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$2.99 eBook Sale: November 2022

It might be NOvember, but just look at these hot eBook deals! You could never say NO to books like Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez or The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu!

Anyway, check out these epic deals 😎


RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi by John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers. Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to realize that (1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and (3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Then Andrew stumbles on information that transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

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Gil’s All Fright DinerGil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez by A. Lee Martinez

Duke and Earl are just passing through Rockwood county in their pick-up truck when they stop at the Diner for a quick bite to eat. They aren’t planning to stick around-until Loretta, the eatery’s owner, offers them $100 to take care of her zombie problem. Given that Duke is a werewolf and Earl’s a vampire, this looks right up their alley. But the shambling dead are just the tip of a particularly spiky iceberg. Seems someone’s out to drive Loretta from the Diner, and more than willing to raise a little Hell on Earth if that’s what it takes.

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EverfairEverfair by Nisi Shawl by Nisi Shawl

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated. Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history.

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The Beautiful OnesImage Placeholder of - 87 by Sylvia 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. 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. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.

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Invisible PlanetsInvisible Planets, edited by Ken Liu edited by Ken Liu

Invisible Planets, edited by multi award-winning writer Ken Liu–translator of the bestselling and Hugo Award-winning novel The Three Body Problem by acclaimed Chinese author Cixin Liu—is his second thought-provoking anthology of Chinese short speculative fiction. Invisible Planets is a groundbreaking anthology of Chinese short speculative fiction.

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Trouble the SaintsTrouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Amid the whir of city life, a young woman from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear among its most dangerous denizens. Ten years later, Phyllis LeBlanc has given up everything—not just her own past, and Dev, the man she loved, but even her own dreams. Still, the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she keeps in her heart. And so Phyllis will have to make a harrowing choice, before it’s too late—is there ever enough blood in the world to wash clean generations of injustice?

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Sweep of StarsPlace holder  of - 83 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.

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The Library of the Dead by T. L. HuchuThe 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. But what she learns will rock her world. 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.

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Willful ChildWillful Child by Steven Erikson by Steven Erikson

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the…And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’

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Ball Lightning by Cixin LiuBall Lightning by Cixin Liu

When Chen’s parents are incinerated before his eyes by a blast of ball lightning, he devotes his life to cracking the secret of this mysterious natural phenomenon. His search takes him to stormy mountaintops, an experimental military weapons lab, and an old Soviet science station. The more he learns, the more he comes to realize that ball lightning is just the tip of an entirely new frontier. While Chen’s quest for answers gives purpose to his lonely life, it also pits him against soldiers and scientists with motives of their own: a beautiful army major with an obsession with dangerous weaponry, and a physicist who has no place for ethical considerations in his single-minded pursuit of knowledge.

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EPICLY FANTASTIC MEGA EBOOK SALE DAY: 10/16/22

Big News: We’re all eBook sale, all day, but only for today (Sunday, 10/16/22)! Get every title on this epic list for $2.99 for the next 24 hours!


Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonaldDaughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald

Raine can see—and speak—to the dead, a gift that comes with a death sentence. All her life she has hidden, lied, and run to save her skin, and she’s made some spectacularly bad choices along the way.

But it is a rare act of kindness—rescuing an injured woman in the snow—that becomes the most dangerous decision Raine has ever made.

Because the woman is fleeing from Redwinter, the fortress-monastery of the Draoihn, warrior magicians who answer to no king, and who will stop at nothing to reclaim what she’s stolen. A battle, a betrayal, and a horrific revelation force Raine to enter the citadel and live among the Draoihn. She soon finds that her secret ability could be the key to saving an entire nation.

Though she might have to die to make it happen . . .

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Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline CareyKushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

A nation born of angels, vast and intricate and surrounded by danger… a woman born to servitude, unknowingly given access to the secrets of the realm…

Born with a scarlet mote in her left eye, Phédre nó Delaunay is sold into indentured servitude as a child. When her bond is purchased by an enigmatic nobleman, she is trained in history, theology, politics, foreign languages, the arts of pleasure. And above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Exquisite courtesan, talented spy…and unlikely heroine. But when Phédre stumbles upon a plot that threatens her homeland, Terre d’Ange, she has no choice.

Betrayed into captivity in the barbarous northland of Skaldia and accompanied only by a disdainful young warrior-priest, Phédre makes a harrowing escape and an even more harrowing journey to return to her people and deliver a warning of the impending invasion. And that proves only the first step in a quest that will take her to the edge of despair and beyond.

Phédre nó Delaunay is the woman who holds the keys to her realm’s deadly secrets, and whose courage will decide the very future of her world.

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The First Binding by R. R. VirdiThe First Binding by R. R. Virdi

All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.

I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster.

My name is Ari.

And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil.

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Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen CookChronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook

Darkness wars with darkness as the hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must. They bury their doubts with their dead.

Then comes the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more…

This omnibus edition comprises The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose—the first three novels in Glen Cook’s bestselling fantasy series.

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Fate of the Fallen by Kel KadeFate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Not all stories have happy endings.

Everyone loves Mathias. Naturally, when he discovers it’s his destiny to save the world, he dives in head first, pulling his best friend Aaslo along for the ride.

However, saving the world isn’t as easy, or exciting, as it sounds in the stories. The going gets rough and folks start to believe their best chance for survival is to surrender to the forces of evil, which isn’t how the prophecy goes. At all. As the list of allies grows thin, and the friends find themselves staring death in the face they must decide how to become the heroes they were destined to be or, failing that, how to survive.

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Gardens of the Moon by Steven EriksonGardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

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.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…

Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order—an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.

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The Ruin of Kings by Jenn LyonsThe Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Kihrin grew up in the slums of Quur, a thief and a minstrel’s son raised on tales of long-lost princes and magnificent quests. When he is claimed against his will as the missing son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds himself at the mercy of his new family’s ruthless power plays and political ambitions.

Practically a prisoner, Kihrin discovers that being a long-lost prince is nothing like what the storybooks promised. The storybooks have lied about a lot of other things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he isn’t the hero after all. For Kihrin is not destined to save the world.

He’s destined to destroy it.

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Rise of the Mages by Scott DrakefordRise of the Mages by Scott Drakeford

Emrael Ire wants nothing more than to test to be a weapons master. His final exam will be a bloody insurrection, staged by corrupt nobles and priests, that enslaves his brother.

With the aid of his War Master tutor, herself an undercover mage, Emrael discovers his own latent and powerful talents.

To rescue his brother, Emrael must embrace not only his abilities as a warrior but also his place as last of the ancient Mage Kings—for the Fallen God has returned.

And he is hungry.

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The Emperor's Blades by Brian StaveleyThe Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it’s too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor’s final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.

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The Unspoken Name by A. K. LarkwoodThe Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does—she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn—gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

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The Starless Crown by James RollinsThe Starless Crown by James Rollins

A gifted student foretells an apocalypse. Her reward is a sentence of death.

Fleeing into the unknown she is drawn into a team of outcasts:

A broken soldier, who once again takes up the weapons he’s forbidden to wield and carves a trail back home.

A drunken prince, who steps out from his beloved brother’s shadow and claims a purpose of his own.

An imprisoned thief, who escapes the crushing dark and discovers a gleaming artifact – one that will ignite a power struggle across the globe.

On the run, hunted by enemies old and new, they must learn to trust each other in order to survive in a world evolved in strange, beautiful, and deadly ways, and uncover ancient secrets that hold the key to their salvation.

But with each passing moment, doom draws closer.

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Dive into Something Sweet with These Book + Candy Pairings!

Nothing heralds in the fall season better than seeing Halloween candy displayed front and center in stores. This spooky holiday season, trick or treat yourself to a good book and matching candy. Take a bite out of entries in beloved franchises, thrilling conclusions to series or start a new series, because nothing screams scary season more than candy, thrills, and a good book.

By Lizzy Hosty


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The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson + Mike and Ikes

Like that first Mike and Ike after that dark period of time when Mike and Ike were split up (and sold candy as “Mikes” or “Ikes” only), coming back to the world of Malazan with the new Witness trilogy is sweet relief. The first book in the trilogy, The God is Not Willing, takes place several years after three warriors brought chaos to the Silver Lake. Now, there is a new threat rising for the Teblor, and they’re running out of time.

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The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha and Starbursts

In this second book in the Mercenary Librarians series, Maya has a price on her head ever since escaping TechCorps where she was genetically engineered for genius and trained for revolution. And Gray, whose days are numbered due to his body rejecting his modification, has decided to protect Maya during his final days. Starbursts are the perfect candy to eat while reading, because you can use the paper wrappers as bookmarks! Or as small tissues for your tears. Whichever works.

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Invisible Sun by Charles Stross and Candy Corn

Invisible Sun by Charles Stross is the techno-thriller conclusion to the Empire Games trilogy, and newest installment in the Merchant Princes universe. With alternating timelines, renegades on the run, and robotic alien invaders, it’s up to a disgraced worldwalker and her intertemporal extraordinaire agent of a mother to neutralize the livewire contention before it’s too late. Invisible Sun goes perfectly with candy corn – even the color scheme is matching!

 

 

 

 

Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer and M&Ms

In the last book of the Terra Ignota series, World Peace turns into global civil war when the veil covering the facade of utopian stability is lifted. Is the key to salvation to remain Earth-bound or, perhaps, to start anew throughout the far reaches of the stars? Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer can best be complemented by classic chocolate M&Ms – in Halloween packaging, of course – to get the rich, sweet taste of a concluding book that hits just right.

