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Books & Cozy Drinks that’ll Bring you Good Cheer for the End of the Year

By Ariana Carpentieri

Everyone knows that when the holidays are upon us, it also means a whole new layer of stress gets added on top of our everyday, regular busyness (and, not to mention, the extra stress of the ongoing Pandemic). But along with all the holiday madness comes something we all know and love: holiday treats and drinks! There’s nothing quite like curling up under a soft blanket near the warmth of a crackling fire with a good book in one hand and a festive drink in the other.

Get into the festive holiday spirit by pairing of our deliciously captivating books with some drinks that’ll pack a punch and warm your heart!


A Dog’s Perfect Christmas by W. Bruce Cameron

Poster Placeholder of - 18A Dog’s Perfect Christmas is a book about the Goss family; a family that has a hard time communicating with one another, and therefore always seem to be at odds. But they must learn how to get past their differences and bond together—and in the spirit of Christmas, no less. Since it’s a family-oriented book, This Creamy Crock Pot Hot Chocolate is perfect for serving your whole fam and drinking it together while gathered around the tree. It wouldn’t be the whole family without your faithful dog, so you can whip them up this Safe Hot Chocolate Alternative for Dogs so that they can be part of the festivities, too!

The Nemesis Manifesto by Eric Van Lustbader

Place holder  of - 81The Nemesis Manifesto an epic and harrowing adventure of predatory forces that are threatening the very fabric of democracy. This book is thick with intrigue, adventure, and action, which we think calls for it to be paired with an equally as thick, rich drink like spiked eggnog! This Holiday Spiked Eggnog recipe suggests to mix Amaretto liqueur with some white rum and then add a dash of nutmeg to the top to really give it that holiday cheer. 

Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber

Placeholder of  -51Midnight at the Blackbird Café is a captivating blend of magic, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm. A book like this calls for some liquid magic! And liquid magic always has a touch of caffeine, right? Also, cafés are known for serving coffee! Try an Eggnog Coffee Latte / Eggnog Chai Latte (for the tea lovers out there), which will give you that touch of magic you’re looking for this holiday season.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Image Place holder  of - 43Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered  is Karen and Georgia’s irreverent recount of their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation today. There’s no better drink to pair with this book than Canned Wine, which we all know is Georgia’s choice of drink when taping My Favorite Murder. But if canned wine isn’t your thing, then we suggest trying a bottle of 19 Crimes Red Blend (because the name literally speaks for itself). And honestly: what would the holidays be without a little wine to liven up the night?

Lionhearts by Nathan Makaryk

Image Placeholder of - 82Lionhearts is a heroically riveting story of vengeance, redemption, war, and has some Game of Throne vibes. No drinks quite capture the essence of the Renaissance era quite like mead and beer, so those are necessities to pair with this book! Between this Holiday Mead Cocktail recipe or this Stout Hot Chocolate, you’ll definitely feel great tidings of comfort and joy.

An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country Christmas is a cozy tale that takes place in the village of Ballybucklebo. While snow is rare in Ulsterand so are miraclesthat doesn’t mean they never happen! We feel this delightful story would go great with a drink that’s timeless and classic, like a nice Guinness and Pear Cocktail. Everything about this drink and book will warm you up from head to toe!

A Resolution at Midnight by Shelley Noble

Roasted chestnuts from vendor’s carts, fresh cut spruce trees lining the sidewalks, extravagant gifts, opulent dinners, carols at St Patrick’s Cathedral, a warm meal and a few minutes shelter from the cold at one of the charitable food lines . . .It’s the holidays in Gilded Age Manhattan! Set on New Year’s Eve, A Resolution at Midnight is a perfect, cozy mystery read for the holiday season. For a book this lavish, we suggest a drink that’s equally as fancy. This Holiday Spiced Mulled Wine is the perfect pair for a story as dazzling as this one!

 

And that’s a wrap! Thank you for reading, and we hope you enjoy treating yourself to these incredible reads and drinks during the upcoming holidays!

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Forge Your Own Halloween Party!

Planning on staying home for Halloween and searching for that perfect bookish costume? Look no further! Your friends at Forge have put together a handy costume guide for every kind of reader!


Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark, hosts of the My Favorite Murder podcast

Halloween is a great time for Murderinos. And dressing up like Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the authors of Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered and hosts of the wildly popular podcast My Favorite Murder is a great way to join in on Halloween fun while keeping it super stylish. Grab your favorite mid-century vintage dress and tights to achieve Georgia’s look. Don’t forget your can of wine and trusty sidekick, Elvis the cat. If you’re more of a Karen, we suggest a black dress (with pockets, of course) and a guitar for a prop. Top either costume off with a microphone to show you’re a podcast queen… and you might as well add that 20-foot tall skeleton with light-up eyes from Home Depot. 

Jennifer, Marketing Manager

 

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Flashback to Emerald City Comic Con last year where we saw these really great Karen and Georgia cosplays!

 

Bailey and Ethan from A Dog’s Purpose

Have you waited until the last minute to pull a costume together, and just need something to tell your family or socially-distanced friends that you’re dressed up as? If you’re a dog owner, I have the perfect no-effort costume idea for you! Since Bailey from A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron has lived many lives as many different dogs, any dog no matter the shape or size can be Bailey for the night! Now for your costume as Bailey’s owner: theoretically, you could wear whatever you want, since Bailey has had many names and many owners. If you want your costume to be Ethan, Bailey’s first owner in A Dog’s Purpose, you could don a flannel shirt, jeans, and some boots to make it look like you live on a farm, just like Ethan. Here’s me and my Bailey! 

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A Christmas-themed picture, since we’re celebrating the release of A Dog’s Perfect Christmas!

