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Who Needs a Villain? 5 Great Books That Do Just Fine Without

Rubicon by J. S. DewesDoes every book or movie HAVE to feature The Ultimate Big Bad (TM) to make it a good, entertaining piece of fiction? J. S. Dewes, author of Rubicon, joins us to talk about some of her favorite examples of media with less traditional villains. Check it out here!


By J. S. Dewes

A child of the 90s and early aughts, I grew up in a golden age of the cinematic masterpiece known as the disaster movie. Many a night was spent binge-watching laserdiscs of Twister, Independence Day, Volcano, White Squall, Outbreak, Armageddon, Titanic, Deep Impact, need I go on.

As an introvert terrified of interpersonal conflict, the notion of a dramatic premise that didn’t require traditional antagonists spoke directly to my soul. Why bother fighting each other when you can instead band together to fight MOTHER NATURE?

So it should come as no surprise that when I started brainstorming for my debut novel The Last Watch, my instincts led me directly toward a villainless premise. As castoff miscreants and criminal soldiers, many of my characters would make decent antagonists in their own rights, yet instead my motley crew joins forces to undertake the not so small task of preventing the collapse of the universe.

While writing, I never even considered including any kind of traditional villain—my poor characters really didn’t need a Big Bad thwarting their every move with the universe itself opposing them at every turn. (That was until I realized the story was, in fact, a series, and that a more traditional antagonist may be called for as the story expands, but I digress.)

As a child, I also happened to be an avid reader, and often looked to sate my disaster movie cravings with literature. Though finds are too few and far between, I’ve discovered a few amazing novels over the years that help scratch that disaster movie itch.

Poster Placeholder of - 81Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman

Night of the Twisters follows twelve-year-old Dan and his best friend, who are caught at home alone with Dan’s baby brother when a tornado watch is issued. They take shelter in the basement just before a tornado strikes, leveling the house. Though they survive, they have a long night ahead—it’s only the first of seven tornados that will strike before dawn.

As the first and only “disaster fiction” I came across in elementary school, I became briefly obsessed with Night of the Twisters (and its admittedly regretful made-for-TV movie of the same name—if you recall it fondly, please don’t look it up now.)

Looming tornadic activity was a staple of my Midwestern childhood summers, so I found it particularly fascinating to read such a realistic account of this kind of disaster. The warning signs and resulting storm are rendered in intense detail, and though certainly a book for young readers, it really doesn’t hold back when it comes to stakes and tension. Kids persevering without or despite adults is a common enough staple in kidlit, though I’ve not seen another set in the framework of such a realistic natural disaster. The twelve-year-old protagonist’s custody of his baby brother is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, nevermind adding seven tornados into the mix.

Place holder  of - 11Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

It’s the year 2131 when a mysterious, massive interstellar spacecraft arrives in the solar system. The crew of the Endeavor is sent to investigate, and within they uncover a vast alien world filled with unforeseen wonders.

As my default “what’s your favorite book” answer, Rendezvous with Rama holds a special place in my heart. It wasn’t until writing this very article that I realized that may be in large part due to the fact that it fulfills this “no-villains-needed” conflict niche I so desperately crave.

Rama brilliantly showcases two of my all-time favorite science fiction tropes: BDOs (“Big Dumb Objects”) and competent professionals just doing their jobs while making decisions they don’t get paid nearly enough to make. Both tropes naturally perform well in narratives without typical antagonists, inherently possessing plenty of hooks for conflict and tension. Together they work to even greater effect: throw your cast of competent characters at/into a BDO, pit them against any given Impossible Alien Task, and sit back to watch the struggle unfold.

The argument could be made for some late-game bureaucratic Bad Guys (whose *exhausted sigh*-inspiring actions spawn exactly the type of delightful heroic gesture our competent professionals are designed to thwart), but ultimately that all serves as a backdrop for the mainstage on which Rama shines its brightest: exploration of the wonderous unknown, doing right by humanity, and just trusting the scientists, FFS.

Image Place holder  of - 6The Giver by Lois Lowry

Surely you know this one, but just in case: The Giver follows twelve-year-old Jonas, living a peaceable if not bland life in an apparent utopia. When he becomes apprentice to the sole keeper of the community’s memories, he learns some dangerous truths about society and history, and soon realizes he must find a way to escape the confines of their community in order to save his loved ones.

As a kid, this one hit me really hard; I remember thinking, “STORIES CAN END THIS WAY?!” And I know that very ending is what many people don’t like about it, but I was beyond thrilled. It felt like a door of endless possibilities had been kicked wide open. As with life, not everything is always so black and white (unintentional reference, I swear) and sometimes answers aren’t clear-cut or tied up with tidy expository bows.

Though the elders are ostensibly villainous, I’d argue their own ignorance precludes them from attaining true Bad Guy status. Jonas’s journey is more about surmounting his own beliefs and understanding of reality, and as a result his “antagonist” is basically everything—expectation, propriety, society, regulation, trust, resources, fear, “Sameness,” all of human history, even memory itself.

Placeholder of  -18Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick & Harvey Wheeler

A series of technical glitches and miscommunications bring the United States and Russia to the brink of nuclear war. As both sides struggle to avert disaster, the unthinkable soon proves unavoidable, and omnicide can only be averted via massive mutual sacrifice.

Picked up at a garage sale when I was twelve, Fail-Safe served as my first exposure to the concept of mutually assured destruction. And I was fascinated.

Though the broad strokes of the plot are deceptively simple, it’s rather more detailed and character-driven than you’d think. At twelve I should have found the politicking in this book boring at best, yet I couldn’t put it down. Despite decades of separation and my utter ignorance of the Cuban Missile Crisis or even the Cold War, the authors still managed to convey the tension, hostility, bitterness, and mistrust of the era, capturing an eerie depiction of the dangerous precipice we lingered on for so long—all without any kind of caricature villain to do the heavy lifting. The antagonist in this case is very clearly circumstance—the reality that’s resulted from the decisions and actions of the characters and their predecessors, American and Russian alike.

Though plenty tragic, in retrospect it’s a shockingly optimistic tale given the time it was written in. Though today this would get shelved alongside Tom Clancy and the like, in my brain it occupies the same general slot as other unnervingly realistic radiative stories like How I Live Now, The Day After, and my all-time favorite disaster depiction: HBO’s Chernobyl.

Image Placeholder of - 62The Effort by Claire Holroyde

A massive comet is discovered to be on a collision-course with Earth, heralding an extinction-level event. While scientists from across the globe come together to devise a solution, civilization threatens to devolve around them.

A relatively new addition to the apocalyptic fiction genre, The Effort is the most recent book to have reminded me of my disaster movie lover roots.

The Effort is like if Karen Thompson Walker’s The Dreamers and the aforementioned Fail-Safe had a book baby, but swap the disease/nukes for a comet. It presents complicated sociopolitical issues through a disaster movie lens—featuring a sprawling cast and multiple storylines, each with its own unique set of crises and challenges to face.

The villain here is society itself, and the tentative, fragile instability of modern civilization that we take for granted every day. It’s another that fits nicely in the “hauntingly realistic” category. Contemplative above all else, it’s definitely the type of story with more questions than answers, leaving you with plenty to chew on.

As a kid, stories like these kickstarted my imagination more so than any other kind (and still do). They allow me to imagine a broader purview of conflict—one that doesn’t force a clear dichotomy of protagonist vs. antagonist, enabling a unique approach to storytelling you just can’t arrive at any other way.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me a well-realized villain—whether relatable, morally gray, lawful neutral, unrelentingly evil, you name it—but I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for these kind of high-stakes, all-is-lost narratives that are able to showcase humanity at its most stubborn and determined—and working together to achieve great things.

(Please fill the comments with your favorite novels lacking traditional villains (especially humanity vs nature) because I need more in my life, and you do too.)

J. S. Dewes is the author of The Last Watch, on sale 4/20/21. The second book in the series, The Exiled Fleet, hits shelves everywhere on 8/17/21.

Pre-order Rubicon here

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$2.99 eBook Sale: December 18, 2021

Happy Saturday, everyone! For one day only, snag the following ebooks for only $2.99. What are you waiting for?!


