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8 Haunted House Fantasy Reads to Delight with Fright!

The haunted house is a classic horror set piece. What’s supposed to be a place of reprieve is an iron cage; ensnaring you, forcing you to confront a myriad of ghosts, ghouls, and secrets best left buried. Here are eight titles starring houses to contain your worst nightmares—be they demons, a gaggle of ghosts, or unabashed intimacy.

by Kaleb Russell


masters of death by olivie blakeMasters of Death by Olivie Blake

Viola Marek is both struggling real estate agent and vampire, a facet of identity that both presents a range of different problems and solutions in one’s life. Tragically, it won’t help her un-haunt the house she needs to sell. That’s where Fox D’Mora enters the picture. He’s a medium, so he can help with Viola’s ghost dilemma, but he’s also a complicated sham. He’s not really a medium, but he is the godson of Death (entity). As the quantity of immortal and undying beings tangled with Viola’s ghost house rises, the game begins. It’s a special one. One the immortals play. There is only one rule: Don’t lose. 


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

Everyone’s favorite fifteen-year-old ghostalker, Ropa, arrives at the worldwide Society of Skeptical Enquirers’ biennial conference just in time to be tied into a mystery—a locked room mystery, if an entire creepy haunted castle on lockdown counts. One of the magical attendees has stolen a valuable magical scroll. That’s bad news. But here’s the good news: Ropa can access a unique network of information and intrigue: the castle ghosts.


Just Like Home by Sarah GaileyJust Like Home by Sarah Gailey

At the behest of her estranged mother, Vera Crowder returns home in spite of the tragic memories it holds; memories of the bodies her beloved father (moonlighting as a serial killer) left buried there. One day, Vera starts finding notes written in her father’s handwriting. If it’s not the leech of an artist her mother has chosen to house leaving them, then who is? To find the truth, Vera must dig deep and uncover secrets she’s been running from all her life.


The Family Plot by Cherie PriestThe Family Plot by Cherie Priest

To save their family’s floundering salvage company, Dahlia Dutton is tasked by her father to oversee the stripping of an esteemed heiress’s family estate. Unbeknownst to Dahlia and her crew, there’s a sinister presence at the aged estate looking to wreak chaos before the job is done. The Family Plot is an atmospheric modern Gothic that will leave you reeling.


The Library of the Dead by T. L. HuchuLibrary of the Dead by TL Huchu

The first book in Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights series contains a bevy of haunted houses as a precocious teen explores the haunted underside of modern Edinburgh, speaking to the dead, looking for leads to find the one responsible for snatching children and leaving them empty husks. Huchu’s rendition of Edinburgh is a lush, evocative one that gives the ghosts in this story an air of wonder in lieu of abject fear.


Mapping the InteriorMapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones by Stephen Graham Jones

One night, a young Blackfoot boy named Junior wakes up to find the ghost of his recently deceased father wandering the house dressed in full Blackfoot regalia. To prove to himself he’s real, Junior takes to meticulously diagramming the house’s interior, recording when and where his father appears. It quickly becomes apparent his father’s reappearance is something deeply sinister. Like much of Jones’ work, there is an ache to the writing that’s impossible to ignore. Espousing a kind of hurt that lingers long after you’ve turned the last page.


The Bone Orchard by Sara A. MuellerThe Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

Sole survivor of a race of necromancers, Charm is a prisoner of the Emperor with nothing but her children and her bone trees to bring her solace. One day, as the Emperor lays in his deathbed, he gives Charm one final command: learn which one of his conniving sons is his murderer. She can succeed and be set free, but that entails betraying the ghosts of her fallen people in the process. Will she follow the will of her dead master or forsake the sanctity of the empire to sate her hunger for vengeance? Trade in a haunted house for a haunted bordello and you


Under the Whispering DoorUnder the Whispering Door by TJ Klune by TJ Klune

Charon House is perhaps the most ideal haunted house one would want to reside in; that is, unless you have a paralyzing fear of intimacy, the kind of warm and kind intimacy Klune’s work is best known for. Charon House is a place where the dead crossover with the help of its good natured owner Hugo and the deliciously sarcastic reaper named Mei, although not before helping themselves to hot tea and the most scrumptious scones. But our protagonist, Wallace Price, isn’t ready to pass on. Due to his dour demeanor and cold-heartedness, he’s missed out on all the goodness life has to offer. So, with the help of Hugo, he attempts to live a lifetime in 7 days. Under The Whispering Door is a heartwarming haunted house book about coming to terms with loss and seeking out new beginnings.

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Books & Cookies: Confectionary Literary Holiday Pairing

You like cookies? You like books? Of course you do—you’re not a monster! 

(Unless we’re talking the Cookie Monster)

Actually if you are, in fact, a monster, dear reader, you should probably head over to our horror imprint’s blog at tornightfire.com. BUT monster or no, we’ve composed a sampling of delicious holiday treats and delectable reads for you to check out!


Legends & Lattes by travis baldree in front of biscottiBiscotti — Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

We’re starting this list with that crunchiest of cantuccini paired with the wholesomest high fantasy around. Yes—biscotti is our treat match for Legends & Lattes. Pair this baked goodie with your favorite espresso drink : )


Gingerbread Man — The Genesis of Misery by Neon YangImage Place holder  of - 55

Science fiction mechas are assembled from all manner of precious alloy, but what’s the strongest mineral combination of all? That’d be C12H22O11, or sugar. Since the gingerbread man is basically a mech constructed from the above chemical structure, we recommend you snack on these whilst perusing the pages of The Genesis of Misery


Place holder  of - 50Classic Sugar Cookie — Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald

And speaking of sugar, we can’t get enough of that sweet, sweet stuff, so here it is in its classic form: The Archetypal Sugar Cookie. For those who love the classics, we have to suggest you partake in this treatly feast with a copy of Daughter of Redwinter in your non-cookie-eating hand. It’s a fantasy adventure about a young woman with a bow and arrow she can shoot and ghosts she can unfortunately see, trying to keep alive in a world that would destroy her over her secret ghost-sight powers. 


Snickerdoodles — The Book Eaters by Sunyi DeanImage Placeholder of - 85

Okay, okay. Some personal bias here, but because snickerdoodle cookies are (subjectively, in this writer’s opinion) the most delicious of all cookies, the perfect book match is The Book Eaters. In this book about a reclusive family that literally eats books, the youngest scion has a hankering for brains. Anyway, you’ll be hungry too if you read this with a plate of snickerdoodles in front of you, so you can enjoy stomach-growling solidarity with the novel’s subject matter. 