Sarah, Digital Marketing Coordinator

Marion from Nottingham by Nathan Makaryk

There’s nothing quite as good as the thrill of DIY’ing your own Halloween costume! I mean, store-bought ones are cool and all, but putting together your own means you’ll stand out from the crowd! And while Halloween might be spent socially-distanced this year, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the fun of putting together your costume. If you’re looking every which way for a bookish character to dress up as but you’re having a hard time narrowing down an idea, I highly suggest drawing your inspiration from Nottingham and dressing up as Marion! If you love the Renaissance era and happen to have costumes lying around that you adorn when you visit local Ren Faires, then look no further; you’re all set! But if corsets and billowy, long dresses aren’t your thing, then you can easily DIY your costume with what you already have in your closet. If you’re riding in style as Marion, one thing to have on hand is a dress–preferably something with long, flowy sleeves. A long sleeved white shirt under a short sleeved/tank-style tunic would also work! Tall brown boots, a circlet crown or flower crown, a long skirt underneath, and a hooded cloak are the perfect accessories to help complete your look. Now you’re ready to go forth and be the finest Marion in all of the land! 

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Ariana, Assistant to VP. Marketing & Publicity

Lady Dunbridge from A Resolution at Midnight by Shelley Noble

A gilded age costume may seem intimidating, but you don’t have to wear a ball gown to dress as the countess/detective from Shelley Noble’s historical mystery novels. After all, Lady Dunbridge spends a lot of time searching New York for clues, so she has plenty of day dresses. To put together a costume from what you likely have at home, start with a neutral-colored maxi skirt, then pair it with one of those blazers from the back of your closet that you haven’t worn in months. Under the blazer, wear a high necked shirt, or if you have a shirt with lace on the front that works too. And of course, a Lady Dunbridge costume is not complete without a cocktail in hand, so you’ll need one of those. For the costume.

Julia, Associate Marketing Manager

 

Evan Ryder from The Nemesis Manifesto by Eric Van Lustbader

If your Halloween plans are looking like they might be lowkey this year, then a lowkey costume to match is the move. Evan Ryder from The Nemesis Manifesto has to wear comfortable but functional clothes – so you could wear this costume all Halloween day! In order to tap into this character created by Eric Van Lustbader, you will first need to step into some black pants (I wore black jeans, but whatever works), throw on a cashmere sweater and then a black leather jacket over it, and end with ankle boots. If you want to truly nail the look, Evan wears her up out of her face, so grab a ponytail holder to finish the look. 

Elizabeth, Marketing Intern

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10 Ways to Forge your own Renaissance Faire at Home

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By Ariana Carpentieri

One of the best parts about summertime is being able to take trips to the Renaissance Faire! As an avid Ren Faire attender, I look forward to it all year long and patiently (aka: not-so-patiently) count down until opening day. But this is the first year since birth that I’m not roaming the Faire with wonderment in my eyes and a turkey leg in hand. To say I’m sad is an understatement, but I understand and support the decision to keep the faire closed for the safety of all! So, while we won’t physically be at the faire where fantasy rules and the magic is as thick as the summer heat, the next best thing is to forge our own Renaissance Faires from the comfort and safety of our homes! To celebrate the upcoming release of Lionhearts by Nathan Makaryk, a Robin Hood inspired tale fit for Ren Faire royalty, here’s a list of ways you can create the illusion of stepping back in time and bring some of that Ren Faire enchantment into your space.

If you need an easy way to Forge your own Ren Faire, enter our sweepstakes for a chance to win some fun Renaissance-themed goodies!


  •  Read books set during the Renaissance

One of the best alternatives would be to fully immerse yourself in a book set during the Renaissance era. You can get lost in Nottingham and it’s sequel Lionhearts by Nathan Makaryk, which are stories that mix history and myth into a complex study of power–one that twists and turns far beyond the traditional tale of Sherwood Forest’s iconic thief. The next best thing aside from being at the Renaissance Faire would be entangling yourself in a tale of the Sherwood Forest!

  •  Watch shows set during the Renaissance

To further add to the ambiance, we suggest that you watch some shows that have a Renaissance or Medieval feel. If you’re a lover of fantasy, then The Witcher would be a good fit for you. If you like humor, something like Disenchantment is a great choice! If anime-esque animation style is your thing, then grab some popcorn and watch Castlevania. Or if classic is your thing, then buckle up for four seasons-worth of Tudors. There are a plethora of movies on Netflix and Hulu that can keep you almost as entertained as the actors at the faire do!

  •  Make yourself a feast fit for the queen herself!

When we think of the Ren Faire, we think about the delicious food. So why not bring the good eats to your own home! Something fun you could do is have a Renaissance themed dinner night, wherein you prep your favorite usual dishes from the Faire, which could include turkey legs, falafels, blooming onions, baked potatoes, or dragon wing chips! And if you’re looking to make it into a full feast, you could plan to add desserts like chocolate dipped cheesecake, apple cider donuts, or funnel cake. The queen would be green with envy!

  •  Support your favorite Faire vendors from afar

Since we aren’t walking around and visiting our favorite vendors at the Faire, it’s difficult being unable to make the purchases we often look forward to. But you can still support vendors from afar by checking to see if they have online shops! If that’s the case, you can still get your fill all while supporting their craft. It’s a win-win situation!

  •  Host a socially-distanced Renaissance themed party

If you’re someone who loves to dress up for the Faire, fear not–you can still do so! Get some friends together for a socially-distanced gathering that requires everyone in attendance to dress up. It may not beat walking around in costume at the Faire, but the good company and creative garb will bring a smile to your face.

  •  Follow your local Ren Faire on social media

If this is something you aren’t already doing, then we highly recommend! It’s nice to see Ren Faire photos pop up on your feed, plus it’s good to follow along in case they make any important announcements about reopening in 2021.

  •  Get your cards read online

One of the most alluring parts of the Renaissance Faire is partaking in psychic readings. But since that’s not really in the cards this year (pun fully intended), you can still receive readings online! There’s a large Alternative & Holistic Health Service community on Instagram that offers distant readings and spiritual healing/guidance sessions. But if that’s not really your thing, then there are plenty of card-reading apps out there that’ll give you daily readings to hold you over until you can have it done in-person at the Faire next year!

