

Dear Reader,

Foul Days is a story about human-like monsters and monstrous humans; about defeating the ghosts from your past and learning to trust your gut.

I come from a small country in South-Eastern Europe, known for its wine, yogurt, and roses, located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Over the centuries, it has been the home of many different peoples, each bringing their unique cultures, languages, and beliefs. In fact, the word “Bulgarian” comes from the Proto-Turkic bulģha, “to mix,” “to shake,” “to stir.” This mixture of traditions is at the core of Foul Days, which shakes and stirs together (like a well-blended Martini) all my favourite aspects of Bulgarian folklore: the creepy monsters, the obscure rituals, the unexpected meaning hidden in folk songs.

Growing up, most fantasy I read was set in that ubiquitous pseudo-Western-European, pseudo-Medieval setting we all know. I made my own attempts to write that sort of story—except it never rang true. Something was missing (like a Martini without the olive).

Until one day, as fantasy as a whole was moving more and more towards diverse and underrepresented cultures, it clicked. I didn’t need to write about dragons and vampires when I could write about zmeys and upirs. Instead of stories about knights and lords, I could have clever witches tricking cruel men.

I’ve always loved the monsters from Bulgarian folklore, each representing some deep-seated fear that existed in traditional society. Upirs, for example, are the restless spirits of the dead who haven’t been buried properly, rising from their graves to torment their relatives. Halas and lamias are vengeful creatures who, when scorned, cause floods, storms, and hurricanes. The zmey, the Slavic dragon who disguises himself as a handsome man in order to seduce young women, is often believed to be an allegory for depression, which in my eyes made him the perfect villain. Then, I stumbled upon the myth of the Foul Days—the twelve days between Christmas and St. John the Baptist’s Day, after the new year has been born but before it has been baptised, when monsters and ghosts roam the streets—and I knew I’d found the perfect setting for my story.

I hope you enjoy reading my very Bulgarian book as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Genoveva Dimova

Dive into an excerpt here and Pre-order Foul Days—available on June 25, 2024!

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Snackable SFF To Help You Get A Jump On Your Reading Goals

Here at Tor, we love a good list of good books, and we compile a lot of them! Having more books than time to read is an all too common dilemma, but fear not—we’re bringing back our list of “snackable” SFF books. 

These titles are either easy to devour in one sitting or compact enough to not overwhelm your TBR pile!  Among the highlights is When Among Crows by Veronica Roth, a perfect pick for those who appreciate a powerful, succinct narrative.

Dive into all our recs below! 


when among crows by veronica rothWhen Among Crows by Veronica Roth

Pain is Dymitr’s calling. His family is one in a long line of hunters who sacrifice their souls to slay monsters. Now he’s tasked with a deadly mission: find the legendary witch Baba Jaga. To reach her, Dymitr must ally with the ones he’s sworn to kill. Pain is Ala’s inheritance. A fear-eating zmora with little left to lose, Ala awaits death from the curse she carries. When Dymitr offers her a cure in exchange for her help, she has no choice but to agree. Together they must fight against time and the wrath of the Chicago underworld. But Dymitr’s secrets—and his true motives—may be the thing that actually destroys them.


Image Place holder  of - 5Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

“I’m cursed, haven’t you heard?” Outside the last city on Earth, the planet is a wasteland. Without the Archive, where the genes of the dead are stored, humanity will end. Antigone’s parents – Oedipus and Jocasta – are dead. Passing into the Archive should be cause for celebration, but with her militant uncle Kreon rising to claim her father’s vacant throne, all Antigone feels is rage. When he welcomes her and her siblings into his mansion, Antigone sees it for what it really is: a gilded cage, where she is a captive as well as a guest. But her uncle will soon learn that no cage is unbreakable. And neither is he.


Nettle & Bone by T. KingfisherNettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

Marra never wanted to be a hero. As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince. Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.


Book of NightBook of Night by Holly Black by Holly Black

Book of Night is a decadent bookly snack. Its mood is both scrappy and sultry, full of long shadows, mystery noir, and twisty emotions. Charlie Hall is a thief, or she was. Now she just wants to tend bar and recover from her gunshot wound in relative peace. But in a world of power-hungry shadow magicians who will always want to take from each other, good thieves are in high demand. Unlike Charlie and an entire cadre of manipulative magi, Book of Night won’t place high demand on your TBR. It’s a friendly, snackable length, and it definitely should be your next read!


Legends & LattesLegends & Lattes by Travis Baldree by Travis Baldree

This book isn’t just snackable. It’s delicious! Battle-hardened adventurer Viv has decided to hang up her sword to build a more fulfilling life for herself as the proprietor of Thune’s first coffeeshop. We’re talking lattes, we’re talking cinnamon rolls, we’re talking good times and found family. This is the perfect comfort read to pair with a snack at your coziest local coffee spot.


The Echo WifeThe Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey by Sarah Gailey

Don’t let the relatively short length of this powerful novel fool you, this snack delivers an acutely emotional flavor. Evelyn Caldwell’s research was instrumental in the progression of cloning technology. Martine is a submissive clone of Evelyn that her husband created using that research so he could cheat on his wife with an adjusted version of his wife. Pretty gross, but don’t worry, he’s dead. And now Evelyn and Martine have to clean up after that death.

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Excerpt Reveal: Iron Star by Loren D. Estleman

Iron StarSet against the sprawling landscape of the Wild West, this riveting adventure by Spur Award-winning author Loren D. Estleman follows a man on a journey to set his legacy, and the men dedicated to bringing his story to life.

From his youth as a revolutionist to his time as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, aging lawman Iron St. John has become a larger-than-life figure—and in the process, the man has disappeared behind the myth. During his brief, unsuccessful political career, St. John published his memoirs—a sanitized version of his adventures to appeal to the masses. A generation later, the clouded truth of this giant of the Old West has been all but lost.

Now, Buck Jones, a pioneering film star, is vying for a cinematic story that will launch his career to incredible heights. He approaches Emmet Rawlings, a retired Pinkerton detective, to set the record of St. John’s life straight once and for all. Twenty years ago, Rawlings accompanied St. John on his final manhunt, and in desperate need for the funding a successful book promises, he dives deep into St. John’s past—and his own buried memories—to tell the truth about this part-time hero.

As the story of St. John unfolds, the romance of the period is stripped away to reveal a reality long-forgotten in this unvarnished, heart-racing depiction of the American West by acclaimed author Loren D. Estleman.

Iron Star will be available on June 18th, 2024. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

MISTER ST. JOHN

Everything about the messenger seemed smart, from the peaked cap squared across his brow to the polished toes of his boots, right down to the smug cast of his mouth. Rawlings signed for the package he brought and handed back the clipboard; and bless the man if he didn’t snap him a salute. He shut the door on the pink clean-shaven face and went to his desk for the knife that was too big for its purpose.

The cord severed, he removed two layers of brown paper and looked at the book. A phantom pain struck his side.

