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

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

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

Dive into all our recs below! 


when among crows by veronica rothWhen Among Crows by Veronica Roth

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


Placeholder of  -69Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

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


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

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


Book of NightBook of Night by Holly Black by Holly Black

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


Legends & LattesLegends & Lattes by Travis Baldree by Travis Baldree

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


The Echo WifeThe Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey by Sarah Gailey

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

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8 Evergreen Reads

Our listicle scientists worked really hard to distill this one: Evergreen reads perfect for any time, but critically–only those that have an appropriately thematic green cover. This is our list green reads. Evergreen reads. 

Check em’ out! 


in the lives of puppets by tj kluneIn the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune

Victor Lawson, a human, lives with his family of robots in a house among a strange grove of trees. Those green trees earn this queer retelling of Pinocchio its spot on this list of green books, but adventure is on the horizon, and it’s going to pull Victor out of the grove and into a quest to fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson from his captors in the City of Electric Dreams. 

kinning by nisi shawlKinning by Nisi Shawl

This title continues where Shawl’s Everfair leaves off: The island nation of Everfair has persisted in defiance of European colonizers. In this alternate history, barkcloth airships dot the sky and varied peoples come together to form a new society. As enemies within and without challenge whether Everfair will continue to serve as a symbol of hope, freedom, and equality to anticolonial movements around the world. 

Importantly within the context of this listicle, the cover of this title is a deep and calming green, but also on a deeper level, envisioning a world with kinder technologies and a brighter future is critical to creating a greener present. 

masters of death by olivie blakeMasters of Death by Olivie Blake

Like much of Blake’s work, Masters of Death combines the sacred and profane to synthesize profound implications. This is a book about the lives of immortals, and the dilemmas of mortals that plague all regardless of undying status. It’s also a story about a real estate agent who happens to be a vampire, and who happens to have a haunted house that happens to be quite difficult to sell as a result. The cover is a tranquil shade of green. 

the library of the dead by t l huchuThe Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu

The hardcover cover for this title was actually a deep blue, but for the paperback edition, we’re all mean green here 😎

And that’s not all that’s mean… Something is stalking the streets and alleys of Edinburgh and leaving drained, huskified children in its wake. But don’t worry! Professional ghost talker Ropa is on the case! Or maybe you should worry. This entity is dangerous. 

after the forest by kell woodsAfter the Forest by Kell Woods

Twenty years after the fairy tale ends, Hans is drowning in debts from gambling and Greta’s trying to ignore the tempting whispers of the old witch’s grimoire that calls to her from where she hid it away. When dark magic enters the forest from the outside, Greta may need to call on her own, but down that path lays danger too. 

tress of the emerald sea by brandon sandersonTress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

C’mon. This one’s got emerald in the title! It’s perfect! 

In this swashbuckling adventure, Tress must stow away on a ship in order to cross the green ocean that surrounds her island home to find the Sorceress of the Midnight Sea. Her aim is to save her friend, but just one drop of this water carries death. She may just have to settle for saving herself, or fatally failing altogether. 

thornhedge by t kingfisherThornhedge by T. Kingfisher

An impenetrable wall of brambles preserves a curse and holds a princess locked in a tower, but not all curses should be broken. The green of Thornhedge is tinged with a little red, both on the cover and in concept: Here we have the nature magic of faerie but also betrayal and bleeding secrets that have been kept far too long. 

heartsong by tj kluneHeartsong by TJ Klune

This list wouldn’t be complete without an entry from TJ Klune’s Green Creek series, right?? So enter, Heartsong, the werewolf book heart-melter with the greenest color palette. Just look at that starburst green with warm accents! This book about queer love between queer werewolves is evergreen for sure. 

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Six Titles Inspired By Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are classic! They’ve become timeless, and timeless stories are retold and evolve in the retelling. So gather your wits, wish on a lucky star, and stay away from that ominous gingerbread house in the woods, because we’ve compiled a list of titles inspired by fairy tales. Actually, we put this list together last year, but we’re bringing it back now because In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune is available in paperback now!

Check it out!


Nettle & BoneImage Placeholder of - 17 by T. Kingfisher

Kingfisher flips the fairy tale script in Nettle & Bone, where our main character Marra is the shy, convent-raised, third daughter of a royal family that has married off her older princess sister. After so much silence, Marra will no longer allow her sister to suffer abuse at the hands of a cruel and powerful prince. And what fairy tale would be complete without a band of bandy characters with which to share the journey? Marra’s group includes a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar. Time to topple a throne.

Now available in paperback!

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

Is The Adventures of Pinocchio technically a fairy tale? The writer of this list honestly isn’t sure, but Pinocchio IS in Shrek, so by that metric: Yes.

In the Lives of Puppets is TJ Klune’s Pinocchio-inspired tale about sentient automata exploring what it means to live, love, and reckon with the past. It’s pretty cool.

A Spindle SplinteredPlace holder  of - 20 by Alix E. Harrow

Zinnia Gray finds herself falling through worlds. Wait, let’s backtrack. Zinnia Gray pricks her finger on a spinning wheel. No, no, a little more. Zinnia Gray has a rare condition that will see her dead before her twenty-second birthday, so her best friend Charm throws her an extra special Sleeping Beauty experience final twenty-first birthday party, where she pricks her finger and commences falling through worlds where she meets another sleeping beauty, also on the run from fate. 

Placeholder of  -97Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden

This lyrical space opera takes the classic tale of The Little Mermaid, and asks the question: What if this story happened in far future space where humans have used gene-adaption to acclimate themselves to harsh desert and sea climes? It’s a really good question. Daughter of the Sea-Clan, Atuale sparked a war by choosing her land-dwelling love over her home. Now, with a virulent plague sweeping her adopted clan, Atuale can only turn to the infamous mercenary known as the World Witch who also happens to be her ex-lover. 

You Let Me InImage Place holder  of - 1 by Camilla Bruce

“I have always been interested in folklore, and fascinated by previous generations’ vague distinction between the faeries and the dead,” says Camilla Bruce. “One of my favourite things about faeries is their elusiveness; it is hard to get a firm grip on just what – or where– they are.” 

She’s talking about her inspiration for You Let Me In, a mystery of otherworldly thrills situated within a sinister domestic atmosphere. 