Poster Placeholder of - 23Peanut Butter Blossom — Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

The scrumptious flavor profile of these cookies is a blend of two components (chocolate + peanut butter), much like the title to T. Kingfisher’s hit novel, Nettle & Bone. Blossoms indicate plants, and though nettles sting, they nonetheless possess a plethora of medicinal properties, according to Wikipedia. Peanut butter is also good for you, I’m pretty sure. For these reasons, this pairing exists, and you should devour both cookies and book. 

*we couldn’t find any royalty-free images of peanut butter blossoms, so we doctored an image that includes peanut butter and blossoms


Jam Thumbprints  — The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-GarciaPlaceholder of  -49

Here we have a dazzling romance with a splash of magic paired with decadent in taste, opulent in aesthetic cookies. We’re matching the classic buckeye cookie with The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The struggle between conformity and passion is delightfully metaphorized by the pull of the jam thumbprint to look as cool as possible while constrained by the necessity to maintain an acceptably cookie-caliber taste.


The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller in front of oatmeal raisin cookiesOatmeal Raisin Cookies — The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

This book by Sara A. Mueller is about Charm, a necromancer / courtesan that has to figure out which of her patron’s garbage sons killed him. The identity of her murdered client complicates things, since he is—was—the emperor who conquered Charm’s home and is responsible for her current predicament (the murder mystery AND her involuntary position). Anyway, this book is paired with oatmeal raisin cookies, because they’re something only a cursed chef (opinion alert) would cook up, and Charm has a lab with heavy mad science vibes where she conducts her deathly arts. 

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5 Murderously Magical Mysteries!

by Kaleb Russell

Everybody loves a good murder mystery! The elements of suspense, deception, and ample misdirection coalesce to form a tightly constructed narrative filled with colorful characters and wrapped up in one big murderous plot. Sweeten the pot with some fantasy magic and you’ve elevated one of storytelling’s classic formats to new genre-bending heights. Here are 6 compelling magical murder mysteries that we think you should check out, including The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal, a spacefaring sleuthing tale that’s available to purchase on 10/22/22 and available for pre-order now!


The Spare Man by Mary Robinette KowalThe Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

Tesla Crane is a brilliant inventor and wealthy heiress—and most importantly—on a delight space-cruise honeymoon with her wonderful husband. When said wonderful husband is arrested on suspicion of on-ship murder, she will leverage her socialite charisma, acumen at banter, penchant for martinis, and assistance from her small service dog to exonerate her husband and uncover the real killer before they strike again.

Poster Placeholder of - 90The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

Sole survivor of a race of necromancers, Charm is a prisoner of the Emperor with nothing but her children and her bone trees to bring her solace. One day, as the Emperor lays in his deathbed, he gives Charm one final command: learn which one of his conniving sons is his murderer. She can succeed and be set free, but that entails betraying the ghosts of her fallen people in the process. Will she follow the will of her dead master or forsake the sanctity of the empire to sate her hunger for vengeance? The Bone Orchard is a lush and gothically atmospheric work that explores the poisonous nature of empire through the moral compromises it foists upon even those it seeks to quash.

Place holder  of - 49Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Heiress of the Ninth House, Bone witch, and all-around curmudgeon, Harrowhark Nonagesimus is summoned to a haunted house in a far off galaxy along with eight other Noble necromancers and her reluctant cavalier, Gideon, to compete in a game of wit and skill for the Emperor’s favor. It’s not long before characters start dropping like flies. If Harrow and Gideon are to survive, they must solve the mysteries of the house as well as its enigmatic occupants. The first book in Tamsyn Muir’s The Locked Tomb series is an enthralling murder mystery with an explosive finale that’ll leave you aching for more.

Image Place holder  of - 65The Alloy Of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Set 300 years after the events of the original trilogy, the world of Mistborn is in the modern age—cities teeming with electricity-powered street lamps and steel-framed skyscrapers touching the stratosphere. We follow Wax, a vagabond from the Roughs forced to return home to Elendel after a family tragedy requires him to holster his guns and assume the responsibilities befitting the head of a noble family. Wax quickly realizes life in a sweeping metropolis can be just as treacherous as the Roughs. In Sanderson fashion, The Alloy of Law is a fast-paced mystery with high stakes, dynamic magic, and gunfights galore.

Placeholder of  -67Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey

A little bit Veronica Mars and a little bit The Magicians, Magic For Liars is about an unhappy, magicless P.I. named Ivy Gamble who ventures to Osthorne Academy for Young Mages to investigate a gruesome murder and maybe even reconnect with her estranged twin sister who just so happens to be a teacher there. Sarah Gailey’s debut novel promises thrills, heartache, and a devastating ending.

Image Placeholder of - 42Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

In this 21st century fantasy, Gods deal and compete with corporations for power and control as necromantic lawyers levy dark magic to litigate their conflicts. Fresh out of law school, Tara Abernathy’s first job as an associate of the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao is to resurrect the deceased fire god, Kos, before pandemonium sets in and the city of Alt Coulumb crumbles from the pressure. When Tara learns the God was murdered, she recruits a chain-smoking priest of the dead god named Abelard to help find the culprit and save the city. Like the other books in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, Three Parts Dead is an insanely smart, dashingly elegant legal thriller that’ll keep you guessing all the way to the huge finale, and pondering the nature of faith weeks after you’ve witnessed it.

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Taking Inspiration From Your TTRPG

Poster Placeholder of - 3Writers draw inspiration from many areasfan fiction, writing groups, and even tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs). Sara A. Mueller, author of The Bone Orchard, joins us today to discuss the similarities between writing science fiction, fantasy, and TTRPGs. Check it out here!


By Sara A. Mueller

Everybody that tabletop role plays knows it’s as much a form of storytelling as writing fiction is, and that the two have the same essential elements – characters and plot and worldbuilding. There are a load of SFF writers who’ve taken inspiration from tabletop RPGs, and a lot of others who did and don’t admit it. And if you’re the person over there sniffing loftily because you didn’t come into SFF writing this way? Knock it the hell off, ya fun-denying killjoy. Eyes on your own work. Starting out in fiction writing is rough, and having a jumping-off point can help. TTRPGs are terrific springboards. To be clear, I’m not talking about adapting the events of a TTRPG into a novel.  What’s the difference between adaptation and inspiration? Adaptation is tailoring a story to fit a different media format. Inspiration is recutting a game story into a whole new garment that’s unrecognizable. The material, and the inspiration, is at your fingertips. Why not use it?