The book was standard octavo size but heavy as a brick, coarse brittle pages bound in green cloth with a surplus of stamping on cover and spine and the kind of lettering one found in soap advertisements. A balloon legend at the top descended in graded diminuendo until the second-to-last line, which was set out boldly in copper leaf:

THE IRON STAR

Being a Memoir of IRONS ST. JOHN Deputy U.S. Marshal
Peace Officer
Railroad Detective Trail-blazer
And

CANDIDATE FOR U.S. CONGRESS

by Himself

The educated reader might have added Reformed Outlaw to the list of sobriquets—with a Christian nod to the “Reformed”—but the object of the tome had been to elect, not repent. In fact it had managed to do neither, thus setting in motion the cosmic chain of events that had pulled Rawlings into his orbit.

Another stab came when he opened to the frontispiece, a three-quarter photographic portrait of a man past his middle years. It was contemporary to his experience of the original, although the developers’ art had tightened the sagging lines of the chin: a rectangular face set off by cheekbones that threatened to pierce the flesh and a thick moustache whose points reached nearly to the corners of the jaw. The eyes had been retouched as well, but less to flatter the subject than to keep them from washing out in the glare from the flashpan; irises that particular shade of sunned steel did not reproduce. The hair was cut to the shape of the skull and swept across the forehead; that feature, Rawlings thought, had not been tampered with. In all the weeks he’d spent with the man—seldom more than six feet away—he could barely recall having seen him with his hat off: Cavalry campaign issue, it was, stained black around the base of the dimpled crown, with the tassel missing a toggle.

It was like finding an old ogre of a dead uncle standing on his doorstep.

The book carried a 1906 copyright date and the name of a St. Louis publisher. He touched the page, as if feeling the figures pressed into paper would contradict the evidence of sight, and also of scent; the leaves smelled of dust and decomposition.

Twenty years.

He was fifty, the same age St. John had been then, when the man had seemed as weatherworn as the Red Wall of Wyoming.

The old humbug.

But, no; that was unfair. You didn’t mark down a man’s accomplishments just because he never missed an opportunity to remind you of them. He’d been a politician after all, however briefly and unsuccessfully, and that wound had yet to heal. Was he so easily dismissed as less than advertised? Truth to tell, constant exposure for nearly a month to any fellow creature outdoors in all extremes of weather would turn an Ivanhoe into a Uriah Heep. There were no heroes in a cold camp.

He turned to the first page of the editor’s preface. (“Nothing in little Ike’s childhood bore witness to the man he would become.”) Tucked in the seam between the sawtooth sheets was a cardboard rectangle, glaringly white against the ivory pulp, with glossy black embossed printing in eleven-point type:

Charles Gebhardt, Esq.

The card contained neither address nor telephone number: a proper gentleman’s calling card, an anomaly there, amidst the oat and barley fields of southeastern Minnesota.

Likewise there was no return address on the wrapper, and no postmark, since it had been sent by private messenger; nothing to explain its origin apart from the unfamiliar name on the card, which may have been nothing other than a bookmark employed by a former owner. The book was sufficiently shopworn to have passed from hand to hand, eventually to settle in a clearance bin, the last stop before the pulp mill. No provenance, and not an inkling as to purpose.

But he was still enough of a detective not to waste time pursuing a line of reasoning that offered no beginning and promised no end. He laid aside the book and took a seat in the wooden armchair that had come with the room, at the leftward-listing rolltop that had come with it, and turned back a cuff to measure his pulse against his watch.

After fifteen seconds he took his fingers from his wrist, replaced the cuff, fixed the stud, and entered the figure in the notebook he kept in a pigeonhole.

Not too rapid, considering; but on the other hand his heart wasn’t likely to finish out of the money at the Olmsted County Fair. He snapped shut the face of the watch, glancing from habit at the engraving but without reading: to emmett force rawlings, in grateful, etc., robt. pinkerton ii, and returned it to his waistcoat pocket, where the weight of the gold plate tugged the unbuttoned garment uncomfortably off-center. He fastened the buttons.

From the right drawer he lifted a stack of yellow paper and reread what he’d written in the same small, precise hand he’d employed while waiting out his retirement in the records room in San Francisco. He reread it from the beginning as always, scratching out passages that struck him as prosy and inserting additional information in the margins, which he’d left wide for the purpose. The Chief had often said that if he ever tired of the field he could apply for a post in bookkeeping; after the Buckner debacle the remark had seemed not so much a compliment as a threat.

He caught himself stroking his chin; there’d been no beard there for years. That blasted book had sidetracked him. One of the reasons he’d started this comprehensive history of the Agency was to expel the nattering memories of his past, as well as to audit the account.

The Wild West: No grand exposition, that: rather a roadside carnival. Hundreds of hacks had squandered tons of paper and gallons of ink on midnight rides and gunplay; which, if one were to lift them from the record, would have no effect on how it had come out. Dakota would have been divided, the Indian question resolved, and the frontier closed regardless of which side emerged intact from the O.K. Corral fight, whether William Bonney was slain from ambush or escaped to old Mexico, or if Buffalo Bill had chosen black tie and tails over feathers and buckskin. Washington was the big top, Tombstone and Deadwood a sideshow at best. Historians were crows, hopping over treasure to snatch up bright scraps of tin and deposit them at the feet of spectators who— thanks to them—would never know the difference.

His face ached; the scowl might have set permanently but for the interruption of a tap on his door. He shoved himself away from the desk and got up to answer it.

“A gentleman to see you, sir.” Mrs. Balfour, his landlady, extended a card in a large hand with veins on the back as thick as a man’s. She was a tall Scot who held her hair fast with glittering pins and kept snuff in a hinged locket around her neck.

He took the card, read again the name Charles Gebhardt, Esq. “I don’t suppose he said what he wants.”

“No, sir, and it wasn’t my business to ask.”

In truth he couldn’t imagine what circumstances would lead this woman to ask any sort of question, including whether she should allow the man up. They exchanged meaningless nods and she went back downstairs.

He remained in the doorway while the visitor ascended the last flight. At the top they stood not quite face to face; the man was two inches shorter and thicker in the torso, with a nose straight as a plumb and big ears that stuck out like spread clamshells. His smile was broad as well, overabundantly friendly, and furnished with teeth too white and even for trust: a salesman’s smile. Larger-than-life features on a larger-than-life head. They belonged on a billboard.

The hat was wrong: a tweed motoring cap, worn at an angle after the current fashion, taking up too little space in relation to the head; and now that Rawlings had identified the problem, he realized where he’d seen the man, or at least his image, painted in crude brush strokes reproduced in lithograph: a muscular frame in blue denim, plaid flannel, and yellow kerchief, dangling from the face of a cliff or a railroad boxcar plummeting down a steep grade with no train attached. Perhaps both. Wearing the hat, too big just to provide shade and too small for a fire pit.

“Mr. Rawlings?” A pleasant enough voice, a tenor, with a hint of the stage.

“Mr.—Gebhardt?” The name was as unlikely a fit as the headgear.

The smile flickered. “Yes; but that’s just between you, me, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Professionally it’s Buck Jones, and I’ve come all this way from Los Angeles to ask if you’d consider making a movie with me.”


Click below to pre-order your copy of Iron Star, available June 18th, 2024!

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Ancient Magic in Modern Cities

Modern cities can hold ancient magic, some more literally than others. Check out our favorite cities turn magical epicenters below!


when among crows by veronica rothChicago in When Among Crows by Veronica Roth

Pain is Dymitr’s calling. His family is one in a long line of hunters who sacrifice their souls to slay monsters. Now he’s tasked with a deadly mission: find the legendary witch Baba Jaga. To reach her, Dymitr must ally with the ones he’s sworn to kill. Pain is Ala’s inheritance. A fear-eating zmora with little left to lose, Ala awaits death from the curse she carries. When Dymitr offers her a cure in exchange for her help, she has no choice but to agree. Together they must fight against time and the wrath of the Chicago underworld. But Dymitr’s secrets—and his true motives—may be the thing that actually destroys them.

