the cradle of ice - Tor/Forge Blog



Every Paperback from Tor in Spring 2024

It’s Spring, and flower’s aren’t all that’s growing! We’ve got paperback books springing up left and right! 

Check them out 😎

April 2, 2024

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

In modern-day Manhattan where we lay our scene, two rival witch families fight to maintain control of their respective criminal empires. On one side of the conflict are the Antonova sisters — each one beautiful, cunning, and ruthless — and their mother, the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants, known only as Baba Yaga. On the other side, the influential Fedorov brothers serve their father, the crime boss known as Koschei the Deathless, whose ventures dominate the shadows of magical Manhattan. After twelve years of tenuous co-existence, one family member brutally crosses the line. Bad blood reignites old grudges; at the same time, fate intervenes with a chance encounter between enemies. In the wake of love and vengeance, everyone must choose a side. As each of the siblings struggles to stake their claim, bloodshed is inevitable. The question is: Whose?

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

The only life Tress has known on her island home in an emerald-green ocean has been a simple one, with the simple pleasures of collecting cups brought by sailors from faraway lands and listening to stories told by her friend Charlie. But when his father takes him on a voyage to find a bride and disaster strikes, Tress must stow away on a ship and seek the Sorceress of the deadly Midnight Sea. Amid the spore oceans where pirates abound, can Tress leave her simple life behind and make her own place sailing a sea where a single drop of water can mean instant death?

April 9, 2024

forge of the high mage by ian c. esslemontForge of the High Mage by Ian C. Esslemont

After decades of warfare, Malazan forces are poised to consolidate the Quon Tali mainland. Yet it is at this moment that Emperor Kellanved orders a new, some believe foolhardy campaign: the invasion of Falar that lies far to the north . . . And to fight on this new front, a rag-tag army raised from orphaned units and broken squads is been brought together under Fist Dujek, and joined by a similarly motley fleet under the command of the Emperor himself. So the Malazans head north, only to encounter an unlooked-for and most unwelcome threat. Something unspeakable and born of legend has awoken and will destroy all who stand in its way. Most appalled by this is the Empire’s untested High Mage, Tayschrenn. All too aware of the true nature of this ancient horror, he fears his own inadequacies when the time comes to confront it. Yet confront it he must. 

April 16, 2024

the cradle of ice by james rollinsThe Cradle of Ice by James Rollins

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

dual memory by sue burkeDual Memory by Sue Burke

Antonio Moro lost everything to the Leviathan League. Now he’s alone in a city on an Arctic island fighting the ruthless, global pirates with the chance to be the artist he always wanted to be. Unfortunately, he thinks it’s a cover story for his real purpose—spying on sympathizers. When things look bleak, he discovers an unusual ally. His new personal assistant program, Par Augustus. It’s insolent, extroverted, moody, and a not-quite-legal nascent A. I. Together they create a secret rebellion from unlikely recruits to defend the island from ideological pirates with entitlement and guns, and capitalist pirates with entitlement and money.

April 30, 2024

stan lee's the devil's quintet: the shadow society by stan lee & jay bonansingaStan Lee’s The Devil’s Quintet: The Shadow Society by Stan Lee & Jay Bonansinga

Ever since The Armageddon Code, the Devil’s Quintet have been using their demonic powers to fight evil and protect the world, while remaining nothing but an urban legend to the general public. But the Devil is not about to let them keep using his powers for good. Created by Satan himself to counter the Quintet, the Shadow Society are five saintly men and women that have been secretly (and strategically) possessed by five of Hell’s most powerful demons. Granted supernatural powers of their own, they are part of a literally diabolical plot to strike at the very heart of the Quintet—and destroy humanity’s last hope!

web of angels by john m fordWeb of Angels by John M. Ford

Originally published in 1980, the legendary John M. Ford’s first published novel was an uncannily brilliant anticipation of the later cyberpunk genre—and of the internet itself. The Web links the many worlds of humanity. Most people can only use it to communicate. Some can retrieve and store data, as well as use simple precoded programs. Only a privileged few are able to create their own software, within proscribed limits. And then there are the Webspinners. Grailer is Fourth Literate, able to manipulate the Web at will—and use it for purposes unintended and impossible for anyone but the most talented Webspinner. Obviously, he cannot be allowed to live. Condemned to death at the age of nine, Grailer must go underground, hiding his skills, testing his powers- until he is ready to do battle with the Web itself. With a new introduction from Cory Doctorow, written especially for this edition.

May 7, 2024

the silverblood promise by james loganThe Silverblood Promise by James Logan

Lukan Gardova is a cardsharp, academy dropout, and—thanks to a duel that ended badly—the disgraced heir to an ancient noble house. His days consist of cheap wine, rigged card games, and wondering how he might win back the life he threw away. When Lukan discovers that his estranged father has been murdered in strange circumstances, he finds fresh purpose. Deprived of his chance to make amends for his mistakes, he vows to unravel the mystery behind his father’s death. His search for answers leads him to Saphrona, fabled city of merchant princes, where anything can be bought if one has the coin. Lukan only seeks the truth, but instead he finds danger and secrets in every shadow. For in Saphrona, everything has a price—and the price of truth is the deadliest of all.

May 14, 2024

malarkoi by alex phebyMalarkoi by Alex Pheby

Nathan Treeves is dead, murdered by the Master of Mordew, his remains used to create the powerful occult weapon known as the Tinderbox. His companions are scattered, making for Malarkoi, the city of the Mistress, the Master’s enemy. They are hoping to find welcome there, or at least safety. They find neither – and instead become embroiled in a life and death struggle against assassins, demi-gods, and the cunning plans of the Mistress. Only Sirius, Nathan’s faithful magical dog, has not forgotten the boy. Bent on revenge, he returns to the shattered remains of Mordew – only to find the city morphed into an impossible mountain, swarming with monsters. The stage is set for battle, sacrifice, magic and treachery in the stunning sequel to Mordew. Welcome to Malarkoi.

May 21, 2024

fractal noise by christopher paoliniFractal Noise by Christopher Paolini

July 25th, 2234: The crew of the Adamura discovers the anomaly.

On the seemingly uninhabited planet Talos VII: a circular pit, 50 kilometers wide. Its curve not of nature, but design. Now, a small team must land and journey on foot across the surface to learn who built the hole and why. But they all carry the burdens of lives carved out on disparate colonies in the cruel cold of space. For some the mission is the dream of the lifetime, for others a risk not worth taking, and for one it is a desperate attempt to find meaning in an uncaring universe. Each step they take toward the mysterious abyss is more punishing than the last. And the ghosts of their past follow.

June 4, 2024

wolfsong by tj klune with orange sprayed edgesWolfsong by TJ Klune (with beautiful sprayed edges!)

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.

June 11, 2024

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.

icehenge by kim stanley robinsonIcehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson

SF titan Kim Stanley Robinson’s breakout novel, now in a Tor Essentials edition with a new introduction by Henry Farrell

Decades before his massively successful The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote one of SF’s greatest meditations on extended human lifespan, the limitations of human memory, and the haunted confabulations that go with forgetting. On the North Pole of Pluto there stands an enigma: a huge circle of standing blocks of ice, built on the pattern of Earth’s Stonehenge—but ten times the size, standing alone at the edge of the Solar System. What is it? Who could have built it? The secret lies in the chaotic decades of the Martian Revolution, in the lost memories of those who have lived for centuries.