 

 

 

 

Isolate by L. E. Modesitt Jr. and Witch’s Brew Kit Kats

Just as the Witch’s Brew Kit Kats brings a new flavor to the standard Kit Kats, so too does L. E. Modesitt Jr. brings us a sharp new series The Grand Illusion, starting with Isolate. The novel follows Steffan Dekkard, an isolate – one of the few who can withstand empaths – and his security partner Avraal Ysella, an empath, as they become embroiled in political espionage and danger after they and their employer become targets of an assassin.

What’s your favorite candy and book pairing? Tell us in the comments!

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Excerpt: The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson

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Image Place holder  of - 21The thrilling opening chapter in an epic new fantasy from the author of The Malazan Book of the Fallen…

Many years have passed since three warriors brought carnage and chaos to Silver Lake.

Now the tribes of the north no longer venture into the southlands. The town has recovered and yet the legacy remains.

Responding to reports of a growing unease among the tribes beyond the border, the Malazan army marches on the new god’s people. They aren’t quite sure what they’re going to be facing.

And in those high mountains, a new warleader has risen amongst the Teblor. Scarred by the deeds of Karsa Orlong, he intends to confront his god even if he has to cut a bloody swathe through the Malazan Empire to do so.

Further north, a new threat has emerged and now it seems it is the Teblor who are running out of time. Another long-feared migration is about to begin and this time it won’t just be three warriors. No, this time tens of thousands are poised to pour into the lands to the south. And in their way, a single company of Malazan marines . . .

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson, on sale 11/09/2021.


Chapter One

Inauspicious beginnings often deliver the deadliest of warnings.

Sayings of the Fool

Thenys Bule

Sliptoe Garrison, Culvern Crossing, east northeast of Malybridge, Genabackis

A pale sky made for a colourless world. The season had yet to turn. The thickets to either side of the cobbled road leading to the fort and the town that crowded against one of its sides remained a chaotic hue of browns, dull reds and duller yellows. Buds had finally appeared, and where there had been ice in the drainage ditches and in the fields beyond, there was now water, stretching out in grey puddles and shallow lakes reflecting the blank sky.

Someone once said – Oams couldn’t recall who – that the world was heaven’s mirror, the tin kind, scratched and mottled and pitted as if to mock heaven’s own face. No doubt, a point was being made by the observation. Strange how things said that made no sense could stay in the memory, while all the truths just fell away, abandoned in the way of things that had little relevance.

Any soldier who denied the lust for danger was a liar. Oams had been in the ranks since he was fifteen. Twenty-one years later, he’d been running from that truth for his entire adult life. While it was hardly alone back there, all the other pointless truths stayed in its shadow. The addict’s pleasure was always a guilty one, to be sure, the towering stalker he always found at his side when he stood looking down on a corpse that, had things turned out badly, could have been Oams himself. Living was easier, he reflected, when you could kill your fear. Then stare at its bloodless face, waiting for your heartbeat to slow and your breaths to settle.

And tomorrow was another day, another fear, another face, relief flowing like the sweetest drug in the veins.

He was a soldier and he couldn’t think of ever being anything else. He’d die on a battlefield, showing his killer his bloodless face, and probably he’d see, in his last moments, his enemy’s own towering stalker. Because everyone knew, death was the one truth you couldn’t outrun.

The north forest was at his back. His mount was weary, and it wouldn’t do to stay unmoving for too long, lest its muscles tighten up, but Oams remained motionless in his saddle. A few moments longer wouldn’t kill either of them. He hoped. At least enough time for his heart to slow down and his breaths to settle.

When it came to a spirit rising up from the worn cobbles in front of a person, there was no telling the mischief it might have in mind. It’d be a mistake to confuse sorcery and its warrens with the unseen worlds where the dead were far from alone. And the pantheon of gods and ascendants, caged in their temples, rising and dying like flowers as one age gave way to another, belonged to a realm different from all those inarticulate primal forces hanging on in the Wilds and other forgotten places.

The tall, spectral thing before him now was almost formless. Barely human, outlines vague and elusive, its central mass a dark stain through which jagged streaks of something flickered as if agitated, trapped. All dull as the sky, dull as the lakes and puddles.

He’d been waiting for it to say something, wondering why his horse was paying it no attention at all. And as the moment stretched, his mind wandered over past battlefields – especially the last one – wondering if there was something he’d missed. Something like his own death. After all, did the dead even know they were dead? Was there a memory back there that he’d flung away, in some spasm of horror and regret? The savage burn of a spear-point sinking into his chest? The agony of a stomach wound, an opened throat, a bleeder in the thigh?

‘Is that it, then? I’m dead?’

His mount’s left ear flicked, alert and awaiting his next words.

The answer the apparition gave was unexpected. It swirled towards him, its darkness filling his vision, the chaotic skein of something arcing and slashing on all sides, and its embrace rushed through him, a shudder, and then a shiver that rolled like a wave. He tracked it passing over, around, and within his body.

And then it was gone.

Blinking, he looked around. Nothing but the dull, colourless world, a cool morning of early spring, the faint sound of trickling water, barely a breath of wind. His gaze dropped slightly to the road, to the place directly beneath the apparition’s appearance, and his eyes focused on a single cobble, mud-smeared but somehow different from all its companions.

‘Shit.’ He dismounted, reeled momentarily in the wake of that embrace, and then stepped forward and crouched down, wiping at the cobble’s surface, stripping away the sheen of muddy water. Revealing a carved face. Round, empty eyes, grooves to frame the nose into a rough, elongated triangle, a downturned mouth.

‘Fuck Genabackis,’ he muttered. ‘Fuck Culvern Wood, fuck all the dead people long gone, fuck all the forgotten spirits, gods, spectres and fucking everything else.’ He straightened, swung back to his placidly waiting horse. Then he paused as he recalled that ecstatic shiver. ‘But most of all, whoever you were, if that was a fuck, I’ll fucking take it.’


Edging the north side of the fort was an abandoned graveyard, a strange mixture of beehive tombs and mounded urn-pits along with mostly sunken, tilted platforms, hinting at more than one ancient, longforgotten practice by equally forgotten peoples. When the Malazan 3rd Army had built the fortification, way back during the conquest, the trench and embankment had cut into the cemetery where the various grave markers edged onto the level area mapped out by the engineers. Some of the upturned stones, brickwork and platforms had been used to lay the foundations for what began as a wooden wall but was now mortared limestone. The unearthed bones had been discarded and left scattered here and there among the high grasses flanking the trench and cursus; some still remained visible, the shards splintered and bleached white among the tangled stems.

Messy work back then, but necessity was a harsh master. Besides, the damned cemetery was in the middle of nowhere, leagues from the nearest town, with only a handful of villages and hamlets within a half-day’s trek – not that the locals bothered, since they one and all insisted that the graveyard wasn’t theirs.

The southern side of the fort was marked by the new graveyard, with small rectangular stone-block crypts in the Genabarii style and a single longbarrow packed with the mouldering bones of a few hundred dead Malazan soldiers, on which a small forest was now growing. This cemetery was flanked by the fort wall through which a new gate had been built, and otherwise surrounded by the town that had grown up with the imperial outpost.

The land beyond the eastern wall was maintained as a training and marshalling ground, settlement prohibited, although sheep were allowed to graze there to keep the area from becoming overgrown.

The fort had been raised a hundred paces from Culvern River. In the intervening decades, the spring floods had been steadily worsening, and now the river’s bank was less than thirty paces from the fort’s western wall. In this narrow strip, the 2nd Company of the XIVth Legion had made their camp.

The sergeant had walked away from the sound of the rushing water, as he did every morning, since it was a sound he hated. Heading inland and skirting the fort to his right, he strode into the overgrown snarl of the abandoned cemetery, remembering the first time he’d seen it.

They’d been bloodied by an unexpected clash with the Crimson Guard, and news from the south was making the name Blackdog a curse word. One of the problems was that the Bridgeburners had been split up, two companies sent off to support the 2nd Army up here in the northeast, while the rest went down towards Mott.

The sergeant settled onto a slightly tilted stone platform, staring across the embankment to the solid stone wall of the fort. He remembered when it was nothing but wood and rubble. He remembered how his back ached between working the spade and swinging the pick, breaking up grave markers while the wood teams cut down an entire nearby copse to raise the first walls.

There had been a rawness in the air back then, or perhaps that was just him. Certainly wilder out here, on the very fringes of civilized settlement. It was the early days of the Bridgeburners being thrown into one nightmare after another. So, hope was alive, but it’d been getting fragile.

Peace had settled its suffocating blanket since then, snug around traders, innkeepers, crafts-people, sheep-herders and farmers and all the rest. Stone replaced wood, empty land sprouted a town. None of that seemed, or looked, real.

He hadn’t ever expected to return here. Not to a place where he’d twice pushed a spade into the earth, first to build a fort, and then to dig out a barrow, watching red-splashed friends being rolled into it. A soldier’s loyalty died to a thousand cuts, until it seemed there was no hope of finding it again – not to an empire, not to a commander, not even to a faith. He’d seen companions slip away, deserting, even among the famed Bridgeburners, too far gone and too alone in their heads to meet anyone’s eyes. He’d been damned close to that himself.

Years later and far to the southeast, in the rain outside Black Coral, High Fist Dujek Onearm had unofficially dissolved the Bridgeburners. The sergeant remembered that moment, standing in the deluge, listening to that torrid rush of water from the sky, from the mortally wounded Moon’s Spawn hanging almost directly overhead. A sound he had come to despise.

He should’ve done like the others, then, the few who were left. Just walked away. But he’d never been one to settle down anywhere. Not even the tempting delights of Darujhistan could hold him. Instead, he wandered, he circled, wondering what it was about loyalty that haunted him.