Poster Placeholder of - 27The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes

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

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Placeholder of  -17The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path. But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark. Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

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Image Place holder  of - 3The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu

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

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Image Placeholder of - 8The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons

Now that Relos Var’s plans have been revealed and demons are free to rampage across the empire, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies—and the end of the world—is closer than ever. To buy time for humanity, Kihrin needs to convince the king of the Manol vané to perform an ancient ritual which will strip the entire race of their immortality, but it’s a ritual which certain vané will do anything to prevent. Including assassinating the messengers. Worse, Kihrin must come to terms with the horrifying possibility that his connection to the king of demons, Vol Karoth, is growing steadily in strength. How can he hope to save anyone when he might turn out to be the greatest threat of them all?

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Excerpt: The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes

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Image Placeholder of - 17J. S. Dewes continues her fast paced, science fiction action adventure with The Exiled Fleet, where The Expanse meets The Black Company—the survivors of The Last Watch refuse to die.

The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide.

They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve.

Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they’ll need to get everyone out.

To do that they’re going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy. Some of them will not survive.

Please enjoy this free preview of The Exiled Fleet, on sale 08/17/2021.


Chapter One

“Motherfucker. You better work.”

Cavalon slammed the access panel shut. Sweat stung his eyes and he wiped away the moisture slicking his overgrown hair to his forehead. Days since he’d started this phase of the project: twenty-three. Times he’d recalculated, reconfigured, or rebuilt this single fucking subsystem: fourteen. Patience: zero.

This had to be it. It had to work this time, or he’d give up and activate it without any stupid “core stabilization,” then stand back and watch the damn thing supernova. Who tried to build a star aboard a fucking spaceship anyway? Bloody void.

He tapped the black nexus band on his wrist, and an orange holographic display slid into the air over his forearm. He found the menu labeled with a hashed half circle, a spiked teardrop, and an inverted triangle—a Viator phrase that unnervingly translated to “anti-explosion box.” He selected the icon, and it produced an infuriating “sync in progress” meter.

He waited for the bar to fill, scratching at the few centimeters of blond growth along his jawline. He’d given up months ago, and just rode the stubble wave right into a beard, which had arrived peppered with more gray than felt reasonable for twenty-eight. But there was no time for shaving when there was a “perpetual jump drive” to build. Well, invent.

Jump drives required solar energy to function, usually amassed by panels on the hull while a vessel went about its business in a solar system. But they weren’t in a solar system—they weren’t even in a galaxy—which meant there wasn’t a single star even remotely close enough. So, naturally, the solution had been to build one. In the damn ship.

For the last six months, every ounce of his effort, day or night, sleeping or waking, had been focused on finishing this ridiculous “perpetual jump drive.” This singular task, the only thing that could get all four thousand rescued Sentinels to Kharon Gate before they all died of thirst or starvation, or the Divide finally drove them all mad and the Typhos became one giant murder party. As usual, no pressure.

With a placid beep, the sync completed. The screen flashed red and his nexus band blurted out a negative tone. He clenched his teeth, suppressing a low growl. Ever the masochist, he tapped the activation again. Again, a docile negative tone, and again, nothing.

He quirked a brow at the display. Strangely, it showed no error code. Maybe the wireless controls were acting up again. It hadn’t been the easiest task of Puck’s career to get the Legion software to interact nicely with the Viator-conceived systems. He’d have to check the primary control terminal to be sure.

Cavalon closed the menu, then headed up the slanted passage and out of the reactor’s shell into the hangar bay. Comparatively cool air chilled his sweat-slicked cheeks as he stepped onto the metal walkway.

A framework of scaffolding ringed the outside of the twenty-meter-diameter orb, allowing access to the dozens of systems required to make the monstrosity work. The reactor’s components weren’t nearly as accessible as they’d been in the versions aboard the dark energy generators, mostly due to the exorbitant amount of improvisation he’d had to do. But hey, he wasn’t an ancient alien species with millennia of research and apparently endless resources at his disposal. He was simply a guy with a degree in astro-mechanical engineering, which somehow meant this was in his wheelhouse. Most days, he just felt like a guy with a few different types of wrenches and way too much responsibility. The whole thing was really absurd.

Cavalon headed around the arc of scaffolding toward the reactor’s anterior, which faced out into the large, empty hangar—bay F9, now pragmatically known as “the reactor bay.” Though at least eighty meters square, it was modest compared to what a behemoth capital ship like the Typhos had to offer, easily the smallest of their dozens of hangars and docking bays, but also the closest in proximity to the ship’s jump drive.

He arrived at the primary control terminal, a two-meter-wide counter covered with jury-rigged holographic interfaces and repurposed viewscreens. He swept open the solenoid controls, and a white holographic menu materialized in the air over the terminal counter

He grumbled under his breath and tapped the activation switch.

Another negative tone, this one louder, denser, and more judgmental than the one from his nexus band. An error screen taunted him next, along with a brand-new message he’d not seen the other fourteen times he’d taken a stab at this: “Subsystem not found.”

Void, he’d made it worse.

He clenched his fists, knuckles going white as he pressed them into the console top and muttered, “Goddamn piece of flaming void garbage.”

“Maybe if you didn’t call it mean names?”

Cavalon glanced over his shoulder, down past the walkway railing. On the deck six meters below, Jackin North stood in front of the cluster of workbenches. He stared up at Cavalon expectantly, hands on hips, looking all hygienic and not grease-stained in his unwrinkled, navy-blue Legion uniform. It’d taken Cavalon about two weeks before he’d given up on maintaining a clean uniform, and Jackin about two more before he’d given up giving Cavalon shit about wearing nothing but a T-shirt and duty slacks. Jackin knew how to pick his battles.

Cavalon took a strange amount of comfort in Jackin’s composed appearance. It acted as evidence that life existed somewhere outside bay F9. And, as was probably the point, served as a reminder of how a soldier should look. As their acting commander, Jackin had to set a precedent. Lead by example, or some such nonsense.

Yet even the highest-ranking officer aboard couldn’t hide the impact of months of reduced rations: his face narrower, cheekbones sharper, and a sullen, yellow tinge to the whites of his dark brown eyes.

“How’s it going?” Jackin asked, tone unnervingly even.

Cavalon cast an unnecessary glance at the nexus band on his wrist. “That time again already, boss?”

The scraping assessment in Jackin’s eyes somehow felt equal degrees judgmental and tolerant.

Cavalon sighed. “I know it’s on your regimented daily itinerary, Optio, but I’d work a lot better without you breathing down my neck every morning.”

“Remember, it’s centurion now.”

“Right. What’s with that, anyway? I thought you were going to be CNO?”

“You don’t really need a fleet navigations officer when you don’t have a fleet.”

Cavalon scratched his chin. “True.” They were in fact a fleet of one at the moment—all the other ships that’d survived the Divide’s collapse had proven themselves just as stranded as the Argus had been. No ion drives, no warp drives, no jump drives, and thus no ability to congregate. Which held its own as an exercise in negligence, but after seeing the monumental—and frankly, creative—ways in which the Legion had recklessly abandoned the Sentinels, Cavalon now knew it to be intentional. If you’re going to banish all your criminal soldiers to the edge of the universe, no reason to give them an easy way to escape. Or to mutiny, as the case may be.

Cavalon knelt, letting out a groan as his joints protested. He reached under the console and grabbed a battered multimeter, then tossed it under the railing at Jackin.

Jackin flinched as the device hit him square in the chest. It toppled down into his arms and he awkwardly caught it. He leveled a glower of barely contained frustration at Cavalon. “Void, kid—I’m not a time ripple.”

“That’s what they all say,” Cavalon mumbled. “Just checking. I don’t have time to have this conversation again. And again. And again.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Jackin grumbled, dropping the multimeter onto the nearest workbench. “Why don’t you just give me the report, then me and all future mes can get on with our days and leave you alone.”

Cavalon grimaced as his hands began to cramp. “The report is: How about you worry about getting yourself a fleet, and I’ll worry about creating a star generator from scratch.”

“Because I won’t be able to get inward to even begin to muster a fleet without your star generators. Also, everyone will starve.”

Cavalon dug a thumb deep into the palm of one cramping hand. “Void, I know, okay? I don’t know what you want me to do. I can only work so fast.”

