You can still download the first volume of Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Lays of Anuskaya, the excellent The Winds of Khalakovo, for only 2.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future. When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo. . .
Thanks to the generosity of the kind folks at Tor Books, I have three of their high-profile anthologies of 2013 up for grabs! The prize pack includes:
- Dangerous Women, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, edited by David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Year’s Best SF 18, edited by David Hartwell (Canada, USA)
The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "ANTHOLOGIES." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.
Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.
Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.
With the great success of our last contest [see this article], we would like to continue to offer the opportunity to inspire more writers. This time we ask that you write a 500-word short story using Neal Asher’s The Departure book cover as a starting topic. Ask yourself, what do you see in the image? Let your imagination take over. Our publishing team will select the best 5 stories. The stories selected will then be posted to our blog page. We will host open votes on Facebook, Twitter and by email. The story with the most votes will win. Winner will receive a signed blue ray copy of The Europa Report produced by Start Motion Pictures (formally known as Wayfare Entertainment) and poster. Deadline for all submissions will be January 13, 2014. Once all submissions are received we will announce when the voting polls will be open for the public. Please note, if your story does not have a title we will not accept your submission, as the title and author name will be used for voting. Please send all submissions and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This lucky winner will get his hands on my review copy of the mass market paperback edition of George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
The winner is:
- Sébastien Arnaud, from Lachenaie, Québec, Canada
Bestselling author Jim Butcher just unveiled the cover art and blurb for his forthcoming Skin Game! Once again, the cover art is from Chris McGrath.
Here's the blurb:
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day… Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. He doesn’t know the half of it… Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever. It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure horde in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry. Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…
If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, then you know that I'm a big fan of Kay Kenyon's The Entire and the Rose science fiction series. If you haven't given Bright of the Sky (Canada, USA, Europe), A World Too Near (Canada, USA, Europe), City Without End (Canada, USA, Europe), and Prince of Storms (Canada, USA, Europe) a shot yet, you need to put them on your wishlist ASAP!
Hence, when the author's new publisher got in touch with me to inquire whether or not I'd be willing to read and review A Thousand Perfect Things, of course I agreed! I was curious to see if Kenyon could somehow imbue a stand-alone work with as much magic and wonder as her latest series.
Here's the blurb:
Kay Kenyon's The Empire and the Rose was hailed as "a star-maker", "a magnificent book", "audacious", and "the most ambitious science fiction epic of the current decade", garnering starred reviews and comparisons to Larry Nivens and Stephen R. Donaldson. In this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century; two continents on an alternate earth: scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India.) To claim the powers of the legendary golden lotus, Tori Harding, a Victorian woman, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate, and face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms. It is 1857. After millennia of seafaring, and harried by the kraken of the deep, in a monumental feat of engineering Anglica has built a stupendous bridge to Bharata. Bharata's magical powers are despised as superstition, but its diamonds and cotton are eagerly exploited by Anglic colonials. Seething with unrest over its subjugation, Bharata strikes back with bloody acts of magical terrorism. Despite these savage attacks, young Tori Harding yearns to know if Bharata's magics may also be a path to scientific discovery. Tori's parents hold little hope for her future because she has a club foot. Therefore they indulge her wish to have instruction in science from her famous botanist grandfather, even though, as a woman she will be denied a career in science by the male-dominated scientific societies. Though courted by a friend of the family, Captain Edmond Muir-Smith, Tori has taken to heart her grandfather's warning not to exchange science for "married slavery." Emboldened by her grandfather's final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori crosses the great bridge with her father's regiment and Captain Muir-Smith. In Bharata she encounters her grandfather's old ally, the Rana of Kathore, his rival sons, and the ancient museum of Gangadhar, fallen to ruin and patrolled by ghosts. In pursuit of the golden lotus, Tori finds herself in a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and the enduring gods of Bharata. As a great native mutiny sweeps up the Rana's household, her father's regiment and the entire continent of Bharata--Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped, and stranger than she could have dreamed.
