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Every Tor Paperback Coming this Winter

Love books? Us too! So much that we’re rounding up every paperback coming from Tor Books this winter, right here. Check it out!


The Atlas Paradoxthe atlas paradox by olivie blake by Olivie Blake

Six magicians were presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Five are now members of the Society. Two paths lay before them. All must pick a side. Alliances will be tested, hearts will be broken, and The Society of Alexandrians will be revealed for what it is: a secret society with raw, world-changing power, headed by a man whose plans to change life as we know it are already under way.

Stations of the Tidestations of the tide by michael swanwick by Michael Swanwick

From author Michael Swanwick—one of the most brilliantly assured and darkly inventive writers of contemporary fiction—comes the Nebula award-winning masterwork of radically altered realities and world-shattering seductions. The “Jubilee Tides” will drown the continents of the planet Miranda beneath the weight of her own oceans. But as the once-in-two-centuries cataclysm approaches, an even greater catastrophe threatens this dark and dangerous planet of tale-spinners, conjurers, and shapechangers. A man from the Bureau of Proscribed Technologies has been sent to investigate. For Gregorian has come, a genius renegade scientist and charismatic bush wizard. With magic and forbidden technology, he plans to remake the rotting dying world in his own evil image-and to force whom or whatever remains on its diminishing surface toward a terrifying, astonishing confrontation with death and transcendence.

The Cage of Dark Hoursthe cage of dark hours by marina lostetter by Marina Lostetter

Krona and her Regulators survived their encounter with Charbon, the long-dead serial killer who returned to their city, but the illusions of their world were shattered forever. Allied with an old friend they will battle the elite who have ruled their world with deception, cold steel, and tight control of the magic that could threaten their power, while also confronting beasts from beyond the foggy barrier that binds their world. Now they must follow every thread to uncover the truth behind the Thalo, once thought of as only a children’s tale, who are the quiet, creeping puppet masters of their world.

Red Team Bluesred team blues by cory doctorow by Cory Doctorow

Martin Hench is sixty-seven years old, single, and successful in a career stretching back to the beginnings of Silicon Valley. He’s a—contain your excitement—self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long war between people who want to hide their money and people who want to find it. He’s made some pretty powerful people happy in his time, and he’s been paid pretty well. It’s been a good life. He’s always been on the red team, the attacking side, hunting down grifters, fraudsters, and crooks. In this kind of combat, the defenders, the blue team, have to win 100% of the time, while the red team needs to win only once. But now, Martin’s been roped into a job that’s more dangerous than anything he’s ever done before, and worse, he’s playing on the blue team. It’ll take every ounce of his skill to get out alive.

In the Lives of Puppetsin the lives of puppets by tj klune by TJ Klune

In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots—fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe. The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled “HAP,” he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio–a past spent hunting humans. When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio’s former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic’s assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming. Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: Can he accept love with strings attached?

The Mystery at Dunvegan Castlethe mystery at dunvegan castle by t l huchu by T. L. Huchu

Ropa Moyo is no stranger to magic or mysteries. But she’s still stuck in an irksomely unpaid internship. So she’s thrilled to attend a magical convention at Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye, where she’ll rub elbows with eminent magicians. For Ropa, it’s the perfect opportunity to finally prove her worth. Then a librarian is murdered and a precious scroll stolen. Suddenly, every magician is a suspect, and Ropa and her allies investigate. Trapped in a castle, with suspicions mounting, Ropa must contend with corruption, skulduggery and power plays. Time to ask for a raise?

Tsalmothtsalmoth by steven brust by Steven Brust

First comes love. Then comes marriage… Vlad Taltos is in love. With a former assassin who may just be better than he is at the Game. Women like this don’t come along every day and no way is he passing up a sure bet. So a wedding is being planned. Along with a shady deal gone wrong and a dead man who owes Vlad money. Setting up the first and trying to deal with the second is bad enough. And then bigger powers decide that Vlad is the perfect patsy to shake the power structure of the kingdom. More’s the pity that his soul is sent walkabout to do it. How might Vlad get his soul back and have any shot at a happy ending? Well, there’s the tale…

Cascade Failurecascade failure by l m sagas by L. M. Sagas

There are only three real powers in the Spiral: the corporate power of the Trust versus the Union’s labor’s leverage. Between them the Guild tries to keep everyone’s hands above the table. It ain’t easy. Branded a Guild deserter, Jal “accidentally” lands a ride on a Guild ship. Helmed by an AI, with a ship’s engineer/medic who doesn’t see much of a difference between the two jobs, and a “don’t make me shoot you” XO, the Guild crew of the Ambit is a little . . . different. They’re also in over their heads. Responding to a distress call from an abandoned planet, they find a mass grave, and a live programmer who knows how it happened. The Trust has plans. This isn’t the first dead planet, and it’s not going to be the last. Unless the crew of the Ambit can stop it.

The Wardenthe warden by daniel m. ford by Daniel M. Ford

Only the extraordinary are chosen. Only the cunning survive. 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.

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Ongoing Series of 2023

Hey! Hot Continuations of Science Fiction and Fantasy Series in Your Area!

Check out our unfinished stories that continue to spin in 2023!


The Cradle of IceThe Cradle of Ice by James Rollins by James Rollins

The second book in the New York Times bestselling Moonfall series from thriller-master James Rollins, The Cradle of Ice is a page-turning tale of action, adventure, betrayal, ambition, and the struggle for survival in a harsh world that hangs by a thread. And check out his volume one, The Starless Crown, now available in paperback!

On Sale Now!


The Cage of Dark HoursImage Placeholder of - 36 by Marina Lostetter

The Cage of Dark Hours is the second novel in the epic fantasy trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter, where the defeat of a serial killer back from the dead has pulled the mask off the myths and magics of a fantastical city.

On Sale Now!


Furious HeavenPoster Placeholder of - 35 by Kate Elliott

Furious Heaven is Kate Elliott’s highly anticipated sequel to the thrilling space adventure Unconquerable Sun!

On Sale 4.18.23


Stan Lee’s The Devil’s Quintet: The Shadow SocietyStan Lee's The Devil's Quintet: The Shadow Society by Stan Lee & Jay Bonansinga by Stan Lee & Jay Bonansinga

Born of the legendary imagination that brought us Spider-Man, The Avengers, The X-Men, and an enduring universe of marvelous heroes and villains, Stan Lee’s The Devil’s Quintet return to take on a fiendish new adversary: The Shadow Society.

On Sale 5.9.23


Fractal Noise by Christopher PaoliniFractal Noise by Christopher Paolini

A new blockbuster science fiction adventure from world-wide phenomenon and #1 New York Times bestseller Christopher Paolini, set in the world of New York Times and USA Today bestseller To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.