June 18, 2024

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?

June 25, 2024

foul days by genoveva dimovaFoul Days by Genoveva Dimova

As a witch in the walled city of Chernograd, Kosara has plenty of practice treating lycanthrope bites, bargaining with kikimoras, and slaying bloodsucking upirs. There’s only one monster she can’t defeat: her ex, the Zmey, known as the Tsar of Monsters. She’s defied him one too many times and now he’s hunting her. Betrayed by someone close to her, Kosara’s only choice is to trade her shadow—the source of her powers—for a quick escape.

Unfortunately, Kosara soon develops the deadly sickness that plagues shadowless witches—and only reclaiming her magic can cure her. To find it, she’s forced to team up with a suspiciously honorable detective. Even worse, all the clues point in a single direction: To get her shadow back, Kosara will have to face the Foul Days’ biggest threats without it. And she’s only got twelve days. But in a city where everyone is out for themselves, who can Kosara trust to assist her in outwitting the biggest monster from her past?

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?


Five Books for Full Moon Enthusiasts

Ah, the full moon – a powerful time for releasing negative energy, emotions, or habits. While some engage in practices such as journaling, burning photos of their exes, or engaging in a cleansing ritual, others are… I don’t know. Shifting into werewolves, fighting intergalactic battles, and facing cosmic forces that have the power to shape destinies… no pressure or anything.

Let’s explore some books that will have you over the moon (no pun intended)!

9781250766755 The Cradle of Ice by James Rollins

The second book in the New York Times bestselling Moonfall series from thriller-master James Rollins, The Cradle of Ice is a page-turning tale of action, adventure, betrayal, ambition, and the struggle for survival in a harsh world that hangs by a thread. With the moon casting its light over the icy terrain, ancient mysteries and modern-day threats collide in a pulse-pounding race against time.

9780765395818Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Get ready for a smart, swashbuckling, wildly imaginative adventure; the saga of a rag-tag team of brilliant misfits, dangerous renegades, and enhanced outlaws in a war-torn future. Think cosmic battles, celestial wonders, and a moon that shines as a beacon of hope in a universe on the brink of chaos.

9781250890313Wolfsong by TJ Klune

Discover love, loyalty, and transformation in the Green Creek Series’ Wolfsong, from beloved fantasy romance sensation and New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune. Follow the journey of a young man discovering his destiny amidst a pack of werewolves. The moon’s phases mirror inner turmoil, adding depth to this captivating tale of werewolves and destiny. Deep, right?

9781250236968The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

Amidst Earth’s escalating climate crisis due to meteor impacts, widespread riots, and space program sabotage, a determined protagonist faces the challenge of navigating both a deteriorating planet and the conflicts within a moon colony. It’s like House of Cards meets Space: The Final Frontier. Need I say more?

9781250264947Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

Maurice Broaddus’s Sweep of Stars is the first in a trilogy that explores the struggles of an empire. Get to know the Muungano empire—a coalition of city-states stretching from O.E. to Titan—as it faces escalating threats and internal power struggles. This one’s a must-read!


7 Icy Songs & 7 Cool Books

by Julia Bergen & a cat

Yo VIP, let’s kick it.

Ice. It’s cool. It’s…there. But there’s not much humor to it. Not like sand

But with winter upon us, we wanted to make an article about ice. But how to give ice a little chaos, a little twinkle, a little magic?

We thought. And we thought.




And thus was born, the chaotic, twinkling, maybe even magical, icy songs and books pairing listicle.

The Cradle of Ice by James RollinsVanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby + James Rollins’ The Cradle of Ice

Taken in a certain light, Vanilla Ice’s classic Ice Ice Baby is a quest song. A group of heroes must collaborate and listen. They travel for a while, pursuing to the next stop. Action heats up when Gunshots ranged out like a bell and our heroes must get away before the jackers jack. But in the end they pull together as if with a rallying cry of, if there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.

What does that make you think of?

Obviously, the fantasy epic The Cradle of Ice by James Rollins! Where a soldier, a thief, a lost prince, and a young girl must form a fellowship to stop an apocalypse by traveling into a vast region of ice and to a sprawling capital of the world they’ve only known in stories. It’s an incredible, gripping fantasy, because Rollins truly understands that “anything less than the best is a felony.”

The Atlas Six by Olivie BlakePat Benetar’s Fire And Ice + Olivie Blake’s The Atlas Six

This anthem to the inevitability of attraction and heartbreak is the perfect tune to compliment the messy, messy personal dynamics at play in The Atlas Six. In the book, six powerful magicians do graduate research and contemplate asking out their crushes and murdering their friends. In the song, Pat Benetar is familiar with the capricious and cruel nature of the one she’s craving (You come on like a flame, then you turn a cold shoulder), but knowledge is not enough to prevent carnage. She knows if she surrenders to the heat she feels, it’ll fall away and she’ll be left in the cold (I want to give you my love, but you’ll just take a little piece of my heart). 

In the end, Pat seems determined not to fall for her crush’s games, while the characters of The Atlas Six are pretty much incapable of not allowing their peers to burn them, but talk is cheap. 

Ask Atlas Society resident Tristan Caine if he’s going back for more Fire And Ice, knowing he’ll be hurt, and he’ll tell you to shut up and get lost, but that’s only because he has somewhere to be. 

Also something something re: Robert Frost’s poem about fire, ice, and the end of the world. 

starter villain by john scalziForeigner’s Cold as Ice + John Scalzi’s Starter Villain

Okay, on the outside, Cold as Ice by Foreigner may seem like it’s about a broken-hearted ex describing a former lover’s rejection. But ice can be deceiving, just like this song! I think it’s actually about a group of billionaire super villains trying to run the world, much like the cabal in John Scalzi’s sf romp, Starter Villain

They are cold as ice. They are willing to sacrifice. The line you’re digging for gold, particularly relevant, as these turds are just as into money as they into power. You want paradise well, their version of paradise, anyway. You leave the world behind, they don’t care about the world, they just want what they can get out of it.

But it ends on a hopeful note, as both Starter Villain and Foreigner promise us, someday you’ll pay the price, I know. Oh, we know.

the archive undying by emma mieko candonPinkPantheress & Ice Spice’s Boy’s a liar Pt. 2 + Emma Mieko Candon’s The Archive Undying

So before getting into more advanced parsing, The Archive Undying is a match for Boy’s a liar Pt. 2 because every boy in this book is lying through his teeth. Now, you could say that about all the women characters, nonbinary characters, and nonhuman characters too, and you’d be right. But Sunai, who is the main character of The Archive Undying—well, you just want to grab him by shoulders and plead with him to love himself a little and tear himself away from the long line of men that have only emotionally devastated him, knowing that Sunai himself is absolutely one of those men. The lyrics I don’t sleep enough without you / And I can’t eat enough without you are very Sunai-coded; he’s definitely not taking care of himself. He’s a man who would sooner feed himself to a giant starving robot than love himself enough to tell someone he loves them. 

the bezzle by cory doctorowBilly Joel’s Running on Ice + Cory Doctorow’s The Bezzle

When we were picking out pairings, this one felt like an obvious choice. Although Billy Joel could not possibly have read The Bezzle (on sale 2.20.2024) when he wrote Running on Ice (part of Joel’s album The Bridge, released 7.9.1986), it does feel like this song is about forensic accountant Martin Hench, AKA the culmination of technology and civilized experience.