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Witchy Books for the Solstice

by Merlin Hoye

The days are dark, the wind is cold, and the solstice is upon us! We don’t blame you if you’re feeling a tad spooky—the weather practically demands it. We suggest that you embrace your witchy side and get into the spirit of things with some wintery rituals. If you’re running low on rosemary, incense, and tarot cards, never fear! Tor is here to help you with one of the oldest rituals we have—snuggling up with a good book.

Here are our recommendations to get you through the shortest day of the year in true witchy style. 


after the forest by kell woodsAfter the Forest by Kell Woods

Twenty years after Hansel and Gretal escaped from the witch, the land has been decimated by war, weird things are happening in the woods, and the siblings are struggling to get by. But Gretal has a secret—the witch’s stolen grimoire—and a recipe for gingerbread that seems strangely addictive. Could it be the key to keeping her family afloat or embroil Gretal in dark magic she isn’t prepared to face? The baking magic in After the Forest is truly a delight. I mean, food and magic are two of our favorite things so how can you go wrong? Just don’t read this book if you’re hungry. You might find yourself addicted as well. 


the witch in the well by camilla bruceThe Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce

This dark, fantastical thriller is the story of two childhood friends torn apart by a witch who died nearly 160 years before the story begins. When Elena returns to her childhood home she feels inspired to write the story of beautiful young Ilsbeth Clark who was drowned in a well by the townspeople who thought she was a child-killing witch. When Elena’s childhood friend Cathy finds out, she is furious. She has been researching Ilsbeth’s life for years and has very different views on her life than Elena. As the competition between the two women grows fiercer, they each become more and more obsessed with their subject and things get spooky fast.


red rabbit by alex grecianRed Rabbit by Alex Grecian

It wouldn’t be a truly witchy list without some horror representation so here’s a spine tingling folk horror that feels like The VVitch had a baby with Lonesome Dove. Red Rabbit is the story of a ragtag crew of misfits who travel north to claim a bounty after killing the local witch. The trials they encounter on this quest are worse than any witch could ever and this bloody romp of a western, full of demons, ghosts, and ghouls galore, will have you gripped throughout. 


one for my enemy by olivie blakeOne for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

Most of the books on this list have one witch, singular, which is perfectly fine but what if you’re the kind of person who wants WITCHES WITCHES ALL THE TIME? If so, may I suggest One for My Enemy which features warring witches, witty witches, and witches falling irrevocably in love. This retelling of Romeo & Juliet is set in a Manhattan where two magical families have been fighting for years to stay in control of their criminal empires. Lev and Sasha defy their families and fall for each other and their story will keep you reading past your bedtime. 


princess of dune by brian herbert & kevin j. andersonPrincess of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

Set two years before the events of the first Dune book, Princess of Dune follows Irulan and Chani before they were connected with Paul Atreides. While Irulan is trained in the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, Chani is initiated into the Fremen mystical ways by an ancient Reverend Mother. This addition to the series is full of female magic and it’s fascinating to see these two women come into their power.


Poster Placeholder of - 37Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

This is the story of Princess Marra of the Harbor Kingdom who sets out on a quest to save her sister from her despicable prince husband. To do this, Marra seeks the help of a Dust Wife, a creepy, witch-like character with a demon-possessed hen sidekick. Yes, you heard that right. Adventure ensues, friendships are made, families are found. Nettle & Bone is steeped in dark fairytale vibes, sister bonding, and if that isn’t enough for you, there’s a Bonedog who’s exactly what he sounds like. We would die for Bonedog. 


witch queen of redwinter by ed mcdonaldWitch Queen of Redwinter by Ed McDonald

For fear of spoilers (this is the third book in the The Redwinter Chronicles after all) I won’t say much about this fast-paced fantasy other than GO READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS (Daughter of Redwinter and Traitor of Redwinter) if you haven’t already! Witch Queen of Redwinter arrives November 12th of next year and you’ll want to be ready for this latest installment of riveting, witchy goodness full of suspense and complex characters. The story follows Raine, a cynical girl who has been forced to hide her ability to see and speak with the dead so she won’t be stoned to death by the warrior magicians in power. 

 

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Tor Books’ Startlingly Specific Holiday Gift Guide

Do you hear that??

It’s the sweet, sweet sound of gifts and the necessity of buying them for all of the humans, animals, and unidentified entities in your life. That’s a lot of pressure, but don’t sweat, because we’ve got your back, and more importantly, we’ve got a ton of increasingly niche book recommendations to get you through the holiday season! Check them out here and let us know which ones you’re grabbing in the comments. 

by Rachel Taylor and a cat


Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree is for the treasured party member who’s saved your character’s life many times on TTRPG night

via GIPHY

We all have That One Amazing Player who has pulled our butts out of the fictional fire on D&D night, and what better way to show your endless appreciation than with the gift of LITERATURE?! High fantasy, secondhand books, and first love–what more could you ask for?


Masters of Death by Olivie Blake is for the angsty goth who still wishes it was Halloween

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So they’re in denial that it’s not Halloween anymore, but guess what?! In the unbroken face of eternity, time has no meaning! Every day is Halloween!


In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune is for the plucky traveler who’s got the whole world to see

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There are many ways to see new and exciting worlds, and TJ Klune always provides queer and cozy adventures that you only need to pick up a book to explore. Consider picking up his latest venture for that friend who’s been bit by the travel bug!


Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle is for the action movie fanatic who owns a cardboard cutout of John Wick

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Assassins, dragon magic, and Chinese diaspora urban fantasy set in contemporary San Francisco.


Book of Night by Holly Black is for the insatiable reader who has way more books to read than hands to hold them

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And if you order and submit your receipt before 12/15, you can receive a Book of Night tote bag! Even Charlie Hall needs a safe sling to carry her contraband. Who’s Charlie Hall? A professional thief / bartender who pilfers shadow magic secrets! Read the book!


T. L. Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights series is for the Supernatural fan who’s looking to expand their fandom across the pond

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Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker, but she’s not just carrying messages anymore. You talk to one ghost and suddenly you’re spending late nights in the occult library, solving murders, and following trails of huskified children to their sinister spectral source.


The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz is for the science-enjoyer in your life who’s looking for environmentally-conscious fiction

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This sweeping, uplifting, and illuminating exploration of the future from a science fiction visionary is the perfect gift to give your non-fiction loving, environmentally aware bestie who wants to dip their toe into a more fictional space.


Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson is for fans looking for The Princess Bride vibes but just haven’t quite found them yet

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Do you have a Princess Bride superfan in your life? They don’t need another fandom-y Etsy gift this year–they need a book that gives them the same emotional rush they got the first time they laid eyes on the fairytale-inspired glory that is their favorite 1987 classic.