If a whole new story sounds scary, please know that you don’t have to turn a pair of jeans into a ballgown or tuxedo jacket overnight, or even the first time. Original works of fiction take time, and thought, and no, it’s not easy. But, in the end, it’s something that you made entirely yourself, and there isn’t going to be anything else quite like it. Not even if someone else starts from the same pair of jeans.

Before we go any further, let me ask that in taking inspiration from a TTRPG, everybody holds up their right hand and swears to follow the one immutable rule – Thou shalt NEVER. EVER. use someone else’s character in a book without their express permission, and even then… don’t. What you-as-writer end up doing with that character isn’t going to be what the original player would intend, and it shouldn’t be. Feelings can get hurt. Make up a different character, with a different background and backfill your friend’s character slot. It will change the story, but that’s a good thing. Change is the point.

And if you want to write a story inspired by your own player character… (Oh, we still have the sniffer with us…? Sniffer, march your un-supported superiority complex right the hell outta here. Git.) Okay! We’re at your character! The one you love!  You made them, and found some kind of joy in playing them, or you wouldn’t want to write more about them. Start by changing their name. Find baby names resources, draw letter tiles from a word game… whatever. A change of character name can help to incrementally move your expectations away from the original character-as-PC, and let you play more freely with the character-as-protagonist. At first, the newly-renamed character may be much like the original, but a new character name may make it easier for your brain to accept new ideas about that character.

Change the world. It’s ea… no, it really isn’t. I know. So start with the window dressing. The bones of plot are the same in plenty of different kinds of SFF, so for the moment don’t worry about them. Going from horses to space ships or from planes to pegasi can change the tenor of a world not because it changes the plot elements – we’re lookin’ at you, samurai western space fantasy stories – but because it offers different worldbuilding opportunities. Even if people recognize a story’s base structure, new costumes and settings can make for just as much fun. Swap tech for magic, or swap out magic for mental powers. Whatever you’ve got to begin with, go to something else.

Now you have the trappings for your world. You can start to look at ways to tweak it into something newer and more unique. A little more or less magic. A little more or less technology. Or change the requirements for either of those things. Magic, mental powers, super powers, tech…  Mix and match. Matching stripes and polkadots is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. There are plenty of snappy pinstriped suits that look great with the right spotted tie.

Time to face your plot. Plot can be thin to the point of gauze in a lot of TTRPGs. This is where you get to be your own game master. Write an adventure that’s going to matter to your shiny newer-by-the-page protagonist(s). This time it isn’t a random adventure to go along with because it’s what others are doing. Go with a plot with more internal boning and layers than most group TTRPGs will support. Make it personal. Make it hurt. Really dig into the character(s) so you can abuse the livin’ snot out of them. Is it a moral necessity to solve a crime or stand up to an injustice? Is it a job for rent money that’s gonna go heinously wrong, or a friend that’s in trouble, or can the character(s) save their own neck(s)? Do they want to build an empire? Why? I mean, cool, but empire building is a lot of work. What nasty conjunction of fate and events is going to force the character(s) get off their butt(s)? You made the character and played them a lot. You already know this one.

Set up the problem and then follow the new characters, or newly named characters, by plotting or discovery writing or a combination of both. You can always try another method if the first one doesn’t work. I like a generalized idea of what outcome I’m trying to work toward, even if that changes along the way. (Reader, it almost always changes along the way.) Whether you know where you’re going or not, you do whatever works for you-as-writer to get you all the way through to the end. If you get stuck in the middle, back up two or three chapters and for a place that your characters can do something else. If that doesn’t work, swap to plotting or discovery writing, whichever you weren’t doing, and try that to see if it gets you going again.

Was there a cool thing you wish you’d thought to do that one time? Would these characters do something the original counterparts didn’t? Might they find, or have the inability to find, certain information? The outcome might be exactly the same, but the plot they travel can and should shift. If there’s a choice to be made between easier or harder plot-paths, nine times out of ten ‘harder’ is the way to go as long as the characters get to a satisfying end. And if the ending changes as you go? That’s fine. We’re trying to make the best story we can. If you’ve thought of a better, cooler ending? Use that one.

Over the course of the new debacle you’ve inflicted on the character(s), you’re going to get to tell people, in judiciously measured tidbits, why they can’t do anything else but engage with this new plot. Show off their internal thoughts, hopes, courage, fears, the sweetheart they left behind… this time you get to put the emotion on stage where people can see it, no soliloquy required.

So go ahead. Take your favorite TTRPG apart at the seams and break out some cool new fabric for the gaps. Get going with the rivets, lace, armor, or whatever suits you. I won’t lie, the first time will probably be a disaster, but you can always rework it. Writing is forgiving that way. You can take the whole thing back apart. Or maybe you trunk that first disaster and try again and take comfort that at least you got some skill levels out of it. Writing is like that. You level up by doing it. You might only manage the story-equivalent of cut-off shorts the first time. Maybe the next time you figure out a basic skirt, or maybe you make a whole spacesuit. If your heart is set on a literary ballgown or tuxedo, go for it. You already have all the material, and you can level up as you go along. Consider this whole new creation a quest, and the words ‘the end’ as your quest reward. The inspiration is right there.

Sara A. Mueller is the debut novelist of The Bone Orchard, on sale from Tor Books now. 

Order The Bone Orchard Here:

Poster Placeholder of amazon- 64 Place holder  of bn- 66 Place holder  of booksamillion- 55 ibooks2 49 indiebound

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Love The Classics? Try These New Stories!

Classics—we know them, we’ve read them. Basically, we’ve all heard of them. And that is why we put this list together. Fan of Classic A? Check out New Story B. We’ve got a hot list of fantastic new title / classic pairs primed for your perusal 😎

Check it out! 


Poster Placeholder of - 81The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

The Count of Monte Cristo is a much-lauded and time-honored adventure tale of revenge, and an adventure of vengeance is something author Sara A. Mueller delivers in spades with her novel, The Bone Orchard. 

When prisoner, survivor, necromancer, and mistress Charm is summoned to the deathbed of her conquering, now dying emperor, she is charged with determining the fate of the empire by discovering which of his terrible sons has killed him. To do so will deliver her from captivity, but betray the ghosts of her past that still whisper, leaving her with this choice: Justice, or revenge? 

The Bone Orchard is on sale 3/22/22!