The song describes someone pushed to the brink by modern civilization, and though the narrator doesn’t specifically say that he’s battling amoral billionaires trying to make their next buck no matter the cost, it’s basically implied. In a world of high rise ambition most people’s motives are ulterior? Definitely what Hench runs into in both Red Team Blues and the follow up, The Bezzle, where now he’s pitted against a group of the ultra rich taking advantage of the private prison system to make even more money. Poor Martin Hench, always wandering into another nefarious scheme. But as the song says, as soon as I get one fire put out

There’s another building burning down.

At least that means we’ve got lots of Martin Hench adventures to read?

last exit by max gladstoneSimon & Garfunkel’s A Hazy Shade of Winter + Max Gladstone’s Last Exit

Look around / Leaves are brown / And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Last Exit is kind of like that. Look around—things are not as they were. Leaves are brown—no youth, no hope. There’s a patch of snow on the ground

In the distant past before the events of Last Exit, Zelda and her friends discovered a magic sort of spiritual momentum that could propel one into a different dimension. The roads to alternate realities were a navigable spiderweb, and they knew they could use their findings to improve not just their world, but all of them. 

There’s a patch of snow on the ground

They were wrong, and they suffered for it, and the future is colder than the past. The rot between worlds—an interdimensional sickness—claimed Zelda’s girlfriend, but she’s still out there. Calling. Approaching. Does the old gang have enough idealism left to band together for one last adventure? 

There’s a patch of snow on the ground.

It is very cold. 

projections by s.e. porterChristina Perri’s Jar of Hearts + S. E. Porter’s Projections

When we made this list, things were pretty silly. We called our brainstorming sess ice ice meeting. We were so, so goofy.  But honestly, a lot of these songs that invoke ice are about pain, which perhaps we could have anticipated, had we not been so initially focused on Vanilla Ice. 

Anyway, the ice in Jar of Hearts comes from this chorus: You’re gonna catch a cold / From the ice inside your soul / So don’t come back for me / Who do you think you are? The novel Projections is about as harrowing as those lines. A rejected sorcerer murders Catherine, the woman who denied him, and then sends projections of himself out into the world to seduce more women to add them to his jar of hearts. 

Catherine’s not about this, and haunts him. Seeks vengeance. As Christina Perri sang, Don’t you know I’m not your ghost anymore? 

The song and book aren’t 1-1 parallels, but the notes are all present. The hurt. The betrayal. The haunting. 

video soruce


What to Read While You Wait for The Wheel of Time Season 3

by Kaleb Russell

In 2021, Amazon’s long awaited The Wheel of Time TV series arrived onto the scene to instant acclaim for its sumptuous production, compelling cast of characters, and its gorgeously rendered world; brimming with sprawl and wonder. Simply put, a faithful adaptation of the late Robert Jordan’s iconic fantasy series. Unfortunately, the first season ended as soon as it came, leaving many starved for more fantastical storytelling. And then season 2 released and it rocked! But also same problem—what do you do once you’re done watching? Fret not, for we have prepared a feast! Here are 7 fantasy series to tide you over until season 3 arrives!

The First Binding by R. R. VirdiTales of Tremaine — R.R. Virdi

The first book in R.R. Virdi’s Tales of Tremaine series follows an enigmatic singer/storyteller named Ari and his journey to outrun his sinful past. Crafted in the tradition of stories like Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, The First Binding is a harrowing love letter to the fantasy genre and the art of storytelling. Based in a South Asian mythos, readers will find themselves enraptured by Virdi’s dashing prose and elegant world building. And as if you needed even more reasons to start reading, The First Binding is now available in paperback! 

The Mystic TrilogyMystic Skies by Jason Denzel — Jason Denzel

So you loved The Wheel of Time (of course!). You know who else loved Wheel? Jason Denzel. This stalwart Robert Jordan fan founded community fansite, and then went on to pen his own trilogy of epic fantasy. In this trilogy, a primal force called Myst pulses at the heart of the world. One young magi will defy law and tradition to unravel its secrets… One lucky reader who’s scrolling this post right now will discover their next fantasy binge… That’s right! The trilogy’s epic conclusion, Mystic Skies, is out now, so you can dive through this entire series in one go!

The Craft SequenceThe Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone — Max Gladstone

The Craft Sequence takes place in a 21st century fantasy world where, after a terrible war that left significant swaths decimated, Gods deal and compete with wizard-run corporations for power and influence while necromantic lawyers levy dark magic to litigate their conflicts. Imagine rogue magicians flying to work on lightning bolts. CEOs taking the form of business suit clad skeletons whose flesh has worn away after years of manipulating elements of the universe. Monasteries operated by the lifeless corpses of their devote followers. Part fantasy epic, part legal thriller, Gladstone explores a myriad of topics including but not limited to religion, faith, finance, climate change, and so much more with an alarming level of wit and innovation. It’s a series that’s strange, wondrous, and terrifying in equal measure. Better yet, one could start with any book in the series as each book functions as interconnected standalones!

AND even BETTER yet, Max has returned to the world of the craft with The Craft Wars—a new series and entry point to this universe. This series is perfect for readers that just itch to squabble with gods and hate capitalism, and starts with Dead Country and will continue in Wicked Problems.

Dead Country by Max Gladstone

The Stormlight ArchiveRhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson — Brandon Sanderson

Who better to read than the author chosen by Robert Jordan himself to bring the The Wheel of Time series to a satisfying conclusion? Sanderson went on to craft a myriad of his own sprawling fantasy worlds, one such being Roshar, a world wracked by storms so violent, the planet’s ecology has taken a rather peculiar evolutionary track with animals growing shells to escape into and plant life developing internal evasive measures to survive. Then there are the Knights Radiant, 10 ancient orders whose magical weapons are the impetus for a cataclysmic war taking place on a ruined landscape known as the Shattered Plains. 10 years in the making, The Stormlight Archive promises to be another operatic fantasy on par with The Wheel of Time.


A Chorus of DragonsThe Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons — Jenn Lyons

After learning he’s the long-lost son of a treacherous prince, young Kihrin quickly realises the storybooks he was raised on – fanciful tales of heroic royals achieving heroic victories– are the furthest thing from the truth. Trapped in his new family’s web of deceit and maniacal ambitions, Kihrin must fight to find his own path. A path removed from the ruinous fate laid before him, a fate where he’s the villain destined to destroy the world. Intricately weaving two compelling narratives together, Lyons tells a compelling story about harrowing family drama and a boy vying for freedom.