Everfair by Nisi Shawl is for the history buff in your life who can’t stop thinking about other paths the world might have taken

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After being purchased back from the Congo Free State’s colonizer, Everfair becomes a land of fantastic technologies—of spying cats and gulls, nuclear dirigibles buoyed by barkcloth balloons, and silent pistols that shoot poison knives. What happens when these technological advances are brought to bear against Belgian tyrant Leopold II?

That’s Everfair, and then you can read Kinning (on sale 1/23/24) for the continuation of this expansive alternate history.


Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini is for the hardcore Trekkie who’s looking for major blockbuster movie vibes in their books

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Don’t let the bright and spiffy gif fool you—in this book they boldly go where no human has gone before, equally bold in how they look past the question: Might there have been a reason?


The Fragile Threads of Power by V. E. Schwab is for people looking to put a different kind of magic into their holidays

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Let’s put the magic into the holidays, shall we? V. E. Schwab returns to The Shades of Magic universe with a whole new series, perfect for readers who loved the original and new fans who want to explore magical alternate universes from in front of a cozy fireplace.


Shelley Parker-Chan’s Radiant Emperor Duology is for the unhinged danmei consumer who’s looking for their next great read

 

Do you have someone in your life that consumes danmei like candy? Are they tired of waiting for their new favorite series to be translated so they can add it to their shelves? Do we have the series for you. She Who Became the Sun and He Who Drowned the World explore a stunning reinvention of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. It’s queer, it’s fantastical, and it’s complete! Snag both books in the duology for them now.


Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher is for the friend with an ill-advised yet much-beloved Shrek 2 tattoo

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“Better out than in” on the inside of the wrist, Thornhedge open in hand.


Starling House by Alix E. Harrow is for anyone who has never been disappointed by the combo of Mike Flanagan and a Scary House

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Home is where the heart is, and really puts you in a vulnerable position when your house HATES you.


Starter Villain by John Scalzi is for Megamind

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If you’re not Megamind, keep scrolling. Just kidding—this book is also for cat lovers and fans of Despicable Me and The Venture Brothers.


The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan is for people who loved Season 2 of The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime

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If you have someone in your life that got sucked into the masterpiece that was The Wheel of Time Season 2, don’t worry, you can help them relive the fun with The Great Hunt, the inspiration for the show and the second book in The Wheel of Time series!

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5 Literary Encounters with Legendary Beings

by a cat

Many mortal constructs began as stories, we say, confident in spite of our unwillingness to invest the research hours necessary to prove such a thesis. Why else would we tell time? 

Anyway, having thus established the relevance of myth within our lives, let’s talk about something more fun than the ticking of the clock. Let’s talk about vampires, werewolves, and other myth-folk* by running down some awesome books within whose pages they reside. 

Check it out!


wolfsong by tj kluneWolfsong by TJ Klune

Werewolves are for kissing. Don’t believe us? Let the gay lycans of TJ Klune’s Green Creek series melt your heart, and then achingly break it. These books are about a pack of werewolves, yes, but it’s important to remember that many mythical beings are people too: Given to all the messy yearning, loving, and hurting that comes with being alive. 


masters of death by olivie blakeMasters of Death by Olivie Blake

Vampires kind of have an image problem, unhelped by numerous depictions of bloody splatterfests and exploitative aristocratic legacies. Now who better to act on an image problem than a real estate agent? Viola Marek might be a vamp but she’s also got houses to sell. Unfortunately, one of them is very inconveniently haunted, and this is the inciting incident in Masters of Death by Olivie Blake—a story about (among other things) how immortality doesn’t actually spare the indignities, gifts, and difficulties of life. It just gives you more time to experience them. 

On Sale 8/8/23


Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken BebelleEbony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle

And the next entry in our rundown of legendary entities is an urban fantasy full of assassins and dragon magic in San Francisco. Here’s a partial list of the mythical beings encountered within this thrilling debut: 

  • a guardian foo lion
  • a shinigami in a business suit
  • a cat yokai
  • a LOT of ghosts

Spring's Arcana by Lilith SaintcrowSpring’s Arcana by Lilith Saintcrow

The mythical and magical entities that populate our stories often embody aspects of our mortal lives. From this oblique angle, we as narrative-enthusiasts can sneak up on emotional and abstract truths otherwise inaccessible. But our lives change, and so do our stories, and Spring’s Arcana by Lilith Saintcrow is an excellent candidate to demonstrate this phenomenon. Nat Drozdova’s mother is sick, and she must cross an America full of modern divinities (the God of Money, Law and Order, the King of Thieves, etc.) in order to procure a stolen relic for a winter goddess in a skyscraper office who has the power to save her ailing mother. 


thornhedge by t. kingfisherThornhedge by T. Kingfisher

“Toadling was, more or less, lucky. She was not harvested by the flesh-smiths nor devoured by redcaps, nor raised in the retinue of a great lord of Faerie. Instead she was thrown to the greenteeth, the slimy swamp-dwelling spirits who devour unwary swimmers. Boy-children they eat, always. Girl-children they eat, mostly. But occasionally their numbers will fall, or one of them will be seized with some murky maternal instinct, and they will raise a child instead.”

This snippet comes from the beginning of T. Kingfisher’s twisted fable, and already we are blessed with a dearth of fae folk. If you like mythical beings in fiction, pick this one up as soon as you can!

On Sale 8/15/23


  • Tor Blog-cat’s Note: Diligent readers may note that the introduction to this book roundup seems to imply the veracity of werewolves, vampires, and other beings of legend. While this question certainly lays beyond the scope of the Tor Publishing Group to answer, we do heartily encourage all readers to show kindness to any vamps, wolves, etc. that might or might not exist <3

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Tor’s Sublimely Bananas Summer Quiz

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

Hey! It’s summer! Why are you wasting time trying to figure out what to read next when you could be on the beach already reading??

We’ve got this quiz to determine which of our summer releases you should read and you should definitely trust us <3

And if you haven’t had enough seasonal content, may we also offer our Severely Unmoored Winter Holiday Quiz and Drastically Off-Kilter Spring Books Quiz?



 

And while you’re here and thinking about books…. Check out Ebony Gate, because it’s coming out soon, and it’s awesome.