Placeholder of  -35The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

The Legend of the Condor Heroes by Jin Yong is a classic tale of adventure, betrayal, and wuxia martial arts. Plots will be hatched, and secrets shared, and pacts broken. 

And for modern fans of the vibrancy of old school martial arts, we have to recommend The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho. It’s a wuxia story about found family, as a bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. 

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is available now!

Image Place holder  of - 25The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

This brilliant epic fantasy from A. K. Larkwood is perfect for fans of Ursula K. Le Guin’s celebrated A Wizard of Earthsea. Fans of Le Guin’s book will remember young wizard Sparrowhawk’s education and coming of age, as well as the devouring shadow that followed him. 

In The Unspoken Name, young orcish death priestess Csorwe’s is haunted by her betrothed: a nameless death god older than the world. But when she receives an unexpected offer of employment from a traveling wizard, she leaves death hanging at the alter* to launch into an incredible and world-spanning adventure of mistakes, love, action, and growth. 

The Unspoken Name is available in paperback now!

ominous mountain shrine filled with many, many bones

Image Placeholder of - 64What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Scary good and scary scary, that’s Edgar Allen Poe’s famed tale of isolation, madness, and the disintegration of the line that separates the known and concrete from everything else. You guessed it: The Fall of the House of Usher

In What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher, the old story is given a grippingly atmospheric and fungus-filled retelling. Yes, fungal. Poe’s work isn’t the only classic that pairs with this suspenseful new book. What Moves the Dead is also perfect for anyone who still can’t get this unforgettable Tumblr post out of their head. Read this if you cannot be killed in a way that matters. 

What Moves the Dead is available on 7/12/22!

Place holder  of - 46The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

There’s a lot to love about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The opulence. The pining. The emptiness of wild parties and vacuity of the lavish. 

Nghi Vo’s The Chosen and the Beautiful retells the story from the perspective of Jordan Baker, who navigates her identity as a queer Vietnamese adoptee and practitioner of magic. Enter demonic pacts, elemental mysteries, and dazzling illusion into the classic we all know as Vo transforms it into something wholly new and absolutely enchanting. 

The Chosen and the Beautiful is available in paperback now!

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On the Road: Tor Author Events in March 2022

It’s a whole new month and we’ve got a whole new slate of exciting author events! Virtual, in person—there’s a little of everything going on.

Check it out!


In-Person Events

TJ Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea

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Tuesday, March 1
Fairfield Public Library
1420 Post Road
Fairfield, CT 06824
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM ET

Saturday, March 12
Tucson Festival of Books, in conversation with V.E. Schwab
The University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
10:00 – 11:00 AM PT

Sunday, March 13
Tucson Festival of Books, in conversation with Xochitl Gonzalez
The University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
1:00 – 2:00 PM PT

John Scalzi, The Kaiju Preservation Society

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Tuesday, March 15
Book Signing
Flyleaf Books
752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
5:30 PM ET

Wednesday, March 16
Book Signing
Eagle Eye Book Shop
2076 N. Decatur Road
Decatur, GA 30033
7:00 – 8:00 PM ET

Wednesday, March 17
Book Signing (hosted by Fountain Bookshop)
Sam Miller’s Restaurant
1210 E Cary St
Richmond, VA 23219
6:00 PM ET

Thursday, March 17
Book Signing
Brookline Booksmith
279 Harvard Street
Coolidge Corner
Brookline, MA 02446
7:00 PM ET

Saturday, March 19
Author Talk + Film Screening of Pacific Rim
The United Theatre
5 Canal Street
Westerly, RI 02891
7:00 PM ET

Tuesday, March 22
Author Talk (hosted by Beyond the Book Jacket)
Parma-Snow Branch
2121 Snow Road
Parma, Ohio 44134
7:00 PM ET

Wednesday, March 23
Book Signing
Boulder Book Store
1107 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302
6:30 PM MT

Thursday, March 24
Book Signing
Prairie Lights Bookstore
15 South Dubuque St.
Iowa City, IA 52240
7:00 PM CT

Friday, March 25
Book Signing
St. Louis County Library
1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd
St. Louis MO, 63131
7:00 PM CT

 


Digital Events

TJ Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea

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Tuesday, March 1
Fairfield Public Library
Virtual Event
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM ET

Thursday, March 31
Port Townsend Public Library
Zoom
6:30 PM PT

Olivie Blake, The Atlas Six

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Thursday, March 3
Powell’s Books, in conversation with Katee Robert
Zoom
5:00 PM PT

John Scalzi, The Kaiju Preservation Society

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Monday, March 14
Barnes & Noble, in conversation with Monica Byrne
Zoom
7:00 PM ET

Sunday, March 20
Poisoned Pen
Facebook Live
5:00 PM ET

Sara A. Mueller, The Bone Orchard

book-alt1

Tuesday, March 22
Powell’s Books, in conversation with Arkady Martine
Zoom
5:00 PM PT

Wednesday, March 23
IG Live, in conversation with Katee Robert
Tor Books Instagram
5:00 PM ET

Thursday, March 24
Mysterious Galaxy, in conversation with Marina Lostetter
Crowdcast
7:00 PM PT

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Thursday, March 31
Odyssey Bookshop, in conversation with John Scalzi
Eventbrite
7:00 PM ET

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Every Book Coming From Tor in Spring 2022

Ready to build up that Spring TBR pile? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Check out everything coming from Tor Books in Spring 2022 here!


March 1

cover of The Atlas Six by Olivie BlakeThe Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity, are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Those who earn a place among the Alexandrians will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams, and each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation. When the new candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have one year to qualify for initiation. One will be eliminated. The six potential initiates will fight to survive the next year of their lives, and if they can prove themselves to be the best among their rivals, most of them will.

March 8

Placeholder of  -79Last Exit by Max Gladstone

When Zelda and her friends first met, in college, they believed they had all the answers. They had figured out a big secret about how the world worked and they thought that meant they could change things. They failed. One of their own fell, to darkness and rot. Ten years later, they’ve drifted apart, building lives for themselves, families, fortunes. All but Zelda. She’s still wandering the backroads of the nation. She’s still fighting monsters. She knows: the past isn’t over. It’s not even past. The road’s still there. The rot’s still waiting. They can’t hide from it any more. Because, at long last, their friend is coming home. And hell is coming with her.

March 15

Place holder  of - 65The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on. What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at least.

