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Our Favorite Book/Celebrity Costume Pairings

Halloween will be here before you know it, and with that comes the wild and outlandish costumes – and no one has as much money to throw at making amazing costumes than famous people. As celebrities start to reveal what they are going to wear this year, take a trip down memory lane with these costumes from the past – and books that match their character vibes.

By Elizabeth Hosty


The-Firmament-of-FlameThe-Firmament-of-Flame1Drew Barrymore as Glinda / The Firmament of Flame by Drew Williams

Just like how Glinda helped a young Dorothy navigate the wondrous world of Oz, so too do the Justified and Jane Kamali help seventeen year old telekinetic protégé Esa, and other gifted children, to help prevent the return of the pulse in The Firmament of Flame by Drew Williams. In this third installment in the Universe After series, Esa, Jane, and their allies in the Justified might have to go to the ends of the known universe to prevent Cyn – a being of pure energy – who is hellbent on hunting down the gifted.

Place holder  of - 32Image Place holder  of - 72Halsey as Corpse Bride / Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson
In the Corpse Bride, Emily is put to rest by an ambitious man during the height of the Victorian era in the British Kingdom. In another kingdom, the queen lies in a coma as a power-hungry priest seizes power. Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson is the second in the Wake the Dragon series, a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world hasreawakened, and two warring nations must put aside their differences to defend against a mutual enemy.

Image Placeholder of - 38Placeholder of  -11The Weeknd as Nutty Professor / Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In order to stop the demon wreaking havoc, a daughter of the queen asks the Elder sorcerer that lives in the local tower for help – but no one has met him before. Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, but a scientist who cannot help, but through his knowledge of science, he knows the threat is not a demon. This is similar to the Nutty Professor in how the weight loss formula invokes a skinnier version of himself that disrupts his life and ruins relationships for him, but he is unable to help stop his alter ego after he takes control.

Heidi Clum as Herself-1The Firmament of Flame2Heidi Clum as Herself + Clones / Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolf

E.A. Smith in Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolf is a clone – just as Heidi Klum dressed 5 other women to become clones of her! – and who is not human, but a piece of property with an uploaded memory of a mystery writer. Along with two other clones of cookbook and romance writers, E.A. Smith meets a little girl desperate to save her mother, a father who may or may not be dead… and the real E.A. Smith.

Lizzo as The Fly-1Lizzo as The Fly-2Lizzo as The Fly On Pence’s Head / Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

In Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire, centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines run wild – and the only humans there are expected to step up and become heroes. But Regan learns that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem. This really embodies Lizzo’s energy last year as the fly on Pence’s head, since in the race to find a hero to become our president, sometimes the hero is a singer impersonating a fly that landed on the Vice President’s head.

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The Sequels We’ve All Been Waiting For….

They’re almost here…the books we’ve all been waiting for. After so many incredible series starters, we’re excited to finally dive into the next books of some of our most popular SFF series. Check out which books are hitting shelves near you in 2021 here.


book-9780765331458Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy (Out of the Dark series, coming 1/12/21)

The Shongairi conquered Earth. In mere minutes, half the human race died, and our cities lay in shattered ruins. But the Shongairi didn’t expect the survivors’ tenacity. And, crucially, they didn’t know that Earth harbored two species of intelligent, tool-using bipeds. One of them was us. The other, long-lived and lethal, was hiding in the mountains of eastern Europe, the subject of fantasy and legend. When they emerged and made alliance with humankind, the invading aliens didn’t stand a chance.

book-9781250302137Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson (Wake the Dragon series, coming 1/19/21)

The Three Kingdoms are shattering under pressure from an inexperienced new King who is being led by an ambitious regent to ignore the threat of the Wreths, in favor of a Vengewar with Ishara. His brother and uncle can see only the danger of the Older Race. In Ishara, the queen lies in a coma, while an ambitious priest seizes power. But he has neither the training nor the talent to rule a nation— or even a city. Ishara is in deadly peril, and the Wreths have not even appeared on their continent.

book-9781250165299Dealbreaker by L. X. Beckett (The Bounceback series, coming 1/26/21)

Rubi Whiting has done the impossible. She has proved that humanity deserves a seat at the galactic table. Well, at least a shot at a seat. Having convinced the galactic governing body that mankind deserves a chance at fixing their own problems, Rubi has done her part to launch the planet into a new golden age of scientific discovery and technological revolution. However, there are still those in the galactic community that think that humanity is too poisonous, too greedy, to be allowed in, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage a species determined to pull itself up.

book-9781250215505Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne (The Memory War series, coming 2/9/21)

Natalie Chan gained her corporate citizenship, but barely survived the battle for Tribulation. Now corporate has big plans for Natalie. Horrible plans. Locked away in Natalie’s missing memory is salvation for the last of an alien civilization and the humans they tried to exterminate. The corporation wants total control of both—or their deletion.