MoonfallThe Cradle of Ice by James Rollins — James Rollins

New York Times bestselling author James Rollins flexes his storytelling chops by seamlessly transitioning from the realm of thrillers to that of science fantasy in the exciting debut of his new Moonfall series: The Starless Crown. The world of Urth has stopped rotating on its axis. Leaving one side of the planet sun swept, the other wreathed in shadow and ice. Follow Nyx, a gifted student who sees visions of a bleak apocalypse, and her band of outcasts in their journey to uncover the secrets of old that might just give them answers necessary to save their world. Wheel of Time fans will surely love this world of floating ships and prophetic gods.

And watch out for its sequel, The Cradle of Ice, on sale now!

Wake the DragonGods and Dragons by Kevin J. Anderson — Kevin J. Anderson

his series marks Kevin J. Anderson’s triumphant return to epic fantasy in this tale of two warring continents setting aside their millenia-long blood feud to fight a common enemy. The reawakening of an ancient race that wants to see the world remade forces the the Three Kingdoms and Ishara to put aside past bloodshed to stand a fighting chance of saving their respective homes from ruin. Dragons, political intrigue, bombastic battles. What’s not to like?


Is a Bat a Dragon? We Asked James Rollins

The Cradle of Ice by James RollinsBy now, Tor is at the forefront of research into what exactly constitutes “dragon.” We’ve entertained many queries throughout the years, determining if the umbrella of dragon extends to hippos, snakes, and Godzilla. Now, we turn to the expertise of James Rollins to advise on the dragonic status of bats. If you’ve read The Starless Crown and its sequel The Cradle of Ice, you probably know the answer.

Check it out!

by James Rollins      

My love for the natural world and all its myriad creatures was one of my main drives for pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. Even today as a full-time writer, I’ve not fully stepped away from that profession. As I’ve stated many times during book talks—yes, I can still neuter a cat in under thirty seconds.

Still, my greatest fascination about Nature is how it adheres to a dictate stated so succinctly in Jurassic Park:  Life will find a way.  I’ve always been captivated by the manner in which animals and plants discover innovative survival strategies to fill different environmental niches and how that fight has resulted in all the marvels (and horrors) found in the natural world.

While growing up, I found a new way of exploring this subject matter:  in science fiction and fantasy novels set on different worlds. I found myself especially drawn to material that explored life’s resilience across fantastic worlds. Whether it was the sandworms of Herbert’s Dune, the engineered landscape of Niven’s Ringworld, the many species of Card’s Ender’s Game, or a universe of other writers tackling how life finds a way.

Even when it came to those novels that featured dragons, I found myself most interested in the biology and the circumstance of their origins. How did the telepathy and bonding in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books come about? What steps were taken to harness the physicality of dragons to become warriors in Novik’s Temeraire series? In Martin’s books, could dragon eggs truly be encysted for ages and require fire to bring them back to life? If so, how and why?

When it came to crafting my own fantastic world in the Moonfall Saga, I took a similar scientific eye to its construction. The series takes place on a tidally locked planet, a world that circles its sun with one side forever facing the sun, the other locked in eternal darkness. The only truly livable clime is the band between those extremes of ice and fire. Across such a harsh and unforgiving landscape, I wanted to build a biosphere of flora and fauna that made evolutionary sense. How would species survive the extreme cold and lack of sunlight? Could life find a way in the sunblasted hemisphere?

And what about dragons?

In the novel, one of the apex predators is a species of massive bat, with a wingspan of ten meters or more. We first see them in Book One (The Starless Crown). They inhabit the vast swamplands of Mýr—found in that more temperate climate of the world. They are nocturnal, haunting a drowned forest and roosting in a volcanic mountain. I wanted those bats to make biological sense, to have them fit that environmental niche in a natural way. Being arboreal, they would likely have evolved prehensile tails. As nocturnal creatures, they would need bell-shaped ears and still use ultrasonics to navigate. And without giving away any of the surprises in the books, there is a significant aspect to their biology that will allow them to bond to certain people.

In the books, I also wanted to add a level of verisimilitude to the bestiary by adding naturalistic sketches, drawings that you might find in a turn-of-the-century research journal.

Here is the Mýr bat:

sketch of a winged giant bats

Keep in mind, life will find a way, so this species is not limited to those swamplands. A subspecies evolved in the dark, frozen half of the world. It adapted to fit that harsh niche, becoming smaller and stockier, with shaggy fur, and nasal flaps that could seal to conserve body heat. Likewise, in this treeless landscape, that prehensile tail would no longer be needed. They make an appearance in the second book in the series, The Cradle of Ice.

Here is their sketch:

sketch of a winged giant batt

But what about the title of this blog post: Is a bat a dragon?

In the third volume in the series (A Dragon of Black Glass), which will be coming out in 2024, this species has also adapted to the sunblasted half of the world. To survive, they would need to burrow to survive, growing larger claws for digging, and bodies that would be hairless and elongated, with fanned tails for aerial maneuvering when out of their burrows. They would become known as “sanddragons.”

Here is a sneak peek at their preliminary incarnation (with the final version still to come):

preliminary sketch  massive crawling bat

I must note that all of these drawings were beautifully executed by graphic artist, Danea Fidler—as were all the other creature sketches featured in the books. I look forward to sharing the final versions of these “dragons” in 2024 when A Dragon of Black Glass hits bookshelves.

Order The Cradle of Ice Here:

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Tor Books Presents…Dragon Week 5eva: Aliens Vs. Dragons

We at Tor are SO excited to bring you Dragon Week 5eva, and we’ve—BZZZZZZZT—incoming transmission. Signal Source: The stars. Message: “Dragons beware. We are aliens. We are here.”

Uh oh. Looks like we’ve got company for Dragon Week 5eva, but good news! We’ve also got a whole slew of mythically extraterrestrial content lifting off in the coming week. Check out our roundup of everything to watch out for during Dragon Week 5eva: Aliens Vs. Dragons!

Monday, 7/10

Quiz: What Kind of Dragon Are You?

background is a volcano, which is also a dragon. many different dragons populate the foreground including traditional, snake, polygonal, and dragonfly, plus semi-transparent ourobouros

Tuesday, 7/11

How to Worship Your Dragon: Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle Advise

Ancient Bronze Dragons Carving in the Ancient Dragon King Temple along Yangtze River,China.

Devilishly Dragonic Moments from Dragon Week History

a dragon the size of the world approaches the world in space

Wednesday, 7/12

Showdown in the Skies: Aliens Vs. Dragons!

area 51, the desert, during the day. a sign warns of aliens and a flying dragon menaces a landed spacecraft

5 Dragons Daniel M. Ford’s Adept Wizard Could Beat in a Fight

the shadow of a woman punching with sunset background

Thursday, 7/13

Tor Staff Builds a Dragon

an array of shiny metal gears with a series of vector dragon images in a circle around the biggest one

Is a Bat a Dragon? James Rollins Answers

Bat sketches by danea fidler in front of a transparent moon

Friday, 7/14

Interstellar Dragoncore Tunes for Soaring Through Space

a dragon shadow curling in front of a bunch of rainbow music notes with little alien spaceships inside the shadow



Which Fantasy Class Are You? (and what you should read next)

by a cat

Ever wonder what your fantasy ttrpg class is? Ever wonder what book you should read next? While seemingly disparate, these two questions are inextricably linked, and we’ll prove it with this quiz.