DarkerShadeMagic 9781250891211 CVRrev1.inddLondon in the Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

one for my enemy by olivie blakeManhattan in One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

In modern-day Manhattan where we lay our scene, two rival witch families fight to maintain control of their respective criminal empires. On one side of the conflict are the Antonova sisters — each one beautiful, cunning, and ruthless — and their mother, the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants, known only as Baba Yaga. On the other side, the influential Fedorov brothers serve their father, the crime boss known as Koschei the Deathless, whose ventures dominate the shadows of magical Manhattan. After twelve years of tenuous co-existence, one family member brutally crosses the line. Bad blood reignites old grudges; at the same time, fate intervenes with a chance encounter between enemies. In the wake of love and vengeance, everyone must choose a side. As each of the siblings struggles to stake their claim, bloodshed in inevitable. The question is: Whose?

blood jadewTokyo in Blood Jade by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle

Emiko Soong, newly minted Sentinel of San Francisco, just can’t catch a break. Just after she becomes the guardian for a sentient city, a murder strikes close to home. Called by the city and one of the most powerful clans to investigate, she traces the killer whose scent signature bears a haunting similarity to her mother’s talent. The trail will lead her back to Tokyo where the thread she pulls threatens to unravel her whole world and bring dark family secrets to light. Meanwhile, the General rises in the East and Emiko must fight the hidden enemies of his growing army who are amped up on Blood Jade, while keeping her promises to her brother Tatsuya as he prepares for his tourney. Her duties as Sentinel and her loyalties collide when she must choose between hiding her deepest shame or stopping the General’s relentless march.

the library of the dead by t l huchuEdinburgh in the Edinburgh Nights series by T. L. Huchu

The Library of the Dead introduces readers to Ropa, a precocious and cynical teen who can talk to ghosts. She explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh searching for clues to uncover what’s behind the evil bewitching all the children, leaving them shells of themselves. Along the way she encounters an occult library, a magical mentor, and some unexpected allies. This atmospheric, paranormal fantasy series continues with Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments.

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Excerpt Reveal: A Farewell to Arfs by Spencer Quinn

A Farewell to ArfsSpencer Quinn’s A Farewell to Arfs is a return to the adventurous New York Times and USA Today bestselling series that Stephen King calls “without a doubt the most original mystery series currently available.”

Chet the dog, “the most lovable narrator in all of crime fiction” (Boston Globe) and his human partner PI Bernie Little are back again, and this time they’re entangled in a web of crime unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

Their next door neighbor, Mr. Parsons, thought he was doing the right thing by loaning his ne’er do well son, Billy, some money to help get himself settled. But days later, Mr. Parsons has discovered that his entire life savings is gone. Valley PD is certain this is an impersonation scam, but Bernie isn’t so sure.

With Mrs. Parsons in the hospital and Billy nowhere to be found, it’s up to Chet and Bernie to track Billy down and get to the bottom of things—before it’s too late.

A Farewell to Arfs will be available on August 6th, 2024. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

Who wouldn’t love my job? You see new things every day! Here, for example, we had a perp clinging to a branch high up in a cottonwood tree. That wasn’t the new part. Please don’t get ahead of me—although that’s unlikely to happen, your foot speed and mine being . . . very different, let’s leave it at that with no hurt feelings.

Where were we? Perp in a cottonwood tree, nothing new? Right. Nothing new, not even the little detail of how this particular perp, namely Donnie the Docent Donnegan, was styling his shirt and tie with pajama bottoms. Seen that look once, seen it a . . . well, many times, just how many I couldn’t tell you since I don’t go past two. Not quite true. I have gotten past two the odd time, all the way to whatever comes next, but not today. No biggie. Two’s enough. We’re the proof, me and Bernie. Together we’re the Little Detective Agency, the most successful detective agency in the whole Valley, except for the finances part. Bernie’s last name is Little. I’m Chet, pure and simple.

We stood side by side, as we often do, and gazed up at Donnie. “Donnie?” Bernie said. “No wild ideas.”

Donnie said something that sounded annoyed, the exact words hard to understand, most likely on account of the thick gold coin, called a doubloon unless I was missing something, that he was holding between his teeth. Donnie the Docent, an old pal, was an art lover with an MO that was all about museums. On this particular occasion our client was Katherine Cornwall who runs the Sonoran Museum of Art, also an old pal but not a perp, who we met way back on a complicated case of which I remembered nothing except that it ended well, perhaps only slightly marred by an incident in the gift shop involving something that hadn’t turned out to be an actual chewy, strictly speaking. Katherine Cornwall was a woman of the gray-haired no-nonsense type. They don’t miss much. You have to keep that in mind, which can turn out to be on the iffy side.

I should mention first that the gold coin between the teeth was also not the new part of this little scene, and second that this was the time of year when the cottonwoods are all fluffy white and give off a wonderful smell, a sort of combo of thick damp paper, sweet syrup, and fresh laundry. There’s really nothing like rolling around in a pile a fresh laundry, possibly a subject for later. Also our cottonwood, standing on the bank of an arroyo, wasn’t the only cottonwood in the picture. On the other side of the arroyo rose a second cottonwood, just as big and fresh laundryish or maybe even more so. In between, down in the arroyo, we had flowing water, blue and rising almost to the tops of the banks. That was the new part! Water! I’d seen water in some of our arroyos before but only in tiny puddles, drying up fast under the sun. I’m a good swimmer, in case you were wondering. There are many ways of swimming, but I’m partial to the dog paddle, probably goes without mentioning.

Meanwhile, high above, Donnie seemed to be inching his way toward the end of the branch, which hung over the arroyo. As did, by the way, a big branch on the far side cottonwood, the two branches almost touching. Below the far side cottonwood sat Donnie’s ATV, engine running. How exactly we’d gotten to this point wasn’t clear to me, even while it was happening, and was less clear now.

“Donnie?” Bernie said. “It’s a fantasy.”

Donnie said nothing, just kept inching along the branch, the gold coin glinting in the sunshine. His eyes were glinting, too, glinting with a look I’d often seen before, the look in the eyes of a perp in the grip of a sudden and fabulous idea. There’s no stopping them after that.

“Donnie! Middle-aged, knock-kneed, potbellied? Is that the acrobat look?”

Donnie glanced down, shot Bernie a nasty glance. Then— and this is hard to describe—he coiled his body in a writhing way and launched himself into the air, his hands grasping at the branch of the other cottonwood. Wow! He came oh so close. I couldn’t help but admire Donnie as he went pinwheeling down and down, landing in the arroyo with a big splash and vanishing beneath the surface. Also showing no sign of coming back up.

Bernie ran toward the water, but of course I was way ahead of him. I dove down, spotted Donnie at the bottom, flailing in slow motion, grabbed him by the pant leg and hauled him up out of there. Cottonwoody white fluffy things came whirligigging down and drifted away on the current. Case closed.