book-9780765387752Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston (The Amber Throne series, coming 2/16/21)

Solus celebrates the Opening of the Mundus, a two-day holiday for the dead, but the city of the Soleri is hardly in need of diversion. A legion of traitors, led by a former captain of the Soleri military, rallies at the capital’s ancient walls. And inside those fortifications, trapped by circumstance, a second army fights for its very existence.

book-9781250186461A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (Teixcalaan series, coming 3/2/21)

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 . . .

book-97812502226191The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan (The Fall of the Gods series, coming 7/13/21)

Ryan Van Loan’s The Justice in Revenge, book two of The Fall of the Gods, turns from pirates to politics as Buc learns to navigate society and finds that having power doesn’t mean it’s easy to use it…

Buc and Eld are the first private detectives in the Servenzan Empire. Teenage Buc is a former streetrat, a smartass, sarcastic super-genius. Eld, her patient partner in crime-solving, is a calming influence…who is nonetheless capable of deadly violence. For the right price, these heroes for hire solve mysteries, fight crime, and battle monsters.

book-97812502938242The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes (The Divide Series, coming 8/17/21)

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.

book-97812502093823The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha (Mercenary Librarians series, coming 8/31/21)

Maya has had a price on her head from the day she escaped the TechCorps. Genetically engineered for genius and trained for revolution, there’s only one thing she can’t do—forget. Gray has finally broken free of the Protectorate, but he can’t escape the time bomb in his head. His body is rejecting his modifications, and his months are numbered. When Maya’s team uncovers an operation trading in genetically enhanced children, she’ll do anything to stop them. Even risk falling back into the hands of the TechCorps. And Gray has found a purpose for his final days: keeping Maya safe.

book-97812502938244Wanderers of a Mortal Kind by Kel Kade (The Shroud of Prophecy series, coming 11/9/21) 

No more heroes. The wealthy and powerful. The kings and queens. They all abandoned the world to fate when the chosen one died. All except a small group of broken people. Through dogged determination and maybe a bit of stupid bravery, Aaslo and his friends fought on. They continued the fight even when far greater heroes had given up. Now, Aaslo must turn the tides. In a world swifly falling to chaos, Aaslo is determined to win this war…at any cost. He’s made a deal with fickle fae, setting him and his friends on a collosion course with the gods themselves.

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Every Tor Book Coming This Winter

We’re closing in on the end of 2020 (BIG SIGHS OF RELIEF), and with that comes some brand new books to curl up with this season. Check out which ones are hitting shelves near you this winter here:

December 1

Poster Placeholder of - 47Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Poison was only the beginning…. The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina’s skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination. Hollow Empire is Book 2 in The Poison Wars series. Check out City of Lies, on sale now!

January 5

Image Place holder  of - 48Deuces Down by George R. R. Martin

Deuces Down is the next Wild Cards anthology collection about George R. R. Martin’s alternate superhero history. In this revised collection of classic Wild Cards stories, the spotlight is on the most unusual Wild Cards of them all—the Deuces, or people with minor superpowers. But their impact on the world should not be underestimated, as we see how they’ve affected the course of Wild Cards’ alternate history. Check out the remainder of the Wild Cards series, on sale now!

January 12

Placeholder of  -45Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy

The Shongairi conquered Earth. In mere minutes, half the human race died, and our cities lay in shattered ruins. But the Shongairi didn’t expect the survivors’ tenacity. And, crucially, they didn’t know that Earth harbored two species of intelligent, tool-using bipeds. One of them was us. The other, long-lived and lethal, was hiding in the mountains of eastern Europe, the subject of fantasy and legend. When they emerged and made alliance with humankind, the invading aliens didn’t stand a chance. Check out Book 1 in the Out of the Dark series, Out of the Dark, on sale now!

January 19

Place holder  of - 48Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson

Two continents at war, the Three Kingdoms and Ishara, have been in conflict for a thousand years. But when an outside threat arises—the reawakening of a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world—the two warring nations must somehow set aside generations of hatred to form an alliance against a far more deadly enemy. Check out Book 1 of the Wake the Dragon series, Spine of the Dragon, on sale now!

Image Placeholder of - 28The Wood Wife by Terri Windling
Leaving behind her fashionable West Coast life, Maggie Black comes to the Southwestern desert to pursue her passion and he dreams. Her mentor, the acclaimed poet Davis Cooper, has mysteriously died in the canyons east of Tucson, bequeathing her his estate and the mystery of his life–and death. As she reads Cooper’s letters and learns the secrets of his life, Maggie comes face-to-face with the wild, ancient spirits of the desert–and discovers the hidden power at its heart, a power that will take her on a journey like no other.