Pre-order Ebony Gate Here:

Place holder  of amazon- 41 Place holder  of bn- 70 Image Placeholder of booksamillion- 84 ibooks2 27 Poster Placeholder of bookshop- 94

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Thorns & Fairy Tales: T. Kingfisher on writing Thornhedge

thornhedge by t. kingfisherT. Kingfisher is a busy writer. She’s got books with Tor, and books with Nightfire, and today she’s on our blog to talk a little about the creation process of her latest novella, Thornhedge.

Check it out!


Way back when, in 2015, in my other life as a children’s book author, I had a book published called Harriet the Invincible, the first of the Hamster Princess series. Harriet, the hero, is very fierce and very confident, and she’s also the princess at the heart of a “Sleeping Beauty” retelling (also a hamster). It was a fun romp and I enjoyed writing it enormously, and a lot of readers liked it, too.

But as inevitably happens when you retell a fairy tale—or at least when I retell one—I found myself with all these extra possibilities in my brain afterward. Directions that I could have gone but didn’t. Characters that I could have written but passed over in favor of others. Themes that went unexplored, ideas that never got fleshed out, all the usual writing baggage. And yet somehow, this time, it was different. It didn’t go away.

Apparently, I was not quite done with “Sleeping Beauty,” or perhaps the story wasn’t quite done with me.

I usually find my way through a fairy tale by questioning all the assumptions in it, starting with who the hero and the villain are. The wicked fairy that curses Sleeping Beauty is supposed to be the villain, of course (and yes, I did love the movie Maleficent, but even then, the princess is one of the good guys). So in this case, I started thinking, what if the princess was the villain? After all, why would you trap someone inside a hedge of thorns, anyway? Because you wanted to contain her. Because there was some reason you didn’t want her to get out. Because she was dangerous, and maybe you weren’t a very skilled fairy, so you did the only thing that you could think of to do.

I wrote about three paragraphs with this idea in mind, and Toadling more or less dropped into my lap, fully formed. I rapidly found myself writing the diametric opposite of the book that I had just written. (It’s hard to think of two characters less alike than Toadling and Harriet, although I love them both.)

Once I had Toadling, the whole thing just flowed. It’s lovely when that happens (also, sadly, rare). Many characters bolt off with the story, and I am left staggering behind them, frantically trying to take notes, but Toadling was very polite. Her backstory unfolded pretty much as I typed it. I learned she was raised by greenteeth as I wrote the sentence about them; I learned that she could turn into a toad when she did it on the page—all the little discoveries that you always make writing a book, of course, but happening at my usual typing speed, without sitting and staring at the wall for an hour, or nearly rupturing my wrist tendons trying to keep up.

It was really very sweet, and so if someone asked me about Thornhedge, I would probably say that it is a sweet book, and then presumably someone would point out that the heroine is raised by child-eating fish monsters and the villain is torturing people and animating the dead, and I would be left flailing my hands around and saying, “But it’s sweet! Really!” because I am not always the best at judging the tone of my own work.

. . . I still think it’s sweet, dammit.

The other amusing thing about Thornhedge is that it was the first book I sold to Tor, though it has come out after a couple of others, because publishing. I had written most of it, had it lying around in my mental trunk, and wasn’t sure what to do with it. Novellas were hard to place at the time. There was one magazine that told me flat out that they couldn’t afford to pay me anything like what it was worth, which I respected, but which left me with this weird wrong-length . . . thingy.

And then I saw that Tor had an open submission period for novellas coming up.

Huh, I thought. I should send this in. When is that, again?

Then, a few minutes later: Waaaaait a minute—I have an agent! Agents don’t have to wait for that! They can just send in books!

(I have written more than forty books now, and I am still sometimes not entirely clear on this whole “being a professional writer” gig.)

So my agent sent in Thornhedge, and Tor very kindly came back and said, “Yes, we will take this, and also, what else you got?” which is why Nettle & Bone and What Moves the Dead have also come out by the time you’re reading this. So I am very grateful to them for taking the chance, and also to Toadling, weird as it is to be grateful to a figment of your imagination, for paving the way.

T. Kingfisher

North Carolina

June 2022

T. KINGFISHER (she/her) writes fantasy, horror, and occasional oddities, including Nettle & Bone,What Moves the Dead, and A House with Good Bones. Under a pen name, she also writes bestselling children’s books. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, dogs, and chickens who may or may not be possessed.

Pre-order Thornhedge Here:

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Every Tor Book Coming in Summer 2023

School might be out for summer (or forever. Some of us have been around a minute), but we’re ALWAYS hitting the books.

Let’s get it.


the woods of arcady by michael moorcockThe Woods of Arcady by Michael Moorcock

In the 1970s, Michael Moorcock, a writer of genre fiction, attempts to save his failing marriage by taking his wife and daughters to Paris. One night in a bar he is amazed to find himself drinking with heroes of story and history. The next day he awakens aboard a sailing ship, kidnapped into another reality by a French highwayman and the four Musketeers, who know Moorcock well from adventures in London’s Alsacia…but that was another Moorcock, from another world. The main narrative of The Woods of Arcady is punctuated by episodes from the story of the Blackstones and by spirited, freewheeling appearances by Captain Buggerly Otherly and his companions from the Second Ether. As readers move deeper into Moorcock’s multiverse, it rises up on all sides, ready to astound.

On Sale 6/6/23


the first bright thing by j.r. dawsonThe First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson

Ringmaster — Rin, to those who know her best — can jump to different moments in time as easily as her wife, Odette, soars from bar to bar on the trapeze. And the circus they lead is a rare home and safe haven for magical misfits and outcasts, known as Sparks. With the world still reeling from World War I, Rin and her troupe — the Circus of the Fantasticals — travel the midwest, offering a single night of enchantment and respite to all who step into their Big Top. But threats come at Rin from all sides. The future holds an impending war that the Sparks can see barrelling toward their show and everyone in it. And Rin’s past creeps closer every day, a malevolent shadow she can’t fully escape. It takes the form of another circus, with tents as black as midnight and a ringmaster who rules over his troupe with a dangerous power. Rin’s circus has something he wants, and he won’t stop until it’s his.

On Sale 6/13/23


everfair by nisi shawlEverfair by Nisi Shawl

In this re-imagining of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo, African American missionaries join forces with British socialists to purchase land from the Congo Free State’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, which they name Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven for native populations of the Congo as well as settlers from around the world, including dream-eyed Europeans attempting to create a better society, formerly enslaved people returning from America, and Chinese railroad builders escaping hard labor. Using the combined knowledge of four continents, Everfair becomes a land of spying cats and gulls, nuclear dirigibles buoyed by barkcloth balloons, and silent pistols that shoot poison knives. With this technology, Everfair will attempt to defeat the Belgian tyrant Leopold II. But even if they can defeat their great enemy, a looming world war and political infighting may threaten to destroy everything they have built.