***

It turned out Donnie didn’t know how to swim, so you could say we’d saved his life, but he forgot to say thanks. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that he’d gotten the gold coin stuck in his throat, although he’d soon swallowed it, but after X-rays at the hospital had established to Katherine Cornwall’s satisfaction that it was still inside him but would appear in a day or two, she cut us our check—a woman of the no-nonsense type, as perhaps I didn’t stress enough already.

“Very generous, Katherine.” Bernie said. “It’s way too much.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Katherine said. I found myself in a very strange place, namely not on Bernie’s side. “There’s evidence that this particular doubloon was once in Coronado’s personal possession.”

Bernie’s eyebrows—the best you’ll ever see and there’s no missing them—have a language of their own. Now they rose in a way that said so much even if I couldn’t tell you what, and he tucked the check in his pocket, unfortunately the chest pocket of his Hawaiian shirt. The Hawaiian shirt, with the tiny drink umbrella pattern, was not the problem, in fact was one of my favorites. The chest pocket was my problem. The check belonged in the front pocket of his pants, the front pocket with the zipper. I pressed my head against that pocket, sending a message. Bernie had great balance and didn’t even stumble, hardly at all.

“He’s so affectionate for such a formidable looking fellow,” Katherine said.

“True,” said Bernie, dusting himself off, “but this is more about chow time.”

Chow time? It had nothing to do with chow time. But then, what do you know? It was about chow time! Chow time and nothing but! When had I last eaten? I was too hungry to even think about it. I eased Bernie toward the Beast. That’s our ride, a Porsche in a long line of Porsches, all old and gone now, one or two actually up in smoke. The Beast—painted in black and white stripes in a rippling pattern, like a squad car showing off its muscles—was the oldest of all. We roared out of the museum parking lot, Bernie behind the wheel, me sitting tall in the shotgun seat, our usual set up, although once down in Mexico we’d ended up having to pull a switcheroo. This is a fun business, in case that’s not clear by now.

***

Back at our place on Mesquite Road—best street in the Valley although far from the fanciest, which suits us just fine—we ate a whole lot in that quick and quiet businesslike way of two hombres after a long working day, and then went out back to the patio for drinks, beer for Bernie and water for me. He stretched out, his feet on a footstool, the check poking annoyingly from his chest pocket, like it was playing games with me. I was working on a plan for that check when Bernie said, “All those atmospheric river storms off the Pacific turned out to be good luck for Donnie.” A complete puzzler. I waited for some sort of explanation but none came. Instead, without getting up, Bernie reached out and turned the tap at the base of the swan fountain. Then came a little sputter sputter, followed by a small bright stream flowing from the swan’s mouth and splashing down into the dry pool with a lovely cooling sound. For me and my kind—the nation within the nation, as Bernie calls us—sounds can be cooling. Same for you? I won’t even guess, the subject of human hearing turning out to be complicated but disappointing in the end. The fountain itself—and how nice to have it finally back on! Had Bernie forgotten to worry about the aquifer?—was all that Leda, Bernie’s ex, left behind. Now she lived in High Chaparral Estates with her new husband Malcolm who had long toes and money to burn, although he wasn’t the money burning type. Money burners in my experience—lighting up a smoke with a C-note, for example—never had much of it except for a sudden and nice little bundle, here and gone. But forget all that. I’ve left out the most important detail, namely Charlie, Bernie and Leda’s kid, now living with Leda and Malcolm except for some weekends and every second Christmas and Thanksgiving, or maybe the other way around. At first, we’d left the mattress in his bedroom stripped bare, but now it’s made up and Bernie even folds down one of the top corners so it’s all set for getting into. I even sometimes get into it myself, who knows why.

On the other side of the patio fence that separates our place from Mr. and Mrs. Parsons next door, Iggy started barking. This is the time of year when old timers like the Parsonses keep their windows open, but there’s no missing Iggy’s bark, even if he’s deep inside a trash truck, just to pick one instance out of many. A tiny guy but a mighty yip-yip-yipper. With an amazingly long and floppy tongue, by the way.

“Iggy,” said Mr. Parsons, in his scratchy old voice. “Easy there. I can’t hear.”

Easy there does not work with Iggy. He dialed it up a notch.

“Billy?” Mr. Parsons said, also dialing it up, although only the scratchy part got louder. “Say again?”

Billy? We knew Billy, me and Bernie. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Parsons, a grown up son, unlike Charlie, and also unlike Charlie in other ways. An actual perp? I wasn’t sure about that, but he’d been involved in the stolen saguaro case, one of our worst. Bernie had ended up in the hospital, the most terrible thing that had ever happened to me. I glanced over to make sure he was all right, and there he was, eyes closed, chest rising and falling in a slow rhythm, the best chest rising and falling rhythm I’d ever seen, and a bit more of the check peeking out from his pocket. My Bernie!

“Slow down a little, please, Billy,” Mr. Parsons said. “I don’t understand.”

Was Mr. Parsons on the phone? When folks are on the phone I can often hear the voice of who they’re talking to, but not this time, not with Iggy. But I could see Billy in my mind: shoulder-length fair hair, vague sort of eyes, that snakehead tattoo on his cheek. Plus, he had lots of ink on his arms as well. You see that arm ink on dudes that had done time although usually their arms are bulkier than Billy’s. Northern State Correctional, if I remembered right, but not for the saguaro case. On the saguaro case we’d cut him a break and he’d split for Matamoros. Now you know all I know about Billy Parsons and possibly more.

“Refund?” Mr. Parsons said. That was followed by a long silence, if we’re leaving Iggy out of it, and then Mr. Parsons said, “Payroll? But I—”

After that came another long silence. I could feel Mr. Parsons listening very hard, could even sort of see him holding the phone real tight. Mr. Parsons was a nice old guy.

“Two thousand?” he said at last. “Two thousand even? Well, Billy, I—I don’t see why not. How do you want me to . . . yes, I’ve got a pencil. Hang on. Just need to . . . Okay. Shoot.” Then more silence, again except for Iggy. Yip yip yip, yip yip yip. He doesn’t even stop to breathe. You have to admire Iggy in some ways.

“Yup,” said Mr. Parsons. “Got it. Love you, son. Bye.”

***

“You know what we should do first thing?” Bernie said the next morning at breakfast. “Zip on down to the bank and make a deposit.” He waved the check in the air. Had a day ever gotten off to a better start? I was already at the door. Bernie laughed. “Got to shave first.” We went into the bathroom. Bernie lathered up and shaved his beautiful face. I helped by pacing back and forth. You might say, beautiful face? Hadn’t that nose been broken once or twice? Maybe, and Bernie had plans to get it fixed, but only after he was sure there won’t be more dust ups in his life. Which I hope is never. No dust ups would mean no more chances to see that sweet, sweet uppercut of his. It lands on perp chins with just a click, like it’s nothing at all, but then their eyes roll up. There’s all kinds of beauty. That’s one of my core beliefs.

We hurried out the door, me first, which is our system for going in and out of doors. It’s actually my door system with everyone and even if they don’t know at first they soon do. Humans are great at learning things, or certainly some things, a big subject I’d go into it now if it wasn’t for the fact that over at the Parsonses’ house a kind of a show got going.