  •  Burn some incense

Aside from the smell of good food at the Faire, some of the other most distinct scents you catch whiffs of while you’re walking around are oils and incense that many of the vendors burn in their shops. Bring that same positive energy into your home by burning your favorite scents while reading a Renaissance book, watching a Renaissance show, or eating your big Renaissance feast fit for the queen. So. Much. Renaissance!

  •  Build a DIY fairy house

Fairies are such a large part of the Faire, so channel that magic at home by making a fairy house! There are DIY kits you can purchase online that include all the materials you need, or if you’re looking for a more eco-friendly option, then you could also fashion one with materials from your yard. There are plenty of Youtube videos out there that can help you build one of your own!

  •  Hold a family joust

The joust is one of the most iconic parts of the Ren Faire and always marks the perfect end to an exciting day! Get your partner or family involved in a joust tournament with foam swords. And if you don’t have any actual foam swords, then pool noodles will also suffice! Split the participants up into different color teams and for an extra boost, include a fun prize for the winner.

​And that concludes our list! We hope you enjoy trying these out at home, and that this helps you feel just a little closer to being at the Faire. Until next year…Huzzah!

Order your copy of Lionhearts—available on September 15th!

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Live Reading of Lionhearts with Nathan Makaryk!

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In addition to writing Nottingham and its upcoming sequel Lionhearts, author Nathan Makaryk is a theater owner, playwright, director, and actor. Back in June, he put his acting chops to the test and performed a live reading of Lionhearts as a part of his TorCon 2020 Books & Brunch event (also featuring Tor author Jenn Lyons)!

This is not your average live book reading. Featuring spot-on character voices and multiple camera angles, Nathan sets the stage for your return to medieval England on September 15th when Lionhearts is released to the world.

Read more about this exciting historical epic and watch the live reading below!


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About Lionhearts:

All will be well when King Richard returns . . . but King Richard has been captured.

To raise the money for his ransom, every lord in England is raising taxes, the French are eyeing the empty throne, and the man they called, “Robin Hood,” the man the Sherriff claims is dead, is everywhere and nowhere at once.

He’s with a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, raiding guard outposts. He’s with Nottingham’s largest gang, committing crimes to protest the taxes. He’s in the lowest slums of the city, conducting a reign of terror against the city’s most vulnerable. A hero to some, a monster to others, and an idea that can’t simply be killed.

But who’s really under the hood?

Order your copy of Lionhearts—available on September 15th!

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Nathan Makaryk on Why Reading Can Make You a Better Human

This just in: reading makes you a better person! Wondering why? Nathan Makaryk, author of Nottingham and its upcoming sequel Lionhearts (coming September 15th), joins us on blog today to talk about how reading stories from points of view that differ from your own help make you a more open-minded and inclusive person.


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By Nathan Makaryk

Pick a book.

(Any book will do, I can almost guarantee it.)

Hunt down its one-star reviews, and you’ll find someone who “couldn’t connect to the characters.” “Unrelatable” and “unlikeable” are codewords that a reader just can’t bridge the gap between their own worldview and that of the book’s protagonist. Especially in stories written from a single character’s point of view (POV), a reader’s disagreement with the hero’s choices is the leading cause of books being thrown violently into improbably nearby woodchippers.

Reading is inherently an act of empathy, in that you put yourself in the headspace of someone else—fictional or not—to experience life through their eyes and thoughts. Unless you’ve written an autobiography and read it exclusively (you psychopath), then we all take this leap of faith when we pick up a book. Numerous studies have been published showing a positive correlation between people who read fiction and their social and empathetic competence. In short: yes, reading makes you a better person.

But what kind of characters are you choosing to jump into? If you’re only reading protagonists who align with your own moral, religious, or political stances, are you really growing and expanding your worldview? Probably not.

Welcome to 2020, where our country is divided by increasingly polarized stances over every imaginable subject. Social media provides us each with an echo chamber of like-minded opinions that vilify the opposition. If you’ve ever used the terms “us” or “them” in regard to human beings, then you’ve already started the work of delegitimizing (and sometimes dehumanizing) those you disagree with in order to strengthen your own position.

Don’t worry: we all instinctively do this. It’s natural. But recognizing when you do it and how to counteract it is probably the most important thing for all of us to learn right now. Because if you toss aside a book when you “can’t connect” with the main character . . . congratulations, you’re back in your echo chamber.

One method to overcome this is to read books with multiple POVs. The author is specifically asking you to find something sympathetic in each character, despite their conflicting opinions. Sometimes multiple POVs are used to follow necessary plot points in geographically distant places, as in Sarah Kozloff’s Nine Realms series or George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. When those characters are also on opposite sides of a greater conflict, we get to understand (and agree with, or not) the otherwise nefarious motivations of antagonists like a Queen Cersei. Seeing a conflict from your opponent’s point of view is the number one way to turn the tide on those internet arguments you’re never winning.

Reading these stories actually strengthens our brain’s ability to self-interrogate the things we see and hear, because we intuitively start thinking about them in two ways: both in the manner we experience them, and in how the other POV characters might interpret them differently. Flexing our natural skepticism is a critical skill when your information comes from a single source. It may seem like “just reading”, but you’re training your brain to raise a proper eyebrow when your uncle Darren shares his “Coronavirus is a hoax” memes.

From there, search out stories whose POV characters are in direct conflict, allowing the reader to experience two (or more!) sides of the same story. In Shrouded Loyalties, author Reese Hogan expertly juggles multiple wildly-opposing viewpoints, forcing the reader to constantly re-evaluate whose side they’re actually on. And the ultimate answer is that a properly empathetic reader should be on everyone’s side.