On Sale 5.16.23


Cassiel’s ServantCassiel's Servant by Jacqueline Carey

The lush epic fantasy that inspired a generation with a single precept: “Love As Thou Wilt.” Returning to the realm of Terre d’Ange which captured an entire generation of fantasy readers, New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey brings us a hero’s journey for a new era.

On Sale 8.1.23


RavensongPlaceholder of  -21 by TJ Klune

The beloved fantasy romance sensation by New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune, about love, loyalty, betrayal, and joy. The Bennett family has a secret: They’re not just a family, they’re a pack. Ravensong is Gordo Livingstone’s story.

On Sale 8.1.23


Devil’s GunDevil's Gun by Cat Rambo

No one escapes their past as the crew of the You Sexy Thing attempts to navigate the hazards of opening a pop-up restaurant and the dangers of a wrathful pirate-king seeking vengeance in Cat Rambo’s Devil’s Gun.

On Sale 8.29.23


The Mystery at Dunvegan CastleThe Mystery at Dunvegan Castle by T.L. Huchu

Duels, magic, and plenty of ghosts await in The Mystery at Dunvegan Castle, the third book of T. L. Huchu’s USA Today bestselling Edinburgh Nights series.

On Sale 8.29.23


Traitor of RedwinterImage Place holder  of - 91 by Ed McDonald

The second in Ed McDonald’s Chronicles of Redwinter, full of shady politics, militant monks, ancient powers… and a young woman navigating a world in which no one is quite what they seem.

On Sale 10.24.23


MalarkoiMalarkoi by Alex Pheby

Volume 2 of the Cities of the Weft

On Sale 10.24.23


Bookshops & BonedustBookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

When an injury throws a young, battle-hungry orc off her chosen path, she may find that what we need isn’t always what we seek. Set in the world of New York Times bestselling Legends & Lattes, Bookshops & Bonedust takes us on a journey of high fantasy, first loves, and second-hand books.

On Sale 11.7.23


All the Hidden PathsPlace holder  of - 89 by Foz Meadows

The follow-up to Foz Meadows’s A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, a sultry political & romantic fantasy exploring gender, sexuality, identity, and self-worth.

On Sale 12.5.23

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Every Book Coming From Tor in Winter 2023

It’s a new year and that means new books to keep you warm and cozy this winter! Check out everything coming from Tor Books in Winter 2023.


January 17

Image Place holder  of - 7Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi; Illustrated by Gris Grimly

Now a Netflix original movie! This edition includes an introduction by Guillermo del Toro.

Once there was a lonely woodcutter named Geppetto-who dreamed of having a boy of his own. So one day he carved a boy out of wood and named him Pinocchio. When the puppet comes to life, it’s Geppetto’s dream come true. Except Pinocchio turns out to be not such a nice boy after all. Pinocchio enjoys nothing better than creating mischief and playing mean tricks. As he discovers, being bad is much more fun than being good. Happily for Pinocchio, he will learn that there is much more to being a real boy than having fun.

January 31

The Terraformers by Annalee NewitzThe Terraformers by Annalee Newitz

Destry’s life is dedicated to terraforming Sask-E. As part of the Environmental Rescue Team, she cares for the planet and its burgeoning eco-systems as her parents and their parents did before her. But the bright, clean future they’re building comes under threat when Destry discovers a city full of people that shouldn’t exist, hidden inside a massive volcano. As she uncovers more about their past, Destry begins to question the mission she’s devoted her life to, and must make a choice that will reverberate through Sask-E’s future for generations to come.

Placeholder of  -38Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead. And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead. But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days. Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home.

February 7

The Cradle of Ice by James RollinsThe Cradle of Ice by James Rollins

To stop the coming apocalypse, a fellowship was formed. A soldier, a thief, a lost prince, and a young girl bonded by fate and looming disaster. Each step along this path has changed the party, forging deep alliances and greater enmities. All the while, hostile forces have hunted them, fearing what they might unleash. Armies wage war around them. For each step has come with a cost—in blood, in loss, in heartbreak. Now, they must split, traveling into a vast region of ice and to a sprawling capital of the world they’ve only known in stories. Time is running out and only the truth will save us all.

February 14

Hopeland by Ian McDonaldHopeland by Ian McDonald

When Raisa Hopeland, determined to win her race to become the next electromancer of London, bumps into Amon Brightbourne—tweed-suited, otherworldly, guided by the Grace—in the middle of a London riot, she sets in motion a series of events which will span decades, continents and a series of events which will change the world. From rioting London to geothermal Iceland to the climate-struck islands of Polynesia, from birth to life to death, from tranquillity to terror to joy, Raisa’s journey will encompass the world. But one thing will always be true. Hopeland is family—and family is dangerous.

Poster Placeholder of - 90The Cage of Dark Hours by Marina Lostetter

Krona and her Regulators survived their encounter with Charbon, the long-dead serial killer who returned to their city, but the illusions of their world were shattered forever. Allied with an old friend they will battle the elite who have ruled their world with deception, cold steel, and tight control of the magic that could threaten their power, while also confronting beasts from beyond the foggy barrier that binds their world. Now they must follow every thread to uncover the truth behind the Thalo, once thought of as only a children’s tale, who are the quiet, creeping puppet masters of their world.

February 21

Place holder  of - 9Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

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.

March 28

Rubicon by J. S. DewesRubicon by J. S. Dewes

Sergeant Adriene Valero wants to die. She can’t. After enduring a traumatic resurrection for the ninety-sixth time, Valero is reassigned to a special forces unit and outfitted with a cutting-edge virtual intelligence aid. They could turn the tide in the war against intelligent machines dedicated to the assimilation, or destruction, of humanity. When her VI suddenly achieves sentience, Valero is drawn into the machinations of an enigmatic major who’s hell-bent on ending the war—by any means necessary.

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Hot eBook Sale: January 2023

start the year right / start the year with ebook deals / you can scroll down to find them / read them and love them

Check it out!


Gardens of the Moongardensifthemoon by Steven Erickson — $3.99

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

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Too Like the Lightningmacmillan-2 by Ada Palmer — $3.99

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer—a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away. In this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

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The Traitor Baru Cormorantmacmillan-3 by Seth Dickinson — $3.99

Baru Cormorant believes any price is worth paying to liberate her people-even her soul. When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, overwrites her culture, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her fathers, Baru vows to swallow her hate, join the Empire’s civil service, and claw her way high enough to set her people free. Sent as an Imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn, another conquered country, Baru discovers it’s on the brink of rebellion. Drawn by the intriguing duchess Tain Hu into a circle of seditious dukes, Baru may be able to use her position to help. But the cost of winning the long game of saving her people may be far greater than Baru imagines.