The furrow in Jackin’s brow softened. “I know, kid. Sorry.” His gaze went unfocused as he rubbed a hand through the scarred side of his trimmed black beard. “Just do your best,” he encouraged. “We’ve got the rest in hand, don’t worry about that part.”

Cavalon nodded, unable to ignore the forced evenness in Jackin’s tight expression. He wasn’t a very good liar. And Cavalon was well aware of the primary cause of his worry: Rake and Co. were supposed to have returned from rescuing Sentinels and restarting the other dark energy generators weeks ago. Every passing day they didn’t return seemed to age Jackin by weeks—stony gray salting his black hair at the temples, his light brown skin too weathered for someone in their early forties.

Jackin drew in a deep breath, vanquishing the worry from his face with an ostensible effort. “I’ll leave you to it. Update me when you can. Will I see you at drills tomorrow?”

Cavalon forced a grin. “Yeah. Wouldn’t miss it.”

Jackin nodded, then made his way back to the massive bay doors and left.

“Animus.”

Cavalon startled, the scaffolding at his feet groaning as he twisted to find Mesa lurking behind him. She regarded him evenly, the bags under her overlarge eyes like inky bruises against her warm beige skin.

He licked his dry lips, then reached out and pressed her shoulder gently. “You real?”

Mesa’s narrow chin stayed straight as she swayed back from his push, her round eyes sharpening. “Difficult to say, considering one is not generally aware of one’s own dissociation from space-time.”

He cleared his throat. “Fair.”

“Time ripple or not,” she said, holding out a tablet toward him, “I have recalculated the magnetic potential using our altered equations.”

Cavalon took the tablet, a frown tugging at his lips as he noticed the way it trembled in her grasp. As a Savant, she had lousy endurance even on an easy day, and the last six months had been nothing but hard days.

“How’s it look?” Cavalon asked, glancing at the dozen blocks of Viator code on the screen.

“Promising,” Mesa replied. “I believe you were correct in your assessment that we miscalculated the phase shift accumulation. We cannot continue to assume our present understanding of gravitational field generation is wholly accurate.”

Cavalon blew out a heavy sigh. Present understanding, in this case, meant “mankind’s collective comprehension of particle physics.” But redefining their fundamental understanding of science happened once a week these days, so he wasn’t surprised. Only annoyed.

He gave a cursory look at the new code. This phase shift hack job was a last-ditch effort. If Mesa’s new calculations didn’t fix it, he’d have to go back to the drawing board on the whole core stabilization subsystem— again—and all Jackin’s anxious notions over them starving before they could leave the Divide would likely become reality.

“Well, let’s hope you were right,” Cavalon said, “and it’s really only because we fucked up the math. One small problem first, though . . .”

She tilted her head. “Yes?”

He tucked the tablet under his arm, then palmed the holographic screen over the primary control terminal. He spun it to face her, showcasing the error message. “I kinda broke it.”

Mesa made a constrained clicking sound with her tongue, shoulders stiffening with forced patience. She swiped to dismiss the message, then backed through the menus to another screen. She sighed. “It is not broken. You merely left the remote edit permissions lock on again.”

Cavalon snorted a laugh, running a hand down the side of his face. Of course he did. It was the engineering equivalent of a child safety lock. Obviously he’d not be able to work it properly.

Mesa had insisted on implementing the feature early on, and at the time, Cavalon had thought it wholly unnecessary. But the longer it went on, the more tired he grew, the more mistakes he made, and the happier he was that Mesa had completely ignored his objection.

“We will need to release the local console,” Mesa said. “But we can simply enter the new calculations from there.”

Cavalon nodded, and Mesa followed as he headed back around the scaffolding to the posterior access tunnel. They ducked inside, but Cavalon stopped short when he saw two figures ten meters down the sloping passage, standing at the control panel. He squinted at the wavering doppelgängers—he and Mesa, of course, but weirdly, they were grinning like idiots.

Real Cavalon slid real Mesa a weak smile. “If those kids are that happy, maybe we’re onto something after all.”

Seconds later, the doppelgängers’ outlines jittered, and they shimmered like a puddle of water disturbed by a tossed pebble before vanishing.

Cavalon started down the pitched floor toward the console. “What if . . .” he proposed, “we fly this whole outfit even closer to the Divide so we get even more ripples and maybe one of those Cavalons and/or Mesas will have a clue how to finish this thing.”

“Regardless of how absurdly dangerous that would be,” Mesa replied, “as with the other Sentinel ships, we cannot move this vessel in any appreciable manner.”

Cavalon sighed. “I miss Rake. She could appreciate a good joke.”

“I am sure you do,” Mesa said, “but not for that reason.”

He scoffed. “What?”

“You say you ‘miss’ her because she would tolerate your pointless humor—”

“Pointless? Ouch, Mes.”

“—but ‘missing’ a person is merely a symptom of unfulfilled emotional needs.”

A symptom? That was pretty calculated, even for Mesa. She must be extra over it today.

“In this example,” she continued, “more than likely, the sense of security the excubitor provided as a sympathetic commander. By that account, I ‘miss’ her as well.”

Cavalon sighed. He wasn’t sure why Mesa kept air-quoting “miss” as if it weren’t a real thing.

“Sure,” he said, “but, I think you’re underestimating how much I need people to like my jokes.”

Mesa pursed her lips.

“And FYI,” he added as they came to a stop in front of the console, “by your own definition, you miss Puck.”

“I do not know what you speak of,” Mesa said, with the barest sliver of defensiveness in her tone.

“You know—Jackin’s cheerful optio, weirdly tall, shaved head.” Cavalon mimed typing in the air. “Good with the hackies? The one giving you a doe-eyed stare all the time?”

“I do not miss him.”

“Do too. He’s too busy running the ship to fulfill your unfulfilled—”

“I suggest you not finish that sentence,” she warned.

Cavalon grinned. Mesa was such a damn prude. Watching her get all squirmy about her secret boyfriend was one of the very few bright spots left in Cavalon’s day.

Mesa impatiently plucked the tablet from Cavalon’s grip. “May we return to our work, please?”

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry.” Cavalon activated the control screen and unlocked the remote edit permissions.

Mesa started reading off the new code as he input it. “You have taken to the Viator language extremely well,” she commented.

“It’s been six months.” He hit delete a few times to correct a typo. “Bound to pick up a few things.”

“Regardless, I am surprised it is even possible without formal instruction. It would be a difficult task, even for a trained linguist.”

“Careful, Mes. This is starting to sound like a compliment.”

She sighed.

“What can I say, it’s critical to our survival. You do what you have to do in times of crisis.”

Curiosity pinched her brow. “For most, it is not that simple.”

Cavalon gave a wavering shrug. His rapid proficiency in the Viator language surprised even himself. “Not like you’re any different,” he countered. “You didn’t know shit about photovoltaics six months ago. Now you could build a neutrino capacitor in your sleep.”

“Mm,” Mesa hummed, then let out a soft yawn. “I will be, at this rate.”

“Oh relax,” he grumbled, entering the final symbols. “There. Done.” He skimmed it over to confirm, then saved the new code and closed out the screen.

He opened his nexus, expanding the orange primary control menu. He tapped to activate. This time, the red error screen was instead a bright green. And not an error screen.

“Holy shit,” Cavalon breathed. He took a step back, a rash of heat climbing his neck.

Green. Not red. It’d fucking worked.

A click sounded and the panel behind the control terminal buzzed with electricity as the system engaged.

Cavalon turned to Mesa, whose overlarge Savant eyes had grown even larger. Her lips stretched into a broad smile, exposing her straight white teeth. He scooped her into a hug and accidentally lifted her off her feet—despite her petite frame, she weighed even less than he’d expected. She patted his back lightly and he let go, suddenly aware of the unfortunate amount of perspiration clinging his shirt to his skin.

“Sorry.” He frowned. “I’m sweaty.”

“Indeed,” she replied, elation returning to brighten her features. The Divide might excel at making them anxious, agitated, and depressed, but after six long months, Cavalon knew the opposite could be true as well. Low lows and high highs. It was a truly exhausting way to live.

An airy warmth inflated Cavalon’s chest as the remaining steps of the project fit together in his mind’s eye. One larger task and a slew of smaller tasks remained, including testing the gas injection system, finalizing the photovoltaics bridge that would feed the jump drive, and conducting a final evaluation of the operational diagnostics before they had to seal the thing up. But they were close. Really, really close.