January 26

Dealbreaker by L. X. Beckett

Rubi Whiting has done the impossible. She has proved that humanity deserves a seat at the galactic table. Well, at least a shot at a seat. Having convinced the galactic governing body that mankind deserves a chance at fixing their own problems, Rubi has done her part to launch the planet into a new golden age of scientific discovery and technological revolution. However, there are still those in the galactic community that think that humanity is too poisonous, too greedy, to be allowed in, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage a species determined to pull itself up. Check out Book 1 of The Bounceback series, Gamechanger, on sale now!

February 2

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

A famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, Prince Kiem is summoned before the Emperor and commanded to renew the empire’s bonds with its newest vassal planet. The prince must marry Count Jainan, the recent widower of another royal prince of the empire. But Jainan suspects his late husband’s death was no accident. And Prince Kiem discovers Jainan is a suspect himself. But broken bonds between the Empire and its vassal planets leaves the entire empire vulnerable, so together they must prove that their union is strong while uncovering a possible conspiracy. Their successful marriage will align conflicting worlds. Their failure will be the end of the empire.

A Summoning of Demons by Cate Glass

Catagna has been shaken to its core. The philosophists insist that a disastrous earthquake has been caused by an ancient monster imprisoned below the earth, who can only be freed with magic. In every street and market, the people of Catagna are railing against magic-users with a greater ferocity than ever before, and magic hunters are everywhere. As Romy and the others attempt to carry out their mission, they find themselves plunged into a mystery of corruption and murder, myth and magic, and a terrifying truth: the philosophists may have been right all along. Check out the first two books of the Chimera series, on sale now!

The Best of R.A. Lafferty by R.A. Lafferty

Acclaimed as one of the most original voices in modern literature, a winner of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) was an American original, a teller of acute, indescribably loopy tall tales whose work has been compared to that of Avram Davidson, Flannery O’Connor, Flann O’Brien, and Gene Wolfe. The Best of R. A. Lafferty presents 22 of his best flights of offbeat imagination, ranging from classics like “Nine-Hundred Grandmothers” (basis for the later novel) and “The Primary Education of the Cameroi,” to his Hugo Award-winning “Eurema’s Dam.”

February 9

Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne

Natalie Chan gained her corporate citizenship, but barely survived the battle for Tribulation. Now corporate has big plans for Natalie. Horrible plans. Locked away in Natalie’s missing memory is salvation for the last of an alien civilization and the humans they tried to exterminate. The corporation wants total control of both—or their deletion. Check out Book 1 in the Memory of War series, Architects of Memory, on sale now!

February 16

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Evelyn Caldwell’s husband Nathan has been having an affair — with Evelyn Caldwell. Or, to be exact, with Martine, a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn’s own award-winning research. But that wasn’t even the worst part. When they said all happy families are alike, I don’t think this is what they meant…

Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston

Solus celebrates the Opening of the Mundus, a two-day holiday for the dead, but the city of the Soleri is hardly in need of diversion. A legion of traitors, led by a former captain of the Soleri military, rallies at the capital’s ancient walls. And inside those fortifications, trapped by circumstance, a second army fights for its very existence. In a world inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear, this follow-up to Michael Johnston’s Soleri, finds Solus besieged from within as well as without and the Hark-Wadi family is stuck at the heart of the conflict. Check out Book 1 of The Amber Throne series, Soleri, on sale now!

Fairhaven Rising by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Sixteen years have passed since the mage Beltur helped to found the town of Fairhaven, and Taelya, Beltur’s adopted niece, is now a white mage undercaptain in the Road Guards of Fairhaven. Fairhaven’s success under the Council has become an impediment to the ambition of several rulers, and the mages protecting the town are seen as a threat. Taelya, a young and untried mage, will find herself at the heart of a conspiracy to destroy her home and the people she loves, and she may not be powerful enough to stop it in time. Check out the remainder of the Saga of Recluse series on sale now here!

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Excerpt: Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson

amazons bns booksamillions ibooks2 99 indiebounds

Image Placeholder of - 1Kevin J. Anderson’s sequel to Spine of The Dragon brings bitter rivalry and blood feud—that might be the downfall of the human kingdoms.

Two continents at war, the Three Kingdoms and Ishara, have been in conflict for a thousand years. But when an outside threat arises—the reawakening of a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world—the two warring nations must somehow set aside generations of hatred to form an alliance against a far more deadly enemy. Book One awakened the great dragon, and set the kingdoms at each other’s throats.

In Book Two, Vengewar, the Three Kingdoms are shattering under pressure from an inexperienced new King who is being led by an ambitious regent to ignore the threat of the Wreths, in favor of a Vengewar with Ishara. His brother and uncle can see only the danger of the Older Race.

In Ishara, the queen lies in a coma, while an ambitious priest seizes power. But he has neither the training nor the talent to rule a nation—or even a city. Ishara is in deadly peril, and the Wreths have not even appeared on their continent.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Vengewar, on sale 01/19/2020.