Cover of Worlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. Le GuinWorlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. Le Guin, introduction by Amal El-Mohtar

These three spacefaring adventures mark the beginning of grand master Ursula K. Le Guin’s remarkable career. Set in the same universe as Le Guin’s groundbreaking classics The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, these first three books of the celebrated Hainish Series follow travelers of many worlds and civilizations in the depths of space. The novels collected in this Tor Essentials edition are the first three ever published by Le Guin, a frequent winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards and one of the greatest science fiction and fantasy writers of all time. With a new introduction by Amal El-Mohtar, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author.

Poster Placeholder of - 97Three Kings edited by Melinda M. Snodgrass, in the Wildcards World of George R.R. Martin

In the aftermath of World War II, the Earth’s population was devastated by an alien virus. Those who survived were changed forever. Some, known as jokers, were cursed with bizarre mental and physical mutations; others, granted superhuman abilities, became the lucky few known as aces. Queen Margaret, who came to the English throne after the death of her sister Elizabeth, now lies on her death-bed. Summoning the joker ace Alan Turing, she urges him to seek the true heir: Elizabeth’s lost son. He was rumored to have died as a baby but, having been born a joker, was sent into hiding.

March 22

Image Place holder  of - 25The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real. Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself. But now—Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.

Image Placeholder of - 16Destiny of the Dead by Kel Kade

The God of Death is tired of dealing with the living, so he’s decided everyone should die. And he’s found allies. The Berru, an empire of dark mages, has unleashed a terrifying army of monstrous lyksvight upon everyone with a pulse. While the wealthy and powerful, the kings and queens, abandon the dying world, one group of misfits says no more. Through dogged determination and the ability to bind souls to their dead bodies, Aaslo and his friends fight on. In the mountains of the far north, another bastion of defense is opened. Cherrí, the avatar of a vengeful fire god, has united the survivors amongst her people and begun her own war on the invaders. Now, Aaslo and Cherrí must find a way to unite their powers, one divine, the other profane, to throw back the monsters of the Berru, and challenge Death itself.

March 29

Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

The Muungano empire strived and struggled to form a utopia when they split away from old earth. Freeing themselves from the endless wars and oppression of their home planet in order to shape their own futures and create a far-reaching coalition of city-states that stretched from Earth and Mars to Titan. With the wisdom of their ancestors, the leadership of their elders, the power and vision of their scientists and warriors they charted a course to a better future. But the old powers could not allow them to thrive and have now set in motion new plots to destroy all that they’ve built. In the fire to come they will face down their greatest struggle yet.

April 5

Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments by T.L. Huchu

When Ropa Moyo discovered an occult underground library, she expected great things. She’s really into Edinburgh’s secret societies – but turns out they are less into her. So instead of getting paid to work magic, she’s had to accept a crummy unpaid internship. Then her friend Priya offers her a job on the side. Priya works at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies, a very specialized hospital, where a new illness is resisting magical and medical remedies alike. If Ropa can solve the case, she might earn as she learns – and impress her mentor, Sir Callander. Her sleuthing will lead her to a lost fortune, an avenging spirit and a secret buried deep in Scotland’s past. But how are they connected? Lives are at stake and Ropa is running out of time.

Aspects by John M. Ford

Enter the halls of Parliament with Varic, Coron of the Corvaric Coast. Visit Strange House with the Archmage Birch. Explore the mountains of Lady Longlight alongside the Palion Silvern, Sorcerer. In the years before his unexpected death, John M. Ford wrote a novel of fantasy and magic unlike any other. Politics and abdicated kings, swords and sorcerous machine guns, divination and ancient empires—finally, Aspects is here.

April 12

Shadow Fallen by Sherrilyn Kenyon

For centuries, Ariel has fought the forces of evil. Her task was to protect the souls of innocent mortals when they die. Captured by a powerful sorceress, she is transformed into a human who has no memory of her real life or calling. And is plunked into the middle of the Norman invasion of England. Cursed the moment he was born with a “demonic deformity,” Valteri wants nothing of this earth except to depart it and will do his duty to his king until then. When a strange noblewoman is brought before him, Valteri realizes he has met her before…in his dreams. When others come for her, bringing with them preternatural predators, he is faced with a destiny he had no idea was waiting. One he wants no part of.

April 19

Flint and Mirror by John Crowley

As ancient Irish clans fought to preserve their lands and their way of life, the Queen and her generals fought to tame the wild land and make it English. Hugh O’Neill, lord of the North, dubbed Earl of Tyrone by the Queen, is a divided man: the Queen gives to Hugh her love, and her commandments, through a little mirror of obsidian which he can never discard; and the ancient peoples of Ireland arise from their underworld to make Hugh their champion, the token of their vow a chip of flint.

April 26

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

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

The Discord of Gods by Jenn Lyons

Relos Var’s final plans to enslave the universe are on the cusp of fruition. He believes there’s only one being in existence that might be able to stop him: the demon Xaltorath. As these two masterminds circle each other, neither is paying attention to the third player on the board, Kihrin. Unfortunately, keeping himself classified in the ‘pawn’ category means Kihrin must pretend to be everything the prophecies threatened he’d become: the destroyer of all, the sun eater, a mindless, remorseless plague upon the land. It also means finding an excuse to not destroy the people he loves (or any of the remaining Immortals) without arousing suspicion.

Up Against It by Laura J. Mixon

Jane Navio is the resource manager of Phoecea, an asteroid colony poised on the knife-edge of a hard vacuum of unforgiving space. A mishap has dumped megatons of water and methane out the colony’s air lock, putting the entire human population at risk. Jane discovers that the crisis may have been engineered by the Martian crime syndicate, as a means of executing a coup that will turn Phocaea into a client-state. And if that wasn’t bad enough, an AI that spawned during the emergency has gone rogue…and there’s a giant x-factor in the form of the transhumanist Viridian cult that lives in Phocaea’s bowels.

May 3

Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie Hall. Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but getting out isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that Charlie’s shadowless, and possibly soulless, boyfriend has been hiding things from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends into a maelstrom of murder and lies.

May 24

cover of The Origin of Storms by Elizabeth BearOrigin of Storms by Elizabeth Bear

The Lotus Kingdoms are at war, with four claimants to the sorcerous throne of the Alchemical Emperor, fielding three armies between them. Alliances are made, and broken, many times over—but in the end, only one can sit on the throne. And that one must have not only the power, but the rightful claim. The Rajni Mrithuri stands as the chief claimant to the Alchemical throne now, but she and her empire remain a prize to be taken unless she gets an heir. She has her allies–her cousin Sayeh, a dragon, a foreign wizard, a fearsome automaton, and the Dead Man–but the throne has the final say. And if it rejects her, the price is death.