He and Mesa climbed out of the inner chamber and descended the scaffolding to the workbenches at the front of the machine.

Cavalon hunted down a towel on the cluttered worktop and wiped the sweat from the nape of his neck, then grabbed his water bottle and took a long drink. Despite being room temperature, the epithesium-infused water felt like an icy mountain stream. Meant to hydrate and energize, the supplement hadn’t made much of a dent in his fatigue lately, and he found it took more and more to get the same results.

The rush of water flushed him with a cool tingle, and his damp shirt sent waves of goose bumps across his skin. He grimaced as his calves cramped. Bracing against the workbench, he tried to stretch through it, but the movement only sent more aggressive convulsions through his legs.

He glanced up at Mesa. She stood across the workbench, honed gaze sweeping over him like a biotool’s diagnostic beam.

To an outside observer, Mesa had two modes, intellectually discerning and critically discerning, and this one certainly fell into the latter category. During their endless hours working together, Cavalon had grown adept at interpreting the nuance behind her glares. This one was: “You look like death, why are you not tending to your most basic human needs?”

He rubbed the heels of his palms into his eyes. “I’m fine, Mes.”

She folded her hands on the counter. “Please visit the medbay during your next break.”

He scoffed a laugh. “Break? You mean the four hours a day I pass out facedown in the dark?”

“The greatest danger of this project lies in its many unknowns,” she said, ignoring his defeatism. “Many of the metamaterials you are working with are highly radiative—”

“I’m aware.”

“—not to mention the extended waking hours and reduced rations.”

A feverish chill washed over him, and he curtailed a shiver, then took another long drag of his water.

Mesa stepped around the workbench and laid her cool fingers on top of his balmy hand. All hints of judgment had fallen away, her overlarge eyes round. “It is the same reason, when aboard an aircraft, you attend to your own safety needs before assisting others. If you are dead, you can help no one.”

Cavalon swallowed. The muscles at the base of his neck cramped. “I’ll drop by over lunch.”

“Thank you.”

“Speaking of breaks,” he said, glancing at the time on his nexus, “your shift ended four hours ago.”

“I am aware.”

“You know, even though we’re the same rank, as project lead I have the authority to have you forcibly dismissed . . .”

She blinked once.

“That’s right. I’ve been reading all about the perks of my new rank.” Not so new anymore, though. He’d been an overworked animus about twelve times longer than he’d been a shitty, barely passable oculus. He’d been grateful for the shift in duties, though saving the excubitor from getting swallowed by the collapsing universe had been kind of an overly dramatic way to earn a promotion.

Mesa sucked in a slow breath. “Very well, Animus. I will take my leave.” She arched a brow and gave the mess of schematics on the worktop a once-over. “I know we have many ancillary tasks to attend. However, we should review your strategy for the cryostat’s final phase so I may draft the implementation agenda.”

Cavalon sighed, glancing over his shoulder and up the scaffolding that enveloped the reactor. He’d made the cryostat the final phase for a reason. It was the one system they hadn’t been able to recreate, lacking the metamaterial required to make it function. Which meant he had to craft a new version of the system from scratch. And a rather important system at that. Their superconducting magnets wouldn’t stay very superconductive at anything toastier than absolute zero.

“I haven’t made it that far, I’m afraid,” he admitted. He slung the sweat-dampened towel over his shoulder. “I have a couple ideas. Just need to figure out a few things. I’ll have something ready before your shift starts tomorrow.”

“Very well.” She inclined her head, then started for the exit.

“Thanks, Mes,” he called after her. “I mean—adequate work today, Animus Darox. It will be noted in your review.”

She threw a characteristically dismissive hand wave over her shoulder and left through the bay doors, leaving Cavalon alone in the sweltering hangar.

He took one last chug of epithesium-laced water, then set the bottle aside. He cleared half the worktop of tools and tablets, exposing a section of the holographic glass, then expanded the schematics for the cryostat shell and thermic shield.

He pored over his notes, reviewed the readouts on the diagnostic systems, and skimmed through Mesa’s exhaustive redundancy checks. Though the audits could be a time-consuming nuisance, he’d grown to see the value in that step of Mesa’s overly thorough process. One anxious, exhausted brain should not be in unconditional control of compressed star fabrication. Especially when that brain had no idea how to finish it.

Cavalon rested his elbows on the counter as he pressed his face into his hands, breathing slowly. He urged his eyes to return to the screens, but he simply couldn’t focus. He’d never felt like he had so little control over his own mind as he had in the last couple of weeks. He’d been brooding over this cryostat issue since day one, yet felt no closer to cracking it now than he had then.

A knot constricted his rib cage, trapping the air in his lungs. Sharp bile stung the back of his mouth. He pressed his knuckles into his chest and closed his eyes to let the twisting room right itself.

He’d grown all too familiar with this sensation lately, which mixed all the pleasantries of a panic attack with the thrill of anxiety-induced nausea. Unfortunately, knowing exactly why it was happening didn’t do anything to stop it.

It wasn’t because he feared Jackin’s disapproval, or that of the other twenty-some Sentinel commanders regularly shooting him judgmental glares, or that he felt he had to prove something to the obnoxious gang of Allied Monarchies hate-mongers roaming the halls. It wasn’t even the fact that four thousand lives hung in the balance. He just couldn’t bear the thought of letting Rake down.

She’d been gone almost six months, and the more outwardly worried Jackin grew, the more genuinely concerning it became.

It’d been a long time since Cavalon had missed someone, and even longer since he truly worried whether someone was alive. It was times like this he wished there were some worthy deities to pray to for her safe return. Or to blame if she never came back.

Chapter Two

Adequin Rake made her way through the dim, empty corridors of the Synthesis. Overhead, a bank of green-tinged light strobed, signaling its death throes with soft clicks and a high-pitched whine.

She coughed as she rounded a corner, inhaling through her mouth while covering her nostrils with the back of her hand. Though they’d managed to improve the general odor of the ship through the application of dozens of bottles of industrial-grade cleaning solution, lingering pockets of putrid, earthy Drudger musk still lay in wait to accost her when she least expected it.

She risked breathing through her nose again as she descended a short flight of metal steps and approached the entrance to the cockpit. Inside, the flight console displayed a single holographic menu showing an FTL diagnostics feed alongside a countdown. They’d be decelerating from warp soon.

Emery Flos sat in the copilot’s seat on the right, her neon-orange-laced boots draped across the flight dash. The long sleeves of her navy shirt were pushed up past her elbows, revealing the line of punitive, obsidian Sentinel Imprint squares cutting a path through the black-inked tattoos covering her thin arms. Her duty vest’s drawn hood shaded her face as she breathed in soft, whistling snores.

Adequin stepped between the two pilots’ seats. “Circitor.”

Emery startled awake. “Sir!” Her boots slid off the dash, her jaw resuming its gum chomping as instinctively as her eyes blinked and her lungs drew breath. Her white cheeks burned with an infusion of pink as she shot a quick look at the FTL screen. “Fifteen on the clock still, boss.” She creaked out a soft yawn, then seemed to awaken all at once as a wide grin spread across her face, eyes alight.

Adequin lifted a brow. “What?”

“Last one!” Emery beamed. “Aren’t you excited? We can finally get off this void-forsaken ship.” Her eyes fogged over with a distant, dreamy look. “Eat somethin’ other than an MRE. Maybe take a shower hotter than room temp.”

Adequin blew out a heavy sigh. “You good to take outlet cowl duty again?”

“Yessir,” Emery piped. She followed Adequin to the lockers inset beside the crash seats along the back wall. “Want Owen to run diagnostics first? Or we just assumin’ it’s busted?”

Adequin pulled one of the white pearlescent space suits from the locker and passed it to Emery. “I think it’s safe to assume. The last seven have been blown, after all.”

“Yeah, fair enough.” Emery stepped into the suit, then ran her fingers up the front seam. The nanite-infused fabric stitched together seamlessly as it reshaped to fit her small frame. She took a plasma torch from the locker and twirled it around by the trigger guard.

“Em,” Adequin admonished as she dug deeper in the locker.

“Sorry.” Emery caught the torch by the grip, then holstered it. “Guess we can’t be too mad about the outlet cowls. The fact this ancient tech works at all is a miracle. You really think the Viators made it? Musta been someone that came before them, right? Cathians or somethin’?”