Because this goes so much further than the idiom that “every villain is the hero of their own story.” In real life, there are (mostly) no actual villains. Like it or not—and trust me, I don’t—every person you disagree with is an actual living, breathing human who has their own fears and motivations. They very likely believe their viewpoint is the “right” one. Theoretically, if you lived their life, you might even come to their same conclusions—as despicable as you might find that to be from the luxury of your own obviously-better life.

(Okay, there are admittedly a few exceptions when a narrator is intended to be horrifying rather than relatable. I’m thinking of the deliciously sociopathic corporate auditor in Alex White’s The Cold Forge who joyfully sacrifices people to be murdered by aliens.)

In the real world, differences in opinion are almost always simply differences in priorities, and understanding someone’s decisions is difficult when those priorities are completely different from your own. If someone is primarily motivated by money, for instance, then arguing about human rights won’t work on them until you put a dollar sign on it.

The moral of the story here is something that empathetic people already know: anything that forces you out of your own headspace—whether that’s traveling, trying something new, or reading books with characters unlike yourself—will help you become more open-minded and inclusive. Because when someone states they “couldn’t connect with the characters” of a book, this might not be a critique of the book, but of . . . [sips tea] . . . themselves.


Full disclosure, Nathan Makaryk is the author of NOTTINGHAM (2019) and LIONHEARTS (available September 15th, 2020), which very coincidentally portrays multiple POVs on both sides of the conflict in the legend of Robin Hood.

Order Your Copy of Lionhearts:

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Excerpt: Lionhearts by Nathan Makaryk

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History and myth collide in Nathan Makaryk’s Lionhearts, a riveting story of vengeance, redemption and war, perfect for fans of Game of Thrones.

All will be well when King Richard returns . . . but King Richard has been captured.

To raise the money for his ransom, every lord in England is raising taxes, the French are eyeing the empty throne, and the man they called, “Robin Hood,” the man the Sherriff claims is dead, is everywhere and nowhere at once.

He’s with a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, raiding guard outposts. He’s with Nottingham’s largest gang, committing crimes to protest the taxes. He’s in the lowest slums of the city, conducting a reign of terror against the city’s most vulnerable. A hero to some, a monster to others, and an idea that can’t simply be killed.

But who’s really under the hood?

Lionhearts will be available on September 15th, 2020. Please enjoy the following excerpt.


PROLOGUE

Sarra Billinsgate

The French Ward

 

“God’s teeth!” Little Hugh tried—and failed—to wink. “I’m fucking Robin Hood!”

“Mind your tongue!” Sarra snatched his earlobe with a mother’s precision and twisted it. Her son’s joy vanished as he writhed between her fingertips. “I don’t ever want to hear such language from you again, understand? Now go find your father, he’s waiting on you!”

She slapped his bottom—always too hard but never hard enough—and his legs flik-flacked away down the alley slop. Sarra’s shoulders slumped. I don’t remember ever having that much energy. She was exhausted just watching him, and jealous of the simplicity that came with being a child.

Mindful of her bruises, Sarra tugged her roughspun shawl closer at the neck and winced. Above, the sky spat in little pockets and rolled grey behind the silhouette of Nottingham Castle, looming furiously over them. Thin waves of black coursed over its frame as the wind and water fought across the battlements. It gave the illusion of a castle with hair—long, uncontrollable wisps whipping out, vanishing, then lashing out again elsewhere.

We’re going to starve either way,” her husband, Rog, had explained, “but it will be better in the city. You’ll see.”

You’ll see.

It sounded like wisdom then, as hope always does to the desperate. And Rog had always held a clever sort of patience, knowing when to ignore an easy lure. It broke Sarra’s heart to remember how Rog once kept their spirits high, singing at night for Hugh when they had nothing to eat, even just a few months ago. She’d always loved that toothy smile of his, especially when she could see it in their son. But now, Sarra’s husband could hardly bear to look her in the eyes. There was no predicting each day if it would be rage or humiliation that kept his distance.

“Gack,” some noise snapped for attention at her right—a dirty, bony thing reaching out from a hole in the alley’s stone wall, a too-skinny old man covered in dried mud or excrement. Eyeballs shining but shrouded in dark. Panic froze her for only a moment, but long enough for him to grin black gums. “I’ll trade you a dry place for a wet one.” Clacking his few remaining teeth, he uncurled one finger out toward Sarra’s legs. She busied herself away, to outrun her disgust.

Sarra wondered, again, if anyone else from Thorney had survived. Most fled after the fields had burnt, but some stayed behind. Rog’s only brother, Hanry, swore he’d join them in Nottingham, but winter was halfway through with no sign of him.

She pushed away from the alley, and through the unwelcome clamor of the French Ward.

This place was an infected sore in the city’s armpit. The French Ward had grown out of sheer spite to the north of the castle’s hill, wedged between the foot of its craggy cliffs and the slope of the western Derby Road. The finest parts of the French Ward were an overrun lot of ramshackle wooden buildings and filth. The worst parts were appropriately worse.

It’s the only place we can go,” Rog had explained, “but it’s better than nothing. You’ll see.

You’ll see.

What she didn’t see was him, not anymore. A year ago she would’ve gladly left Thorney for any place he suggested, so long as they were all together. But here in the city, he was always working—or hoping to work by waiting in lines, which rarely paid off—and they merely traded Hugh off between them, sometimes with barely a word. That wasn’t together.

At the makeshift stairs up to Park Row, a commotion seized her attention. Splashing carelessly off the uneven cobbles and into another muddy alley, a pack of young street boys—just barely older than Hugh—chased at each other. Their faces were smiles and they laughed the way Hugh laughed, until one turned and swung the heft of his knapsack into the face of the boy behind him, who spun and fell into the muck. The rest pummeled the fallen boy with their sacks and fists and feet, then turned heel and sprinted right past Sarra. The last one barked in her face and laughed as she startled.

Ten paces away, the poor boy in the mud didn’t move, his face down.