All the world’s a stage, Bernie says, just one more example of his brilliance. First out of the door was Iggy in full flight, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. That part didn’t last long, what with Iggy being on the leash. He came to a sudden stop in midair, his stubby legs still sprinting in a full speed blur. Then came the walker and finally Mr. Parsons, staggering a bit, trying to grip the leash and the walker with one hand and knot his tie with the other. Leash, tie, walker, Iggy, Mr. Parsons: for a moment they all seemed like parts to a single contraption, a contraption that was starting to tilt in a way that didn’t look promising. But by that time we were there, Bernie steadying Mr. Parsons and me grabbing Iggy by the scruff of the neck. Iggy didn’t like that. His eyes got wild and he tried to do who knows what to me with one of his tiny paws. You had to love Iggy and I do.

“You all right, Daniel?” Bernie said.

“Yes, thank you, Bernie. Well, no actually.”

“How about we go inside and sit down?”

“No time for that,” Mr. Parsons said. “I have to go to the bank.” “With Iggy?”

Mr. Parsons licked his lips, lips that were cracked and dry, and so was his tongue. “That wasn’t the original plan.”

“Then should we get the little fella back inside?”

“I’d appreciate that, Bernie.”

“Chet?” Bernie made a little motion with his chin. It’s not only his eyebrows that talk. The chin can jump in too, from time to time. There’s no one like Bernie, in case you didn’t know that already. I trotted into the house, dumped Iggy in the kitchen, and trotted back out. Bernie closed the door.

“Is Edna inside?” he said.

“Back in the hospital, I’m afraid.” Mr. Parsons fished in his pockets. “Oh, dear.”

“What’s wrong?” Bernie said.

“I don’t seem to have my car keys.”

“What bank do you use?”

“Valley Trust, the Rio Seco branch.”

“We’ll drive you,” Bernie said.

“Very nice of you, but—”

“Not a problem. We were actually headed there—it’s our bank, too.”

We got into the Beast. Normally the shotgun seat is mine, but in this case, I didn’t mind letting Mr. Parsons have it while I squeezed onto the little shelf in back. Well, I did mind, but I did it anyway. I can do things I don’t want to but not often, so please don’t ask.

We rode in silence for a while, Mr. Parsons breathing in shallow little breaths, his twisted fingers busy with the tie, but having trouble. Finally, he gave up and lowered his hands to his lap.

“Where’s our money?” he said.


Click below to pre-order your copy of A Farewell to Arfs, available August 6th, 2024!

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Excerpt Reveal: The Doors of Midnight by R.R. Virdi

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The Doors of Midnight

Myths begin, and a storyteller’s tale deepens, in the essential sequel to R.R. Virdi’s breakout Silk Road-inspired epic fantasy debut, The First Binding.

Some stories are hidden for a reason. All tales have a price. And every debt must be paid.

I killed three men as a child and earned the name Bloodletter. Then I set fire to the fabled Ashram. I’ve been a bird and robbed a merchant king of a ransom of gold. And I have crossed desert sands and cutthroat alleys to repay my debt.

I’ve stood before the eyes of god, faced his judgement, and cast aside the thousand arrows that came with it. And I have passed through the Doors of Midnight and lived to tell the tale.

I have traded one hundred and one stories with a creature as old as time, and survived with only my cleverness, a candle, and a broken promise.

And most recently of all, I have killed a prince, though the stories say I have killed more than one.

My name is Ari. These are my legends.

And these are my lies.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of  The Doors of Midnight  by R.R. Virdi, on sale 8/13/24


ONE

Stories in Stillness

 

I came to Etaynia in search of the most important thing in the world.
A story.
A secret—the sort best held and better kept from the world.
But I met with a prince instead.
The second the stories will say I’ve killed.
And I did not find the story I came looking for.
I wound up in the most dangerous one of all.

˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖

The prison was blanketed with the weight of stone, and its stillness. A silent-heavy assurance of what we would find in this place. It was the unmoving noiselessness of a place so deep down it has forgotten the sounds of the world above—knowing only the echoing quiet of things buried to be lost to memory. This was the soft-sullen silence of the weary who see no point bothering with speech as it has failed them all before.

It was a stillness found in the iron bars that knew nothing but the keeping of things inside. Long-rusted, as if to make their promise clear: The way would not open, no matter the protests of those within—no matter their efforts.

This was the unspoken prayer, muttered in thought only, full-apparent in the fingernail scratches along the rough stone of the cell floor.

And all the soundlessness of a man whose story might be coming to an end. As once before, the stillness sat before me, waiting for me to do what I do and have done best.

Break it.

And so I did.

Because it was mine to break.

“My name is Ari, and I killed a prince of Etaynia.” The words hung quivering in the air as if they themselves did not have the heart to disturb the quiet that had persisted in this place.

The other prisoners traded a look—the only one they had left to themselves. The long-hollow stare of men who have forgotten all the shapes the world has to offer. They knew only the cold and unblinking regard of stone. One of them traced lines through the air with his gaze—first over the bars of my cell, then over my cloak and cowl.

He was a man who had been hobbled by hard life well before his time, and the years in prison had done no favors to his body. Frail, knotted, and bent in a way that came just as much from pain in back as from the broken pieces inside. His cheeks had a pointed gauntness to them that spoke of little to eat and much less to live for. And the brown of his eyes had long lost whatever spark they once held. He raked fingers through his long hair as he spoke.

“Ari.” His mouth moved as if chewing over the name—tasting something foreign. He spoke it again. Then a third time.

And the stillness returned in the space between words.

I said nothing, adding another layer to it as I used what little strength I could muster to pull my cloak around me. A steady band of torchlight filtered through a slit in the wall above, coming from the halls I’d been dragged through. It washed over the incarnadine fabric obscuring most of my body, painting it a brighter red. A color found fresh in blood.

The man who’d spoken now settled his gaze on my garment, his lips pressing tight. The hollow of his throat tensed visibly. “He wears a blood-red cloak.” The words had no weight—whisper soft and short-lived.

Another man found the strength to throw his weight against the bars of his cell, using them more for support than anything else. “The one that killed a Shaen princess?”

The words brought an unseen fire to my heart and banded it with a heat none of the prison’s cold stone could leach out of me.

“No,” said a third man. He sat with his legs folded, hair hanging so low as to hide his face as he slumped. “He’s the one called that storm down off the Rose Sea. A fury that laid low a fleet of ships, they say. Not a one survived.” The man’s stare weighed heavier as he regarded me.

The first of the trio took advantage of the pause to add his own piece to my legends. “Heard said he killed the emperor of Mutri . . . or was it a prince?” The man’s lips pursed and eyes fluttered as if losing himself in thought. “They say he rescued Enshae from some Shaen lords, and for it, he earned their wrath.”

I nodded. “They say that.” I turned my attention to the lance of light coming through the wall. It resembled a rod—like something I could reach out and take hold of. The thought brought a crooked smile to my mouth that faded as a piece of memory came with it.

The second man rubbed his chin. “Been said he had some swords, no? Three.” The man held up just as many fingers. “Magic. The sorts out of stories.”

I said nothing.

“How’s it go?” He knuckled his forehead and his gaze fell far away. “He took a piece of morning light, then turned it into a sword burning bright? Then he blew a breath, light and thin, to shape a sword that held the wind within.

“No, no.” The third man waved a hand and faced the second of the prisoners.