Adequin passed Emery a tether harness and gave a light shrug. “Mesa thinks it was them.”

“Yeah, true. Not gonna argue with that lady.”

Adequin helped Emery into the harness, loaded her out with more tools than she would ever need, then double-checked the MMU attachment and suit comms.

When the dash let out a soft chime, Emery stashed her helmet and MMU by the door, and they returned to the helm.

Adequin sat in the pilot’s seat and checked the FTL screen. Ten minutes until arrival. “All right, Circitor. Call it.”

Emery nodded as she slipped into the copilot’s chair and opened the comms interface. She drew her shoulders straight, chin high. “Greetings, passengers of the RSF Synthesis,” she began, her tone crisp, monotone, and overly pleasant.

Adequin leaned into her periphery and mouthed, “RSF?”

Emery muted the connection long enough to whisper, “Renegade Sentinel Fleet,” then returned to the announcement. “This is your captain speaking . . .”

Adequin scoffed, shaking her head as she slid back and shouldered into her chair’s harness.

“We shall begin our scheduled deceleration shortly,” Emery continued in her same affected timbre. “Please make your way to the nearest crash bench, and remain seated with your harness securely fastened as we will be entering the maw of the ancient alien megastructure in T-minus nine minutes and counting.”

Adequin pinched the bridge of her nose.

“After disembarking,” Emery went on, “proceed carefully along the extremely narrow walkway to the giant bronze sphere and please do not fall off the edge as there is no—”

“Void,” Adequin breathed, swiping the dash and stealing comms control from Emery. “Decel in five,” she grunted. “Delta Team, disembark from hold airlock in ten. Helm, out.”

Emery frowned, slouching back in her seat. “What? You don’t like Renegade Sentinel Fleet? I also considered LSV—‘Liberated Sentinel Vessel.’”

Emery went on for a long while about the various ship prefixes she’d considered, and Adequin was relieved when the timer finally hit zero and the ship decelerated from warp.

The deck rumbled softly, and the viewscreen flashed white before being replaced with a sea of absolute black. Adequin stared at the empty screen, eyes scanning for any sign of the structure.

Finally, the massive orb appeared for a fraction of a second, silhouetted by a sharp light cutting a static path across the void: the Divide collapsing toward them, evaporating whatever stray stardust lay between it and the generator. A “direct affront to the laws of thermodynamics,” a frenzied Mesa had once ranted.

Adequin expanded her preset array of flight screens and Emery activated the searchlight. The narrow beam caught only a fraction of the structure. It reflected off the overlaid slabs of metal, carved with deep trenches of an uninterrupted, geometric design like that covering the four facets of the atlas device.

Adequin eyed the burnished gold pyramid resting on the dash between the two pilots’ seats. Over the last five weeks, the Viator device had allowed them to stay a step ahead of the Divide while locating Sentinel vessels, and acted as a key to unlock access to the generators. Now she wondered if they’d ever have a use for it again. Its range didn’t seem to extend beyond the Legion-occupied Divide, and if all went as planned, the Sentinels would be leaving the Divide in short order. Cavalon hadn’t come up short on a promise to her yet.

Adequin engaged sublights. From beyond the station, more staticky light erupted, and deep in her gut, right at her core, a tiny, almost imperceptible tug willed her outward, toward the Divide.

She drew in a steadying breath. “On approach,” she said, then angled them toward the structure.

Copyright © J. S. Dewes 2021

Pre-order The Exiled Fleet Here:

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#ICYMI- A Recap of TorCon 2021

A big THANK YOU to all our amazing friends and fans who joined us for TorCon 2021. We hope you had an amazing time and hope to see you again for our next virtual event!

If you’re bummed you couldn’t make it to all of the activities, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. You can see the recordings of almost all of TorCon PLUS some short recaps here!

Gillian Flynn and Catriona Ward, in conversation

Catriona Ward’s twisty and terrifying The Last House on Needless Street is one of the most anticipated books of the fall–and who better to join her to discuss all things thrilling and chilling than #1 New York Times bestselling author Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects)? Check out this powerhouse duo here! Thank you to Den of Geek for co-hosting.

Rewatch below via Facebook:

Chaotic Storytelling–Take 2!

It’s time for Chaotic Storytelling: 2 Chaotic, 2 Furious! Christopher Buehlman (The Blacktongue Thief), J.S. Dewes (The Last Watch), Andrea Hairston (Master of Poisons), Jenn Lyons (The House of Always), and Neil Sharpson (When the Sparrow Falls) incorporated writing prompts from the audience to create a brand new story—and talk about their craft and inspirations along the way. This panel was co-hosted by LitHub and moderated by Drew Broussard.

Rewatch below via Facebook:

Nightfire Family *Blood* Feud

Our new horror imprint, Nightfire, brought together some of your favorite horror and gothic authors as they went head-to-head in a horror-inspired version of the favorite game show… What tropes are fan favorites? Which movie franchise is the scariest? Check out Gretchen Felker-Martin (Manhunt), Cassandra Khaw (Nothing But Blackened Teeth), Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Hex, Echo), Silvia Moreno Garcia (Certain Dark Things), and host Lee Mandelo (Summer Sons) as they found out during Nightfire’s Horror Feud!

Rewatch below via Facebook:

Holly Black & James Rollins in conversation

Holly Black joined James Rollins to discuss his new epic novel, The Starless Crown–plus an exclusive announcement for Holly’s fans! Check out these two #1 New York Times bestsellers as they talked bringing the thrills to fantasy, fighting the moon, stealing a god, new projects…and even a sneak peek at some of their latest work. Holly announced her adult debut from Tor, coming next summer, Book of Night. This panel was co-hosted by Den of Geek.

Rewatch below via Facebook:

All the Feels: Emotional Storytelling in SFF

SFF has the coolest story elements, but the *real* reason we love these books is that they hit us right in the feels. Becky Chambers (A Psalm for the Wild-Built), Kerstin Hall (Star Eater), T.L. Huchu (The Library of the Dead), Alex Pheby (Mordew), Lucinda Roy (The Freedom Race), and moderator TJ Klune (Under the Whispering Door) joined us to discuss making stories more than just words on a page, and mastermind an evil plot to make us have FEELINGS!

Rewatch below via Facebook:

Ethereal & Eerie: A Glimpse at Captivating Fall Reads

Catch a glimpse of fall’s most ethereal and eerie reads from authors Alix E. Harrow (A Spindle Splintered), Freya Marske (A Marvellous Light), Lee Mandelo (Summer Sons), Zin E. Rocklyn (Flowers for the Sea), and Catherynne M. Valente (Comfort Me With Apples). Moderated by Seanan McGuire (Where the Drowned Girls Go).

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Charlie Jane Anders & TJ Klune in conversation

Check out internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders (Victories Greater than Death, Never Say You Can’t Survive) in conversation with New York Times and USA Today bestselling author TJ Klune (The House in the Cerulean Sea, Flash Fire) as they discussed writing SFF for adults and teens, crafting authentic queer narratives, and everlasting fictional characters that stay with readers long after they’ve finished the book. This panel was co-hosted by Den of Geek.

Rewatch below via Facebook:

Space is Gay!

Only two things are infinite: Space and Gay. Check out Charlie Jane Anders (Victories Greater than Death), Ryka Aoki (Light From Uncommon Stars), A.K. Larkwood (The Unspoken Name), Everina Maxwell (Winter’s Orbit), and moderator K.M. Szpara (First, Become Ashes) as they discussed queer science fiction spaces, extraterrestrial OTPs, and how in space, no one can hear your gay pining. Attendees were able to enter for a chance to win one of Tor’s limited edition Space is Gay pins.

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Conjuring the Diaspora: Myths, Legends, and Classics Reimagined

Check out authors Ryka Aoki (Light From Uncommon Stars), Aliette de Bodard (Fireheart Tiger), Shelley Parker-Chan (She Who Became the Sun), and Nghi Vo (The Chosen and the Beautiful) for a discussion of how the Asian diaspora intersects with storytelling in the speculative fiction space. This panel was co-hosted with the Bronx Book Festival.