1

There are things you must know as konag,” Utho told the young ruler. “The future of the Commonwealth depends on your leadership.” His voice had the force of a battering ram, implacable, because Mandan needed to face his new reality after the murder of his father. As harsh as The Brava might sound, he would not coddle the former prince. Some actions were simply necessary.

Looking younger than his twenty-five years, the new konag appeared doubtful and overwhelmed. His large hazel eyes, red-rimmed with tears in his narrow face, avoided Utho’s gaze. Ever since that terrible night on Fulcor Island, nightmares had harried Mandan like crows.

Utho spoke firmly to his ward. “I trained you all your life, and that training must continue. But it is no longer a mere exercise. From now on, everything you do becomes history. You rule the Commonwealth, like Conndur the Brave before you.”

Long life and a great legacy.

Under Utho’s stern regard, Mandan seemed to dredge a core of steel from the rubble of his personality. Good. The young man would need to get through his dead father’s remembrance ceremony. Going through the motions, the konag donned his regal clothing, topped by a crimson cape trimmed with snowfox fur.

Though he had known he would someday rule the three kingdoms, Mandan was clearly still frightened inside. The grisly sight of Konag Conndur’s butchered body had devastated him, but the bonded Brava was his strength, his mentor. Utho would guide him into the obligatory war against Ishara, a true vengewar.

At last!

Clad in his usual black Brava tunic, leggings, and finemail-lined cape, Utho pulled on his black leather gloves. “Come, Mandan. Your people need to see their true konag.”

As the young man followed, he said in a small voice, “How can I be what they need when I am so alone?”

“Not alone, my konag—never alone while you have me.” They left the royal chambers.

Convera Castle stood at the point of a high bluff that overlooked the confluence of two great rivers. In the main city below stood the remembrance shrine, an imposing stone building that preserved the names and lives of countless generations.

Humans built such shrines in every village and town to memorialize those who had lived before and the descendants they left behind. Families took great care to commemorate their loved ones, paying for written records, stone engravings, or painted tiles to be kept in the shrine through the ages. Once a person’s life and works were forgotten, it was as if they had never existed.

Convera’s shrine was the largest in the Commonwealth, seven stories tall, with records dating back almost two thousand years, to the end of the last wreth wars. Two stone lions guarded the entrance, each one nearly as large as a dragon. The shrine held many storage chambers and reading rooms with shelves crammed full of ledger books. The most prominent names were chiseled into the smooth marble walls and floors. A basement vault held scrolls for poorer people, who paid scribes a few coppers to record the names of their loved ones.

Crowds had gathered in front of the great shrine, where the remembrance ceremony would take place. Stonemasons had already prepared a slab of white marble, which looked as slick and pure as boiled bone on the raised entry platform between the two stone lions. A skilled mason had already engraved the name of Conndur, and covered his work with a canvas, leaving only a few strokes to be completed for the ceremony. The man stood ready, with his eyes down and his hair mussed. He held his mallet and chisel, looking nervous as thousands of people stared at him.

As Mandan and Utho approached the remembrance shrine, the crowd responded with a swelling murmur of appreciation, respect, and sorrow. Utho doubted the young konag would ever earn their cheers or adoration—it wasn’t in his character—but the people would follow his commands. Hatred for the murderous Isharans would bond them.

Chief Legacier Vicolia emerged from the open doors of the towering building and took her place next to the covered marble slab. She was a tall, thin woman with pinched lips and an expression as serious as her duties; she wore a brown legacier’s robe trimmed with gold at the sleeves and hem. Resplendent in his cape and crown, Mandan joined her, while Utho waited respectfully off to the side by one of the stone lions, a dark figure with steel-gray hair.

“The Commonwealth remembers Konag Conndur the Brave,” announced the chief legacier. Her voice was deep and rough, as if she had breathed too much dust from her books. “He leaves a great legacy for us to remember.”

“My father’s life was too short,” Mandan blurted out, and then he stepped forward, facing the gathered crowd. The people fell silent, sensing this would not be a traditional ceremony. “Conndur fought in the Isharan war thirty years ago, but in recent days, he mistakenly decided to trust those animals. He believed the Isharans might actually want peace.”

His eyes sparkled with spiteful tears, his skin paled further, and his voice was wrong. “My father met them on Fulcor Island to negotiate the end of hostilities.” Mandan visibly shuddered. Utho was proud of him. He did not mention the wreths or the dragon Ossus, the real—if ill-advised—reason Conndur had been so desperate to speak with the Isharan empra. “And they chopped him to pieces! They hacked off his hands, gouged out his eyes! They . . . they cut out his heart!” His voice broke, and he degenerated into shivers and sobs. “I saw it!”