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The Helm of Midnightmacmillan-4 by Marina Lostetter — $2.99

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city. Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question. It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

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Luna: New Moonmacmillan-5 by Ian McDonald — $2.99

The Moon wants to kill you. Maybe it will kill you when the per diem for your allotted food, water, and air runs out, just before you hit paydirt. Maybe it will kill you when you are trapped between the reigning corporations-the Five Dragons-in a foolish gamble against a futuristic feudal society. On the Moon, you must fight for every inch you want to gain. And that is just what Adriana Corta did. As the leader of the Moon’s newest “dragon,” Adriana has wrested control of the Moon’s Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family’s new status. Now, in the twilight of her life, Adriana finds her corporation confronted by the many enemies she made during her meteoric rise.

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Ender’s Shadowmacmillan-6 by Orson Scott Card — $3.99

The human race is at War with the “Buggers”, an insect-like alien race. The first battles went badly, and now as Earth prepares to defend itself against the imminent threat of total destruction at the hands of an inscrutable alien enemy, all focus is on the development and training of military geniuses who can fight such a war, and win. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin was not the only child in the Battle School; he was just the best of the best. In this new book, card tells the story of another of those precocious generals, the one they called Bean—the one who became Ender’s right hand, part of his team, in the final battle against the Buggers.

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Excerpt Reveal: The Cage of Dark Hours by Marina Lostetter

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The Cage of Dark Hours by Marina Lostetter

The Cage of Dark Hours is the second novel in the epic fantasy trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter, where the defeat of a serial killer back from the dead has pulled the mask off the myths and magics of a fantastical city.

Krona and her Regulators survived their encounter with Charbon, the long-dead serial killer who returned to their city, but the illusions of their world were shattered forever.

Allied with an old friend they will battle the elite who have ruled their world with deception, cold steel, and tight control of the magic that could threaten their power, while also confronting beasts from beyond the foggy barrier that binds their world.

Now they must follow every thread to uncover the truth behind the Thalo, once thought of as only a children’s tale, who are the quiet, creeping puppet masters of their world.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Cage of Dark Hours by Marina Lostetter, on sale 2/14/23.


2

Krona

Krona watched with a pained grimace—well hidden behind her helm—as the crack of the Matron’s whip drove the line of prisoners forward, toward the Penalty Block. The noise was sharp, and the gathering crowd jumped at its snap. The prisoners, however, were desensitized to it, plodding onward evenly, approaching Krona and Tray’s position at the base of the Penalty Block listlessly.

The lawbreakers had walked there in a processional from the nearest House of Penalty—a place very different from any other jail or prison. It was both coterie and confinement—a place for those who’d earned the gods’ wrath to repent before receiving their punishment.

The sky was clear overhead, bright and still—in a way that made the pentagonal shape of the public gathering place seem cheery. But being well lit and the air calm only guaranteed the gore to come would shine all the starker. Sunlight would glint off the fresh blood, and any screams of pain would not be muffled by the wind.

There were six who would pay Knowledge’s penalty today. Six with their heads hung low, and their shoulders hunched and their wrists bound—the last time their hands would make a tidy pair. Six who’d fancied themselves deserving of forbidden knowledge.

And one of them Krona had personally apprehended.

His name was Yonder Jamiss. An academic—which was no surprise, really. Those who most often slighted Knowledge’s orders were those most enamored of the very thing fey represented: wisdom, intellect, discovery. Knowledge knew hubris often accompanied a keen mind, and that’s why fey had tried to temper intellectual hastiness with feir commandment.

Monsieur Jamiss was a bit different from his fellow prisoners today; the forbidden advancements he’d attempted to make weren’t in mechanical engineering, nor chemistry, nor medicine, nor enchantment.

No, his crime had been astronomy.

Well, his crime had also been stealing an enchanted spyglass, which was why a Regulator had been assigned to the concern in the first place, and why Krona had made the arrest. But that was not the crime for which he’d lose a hand. Optics had been what interested him, and his desire to develop a better telescope by which to see the planets and the stars had so overwhelmed him that it had condemned him.

Krona watched him closely, even as she and Tray mounted the steps at the rear of the Penalty Block to take their place on one side of the raised stage. His brown hair fell ragged and dirty around his ears, over his brow. Uneven stubble covered his cheeks, and he looked at his chained feet as he shuffled forward.

A stark contrast to the tidy, confident man she’d apprehended.

The thickly planked staging area was large enough to accommodate a dozen hangings at once, but today it featured only a half a dozen wooden pedestals. A second pair of Regulators—from a first-district den—flanked the opposite end of the Penalty Block, helms on, visors down, marching together in perfectly stoic synchronicity. Once all four of them were in place, the pair nodded in tandem to Tray and Krona, and the two of them nodded back.

It was the first time Krona had felt the intimidation of the uniform staring back at her. The cherry red of their visors—which she often thought of as a warm splash of color on her own uniform—seemed cold, lifeless, and mildly gruesome. Like dried blood. The horns on their helms, which matched hers perfectly, were fit for goring. Instead of the rich, onyx-colored leather representing duty and strength, for an instant she saw it as the physical incarnation of demanding brutality.

The aura projected by the first-district pair was one of pressure. Krona was used to embodying that pressure—to personifying order and control. Putting on the helm and becoming a faceless enforcer was usually a relief. It was where she felt confident and prepared. It was the part of her life that had clear, meetable expectations. There were laws and she upheld them . . .

Until she took off the uniform in the evening and broke them just the same as these poor sods about to lose their limbs.

She suddenly couldn’t breathe in her own helmet. Her armor became absurdly claustrophobic. She wanted to tear at its seams, pull down her collar, throw off her bracers, and toss her helm into the crowd.

But she never let her posture change. Though her muscles twinged with the effort, shaking minutely, she held herself steady and projected serenity. She could not let her own inner failings become a concern to the outer world.

Still, Tray knew her well enough to realize something was wrong. “Steady?” he asked via reverb bead.

“I’m fine,” she answered flatly.

The line of prisoners arrived at the Penalty Block, and the Matron ordered them to climb the stairs. The crowd began to shift and murmur, knowing what was to come, their collective mood shifting from excited to uneasy in turns. Jamiss was the third onto the stage. There was no way for him to recognize Krona, and though it should have been a comfort, instead it sent cold guilt fluttering through her like a snow flurry.

Each prisoner was shackled to the planks behind a wooden pedestal, and one of their arms at random forcibly placed atop the plinth. A metal cuff was bolted over their forearm, to keep it pinned in place.

Krona looked away as Jemiss turned pleading eyes onto the crowd, knowing no one there could be counted on to save him.

She was the same as these people on the chopping block. She’d spit just as firmly in Knowledge’s face, seeking forbidden information. She’d done it over and over.

And she’d do it again without hesitation. This very day, even. As soon as the sun went down.