On Sale 6/13/23


the frugal wizard's handbook for surviving medieval england by brandon sandersonThe Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson

A man awakes in a clearing in what appears to be medieval England with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or why he is there. Chased by a group from his own time, his sole hope for survival lies in regaining his missing memories, making allies among the locals, and perhaps even trusting in their superstitious boasts. His only help from the “real world” should have been a guidebook entitled The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England, except his copy exploded during transit. The few fragments he managed to save provide clues to his situation, but can he figure them out in time to survive?

On Sale 6/27/23


wolfsong by tj kluneWolfsong by TJ Klune

Oxnard Matheson was twelve when his father taught him a lesson: Ox wasn’t worth anything and people would never understand him. Then his father left. Ox was sixteen when the energetic Bennett family moved in next door, harboring a secret that would change him forever. The Bennetts are shapeshifters. They can transform into wolves at will. Drawn to their magic, loyalty, and enduring friendships, Ox feels a gulf between this extraordinary new world and the quiet life he’s known, but he finds an ally in Joe, the youngest Bennett boy. Ox was twenty-three when murder came to town and tore a hole in his heart. Violence flared, tragedy split the pack, and Joe left town, leaving Ox behind. Three years later, the boy is back. Except now he’s a man – charming, handsome, but haunted – and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them. The Green Creek Series is for adult readers.

On Sale 7/4/23


Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken BebelleEbony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle

Emiko Soong belongs to one of the eight premier magical families of the world. But Emiko never needed any magic. Because she is the Blade of the Soong Clan. Or was. Until she’s drenched in blood in the middle of a market in China, surrounded by bodies and the scent of blood and human waste as a lethal perfume. The Butcher of Beijing now lives a quiet life in San Francisco, importing antiques. But when a shinigami, a god of death itself, calls in a family blood debt, Emiko must recover the Ebony Gate that holds back the hungry ghosts of the Yomi underworld. Or forfeit her soul as the anchor. What’s a retired assassin to do but save the City by the Bay from an army of the dead?

On Sale 7/11/23


The Eye of the World: The Graphic Novel Part 5The Eye of the World: The Graphic Novel, Volume Five based on the novel by Robert Jordan, written by Chuck Dixon, and illustrated by Marcio Fiorito and Francis Nuguit

In The Eye of the World: the Graphic Novel, Volume Five, Rand al’Thor and his friends and companions have been separated by attacks by Darkfriends and scattered across the lands. Having persevered, they make their way to Caemlyn, where they hope to be reunited. But their roads have grown ever more dangerous. Lan, Moiraine, and Nynaeve rescue Perrin and Egwene from the Whitecloaks. But five traveling together attract more attention than two or three traveling on their own…. Rand and Mat have encountered more than one Darkfriend, often barely escaping without injury. They’re out of money and in too much danger to stop and work for more. Luckily, they make some new friends, but unluckily, Rand tumbles into a royal garden, where he is seized by the Palace Guards and hauled before the Queen….

On Sale 7/25/23


The Eye of the World: The Graphic Novel Part 6The Eye of the World: The Graphic Novel, Volume Six based on the novel by Robert Jordan, written by Chuck Dixon, and illustrated by Andie Tong

The Eye of the World: the Graphic Novel, Volume Six, Rand al’Thor and his companions—his old friends from Emond’s Field; the brave warrior Lan Mandragoran; and Moiraine, the mysterious and powerful Aes Sedai—have at last been reunited. Their journey in search of the Eye of the World nears its climax as they dare the otherworldly Ways, guided by an Ogier, Loial, and narrowly escape the menace of the soul-stealing Machin Shin. When the group reaches the realm of the Green Man, they believe themselves safe. But two of the Forsaken are waiting for them, ready to attack and to guide their dark lord, Ba’alzamon, to the ones he has been seeking!

On Sale 7/25/23


Cassiel's Servant by Jacqueline CareyCassiel’s Servant by Jacqueline Carey

Cassiel’s Servant is a retelling of cult favorite Kushiel’s Dart from the point of view of Joscelin, Cassiline warrior-priest and protector of Phèdre nó Delaunay. He’s sworn to celibacy and the blade as surely as she’s pledged to pleasure, but the gods they serve have bound them together. When both are betrayed, they must rely on each other to survive. From his earliest training to captivity amongst their enemies, his journey with Phèdre to avert the conquest of Terre D’Ange shatters body and mind… and brings him an impossible love that he will do anything to keep. Even if it means breaking all vows and losing his soul.

On Sale 8/1/23


ravensong by tj kluneRavensong by TJ Klune

Gordo Livingstone never forgot the lessons carved into his skin. Hardened by the betrayal of a pack who left him behind, he sought solace in the garage in his tiny mountain town, vowing never again to involve himself in the affairs of wolves. It should have been enough. And it was, until the wolves came back, and with them, Mark Bennett. In the end, they faced the beast together as a pack… and won. Now, a year later, Gordo has found himself once again the witch of the Bennett pack. Green Creek has settled after the death of Richard Collins, and Gordo constantly struggles to ignore Mark and the song that howls between them. But time is running out. Something is coming. And this time, it’s crawling from within. Some bonds, no matter how strong, were made to be broken. The Green Creek Series is for adult readers.

On Sale 8/1/23


masters of death by olivie blakeMasters of Death by Olivie Blake

Viola Marek is a struggling real estate agent, and a vampire. But her biggest problem currently is that the house she needs to sell is haunted. The ghost haunting the mansion has been murdered, and until he can solve the mystery of how he died, he refuses to move on. Fox D’Mora is a medium, and though he is also most-definitely a shameless fraud, he isn’t entirely without his uses—seeing as he’s actually the godson of Death. When Viola seeks out Fox to help her with the ghost infestation, he becomes inextricably involved in a quest that neither he nor Vi expects (or wants). But with the help of an unruly poltergeist, a demonic personal trainer, a sharp-voiced angel, a love-stricken reaper, and a few mindfulness-practicing creatures, Vi and Fox soon discover the difference between a mysterious lost love and an annoying dead body isn’t nearly as distinct as they thought.