Check it out!

And while you’ve got books on the brain, Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle releases soon, and deserves a spot on the list of any fan of urban fantasy.

Pre-order Ebony Gate Here:

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Which Dysfunctional Fantasy Crew Should You Join?

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

Rolling with a fantasy crew is no dream! Surprisingly, conflict management is actually not made easier with magic and swords.

Find out which dysfunctional fantasy crew you ride with by taking this quiz!

And while you’ve got books on the brain, the Moonfall Series by James Rollins is pretty cool. You should read it.

Order The Cradle of Ice Here:

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Ongoing Series of 2023

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

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

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

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

On Sale Now!

The Cage of Dark HoursImage Placeholder of - 26 by Marina Lostetter

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

On Sale Now!

Furious HeavenPlace holder  of - 21 by Kate Elliott

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

On Sale 4.18.23

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

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

On Sale 5.9.23

Fractal Noise by Christopher PaoliniFractal Noise by Christopher Paolini

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

On Sale 5.16.23

Cassiel’s ServantCassiel's Servant by Jacqueline Carey

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

On Sale 8.1.23

RavensongPoster Placeholder of - 11 by TJ Klune

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

On Sale 8.1.23

Devil’s GunDevil's Gun by Cat Rambo

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

On Sale 8.29.23

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

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

On Sale 8.29.23

Traitor of RedwinterImage Place holder  of - 99 by Ed McDonald

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

On Sale 10.24.23

MalarkoiMalarkoi by Alex Pheby

Volume 2 of the Cities of the Weft

On Sale 10.24.23

Bookshops & BonedustBookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

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

On Sale 11.7.23

All the Hidden PathsPlaceholder of  -78 by Foz Meadows

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

On Sale 12.5.23


Excerpt: The Starless Crown by James Rollins

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Image Place holder  of - 25An alliance embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover the secrets of the distant past and save their world in this captivating, deeply visionary adventure from #1 New York Times bestselling thriller-master 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.


And with The Starless Crown available in paperback, now is the perfect time to leap into the full Moonfall series and continue with book two, The Cradle of Ice, available now!

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Starless Crown, on sale in trade paperback now!


Nyx sought to understand the stars with her fingertips.

Near blind, she had to lean far over the low table to reach to the heart of the orrery, to the warmth of the bronze sun at the center of the complicated astronomical mechanism. She knew the kettle-sized sphere had been filled with hot coals prior to the morning’s lesson, to mimic the life-giving heat of the Father Above, who made His home there. She held her palm toward that warmth, then took great care to count outward along the slowly turning rings that marked the paths of inner planets around the Father. Her fingers stopped at the third. She rested a tip there and felt the vibrations of the gears that turned this ring, heard the tick-tick-ticking as their teacher spun the wheel on the far side of the orrery to drive their world to Nyx’s waiting hand.

“Take care, child,” she was warned.

The device was four centuries old, one of the school’s most precious artifacts. It was said to have been stolen from the courts of Azantiia by the founding high prioress and brought to the Cloistery of Brayk. Others claimed it wasn’t stolen, but crafted by the prioress herself, using skills long lost to those who lived and taught here now.

Either way—

“Better not break it, Dumblefoot,” Byrd blurted out. His comment stirred snickers from the other students who sat in a circle around the domed chamber of the astronicum.

Their teacher—Sister Reed, a young novitiate of the Cloistery—growled them all to silence.

Nyx’s cheeks heated. While her fellow students could easily observe the intricate dance of spheres around the bronze sun, she could not. To her, the world was perpetually lost in a foggy haze, where movement could be detected in shifts of shadows and objects discerned in gradations of shimmering outlines in the brightest sunlight. Even colors were muted and watery to her afflicted eyes. Worst of all, when she was inside, like now, her sight was smothered to darkness.

She needed to touch to understand.

She took a deep breath and steadied her fingers as the small sphere that marked their world rotated into her hand. The bronze ring to which it was pinned continued to turn with the spin of the wheeled gears. To keep her fingertips in place atop the fist-sized sphere of their world, she had to scoot around the table. By now, the bronze sun had heated one surface of the sphere to a subtle warmth, while the opposite was cold metal, forever turned from the Father.

“Can you now better appreciate how the Mother always keeps one face perpetually gazing at the Father Above?” Sister Reed asked. “A side that eternally burns under His stern-but-loving attention.”

Nyx nodded, still circling the table to match the sphere’s path around the sun.

Sister Reed addressed both her and the other students. “And at the same time, the other side of our world is forever denied the Father’s fierce gaze and remains frozen in eternal darkness, where it is said the very air is ice.”

Nyx did not bother to acknowledge the obvious, her attention fixed as the Urth completed its circuit around the sun.

“It is why we live in the Crown,” the sister continued, “the circlet of the world that lies between the scorched lands on one side of the Urth and those forever frozen on the other.”

Nyx ran her fingertip around this circumference of the sphere, passing from north to south and back again. The Crown of the Urth marked the only hospitable lands where its peoples, flora, and fauna could flourish. Not that there weren’t stories of what lay beyond the Crown, terrifying tales— many blasphemous—whispered about those dreaded lands, those frozen on one side, scorched on the other.

Sister Reed stopped turning the wheel, bringing the dance of planets to a rest. “Now that Nyx has had her turn to study the orrery, can anyone tell me why the Mother Below eternally matches her gaze with the Father Above, without ever turning her face away?”

Nyx kept her post, her fingers still on the half-warmed sphere.

Kindjal answered the teacher’s question. She quoted from the text they had been assigned to study this past week. “She and our world are forever trapped in the hardened amber of the void, unable to ever turn away.”

“Very good,” Sister Reed said warmly.

Nyx could almost feel the beam of satisfaction from Kindjal, twin sister to Byrd, both children of the highmayor of Fiskur, the largest town along the northern coast of Mýr. Though the town lay a full day’s boat ride away, the two lorded their status among the students here, proffering gifts on those who fawned over them, while ridiculing all others, often resorting to physical affronts to reinforce their humiliations.

It was perhaps for that reason more than any other that Nyx spoke up, contradicting Kindjal. “But the Urth is not trapped in amber,” she mumbled to the orrery, her fingers still on the half-heated sphere. She hated to draw attention to herself, longing to return to the obscurity of her seat near the back of the class, but she refused to deny what her fingers discovered. “It still turns in the void.”

Byrd came to his twin’s defense, scoffing loudly. “Even blindfolded, any fool could tell the Mother always faces the Father. The Urth never turns away.”

“This is indeed immutable and unchangeable,” Sister Reed concurred. “As the Father burns forever in our skies, the Mother always stares with love and gratefulness toward the majesty of Him.”

“But the Urth does turn,” Nyx insisted, her mumble firming with frustration.