There were words for the kind of hypocrisy she was engaged in—which was not just the hypocrisy of do as I say, not as I do but the sanctimoniousness of one willing to dole out punishment to others for committing the same sins simply because she was in a place of power and they were not.

She recognized all this—rolled it over in her mind and on her tongue and let it boil in her belly until she felt sick—and yet she had no intention to make it right.

She would not call for the executioners to stay the penalty. And she would not turn herself in.

Nor would she stop.

I have my reasons, she told herself, even as she immediately scoffed and thought, They all have their reasons.

When each prisoner was locked in place, the jeers started in earnest. The crowd hurled insults at the blasphemers, and their tongues cut Krona just as sharply.

The executioner took up their axe, and the Matron from the House of Penalty began reading off the first prisoner’s crimes.

Krona tuned her out, let her hearing go fuzzy.

Only secondary to her guilt in this moment was disgust at her own self-pity. Here she was, protected by her station, nauseated at her own actions, while right beside her, half a dozen people were about to truly suffer.

And for what?

All of the Penalties, save this one, could be seen as attempts to balance the societal scale. For disobeying the gods, they owed their fellow peoples a debt.

Nature demanded one toil for others. The deadening of emotion did not mean those emotions went to waste but that they were added to the state’s stockpile, which was purchased by Emotioteurs and circulated in their enchanted stones. And Time’s penalty—an early death—was exacted in a number of ways. The most societally beneficial was applied to tax dodgers. Extra time was pulled from them, which directly boosted the economy, putting more time vials on the streets to balance out the number drained by old aristocrats cashing out.

But Knowledge’s penalty . . .

Krona flinched as the executioner’s axe fell the first time, and it did not escape Tray’s notice.

. . . Those severed hands would become pig feed, nothing more.

The first prisoner wailed relentlessly as a set of healers pulled her free of her restraints and dragged her off the Penalty Block. Out of sight from the crowd, they’d do what they could to stop the bleeding and bandage what remained of her wrist.

Stepping over the fresh streaks of blood, the Matron—a younger woman than her station evoked, with deep black hair and an equally black dress—read out the second prisoner’s crimes.

Krona’s eyes caught on the blood, the way it painted the wood and shone in the late-morning sunlight. She’d served as witness to plenty of Penalties in the past three years. She’d seen people hanged—their necks snapped, their eyes unseeing and their bodies limp. She’d seen them robbed not just of limbs but of life. And yet that one hand on the chopping block, the fresh blood flowing freely, pumped by a healthy heart, felt different in ways she could not fully order in her mind.

She was no stranger to blood. But the last time she’d seen it with that par- ticular shimmer, it had stained grass instead of planks. And it had been flowing not from a wrist but from a neck.

Her sister’s neck.

Unconsciously, she slapped a palm against the jaguar mask clinging to her belt, letting its presence steady her.

What I do is not blasphemy, she insisted to no one but her inner demons. I have to right this wrong. Knowledge knows what I search for is just.

The axe fell again.

Thwack.

This time, it wasn’t just the owner of the dismembered limb that cried out, but Monsieur Jemiss next to him as well. Tears began to fall down his cheeks in earnest as the bleeding man was dragged away and the Matron began to list Jemiss’s misdeeds.

You could stop this, a part of Krona insisted. He wanted to look at the stars. He wanted to better see the world as it really is. Does he really deserve to lose his hand? Even if she stopped the axe from falling today, it would fall tomorrow instead. She didn’t have the power of pardon. She was a cog in the justice system’s machine. Its gears turned round and round and round, and she turned round

with it.

To stop the Penalty today wouldn’t save Jemiss’s hand. It would only pull Krona into an unnecessary spotlight.

The Matron finished her reading and stepped aside. The executioner approached.

Jemiss squirmed and begged, leaning as far away from the oncoming axe as his restraints would allow. “No, please. No—no, please!”

He clenched and unclenched his doomed fist, and Krona watched his face contort through every possible expression of panic and fear.

He did this to himself. His own actions condemned him, not you. I should be right there with him, right there beside him.

Her station let her get away with the very thing she condemned others for. The executioner lifted their heavy blade.

Jemiss’s pleas increased.

It was over in the blink of an eye. The heavy thump of the blade passing through bone and flesh to catch on the block of wood beneath provided the bass to Jemiss’s treble of a scream.

The witnessing left Krona shaken but undeterred.

As the crowd dispersed and the amputees were cared for, Krona, Tray, and the other pair of Regulators left the scene to return to their respective duties. She had a difficult time mounting Allium, so wobbly were her legs. So numb were her hands.

Tray didn’t hide his concern. “Krona, are you feeling all right? Are you sick?” “Just fatigued,” she dismissed. “Fitful sleep these last few nights.”

He didn’t press her, but the answer clearly wasn’t satisfactory.

Lost in thought as they rode toward their next destination, an asylum, Krona gazed out toward the Valley rim, wondering what the gods truly thought of her.

Copyright © 2022 from Marina Lostetter

Pre-order The Cage of Dark Hours Here:

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Six SFF Books That Feature Investigative Mysteries

Place holder  of - 54The sense of wonder in sci-fi and fantasy can come from many places: the vastness of space, the intricacy of a magic system, the inventiveness of new worlds, the all-consuming power of fabled gods, etc. For me, a sense of wonder and a sense of mystery are closely linked—big, important questions are often at the heart of both. My first novel, Noumenon, focused on the generations-long investigation of a strange alien artifact encompassing a star. My latest novel, The Helm of Midnight, follows a Regulator who—while in pursuit of an enchanted death mask that contains the gruesome knowledge of a long-dead serial killer—discovers her entire world is built on lies.

Whether it’s the traditional gumshoe approach of a series like The Dresden Files, or the more subtly-investigative storylines like many found in The Witcher, I enjoy mystery plots as much as I enjoy mysteries woven into the world building. Here are six SFF investigative mysteries that ask you to break out your magnifying glass and zero in on the unknown.

By Marina Lostetter


Image Placeholder of - 61A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

It’s not often one is tasked with investigating their own death, but that’s the position Yskandr finds himself in from the get-go in this space opera of vast proportions.

The Yskandr we meet is not flesh and bone, but an imago, essentially a self-aware memory implanted in our main character, Mahit. The imago was given to Mahit in order to help her integrate into her new station as Yskandr’s ambassadorial successor. He is both real and unreal, a part of Mahit and yet separate. The imago’s memories end fifteen years before the death of the man himself, and are thus only tangentially helpful to the puzzle of his own murder.

What follows is a story of political subterfuge, assassination, and creation. Empires are messy, complicated things, and existential threats to control and power are often met with full-bodied violence. Fans of Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya universe (which includes stories like The Tea Master and the Detective, found further on this list) will appreciate the complexities of A Memory Called Empire.