Was it any surprise that he found himself in the Malazan ranks once more? And had anything changed? The squads of marines never seemed to, despite the endless succession of faces, voices, histories and all the rest. Commanders came and went, some good, some bad. Years of peaceful postings were punctuated by nasty scraps, the restless oscillation without end. It was, he could see now, always the same. The Malazan Empire’s last moment, he had become convinced, would be when the last marine went down, on some useless battlefield at the back-end of nowhere.

No, nothing out there had changed. But inside, inside the one ex-Bridgeburner still serving in the empire, it was a different story.

Black Coral. After the rains, after the white salt had been scuffed from the shoulders of his leather jerkin, and his dry eyes had been pulled from what he had been, not yet finding what he would become, he had walked to a barrow. A glittering mound, sparkling like all the world’s wealth, where he left his sigil of silver and ruby, his fire-licked burning bridge.

Strange, how a man he’d never met could have changed him so. A man, he had been told, who gave his life to redeem the T’lan Imass.

Itkovian. You of the single mad gesture, the appalling promise. Did you imagine what it would make you? I doubt it. I don’t think you spared that a single hood-damned moment, when with clear eyes you went and forgave the unforgivable.

He’d not known much of that at the time. But in his near-aimless wandering, he closed a circle upon his eventual return to Black Coral, to see what had been made of the place where the Bridgeburners died. And had come face to face with the birth of a god, a faith, a hopeless dream.

You still didn’t blink, did you? So newly born, you gave only a wry smile at your impending death. While so many of us stepped forward, driven to defend you. Strange compulsion of loyalty, not to you, but to an idea, what you embodied.

No amount of abuse, no extreme of sensation, emotion, terror or lust; no place in all the worlds real and imagined, could disavow or discard this one, loving need.

Redemption.

Now there was a loyalty no mortal could shake, a need a mortal couldn’t help but turn back to, eventually, when all the distractions turned brittle and hollow and a long life neared its end.

In all his years, a soldier among soldiers, then a wanderer among strangers, a veritable sea of faces had been brushed by his searching gaze, and in each and every one of them he had seen the same thing. Often disguised, hidden away, but never well enough. Often denied, with bold defiance or uneasy diffidence. Often blunted, by drink or smoke.

Longing. Look for it, in every crowd, and you will find it. Paint it any colour you choose: grief, nostalgia, melancholy, remembrance, these are but flavours, poetic reflections.

And it is the redeemer, holding redemption in his hands, who would answer our longing. If we but ask.

As it turned out, he wasn’t quite ready to do that, and even had he been, how would it look? Play out? What comes when longing is at last appeased? Was salvation something to be feared, the removal of the last thing to live for? Was longing for redemption no different from longing for death? Or were they fundamental opposites?

Distant motion drew his attention and he saw his night-blade, Oams, riding in from the east. So, that work was done. Still, it’d be worth hearing the report first-hand, before the call to gather came.

The sergeant stood, hands on his hips as he arched his lower back. Two days ago, not far from here, he’d been shovelling another hole. For the spill of familiar faces into the ground, and good night, one and all.


When Oams caught sight of his sergeant out among the old graves and tombs, he angled his mount off the track and rode to meet him. He was still thinking about that apparition, to be honest. Hard to drag his thoughts away. Nothing like that had ever happened before. It should have frightened him, but it hadn’t. He should have recoiled from its embrace, but he didn’t. And maybe that stone head, driven down into the ground and now part of an imperial cobbled road, had nothing to do with the spectre.

He had been thinking about the soldier’s lust, that cold light in the eyes, thinking about the trouble soldiers slid into when they finally buried the sword. And it had been the man now awaiting him at the edge of the cemetery that brought on those thoughts. The man too long in the ranks, but with nowhere else to go.

Oams reined in and dismounted. Hobbling the horse, he walked to meet his sergeant. ‘It was what you figured it would be, Spindle.’

‘And?’

‘Sorted,’ Oams replied. He shrugged. ‘I didn’t have much to do, to be honest. He was already taking his last breaths. Only thing keeping him alive was all that rage. In fact, he might’ve tried thanking me for killing him, but couldn’t get the words past all the blood in his mouth.’

Grimacing, Spindle glanced away. ‘Now that’s a comforting belief.’

‘I thought so,’ Oams said easily. After a moment, he shrugged again and said, ‘Well, I’d best stable the horse. And then it’s the tent and a whole lot of sleep—’

‘Not yet,’ the sergeant cut in. ‘Captain’s called us all to meet.’

‘New fucking orders? We just got ourselves seriously slapped down. We’re still licking wounds and ignoring all the empty chairs at the game table. Company’s down to three fucking squads and they want to send us off again?’

Spindle shrugged.

Eyeing him, Oams remained silent for a few moments, and then he looked around. ‘This place gives me the creeps. I mean, bodies on a battlefield is one thing – that all went down at once, half a day’s worth of work. It’s the role we play, so I’d better be comfortable with it, right? But graveyards. Generations of the dead, one on top of another on top of another and so on. For centuries. It’s depressing.’

‘Is it?’ Spindle asked, now studying Oams with an unreadable expression.

‘Smacks of . . . I don’t know. Futility?’

‘Why not continuity instead?’

Oams shivered. ‘Aye. The being dead kind.’ He hesitated, and then asked, ‘Sergeant, you ever think about the gods?’

‘No. Should I?’

‘Well, was it them who made us? And if they did, what the fuck for? And if that’s not bad enough, then they go around messing in our affairs. It’s like they can’t leave off and let us go our own way; like some damned chaperone who refuses to leave the fete, and there you are, breathing mutual lust with some beauty and both of you looking for some bushes to hide behind, and . . .’ Seeing the incredulous look on his sergeant’s face, Oams let the thought drift away. He rubbed swiftly at his face and offered up a sheepish smile. ‘Iskar take me, I’m tired.’

‘Go stable your horse, Oams,’ said Spindle. ‘You might have time for a bite or two before we gather.’

‘Aye, I’ll do that.’

‘And well done on the . . . mission.’

Oams nodded. And then returned to his mount.


The sun was a brighter white in a white sky, not yet noon. The sound of meltwater trickling in the narrow trench running parallel to the wall hung in the background. The rooster that had been crowing since dawn suddenly let out a strangled sound, and then fell ominously silent.

Stillwater stood watching the big, heavy soldier shrug his way into his mail shirt. Once again, iron links snagged strands of his long, filthy hair, tearing them from his scalp so that, here and there on his torso, golden glints floated above the blued iron. While he never made a sound when he did this, a few of the plucks were always savage enough to redden his pitted face and make his blue eyes watery.

With the mail shirt settled and pulling down his already sloping shoulders, he collected up his belted sword. Somehow, there were long wispy strands of red-blond hair caught up in the bronze fittings of the scabbard, too. Cinching the belt tight above his hips, he paused to scratch at his flattened, crooked nose, surreptitiously wiping at a tear leaking down from his left eye, took another moment to brush at his worn leather leggings, and then faced her.

‘Iskar’s limp, Folibore, we’re just walking to the command tent.’ She pointed across the compound’s central marshalling grounds. ‘There. Where it’s always been.’

‘I have always believed that preparation is the soldier’s salvation, Stillwater.’ He squinted across the compound. ‘Besides, the most deceitful paths are the ones that look easy. Should I get Blanket for this? He’s in the latrine.’

Stillwater pulled a face. Blanket made her nervous. ‘Well, how long has he been in there?’

Shrugging, Folibore said, ‘No telling how long it’ll take.’

‘Why, what’s wrong with him?’

‘Nothing. I told you. He’s in the latrine.’ He paused. ‘In the latrine. Dropped that amulet his grandmother gave him.’

‘The amulet with the inscription? The one that says kill this boy before he grows up? What kind of keepsake is that? Blanket’s not right in the head, you know.’

Looking uncomfortable, Folibore shrugged again.

‘Never mind,’ said Stillwater. ‘Let’s go. I doubt the captain’d be happy with a Blanket covered in shit anyway.’

They set out.

‘Ignore the others,’ Folibore said. ‘I for one appreciate your natural wit.’

‘My what?’

‘Your natural wit.’

She glanced across at him quizzically. Heavies were a strange lot. What was it that made the mailed fists in every squad so weird? They had one task, after all, and that was to plunge face-first into whatever maelstrom was coming at them. Get up front, weather the onslaught, and then punch back. Simple.

‘You don’t even need to be literate,’ she said.

‘Back on that again, Stillwater? Listen, reading’s easy. It’s what you do with all the words now in your head that’s hard. Consider. Ten people could read the same damned words and yet walk away with ten different interpretations.’

‘Uh huh.’

‘That’s why it’s a rule to keep us heavies away from written orders.’

‘Because they confuse you.’

‘Exactly. We get trapped in all the permutations, the nuances, the inferences and assumptions. It’s all so problematic. What does the captain really mean, after all? When he writes, say, “advance to the front”. The front of what? What if I’d had a run-in with some loanshark and now there’s a contract out on me? Then it would more accurately be “retreat to the front”, wouldn’t it? That is to say, if I took that order personally.’

She glanced at him again. Too big for comfort, bony brows and massive, squarish head under that patchy long hair, a flattened face mostly swallowed up by the red beard framing the huge battered nose, small blue eyes with the most delicate lashes. ‘You’re saying that’s what happened to First Squad? The heavies got hold of the orders and half a bell later, they’re all dead?’

‘I’m not saying that’s what happened to the First,’ he replied. ‘Merely one among a long list of possibilities. And you’d probably know better than me.’

‘So what do you think happened to the First, Folibore?’

‘You’re asking me? How would I know? How would anyone know?’

She scowled. ‘Someone does.’

‘So you keep saying. Listen, forget the First. They’re gone. Dead. A real mess.’