Though already nearly blind, she closed her eyes and viewed the orrery from above in her mind. She pictured the path of the sphere as it rotated around the bronze sun. She remembered the tiniest ticking under her fingertips as she had followed its course. She had felt it turn in her grip as it made a full passage around the sun.

She tried to explain. “It must turn. To keep the Mother forever facing the Father, the Urth turns once fully around as it makes a complete circuit through the seasons. One slow turn every year. It’s the only way for one side of the Urth to be continually burning under the sun’s gaze.”

Kindjal scoffed. “No wonder her mother tossed her away. She’s too stupid to understand the simplest truths.”

“But she’s right,” a voice said behind them, rising from the open door to the astronicum dome.

Nyx froze, only shifting her clouded gaze toward the patch of brightness that marked the open door. A shadow darkened the threshold. She did not need sight to know who stood there, recognizing the hard tones, presently undercut with a hint of amusement.

“Prioress Ghyle,” Sister Reed said. “What an honor. Please join us.”

The shadow moved away from the brightness as the head of the cloistered school entered. “It seems the youngest among you has proven that insight does not necessarily equate with the ability to see.”

“But surely—” Sister Reed started.

“Yes, surely,” Prioress Ghyle interrupted. “It is a subtlety of astronomical knowledge that is usually reserved for those in their first years of alchymical studies. Not for a seventhyear underclass. Even then, many alchymical students have difficulty seeing what is plain before their eyes.”

A shuffle of leather on stone marked the prioress’s approach to the orrery.

Finally releasing her grip on the world, Nyx straightened and bowed her head.

“Let us test what else this young woman of only fourteen winters can discern from today’s lesson.” The prioress’s finger lifted Nyx’s chin. “Can you tell us why those in the northern Crown experience seasons—from the icy bite of winter to the warmth of summer—even when one side of the Urth forever faces the sun?”

Nyx had to swallow twice to free her tongue. “It . . . It is to remind us of the gift of the Father to the Mother, so we better appreciate His kindness at being allowed to live in the Crown, in the safe lands between scorching heat and icy death. He gives us a taste of hot and cold with the passage of each year.”

The prioress sighed. “Yes, very good. Just as Hieromonk Plakk has droned into you.” The finger lifted her chin higher as if to study Nyx more intently. “But what does the orrery tell you?”

Nyx stepped back. Even with her hazy sight, she was unable to withstand the weight of Ghyle’s attention any longer. She returned to the orrery and again pictured the path of the Urth around the coal-heated sun. She had felt the waxing and waning of the warmth as the sphere rotated fully around.

“The Urth’s path is not a perfect circle around the sun,” Nyx noted aloud. “More like an oval.”

“An ellipse, it is called.”

Nyx nodded and cast a quizzical look at the prioress. “Maybe when the Urth’s path is farthest from the sun, farthest from the heat, could that be our wintertime?”

“It is not a bad guess. Even some of the most esteemed alchymists might tell you the same. But they are no more correct than Hieromonk Plakk.”

“Then why?” Nyx asked, curiosity getting the better of her.

“What if I told you that when we have our dark winters here in the northern half of the Crown, that the lands to the far south enjoy a bright summer?”

“Truly?” Nyx asked. “At the same time?”


Nyx scrunched her brow at what sounded like absurdity. Still, she sensed the prioress was hinting at something with the words she had emphasized.

Dark and bright.

“Have you never wondered,” Ghyle pressed, “how in winter the Father sits lower in the sky, then higher again in the summer? Though the sun never vanishes, it makes a tiny circle in the sky over one year’s passing?”

Nyx gave a tiny shake of her head and a wave toward her eyes. There was no way she could appreciate such subtlety.

A hand touched her shoulder. “Of course, I’m sorry. But let me assure you this is true. And as such, can you guess from your study of the orrery why this might be?”

Nyx turned back to the convoluted rings of bronze on the table. She sensed she was being tested. She could almost feel the prioress’s intensity burning next to her. She took a deep breath, determined not to disappoint the head of the school. She reached out a hand to the orrery. “May I?”

“Of course.”

Nyx again took her time to center herself on the warm sun and fumble to the third ring. Once she found the sphere affixed there, she examined its shape more closely, taking care of the tiny bead of the moon that spun on its own ring around the Urth. She particularly noted how the sphere of the Urth was pinned to the ring beneath it.

Ghyle offered a suggestion. “Sister Reed, it might help our young student if you set everything in motion again.”

After a rustling of skirts, the mechanism’s complicated gears resumed their tick-ticking and the rings started to turn again. Nyx concentrated on how the Urth slowly spun in place as it made a full pass around the sun. She struggled to understand how the southern half could be brighter, while the northern side was darker. Then understanding traveled up her fingertips. The pin around which the Urth spun was not perfectly up and down. Instead, it was set at a slight angle from the sun.

Could that be the answer?

Certainty grew.

She spoke as she continued her own path around the sun. “As the Urth turns, its axis spins at a slight angle, rather than straight up and down. Because of that, for a time, the top half of the world leans toward the sun.”

“Creating our bright northern summer,” the prioress confirmed.

“And when that happens, the bottom half is left leaning away from the sun.”

“Marking the southern Crown’s gloomy winter.”

Nyx turned to the prioress, shocked. “So, seasons are due to the Urth spinning crookedly in place, leaning one side more fully toward the sun, then away again.”

Murmurs spread among the students. Some sounded distraught; others incredulous. But at least Byrd offered no overt ridicule, not in the presence of the prioress.

Still, Nyx felt her face heating up again.

Then a hand patted her shoulder, ending with a squeeze of reassurance.

Startled by the contact, she flinched away. She hated any unexpected touch. Many a boy—even some girls—had come of late to grab at her, often cruelly, pinching what was most tender and private. She could not even accuse and point a finger. Not that she often didn’t know who it was. Especially Byrd, who always reeked of rank sweat and a sour-yeasty breath. It was a cloud that he carried about him from the stores of ale secretly sent to him by his father in Fiskur.

“I’m sorry—” the prioress said softly, plainly noting Nyx’s reaction and unease.

Nyx tried to retreat, but one of her fingers had hooked through the Urth’s ring when she had flinched. Embarrassment turned to panic. She tried to extract her hand but twisted her finger wrong. A metallic pop sounded, which earned a gasp from Sister Reed. Free now, Nyx withdrew her hand from the orrery and clutched a fist to her chest.

Something tinged and tanged across the stone floor near her toes.

“She broke it!” Byrd blurted out, but there was no scorn, only shock.

Another hand grasped her elbow and yanked her back. Caught off guard, Nyx stumbled and tripped to her knees on the floor.

“What have you done, you clumsy girl?” Sister Reed still clutched her. “I’ll have you switched to your core for this.”

“No, you won’t,” Prioress Ghyle said. “It was an accident. One for which I’m equally at fault for startling the child. Would you have me tied to the rod and beaten, Sister Reed?”

“I would never . . .”

“Then neither will the child suffer. Leave her be.”

Nyx’s elbow was freed, but not before those same fingers squeezed hard, digging down to the bone. The message was clear. This matter was not over. It was a bruising promise. Sister Reed intended to exact payment for being humiliated in front of the students, in front of the prioress.