The crowd remained as silent as death itself, and the chief legacier fidgeted. Utho let Mandan weep publicly for a few moments before he came forward and stood as a bastion of strength by the new konag. He gestured to the stonemason. “You know your work! Let the marble preserve Conndur’s legacy forever.”

The mason pulled aside the canvas covering to reveal the marble and the bold, impressive letters. With a bright percussion of steel and stone, the mason used his chisel to follow the charcoal lines and finish carving the last letter in CONNDUR THE BRAVE. Vicolia watched like a schoolmistress, nodding in cautious approval.

When the mason finished, Mandan stared at the name as realization struck him anew, and dropped to his knees in front of the marble, weeping.

Placing a black-gloved hand on the young man’s trembling shoulder, Utho said in a low voice, “You can grieve only so much, my konag. You have a kingdom to rule.” He increased the pressure, squeezing until Mandan managed to compose himself. “And we must prepare our war of vengeance against the Isharans.”


Even before the Commonwealth ships departed from Fulcor on the night of the murder, Utho had set his plans in motion. The Brava was saving the three kingdoms by preventing Conndur’s awful, naïve proposal to seek peace with the Isharans. Such a choice could cripple humanity’s future. He had done what was necessary, as appalling as it was.

Conndur had been his friend, and secretly murdering him was the most difficult thing Utho had ever done. But that act, and placing the blame on the Isharans, had provided the necessary trigger to unite Mandan and the whole Commonwealth in destroying their enemy. Everyone believed Empra Iluris had ordered the despicable crime.

Still reeling from the horror he had witnessed, Mandan deferred the planning to his bonded Brava, who was happy to take the reins. In the name of the konag, Utho ordered numerous Commonwealth ministers and advisors to catalog the resources the three kingdoms could bring to bear for a fullscale war. The main army needed to be armed and supplied, and the vaults of stored armor, swords, arrows, and spears beneath the castle had been emptied and inventoried. Soldiers would be recruited from across Osterra, Norterra, and Suderra. Since the enemy was across the ocean, he required ships—hundreds, if not thousands of ships—to strike the other continent like an executioner’s ax.

The Brava race had wanted this vengewar for centuries. A vengewar is not a quick thing, he thought, but it is necessary.

When a courier brought a letter from the king of Norterra, Mandan sat on his throne and stared at the message as if he didn’t know what to do. It was addressed to Konag Conndur and sealed with wax impressed with the mark of King Kollanan. Obviously, the message had been dispatched weeks ago.

The sweaty, exhausted courier swiped a hand across his forehead. “I regret that it took me so long, Sire. I had to ride far to the north to find a passable road over the Dragonspine Mountains.” He heaved a deep breath. “Kollanan the Hammer said this was most urgent information for Konag Conndur.”

“My father is dead,” Mandan said.

Utho stood beside the tall throne. “If this message is the business of the Commonwealth, then it is your business. You are the konag now.” Still, the Brava felt uneasy, though he didn’t know why. Not wanting an audience, he dismissed the courier from the throne room so they could read and discuss the message.

Hesitant, Mandan broke the wax seal and unfolded the letter. Without showing Utho, he read with widening eyes and his skin turned as pale as milk. When Utho tried to read the letter for himself, Mandan snatched it away, accusing. “Is this true? What did you do, Utho?”

Though he dreaded the news, the Brava spoke in a calm voice. “If I am to advise you, my konag, I must know what it says.” He forcibly took the letter and scanned the words, and struggled to control his shock at what Kollanan had revealed. Impossible! He had never expected to deal with this.

His mind raced to choose the best course of action. Finally, trusting his relationship with the young man, he admitted, “Part of it is true, Mandan.”

Mandan said, “That Brava woman Elliel accuses you of betraying her! Did you really wipe her memory and tell her she committed awful, false crimes?” He stared at his mentor, aghast. “Why, Utho?”

He stood implacable. “For the good of the Commonwealth—as always— and to save us all. In her mind, I’m sure Elliel considers it a betrayal, but she sees only a small part of the picture.” Utho’s thoughts spun, but he continued to speak, slow and reassuring. No excuses. He was loyal to the konag.

“But it’s so . . . dishonorable!”

“I would never lie to you, you know that, but King Kollanan does not have the full explanation. Lord Cade runs a vital operation in his holdings. Even your father was not aware of the hundreds of Isharan prisoners who work to repay the innocent blood they have shed over the centuries. Elliel was Lord Cade’s bonded Brava and she oversaw the saltpearl harvesting. Even Konag Conndur didn’t know about it.”

And a good thing, because Conndur would have wanted to free them as a foolish gesture of goodwill.

Mandan snatched the letter back, crumpling a corner of the paper. But he listened.

Utho continued the story. “Elliel became Cade’s lover, and that is when it all fell apart. She was not rational.”

“This . . . this says he raped her.”