Image Place holder  of - 4The Sin and the Steel by Ryan Van Loan

The Sin and the Steel is a fantasy for readers keen on The Golden Age of Piracy who might already be fans of stories like Tim Power’s On Stranger Tides.

The prose is captivating, the world building all-encompassing, and while the main characters, Buc and Eld, are an investigative team that shares many of the Sherlock/Watson hallmarks, I hesitate to call them Sherlockian because their dynamic is much more complex than that. Eld is a veteran with wisdom beyond his years, and Buc is a brilliant but flawed observer. Yet, Buc is free of the class-related pretentiousness that a lot of Sherlockian detective characters are prone to. She is not a pampered, misunderstood individual of privilege√quite the opposite. And Buc and Eld’s clients don’t simply hire them to investigate, they hire them (or, er, encourage them, shall we say) to solve the problem even if that means sinking ships and angering gods.

The story is ultimately a tale of adventure, filled with swashbuckling, magic wielding, and overwhelming supernatural forces.

Poster Placeholder of - 69Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Not all investigations are performed by detectives; sometimes they’re performed by a determined teen and the ghost he accidentally summoned. In this YA paranormal romance, Yadriel is a trans boy trying to navigate a world of gendered magic. He knows the type of magic he wields affirms his gender, but not everyone who has pledged themselves to Lady Death and become fully-fledged members of the brujax see it that way.

When a family emergency prompts him to prove that his magic is his, things go awry. Enter Julian, a dead boy from Yadriel’s school who didn’t know he was dead until Yadriel inadvertently summoned his spirit.  Now that Julian is conscious, he refuses to leave Yadriel alone until they find out exactly what happened to him.

The story’s emotional core is built right into the premise: boy falls in love with ghost. But it’s certainly not love at first sight. It’s only over the course of their investigation into Julian’s death that Yadriel steadily falls. This is a star-crossed-lovers story à la The Little Mermaid, with vivid world building and a beautiful, achingly-earnest exploration of what it means to live fully as ourselves, no matter how others might see us.

Placeholder of  -1The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

This is a wonderfully imagined space opera in de Bodard’s Xuya universe, which itself sports a vibrant setting, intricate scientific concepts, and a plethora of interesting characters.

The Tea Master and the Detective is more or less what it says on the tin; it is a Sherlockian-style mystery, where The Shadow’s Child, a mindship (which can be oversimplified as human-spaceship hybrid), plays the Watson-esque foil (complete with war-time backstory) to brilliant-yet-eccentric detective, Long Chau.  But to simply call it Sherlockian misses the intricacies brought to the characters via the alternate history aspect of the worldbuilding, in which China, not Europe, first colonized the Americas.

It is a well-woven tale of murder and intrigue, but it’s the relationship between The Shadow’s Child and Long Chau—as well as the depth of character they individually display—that makes this such a memorable read. If the oligarchies of Dune and the habitats of Ringworld are your chosen fare, then this investigative tale is for you.

The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore

A reluctant assassin becomes a desperate investigator in this secondary-world fantasy that focuses in on what a life is really worth.

Set in the desert city of Ghadid, much of the world’s power an economy rests on the control of water. Our main character, Amastan, belongs to a family of assassins who are more like elite city protectors than murderers-for-higher, but he’s still understandably dubious about becoming a professional killer. Even when the targets are water-wasters and infiltrators, and the contracts are all officially sanctioned by the drum chiefs.

When a drum chief winds up dead, it soon becomes clear that someone is taking aim at Amastan’s family—framing them for the murder, and putting targets on their backs. He sets out to discover who the real killer is, before they all take the fall and the city’s protections are fatally weakened.

With tense scenes full of restless spirits, water magic, and plenty of parkour, this is a fun action-based mystery. Fans of Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand and Rati Mehrotra’s Markswoman will be swiftly drawn into the city and shadows of Ghadid.

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

An Unkindness of Magicians is a dark, modern-day urban fantasy in which the fate of the underground order of magicians is determined by a series of duels. Each political house employs a champion to vie for supremacy on their behalf, and much of the book follows Sydney, a magical interloper battling on behalf of an old household, though her ultimate goal is to tear down the system.

But underneath the competitive spectacle is something more sinister. There’s a serial killer on the loose, and the deaths are somehow tied to recent magical failings. It’s a mystery within a mystery, where discovering the killer is not only an essential goal, but a clue to where the most influential houses actually derive their literal power, and why that power might be fading. It’s not up to a detective, but instead Harper—an outsider to the Unseen World—to figure out who is committing the murders. Her stakes are very personal: the killer took her best friend.

The magic in Howard’s work is extremely visceral, as are the consequences of said magic. The duels often end bloody—a result not just of the battle, but of harnessing so much power. If you’re a fan of competition-centric fantasy like The Goblet of Fire or The Hunger Games, but want to see that competition in an adult book, this one’s for you.

#

Investigative tales come in all shapes and sizes, and when combined with specfic elements, can bring an entirely new dimension to that sensawunda you seek. What are your favorite SFF books featuring investigations?

Marina Lostetter is the author of The Helm of Midnight, the dark and stunning first novel in a new trilogy that combines the intricate worldbuilding and rigorous magic system of the best of epic fantasy with a dark and chilling thriller. The Helm of Midnight is available anywhere books are sold 04/13/21.

Pre-order The Helm of Midnight Here:

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On the (Digital) Road: Tor Author Events in April 2021

We are in a time of social distancing, but your favorite Tor authors are still coming to screens near you in the month of April! Check out where you can find them here:

Jenn Lyons, The House of Always

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Friday, April 9
San Antonio Book Festival Panel: It’s the End of the World As We Know It
More info here
4:00 PM CT

Everina Maxwell, Winter’s Orbit

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Sunday, April 11
San Antonio Book Festival Panel: Something Queer is Happening Up In Space
More info here
1:00 PM CT

Marina Lostetter, The Helm of Midnight

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Monday, April 12
Towne Book Center
TK
7:00 PM ET

Thursday, April 15
Tubby & Coos
Facebook
6:00 PM CT

Monday, April 19
Mysterious Galaxy, in conversation with Jenn Lyons
TK
6:00 PM PT

J. S. Dewes, The Last Watch

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Tuesday, April 2o
A Room of One’s Own, in conversation with John Scalzi
Register Here
7:00 PM CT

Wednesday, April 21
Prairie Lights Bookstore, in conversation with Mary Robinette Kowal
Zoom
7:00 PM CT

Wednesday, April 28
Read the Room panel, in conversation with Nnedi Okorafor, Corey J. White, Naomi Kritzer, and Charlie Jane Anders hosted by Birchbark Books
Register Here
6:00 PM ET

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Every Book from Tor Coming in Spring 2021

Spring is in the air, and a new season means, you guessed it, NEW BOOKS!!! Check out everything coming from Tor Books in spring 2021 here:


March 1

Place holder  of - 53A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options. In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction—and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion. Or it might create something far stranger . . .