On Sale 8/8/23


the salt-black tree by lilith saintcrowThe Salt-Black Tree by Lilith Saintcrow

Nat Drozdova has crossed half the continent in search of the stolen Dead God’s Heart, the only thing powerful enough to trade for her beautiful, voracious, dying mother’s life. Yet now she knows the secret of her own birth—and that she’s been lied to all her young life. The road to the Heart ends at the Salt-Black Tree, but to find it Nat must pay a deadly price. Pursued by mouthless shadows hungry for the blood of new divinity as well as the razor-wielding god of thieves, Nat is on her own. Her journey leads through a wilderness of gods old and new, across a country as restless as its mortal inhabitants, and it’s too late to back out now. Blood may not always prevail. Magic might not always work. And the young Drozdova is faced with an impossible choice: Save her mother’s very existence…or accept the consequences of her own.

On Sale in Trade Paperback 8/8/23


book of night by holly blackBook of Night by Holly Black

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

On Sale in Trade Paperback 8/15/23


thornhedge by t. kingfisherThornhedge by T. Kingfisher

There’s a princess trapped in a tower. This isn’t her story. Meet Toadling. On the day of her birth, she was stolen from her family by the fairies, but she grew up safe and loved in the warm waters of faerieland. Once an adult though, the fae ask a favor of Toadling: return to the human world and offer a blessing of protection to a newborn child. Simple, right? But nothing with fairies is ever simple. Centuries later, a knight approaches a towering wall of brambles, where the thorns are as thick as your arm and as sharp as swords. He’s heard there’s a curse here that needs breaking, but it’s a curse Toadling will do anything to uphold…

On Sale 8/15/23


contrarian by l.e. modesitt, jr. Contrarian by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. 

In Contrarian, protests against unemployment and poor harvests have become armed riots as the people sink deeper into poverty. They look to a government struggling to emerge from corruption and conspiracy. Recently elected to the Council of Sixty-Six, Steffan Dekkard is the first Councilor who is an Isolate, a man invulnerable to the emotional manipulations and emotional surveillance of empaths—but not the recent bombing of the Council Office Building by insurrectionists. His patron, the Premier of the Council, has been assassinated, leaving Dekkard with little first-hand political experience and few political allies. Not only must Dekkard handle political infighting, and continued assassination attempts, but it appears that someone high up in the government and corporations has supplied arms and explosives to insurrectionists. Insurrectionists who have succeeded in taking over a naval cruiser that no one can seem to find.

On Sale 8/15/23


he who drowned the world by shelley parker-chanHe Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan

Zhu Yuanzhang, the Radiant King, is riding high after her victory that tore southern China from its Mongol masters. Now she burns with a new desire: to seize the throne and crown herself emperor. But Zhu isn’t the only one with imperial ambitions. Her neighbor in the south, the courtesan Madam Zhang, wants the throne for her husband—and she’s strong enough to wipe Zhu off the map. To stay in the game, Zhu will have to gamble everything on a risky alliance with an old enemy: the talented but unstable eunuch general Ouyang, who has already sacrificed everything for a chance at revenge on his father’s killer, the Great Khan. Unbeknownst to the southerners, a new contender is even closer to the throne. The scorned scholar Wang Baoxiang has maneuvered his way into the capital, and his lethal court games threaten to bring the empire to its knees. 

On Sale 8/22/23


knight's wyrd by debra doyle & james d. macdonaldKnight’s Wyrd by Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald

On the eve of his knighting, Will Odosson learns his wyrd, or destiny: He shall meet death before a year has passed. Will rushes north to release his betrothed from their engagement, but on the way he is beset by all manner of horrors–a man-eating troll, carnivorous mermaids, a magic-working dragon . . . and something far worse: an evil unlike anything Will ever imagined. Knight’s Wyrd is an award-winning gem that’s perfect for revival as a Tor Essential and will appeal to fans of books like Hild and Spear, and films like The Green Knight–-a medieval fantasy with the authentic lived-in strangeness of the real Middle Ages. It was originally published by a pair of YA imprints, but it works equally well as an adult read.

On Sale 8/22/23


devil's gun by cat ramboDevil’s Gun by Cat Rambo

Life’s hard when you’re on the run from a vengeful pirate-king…When Niko and her crew find that the intergalactic Gate they’re planning on escaping through is out of commission, they make the most of things, creating a pop-up restaurant to serve the dozens of other stranded ships. But when an archaeologist shows up claiming to be able to fix the problem, Niko smells something suspicious cooking. Nonetheless, they allow Farren to take them to an ancient site where they may be able to find the weapon that could stop Tubal Last before he can take his revenge. There, in one of the most dangerous places in the Known Universe, each of them will face ghosts from their past: Thorn attempts something desperate and highly illegal to regain his lost twin, Atlanta will have to cast aside her old role and find her new one, Dabry must confront memories of his lost daughter, and Niko is forced to find Petalia again, despite a promise not to seek them out.

On Sale 8/29/23


the mystery at dunvegan castle by t.l. huchuThe Mystery at Dunvegan Castle by T.L. Huchu

Everyone’s favorite fifteen-year-old ghostalker, Ropa, arrives at the worldwide Society of Skeptical Enquirers’ biennial conference just in time to be tied into a mystery—a locked room mystery, if an entire creepy haunted castle on lockdown counts. One of the magical attendees has stolen a valuable magical scroll. Caught between Qozmos, the high wizard of Ethiopian magic; the larger-than-life Lord Sashvindu Samarasinghe; England’s Sorcerer Royal; and Scotland’s own Edmund MacLeod, it’s up to Ropa (and Jomo and Priya) to sort through the dangerous secret politics and alliances to figure out what really happened. But she has a special tool—the many ghosts tied to the ancient, powerful castle.

On Sale 8/29/23

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Excerpt Reveal: Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

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thornhedge by t. kingfisher

From USA Today bestselling author T. Kingfisher, Thornhedge is the tale of a kind-hearted, toad-shaped heroine, a gentle knight, and a mission gone completely sideways.

A very special hardcover edition, featuring foil stamp on the casing and custom endpapers illustrated by the author.

There’s a princess trapped in a tower. This isn’t her story.

Meet Toadling. On the day of her birth, she was stolen from her family by the fairies, but she grew up safe and loved in the warm waters of faerieland. Once an adult though, the fae ask a favor of Toadling: return to the human world and offer a blessing of protection to a newborn child. Simple, right?

But nothing with fairies is ever simple.