Ghyle’s robes swished as her voice lowered toward the floor. “See. It is just the Urth’s moon that has broken free.” Nyx pictured the prioress collecting the bronze marble from the floor. “It can easily be returned to its proper place and repaired.”

Nyx gained her feet, her face as hot as the sun, tears threatening.

“Sister Reed, mayhap it’s best that you end today’s lesson. I think your seventhyears have had more than enough celestial excitement for one morning.”

Nyx was already moving before Sister Reed dismissed the class to break for their midday meal. She raced her tears toward the brightness of the door. No one blocked her flight, perhaps fearing to catch her humiliation and shame. In her haste to escape, she left behind her cane—a sturdy length of polished elm—which she used to help guide her steps. Still, she refused to go back and fled out into the sunlight and shadows of a summer day.


As others headed to their dormitory hall, where a cold midday repast awaited the students, Nyx hurried in the other direction. She had no appetite. Instead, she reached one of the four staircases that led down from the seventh tier to the one below, where the sixthyears were likely already eating in their own hall.

Though the world around her was only shadows against that brightness, she did not slow. Even without her cane, she moved swiftly. She had lived half of her life in the walled Cloistery. By now, she knew every nook and crook of its tiers. The number of steps, turns, and stairs had been ingrained into her, allowing her to traverse the school with relative ease. At the edge of her full awareness, a silent count ran in the back of her skull. She instinctively reached out a hand every now and then—to a carved lintel, to a wooden post of a stall, to a stone flogging pillar—continually confirming her location and position.

As she descended through the tiers, she pictured the breadth of the Cloistery of Brayk. It rose like a stepped hill from the swamps of Mýr. At its base, the school stretched over a mile across, built atop a foundation of volcanic stone, one of the rare solid places among these watery marshlands and drowned forests. The school was the second oldest in the Kingdom of Hálendii—the oldest being on the outskirts of its capital, Azantiia—but the Cloistery was still considered the harshest and most esteemed due to its isolation. Students spent their entire nine years in Brayk, beginning at the lowermost tier where the young firstyears were instructed. From there, classes were winnowed smaller and smaller to match the ever-shrinking tiers of the school. Those that failed to rise were sent back to their families in shame, but that did not stop students from arriving here by boats and ships from all around the Crown. For those who succeeded in reaching the ninth tier at the school’s pinnacle, they were destined for honor and prominence, advancing either to the handful of alchymical academies where they’d be instructed into the deeper mysteries of the world or into one of the religious orders to be ordained into the highest devotions.

When Nyx reached the third tier, she glanced back to the summit of the school. Twin fires glowed amidst the shadows at the top, bright enough for even her clouded eyes to discern. One pyre smoked with alchymical mysteries; the other burned with clouds of sacred incense. It was said the shape and fires of the Cloistery mimicked the volcanic peak at the heart of Mýr, the steam-shrouded mountain of The Fist. In addition, the infused smoke rising from the top of the school served to keep the denizens of those cave-pocked slopes—the winged bats—from approaching too close. Still, in the gloom of winter, dark wings occasionally shredded through the low clouds. Screeches would send first- and secondyears cowering and crying for reassurance from the sisters and brothers who taught them—until eventually one grew to ignore the threat.

Nyx could not say the same was true for her. Even at her age, the hunting cries would set her heart to pounding, her head to burning. And when she was younger—a firstyear new to the school—terror would overwhelm her, sending her into a dead faint. But she had nothing to fear now. It was the middle of summer, and whether from the brightness or the heat, the massive bats kept away from the swamp’s edges, sticking close to their dark dens in The Fist.

By the time she finally reached the lowermost tier of the Cloistery, her shame and embarrassment had waned to a dull ache in her chest. She rubbed her bruised elbow, a reminder that there would still be repercussions to come.

Until then, she wanted reassurance and aimed for the only place she could find it. She headed out through the school gates and into the trading post of Brayk. The ramshackle village hugged the walls of the Cloistery. Brayk fed, supplied, and maintained the school. Goods were carted upward every morning, accompanied by lines of men and women who served as chambermaids, servitors, sculleries, and cooks. Nyx had thought this to be her own fate, having started at the school as a housegirl at the age of six.

Once out into the village, she moved just as surefooted. She not only counted her footsteps through the crooked streets, but her ears pricked to the rhythmic hammering of Smithy’s Row to her left. The steady ringing helped guide her path. Her nose also lifted to the pungent smoke and heady spices of markets, where fishes and eels were already frying under the midday sun. Even her skin noted the thickening air and growing dampness as she reached Brayk’s outskirts. Here the stone-and-plaster palacios closer to the school’s walls declined to more modest homes and storehouses with wooden walls and thatched roofs.

Still, she continued onward until a new smell filled her world. It was a heavy brume of sodden hair, sweet shite, trampled mud, and sulfurous belch. She felt her fears shedding from her shoulders as she drew nearer, enveloping herself in the rich odors.

It meant home.

Her arrival did not go unnoticed. A rumbling bellow greeted her, followed by another, and another. Splashing headed her way.

She crossed forward until her hands found the stacked stone fence that marked off the bullock pens at the swamp’s edge. A heavy shuffle aimed toward her, accompanied by a softer grunting and a few plaintive bleats, as if the great lumbering beasts thought themselves to blame for her long absence. She lifted a hand until a wet nose, covered in cold phlegm, settled into her palm. Her fingers were nosed up and gently nuzzled. From its size and the shape, she knew this snout as readily as she did the village and school.

“It’s good to see you, too, Gramblebuck.”

She freed her hand and reached up. She dug her fingers through the thick matted fur between the stubby horns until her nails found skin. She scratched him hard where he always liked it, earning a contented huff of hot air against her chest. Gramblebuck was the eldest of the herd, nearly a century old. He rarely pulled the sledges through the rushes and marshes any longer, but he remained lord of the bullocks. Most of the shaggy herd here could trace their blood to this one beast.

She reached up both arms and gripped his horns. Even with his head bowed low, she had to lift to her toes to get hold. She pulled his head to hers, his crown as wide as her chest. She inhaled his wet musk, leaned into the warm hearth of his bulk.

“I missed you, too,” she whispered.

He grunted back and tried to haul her up by arching his short neck.

She laughed and let go of his horns before she was carried aloft. “I don’t have time to go for a ride with you. Maybe on my midsummer break.”

Though Gramblebuck no longer pulled the sledges, he still loved to trek the swamps. All her life, she had spent many a long day on his wide back, traversing the marshes. His long legs and splayed hooves made easy passage through its bogs and streams, while his size and curled tusks discouraged any predators from daring to approach.

She patted his cheek. “Soon. I promise you.”

As she headed down the fencerow, running her fingertips along the posts, she hoped it was a promise she could keep. Other bullocks shuffled and sidled up, wanting attention, too. She knew most of them by touch and smell. But her time was limited. The bells would soon be summoning her back to her studies.