Rewatch below via Facebook:

Jo Firestone & Joe Pera in conversation

Joe Pera, from the Adult Swim show Joe Pera Talks With You, has been lauded for his warmhearted comedic stylings. Now, check out him and Jo Firestone to present a preview of his first book! A Bathroom Book for People Not Pooping or Peeing but Using the Bathroom as an Escape is a funny and sincere guide to regaining calm and confidence when you’re hiding in the bathroom from life’s stresses. This panel was co-hosted by Den of Geek. It is not available for rewatch.

TorCon 2021 Presents: Cooking the Books!

As a special treat, we asked three of our authors to share some of their favorite food-related tidbits. Check out their choices below!


Becky Chambers, author of A Psalm for the Wild-Built, shared some of her favorite teas with the audience, DRAMATIC READING STYLE.

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J. S. Dewes, author of The Last Watch, shared her quest to find the best gum! Do you agree with her choices?

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Aliette de Bodard, author of Fireheart Tiger, made a strong cup of tea to give a ‘cheers’ to the final day of the convention.

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

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

Kate Elliott, Unconquerable Sun

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Monday, May 3
Murder by the Book, in conversation with Martha Wells
Register Here
7:00 PM CT

J. S. Dewes, The Last Watch, Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire

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Tuesday, May 4
Towne Book Center, in conversation with Martha Wells
Register Here
7:00 PM ET

Jenn Lyons, The House of Always

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Monday, May 10
Mysterious Galaxy
Crowdcast
7:00 PM PT

Tuesday, May 11
Read It Again Books
YouTube
6:00 PM ET

Thursday, May 13
Tubby & Coo’s
YouTube
6:00 PM ET

Friday, May 14
Poisoned Pen
Facebook
6:30 PM PT

Monday, May 17
University Bookstore in-conversation with Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Register Here
6:00 PM PT

Wednesday, May 26
Read the Room: MAYhem panel with Marina Lostetter, Mirah Bolender, Nino Cipri and P. Djeli Clark
Register Here
6:00 PM PT

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

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

Jenn Lyons, The House of Always

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

Everina Maxwell, Winter’s Orbit

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

Marina Lostetter, The Helm of Midnight

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

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

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

J. S. Dewes, The Last Watch

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

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

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

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Every Book from Tor Coming in Spring 2021

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


March 1

Poster Placeholder of - 65A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

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

March 16

Image Place holder  of - 2The Fiends of Nightmaria by Steven Erikson

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

March 23

Place holder  of - 54Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

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

April 13

Placeholder of  -14The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

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

Image Placeholder of - 70Breath by Breath by Morgan Llywelyn

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

April 20

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

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

image-37934Fortress of Magi by Mirah Bolender

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

April 27

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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

May 4

Immunity Index by Sue Burke

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

May 11

The House of Always by Jenn Lyons

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

May 25

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

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

June 1

The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu

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

Alien Day by Rick Wilber

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

June 8

Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe

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

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Download a Free Digital Preview of The Last Watch

Poster Placeholder of - 64The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes’s fast-paced, sci-fi adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation. Download a FREE sneak peek today!

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer–genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather’s genetic facility for “reasons.”

She knows they’re humanity’s last chance.

Download Your Free Digital Preview:

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Excerpt: The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes

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Image Placeholder of - 2The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes’s fast-paced, sci-fi adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer–genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather’s genetic facility for “reasons.”

She knows they’re humanity’s last chance.

Please enjoy this excerpt of The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes, on sale 04/20/2021.


Chapter 1

“Spread your legs and bend over.”

Cavalon’s face flushed. Actually flushed. Embarrassing Cavalon Mercer was a feat few could boast. He was a little impressed.

He looked over his shoulder to grin at the guard, but the sour-faced man narrowed his eyes and jabbed Cavalon’s hip with his shock baton. A jolt of electricity shot along the nerves of his leg.

“Spread ’em, soldier.”

Cavalon’s smirk faded into a scowl. He complied, spreading his legs and leaning against the wall in front of him. He flinched at the snap of a rubber glove. “If we’re gonna do this—agh!”

Apparently they were going to do it, right-the-fuck now.

Cavalon squirmed, pressing his cheek into the cold aerasteel wall as the guard reached higher.

“I mean, if we’re going to be intimate,” he managed, “you could at least tell me your name.”

“Bray.”

“Pleased to—ugh—meet you, Bray.”

“Does talking make this better for you?” Bray jeered.

Another guard snickered from behind a terminal in the corner of the room.

Cavalon pressed his forehead against the wall and closed his eyes. “No.”

Twenty hellishly uncomfortable seconds later, Bray removed his fingers and pulled off the glove. “He’s clear, Rivas.”

“Was that strictly necessary?” Cavalon grumbled.

Rivas stepped out from behind the intake desk, Cavalon’s underwear in hand. “We like to be thorough.”

“Clearly.” Cavalon snatched his boxers from the smug man’s grip and pulled them on. If this was what life aboard the SCS Argus was going to be like, he was already over it.

Rivas returned to his terminal in the corner of the cramped intake chamber, lit only by a few narrow strips of recessed lights running vertically up the aerasteel walls. The holographic displays above the desk cast a dim blue aura across Rivas as he flicked through files. He stopped on a glowing icon and swept it open. “Full name Cavalon Augustus Mercer the Second. Confirm.”

“That’s me.”

“Service number sigma 6454–19. Confirm.”

Cavalon thumbed the pair of newly minted, absurdly antiquated, etched metal and glass identification tags around his neck. “Uh, sounds right.”

“Your bioscan determined a biological age of thirty-four standard years. Confirm.”

Cavalon narrowed his eyes. “I’m twenty-seven.”

“Soldier is advised that biological age factors in degradation of physical form due to environmental factors including injury, wear- and-tear, use of narcotics—”

“Yeah, I get it,” Cavalon sighed. “Sure, confirmed.”

“Offenses listed as . . .” Rivas exchanged a quick look with Bray, then raised an eyebrow at Cavalon. “Redacted?”

A wave of relief washed over him, and he forced a grin. “Definitely confirmed.”

Rivas shook his head and swiped the screen.

It flashed green, then an artificial female voice rang from shrill speakers. “Identity confirmed. Please proceed to the next intake chamber.”

A door in the sleek silver wall slid open, and Bray invited Cavalon forward with a condescending smile and a sweep of his arm. Cavalon drew back his shoulders and marched toward the door.

“Hold up.” Bray grabbed Cavalon by the shoulder and pulled him back. “You’ve got Imprints.”

Cavalon twisted his right arm to angle his tricep at Bray. The gold and bronze squares of the Imprint tattoos running from shoulder to wrist rearranged with the flexing of muscle, glinting as they caught the light.

“Just noticed that, huh?” Cavalon said. “You were too busy checking out my—”

“Shut it.” Bray turned to Rivas. “Rivas—Imprints.”

“Yeah, yeah. I heard you.” Rivas detached a tablet from the top of the console and walked around the desk. He swiped the screen and a flood of neon-blue text poured into the air above it, the lines blurring together as the words sped by. He took a deep breath. “The System Collective Legion acknowledges that preexisting Imprints cannot be removed at risk of death. However, measures will be taken to counteract inappropriate use of preexisting Imprints, by whatever means deemed necessary by your commanding officer or the excubitor.”

The holographic display above the tablet disappeared, and the outline of a small box materialized alongside a rather unfortunate mugshot of Cavalon.

“Do you understand?” Rivas asked.

Cavalon scratched the back of his neck. “Uh, yeah? I guess.”

“Sign to acknowledge.”

Cavalon pressed his thumb to the tablet. The screen flashed and his fingerprint faded away as more blue text flooded the air above the tablet, disappearing off the top too quickly to be read.

Rivas cleared his throat and continued. “You will be receiving a second set of Imprints per your intake aboard the SCS Argus. The System Collective Legion is not responsible for any adverse reaction you may have to an additional installation of Imprints. For the soldier’s comfort and safety, it is advised that the soldier not attempt to utilize the functions of preexisting Imprints, at risk of volatile interfacing, which may include injury or death.”

Cavalon eyed the waiver warily. “That sounds . . . bad.” He’d only ever heard of half-breeds getting more than one set of Imprints, and never with any kind of stable outcome.

“Do you understand?” Rivas prompted.