‘What kind of mess?’

‘The real kind, obviously.’

They were nearing the command tent when Corporal Snack appeared from one side and intercepted them. ‘Just the two I was looking for!’

Stillwater winced at the knowing look Folibore gave her. Him and his warnings about easy paths.

Snack was struggling to cinch his belt, pawing bemusedly at his prodigious belly as if surprised to find it there. ‘Where’s Blanket?’ he demanded. ‘We need the whole squad for this. Captain’s waiting.’

‘He’s down in the latrine,’ Stillwater said. ‘Swimming in piss and shit looking for his amulet.’

‘The one he keeps up his butt hole?’

‘That’s a good guess,’ Stillwater said.

‘The one that once shot out of his butt on a spear of flame?’

‘Best fart fire ever seen, sir,’ Folibore said, nodding solemnly. ‘Bet you’re still sorry you missed it.’

‘Sorry ain’t the word,’ Snack said. ‘Well, go get him then. Both of you, that is. So there’s no argument.’

‘Then all three of us are going to be late,’ Folibore pointed out. ‘You might want to reconsider that order, based on the exacerbation being compounded, sir. One soldier not here right now, but then three not here. That’s half the Fourth Squad, sir.’

‘More than half,’ Stillwater chimed in. ‘No one’s seen Anyx Fro for days.’

Snack’s heavy brows lifted. ‘Anyx is still in our squad? I thought she got transferred.’

‘Did she?’ Stillwater asked.

Those brows now knitted. ‘Didn’t she?’

‘Wasn’t there an order come down?’

‘I never saw no order.’ Snack threw up his hands. ‘And now Anyx Fro’s been transferred!’

‘No wonder she’s not been around,’ Folibore said.

‘Hold on, Snack,’ said Stillwater. ‘As our corporal, how come you didn’t know about any transfer or orders or anything? It’s not like our sergeant never tells us anything.’

Snack stared at her in disbelief, fleshy face reddening. ‘Yes it is! That’s exactly how it is, you dim-witted witch! He never tells us anything!’

‘Anyway, more than half, then,’ Stillwater insisted. ‘The heavy’s got a point. Who’s all here for the Fourth? Right, the corporal and the sergeant. The rest of us are taking a bath in the fucking latrine. Won’t that smell bad when all the sergeant can do is shrug about his missing squad?’

‘Oh, Stillwater,’ said Folibore, ‘you should know I’m laughing inside.’

‘What?’

‘Such an innocent expression on your sweet face. And oh,’ he added, looking over her shoulder, ‘here she is now.’

Stillwater and Snack turned to see Anyx Fro slouching her way in their general direction. The corporal stepped forward. ‘Anyx! Over here, damn you!’

It wasn’t quite a straight path that she took, but it was a good try. Anyx was looking pale, but then, she always looked pale. That said, her eyes were drooping a bit more than usual. Cursed with a sickly disposition, was Anyx Fro. ‘Poor Anyx,’ Stillwater said as the woman joined them.

‘Why poor me anything?’ Anyx demanded. ‘Why are you all looking at me anyway?’

‘Corporal Snack said you’d been transferred,’ Folibore told her.

‘Have I? Oh, thank the gods.’

‘No!’ Snack said. ‘You haven’t been transferred, damn you. But you’ve been missing for days.’

‘No I haven’t. I knew where I was the whole time. Look, wasn’t there a call for the Measly Company to meet up?’

‘We don’t like that name,’ Snack said.

‘Who’s we?’ Anyx asked. ‘Not the we that calls us the Measly Company, that’s for sure. Which is pretty much everyone, Corporal.’

Their conversation was interrupted when Sergeant Drillbent emerged from the command tent.

Suddenly flustered, Snack said, ‘All here, Sergeant, except for Blanket who’s shitting amulets in the latrine. I mean—’

Stillwater, being merciful, cut in, ‘He means Blanket’s in the shitter for real.’

‘Oh,’ said Folibore, ‘I do love you, Stillwater.’

‘What?’ she demanded. ‘What did I say now?’ She returned her attention to Drillbent. ‘Point is, Sergeant, Blanket’s no loss for this meeting. Since without his amulet he can’t whistle out of his butt anyway.’

‘Captain was not impressed—’ began Anyx.

The sergeant’s grunt stopped her, and everyone else. All eyes were now on Drillbent, who then glanced up at the mostly white sky. After a moment he squeezed shut his mild, hazel eyes and briefly pinched the bridge of his oversized nose, before swinging about and heading back into the command tent. A faint gesture told them to follow.

Stillwater gave Snack a quick shove against one shoulder. ‘After him, idiot. It’s all good.’

Copyright © Steven Erikson 2021

Pre-order The God is Not Willing Here:

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Every Tor Book Coming Fall 2021

What is that in the air? Freshly fallen leaves? The smell of pumpkin spice? Oh wait, it’s the sound of brand new books dropping! Check out every book coming from Tor Books this fall here.


September 14

Image Placeholder of - 36Mordew by Alex Pheby

God is dead, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew. In the slums of the sea-battered city, a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew. The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength—and it is greater than the Master has ever known.

September 21

Image Place holder  of - 16Under 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.

Placeholder of  -3Dune: The Lady of Caladan by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Lady Jessica, mother of Paul, and consort to Leto Atreides. The choices she made shaped an empire, but first the Lady of Caladan must reckon with her own betrayal of the Bene Gesserit. She has already betrayed her ancient order, but now she must decide if her loyalty to the Sisterhood is more important than the love of her own family. Meanwhile, events in the greater empire are accelerating beyond the control of even the Reverend Mother, and Lady Jessica’s family is on a collision course with destiny.

September 28

Place holder  of - 13Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate. But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth.

Poster Placeholder of - 12Invisible Sun by Charles Stross

An inter-timeline coup d’état gone awry. A renegade British monarch on the run through the streets of Berlin. And robotic alien invaders from a distant timeline flood through a wormhole, wreaking havoc in the USA. Can disgraced worldwalker Rita and her intertemporal extraordaire agent of a mother neutralize the livewire contention before it’s too late?

October 5

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, Special Edition by V. E. Schwab

A gorgeous new collector’s edition of V. E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, including: six new pieces of art from Addie’s story never-before-seen to North America readers; designed alternate debossed stamp under the cover; ribbon bookmark; an exclusive note from the author. In the vein of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Life After LifeThe Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab’s genre-defying tour de force.

The Eye of the World, TV Tie-In by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs–a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts–five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light. Soon to be an original series starring Rosamund Pike as Moiraine!

October 12

Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett

Having destroyed Earth, the alien conquerors resettle the remains of humanity on the planet of Eleusis. In the three habitable areas of the planet–Day, Dusk, and Night–the haves and have nots, criminals and dissidents, and former alien conquerors irrevocably bind three stories, skating across years, building to a single confrontation when the fate of all—human and alien—balances upon a knife’s-edge. Warning: This book is designed for audiences 18+ due to scenes of physical and sexual violence, and themes that some may find disturbing.

October 19

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Paperback by Christopher Paolini 

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move. As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human. While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . . New York Times bestseller To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is out in paperback on 10/19!

October 26

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained an advantage, and the threat of a betrayal by Dalinar’s crafty ally Taravangian looms over every strategic move. Now, as new technological discoveries by Navani Kholin’s scholars begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength. #1 New York Times bestseller Rhythm of War is out in paperback on 10/26!

The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu

These eleven stories, including five Chinese Galaxy Award-winners, are a blazingly original ode to planet Earth, its pasts, and its futures. Liu’s fiction takes the reader to the edge of the universe and the end of time, to meet stranger fates than we could have ever imagined. With a melancholic and keen understanding of human nature, Liu’s stories show humanity’s attempts to reason, navigate, and above all, survive in a desolate cosmos.

November 2

Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer

In the future, the leaders of Hive nations—nations without fixed location—clandestinely committed nefarious deeds in order to maintain an outward semblance of utopian stability. But the facade could only last so long. The comforts of effortless global travel and worldwide abundance may have tempered humanity’s darkest inclinations, but conflict remains deeply rooted in the human psyche. Now, war spreads throughout the globe, splintering old alliances and awakening sleeping enmities. All transportation systems are in ruins, causing the tyranny of distance to fracture a long-united Earth and threaten to obliterate everything the Hive system built.

November 9

The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Teresa Patterson

In this series companion book, over eighty full color paintings include maps of the world, portraits of the central characters, landscapes, objects of Power, and national flags. The reader will learn about the exotic beasts used by the Seanchan, witness the rise and fall of Artur Hawking, peruse the deeper story of the War of the Shadow, and discover the tale of the founding of the White Tower, and the creation of the Ajahs. In a new hardcover edition with a beautiful updated cover, The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is a must-buy for devoted fans of the series and newcomers alike.

November 16

The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson

Many years have passed since three warriors brought carnage and chaos to Silver Lake. Now the tribes of the north no longer venture into the southlands. The town has recovered and yet the legacy remains. Responding to reports of a growing unease among the tribes beyond the border, the Malazan army marches on the new god’s people. They aren’t quite sure what they’re going to be facing. And in those high mountains, a new warleader has risen amongst the Teblor. Scarred by the deeds of Karsa Orlong, he intends to confront his god even if he has to cut a bloody swathe through the Malazan Empire to do so.

Even Greater Mistakes by Charlie Jane Anders

The woman who can see all possible futures is dating the man who can see the one and only foreordained future. A wildly popular slapstick filmmaker is drawn, against his better judgment, into working with a fascist militia, against a background of social collapse. Two friends must embark on an Epic Quest To Capture The Weapon That Threatens The Galaxy, or else they’ll never achieve their dream of opening a restaurant. The stories in this collection, by their very outrageousness, achieve a heightened realism unlike any other. Anders once again proves she is one of the strongest voices in modern science fiction, the writer called by Andrew Sean Greer, “this generation’s Le Guin.”