She hurried toward the corner of the hundred-acre bullock pen, where a homestead stood. Its foundation was anchored to the stone shore but also stretched out atop a massive dock, which extended a quarter league into the swamps. The home’s walls were stacked stones matching the fence, its roof thatched like the homes nearby. Higher up, a rock chimney pointed at the skies, where the shadows of low clouds scudded across the brightness, rolling ever eastward, carrying the freezing cold of the dark toward the searing scorch on the other side of the world.

She crossed to the stout door, lifted the iron latch, and shoved inside without a knock or a shout. As she stepped into the deeper shadows, her world shrank, but not in a disconcerting way. It was like being wrapped in a warm, familiar blanket. She was immediately struck by a mélange of odors that meant home: the smell of old wool, the oily polish of wood, the smoke of dying coals, the melting beeswax from the tiny candles in the home’s corner altar. Even the waft of composting silage from the twin stone silos that flanked the docks pervaded everything.

Her ears piqued to a shuffle of limbs and creak of wood near the ruddy glow of the hearth. A voice, wry with amusement, rose from there. “Trouble again, is it?” her dah asked. “Is there any other reason you tumble back home nowadays, lass? And without your cane?”

She hung her head, staring down at her empty hands. She wanted to dismiss his words but could not.

A gentle laugh softened his judgement. “Come sit and tell me about it.”

With her back to the fire, Nyx finished her litany of the morning’s humiliations and fears. It lightened her spirit simply to unburden them.

All the while, her dah sat silently, puffing on a pipe smoldering with snakeroot. The tincture in the smoke helped with the crick and rasp of his joints. But she suspected his silence was less about tempering any pain than it was to allow her the time to fill the quiet with her complaints.

She let out a sigh to announce the ending.

Her dah sucked on his pipe and exhaled one long bitter breath of smoke. “Let me ken it better for you. You certainly tweaked the nose of the nonne who taught you this last quarter.”

Nyx rubbed the bruise from Sister Reed’s bony fingers and nodded.

“But you also impressed yourself upon the prioress of the entire school. Not a small feat, I imagine.”

“She was being kindly at best. And I don’t think my clumsiness helped the situation. Especially breaking the school’s treasured orrery.”

“No matter. What is broken can always be set aright. On the balance of it, I’d say you fared well for one morning. You’ll finish your seventhyear in another turn of the moon. Leaving only the eighthyear to go until the final culling to the ninth and highest tier. It seems, under such circumstances, earning the good graces of the prioress herself versus irking a single nonne—a sister who you’ll soon leave behind anyway—is not a bad trade.”

His words helped further temper her misgivings. Maybe he was right. She had certainly endured far harsher obstacles to reach the seventh tier. And now I’m so close to the top. She shoved that hope down deep, fearing even wishing it might dash her chances.

As if reading her thoughts, her dah underscored her luck. “Look where you started. A babe of six moons mewling atop a floating raft of fenweed. If not for your bellyaching, we wouldn’t aheard ya. Gramblebuck would have dragged my sledge right past ya.”

She attempted to smile. The story of her being found abandoned in the bog was a point of joy to her dah. He had two strong sons—both in their third decade now, who managed the paddocks and ran the sledges—but the man’s wife had died giving birth to his only daughter, losing both at the same time. He took Nyx’s discovery in the swamps as some gift from the Mother, especially as there was no evidence of who had left the infant naked and crying in the bog. The spread of fenweed, a fragile and temperamental plant, exhibited no evidence of any treadfall around her body. Even the tender blooms that covered the floating mat’s surface showed no bruise to their petals. It was as if she had been dropped from the skies as a reward for the devout and hardworking swamper.

Still, while this oft told story was a point of pride for her dah, for her it was laced with an uncomfortable mix of shame and anger. Her mother—maybe both her parents—had abandoned her in the swamps, surely left to die, perhaps because she had been born afflicted, the surfaces of her eyes glazed to a bluish white.

“How I loved ya,” her dah said, admitting another truth. “Even if you hadn’t been picked to join the firstyears at the Cloistery. Though my heart just about burst when I heard you passed the test.”

“It was an accident,” she muttered.

He coughed out a gout of smoke. “Don’t say that. Nothing in life is simple chance. It was a sign the Mother still smiles on you.”

Nyx didn’t believe as devoutly as him, but she knew better than to contradict him.

At the time, she had been a housegirl at the school, assigned to washing and scrubbing. She had been mopping one of the testing wards when she tripped over a tumble of small blocks—some stone, others wooden—on the floor. Fearing they might be important, she gathered them up and set them atop a nearby table. But curiosity got the better of her. While neatly stacking them, she felt how different shapes fit against one another. It was how she experienced much of the world around her—then and now—through the sensitivity of her fingers. With no one around, she began fiddling with the blocks and lost track of the time, but eventually the ninescore of shapes built themselves into an intricate structure with crenellated towers and jagged walls that formed a six-pointed star around the castle in the center.

Lost in her labors and concentrating fully on her work, she had failed to notice the gathering around her. Only when done did she straighten, earning gasps from her hidden audience.

She remembered one nonne asking another, “How long has she been in here?”

The answer: “I left when she came in with the mop and pail. That was less than one ring ago.”

“She built the Highmount of Azantiia in such a short time. We give the aspirants an entire day to do the same. And most fail.”

“I swear.”

Someone had then grabbed her chin and turned her face. “And look at the blue cast to her eyes. She’s all but blind.”

Afterward, she had been granted a spot among the firstyears, entering the Cloistery a year younger than anyone else. Only a handful of children from the village of Brayk had ever been granted entrance to the school, and none had climbed higher than the third tier. She secretly took pride in this accomplishment, but it was hard to maintain that satisfaction. As she climbed the tiers with the same shrinking class, the others never let her forget her lowly beginnings. They shamed her for the stink of the silage about her. They teased her for her lack of fine clothes and manners. And then there was her clouded vision, a wall of shadows that continually separated her from the others.

Still, she found solace in her dah’s joy. To stoke that happiness, she kept steadfast in her studies. She also found pleasure in learning more about the world. It was like climbing out of the darkness of a root cellar and into a bright summer day. Shadows remained, mysteries yet to be revealed, but each year more of the darkness about the world lifted. The same curiosity with which she handled those blocks in the testing ward remained and grew with each tier gained.

“You will make it to your ninthyear,” her dah said. “I know it in my bones.”

She gathered his confidence into her heart and held it there. She would devote everything to make that happen.

If nothing else, for him.

Off in the distance, a ringing echoed from the heights of the Cloistery. It was the Summoning Bell. She had to be in her latterday studies before they rang again. She did not have much time.

Her dah heard it, too. “Best you get going, lass.”

She gained her feet by the hearth and reached to his hand, feeling the wiry muscles under thin skin, all wrapped around strong bones. She leaned and kissed him, finding his whiskered cheek as surely as a bee to a honeyclott.

“I’ll see you again when I can,” she promised him, remembering she had sworn the same earlier to Gramblebuck. She intended to keep that promise to both.

“Be good,” her dah said. “And remember the Mother is always looking out for you.”

As she headed toward the door, she smiled at her dah’s undying faith in both her and the Mother Below. She prayed it was not misplaced—not with either of them.

Copyright © 2022 by James Rollins

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