“That’s half wrong and only two. It goes like this: With a word that no one heard, he pinched a piece of Solus’ light, to make a sword that burned true bright. Then
came the breath, whisper thin, to shape the sword with the wind within. Then there is the final sword. The one of brass and blood and jade. The one all cursed and
wrong-made.”

The trio turned on each other then. They bickered over the lay of the lines, though none found the proper wording.

I cleared my throat, then spoke for all to hear.

“With just a word,
one gone unheard,
he bound a blade // of pale morn light
without edge,
that burned full-bright
to cast back shadows,
far from sight.

With a second word then,
came the gossamer breath,
blown whisper thin,
to shape the sword // full-formless,
the wind within

And lastly there is the sword of jade
of brass, and stone, and blood it’s made
twisted, tainted, cursed,
and still waiting for its price // to be paid.”

The third speaker licked his lips, regarding his fellow inmates as if seeking approval to speak to me. “So, you don’t happen to have any of them magic swords with you, then? Something to cut our way out of here, hm?”

“No, I suppose I don’t.” I raised upturned hands to show the utter lack of anything left to me.

No candle. No cane. Just the blood-red cloak, and my name.

“But you are him?” said the third man.

I inclined my head.

“All that. Princesses, magic swords, sinking ships, walking the Shaen lands. Heard some say he’s kin to gods. Others that he’s demon spawn. Heard him called Godsgrief once.”

“I’ve heard that too.” I brushed my cloak with my hands, seeking something to do with myself as I sat without my books and staff. Having traveled so long with those items now left me with an uneasy lightness in their absence.

“Fire and lightning. Doorways in the sky. So many stories.” The third man exhaled and looked to the ground, tracing his finger against the tiles. “So, can you conjure a way out?”

I blinked. “What?”

“Break down these walls. Shatter the stones. Bend these bars.”

Stone and steel were foreign to me, but fire was not. So I chose to show them what I knew.

I cupped my hands together, eyeing the empty space above my palms, envisioning where to set the ball of fire. The ring of fire at the heart of me came to mind and I fell into the folds. Just a small performance then. I could do that much, couldn’t I?

“Start with whent, then—”

The third man burst into laughter and the folds slipped from me before I could even shape them. He slumped against one of the walls, his amusement growing
louder. The others stared at him before getting the joke I didn’t and joining in his merriment.

After a moment to take in the strangeness of those sounds in this place, I added a chuckle of my own. What else was there to do? And, if I could give these men even that little reprieve—at the expense of myself—well, why not?

The third man ground both palms against his eyes. “Solus, I haven’t had a laugh like that in a long time. We lot haven’t heard our own voices in . . .” He trailed off, frowning at the thought.

“Years, Matio. Years,” said the second man. “They took our voices when they took our freedom. Took everything else too.”

And the silence returned, and with it, the weary resignation the men had grown so accustomed to. Hopelessness serves as a better set of shackles than any metal.

But for a moment, I’d roused them out of it. And I would again, making them think it was their idea all along.

Because after losing our voices to whims of others, the most rebellious thing we can do is take them back. And every voice has something worth saying—hearing.

“What else have you heard?” The simple question would draw more out of them now that they’d begun.

The first man didn’t hesitate. “Heard his name, for what it’s worth to you, sengero, wasn’t Ari. Been said it’s Araiyo. Or was it Ariyo?” His face lost whatever clarity it had moments earlier. “Sorry to say, but he weren’t one of you off-foreign folks. Stories say he’s one of ours. I think.”

The second man waggled a finger toward the first. “No, no. His name was Aram, or so I heard.”

Stones filled my gut at mention of that name. They churned and ground against the core of me.

“Or was it Athwun? No, no, it was Ari, much like our friend here. Though I’m thinking you’re more a storyteller whose tales grew a bit too tall for the crowd above, eh?”

I gave him a practiced smile. Thin as a razor and just as cold. The second prisoner went on. “I know it for fact because I was there to see him, once.”

“You what, Satbien?” Matio crawled closer to the bars that divided their cells.

“You what? God’s honest truth, tell me now, when and where were you anywhere near that man? I call you a liar.”

The man named Satbien shrank a little. “Was close enough, wasn’t I? Heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend of his who talked to a sailor who shared that man’s ship. I swear it, I do.” He gestured in front of his body in the same manner I’d seen others do when making silent prayer to Solus.

Matio waved him off and Satbien readopted the hollow sunkenness the man had kept to before. My one chance then—a moment to be even a shadow of the storyteller I thought myself to be, and rouse them.

All I needed was a few simple words. “I believe you. What did you hear? Tell me.”

It was enough.

And the prison soon carried the sounds of stories.

━━━━━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━

“Ari stood on the deck of the large Zibrathi ship and knew a storm was a-comin’. But that weren’t the worst of it, as much as a storm’s a bad thing to face at sea. He’d been strung up on account of seducing the captain’s daughter.”

I smiled at the detail and wondered where it could have come from.

Voices echoed along the stone stairs above. Heavy thuds that meant boots clomping closer. Guards. We would have visitors soon enough, and I had an idea who they were keenest on seeing.

“On account of old sailor’s law, the guilty gets one thing to say and the captain has to give ’em an honest hear of it. So, Ari says, ‘If you drown me, you’ll drown yourselves. I can see the way ahead as clear as I can see you now. A storm will come, and a ship will sail before it. A ship of ill omens. Red as the waters of the Rose Sea can be said to run.’”

“God above, what a lie, Satbien. Everyone knows the waters out there are as blue and green as ours. Maybe gray on some cold bad days. No such thing as red waters.” Matio crossed his arms and legs, winding himself so tight I feared his old joints would lock in place like a knot wound too far in on itself.

“Go back to when you forgot you could speak, Matio. Can’t bother with that? Then swallow your tongue. Let me say my piece.” Satbien scooted closer to the front of his cell, now directing his performance at me and the other member of their trio.

“Now, a red ship ain’t much of an omen. Any crew can paint their ship so, right?” The question lingered in the air and I realized he wanted an answer.

I gave him the simple pleasure and leaned forward, hands on knees. “What happened then?”

That did the trick and Satbien sat back, smug satisfaction plain across his face. A snap of his fingers punctuated the next line of the story. “They all took one look at the ship and realized it weren’t painted red at all. It was what was coming off the ship. Smoke. Like there’d been a fire, and all aboard could see some embers still alight. Red, red as blood.”

“When the chimney smoke goes red as blood.” Matio’s words left him in a whisper. “And comes the storm that brings the flood.” Satbien nodded as Matio went on, and the third man watched in silence. “Nuevellos—the Nine.”

Satbien gestured with a finger. “That’s right. Ari and the crew had come across a ship with the Nuevellos on it. Now, the sailors of the crew weren’t smart enough
nor well-learned of the world to know what they looked at. But Ari knew. And seeing as he was the only one who knew what was happening—”

The footsteps loudened. Approaching men—the sort you didn’t want visiting your quiet little cell on account they would likely ruin what little peace you had to yourself.

Satbien cast a look to the prison’s entry, eyes wide and tongue peeking between his lips. He sucked in a breath and quickened the story. “Ari knew a great many things, and he knew that the men and women aboard the ship had no hope to survive the Nuevellos without him. So he took charge, didn’t he? Commanded ’em
with just a word, loud as thunder, and called down the same against the Nuevellos. Solus strike me down if it ain’t true. He called fire and lightning on that ship and—”

Metal groaned, almost more in protest against the story than from its own age and neglected state. The door to the prison opened and the guards of Del Soliel entered.