Get up, she thought at him, because she didn’t want to know what she’d do if he didn’t. At the very edge of her mind, her guilt replaced this boy with Hugh. Sarra tilted her face up to the rain and refused to think on her son being beaten so. Or worse, it came before she could stop it, what if he becomes one of the boys who delivers the beating?

The image of the barking boy’s greasy, pock-ridden cheeks burnt in her mind.

Get up.

She suddenly regretted letting Hugh run to Rog on his own when she could’ve easily accompanied him. It didn’t matter that Rog and his shovel were waiting with the other hopeful dayhands only a few buildings away. She could’ve held Hugh’s hand and told him something important and true about making good choices. Something about character. Something that would stay with him. Next time, she promised herself. Again.

Get up.

The street boy didn’t move.

She couldn’t be late, she had a gentleman waiting. Well, they were rarely gentle, but she had no other word for them. They have a word for you, though. She hadn’t said that word to herself yet, nor had Rog. At least, not out loud. His eyes screamed it, but they both knew their marriage would only last until its first utterance. So he stayed his pride and didn’t ask how she came about the occasional coin that kept the three of them alive. When they spoke, it was only of Hugh, and of how to protect him from the city’s grime.

Get up.

With a gasp, the fallen boy jerked and pushed up to his hands and knees. Sarra exhaled, hot tears mixing with the rain down her cheeks. She lingered to watch the boy shake himself off and limp away, when something smashed into her side.

She yelped as she turned, but the little familiar something wrapped its arms around her legs, and Sarra tugged her son’s hair.

“You gave me a start!” she said—reminding herself of her own mother—and wrapped her fingers into his sopping mop. “Where’s your cap, now?”

“He’s here, Mum, you have to come!”

“Where’s your cap, young sir?” she repeated, twisting him to see his face, cheeks pinpricked red from running. He pulled the thing from a pocket and tugged it over his head, along with a grumble of protest. Sarra grumbled right back at him and readjusted the cap over the tips of his ears. “Who is this, now? Who’s here?”

Hugh pulled at her. “Come on then, and hurry!”

Who’s here?”

“I can’t say.”

“Well you’ll have to,” she chided him, glancing down the alley where the imprint of the street boy’s body had already turned into a puddle of dirty rainwater.

Hugh’s entire face squirmed. “I can’t. You told me to never use such language again.”

An anxious crowd gathered outside the Pity Stables—which, despite its name, hadn’t housed any horses for years. The Pities had only a few upright wooden walls, but provided relative shelter for those with the greatest need. Today its open frame was packed shoulder to shoulder with soggy onlookers, but Hugh weaseled himself forward and dragged Sarra along until they were under its roof.

She’d heard over and again that Robin Hood had been making appearances inside the city of late, though she’d tried not to let that build up her hope. If this really was Robin Hood, and if he was giving coin out as he had last year, there was no knowing how many warm meals that might put in Hugh’s stomach. Or boots! Or more realistically, to grease the right palm that might pick Rog’s name for day work. Robin Hood’s presence was a lucky turn, for certain . . . but it came with a price. Hugh was at an impressionable age, and it might not do for him to see how easily a thief could bring in coin when his father’s honest work could not.

Inside, the musk of wet men was palpable. A few hands pawed at her as she squeezed in, grunting their objections to her slipping by, but Hugh found handholds in the exposed beams of the back wall and climbed until his head was above the crowd. Sarra found a foothold beside him and eased herself up for a better view.

“Quietly, all!” An unfamiliar man hushed them from the center of the Pities, and silence rippled outward. “I have a story I think you’ll find most interesting.” He pulled back a slick hood from his head and raked his fingers through blond hair, matted dark from the rain. One finger flicked water off his pointed nose as he sized up his audience. Young for a man, and dangerously handsome, but there seemed to be an age about his eyes. Not Robin Hood, Sarra knew, but probably one of his closest men. Here to rile everyone’s spirits before the real man arrived.

Sarra spotted Rog’s head bobbing up and down near the front of the crowd, but was quickly tisked when she called his name. So she wrapped an arm around Hugh’s waist to watch with the others.

“I found some men on the road to the north,” the handsome man drawled out, stretching the tips of his mouth wide and squinting his eyes, smiling with both. Behind them, the light rain turned heavier, as if to veil them from the outside world. “Well, not really men, I suppose. That’s not what they’d call themselves, at the least. They’d prefer the word looords.” He treated the title like an insult, and received a collective groan of agreement. “These looords had everything a man could want. Why, I’d never seen finer clothing. Excepting yours, of course, love.” A wink at a young woman whose dress was the definition of threadbare. Still, she blushed and patted herself down as a few others whistled. “These looords had not a speck of dirt on their breeches, white as their asses!”

That made Hugh snort, which Sarra hated. The last thing she needed was for Hugh to idolize a rebellious man with a thirst for danger.

“Found more than a bit of gold on them, too, didn’t we?” the man asked, and at his side two larger men gave a hurrah. One stout and bald, the other with the long careful face of a greyhound, they both positioned themselves to create a respectful distance between the speaker and the crowd.

“So I reach out with my hand,” he continued, “this one right here, and I pluck the ring from his finger and whisper, ‘Is there anyone who might need this more than you?’”

“Aye!” answered one timid voice in the throng, then another.

“Aye, sir!” was Rog’s intellectual contribution, craning his skinny neck and grinning stupidly. Sarra was at once relieved to see his smile, and pained that it had been so long since he’d shown it.

“I wonder, friar, is there anyone else who needs any gold?”

The bald man shrugged theatrically, while the crowd called out once again, louder.

“I said, is there anyone here who could use a shilling or two?”

And the answer bellowed back, packing the room with noise and anticipation. The showman backed up in affected shock, as if their voices had thrown him off his feet.

“Not so loud, friends!” he laughed. “We wouldn’t want our voices to travel all the way up to the Sheriff, now would we?” Laughter, now, all around.