Centuries later, a knight approaches a towering wall of brambles, where the thorns are as thick as your arm and as sharp as swords. He’s heard there’s a curse here that needs breaking, but it’s a curse Toadling will do anything to uphold…

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher, on sale 8/15/23


Chapter 1

In the early days, the wall of thorns had been distressingly obvious. There was simply no way to hide a hedge with thorns like sword blades and stems as thick as a man’s thigh. A wall like that invited curiosity and with curiosity came axes, and it was all the fairy could do to keep some of those curious folk from gaining entrance to the tower.

Eventually, though, the brambles had grown up around the edges—blackberry and briar and dog rose, all the weedy opportunists—and that softened the edge of the thorn wall and gave the fairy some breathing room. Roving princes and penniless younger sons had been fascinated by the thorns, which were so obviously there to keep people out. Hardly anybody was interested in a bramble thicket.

It helped, too, that the land around the thorns became inhospitable. It was nothing so obvious as a desert, but wells ran dry practically as soon as they had been dug, and rain passed through the soil as if it were sand instead of loam. That was the fairy’s doing, too, though she regretted the necessity.

The fairy was the greenish-tan color of mushroom stems and her skin bruised blue-black, like mushroom flesh. She had a broad, frog-like face and waterweed hair. She was neither beautiful nor made of malice, as many of the Fair Folk are said to be.

Mostly she was fretful and often tired.

“How do they know?” she asked miserably. “Everyone who knew her should be dead of old age by now—them and their children, too! Their grandchildren should be gray-haired. How do they even remember there’s a tower here?”

She was talking, more or less, to a white wagtail, a little bird that liked short grass and pumped its tail constantly as it walked. Wagtails were not so clever as rooks or jackdaws or carrion crows, but the fairy liked them. They did not make fun of her like the crows would, nor carry tales the way that the rooks did.

The wagtail scurried closer, pumping its tail up and down.

“They must be telling stories,” said the fairy hopelessly. “About a princess in a tower and a hedge of thorns to keep the princes out.”

She wiped her eyes. She knew that her eyelids were turning blue-black in response to the unshed tears.

There was no one to see her except the wagtail, but she pinched the bridge of her nose and tilted her head back anyway. The old habits were still with her.

“I can’t fight stories,” she whispered, and a few tears, dark as ink, ran down her face and tangled in her hair.

But time did pass and perhaps the stories were told less often. Fewer men came to the thorn hedge with axes. The wagtails left, because they preferred open country, and the fairy was sorry to see them go. Jays moved in, flitting through the thorns and blistering the air with their scolds. They were shy and spooked easily, for all their cursing. The fairy recognized kindred spirits, as she still spooked easily herself.

As the years trickled away and the thorns filled with dog roses, her soul grew easier. There were stones inside her heart that would never stop grinding together, but they did not weigh so heavily in the years when no princes came.

The fairy was filled with dread when she heard the ringing of nearby axes. She crouched in the brambles, toad- shaped, motionless, thinking, What will I do if they come nearer?

But they did not come nearer. They cut a road through the woods but gave the brambles a wide swath. The tower had been built on a rocky hill—a good, defensible place for a castle, but not a good place for a road. The axe bearers cut south instead, in a long curve, over what had once been fields held by the plow.

The fairy was afraid for a long time that the coming of the road would mean the coming of more princes and younger sons, but mostly what it brought were merchants and travelers. None seemed interested in forcing their way through a massive bramble thicket, and perhaps none of them made the connection about how much land the brambles covered, or stopped to wonder what such a dense growth might conceal. She watched the travelers with interest, for those were the only human faces—save one—that she saw. They were so very different, in so many different shapes and colors. Pale, fair-haired men striding down from the north and dark- skinned men in beautiful armor riding in on horses from the east. Men in caravans who looked like the old royal family, serfs and peasants in homespun, the Traveling Folk in their wagons—a great cross section of humanity who would pass one another on the road and nod and sometimes stop and speak in unfamiliar languages.

(One of the few kind gifts given to and by the Fair Folk is the ability to speak any of the languages of the earth. The fairy could understand what they were saying, but while the words were familiar, the rest was not. She did not recognize the names of the cities they spoke of, nor the kings nor caliphs, and the details of taxation and trade law were beyond her.)

The tide of people grew and grew, and a trade house went up a few miles away. The fairy could see the smoke of it in the sky. She knotted her fingers together and huddled under the thorn hedge to escape the gnawing fear.

“Let them not come,” she prayed. She had been told that the Fair Folk were without souls, and probably that applied to her as well, a befuddled creature betwixt and between. Still, just in case, she prayed. “Let them not come here. Let them not clear the thorns. I do not know how many of them I can hold off. Please keep them away. Um. Amen.”

She added the last worriedly, not sure if that made it a prayer or if she was supposed to be doing something else. The royal family’s priest had been reasonably accepting of her presence, but that tolerance had not extended to teaching her how to make a prayer correctly.

Perhaps something heard her prayer. The flow of people slowed to a trickle. The merchants stopped coming. The fairy saw only a few people. There were men in great bird-like masks and dark, tightly fitted clothes that gleamed with wax. They strode by like herons, like birds of prey, and the fairy cowered away from them. There was something about the masks that were too much like the faces of the elder Fair Folk.

Even so, she preferred the bird-men to the screamers. They traveled in groups, half-naked, shrieking like animals. Sometimes they struck themselves with ropes of thorns, howling as the blood flowed, then cackling with laughter. They stank of madness. One ran a little way into the brambles, tearing his skin on the thorns, and then staggered out again.

The fairy, toad-shaped, waited until the rains had come and gone before she came near those brambles again. What- ever madness had infected the screamers, she would not risk contact with it.

After a time, there were neither bird-men nor screamers. There was no one at all. The road filled with weeds.

The fairy, who had been afraid of humans, now began to miss them. Not the screamers or the bird-men, but the others who had come before. They had been company of a sort, even if they did not know she was there.

She slept more and more. The jays stole shiny things from each other’s nests but found no new ones.

The seasons chased one another, and a day came when she heard hoofbeats. Men coming from the east, on their fine-boned horses, riding down the ruined road. They wore no armor. There were two bird-men in their midst, also on horses, and they were riding hard as if afraid.

After that, the floodgates opened. Men and women came streaming from the east, and then back from the west, on horses and on foot, in wagons and caravans. Sometimes they rode with knights carrying banners with red crosses on them.

When they spoke to each other, she heard words like plague and graves and so many dead.