The worldbuilding is, sadly, a bit generic. The alternate history versions of 19th century England and India are somewhat déjà vu and don't capture the imagination the way various locales and concepts did in The Entire and the Rose. That was a disappointment, for the inventive worldbuilding was definitely one of the most captivating aspects of the series. I believe that the strictures inherent to the writing of a stand-alone novel precluded the sort of depth that made The Entire and the Rose so special. Mind you, I'm not saying that there is no depth to A Thousand Perfect Things. Far from it. It's just that the limited page count appears to have prevented Kay Kenyon from opening up and from writing a more sprawling and evocative narrative. As a result, the themes and the concepts often feel quite underdeveloped, which in turn robs many of them of the anticipated sense of magic and wonder we have come to expect from the author.
The characterization also leaves a little to be desired. For some reason, I was unable to connect with any of the protagonists. Which, understandably, made it a bit difficult to maintain interest throughout the book. Tori Harding feels more than a little clichéd, although I must admit that Kenyon has a few surprises up her sleeve where her main character is concerned. In Bharata, Jai, Mahindra, and Dulal are interesting in their own ways, yet they fail to truly convey all the magic and intrigue of the exotic continent and its people. And even when the POV is that of one the characters witnessing the brewing mutiny in Bharata, somehow Kenyon didn't manage to make any of them, on both sides of the conflict, particularly engaging.
The pace is also an issue from time to time. Too slow in certain portions of the novel, while rushed in others. The culmination of the storylines dealing with the search for the mysterious lotus flower is decidedly anticlimactic and subsequently sort of kills the rest of the tale. The resolution takes too much time to transpire, and both the build-up and the ending fail to cap off the book with the sort of aplomb needed to bring everything to a satisfying ending.
The underlying themes of sexism and the emancipation of women were not explored with enough depth to truly flesh out Tori, something that would have added another dimension to this work. In addition, the often heavy-handed anti-colonialism/anti-imperialism spiel can be irritating. Had it been woven seamlessly within the tale itself, it would likely have worked much better in the greater scheme of things. All in all, A Thousand Perfect Things is a good read, but nowhere near as fun and fascinating as the four volumes which comprise The Entire and the Rose.
You can download the special edition of Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes for only 4.79$ here.
Here's the blurb:
They say Black Dow's killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they've brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he's far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it's his own. Prince Calder isn't interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he'll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn't have to fight for it himself. Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him? Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail. Three men. One battle. No Heroes. This special edition eBook contains: - An introduction from Joe Abercrombie - The full text of THE HEROES - A 20,000 word 'planning' document which contains all of Joe's behind-the-scenes notes, plans and timeline for THE HEROES
I have a copy of Gene Wolfe's The Land Across for you to win, compliments of the folks at Tor Books! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
An American writer of travel guides in need of a new location chooses to travel to a small and obscure Eastern European country. The moment Grafton crosses the border he is in trouble, much more than he could have imagined. His passport is taken by guards, and then he is detained for not having it. He is released into the custody of a family, but is again detained. It becomes evident that there are supernatural agencies at work, but they are not in some ways as threatening as the brute forces of bureaucracy and corruption in that country. Is our hero in fact a spy for the CIA? Or is he an innocent citizen caught in a Kafkaesque trap? In The Land Across, Gene Wolfe keeps us guessing until the very end, and after.
The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "ACROSS." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.
Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.
Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.
There is an interesting article about the second installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy in theatlantic.com by Christopher Orr. And I agree with everything Orr elaborates on. . . :/
Here's an extract:
There are two obvious ways a director can go wrong in adapting a work with a large and ardent pre-existing fan base. He (or she) can feel so constrained by expectations that he makes his adaptation too literal, a book-on-film. Or he can get carried away riffing on the original story, pulling in references from related works and assuming that fans’ appetites for additional material are, for all intents and purposes, insatiable. Peter Jackson's Violent Betrayal of Tolkien
As a general rule, I think the former temptation, over-fidelity, is the greater hazard. But Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is proof that when you go the other way—really, really far the other way—the result can be genuinely egregious.