March 16

Poster Placeholder of - 31The Fiends of Nightmaria by Steven Erikson

The king is dead, long live King Bauchelain the First, crowned by the Grand Bishop Korbal Broach. Both are ably assisted in the running of the Kingdom of Farrog by their slowly unravelling servant, Emancipor Reese. However, tensions are mounting between Farrog and the neighboring country of Nightmaria, the mysterious home of the Fiends. Their ambassador, Ophal D’Neeth Flatroq, seeks an audience with King Bauchelain. But the necromancer has some other things on his plate. To quell potential rebellion nearly all the artists, poets, and bards in the city have been put to death. A few survivors languish in the dungeons, bemoaning their fates. Well, just moaning in general really…and maybe plotting escape and revenge.

March 23

Image Place holder  of - 52Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Now in a Tor Essentials edition, the Hugo Award-winning, uncannily prophetic Stand on Zanizbar is a science fiction novel unlike any before in that remains an insightful look at America’s downfall that allows us to see what has been, what is, and what is to come. Now withan introduction by cyberpunk pioneer Bruce Sterling, author of Distraction and Islands In the Net.

April 13

Image Placeholder of - 25The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city. Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question. It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

Placeholder of  -26Breath by Breath by Morgan Llywelyn

In Breath by Breath, book three in the trilogy, the residents of Sycamore River have weathered the Change and the nuclear war it provoked. They emerge to try to build a life from the shattered remains of their town. But for some, the very air has become toxic. The people of Sycamore River have to survived the unthinkable. Can they build something new from the ashes? Llywelyn blends her signature character-driven portrait of small-town life with the appeal of William Fortschen’s One Second After.

April 20

image-37675The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes

The Divide. It’s the edge of the universe. Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it. The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military. At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer–genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather’s genetic facility for “reasons.” She knows they’re humanity’s last chance.

image-37934Fortress of Magi by Mirah Bolender

The Hive Mind has done the impossible—left its island prison. It’s a matter of time before Amicae falls, and Laura Kramer has very few resources left to prevent it. The council has tied her hands, and the gangs want her dead. Her only real choice is to walk away and leave the city to its fate.

April 27

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip. When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage.

May 4

Immunity Index by Sue Burke

In a US facing growing food shortages, stark inequality, and a growing fascist government, three perfectly normal young women are about to find out that they share a great deal in common. Their creator, the gifted geneticist Peng, made them that way—before such things were outlawed. Rumors of a virus make their way through an unprotected population on the verge of rebellion, only to have it turn deadly. As the women fight to stay alive and help, Peng races to find a cure—and the cover up behind the virus.

May 11

The House of Always by Jenn Lyons

In the aftermath of the Ritual of Night, everything has changed. The Eight Immortals have catastrophically failed to stop Kihrin’s enemies, who are moving forward with their plans to free Vol Karoth, the King of Demons. Kihrin has his own ideas about how to fight back, but even if he’s willing to sacrifice everything for victory, the cost may prove too high for his allies. Now they face a choice: can they save the world while saving Kihrin, too? Or will they be forced to watch as he becomes the very evil they have all sworn to destroy.

May 25

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path. But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark. Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants. Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s.

June 1

The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and they sure do love to talk. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to those they left behind. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and strength. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. Ropa will dice with death as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And although underground Edinburgh hides a wealth of dark secrets, she also discovers an occult library, a magical mentor and some unexpected allies. Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

Alien Day by Rick Wilber

Will Peter Holman rescue his sister Kait, or will she be the one to rescue him? Will Chloe Cary revive her acting career with the help of the princeling Treble, or will the insurgents take both their lives? Will Whistle or Twoclicks wind up in charge of Earth, and how will the Mother, who runs all of S’hudon, choose between them? And the most important question of all: who are the Old Ones that left all that technology behind for the S’hudonni . . . and what if they come back?

June 8

Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe

The Book of the New Sun is unanimously acclaimed as Gene Wolfe’s most remarkable work, hailed as “a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis” by Publishers Weekly.

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Excerpt: The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

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Placeholder of  -8A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter, on sale 04/13/21!


Krona had been called to a fair few scenes of violence in her three years as a Regulator. Crimes of passion often took place around enchanted items—usually arguments over ownership rather than any sort of magically aided conflict—and in her opinion it took little skill to kill. “No, not exactly. You see, it was Charbon’s knowledge of anatomy that allowed him to dissect and rearrange the bodies as he did. His will to kill might very well be engrained in his echo, but it was his intricate knowledge of the internal workings of a human, and his capacity to dismember a body just so, that Eric Matisse preserved.”

The man nodded, as though considering this. He hemmed and hawed for a few more moments, then blurted, “And which of these baubles would you say Magistrate Iyendar is the most proud of?”

Perhaps an innocent question. Perhaps not. “I don’t know him personally,” she said carefully.

The man took a small, sliding step back toward the brooch. New tears brimmed at the edges of his eyes, and he used his sleeve to dab at his nose. “Surly it’s not the ruby,” he said, jaw clenched. “The feelings of others never did interest him.” Trembling fingers clenched and unclenched. “Tell me, Regulator, where would you be the evening after your granddaughter’s passing? At a gala?” He reached for the glass.

“Monsieur, please move back.” She put a warning hand on the hilt of her saber, simultaneously sucking in the reverb bead. “I may have a problem,” she murmured.

“Understood,” chimed three replies in her ear.

Monsieur Iyendar the younger—for now she was sure—did not touch the case, but turned on her. “Where would you be?” he demanded. “Would you make your son leave his child’s side? Would you make him endure pleasantries for the sake of face?”

Krona’s chest tightened, but it was not her place to inquire after—or, save the Five, make judgments about—the Chief Magistrate’s family. “Monsieur—”

With a strangled sob, he skipped backward, toward another pillar. “He likes the masks best. I know he does. This one with the fish, what’s so dangerous about it?”

She caught sight of Tray moving in from the front, and Sasha walking stiffly from the other side of the collection, both dodging potted palms and guests alike.

“The mask belonged to Lord Birron. He was very skilled in opiate refinery,” she said placatingly, taking Iyendar by the elbow. “Please, monsieur. Come away with me. To that seat just over there.”

He threw her off. “No. If these trinkets mean more to him than my daughter, I shall examine them until I am content.” His palms smacked against the case, leaving sweaty smears.

Wishing the others would move faster, she unsheathed her saber. “You know I am fully within the order of the law to remove you.”

“So remove me!” he shouted.

Faces snapped in their direction, carrying various expressions from irritation to interest.

“Do you want to cause a scene?”

“A scene?” he scoffed, feigning scandalization. “I resent the idea that I would in any way desire to disrupt the Magistrate’s perfect evening.”