You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that’s just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it. Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance. But, some wars can’t ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren’t content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive.

Death Draws Five edited by George R. R. Martin

It’s really quite simple. Mr. Nobody wants to do his job. The Midnight Angel wants to serve her Lord. Billy Ray, dying from boredom, wants some action. John Nighthawk wants to uncover the awful secret behind his mysterious power. Fortunato wants to rescue his son from the clutches of a cryptic Vatican office. John Fortune just wants to catch Siegfried and Ralph’s famous Vegas review. The problem is that all roads, whether they start in Turin, Italy, Las Vegas, Hokkaido, Japan, Jokertown, Snake Hill, the Short Cut, or Yazoo City, Mississippi, lead to Leo Barnett’s Peaceable Kingdom, where the difference between the Apocalypse and Peace on Earth is as thin as a razor’s edge and where Death himself awaits the final, terrible turn of the card.

The Last Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card’s The Last Shadow is the long-awaited conclusion to both the original Ender series and the Ender’s Shadow series, as the children of Ender and Bean solve the great problem of the Ender Universe—the deadly virus they call the descolada, which is incurable and will kill all of humanity if it is allowed to escape from Lusitania.

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The Best Dragons in Human Skin: A List by Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings

Poster Placeholder of - 95We’re so excited to revisit one of our favorite guest posts from author Jenn Lyons, published during Dragon Week 2020. Check out Jenn as she rounds up the best Dragons in human skin—do you agree with her choices? Let us know in the comments!


The Best Dragons in Human Skins

By Jenn Lyons

I’ve always loved dragons. This isn’t a secret (nor the first time I’ve gone on about it).

Dragons are awesome.

But I can distinctly remember the first time I discovered something even better than dragons: wizards who could change INTO dragons. That has everything. Powerful do-not-mess-with-me magic? Check. Being able to fly while still fitting through the door of one’s favorite restaurants? Check. The potential for some idiot to pick a fight with you only to discover, oh no, DRAGON?

Check.

As little girl power fantasies went, this was heady stuff.

For me, that realization came in the form of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. It’s kind of amazing how much of a formative effect that movie had on me, and not perhaps in the way Disney had imagined or intended. While I suppose most kids could be assumed to be rooting for the ‘heroes,’ here I was howling with frustration because, seriously, Maleficent, how did you manage to lose to that guy? And who carries an asbestos shield, anyway?

But even though Maleficent disappointed me, my love of a good shape changing dragon has endured. So if I may, I’d like to talk about a few of my favorites. (Warning, sometimes the big reveal that a person can shape change into a dragon or just flat-out is a dragon is a major plot point of these stories, so the rest of this is filled with spoilers.)

Tween me thought the Dragonlance series was the best thing ever, and no small part of that was the inclusion of my favorite five-headed dragon queen, Tiamat, Takhisis. As the goddess of evil, Takhisis normally went around as a beautiful woman, but made no real secret of the fact that underneath all of that, she was the mother of dragons. The fact that she was unrepentantly evil didn’t change the fact that she was also completely cool.

Dragons have an interesting relationship with mankind in the Earthsea books. They are seen as mysterious and powerful, most refusing to have anything to do with humanity with the exception of the rare few dragonlords. It’s only in the last two book of the Earthsea series that it becomes clear that, at least in a few cases, the embryonic form of dragons may not be an egg, but a human.

  •   Red Dorakeen and Leila, from Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny

Another book where dragons start out looking human is Roadmarks, where dragons are also responsible for creating a highway system that moves through all the alternate realities spun off throughout history (trust, it makes sense in the book). In a Merlin-like manner, these proto-dragons age backward, starting out old and decrepit and increasingly growing younger and more self-destructive (arson is a favorite) as they approach the time of their ‘hatching.’

In Seraphina, humans and dragons exist uneasily together, and the titular character, half-dragon, half-human, isn’t supposed to even exist, because dragon/human hybrids are believed to be impossible. Still, there’s a whole lot of dragons running around looking human and it’s widely accepted that one is far more likely to run into a dragon dressed up for a soiree than sitting on a pile of gold.

  •   Borch Three Jackdaws, from The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski

While dragons are a known menace hunted down by mankind in the Witcher books, gold dragons, who can shape change into humans, are widely considered a myth. Which is probably exactly how Borch Three Jackdaws, or Villentretenmerth to his draconic friends, likes it. He spends most of his time running around in human form, but when it really matters, isn’t at all reluctant to get his dragon on.

And…as a treat:

Yikes, like Anamander Rake (or even worse, his brother Silchas) needed be able to shape change into dragons. And yet, there they are. Both are Soletaken Eleint, meaning, yes, you guessed it, being able to shape change into a dragon because they’ve tasted the blood of the mother of dragons, T’iam. (Nice to see I’m not the only author out there with a Tiamat fixation.)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I don’t expect this particular trope to go out of style anytime soon. So the next time you’re tempted to bully some old man at the check out line, just remember they might turn out to be Bahamut (looking at you, Fizban.)

Order Your Copy of The Discord of Gods:

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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 - 63A 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

Image Placeholder of - 9The 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

Poster Placeholder of - 36Stand 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 Place holder  of - 80The 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  -36Breath 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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$2.99 eBook Sale: February 2021

It’s the start of a new month and that mean…NEW BOOKS ON SALE!!! Check out what ebooks you can snag for only $2.99 throughout the entire month of February here.

Image Placeholder of - 5Crack’d Pot Trail by Steven Erikson

It is an undeniable truth: give evil a name and everyone’s happy. Give it two names and…why, they’re even happier. Intrepid necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, scourges of civilization, raisers of the dead, reapers of the souls of the living, devourers of hope, betrayers of faith, slayers of the innocent, and modest personifications of evil, have a lot to answer for and answer they will. Known as the Nehemoth, they are pursued by countless self-professed defenders of decency, sanity, and civilization. After all, since when does evil thrive unchallenged? Well, often—but not this time.

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Image Place holder  of - 53Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluse by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

For over a thousand years, Order and Chaos have molded the island of Recluce. The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world through eighteen books, L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s most expansive and bestselling epic fantasy series. Brandon Sanderson, New York Times bestselling author of The Stormlight Archive, calls it “Essential reading for any fan of the increasingly impressive world that is Recluce.”

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Place holder  of - 87The Best of Gene Wolfe by Gene Wolfe

From a literary perspective, this will certainly be the best collection of the year in science fiction and fantasy. Gene Wolfe, of whom The Washington Post said, “Of all SF writers currently active none is held in higher esteem,” has selected the short fiction he considers his finest into one volume.This is the first retrospective collection of his entire career. It is for the ages.

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Poster Placeholder of - 30Songs of the Dying Earth edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

To honor the magnificent career of Jack Vance, one unparalleled in achievement and impact, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, with the full cooperation of Vance, his family, and his agents, have created a Jack Vance tribute anthology: Songs of the Dying Earth. The best of today’s fantasy writers to return to the unique and evocative milieu of The Dying Earth, from which they and so many others have drawn so much inspiration, to create their own brand-new adventures in the world of Jack Vance’s greatest novel.

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Placeholder of  -31Metatropolis by John Scalzi

A strange man comes to an even stranger encampment…a bouncer becomes the linchpin of an unexpected urban movement…a courier on the run has to decide who to trust in a dangerous city…a slacker in a “zero-footprint” town gets a most unusual new job…and a weapons investigator uses his skills to discover a metropolis hidden right in front of his eyes. Welcome to the future of cities. Welcome to Metatropolis.

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Tales of the Grand Tour by Ben Bova

In novels like Mars and Moonbase, and Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, as well as Privateers, The Precipice, and The Rock Rats, Ben Bova has been telling the stories of the wars and rivalries, the outsize individuals, public crusades, and private passions that will drive us as we expand into the Solar System and make use of its vast resources. And throughout, Bova has shown our cosmic neighborhood as we know it to be, giving us a sense of Venus and Jupiter and the Asteroid Belt and Mars that’s as up-to-date as the latest observations. For the last two decades have been a golden age of near-Earth astronomy and observation, and in his novels Bova has made dramatic use of our newest knowledge.

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The Whisperer and Other Voices by Brian Lumley

The Whisperer and Other Stories contains a complete short novel, The Return of the Deep Ones, as well as eight more weighty slices from the dark imagination of Brian Lumley. Here are several of Lumley’s best H. P. Lovecraft-inspired tales, including “The Statement of Henry Worthy.” Also included are “The Luststone” and “The Disapproval of Jeremy Cleave,” proving that Lumley can make one laugh even while the hairs on the back of their neck are slowly coming to attention. . . .

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Broken Stars by Ken Liu

In Hugo award-winner Liu Cixin’s ‘Moonlight,’ a man is contacted by three future versions of himself, each trying to save their world from destruction. Hao Jingfang’s ‘The New Year Train’ sees 1,500 passengers go missing on a train that vanishes into space. In the title story by Tang Fei, a young girl is shown how the stars can reveal the future. In addition, three essays explore the history and rise of Chinese science fiction publishing, contemporary Chinese fandom, and how the growing interest in Chinese SF has impacted writers who had long laboured in obscurity.

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Excerpt: The Fiends of Nightmaria by Steven Erikson

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Place holder  of - 43The Fiends of Nightmaria is a new novella from New York Times bestselling author Steven Erikson, set in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

The king is dead, long live King Bauchelain the First, crowned by the Grand Bishop Korbal Broach. Both are, of course, 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, who has thus far rebuffed his overtures. 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.