Satbien gave us one last look—the stare of a desperate man uttering a final secret before the chance is taken from him once again. “And heard it told that no one survived but for him.” He shut his mouth, and the other men followed his lead.

All of them turned away from me.

And the silence returned again, now waiting for someone else to break it. But it wouldn’t be me.

Heavy boots beat against the stone of the prison floor, drawing a splash where water had worn down the ground and formed a puddle. Matio and the others
adopted the looks of dogs long beaten into submissiveness. Their gazes fell low, not even taking in the feet of those walking by.

I never did learn to keep a supple spine. So I straightened and looked up, eye-ing each of the approaching men.

Two guards, dressed unlike those who’d first tried to bar my way into Del Soliel. If they had armor, I wagered it to be linked mail hidden beneath their padded plum-colored jackets. They had matching pants the same shade and were cut from cloth too similar, and I didn’t mean their clothing.

Twins?

The pair had trimmed their hair in identical fashion, short-cropped and tight in the manner of career soldiers. Lean, angular, and cold of face. But what took my attention the most was the long knife each wore at their side.

Odd choice of weapon for a guard. I reassessed the thought as soon as I’d finished it. No, not guards. Something else.

The man between them was the greatest oddity. A figure so thin I wondered if he only ate every third day, and then kept to just one meal. Just enough to stay alive. Were he not dressed as he was, I’d have thought him the lowest of paupers.

A rake of a man in the clothes of the gentry.

He ran a thin finger under the length of his equally narrow mustache. It didn’t suit him, especially under the crook of his long and curved nose. “Storyteller.” The word left him as more accusation than greeting.

I gave him a lopsided smile. “I was, and then I never got to be, mostly on account of being locked in here before I had a chance to perform.”

The slender man glowered, but his face couldn’t lend any real menace to the stare. His brows looked more like scant lines traced in charcoal than real hair grown. Nothing about him spoke of severity. “I think you’ve performed enough, haven’t you.” It wasn’t a question.

I kept silent, knowing it to be bait, and that nothing good would come of replying.

The man was set in his opinion before he’d stepped in to see me. And I knew on what his mind dwelt. After all, there could be only one thought. But before he could speak, a smattering of whispers broke out in the cells behind them.

“The storyteller?” Satbien’s gaze rose from where it had been fixed before. He didn’t have eyes for the men in front of me, however. His look was for me alone.

Matio mirrored him, as did the last man. “The Storyteller? The red cloak. Of course. You’re the Storyteller. That’s why you started with all that talk of him.” Matio rubbed the palm of a hand against his forehead, face nearly cracking into the smile of someone just catching a joke’s meaning. “Solus. I swear. You had us going for a moment and I—”

“Quiet.” The starved bird of a man turned on a heel and stared at the prisoners. “If you haven’t forgotten how to still your tongues after all this time, then perhaps it’s best I help you remember.” He whirled and reached for one of the long knives on the belts of the twins. The sound of metal sliding out of a sheath filled the air, and then all eyes went to the length of silver catching what little light the prison held.

“Tongues”—the man waggled the blade—“do not grow back. Or so I’m told.” He took a step toward Matio.

My mind tumbled into the folds. I saw and felt my voice bound to the very air around me—my atham, the space that I occupied greater than my own physical being. First two folds, then four. I saw a fishing-line-fine length of imaginary cord flow from the core of me and pass through my lips. It flowed outward, fraying into countless threads to spread through the room. Eight folds now, more than enough. “Start with Whent, then go to Ern.”

Someone shuffled but I barely had ears for it, shutting the sound from my thoughts.

I stood straight, lunging and clasping my hands to the bars of my cell. “I am!” The two words cracked with the force of thunder in a cave, resonating through
the prison with almost enough force to shake free stone and rattle iron. Almost. But the performance had done the job.

The three men who’d come into the prison yelped and leapt back. The whole of their collective attention now fell on me, leaving none for the poor men who’d only just found their voices after far too long a time without them. Their chests heaved in unison and their eyes went wide as a child’s caught in the act of making mischief.

The echoes of my voice died and a new stillness spread through the place. This one tremulous—shaking, and one we all knew could not last. In fact, it
meant not to. It wanted to be broken. And the man who broke it would control the conversation to come.

So I seized it and spoke the words again. “I am.” This time a whisper, just soft enough they couldn’t be sure they’d heard me clearly. “I am the Storyteller. I’ve made lords and ladies cry with tales of daring heroes and tragic romances. I’ve set taverns and inns shaking with applause so loud heaven itself has heard the noise. I’ve been the guest of kings and princes and emperors alike. And I’ve held them, hearts and mind, all enraptured till the end of my tales. I’ve learned every
story there is to know and told them back to men like you as if it’s your first time hearing them.

“That’s who I am. And that is why I came here.” The last line was only half the truth, but it would have to do for now. For the whole of it would surely see me hanged even faster.

The thin man licked his lips, looking to the men at his side for support. It never came, and the knife shook in his hands.

“If you need someone to brandish that at”—I nodded to the blade in hand—“you can try me. It’s not the first time a group of men have pointed blades my way. And I don’t believe it will be the last.” I found a candle flame’s worth of heat in my heart and drew on it, willing it into my eyes as I glared at the men just beyond my bars.

The man with the dagger took the challenge and stepped close enough that his nose nearly touched the metal separating us. “I can assure you, murderer, it will not be the last. You killed a prince of Etaynia. An efante. My efante.” Each word came as quiet as a breath blown into the wind, yet fell with all the weight of lead hitting stone.

His efante. His prince. Brahm’s blood and ashes, he must have served Prince Arturo. Voted for him in the election, and dreamed of seeing him king. A dream that had now died with the efante’s passing. “I’m sorry.” I knew the words wouldn’t do anything but spur the man into greater fury, but they were the truth, and a piece of him needed to hear it no matter how he’d take it.

He quivered in place. The knuckles of one hand going white as he squeezed the handle of the knife with more strength than a man of his build should have been able to manage. “You’re sorry? You killed a prince of this country in cold blood, over tea, after he welcomed you into his company . . . and you’re sorry?” His arm snapped out, thrusting the knife as far as he could into my cell. The point of the blade stopped just short of the hollow of my throat.

I did not move.

“No. You are not. But I swear it, by Solus, Etaynia, and Prince Arturo’s rest, you will be.” His lips trembled long after he’d finished speaking.

Then he took a slow breath, shutting his eyes until he’d regained his composure.

Most of it.

“I could kill you now. No one would know.” He fixed me with a knowing look

that told me it was more than mere temptation. A piece of him had already committed to the act and all that stood in the way was a set of iron bars.

“I would know.” I kept from adding that the imprisoned men would know as well, lest it bring his ire back upon them. I had nothing to do with them being here, but a storyteller’s job is to offer reprieve and escape to those who need it most. I could offer them a poor form of that in the moment, but I would do that much at least.

The man with the knife clenched and unclenched his free fist as if the muscles in his hand were in the throes of a bad spasm. “You think you’re terribly clever, don’t you?”