He could see the young man was wavering. Mandan would believe what he wanted to believe, if given the proper nudge. “I’m sure that is how she remembers it now, but Elliel’s memory is damaged—as she admits in the letter. When Cade’s wife learned of the affair, she threatened to expose the Isharan prisoners to the whole Commonwealth, just to punish Elliel. Lady Almeda was a spiteful, scorned woman. The scandal and uproar would have sent shock waves throughout the three kingdoms, and the Isharans would have launched an all-out war against us. We needed to prevent that, at all costs.”

With great effort, he kept his voice neutral, and Mandan listened with rapt attention. “Elliel had to pay the price. It was the only way to solve the problem. So we erased her memory. I myself tattooed the rune of forgetting on her face, and created a false narrative that should have been too horrible for her to investigate. Elliel should have made a new life and a new legacy for herself. It was a small enough price to save the Commonwealth, wasn’t it?”

Though he maintained his outward calm, Utho couldn’t comprehend how Elliel had broken the spell. The rune of forgetting was ancient magic that Bravas knew but didn’t completely understand. Now she remembered everything, and had revealed the whole story to King Kollanan.

But Utho had much bigger things to worry about, with the start of the vengewar. He needed to steer Mandan back onto the correct path.

Fortunately the young man’s own hatred did it for him. “Are these Isharan prisoners still working under Lord Cade? To atone?”

“Yes, my konag. They give their sweat, their blood, their lives if necessary. They harvest saltpearls at great risk, and those riches are used to fund our great army. For the good of the Commonwealth.”

Mandan turned toward his mentor and made no further mention of Elliel. He dropped the letter to the side of the throne. “Take me to Cade’s holding so I can see it with my own eyes.”

2

Kollanan was still reeling over the crippling news from Convera. His heart and mind could not believe it.

As the lords gathered in the main hall at his urgent summons, Tafira, his beloved wife of three decades, sat beside him. Her long hair had once been raven black but now was frosted with silver that, if anything, made her look more distinguished. Although her dusky skin, generous lips, and pointed chin indicated Isharan heritage, Tafira was his queen here in Norterra, far from the land where she had been born.

She looked at him with concern. “I know you too well, beloved. I can see the news is bad.”

Koll nodded only slightly as he stared beyond the raised dais into the large chamber.

Lords Bahlen, Ogno, and Cerus muttered to one another, probably about their temporary victory at Lake Bakal. Bahlen’s bonded Brava Urok stood like a statue just behind his lord. Other vassal lords appeared uneasy, waiting for the king to address them.

At the edge of the room, a restless group of escort soldiers from Convera still wore their Commonwealth uniforms. Perhaps they would be the most shocked. Conndur had dispatched Captain Rondo and twenty men to escort Kollanan home just before the eruption of Mount Vada. These soldiers were impatient to ride back to the konag, but scouts and traders reported travel difficulties over the mountains, so the escort remained as Kollanan’s guests in the barracks.

After today’s news, though, they would be even more insistent on riding back to the capital.

Koll could not wait any longer. He rose from his throne and spoke out in a voice that silenced the entire room. “Konag Conndur is dead.” He paused for a thunderous intake of breath. “My brother was murdered on Fulcor Island by the Isharans. His body was . . .” Grief filled his throat like hot wax. “Prince Mandan found him in pieces. There was a great battle, and Empra Iluris was gravely injured, perhaps mortally, but the Isharans escaped.”

Captain Rondo let out a loud cry. “What of Prince Mandan? Is he safe?”

Koll’s vision blurred, but he forced himself to go on, one word after another like plodding footsteps. “He is safe. Apparently, Utho protected him.” Koll locked eyes with his own bonded Brava, Elliel. She looked nauseated to hear the name of the man who had done her so much harm. A hot flush came to her cheeks. Next to her, the dark wreth stranger Thon stared at her, then at Kollanan, then at the others in attendance, trying to understand what he was hearing.

“Mandan is now the konag. I am . . . in mourning for my dear . . .” Koll couldn’t go on. The words simply hung in the air. My brother. His shoulders shook under the crushing weight of memories.

The escort soldiers uttered low angry sounds, and restless hands strayed toward their swords. One of the men glared daggers at Queen Tafira. “Isharan animals,” he muttered, as if he blamed her.

“Norterra must decide what to do,” Kollanan said. His normally rough voice came out sounding like a lost waif’s. But he was the king. “And so must I.”

“Decide what to do?” Captain Rondo looked at his companions in disbelief. “We must ride back to Convera and offer our swords to Konag Mandan against Ishara!”

“Maybe so, but I will require you to stay here for a little longer. I must compile a report to . . . to the new konag about what is happening in Norterra. We must prepare for what the frostwreths will do to us here.”