“What would you do if I said no?” Cavalon asked. “Do I get to go home?”

Rivas’s jaw flexed, and from the corner of his eye, Cavalon caught a glimpse of Bray’s hand hovering over his shock baton.

Cavalon sighed. It wasn’t worth it. Not yet, at least. “Okay, fine. I understand—no unsanctioned Imprint shenanigans.”

“Sign to acknowledge.”

He pressed his thumb against the screen again and the tablet accepted it. Bray grabbed Cavalon’s arm and dragged him into the next room.

In stark contrast to the mood lighting in the violation chamber, this room seemed to be made of light. Walls of frosted glass showcased banks of white that bathed the entire chamber in an otherworldly glow.

Cavalon shielded his eyes with his free hand as the door whizzed shut behind them. In the center of the room sat a narrow counter, glowing from within, much like the walls. A silver box suspended from the ceiling above the counter, and a series of articulated arms hung lifelessly beneath it.

An icy chill ran over Cavalon’s bare skin and he shuddered. He’d always found Viator tech wholly unnerving. There was something off-putting about utilizing technology created by a species that had all but wiped out your own, even if the war had ended centuries ago.

Though clearly a secondhand appropriation of the original tech, this apparatus too closely resembled the real thing—like the one from which Cavalon had received his current Imprints on his eighteenth birthday. The same day he’d been forced to acknowledge his role as the Mercer heir, and the same day he’d vowed to find a way to escape his fate. He supposed getting shipped off to the Sentinels qualified as success in that regard, though certainly not the outcome he’d hoped for.

He glanced at Bray, who swept his hand toward the machine in invitation. Cavalon ground his teeth. His first Imprint experience had been borderline-blackout painful.

Wringing his hands, he shuffled forward, sucking in a long breath and letting it out through his teeth. He sat on the stool in front of the machine and a panel slid open, revealing a clamp recessed beneath the glowing glass counter.

The computer’s voice returned. “Please place arm in the Imprint chamber.”

Cavalon eyed the gold and bronze squares on his right arm, then shifted and laid his left into the clamp. Cold metal closed around his forearm and the machine whirred to life, buzzing and clicking. A series of thin red beams shone from each of the articulated limbs, and they positioned themselves noisily until the lasers lined up with their reference points.

“Please hold still during the Imprint process,” the computer said. White-hot beams shot into Cavalon’s arm and searing pain engulfed his senses. He gritted his teeth and withheld a groan as the lasers danced across his skin, burning and smoldering until his arm felt like it’d caught fire.

Just as he started to think it might be a good time to pass out, the heat from the lasers dissipated along with the radiating light. His jaw slackened, teeth aching from prolonged clenching.

Dozens of polished obsidian squares lay across the irritated, bright pink skin on his forearm. He opened and closed his fist as the new Imprint tattoos folded and unfolded of their own accord. They hummed as they streamed past his elbow and up his bicep.

He twisted his arm to glance at his first set of Imprints. The gold and bronze squares lay dormant in their default arrangement—a tidy series of lines that ran from wrist to shoulder. These new Imprints crawled up his skin and fell into formation in a latticed grid on his left tricep, with a single dotted line of black squares trailing to his wrist.

“Imprint application complete,” the computer chirped. “Control protocols updated.”

Cavalon gulped. Control protocols? He ran his fingers along the new markings, then took a breath and tried to access them, call out to them and command them like he could his royal Imprints. But they didn’t stir. They might have looked similar in appearance, but they were something else entirely.

His stomach knotted. Having a set of Imprints he couldn’t control disconcerted him, to say the least. Who knew what these things could do to him?

“Come on, tough guy.” Bray gripped Cavalon’s shoulder and lifted him from the stool. Cavalon followed numbly, flexing his sore arm and scratching the irritated skin.

Inside the next small room, Bray pressed his thumb into a screen and a panel in the wall opened, revealing a pile of navy-blue clothing and a pair of black boots.

Bray grabbed the stack and shoved it at Cavalon. “Suit up. Boss is incoming.” A door on the opposite wall slid open, and Bray left. Cavalon called after him, “I thought we’d already moved past respecting each other’s privacy . . .” The door slid shut, leaving him alone in the changing room.

He eyed the pile of clothes in his arms—standard, Legion-issue, dull navy blue layered with more navy blue. The centerpiece was a hooded, double-breasted vest which fastened high across the chest with two long straps. A single, narrow sandy-brown bar pinned to the left arm of the long-sleeved shirt indicated his rank of oculus.

His palms began to sweat as he pulled the clothing on piece by piece, trying and failing to not think about what stood on the other side of that door. Like every other kid in the System Collective, Cavalon had played the game of Sentinel at the Divide, but never during his opulent childhood did he think it a fate that would actually befall him.

The door opened and Bray stuck his head inside. “Soldier.” It was a single-word command. Cavalon wiped his sweaty palms down the front of his vest and took a deep breath.

He entered another cramped, steel gray box. A simple narrow table and two straight-backed metal chairs sat in the center of the room. Clean, white light poured through one of the slatted aerasteel walls—an illusion meant to simulate the light of a nearby star. But there were no stars this far out, no celestial bodies of any kind this close to the edge of the universe. No planets or moons, no asteroids or comets or black holes or intergalactic dust. Not even space junk. Just nothing, just black. Just like the nursery rhyme. Cavalon would more than likely never see the light of a real star again.

He licked his lips as he walked to the table and pulled a chair out.

“No,” Bray chided.

Cavalon stopped mid-sit and pushed the chair back, standing awkwardly at the edge of the table. He rubbed his new Imprints, pain still sparking along the nerves in his left arm, then drummed his fingers across the cold metal table. After a minute of silence, he turned to raise a questioning eyebrow at Bray.

The door across the room slid open. Bray snapped to attention— shoulders drawn back, fist to chest. A woman stepped in, back straight but head hung low, her olive skin taking on a cool tinge in the fake sunlight. She wore what looked like the undershirt of a flight suit—navy-blue tank top over a short-sleeved gray shirt, with a set of dog tags tucked between the layers. The glittering orange and yellow badges of her rank, meant to be displayed proudly across her shoulders, were obscured among the folds of the navy-blue jacket tied around her waist. She looked for all the universe like a ship mechanic, mid-repair.

She strode up to the table across from Cavalon, nodding at Bray. “At ease.”

Bray turned on his heel and marched to stand beside the doorway she’d come through.

“Rake.” She reached her hand across the table. Cavalon shook it, surprised at the firmness of her grip.

“Mercer.” Cavalon responded on instinct, but immediately wished he could suck the surname back in. “Er—Cavalon. Cav’s fine.” He let out a heavy sigh. Like she didn’t already know exactly who he was.

Rake sat as Bray stepped forward to lay a tablet down in front of her.

Cavalon eyed his chair, then gave Bray a sidelong look. The guard maintained his composure, but rolled his eyes, which Cavalon took as permission. He pulled the chair out and sat.

Rake stared at the tablet, scanning through pages of text. Her long, brown hair had been pulled up haphazardly, and she pushed some loose pieces out of her tired eyes, revealing a smudge of black grease across her cheekbone.

Cavalon raised an eyebrow. This was the “boss,” huh?

“You got a little . . .” He flicked his fingers in front of his own cheek.

She sighed and wiped it with the back of her hand. Though it smeared into a soft gray, the smudge remained.

The corner of his mouth tugged up. “You got it.”

Her expression remained impassive as she appraised him, then lowered her gaze to the tablet again.

“You high brass?” He craned his neck to get a better look at the set of badges on the jacket around her waist. “Gramps made sure I got the special treatment, didn’t he?”

“I don’t think so,” she mumbled as her fingers slid along the tablet’s surface. “Your titles have been stripped. From the look of it, you’re lucky he let you keep your given name.”

Cavalon leaned forward and smirked. “What’s it say? I’m intensely curious.”

“I’m sure you are.”

He shifted in his seat as she continued to sift through his file. He couldn’t tolerate the silence for long. “So, you really take the time to tête-à-tête with every new soldier that comes aboard?”

Rake lifted her eyes from the tablet and stared at him. “I like to know who someone is before I ask them to risk their life under my command.”

“Well,” he scoffed. “That’s a special kind of martyrdom. I think I’d prefer the blind-eye approach myself. Wouldn’t that be easier?”