“How may we be of aid?” Tray asked as he and Sasha drew up on the opposite side of the pillar.

In contrast to the frills, alternating high-low collars, and soft lines of the attendees’ clothing, Regulator uniforms were simple, yet imposing. The three of them looked like black pieces from an artisan chess board. Tall, wide helms—roomy enough to accommodate an enchanted mask beneath, though one wasn’t always worn—spanned shoulder to shoulder, making the Regulators look like neckless, faceless, multihorned beasts. Long leather coats gave them strong, box-like proportions, and many Regulators, like Krona, chose to bind their chests beneath. The coat topped a pair of umanori, which made for easy movement and encompassed knee-high boots with thick-heeled soles.

The only snatches of color on the uniform belonged to their bracers, faceplates, and weaponry.

“Oh, yes, helpful, aren’t you?” Monsieur Iyendar spat. “Make sure no one’s smile cracks, make sure no one has a pout, or scuffs a shoe, or breaks a nail.”

He babbled on, all the while holding the glass case between his palms.

“Monsieur, I believe you’ve indulged too much this evening,” Sasha said, grabbing one wrist and wrenching it behind his back.

“Unhand me!” he shouted.

The guests’ casual glances had turned to stares, and the natural, joyous flow of the room halted.

“Unhand me, unhand me!” he continued to shout as Tray took his other arm. The two Regulators dragged him in reverse, but he lashed out with his feet before they could put any distance between the grieving man and the collection.

A flailing boot caught the upper portion of the pillar, sending it off-balance.

Krona’s heart leapt as she lunged for the mask case. The stand toppled away, beyond her reach. A resounding crash brought even the violinists’ music to an end.

A jagged blast pattern fanned away from the overturned stand. The mask itself—carved of hardened cherrywood, depicting two blue carp swimming in opposite directions with waves and cherry blossoms swirling around them—appeared unharmed. Krona thanked the Five for small favors.

As the young Monsieur Iyendar was hauled bodily through a side door that led to the catering kitchens, the three remaining Regulators—Royu, Tabitha, and De-Lia—hurried toward her position. They urged the guests back while she contained the scene.

“What happened? That was my son.” The booming voice of the Chief Magistrate echoed in the conservatory. He was a tall man that led with his belly, and his hands seemed perpetually fisted and ready for shaking at the air. He was of an age most people could never hope to see. Well into his sixties, approaching seventy. Krona was sure he’d cashed in many of his family’s time vials.

“Please stay back, Monsignor. We have a containment issue,” said De-Lia, holding out a barring hand.

Sweat beaded across Krona’s forehead as she squatted down near the shards of glass. From her side satchel she brought out a velvet containment bag, lined with mercury-infused threads. Carefully, she slipped the mask inside.

Why hadn’t she defused the situation sooner? She should have forced him away from the display as soon as she’d confirmed he wasn’t of joyous mood. He was an outlier. Outliers were always dangerous because they were unpredictable.

Securing the cloaked mask in her pack, she set the pillar upright in time to notice three men from the Nightswatch rush through the main doors. All other eyes were turned in her direction, and thus failed to notice.

She sucked on the reverb bead and marched over to the next display case. “I think we should secure the rest of the collection. I don’t like—”

Movement outside the window caught her eye. Something shifted in the darkness, bulky and covered in spines. Or maybe it was simply the wind riling the shrubs. No, there—the eyeshine was unmistakable.

“Varg,” she said breathlessly, keeping the bead firmly beneath her tongue. “We have a varg.”

“How did it get past the Watch?” asked De-Lia.

Krona addressed the crowd, doing her best to keep the fear out of her voice; a panicked rush for the doors would only make things worse. “I need everyone to back away from the windows, please.”

She was glad for the enchanted gemstones on her arms. Vargerangaphobia, the healers called her condition. An intense fear that went well beyond the natural aversion most people possessed. She had nightmares about the monsters, dreams that often left her screaming and sweaty in her darkened apartment. Their huge, hulking forms would stalk her in her sleep; somewhat canine, somewhat bear, and somewhat unique horror all to themselves, they were misshapen, violent aberrations of nature.

Without the borrowed emotions in her bracers, Krona would have curled up on the spot.

“How many?” De-Lia pressed.

“I only see the one.”

“Loners don’t come into the city, there have to be more. Quickly,” she said to the other Regulators, “get the Magistrate out of here.”

Krona drew her quintbarrel. The specialty steam gun—made for shooting down varger with five-inch, needle-like ammunition—possessed five cylinders, each with its own type of shot. After every pull of the trigger, the barrels automatically rotated, bringing the next firing chamber in line with the striker.

Five types of varger, five types of needles. They were the only instruments that worked against the monsters, and even then you couldn’t kill them, only contain them.

“Holster that,” De-Lia chided, pulling out her own quintbarrel. “You’re staying here.”

“I can do it, I passed my—”

“That was on the range, not a varg in sight.” The stern tone of her voice said, We both know what happens when you get too close to the monsters.

Krona cursed, silently admitting to herself that De-Lia was right. She’d only just passed her quintbarrel rearmament exam—her score embarrassingly low. She could use a blunderbuss just fine—snip the hair off a horse’s chin at a distance. But a quintbarrel would always make her think of varger. The weight of it in her hand muddled her mind, and a small voice of doubt whispered to her, You can’t do it, you can’t do it, no matter how hard she fought for the contrary.

Once more, Krona drew her saber. “A miss with a quintbarrel is better than a hit with a blade,” she protested. At least with a quintbarrel you get a second shot, a hit with a blade won’t so much as slow one down. Everything in her body screamed to pick up the gun again, no matter her past failures. “I can’t take a varg down this way.”

“You won’t have to,” De-Lia assured her.

Krona looked to the guests again; a few of them were inching toward the glass. “Back away!” she ordered.

Several partygoers mistook Krona’s command as an invitation for the opposite; they flocked to the panes, trying to decipher what had gotten the Regulator so excited. A flash of long fangs clued them in to the danger.

“Varger!” one woman screamed, her tight, high-collared bolero doing nothing to restrain her voice. “Varg. There’s a varg!”

The quiet murmurings in the hall erupted into shouts and bellows. Part of the crowd rushed toward the windows for a better look. Another portion dashed for the doors, creating a bottleneck of bodies. A third segment huddled together in the center of the conservatory floor, subconsciously deciding safety lay in numbers.

“Let’s hope it’s not a jumper,” De-Lia said before springing into action. The five types of varger each possessed their own devastating abilities. Jumpers could disappear and reappear one minute outside, in the next. “I need all Regulators on site into the poppy garden, promptly. Single varg spotted, pack suspected. Krona, finish with the display. Tray, find the nearest Nightswatchmen and recruit—we need to direct our noble mesdames and messieurs to safety.”