Once the news had time to sink in, the king called his vassal lords for a private war council. After Koll’s recent strike on the ice fortress at Lake Bakal, they all knew the very real possibility that bloodthirsty wreths might sweep across Norterra and attack human settlements.

Kollanan squeezed his large hand into a fist. “King Adan and I traveled together to Convera. We warned Conndur about the wreths, but my brother was more worried about Isharan raids on the coast. Prince Mandan even scoffed at the idea of wreths. He is under Utho’s thumb.” Koll sighed. “After Mount Vada, though, I think Conn was convinced, and he went to Fulcor Island to enlist Empra Iluris as an ally. But if the Isharans did assassinate him, Mandan will not concern himself with our problems here.” His eyes stung with thoughts of his poor brother, but more painful still was the clear memory of his daughter and her husband, his grandson, and all the others blithely killed by the frostwreths at Lake Bakal. “We need to save ourselves from whatever comes down from the north.”

“And it will come,” said Elliel, imposing in her black Brava outfit. Her grim expression was marred by the rune of forgetting tattooed on her face.

“We will be strong—I certainly am! Ha!” said Ogno, the biggest and most intimidating of his lords. “We will be ready, Kollanan the Hammer.”

Koll rested his bearded chin in his hand. “Adan knows the wreth threat, too, down in Suderra.” His voice caught again. “He will also have received word of his father’s death. I need to go to him, so we can discuss how our two kingdoms can defend themselves. If the sandwreths and the frostwreths are intent on destroying each other, we will be caught in the middle.”

Tafira’s dark eyes sparkled. “Maybe you could convince the sandwreths to fight on our behalf, against a mutual enemy.”

Koll’s eyebrows drew together. “I would ask Adan’s counsel on that first.”

Elliel sat up straight. “I will accompany you on the ride to Suderra.” She shot a questioning glance at mysterious Thon, who nodded that he would join her.

“And I as well,” Lasis said. The Brava had served Kollanan much longer than Elliel, and had been captured and left for dead by the frostwreths.

Kollanan shook his head. “No, Lasis. While I am gone, I need you here to protect my queen.”

Tafira smiled. “And your kingdom.”

The other Brava bowed. “Yes, Sire. Perhaps we should ask Captain Rondo and his Commonwealth soldiers to remain as added defenders, while you are gone?”

“Yes, that is reasonable,” Koll said.

“We need regular scout riders, Sire.” Lord Teo ran a finger down the left side of his long mustache. “They can give us warning if the wreths move.”

“What good is a warning, if they can wipe us out with a blast of cold magic?” Lord Bahlen asked.

“It would give us a chance to evacuate the villages,” said Vitor. “Scatter our people into the wilderness. Some of them might be saved.”

Alcock said, “My county has open grassland and hills. We’re farmers with spread-out villages, and there is no safe place for them to go. We do not have fortress walls like Fellstaff.”

Teo said, “Norterra hasn’t been at war for centuries, barely even a squabble among holdings. We are vulnerable.”

“That is the weakness that peace brings,” Ogno grumbled.

“I fear the time of peace has ended,” Kollanan said.

Urok, Bahlen’s normally silent Brava, said, “We can shore up our defenses. We must.”

“Even if I wanted to, what sort of walls could I build against the wreths?” asked gaunt Cerus. “What material can stand against a frostwreth attack?”

Thon spoke up in a distant, musing tone. “Were the wreths not at war with one another for centuries? Their own defenses stood against the most destructive attacks, and those walls still endure.” He glanced at Elliel with strange eyes that sparkled like crushed sapphires. He looked almost human, but not quite. “Elliel and the scholar girl showed me one of the old wreth cities.”

“Ah, the ruins! Shadri is still determined to explore them more,” Elliel said. “Many abandoned wreth cities are still intact and could be turned into fortresses if we repaired them.”

Kollanan sat in his heavy chair. “Fellstaff has the greatest defenses, the thickest walls. We were always strong for the sake of the Commonwealth.” Another wave of sadness unexpectedly came upon him at the thought of Konag Conndur, his brother, his companion, his friend. The three kingdoms had to stand together, but faced with his own crisis, Koll felt distant from any Isharan threat across the sea. He had loved his wife for far too long to think of all Tafira’s people as inhuman animals, even if it was true that they had butchered Conndur.

“I have a large wreth city in my county,” Bahlen said, sounding pleased with the idea. “We could make it into a stronghold.”

Alcock lowered his head, scratched his dark goatee. “We’ve always avoided wreth ruins as bad places, maybe even haunted.”

“Now they might save us,” said Lord Iber.


That night in his chambers, Koll sat by the fire, holding a small carving of a cow, which he had whittled from a scrap of wood. Not his best work, but it kept his hands busy. Tafira had made honeysuckle tea, and she sat near the fire, reading a chronicle from Fellstaff ’s remembrance shrine that told the life story of their daughter Jhaqi, as written by the scholar girl Shadri. Koll loved watching his wife read the story and comfort herself by keeping their memories alive.