What book are you reading first? Let us know in the comments!

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Download a Free Digital Preview of The Bone Orchard

Place holder  of - 76Sara A. Mueller’s The Bone Orchard is a fascinating whodunit set in a lush, gothic world of secrets and magic–where a dying emperor charges his favorite concubine with solving his own murder, and preventing the culprit, which undoubtedly is one of his three terrible sons, from taking control of an empire. Download a FREE sneak peek today!

Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.

Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.

Charm is a whore, and a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real.

Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.

But now–Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.

If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil — her freedom. But she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.

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Excerpt: The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

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Image Placeholder of - 74“A masterfully woven plot with refreshing narrators ” — Publishers Weekly

Sara A. Mueller’s The Bone Orchard is a fascinating whodunit set in a lush, gothic world of secrets and magic–where a dying emperor charges his favorite concubine with solving his own murder, and preventing the culprit, which undoubtedly is one of his three terrible sons, from taking control of an empire.

Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.

Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.

Charm is a whore, and a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real.

Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.

But now–Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.

If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil — her freedom. But she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.

Charm must choose. Her dead Emperor’s will or the whispers of her own ghosts. Justice for the empire or her own revenge.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller, on sale 03/22/2022. 


CHAPTER ONE

The night breeze off the sea riffled through the bone orchard, playing softly in the ghastly white fruits, making the solid ones clatter while the long bones chimed and fluted. The trees were as foreign to Borenguard as their owner, Charm. She sat in the solarium with the windows open to the mellow night, going over her books. A soothing rhythm of touch, tally, and check, set to the uneven music of her bones.

During the long interim between empresses four and five, the Emperor of Boren had brought Charm to the capital, implanted a mindlock to enforce obedience, and established her in Orchard House. A triumphant prize, his people believed, from across the sea, taken in the Rebellion of Inshil. People of taste and rank forgot such a trifling detail as Inshil’s former independence.

Charm, a creature of neither taste nor rank, had not forgotten. She wore no colors save black, yet she colored her hair every tasteless shade available. There seemed little reason beyond amusement for the Emperor to put up with his conquest’s futile rebellions of color and her turning Orchard House into a gentleman’s club. There seemed even less reason for his continued interest in private Tuesdays at Orchard House, since Mistress Charm was fully a foot too short and her curves far too pronounced for Borenguard’s ideal of beauty. What talents might have sustained the Emperor’s notoriously fickle fascination was cause for speculation over card tables and cigars in Borenguard—not excepting those at Orchard House itself, as long as its proprietress was not in the room.

In a city of gray and damp, Charm was a scintillating, illicit legend.

Now, she toyed with a spiral of today’s brilliant pink hair and rubbed her fingers over the crystal casing of the mindlock in her right temple.

A boneghost with skin like milk glass and eyes the color of blood slipped into the solarium. Assembled from the bones in the orchard, their soft parts grown in a vat, boneghosts did not age. This one had looked eighteen since she’d risen from the growth vat in the greenhouse. If not for her coloring, she would have been the perfect image of Charm herself. Because the boneghosts had skulls identical to Charm’s, they all more or less shared her face.

“Yes, Pain?”

The boneghost laid her colorless cheek down on the gathered black satin of Charm’s skirt. “Prince Phelan is here, Mistress.”

Charm’s pen stopped, hovered in the air above the next column. Too soon. Justice wasn’t out of the growth vat yet. He was here too soon, but a son of the Emperor couldn’t be refused. It wasn’t anything in her mindlock that insisted. This was simply reality. One did not say no to princes if one could possibly help it. One particularly did not say no to Prince Phelan. Charm laid her pen in the carved rest at the top of her writing stand, smoothing her hands down the flawless fit of her black, burlesquely ornate evening gown.

Charm tried to cling to the positive. As long as Phelan remained obsessed with Justice, he wasn’t seeing some other child. Justice wasn’t awake tonight, but he didn’t know that yet. Charm knew, and others must have suspected, that a puckered scar on Phelan’s temple marked the Emperor’s first attempt at mindlock surgery. The surgery had been a resounding failure. All that remained of Phelan’s psychic abilites were fits of uncontrolled rage as famous as his other proclivities. That he lived had been a tragedy second only to the ongoing survival of his eldest brother, Prince Aerleas.

“The lock on his usual room?” It was the only room on the second floor that could not be locked from the inside.

“It works, Mistress.”

“Then we’ll hope we have no need to depend on it. Send him to the second floor. Send him Shame and complimentary supper as my gift to him for his inconvenience.”

“He’ll want Justice,” Pain said softly.

Then he shouldn’t have scalded her last time. According to the Lady’s schedule, she needs another week in the growth vat.”

“Yes, Mistress.” Pain rose and vanished back toward the public front of the house.

Charm picked up her pen, breathed, and went back to her ledger.

Touch. Tally. Check.

From Uptown, the cathedral bells struck twice and went silent. Orchard House closed its doors to incoming customers at two. In the solarium, Charm breathed in the serenity of the bells and the bones. The night was nearly done. The only traffic in the entry now would be customers going home. She sealed her last note, gathered her correspondence, and stopped in sheer surprise.

A woman stood just outside the gates, examining Orchard House. The Lowtowners who worked at Orchard House or came to ask about work came, naturally, to the back door. This was no Lowtown woman. A deep traveling hat buried her face in blackness as absolute as a grave. The satin of her overskirt gleamed palely. She wore a fur stole and muff against the evening’s chill. This was a lady of quality. It was impossible that such a lady would be seen below the Uptown wall, much less at the gates of Orchard House. And yet, she stood just . . . looking.

There was something about the stillness of the woman that raised the hair on the back of Charm’s neck. Even as she rose to go investigate, the noblewoman turned away and foggy dark swallowed her. A chill traced Charm’s arms. She rubbed them briefly. One of her customers would have a bad night when he got home, probably, and that was neither her problem nor her business. She took her letters to the front hall.

Pride, enthroned at the reception desk, stabilized the house. Charm wasn’t sure when she’d become aware of Pride, but was reasonably sure that Pain, Justice, Desire, Pride, and lastly Shame had been the chronological order of the ghosts. Even now that all of them had bodies separate from hers, she found Pride’s serene blindness a comfort.