Please enjoy this excerpt of The Fiends of Nightmaria by Steven Erikson, on sale 03/16/2021.


Part One

ONE NIGHT IN FARROG

Beetle praata’s horse collapsed under him just outside the embassy’s stables, making it easier to dismount. He stepped to one side to regard the fallen beast, and then gave one tentative kick to its lathered haunch, eliciting no response.

Puny Sploor, the groundskeeper and stabler, edged into view from the sentry cubicle, holding one flickering candle, his rheumy eyes blinking.

Beetle Praata gestured at the horse. ‘Brush this down and drag it close to some hay.’

Puny rubbed at one skinny arm, as if the effort of holding up the candle had exhausted it. ‘It’s dead,’ he observed.

Beetle frowned and then shrugged. ‘You never know.’

Leaving the stabler and the horse in the small yard, the Imperial Courier of Nightmaria made his way into the embassy. Just outside the heavy bronze door he paused and squinted up into the night sky. The stars seemed to swim in a vast pool of black water, as if he had sunk to unimaginable depths, swallowed by a diluvean dream from which no awakening was possible. He drew a deep, cleansing breath, and then lifted the heavy iron ring, turned it until it clicked, pulled open the massive door, and strode inside.

The air within was redolent, thick with the pungent reek of decay. Offering bowls of green, slimy copper occupied flanking niches at eye-level to either side of the formal entranceway, filled with moss from which parasitic flowers spilled down to snake across the narrow ledges. A thick, loose rug underfoot made wet sounds beneath his boots, and from it arose the cloying smell of rot.

He unclipped his scaled leather highway cloak, shaking the dust from it before setting it on a hook. He plucked from his belt a pair of kid-skin gloves and methodically pulled them on, ensuring that each finger was snug. Satisfied, he continued on, exiting the entranceway to find himself in the vast audience chamber that had never known a foreign guest. The lush padding of the settees to either side of the Ambassador’s Chair were now lumpy, the filling spilled out from rotted holes here and there, and in places where small creatures nested the humps in the fabric moved up and down every now and then. Overhead, a chandelier of roseate crystal was mostly obscured beneath frayed braids of moss and lichens, its hundred candles long since eaten by mice and whatnot. From somewhere nearby, water trickled.

Beetle Praata strode to one side and tugged on a ratty cord, somewhat gingerly lest it part, and upon hearing a distant chime, he nodded to himself and settled in to wait.

Motion from beneath one of the settees drew his eye and he observed as a slow-worm, with a blunt maw big enough to swallow the head of a small dog, slithered into view. Lifting its sightless muzzle, it quested from one side to the next, and then set out sliding directly towards Beetle.

From somewhere nearby, deeper into the sanctum, came a muted dragging sound, along with faint, meaty flops, and the hint of something scaly sliding across the damp tiles.

Beetle crouched when the slow-worm finally reached him. He patted its blunt head, lightly enough to keep the stains to his gloves to a minimum. The slow-worm circled him, its knobby tail twitching. As the other sounds drew closer, he straightened and turned into time to see a hunched, uneven form creep into view from a narrow passageway hidden behind a mouldy curtain.

Clad in green silks, Ambassador Ophal D’Neeth Flatroq seemed to hover a moment, and then began a rhythmic swaying, similar to a cobra with hood unfurled. The robe Ophal wore was high-cowled, framing a bald pate of glistening scales, strangely curled ears that ended at vague, possibly chewed points, eyes of murky green, pallid brows and cheeks the hue of a serpent’s belly, and a toothless mouth of thick, flabby lips. One hand held up an open oil lamp, flames flickering, revealing fingers without nails and heavy scales upon the back of the hand.

A thin tongue slipped out and darted for a moment before retreating again.

Beetle Praata bowed. ‘Ambassador.’

‘Hissip svlah, thlup?’

‘Alas, yes. As expected, I’m afraid.’ The Imperial Courier reached beneath his tunic and drew out a wooden tube, its ends sealed in wax, the seals bearing the stamp of the Royal Signet Ring.

‘Prrlll obbel lell,’ Ophal sighed, placing the oil lamp on a nearby ledge and then accepting the king’s command. Twisting one end of the tube broke a seal and the ambassador probed with a greenish finger until he was able to pull out the vellum. Unfurling it, Ophal peered close, eyes tracking the script. His tongue slithered out again, this time from one corner of his mouth, then retreated once more. ‘Ahh, prrlll. Flluth villl rrrh na.’

Beetle’s brows lifted. ‘This very night? Very well. Shall I await the reply?’

Ophal nodded, and then sighed again. ‘Mah yull thelff hathome.’

The courier bowed a second time.

The ambassador gestured down at the slow-worm, ‘Eemlee, prrlll come!’

Ophal retreated from whence he came, the slow-worm slithering after him.

Beetle walked over to one of the settees and carefully sat down, ensuring that he crushed nothing. It was going to be a long night. He watched a spider chase a mouse across the floor.

‘We do it tonight,’ said Plaintly Grasp, leaning over the ale-stained table, the one always reserved for her at the very back of Pink’s Tavern. She ran a finger through a pool of ale, making a stream to the table’s edge, and watched it drain.

‘Hey,’ growled Barunko, ‘something’s wet my crotch.’ He straightened slightly, glaring about.

‘You’re always saying that,’ observed Symondenalian Niksos – known to many as The Knife. He was playing with one of his daggers, the blade slipping back and forth and under and over his scarred, cut-up hand. The blade twisted and he winced, but continued his manipulations. ‘Tonight, is it? I’m ready. I’ve been ready for a week.’

Scowling across at him, Plaintly said, ‘She was arrested only two nights ago, you idiot. And stop that, you’re dripping blood all over the table again.’ She looked to the others. In addition to Barunko – their muscle – and Symondenalian Niksos, who couldn’t recall seeing a back he didn’t want to stab, there was Lurma Spilibus, who’d never met a lock she couldn’t pick or a purse she couldn’t snatch, her red tangle of curly hair piled high and wayward, her triangular face bulging at one cheek with a wad of pulped Prazzn, her eyes perpetually crossed as she squinted at the tankard cradled in her hands.

Beside Lurma and huddled together, Mortari and Le Groutt, master burglars who’d yet to meet a wall they couldn’t scale. Mortari was the smaller of the two, with a pinched face and the manic eyes of a terrier needing to piss. He was panting slightly in the fug of the tavern. Leaning hard against his left shoulder was Le Groutt, swarthy and snaggle-toothed, showing his broad and possibly witless yellow grin, his head bobbing as he looked about, habitually assessing walls, railings, ledges and whatever else a man might climb.

She studied them all, gauging, and then nodded. ‘So we’re back together,’ she said.

Le Groutt showed her his smile. ‘The Famous Party of Five.’

‘Infamous,’ drawled Symon The Knife. He flinched and the knife clattered to the tabletop. Sucking at his thumb, he glowered at Plaintly but said nothing more.

‘The Royal Palace,’ mused Lurma. ‘That won’t be easy. Who knows what that insane necromancer’s let loose in the crypts.’ She snapped up her crazed squint, shifted the wad in her mouth until it bulged the other cheek, and then said, ‘Barunko, you up to this? Could be demons. Revenants. Giant snakes.’

‘Unsubstantiated,’ cut in Plaintly. ‘He’s a usurper. That and nothing more. And the new Grand Bishop is a drooling simpleton. All this talk of sorcery and necromancy is just propaganda, to keep away people like us.’

‘Did I pee on myself?’ Barunko asked.

‘He’s arrested the Head of the Thieves’ Guild,’ Plaintly went on. ‘Our Mistress. Now maybe it’s been a few years since we all worked together, but we ain’t lost a step, not one of us. There’s nobody better in Farrog, and now the usurper’s declared war on our guild. We’re getting her out and we’re doing it tonight. One more time, the finest adventuring band of thieves this world has ever seen. So,’ she leaned back baring her teeth. ‘Is everyone ready for this?’

‘I’ve been ready for a week,’ said Symon The Knife, collecting up his blade and twirling it one-handed, until it slipped from his grasp and embedded itself in Barunko’s meaty thigh.

The huge man sat up straighter, looking around. ‘We in a fight? Is this a fight? Let me at ’im!’

The broad, blustery face of Grand General Pin Dollop, Commander of the Royal Farrogal Army, beamed. ‘Say what you like about this new king,’ he said in a voice that should have been low and throaty, perhaps even a growl, but was instead thin and reedy, ‘he understands the importance of protecting our borders.’

Seneschal Shartorial Infelance paced before the General in the cluttered Strategy Room, her silk robes swirling with restless motion. ‘I think you need to explain this to me one more time, Dollop. How is it that raiding beyond those borders constitutes a defensive gesture? Think well on your answer. These are the Imperial caravans of Nightmaria your troops are savaging. Granted, we don’t know much about the Fiends but all that we’ve heard bodes ill. Stirring up that nest seems precipitous.’

‘Nonsense,’ Pin Dollop replied. ‘It’s been too long we let those inhuman spawn squat nice and cozy in those mountain keeps, watching our every move from on high. The old king flinched at his own shadow. It was all appease this and placate that. Concessions on the tolls and tithes, all that merchantware skipping right past poor Farrog, making the Fiends filthy rich and us scraping the coffers year after year.’ His small eyes tracked Shartorial Infelance. ‘Now, this new king of ours, he’s got spine. And the Grand Bishop’s just this evening signed the Proclamation of Holy War against the Fiends of Nightmaria.’ He made a fist and ground it into the cup of his other hand. ‘Scour the scum from their caves! Roast their lizard hides on spits!’