“I thought you killed the Sheriff!” shouted a young girl not much older than Hugh.

“I did, my lady,” he responded. “And the Sheriff before him, too.”

“Then what’s taking you so long with this one?” came a deep man’s voice, and the crowd erupted in agreement.

“All in good time, friends,” and his smirk was all charm. “For you are my friends, are you not? Who here considers themself a friend of Robin Hood?”

Every hand in the building went up, every man and woman and child shouted out their love for the man, even as Hugh turned to Sarra and whispered, “That’s not Robin Hood.”

I know,” she whispered back, surprised he remembered.

They’d met the real Robin Hood once, when he visited Thorney. Back when he was only a rumor, back when Thorney was a place to call home and not a patch of ash. Before the winter, before the raids and the fire brigades, before hunger and the French Ward. But that Robin Hood had a soft face and a curious sort of humility. It was hard to believe the stories that he killed the Sheriff, and had been hanged for it.

But Robin Hood or not, this new fellow had the people’s love. They stretched their hands to the air and called out, “Friends, friends!” Even Rog seemed happy to call this stranger Robin Hood, so long as there was a promise of coin.

“Then never let it be said,” the-man-who-was-definitely-not-Robin-Hood knelt down to the floor, whipping a wet cloak up to reveal a small wooden chest, “that Robin Hood has ever neglected his friends!”

His toe kicked the lid open, one hand reached in and then flicked a few coins out, one by one by one, each touching the air gently before falling into the crowd. Sarra instinctively pushed herself against the wall as the room churned inside out, grasping and pushing and tumbling over itself. Despite her best effort to hold him, Hugh slipped right out of her arms and dropped to the ground to disappear into the mash of arms and legs.

Sarra steadied herself on a post, frantic for any sign of her son. The boy in the mud invaded her thoughts again, freezing her with the same empty sense of indecision. But the crowd calmed as winners claimed their prizes, and Sarra pushed the image of a trampled Hugh to the back of her mind. He knows to come back.

“Don’t worry, there’s more for all of you,” Robin called out, quieting the room. “But I have to ask for a little help first. Do you suppose you can help me out?”

“Aye, we can!” came the reply. Expectant faces and open palms waited upon Robin’s every movement.

“Those of you who received a coin, could you come forward, please? Let them through, make way now!”

He gestured them closer, and a few lucky bodies held their coins up proudly and formed a row before him. Five in total, though Sarra only recognized one—a curly headed friend of Rog’s by the name of Dane, a dockworker who’d shown them rare kindness.

Robin smiled at the winners. “My friends, I am happy to help you. After all, who else out there is going to help you out?”

“No one!” Dane answered, instantly earning Robin’s attention.

“No one!” Robin snapped his fingers. “Why not the King, why doesn’t he help?”

“He’s in Austria!” came one answer.

“He’s in prison!” came another. Both were true. Somewhere on the other side of the world, King Richard the Lionheart had been captured. But those still at home were the ones suffering for it.

“Why not the Sheriff, then?” Robin continued. “Why doesn’t he help?”

“He’s too busy taking our money!” was a gruff answer, followed by laughter.

“You have the right of it, friend.” Robin smiled. “One quarter of everything, to pay for Richard’s ransom! You have to be careful these days. I have two hands and two feet, and the Sheriff’s like to take one as my payment!” The grumble that followed had only an empty mirth. The collections for the king’s ransom was no mere tax. For many, surrendering a quarter of all their worth was the brutal snap of a branch long bent to its breaking point.

“Well I wish I could give these coins to you and ask for nothing in return,” Robin continued, “but even Robin Hood needs help sometimes. You understand that, don’t you?”

“Whatever you need,” Dane answered for them. “Just name it.”

“It’s very simple, it’s nothing really.” Robin paused. “I need that coin back.”

Dane chuckled, as did the crowd, but Robin held his hand out as the laughter faded into embarrassment.

“This coin?” Dane asked cautiously. “The ones you just gave us?”

“The very one.”

His next laugh was smaller, dumber. “Is this a trick?”

“A trick, no. Call it a curiosity!” Robin clicked his tongue. “Right now that shilling is yours, and you may do with it anything you like.”

“It’s a crown, sir.”

“A crown?” Robin’s eyes widened in disbelief. “My, but I’m more generous than I thought! But it’s yours, I won’t take it from you. You’ve had it all of a minute but I’m sure you’ve already thought well on how you’ll spend it, no? What will you do with it?”

Dane looked to the other four coin-bearers, but the question was clearly for him alone. When he spoke, there was doubt in his voice. “Food. Boots, maybe.”

“Boots, maybe, that’s good. That’s good,” Robin looked down, kicking his own dark leather boots against the chest. “Would you like my boots?”

“No, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir, I’m not a knight.”

“No, sir. Er, no . . . m’lord.”

“Even worse.”

“Sorry . . . sorry.”

“Hm.”

Sarra wished very much that Hugh would find his way back to her.

Robin leveled his eyes on Dane, who buried his attention into the ground. “Food, you say? Nottingham has a Common Hall, does it not? Why aren’t you there?”

Someone in the crowd answered angrily, “You have to be on the lists!”

“And they won’t put certain types of people on those lists, will they?” Robin prompted them. “Deserters, gang members, . . . tax evaders, yes?”

An unsettling murmur rumbled in ascent, while a few other titles were called out—other types of people who could be refused the charity of the Common Hall. Sarra hated that she flinched when the word whore was shouted.

“And with this damned ransom, everyone’s a tax evader, aren’t we?” Robin Hood smiled. “A crown’s a fine amount, I’ll bet you could pay your way onto that list for a crown. Is that what you meant when you said you’d spend it on food?”

“I hadn’t thought about it.”