“There are three from the Nightswatch—” Krona began, but, scanning the crowd, she couldn’t find them again. “Never mind. Understood.”

Holding her gun high, so as to keep it away from the frantic guests, De-Lia marched out of the conservatory.

Before attending to the other artifacts, Krona went to the windows, putting herself between the panes and the people. “Back away.” They skidded away from her sword, as though only just now grasping her authority. “Varg protocol. We don’t know what types are out there, so I need you all to—”

Thunk.

Krona whirled. On the other side of the glass stood a varg, head lowered, eyes trained on her. Its long, misshapen snout curled in a snarl. Thick saliva dripped from its jaws, and green pus oozed from one of the many fist-sized boils poking through its spiny fur. As she watched, it padded away, disappearing beyond the reach of the gaslight glow.

After another moment it returned, running at full speed toward the smorgasbord. Today’s special: humans under glass.

Another resounding thunk. The panes rattled, and a small spider’s-web crack splintered across the green expanse. Someone sobbed. A gentleman fainted.

In the darkened garden, a series of flashes revealed shots fired from a quintbarrel. The special powder blazed boiling-hot, bursting the steam chambers that sent needles straight and true at high speed. But the gunman’s target was not the assaulting varg.

At least it’s not a jumper; if it was a jumper people would be dead already, Krona assured herself.

“Nightswatch: hah!” yelled an officer from the entryway. “If you’ll all find a partner and follow the Watchmen through to the hourglass catacombs, please. Orderly, orderly, please! We aren’t common, now are we?”

People streamed out the doors in a rush of neutral colors, looking for all the world like a wash of dirty water. Watchmen pulled stragglers out from behind trees and benches.

Thunk. Crack.

Outside, more gunfire. The flashes illuminated the streams of people. The Watchmen were quickly losing control of their charges—nobles darted out of the building and into the garden instead of the entrance to the catacombs, screaming, running with no destination in mind, just panic in their hearts.

More varger appeared, catching the nobles’ cries and running toward them like the sound was the blaring of a dinner bell.

“Look away!” Krona shouted at the partygoers still frozen before her, still enwrapped with the monster trying to beat its way inside. “Look away!”

One of the panicked men came running at the solarium, almost directly for the varg attacking the glass. Perhaps it was a mimic—masters of camouflage that could blend into the environment. Perhaps the man thought it nothing but a bush rustling in the wind. The varg spun, its hackles raising, spines flaring. The man realized too late that teeth were before him.

“Turn away!”

Outside, the flashes from the needle guns made everything appear as though it were happening at half speed.

Flash, and the man’s expression shifted from panic to fear.

Flash again and it was horror—

Flash again and the varg was leaping—

Another flash and claws were tearing—

Flash, blood, flash, viscera, flash, bone.

Flash, flash, flash.

Krona turned away herself, clamping down on the bile in her belly that wanted to escape. The emotion stones in her bracers helped her focus, the magical boost of courage and resolve keeping her fears muted and pushed to the back of her mind.

There were maybe a dozen nobles left inside, and they were fighting the Watch to stay.

“The monsters are outside! We’re safe here, safe indoors!”

“There are some in the kitchens!” a Watchwoman argued. “Our best bet is to get you off the grounds!”

With gory bits of sinew and fat dangling from its jaws, the varg at the window turned to the glass anew. The beast sought its first goal once more.

Thunk. Crack.

Perhaps it was a love-eater. They sought prey with strong emotions, those wallowing in love, or hate, or guilt, or . . . jealousy.

The cracks in the glass seemed to paint a bull’s-eye directly on Krona’s back.

Additional fissures appeared. Hopefully the pane would hold long enough for Krona to gather the enchanted goods.

Kicking and screaming, the last of the guests were hauled bodily from the room. But their hollering only worsened. Reverberations of pain and horror echoed from the halls. Krona did all she could to block them out and focus on her task. The Watchmen would see to the people. The Regulators would see to the varger and enchantments.

The strongbox in which they’d transported the items lay tucked at the back of the room. With the conservatory now empty, she darted to it, setting her saber aside and throwing open the lid to dig out the specialty cases formed to fit each piece.

Three boxes in hand, she spun—

and a great weight barreled into her. She fell, and the boxes flew to the side, skidding across the polished marble. Whatever had hit her now held her down, scrabbling at her uniform. It pushed her faceplate against the floor and tore at her arms.

But she refused to stay pinned.

Working one hand free, she stretched for her saber. Her reach came up short. Mere inches separated her from her weapon.

Sharp knives—or claws, claws—raked down her trapped left arm, tearing off her lower sleeve, taking both her bracer and skin with it.

As the bracer flew away, it felt as though a deeply embedded thread—like a lifeline wrapped around her heart—was yanked from her body. She felt every inch of the invisible link slide through her insides, tearing and ripping.

The left bracer contained the enchanted yellow topaz, a stone imbued with borrowed courage. Its magic filled in the void of her fear, covered over the emotional wounds with bandages of bravery.

But now the stone was gone. Point two seven grams of courage, gone.

And with a possible varg on her back, she didn’t have a drop of her own courage left.

Fear stopped her lungs, but with her last intake she caught a whiff of moldering fur and rancid breath. The smell was primal. It called up images of blood and bones, tearing and open wounds. And festers. Varger always had festers, as though the very air caused their skin to boil and burn.

I’m going to die, she cried out in her mind, though the panic that swamped her was so complete she could barely think in words.

The monster continued to claw at her, tearing at her shoulders, looking to swipe off her helm. It beat her head into the floor, pressed down on her shoulder blades, and drew more blood.

The memory of that first varger attack when she was young—so many years ago—assaulted her. It buzzed through her brain like a swarm of locusts. She knew what came next, once a varg had you down. It would rip and grind, masticating its prey thoroughly before consuming it.

She’d turned away this evening—couldn’t watch it happen through the rippled sheen of green glass. But she’d seen it happen in grotesque living color before, taken in the scents of masticated human and varg saliva and hot stomach acid.

She’d seen it happen right at her feet.

To her father.

There was a flash in her mind.

Dark, dark blood. A gaping hole where a throat should be . . .

A growl suddenly curled against her ears, but it sounded wrong. She knew what a varg sounded like: otherworldly. A sound no other creature could mimic. Deep, and high, and far, and near. A varg call vibrated in your very bones. This was not that sound.

Her bravery may have evaporated, but she still had her right bracer—still had the resolve granted by the red garnet.

Kicking, she reached, willing her tendons to stretch, willing her fingertips to extend.

A blade won’t work against a varg.

I won’t die without a weapon.

Copyright © Marina Lostetter 2021

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Image Place holder  of - 90A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter. Download a FREE sneak peek today!

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

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