Shartorial sighed. ‘They’ve always respected the closed borders between us, General, and have made a point of hiding their hideousness through intermediaries –’

‘Barring that slimy Ambassador of theirs!’ Pin Dollop shivered. ‘Makes my skin crawl and creep. Well, enough of that. We got us a real king now and I don’t care how he got to the throne – tell me, are you mourning the old king? Honestly?’

Frowning, she shook her head. ‘Not much, granted. But,’ and she halted her pacing to face Pin Dollop, ‘something about this new one…’

‘Give him time. Besides,’ the General rubbed at his jowls, ‘the man sports a very fine beard. Very fine indeed.’

Shartorial’s frown deepened as she studied the man. ‘Well,’ she allowed in a neutral tone, ‘there is that.’

‘Precisely. Anyway, the army’s chewing at the bit. We’ll field the whole complement. Five Legions, four thousand soldiers who’ve been training for this for months.’ He made stepping motions with one hand. ‘Up into the mountains, killing every damned Fiend we come across! Investing the keeps, burning them out and if that doesn’t work, starving them out! I’ve waited my whole life for this! Conquest!’

She cleared her throat. ‘Our defensive strategy.’

‘In the name of security,’ Pin Dollop said, wagging a finger, ‘all measures are justified. Fiends skulking in shrubbery. Unacceptable. You don’t tolerate a viper’s nest in your backyard, do you? No, you burn it out, scour it clean, make the world a better place.’

‘The citizens are certainly fired up,’ Shartorial allowed.

‘Exactly. Have we ever been so unified? No. Do recall, we came very near a civil war only three months ago! If not for the new king enforcing order, this city would be a shambles – and you can swear to the Indifferent God himself that the Fiends would have pounced!’

‘General,’ Shartorial Infelance said, ‘I’d hardly call dissension over this year’s Artist of the Century a civil war.’

‘Anarchy in the streets, Seneschal! The new king’s first act was decisive.’

‘He arrested all the artists.’

‘A brilliant move! Enough of these stupid festivals and all those sniveling poets! They didn’t have much to sing about writhing on spikes on the city walls, oh no, hah!’

Shartorial sighed again. ‘It’s late. When do you march?’

‘Soon,’ Pin Dollop promised. ‘Let the Fiends quiver and shake in their slimy holes!’

‘Indeed,’ she replied. She left the General at his map-table, his fist grinding rhythmically in the cup of his other hand.

‘The world is so unfair,’ moaned Brash Phluster, trying to loosen his shoulders, but with the rack on the third notch there was little give. He whimpered. ‘What time is it? Where’s that Royal Torturer? He’s late! Why’s he always late? He’s forgotten me! How could he do that? Whose turn is it? Who’s next? Someone bribed the bastard, didn’t they? Which one of you? You disgusting pieces of filth! Every one of you! Oh, it hurts!’

‘You’ve been there for less than half a bell,’ said Apto Canavalian.

‘It was you!’ Brash accused, twisting about on the rack, turning his head in an effort to glare at the man chained to the wall to his right, but the angle was too sharp and spasms of agony lanced through his neck. ‘Ow, you bastard!’

‘I won’t change my vote,’ Apto taunted, rattling the chains. ‘That’s why I’m still alive. I’m too sane to kill, you see. For all the usurper’s faults, he knows enough to admire a rational compatriot –’

‘Shut your face,’ growled Tiny Chanter. ‘There ain’t nothing rational about the Nehemoth. Tiny knows rational and this ain’t it, they ain’t it, you ain’t it. Isn’t that so, Midge?’

‘It’s so,’ agreed Midge.

‘Flea?’

‘Yeah. So.’

‘So shut your face, y’damned weasel. Besides, you know you’re next on the rack, so it’s not like you got no stake, is it? I know you’re next cause I’m right after you –’

‘No you’re not,’ said Midge. ‘I am.’

‘What? No, brother, I’m sure it’s me. The fucking poet and then the fucking critic, and then Tiny Chanter.’

‘I’m on the rack after Apto,’ said Midge stubbornly. ‘Then you, Tiny, and then Tulgord Vise –’

‘What about me?’ Flea demanded.

‘You’re after Steck Marynd, Flea, and he’s not there long on account of his broke leg and all his screaming, and then it’s back to the Century’s Greatest Artist.’

‘That title’s a curse!’ Brash Phluster hissed. ‘Oh, this is what being an artist is all about, isn’t it? You paying attention, critic? It’s suffering, misery, torture! It’s grief and pain and agony, all at the hands of people too dim-witted to appreciate talent, much less understand the sacrifices us poets make –’

‘He hasn’t killed you yet because he likes the joke,’ cut in Apto Canavalian.

‘What joke?’ Brash screamed. ‘Ow, it hurts to scream! Ow!’

‘The joke,’ the critic and short-lived guest judge in the Festival of Flowers and Sunny Days explained, ‘that is you, of all people, winning the contest. Thief of talent, imposter and charlatan. This is the curse of awards. Their essential meaninglessness, their potential for absurdity and idiocy and crass nepotism –’

‘Listen to you!’ crowed Brash Phluster. ‘Took so many bribes you bought a villa on the river-side!’

‘That’s right. I took them all, which in turn cancelled them all out, freeing me to judge on merit alone –’

‘They arrested you before the vote! Before that necromancer murdered the king and took the throne!’

‘And look at the hypocrisy of that fiasco!’ Apto retorted. ‘The same people calling for my head were the ones who bribed me in the first place!’ He let out a long breath. ‘Of course, it’s my newfound wealth that permitted me to buy a day off from the rack. You’ve been doubled up, Poet. And why not? Like you said, artists suffer and so they should. Leeches on the ass of society, every one of you!’

‘I knew it! Listen to him! Mister Bitter! Mister Envy!’

‘Keep it up and I’ll buy you another notch, Phluster.’

‘You disgusting piece of filth! Death to the critic! Death to all the critics!’

‘All of you,’ grated Steck Marynd from across the chamber, ‘be quiet. I’m trying to get some sleep here.’

Tulgord Vise cursed under his breath and then said, ‘And so I am betrayed. By all of you! We should be planning our escape, not bickering about this and that. The Nehemoth now sits on the throne of this city, luxuriating in his evilness. We need to be devising our vengeance!’

‘Tiny’s got a plan,’ said Tiny. ‘Tiny goes on the rack all meek and nice. The Royal Torturer likes Tiny Chanter. It’s all part of Tiny’s plan.’

‘Tiny’s a nitwit,’ said Apto Canavalian.

‘When Tiny escapes,’ growled Tiny, ‘he leaves the critic behind.’

‘Yes!’ cried Brash Phluster.

‘And the poet.’

‘What? What have I ever done to you, Tiny? That’s not fair!’

‘We should’ve eaten you first on the trail,’ said Tiny Chanter, shifting in his chains. ‘Not those others. Instead, we’ll just tighten things up another ten or so notches, ripping you apart. Pop! Pop, pop! Hah hah! Right, Midge?’

‘Hah hah,’ laughed Midge.

‘Flea?’

‘Why am I before the poet? I thought I was last!’

Emancipor Reese watched the headless corpse shuffle into the throne room bearing the gilded broken circle that symbolized the Holy Church of the Indifferent God, and a moment later the Grand Bishop strode in, dressed in heavy brocaded robes of vermillion and rose. He paused then, frowning as if ambushed by a sudden thought.

Clearing his throat, Bauchelain went on from his seat on the throne, ‘Tyranny, as I was saying, Mister Reese, is a delicate balance between the surety of violence and the inculcation of passive apathy. The latter is presented as an invitation permitting a safe haven from the former. In short, keep your head down and your mouth shut, and you’ll be safe. By this means once pacifies an entire population.’

Grunting, the Grand Bishop turned around and departed the chamber, the headless sigil-bearer turning and following.

Emancipor plucked a grape from the laden bowl beside his stool. He bit lightly and sucked out the juices before casting the wrinkled pulp into a spittoon at his feet. ‘I get all that, Master. I was just saying how things have gotten kind of quiet, even boring, now that all the poets and singers and musicians and dancers are gone.’

‘Art worthy of the name, Mister Reese, is the voice of subversion. Oh to be sure, there is a place for its lesser manifestations in the ideal civilization, as a source of mindless entertainment and indeed, eager escapism. One can appreciate the insidious denial promulgated by such efforts. Dance and sing whilst everything falls to pieces and the like. Have you ever perused – carefully and with diligence – the face of an ecstatic dancer or reveler? In some, Mister Reese, you will find the bliss of a trance state, an elevation of sorts you might say. But in most, you can see the glimmer of fear. Revelry is a flight, a frenzied fleeing from the misery of daily existence. Hence the desperate plunge into alcohol and drugs, to aid that escape.’

Emancipor squinted up at Bauchelain, eyes narrow. ‘Is that so?’ he said, reaching quickly for his goblet of wine.

‘Maintaining a state of pensive terror of course has its limits,’ the new king of Farrog went on. ‘Hence the identification and demonization of an external threat. At its core, Mister Reese, the notion of “us” and “them” is an essential component in social control.’

Draining the goblet dry, Emancipor reached for his pipe and began tamping it with rustleaf and d’bayang. ‘The Fiends,’ he said.

‘Just so. Convenient, wouldn’t you say, that our kingdom borders a xenophobic but wealthy mountain empire of unhuman lizard people? Such an enemy obviates the convoluted abuse of logic required to differentiate and demonize neighbors who are in fact little different from the rest of us. Hair color? Skin tone? Religious beliefs? Blue eyes? Yellow trousers? All patently absurd, of course. But unhuman lizard people? Why, could it be any easier?’