“I’m aware of that.” Robin suddenly raced through his words with precision. “So think about it now. You have a choice! You can give that coin to Nottingham, and to the Sheriff, and pay your way and feed yourself and be considered a lawful man. Or you can give it to me, as I ask for it, and show that you can be as generous as I am. If you are my friend, as you claim to be, why would you refuse to do for me that which I gladly did for you?”

Dane opened his mouth to answer, but Robin silenced him with one finger.

“But if you do give it back to me, know that you’re choosing my side. Know that you would be considered an outlaw, as I am. An enemy of Nottingham. I will not take the coin from you, friend, it is yours. I simply want to know what you’ll do with it, when I ask for it back.”

Robin’s hand extended again, just as before, and the room was ever silent. Even the steady patter of rain outside had somehow faded beyond Sarra’s ability to hear it.

Dane resolved himself, the muscles at his jawline flexed. “I don’t think I will, no.”

“You don’t think you will, what?”

“I don’t think I’ll give it back to you.”

Robin Hood’s smile. “And why not?”

“Because when you gave it to me, it was a gift.” Dane swallowed, trying his best to look tall and proud. “I didn’t ask for it. It was your choice to give it. But if you ask it of me, that’s dif­ferent. You always say that nobody should be able to take anything from us.”

“Is that what I always say?”

Dane pursed his lips.

The greyhound man’s fist smashed bloody across Dane’s face and brought him to the floor.

Sarra lost her footing, her heart pounded furiously, and she gasped for air as the crowd reeled in horror. They had all gone blurry—no, there were tears in her eyes—and she blinked them away. Looking twice, she realized the attacker had not used his fist. He was holding a short bludgeon. He flipped the tiny club about in his hand as he heaved Dane back to his knees and pried the gold crown from his fingers.

“Who else received a coin?” Robin barked out, and the other four cowered. “I ask for it back. Do you give it to me?”

In unison they dropped and held out their hands, desperate to be rid of their incriminating prize. The man with the bludgeon gently reclaimed the crowns from two more coin-bearers, then turned with horrifying speed to crash his weapon onto the tops of both their skulls. Sarra screamed, but threw her hand over her mouth to keep from drawing any undue attention her way.

Hugh. She searched desperately for him, but couldn’t avoid watching what was next.

One man and one woman remained, quivering, on their knees. The others cradled their heads, rolling in pain.

“I ask for that coin,” Robin’s ferocity was naked now, “will you give it to me?”

“I don’t . . . I don’t know,” the next man whimpered. He pounded the coin onto the ground and turned to scramble away, but the greyhound man bounded over him and twirled the bludgeon by a short rope at its handle, slinging it upward into the man’s chin. His teeth cracked loud enough to silence the room. Robin seemed startled by something, then wiped the fine spray of blood from his face.

There was still no sign of Hugh.

“I ask for that coin,” Robin growled at his final victim, a thin woman with ratted black hair. “Will you give it to me?” By now, the friar had brandished a thick knife that kept anyone in the crowd from pretending to be a hero.

The woman stayed at her knees but straightened upright and bore herself into Robin’s eyes. “Don’t pretend to give me a choice!” she bellowed back at him, her volume masking her fear. “You’ll hit me either way. You’ll hit me if I give it to you. You’ll hit me if I don’t. You’ll hit me if I do nothing. So hit me. Because you’re going to. You’re going to hit me because you’re a bully.” She clenched her neck. “You’re going to hit me because you’re a coward.”

“No.” Robin held his hand up, staying the greyhound. He crouched down on the balls of his feet to bring his face next to hers. “You’ve got it all wrong, love. You did have a choice. But you already made it.”

He stood.

“I’m going to hit you because you took my money in the first place.”

The bludgeon came up but Sarra closed her eyes before it fell, the sound was enough. The crowd panicked at long last—they’d been frozen in disbelief but now fell prey to hysteria. A few fled into the rain, but the rest were halted by Robin’s voice.

“Quiet!” he shouted. “We are not done here! Nobody leaves.”

Eventually the entire room buckled down, curling into balls, to be as small and unnoticeable as possible.

Sarra slipped down from her post and hid as well, then burst with relief when Hugh splashed out of the crowd and flung himself around her. His face was white, and she engulfed him in her arms that he might see nothing more. She closed her eyes as the tears ran hot down her cheeks and into her son’s hair. But she could not close her ears.

“These five of you took coin from me, and have been punished.” A moment or two of silence. “But I threw six coins.”

The room shifted, Sarra peeked out. Robin picked his way with care through the huddled bodies, a wolf stalking in the bushes. The greyhound signaled— just a nod of his head, really—but it led Robin Hood to stop directly in front of Sarra’s husband.

“Show me your hands.”

“I didn’t get one, none.”

Robin turned back for confirmation. “He does,” the greyhound stated. “I watched him pick it up.”

Back to Rog, Robin’s face was all smiles. “Are you calling my friend a liar? We know you have it.”

Sarra didn’t have enough hands to stop Hugh from watching and also to muffle the whine that rose in her throat.

Rog kept his face stubbornly down, away, his fists behind his back, his mouth tight. He didn’t respond when Robin Hood repeated the demand. Nor when the friar grabbed his shoulders and wrestled him to the ground. Rog simply stayed where he landed, unmoving, as if he could ignore himself out of the room.

“It’ll be better here, you’ll see.”

You’ll see.

The friar handed his knife to the greyhound, then revealed an iron hatchet from beneath his cloak.

“I’m not going to pry your fingers open like a child,” Robin said. “You either give me the coin, or we’ll take a king’s ransom from you. One in four. You hear me, friend? We’ll take your hand.”

Rog made noises, they weren’t quite words.

“Try that again, friend. Use a language this time.”

“I-don’t-have-anything.”

“It’s either in your fucking hand or you gave it to someone else, and I don’t think it’s the latter. Open your fist, then.”

“I don’t . . . I didn’t . . .”

“God’s cock, man. Give me the coin.”

Someone braver than Sarra shouted, “He doesn’t have it!”