I gave him a thin curved smile—sharper than the edge of his knife, but with none of the malice in it. “I know I am. Clever, and terrible, in all the ways that can be. That has been my problem all my life.” I lost focus for a moment and failed to see the men, the bars, and all the stone of the prison.

The man in front of me spoke, but I did not hear him. Nothing could reach me in that moment.

When clarity returned, it came with one last thought—a kindness I felt obliged to offer the well-dressed rake. “A piece of advice, friend. Don’t swear promises on the name of a dead man. They never go well. They’re rarely fulfilled. And they don’t bring the dead back . . . or any satisfaction.”

My words reached the wrong part of the man, for he threw his open hand against the bars, taking one in his grip and wrenching at it. If he had the strength, I’m sure he would have torn the metal free and sunk his knife through my ribs. But the iron held firm and his grip slackened. Some of the color waned from his face and his collar darkened with sweat seeping into the fabric.

“My name is Ernesto Vengenza. Remember it. Keep it in your mind, now and until the end. I want you to know there is a knife to haunt your dreams. That this knife is waiting to find your heart. And I want you to know the name of the man who will put it there.” Ernesto didn’t return the blade to the man he’d taken it from and turned to leave. The pair at his side gave me one last look before following suit.

You’re in line behind a great many others. I hope you’re content to wait your turn.

The door to the prison shut.

The silence returned.

And this time, no one tried to break it.

Copyright © 2024 from R.R. Virdi

Pre-order The Doors of Midnight  Here:

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Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month with Six Must-Read Books by AAPI Authors

This May, Tor Books is spotlighting a stellar lineup of reads from Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) authors. Got a craving for heart-pounding adventures? Dreaming of magical realms with intricate lore? Whatever your reading style, we’ve got you covered! Our selection offers a world of discovery for every kind of reader.

Check it out!


blood jadeBlood Jade by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle (out on 7/16/2024)

Emiko Soong, newly minted Sentinel of San Francisco, just can’t catch a break. Just after she becomes the guardian for a sentient city, a murder strikes close to home. Called by the city and one of the most powerful clans to investigate, she traces the killer whose scent signature bears a haunting similarity to her mother’s talent. The trail will lead her back to Tokyo where the thread she pulls threatens to unravel her whole world and bring dark family secrets to light. Meanwhile, the General rises in the East and Emiko must fight the hidden enemies of his growing army who are amped up on Blood Jade, while keeping her promises to her brother Tatsuya as he prepares for his tourney. Her duties as Sentinel and her loyalties collide when she must choose between hiding her deepest shame or stopping the General’s relentless march.


The Doors of MidnightThe Doors of Midnight by R.R. Virdi (out on 8/13/2024)

Some stories are hidden for a reason. All tales have a price. And every debt must be paid.

I killed three men as a child and earned the name Bloodletter. Then I set fire to the fabled Ashram. I’ve been a bird and robbed a merchant king of a ransom of gold. And I have crossed desert sands and cutthroat alleys to repay my debt. I’ve stood before the eyes of god, faced his judgement, and cast aside the thousand arrows that came with it. And I have passed through the Doors of Midnight and lived to tell the tale. I have traded one hundred and one stories with a creature as old as time, and survived with only my cleverness, a candle, and a broken promise. And most recently of all, I have killed a prince, though the stories say I have killed more than one.

My name is Ari. These are my legends.


Januaries Januaries by Olivie Blake (out on 10/15/2024)

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, a wish-granting spirit rapidly approaches burnout. Meanwhile, a banished fairy answers a Craigslist ad, a Victorian orphan navigates an occult situationship, and a multiverse assassin contemplates the one who got away.

With both iconic fan-favorite stories and entirely original pieces, Januaries features modified fairy tales, contemporary heists, absurdist poetry, and at least one set of actual wedding vows. Escape the slow trudge of mortality by diving into these enchanting new worlds with a master of imagination.


the atlas complex by olivie blakeThe Atlas Complex by Olivie Blake

An explosive return to the library leaves the six Alexandrians vulnerable to the lethal terms of their recruitment. Old alliances quickly fracture as the initiates take opposing strategies as to how to deal with the deadly bargain they have so far failed to uphold. Those who remain with the archives wrestle with the ethics of their astronomical abilities, while elsewhere, an unlikely pair from the Society cohort partner to influence politics on a global stage. And still the outside world mobilizes to destroy them, while the Caretaker himself, Atlas Blakely, may yet succeed with a plan foreseen to have world-ending stakes. It’s a race to survive as the six Society recruits are faced with the question of what they’re willing to betray for limitless power—and who will be destroyed along the way.

New to the Atlas Series? Dive into the first book here!


Light From Uncommon Stars Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six. When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate. But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline. As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.


9781250749895 Zero Sum Game by  S. L. Huang

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price. As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master. Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…
She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

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The Art of Deceit: TOR’s Finest Liars Revealed

Our Favorite Non-Humanoid Aliens

Spoiler Warning: This blog post contains spoilers for various books. Proceed with caution if you prefer to discover plot twists and character revelations firsthand.

Welcome, bookworms and truth-seekers alike, to a deep-dive into the world of Tor’s charmingly deceptive characters! These literary liars are here to spin tales, bend truths, and keep us guessing. Get ready for a rollercoaster ride of witty deceptions and clever fabrications as we uncover the finest fibbers in our beloved books.


Lukan Gardova (The Silverblood Promise by James Logan)

The Silverblood Promise

Starting with Lukan Gardova, the epitome of nobility and wealth, or so it seems. Beneath the veneer of his prestigious lineage lies a ne’er-do-well partying failson who squandered his inheritance in an ill-advised duel. However, when foul play targets his estranged father, Lukan finds himself thrust into a game of deception and intrigue. To unravel the mystery, he must tread carefully, juggling truths and lies as he delves into a world where uncovering the truth means embracing the art of deceit.

Giovanni Lawson (In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune)

In the Lives of Puppets

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Meet Giovanni Lawson, the cunning liar at the heart of this story. Playing the role of a father (akin to Geppetto), Giovanni has spun a web of deceit around his adopted human son, leading him to believe in a fabricated narrative involving the eradication of all human life and more. But beware, dear reader, for beneath these falsehoods lies a truth that may surprise you…

Talasseres (Tal) Charossa ( The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood)

The Unspoken Name

Introducing Talasseres (Tal) Charossa, a scrappy rogue and dedicated pessimist with a knack for deception among his many skills. He’s not afraid to resort to backstabbing, thievery, and, crucially for this list, lying to achieve his goals. What does he want, you ask? Mostly, it’s just to excel at his tasks and maybe earn a morsel of acknowledgment from his boss—well, more of a crush, really—Belthandros Sethennai, who, Tal can’t help but note, is a wizard with a garbage track record.

Raine (Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald)

Daughter of Redwinter

Last, but certainly not least is Raine, a survivor in a world where lying isn’t a choice but a necessity. Unlike those who lie for selfish reasons or excitement, Raine’s lies are a lifeline. In a setting akin to a Bruce Willis blockbuster (though she’d find that notion bewildering), the Daughter of Redwinter navigates a third-world highland fantasy where seeing the deceased is not just a quirk but a grave danger. In her reality, such visions mark one for immediate destruction. Thus, Raine’s adeptness at deception isn’t a luxury but a vital skill for her very existence.

 

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