Emancipor lit his pipe and drew hard. ‘No, Master, I suppose not.’ He blew out a cloud of smoke. ‘Mind you, sir, I’ve got some experience when it comes to peering at maps and whatnot.’

‘Your point?’

‘Well, Master, it’s this, you see. Blank patches, on maps, make me nervous. The Unknown Territory and all that. I’ve sailed plenty of seas, come up on those patches, and well, usually they’re blank for a reason, right? Not that they’re unexplored – there ain’t nothing in this world that ain’t seen some adventurer creeping in to see what there is to see. So, blank patches, sir, are usually blank because whoever went in never came back out.’

‘You certainly become voluble, Mister Reese, once the d’bayang floods your brain, diminishing, one presumes, its normal addled state. Very well, I do concede your point.’

Emancipor glanced again at Bauchelain. ‘Aye? You do?’

‘Let it not be said that I am unreasonable. We have traveled in step for some time now, haven’t we? Clearly we have come to know one another very well indeed.’

‘Aye, Master,’ said Emancipor, quickly reaching for the carafe of wine and topping up his goblet again. He downed three quick mouthfuls and then resumed puffing the pipe. ‘Very well, uh, indeed.’

‘General Pin Dollop, however, being a native of Farrog, speaks with certain familiarity regarding the Fiends.’

‘Aye, Master, he’s a man full of opinions, all right.’

Bauchelain smiled from his throne. ‘Ah, do I sense some resentment, Mister Reese? That he should have ventured so close in my confidence? Are you feeling somewhat crowded?’

‘Well, Master, it’s only that I share the Seneschal’s caution.’

‘Ah, the lovely Shartorial Infelance. Of course, caution is an essential virtue given her responsibilities.’

‘Caution,’ Emancipor said. ‘Aye.’

‘Mister Reese, the Royal Treasury is somewhat bare.’

‘Well, sir, that’s because we’ve looted it.’

‘True. However, tax revenues are down.’

‘Aye, we’ve squeezed them dry.’

‘Just so. Hence the pressing need for an influx of wealth. Tyrannies are expensive, assuming the central motive of being a tyrant king is, of course, the rapid accumulation of vast wealth at the expense of the common folk, not to mention the beleaguered nobility, such as it is.’

‘I thought it was all about power, Master. And control. And the freedom to frighten everyone into submission.’

‘Well, those too,’ Bauchelain conceded. ‘But these are only means to an end, the end being personal wealth. Granted, there is a certain pleasure to be found in terrorizing lesser folk. In unleashing a torrent of fear, suffering and misery. And let it not be said that I have been remiss in addressing such pleasures.’

‘No, Master, not at all. Who’d ever say something like that?’

‘Precisely. In fact, I would proclaim such bloodlust a potent symbol of my essential humanity.’

‘Well, Master, let’s hope those lizards don’t share that particular trait.’

The headless sigil-bearer returned, and behind it the Grand Bishop. ‘Bauchelain,’ said Korbal Broach in his high, thin voice, ‘I just remembered what I was coming here to tell you.’

‘Most excellent, Korbal. Out with it, then.’

‘That ferryman, Bauchelain. The one we put in the deepest dungeon.’

‘Our possessed prisoner, yes, what of him?’

‘He’s dead.’

Bauchelain frowned. ‘Dead? How did that happen?’

‘I think,’ said Korbal Broach, ‘death by masturbation.’

Emancipor rubbed at his face. ‘Well, of all the ways to go…’

‘Very well,’ said Bauchelain. ‘I see. Ah, of course.’

Korbal Broach nodded. ‘Not possessed any more, Bauchelain.’

‘In other words, old friend, the Indifferent God has escaped his mortal prison, and now runs free.’

Korbal Broach nodded a second time. ‘That’s bad.’

‘Indeed, very bad. Hmm.’ Abruptly Bauchelain rose to his feet. ‘Mister Reese, attend me. We shall retire to my Conjuration Chamber. It seems that on this gentle night, we must summon and unleash a veritable host of demons. Korbal Broach, do you sense the god’s presence in the crypts?’

‘I think so. Wandering.’

‘Then a most lively hunt awaits us, how delightful! Mister Reese, come along now.’

Trembling where he sat, Emancipor Reese tapped out his pipe. ‘Master, you wish me to help you raise demons? You never asked that of me before, sir. I think –’

‘Granted, Mister Reese, I may have been remiss in neglecting to mention the possibility in our employment contract. That said, however, these are most unusual circumstances, would you not agree? Fear not, if by some mischance you are rent limb from limb, be assured it will be a quick death.’

‘Ah, thank you, Master. That is…’

‘Of some comfort? Happy to set you at ease, as ever, Mister Reese.’

Korbal Broach said, ‘I’ll raise the rest of my undead, Bauchelain.’

Bauchelain paused and studied his old friend. ‘Any risk that one might be suborned?’

‘No, Bauchelain. None of them have any heads.’

‘Very good then. Well, on a hunt such the one awaiting us, the more the merrier. Mister Reese? Time’s wasting!’

Mortari crouched in the shadows of the alley mouth, Le Groutt crowding his side. He peered at the high wall of Royal Palace. ‘I see handholds,’ he whispered.

‘I see footholds,’ Le Groutt whispered back.

‘So, we got handholds and footholds.’

‘Handholds and footholds.’

‘Can’t be done.’

‘Not a chance.’

Together, they turned about and crept back to where waited the others. Mortari edged up close to Plaintly Grasp. He rubbed at his terrier face, scratched behind an ear, licked his lips and then said, ‘Not a chance.’

‘Not a chance,’ chimed in Le Groutt, his large teeth gleaming.

‘Unless Barunko can throw us high, up near one of the spikes,’ Mortari said.

‘Grab hold of the corpse’s leg and hope it don’t tear off,’ added Le Groutt.

‘Up past that…’

‘Handholds and footholds.’

Sighing, Plaintly Grasp turned to Barunko. ‘Well?’

‘Throwing? I can throw. Give me something to throw.’

‘You’ll be throwing Mortari,’ explained Plaintly. ‘Up to one of those spikes.’

‘Spikes?’

‘The ones on the wall.’

‘Wall?’

‘Over there.’ She pointed.

Barunko looked about. ‘Wall,’ he said, grunting. ‘Show me.’

Copyright © Steven Erikson 2021

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Fantasy Shapeshifters Galore!

Fantasy Shapeshifters Galore!

We are OBSESSED with shapeshifters at the moment, thanks to The Glass Magicians by Caroline Stevermer. Who doesn’t want to deal with their problems by spontaneously turning into a bear?

Here’s some of our favorite shapeshifter fantasies–Tell us what we missed in the comments!

image-36516The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer

Thalia Cutler doesn’t have prolific family connections. What she does know is stage magic and she dazzles audiences with an act that takes your breath away. That is, until one night when a trick goes horribly awry. In surviving, she discovers that she can shapeshift, and has the potential to take her place among the rich and powerful. But first, she’ll have to learn to control that power…before the real monsters descend to feast.

 

image-36502Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn.

 

image-36539The True Game by Sheri S. Tepper

In the lands of the True Game, your lifelong identity emerges as you play-Prince or Sorcerer, Demon or Doyen. Raising the dead is the least of the Necromancer’s Talents-he is a wild card who threatens the True Game itself. A giant stalks the mountains. Shadowpeople gather by the light of the moon. Bonedancers raise up armies of the dead. And the Wizard’s Eleven sleep trapped in their dreams. Players, take your places. The final Game begins now…

 

image-36541Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

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. However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…

 

image-36512The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

Moon has spent his life hiding what he is: a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as he is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself—someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into the shape-shifter community.

 

image-36537The Last Dragonlord by Joanne Bertin

Dragonlord Linden Rathan, last-born of a race of immortal weredragons, has spent six hundred years alone, searching for his soultwin while his fellow Dragonlords watch over humanity’s Five Kingdoms. When the Queen of Cassori dies mysteriously, Linden and the other Dragonlords are called upon to prevent civil war as two human claimants vie for the regency.

As the battle for Cassori rule escalates, Linden becomes the target of the Fellowship, a secret society of true-humans who could actually destroy his immortal life. Then he meets a beautiful young ship captain named Maurynna who may be the only one who can help Linden bring Cassori back from the brink of chaos.

 

image-36511The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Maniye’s father is the Wolf clan’s chieftain, but she’s an outcast. Her mother was queen of the Tiger and these tribes have been enemies for generations. Maniye also hides a deadly secret. All can shift into their clan’s animal form, but Maniye can take on tiger and wolf shapes. She refuses to disown half her soul, so escapes, rescuing a prisoner of the Wolf clan in the process. The killer Broken Axe is set on their trail, to drag them back for retribution. Maniye’s father plots to rule the north, and controlling his daughter is crucial to his schemes. However, other tribes also prepare for strife. Strangers from the far south appear too, seeking allies in their own conflict. It’s a season for omens as priests foresee danger, and a darkness falling across the land. Some say a great war is coming, overshadowing even Wolf ambitions. A time of testing and broken laws is near, but what spark will set the world ablaze?

 

Poster Placeholder of - 67The Belgariad by David Eddings

It all begins with the theft of the Orb that for so long protected the West from an evil god. As long as the Orb was at Riva, the prophecy went, its people would be safe from this corrupting power. Garion, a simple farm boy, is familiar with the legend of the Orb, but skeptical in matters of magic. Until, through a twist of fate, he learns not only that the story of the Orb is true, but that he must set out on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger to help recover it. For Garion is a child of destiny, and fate itself is leading him far from his home, sweeping him irrevocably toward a distant tower—and a cataclysmic confrontation with a master of the darkest magic.

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