Robin looked sideways at the greyhound a third time, who nodded again. Small, but with an absolute and grim certainty. Sarra wasn’t the only one who knew Rog was lying.

Robin hesitated, but his voice was strong. “Alright, Tuck. Do it.”

White funneled in from all sides as Sarra’s vision closed tight on her husband. She felt somehow twenty feet tall, her hands impossibly large and numb, her stomach churned as her balance span, but somehow she kept watching, noiselessly, breathlessly, as they held Rog’s arm across the wooden chest, a strap of leather went around his wrist, the greyhound pulled it tight and stepped on it, Rog’s mouth was open, in pain, maybe, but his hand still a fist, and the friar knelt on him, one knee on his chest, and nobody helped and nobody helped andnobodyhelped and the hatchet split flesh and bone but it didn’t cut the hand off, no, it was left dangling by a strip of slick bloody meat and the friar nearly toppled as Rog screamed, the greyhound went down and kicked Rog in the ribs, they fought and kicked him again until his arm was braced back across the chest a second time and the hatchet chopped down once more, just missing the wrist as he squirmed, gouging deep in his forearm, a well of dark red pouring out, it wasn’t until the third try that the hand came off and Sarra stared at her husband’s blood, it was so much blood, and nobody helped and he didn’t even have a coin and it was so very much blood and Hugh was choking.

Her son was gagging at her breast, struggling to be free, she’d been holding him too tight. She let him loose but held onto his cheeks—always too hard and never hard enough—preventing him from seeing his father’s mutilated arm. Hugh coughed a mouthful of spit into his hands and gasped for air, then buried himself into her chest again.

Friar Tuck was hammering an iron spike through the palm of Rog’s severed hand, nailing it high on the back wall of the Pity Stables.

Robin Hood, his face white, thrust a finger at it. “That’s mine now! And it stays there. I’m starting a collection. If anyone tries to take it down . . .” He may have picked anyone at random to focus on, but it was Sarra’s eyes he found. “Well, you’ve seen how I deal with people who take what’s mine.”

She could only barely feel its tiny uneven ridge through the shawl at her neck, slimy but firmly held in her son’s little hands, but Sarra knew well enough that Hugh had coughed out a gold crown.

Copyright © Nathan Makaryk

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#ICYMI- A Recap of TorCon 2020

A Recap of TorCon 2020

We are so grateful to everyone who joined us for TorCon 2020, and we hope you had as much fun as we did!

If you’re bummed you couldn’t make it to all of the activities, don’t worry, we’ve got your back. You can see the recordings of almost all of TorCon plus some short recaps below!


On the first day of TorCon, Christopher Paolini (To Sleep in a Sea of Stars) and Brandon Sanderson (Rhythm of War) chatted about writing fantasy and science fiction, writing veeerrry long books, steak, and finding truth in fiction. Their event was only available at TorCon, but you’ll get a chance to see their conversation again this fall!


Later on, V. E. Schwab (The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue) and Neil Gaiman (The Annotated American Gods) came together live and in conversation. It was beautiful and inspiring and we stan two legends and we weren’t crying it was just raining directly over our faces.

Rewatch below through Crowdcast:

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Nothing pairs better with brunch than books. So we grabbed a brunch cocktail and joined The Calculating Stars author Mary Robinette Kowal for a balanced brunchfest of book talk…and a sneak peek at her upcoming “Lady Astronauts” novel, The Relentless Moon. Books & Brunch was moderated by Den of Geek contributor Natalie Zutter.

Rewatch now via Crowdcast:

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Authors can take inspiration from anything to write stories, and we got a special inside look into how some of our favorite authors did when WE were the inspiration. At Saturday’s Chaotic Communal Storytime, K. A. Doore (The Unconquered City), S. L. Huang (Critical PointBurning Roses), Arkady Martine (A Memory Called Empire), and Kit Rocha (Deal With the Devil) used audience writing prompts to create a brand new story—filled with MURDER, of course.

Rewatch now via Facebook Live!

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Books are portals to different worlds, or so people say—but what exactly goes into creating those worlds? We joined P. Djèlí Clark (Ring Shout), Charlotte Nicole Davis (The Good Luck Girls), Bethany C. Morrow (A Song Below Water), Tochi Onyebuchi (Riot Baby), and moderator Saraciea Fennell as they discussed worldbuilding, craft, and the fun of creating limitless new universes contained within the pages of their works.

Check it out now via YouTube!

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What better way to enjoy brunch than to pair it with some books? Authors Jenn Lyons (The Ruin of Kings and the upcoming The Memory of Souls) and Nathan Makaryk (Nottingham and the upcoming Lionhearts) joined TorCon for a brunch to end all brunches…complete with MULTIPLE CAMERA ANGLES and dramatic readings from both authors! Books & Brunch was moderated by Den of Geek contributor Natalie Zutter.

Watch it again via Crowdcast:

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Pop culture has shifted its attention to the messy, the morally ambiguous, and the weird, and we’re LOVING IT! We joined some of the genre’s most exciting authors at TorCon to discuss how chaos reigns in their fantasy worlds, the cosmos, and the real world alike. Our panelists included Kate Elliott (Unconquerable Sun), Andrea Hairston (Master of Poisons), Alaya Dawn Johnson (Trouble the Saints), and Ryan Van Loan (The Sin in the Steel) and was moderated by Kayti Burt of Den of Geek.

Rewatch the Chaos and Cosmos panel now on YouTube:

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Technology. Science. Politics. Their books touch on all of these, and they had the chance to talk about it at TorCon. We joined critically acclaimed, award-winning authors Cory Doctorow (Attack Surface, Little Brother) and Nnedi Okorafor (Binti, Remote Control) for our last TorCon panel, and what an amazing way to close out the weekend!

Rewatch this discussion, moderated by Kayti Burt of Den of Geek, via Crowdcast:

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