Koll kept their memories alive as well, but at the moment he was preoccupied with thoughts of his brother. During the Isharan war, he and Conndur commanded divisions of the Commonwealth army that roamed the new world. They had gone to punish the Isharans for some imagined slight that Koll couldn’t even remember.

Conndur the Brave and Kollanan the Hammer, war heroes

Koll and Conn.

The legaciers exaggerated the legends of the two brothers, but Koll remembered how dark those times were, on both sides. His own men had lost control, intending to raze a village, and the Isharan villagers, just as ruthless, decided to sacrifice an orphaned girl, Tafira, to their godling. Koll had rescued her as his prize and his bride-to-be. When that war ended unresolved, Koll had thought he would never worry about Isharans again.

Now, as he whittled a few more details into the wooden cow, he remembered his raid at the frostwreth ice fortress. Koll had hoped to rescue his captive grandson, but Birch wasn’t there. Instead, the boy was being held a prisoner up at Queen Onn’s palace, and Koll had no idea how to get him back.

With the tip of his dagger he scratched detail lines, then set the carving aside and picked up a new piece of wood. He had made many toy animals for his two grandsons. Someday he hoped to give this one to Birch.

Copyright © Kevin J. Anderson 2021

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What Makes a Dragon a Dragon?

Image Placeholder of - 42Welcome to Dragon Week 2020, a celebration of all things Dragon! 

Kevin J. Anderson, author of Spine of the Dragon and upcoming Vengewar, joins us for Dragon Week 2020 after his CONTROVERSIAL inclusion of Godzilla in his round-up of ‘Top Five Deadliest Dragons‘. This year, he’s back to make even more waves by defining what makes a dragon a DRAGON. Check out his explanation below!

 


 

What Makes a Dragon a Dragon?

By Kevin J. Anderson

What has scales, wings, claws, and (sometimes) breathes fire?

Is it a giant prehistoric monster emerging from the Lost World? Is it an evil beast that lurks in caves and demands maidens as sacrifices? Is it a majestic elemental creature that can protect or save the land? Or is it a giant, scaled flaming metaphor for the terrible darkness that lives inside each person?

A dragon can be all of these things, and more.

In my novel Spine of the Dragon, which comes out in trade paperback from Tor Books this month, the people believe that a great dragon, Ossus, sleeps beneath a jagged volcanic mountain range. Ossus was created by the god Kur who, in order to make himself pure, extracted all of his dark thoughts, his jealousies, his violent urges, his innate evil, and used them to fashion the dragon. He then left the world, vowing not to return until his people figured out how to destroy the dragon, and hence the evil inside themselves. Things don’t go well from that point.

Ossus may seem like a metaphor for the darkest parts of a god, but over the course of the story he does manifest in full, dark reptilian glory, wings and flames and all. A novelist has an unlimited special effects budget.

What constitutes a dragon?

If Sir Lancelot had encountered a T. Rex preying upon helpless villagers, would he think of it as a prehistoric monster that had forgotten to become extinct? Or would he call it a dragon?

When Godzilla awakens from the depths of the ocean and rock-and-rolls through Tokyo, a huge reptilian beast that breathes fire, does that count as a dragon? In the evolution of Godzilla since the first film in 1956, the monster has become more of an elemental force, a benevolent scaly protector of Japan.  That fits the mold of another type of dragon.

Frank Herbert said he considered the giant sandworms protecting the spice in Dune to be his version of dragons guarding a hoard of treasure.

As a kid, you must have dreamed of finding a dragon egg, raising and bonding with it to be your pet, your best friend, and your protector, like in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, or Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, or even the How to Train Your Dragon films, or (with less warm and fuzzy results) Daenarys and her three dragons in Game of Thrones. “They grow up so fast!”

In movies from the 1960s, a “dragon” or dinosaur was ably portrayed by a hapless stunt alligator or komodo dragon forced to wear makeup accoutrements. Later, in Dragonslayer (1981), which I think was Disney’s very first PG-rated film, moviegoers were promised that we would believe dragons were real—and we did. Now with vastly more sophisticated effects, such as with the Great Leonopteryx in Avatar (which surely also qualifies as a “dragon” both in appearance and story role), who can tell that it’s not reality?

But we all know dragons are real, even if they aren’t swooping over medieval towns and setting fire to thatched roofs, or plucking virgins tied to a stake in front of their bone-strewn lair. Dragons live in our hearts, in our imaginations. And in our stories.

Readers love to devour tales about dragons, just as writers love to create them. Something about dragons strikes to the heart of our psyche, our legendary core, thrums on the strings of our imaginations. I think I hear one coming now…I hope it’s a good kind of dragon.

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