The fairy curled into a ball and wept for the dead, and yet a tiny, nagging voice said, Perhaps the story of the tower will die with them.

It was a terrible thing to be glad that whole cities had died. It must be true, thought the fairy bleakly. I must not have a soul, to be relieved even a little. And she cried even more, until the ground was black with tears.

The weeds were trampled down again, in time, and the traffic became more normal. The style of clothing changed and changed again, and the Traveling Folk came again in their wagons, and still no one ventured into the brambles for a long, long time.

━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━

It was many years later that a knight came up to the edge of the hedge and stood there, gazing inward. The fairy was broadly aware when people came too near the hedge, with a sensation like a mosquito on her skin. This one stung and she crept toward it, first toad-shaped, then woman-shaped, seeking the source.

She found a campfire, and the knight camped beside it. It was not yet full dark, and he stood with his back to the flame, looking at the brambles.

The fairy did not like that look. It had too much behind it. He was actually looking at the thorn hedge and thinking about it, and that might lead to questions about what was on the other side.

Go away, she thought. Go away. Quit looking. They can’t be telling stories, not now. It’s been so long . . .

Eventually he turned back to the fire. The fairy crept closer.

By the make of his equipment, he was a . . . Saracen? Was that the word? She could not quite remember. But she recognized a knight well enough, whatever his faith.

He was not terribly tall, and his armor was clean but well-worn. His horse had good bones, but the tack was nearly scraped through with cleanliness. The curved sword by his side had empty sockets instead of gems.

It all spoke of genteel poverty, a state that she had come to associate with younger sons of nobility. The firelight fell kindly but did nothing to dispel the shadows under his eyes, and a well-trimmed beard could not quite hide the hollowness of his cheekbones. Even so, he was probably vastly wealthy compared to her. Toads had little use for coin, which was just as well, because she didn’t have any. Even in the days when she had lived within the keep with other people, no one would have thought to pay a fairy.

On the other hand, she could eat worms and beetles and sleep under a stone, which humans could not, so perhaps it balanced out.

He’ll leave tomorrow morning, she told herself. He’s search- ing for a place to camp that won’t cost any money—that’s all.

She wrapped her arms around herself. That’s all—

His head lifted, and for a moment, he was gazing directly at her hiding place.

Her first instinct was to go to toad shape, but that would have meant another motion, even a small one, as she dropped to the earth. Instead, she stayed absolutely still, unmoving, not even drawing breath.

The fire crackled. He looked away.

She exhaled, very slowly, through her mouth. When his back is turned, toad shape, she told herself. And then away. I don’t need to see any more. He’ll be gone in the morning.

Eventually he turned to care for his horse, and she dropped to the leaves. The hard, warty toad skin enveloped her, and she hopped slowly away.

━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━

He was not gone in the morning.

She was up at dawn, fretting, waiting for him to move on, and he had the unmitigated gall to sleep in.

“You’re a knight,” she grumbled. “Aren’t you supposed to be off jousting or toppling citadels for some noble purpose or something?”

Apparently, he was getting a late start on the citadel. The morning was half-over before he rose, and it was nearly noon before he had finished mending a stray bit of bridle and finally saddled his horse.

And then he didn’t get on it. He took it by the reins and walked.

She trailed at a distance, waiting for him to head to the road.

He didn’t.

He walked along the edge of the brambles, always looking inward, skirting the areas where the briars grew thickly in the hollows. On one particular rise, where the hedge of brambles was thin, he stopped.

He dropped his horse’s reins over its head, ground tying it, and then prowled in front of the hedge. Looking.

The fairy could have screamed.

She took shelter under a fallen log farther down the slope and watched him watching the wall.

What’s he searching for? Is he trying to find a way in?

She found herself gazing past him at the thorn wall, trying to imagine what he was seeing. Surely there was nothing there to hint at the tower inside—the roof had been pulled off by the briars long ago, and what remained was cloaked in trees. It looked like a tall thicket on a hillside, surrounded by a bramble patch.

If you looked in exactly the right place, you might see a few lines a little too straight to be a tree trunk—but you had to know exactly where to look.

He can’t see that. I can barely see it, and I remember when the tower was new. Oh, why won’t he go away?

He did not go away. He led his horse onward, making a slow circuit of the thorn hedge. The fairy followed.

By the time evening came, he had returned to his original campsite. He set his horse to graze and built up the fire again.

If he doesn’t leave on his own, she thought, I will have to drive him off. Spook his horse. Tie elf-knots in his hair. Something.

He turned and glanced up at the sky, orange light paint- ing the side of his face. He did not look like a man who would be easily driven away by elf-knots.

I could turn into a toad at him. Or . . . um . . .

She raked her hands through her hair. She had so few powers, and the ones she had were mostly tied up inside what was left of the tower. Now . . . well, she could call up fish. Fish would probably not help the situation. She could try to talk a kelpie into helping her, but they were wild, and anyway, she would have to go somewhere that had kelpies, and that would involve leaving the keep unguarded.

I will start with elf-knots, she told herself firmly. Lots and lots of them. It will take him a week to comb his hair.

When he had banked the fire and settled down, when his breathing had become slow and even, she slunk into the open. She would have felt safer in toad shape, but elf-knots required fingers.

The campsite was full of deep-blue shadows. A true fairy—one of the Fair Folk by birth and blood—could have folded themselves into the smallest of those shadows and become as invisible as a spiderweb.

She was not so gifted. She could only go quietly, setting her bare feet where there were no twigs or leaves to give her away.

The knight did not move. His hands were curled neatly beside his head.

She crouched over him, the least likely of predators, and listened to his breathing.

When several minutes had passed without movement, she gave a soundless sigh and her shoulders slumped with relief.

He had thick, curly hair—the perfect sort of thing for elf-knots. The fairy stretched out her fingers and touched a single strand.

It flexed and shivered, slowly teasing away from its companions. She frowned with concentration.

Like an impossibly slender serpent, the hair began to move on its own. It tangled around the lock of hair closest to it, doubled back on itself, tangled again.

She flicked her fingers again and a second hair joined the first, then a third. They snaked in and out, drawing others with them.

Half knot, half braid, the resulting knot grew larger, binding together dozens of individual hairs, then hundreds.

When a section of his hair as thick as her thumb was a solid mat, she sat back on her heels and let out her breath.

It’s been so long. But I always was good at elf-knots—

His hand closed gently over her wrist.

“Are you quite done?” asked the knight.

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