Upright, lovely, with ashen hair and blue eyes that saw nothing, Pride’s sightless, judging stare reminded each gentleman of how they were to behave when they went upstairs. To break with gentlemanly behavior, even with the outward trappings of rank discarded, was to be barred from the second floor and to risk being unwelcome altogether. To be unwelcome at Orchard House was to lose the political talk of the cardroom, the impeccable dining, and the prestige of being here in the evenings. The only men immune to those rules were the sons of the Emperor. Prince Phelan was still upstairs. Perhaps they would escape his visitation unscathed.

“Tired yet, Pride?” asked Charm, with a smile that Pride could never see.

“Not particularly . . .”

Pain ran down the stairs. Charm’s heart ached in that moment of silence.

“Shame is hurt,” said Pain softly.

Charm’s breath punched out of her. She snatched up her skirts and bolted up the stairs to the second floor as a door along the hallway slammed. Prince Phelan’s cursing and the sound of shattering glass met her halfway up. Even Orchard House’s thick walls and doors couldn’t muffle the sound of his bellows from this close range.

Shame slid down the outside of Prince Phelan’s door, weeping, with the safety key in her hand. Her mousy hair had tumbled out of its pins and one hand held her bleeding face. Her cream-colored dress was stained down the front with cocoa, and down the left side with blood. Something smashed into the closed door and made it shudder, but the stout oak held.

“Oh, Shame . . . Shhh, it’s going to be all right. I’m here. I’ve got you.” Charm tried to be comforting for Shame even as she seethed inside. “Hush now, we’ll fix it. Let’s get you out to the laboratory and see how bad it is.” Charm slipped an arm around the boneghost’s waist, helping her to her feet and down the back stair.

Four Firedrinkers, Borenguard’s elite psychic constabulary, came in the kitchen door as Charm and Shame reached the safety of the bottom landing. Of course. Pain had been in a second-floor room with a Firedrinker. Their comrade heard Prince Phelan’s fit, so all of them knew. Borenguard’s theory was that the Firedrinkers had enough telepaths in their ranks that they were all linked all the time, but the only person likely to truly know was Pain; and Pain could not be forced to speak. Body armor under their scarlet coats, and helmets with mirrored visors, concealed their identities. Only one wore any distinguishing insignia. Charm was grateful to see Captain Oram’s white sash, and hoped it was truly the captain.

Captain Oram’s gift was a rare and exalted one. He was a telepath of immense power. He could suppress Prince Phelan’s rage and take His Highness to Fortress Isle until the princely fit passed. “Mistress,” Captain Oram said. His voice through his helmet visor was identical to every other Firedrinker’s, but given his name and height he certainly seemed male. He inclined his head politely. “We’ll bring Prince Phelan out this way and through the back gate. It will be quieter.”

The words were like stabs. “Of course, Captain. We wouldn’t want a fuss.” Charm all but snarled it, though they were as helpless in this as Charm. Pain, the only one outside of their barracks allowed to see them without their uniforms, had confirmed that every concealing Firedrinker helmet hid a mindlock similar to Charm’s own, and that they had standing orders far more stringent than Charm’s.

One of the newer kitchen girls, possibly her name was Sally, darted forward with a towel from the stack of clean ones by the sink. The other two just huddled and watched with wide eyes. Charm nodded thanks to Sally and helped Shame press it against her slashed face. She kept her arm around Shame across the little kitchen garden and through the orchard. The bones showed stark white where the moonlight touched them, clattered and clicked to themselves. The long brick building past the uneven trees had been a hothouse, once. It didn’t grow orchids anymore. Now, it sheltered far more tender specimens.

Charm unlocked the Lady’s laboratory, stepped inside, and closed the door. She let herself fall back inside her own mind so that the other woman in her head could wake up into the body they shared.

The Lady blinked and leaned on Shame for a moment. The familiar sight of her laboratory steadied her.

Carefully tended coal stoves kept the building a constant temperature and provided a dim orange glow, just enough light to guide them down the half flight of stairs. Growth tanks of glass and steel were ranged neatly along the back wall. The largest tank held a horse skeleton in the middle stages of growing muscles and organs. A creature so large took a long time to grow. The smallest tanks were hardly larger than gallon jars. Lifeless songbirds floated in two of them. They were further along than the horse, feathers just beginning to come in through new skin. The casket-shaped growth tank for her human boneghosts was a little separate from the others, covered with thick black canvas with chains and pulleys hanging over it. Shelves took up part of the other wall, with neatly labeled baskets of bones and trays of surgical equipment. A large table near the shelves was arrayed with beakers, tubes, vials, and catch basins. Storage crocks stood beneath in an orderly row. In the center of the room was a long, marble coroner’s slab.

It was dark outside, the Lady noted. She wondered briefly what time it was, but she knew better than to question her surroundings too closely. It would only make her black out again. One glance at Shame told her why she was awake. It had taken her years to learn to make them, the vessels for the other people in her mind. “Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll fix you.”

The Lady helped her injured ghost to a stool. She tied on a full-sleeved rubberized apron, collected clean clothes and a bottle of antiseptic, then peeled the gory towel away from the boneghost’s face. Shame gripped the edge of the table as the Lady wiped away the blood. The slash ran from just ahead of Shame’s ear to her nose, laying open the length of her cheekbone. Her cheek drooped, showing the white flash of bone and the upper edges of her teeth.

“My fault,” Shame slurred. The left half of her mouth did not work properly.

The Lady slid her fingers over the upper edge of the wound. A knife. The image of it, slipping through Shame’s face, flashed from her fingertips to her brain. The Lady blinked at tears of futile anger. The knife wouldn’t have done more than make a shallow cut on Justice or Desire, easily dealt with by a bit of empathy fluid reduced to gel. It would have left barely a scratch on Pain. Shame, not as resilient as her comrades, didn’t cling to the vat-grown body enough to give it resilience.

Behind the Lady, in their shared skull, Charm watched. There was nothing she could do except bill Phelan for the time Shame would be incapacitated. Ask him to pay for the damages as she might ask him to pay for a broken cup. He might pay. Usually he did not.

The Lady wished she could stop these things happening. She didn’t like her ghosts to be hurt, but neither did she want them back. They were, and should be, separate from her. “This wound is too deep to repair without some help. But we’ll pop you into the tank and everything will be fine,” the Lady told Shame. “I’m sorry this had to happen to you.”

Charm hovered, ready to draw the Lady aside if Shame faltered.