“Easier? Yes.” She held his gaze, not wavering in the slightest.

She was dead serious.

Cavalon bit the inside of his lip. He didn’t know what to make of that kind of adamancy. For possibly the first time ever, he couldn’t think of anything snarky to say.

He tugged on the suddenly too-tight collar of his jacket. “Are you the warden?”

“This isn’t a prison.”

“With that cavity search, you could have fooled me.” He smiled. She did not smile. “I’m the EX.”

His humor faded, eyebrows raising in honest surprise. “Excubitor?”

Rake didn’t respond.

“That’s a pretty high rank for babysitting delinquent soldiers, no?”

She shoved the tablet away and leaned back in her chair. “I’m inclined to cut you some slack, Mercer. This isn’t a normal situation. We don’t usually take civilians into our ranks—”

“Are royalty ‘civilians’?”

“—but you’re not making it easy on me.”

“Not up for a challenge?”

“If you think living at the Divide’s not a challenge, you’re in for a rude awakening.”

“Right.” Cavalon laughed. “You guys are the stuff of legends. How’s that nursery rhyme go again? Sentinel, Sentinel at the black—

Rake sighed and crossed her arms.

—do not blink or turn your back,” he continued. “You must stand ready to stem the tide, lest Viators come to cross the Divide.

Her decidedly unamused glare sharpened.

Cavalon shrugged. “There’s another couple of verses. I’m sure you know them by heart.”

“You think this is a game?”

“No, no. It’s important. I get it. We’re protecting mankind from another Viator incident.” He leaned forward. “Except they died out two hundred years ago.” He sat back and crossed his arms. “Had to clean a few up during that little Resurgence War skirmish, but I guess that’s a matter of course when it comes to xenocide. Bound to miss a few, here or there.”

Rake’s eyes narrowed. “You’re really calling a nine-year war a skirmish?”

“Don’t get me wrong. It’s good the Legion is keeping an eye on things out here. And they’re certainly putting all their best people on it—shuttling in every court-martialed and troublesome soldier they don’t know what else to do with.”

With a grating screech, her chair slid back against the floor. The table groaned as she leaned on clenched fists. She hovered over him, amber eyes alight. His breath caught in his throat, but on instinct he swallowed the feeling down. If his grandfather taught him nothing else, it was how to counter intimidation. She was merely a discarded soldier, another one of these outcasts. He had no reason to fear her.

“This attitude is going to get you in trouble,” she growled.

A soft mechanical buzzing drew his attention to Rake’s right arm as it tensed, pressing into the metal table. Shimmering silver and copper squares folded and unfolded as they slid down her bicep and rearranged themselves onto her forearm.

“And I’m pretty much the most even-tempered one in this place,” she continued. “I’d keep your head down if I were you, little prince. If your fellow soldiers find out who you are, you’re going to have issues.”

Cavalon scratched his left arm and looked down at his new tattoos, then back at Rake. Hers weren’t black like his new Sentinel Imprints. And though they weren’t gold and bronze like his royal ones, the effortless, perfectly geometric formation they took up as they slid down her arms told him they definitely weren’t the black market kind either.

Not just any Legion soldier had real Viator Imprints. In fact, he’d only heard of that combination of colors once before.

“Wait—Rake? Adequin Rake?”

Her impressively flat, stony glare persisted.

“I’ve heard of you.” He couldn’t hide the fascination in his tone as he leaned forward. “You were spec ops. A Titan under Praetor Lugen, right?”

“No one here is who they used to be. Not you, not me. You need to get used to that.”

He had to consciously force his gaping mouth closed. “You’re a goddamn war hero. How’d you end up at the Divide?”

For what seemed like the first time since she stepped in the room, Rake blinked. But she recovered instantly. “I’d do your best to forget who you used to be. You can have a fresh start if you’re willing to take it.”

“That’s just . . .” He scoffed. “Sorry, I was trying to think of a nice word. Delusional. It’s delusional.”

A fire lit in Cavalon’s stomach as Rake reached across the narrow table and grabbed him by the front of his hooded vest. His eyes went wide as hers narrowed.

“You might be a big deal back on Elyseia,” she said, her quiet tone disturbingly level, “but this isn’t Elyseia. This isn’t the Core, this isn’t even System Collective territory. You’re no one on the Argus except a soldier. An oculus. And you’re lucky we even let you be that. No one here gives a shit about you. If anything, they’ll despise you because of who you were.”

Heat flared in his chest. “I’m not my grandfather,” he growled.

His chair tipped onto the back legs as she shoved him, then released her hold. “Prove it.”

Rake marched toward the door and it slid open, but she hesitated in the doorway. She took a deep breath before looking back at him. The anger in her eyes had softened, replaced with the same look of tired defeat she’d walked in with.

“Life on the Argus doesn’t have to be hard,” she said. “But we’re Legion, you have to remember that. Your comrades are not going to respond well to this entitled prince attitude. Do yourself a favor and cut the shit.” She turned and disappeared around the corner before calling back, “Bray, give this one a psych eval.”

“Oh, come on,” Cavalon groaned as the door shut behind her. The “good soldier” stick lodged in Bray’s ass seemed to slide away, and he relaxed his shoulders, grinning at Cavalon. “Great first impression, princeps. Nice job.”

Cavalon let out a breath and smoothed the front of his rumpled vest. That’s what he’d always been best at. Great first impressions.

 

Copyright © J. S. Dewes 2021

 

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New SFF Series We’re Hyped for in 2021!

It’s a new year and that means (you guessed it) NEW BOOK SERIES!!! From sharp contemporary fantasy to explosive speculative fiction, check out this round-up of the stunning new SFF series we have for you in 2021.


penaltiesThe Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter (The Five Penalties series)

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city. Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

ON SALE 4/13/21!

thelastThe Last Watch by J. S. Dewes (The Divide series)

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

ON SALE 4/20/21!

book-9781250621191The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman (Blacktongue series)

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path. But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark. Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on a journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

ON SALE 5/25/21!

book-9781250767769The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu (Edinburgh Nights series)

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and they sure do love to talk. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to those they left behind. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and strength. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will rock her world. As shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

ON SALE 6/1/21!

empiresThe Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley (Ashes of the Unhewn Throne series)

The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates. But time is running out. Deep within the southern reaches of the empire and ancient god-like race has begun to stir. What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever. If they can survive.

ON SALE 7/6/21!

book-9781250258908The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy (The Dreambird Chronicles)

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred. Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way to escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner. Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.

ON SALE 7/13/21!

shewhoShe Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There,  Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

ON SALE 7/20/21!

book-9781250817211Mordew by Alex Pheby

God is dead, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew. In the slums of the city a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew. The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength – and it is greater than the Master has ever known. So it is that the Master begins to scheme against him – and Nathan has to fight his way through the betrayals, secrets, and vendettas of the city where God was murdered, and darkness reigns.

ON SALE 9/14/21! 

isolatedIsolate by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Grand Illusion series)

Steffan Dekkard is an isolate, one of the small percentage of people who are immune to the projections of empaths. As an isolate, he has been trained as a security specialist and he and his security partner Avraal Ysella, a highly trained empath are employed by Axel Obreduur, a senior Craft Minister and the de facto political strategist of his party. When a respected Landor Councilor dies of “heart failure” at a social event, because of his political friendship with Obreduur, Dekkard and Ysella find that not only is their employer a target, but so are they, in a covert and deadly struggle for control of the government and economy. Steffan is about to understand that everything he believed is an illusion.

ON SALE 10/19/2021!

book-9780765323590The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson (Witness series)

Many years have passed since three warriors brought carnage and chaos to Silver Lake. Now the tribes of the north no longer venture into the southlands. Responding to reports of a growing unease among the tribes beyond the border, the Malazan army marches on the new god’s people. And in those high mountains, a new warleader has risen amongst the Teblor. Scarred by the deeds of Karsa Orlong, he intends to confront his god even if he has to cut a bloody swathe through the Malazan Empire to do so. Further north, a new threat has emerged and now it seems it is the Teblor who are running out of time. Another long-feared migration is about to begin and this time it won’t just be three warriors. No, this time tens of thousands are poised to pour into the lands to the south. And in their way, a single company of Malazan marines . . .

ON SALE 11/09/21!

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