Shame didn’t hesitate. “You’re not to blame, Lady.”

The Lady nodded, wordless. Naturally it was not her fault, but it was kind of Shame to remind her. She got a bottle of solution, washed the wound, then retrieved her suture kit and carefully stitched Shame’s cheek closed. “Let me check how Justice is doing, and once we get her out, we’ll get you in.” She pulled the cover from the human growth tank.

Lavender empathy fluid supported the body of Justice. Eternally fourteen, she floated above the support rack, too lightweight to sink. The Lady had put her here just a week ago. The Lady removed the glass lid on the tank, breathing in the metallic, faintly salty scent of bodies and birth that came from the empathy fluid. She examined Justice’s thighs critically, and found the skin smooth and pink. The scalds had healed almost completely. The Lady lowered the chains, hooked them to the corners of the rack, and winched Justice up out of the tank. The little body sagged against the rack as it came free of the supporting gelatinous fluid. The Lady let the majority of empathy fluid on her drip back into the tank, then swung the rack over the dissection table, and lowered it gently down.

She tipped Justice out of the rack onto her side, making sure Justice’s head with her sodden braid hung over the edge. Thick, syrupy fluid strung down from Justice’s nose and mouth, draining into a pail on the floor.

“The fluid in the tank is still usable,” noted the Lady. “That’s fortunate.” Empathy fluid was the second-rarest substance in the world, second only to the Rejuv that kept the Imperial family and their chosen few eternally frozen in age. It wouldn’t do to waste it. She got the rack back over the tank, fetched warmed blankets from their chimney cupboard to wrap Justice’s body and warm her up. The Lady prepped an injection from a blue glass bottle and slid it into the dead boneghost’s carotid artery. She suctioned a little more fluid out of Justice’s airways while the body’s temperature came up. When Justice was warm, she started resuscitation. Chest compressions and then breathing into the little body.

The Lady ejected the part of her that was Justice into the body, struggling for a moment to get the clinging ghost out of their mind. She isn’t me. Her experiences are no part of me. I’m the daughter of the Chancellor, not this girl who has to sit sorting people all day.

Justice jerked, coughed, and dragged in a breath.

The Lady rolled her onto her side again, rubbing her back soothingly. “There now. I’d have liked to give you more time, but this will do.”

Justice looked around the lab, wobbly as a new-hatched chick. She curled up, clutching the blankets, and squeezed her eyes closed. Tears slid across the bridge of her nose.

“Just lie still for a moment. I must get Shame into the tank,” the Lady soothed her.

Justice craned her head to see Shame sitting, bloody and disheveled. She shivered and curled tighter.

While Shame undressed herself, the Lady prepared a syringe of oubain and an ether mask. She cranked the support rack over the human tank down so the rack was mostly submerged, but with the head end still clear of the fluid.

Shame’s distinction was obvious, once she was nude. From throat to feet she was covered with a swirling birthmark the color of Blood Field wine. She stepped into the tank, lying back against the padded steel bands. The Lady put the ether mask over her mouth and nose and carefully dripped in the ether. Shame’s eyelids sagged.

The Lady kissed Shame’s forehead gently. “Sleep well,” she told her ghost. The Lady took a firm grip on the syringe, but lowered the needle again. Shame slept, her face at peace. It was always hard to make the final strike. It would let the ghost back into her mind, even though the Lady didn’t have to see or interact with her.

All animals strove to live, but Shame never had. Perhaps more had gone wrong with Shame than her skin. Shame needed to be kept alive just as much as the Lady’s other creations, and with Justice back in the tank so frequently these days, it would take far too long to grow Shame an entirely new body. It would be bad enough to know Shame was with her for this little time. To have her that much longer, and risk reabsorbing Justice as well . . . The Lady steeled herself with the thought. Shame must die instantly if the body was to be salvaged.

The Lady stabbed the needle between Shame’s ribs and into her heart. The boneghost arched up for one moment, then collapsed as the Lady pressed the oubain into her heart. Lights danced across the Lady’s vision and the world whirled unsteadily as her own heart stuttered in sympathy.

In the confinement of their shared skull, Charm drew Shame’s battered consciousness back behind the barriers that preserved the Lady’s innocence. She cradled Shame close.

The Lady’s dizziness passed. It always made her queasy to kill or animate a boneghost. Animals never troubled her. Only her ghosts were so difficult. She pulled the needle free of Shame’s chest. The Lady smoothed the mouse-colored hair gently. “Poor thing, you just don’t have enough strength,” she murmured.

She lowered the body the rest of the way into the empathy fluid, then pushed the lid onto the tank and covered it with its black cloth so that light wouldn’t discolor the healing wound.

Justice got herself up to sitting, and after a moment more got to her feet. The Lady smiled. Justice was so strong. The Lady was always glad she’d made this ghost a body, even if the bones had been too small for an adult, and, because the bones grew separately on a tree instead of naturally in a body, one femur was slightly longer than the other. “How are you?” the Lady asked.

Charm watched through the Lady’s eyes. Justice sniffled, getting control, and Charm hated herself viciously for doing this to Justice. Of all of them, Justice. She should’ve thought of a way to refuse Phelan. Now Justice was going to have to deal with him again. The Firedrinkers would let Phelan out as soon as his immediate rage had passed, and everyone would go on pretending just as they always had.

“I’m f-fine, Lady. Just cold,” Justice assured her.

“Put your feet into Shame’s shoes, then, and hurry to get a bath to warm yourself up,” instructed the Lady. “Not too hot, your thighs will still be tender.”

“Yes, Lady.” Justice helped herself along the table to where her cane leaned by the stair. She left the shoes, let herself out, and limped away into the dark.

The Lady sat with her hands folded serenely together in her lap, listening to the bones in the orchard as they chimed and clattered in the breeze. At first it had seemed as if with more boneghosts she had fewer blackouts, but she wasn’t sure anymore. In Inshil, she had been awake almost all the time. She had never been conscious much in Borenguard, though she had this garden behind a great house, and her trees, and this laboratory where some kind person got her everything she could leave notes about. The world beyond this sanctuary was dangerous. The Lady rose, went to the shelf of baskets, reminding herself what bones were still needed for each partial skeleton, then picked up a pair of secateurs. She was awake, and her immediate duty was done; she would tend the bone trees, and collect any bones that were ready. Invisible and undetected, Charm stalked in the back of the Lady’s mind. She wrestled with useless anger, and kept Shame safe.

Copyright © Sara A. Mueller 2022

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