And yes, before we go further, I’m well aware that this meeting is cited in The Hobbit, and that many of Jackson’s other additions and digressions are part of the larger Middle Earth canon. But despite the fact the Tolkien went back to amend The Hobbit more than once, he never chose to cram in all this supplemental material, because the book was not intended as a sweeping, multifaceted epic, but rather as a more personal, hobbit’s-eye-view adventure story.
Whether through ego, avarice, or unchecked enthusiasm, Jackson has entered deep into the realm of fan fiction. Indeed, having granted himself boundless license to reimagine, he seems to have begun reimagining even his own reimaginings. The hideous orc leader relentlessly pursuing our heroes whom Jackson introduced in the previous film, Azog the Defiler, is in this movie replaced by a different hideous orc leader relentlessly pursuing our heroes. (This, in turn, frees Azog up to lend his hand to some pre-LoTR backstory embellishment.) At some point this level of constant reinvention threatens to become not only self-reinforcing, but self-consuming. Where does Jackson go after he completes his expansive re-telling of The Hobbit? Will he reissue The Lord of the Rings trilogy with new material added to reflect the canonical changes he’s made here? (The real reason that Legolas dislikes dwarves is…) Will he adapt The Silmarillion? Or will he retreat from view to tinker with his High Frame Rate toys? Whatever his decision, Jackson has by now laid to rest any lingering doubt that he is, indeed, the new George Lucas. Congratulations.
You can now download Emma Jane Holloway's A Study in Silks for only 0.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London Society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse. In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out? But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.
Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Tor Books, our three lucky winners will get their hands on a copy of Dangerous Women, a new anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Penguin Canada unveiled the cover for the trade paperback edition of Guy Gavriel Kay's River of Stars earlier today.
The author talks about the various covers that have graced his books at brightweavings.com. Here's a teaser:
I have been very lucky with River of Stars in my English-language covers. (We’ll start seeing some of the foreign language cover roughs soon. Cross fingers with me.) I loved the blue court figure for the Canadian and US hardcovers (and the US will adapt it for their paperback) and I loved the beautiful UK cover as well (they are also staying with a variant of this for their pb). I think this new effort by the Penguins in Canada is terrific. My publisher/editor, Nicole Winstanley had some strong ideas about what she wanted to try for, but of course it becomes the task of the (long-suffering?) art director and department to find visual ways to achieve this. I know, because they made a point of telling me (!) that a lot of work and fine tuning went into this look. I saw it in next-to-last version and had only one note, which they agreed with, and smoothly incorporated.
You can now download Mark T. Barnes' The Garden of Stones for 4.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
When the Shrīanese Empire explodes into civil war, fighters of all kinds flock to the banners of their lords. Indris, a skilled swordsman and brilliant sorcerer, seeks to end the bloodshed once and for all. He knows this war is simply a ruse—a power play by a ruling Family desperate to take control of the Empire by any means necessary. Indris cares little for the politics except to see that justice is upheld. But even he can't see the terrible price his opponents are willing to pay to secure their legacy. A true epic, the first book in the Echoes of Empire series creates a spellbinding new world. With its twisted politics, new races, compelling heroes and villains, and unique magic, The Garden of Stones is a lyrical fantasy on the grandest scale.
And you can also get your hands on the sequel, The Obsidian Heart, for the same price here.
Here's the blurb:
An uneasy peace has settled over the Shrīanese Empire, and for Indris and Mari, a life together just might be possible. But while the fighting may be over, the struggle between the two great Houses vying to rule has just begun, and caught between them are Indris and Mari—warriors of the highest caliber…and members of the opposing families. With the court moved to a new city, the old machinations of Mari’s father, Corajidin, are still churning as he maneuvers to shape the future Empire. For Mari and Indris, though, it could be the past that’s their undoing, as lost lovers and forgotten flames reappear as if by dark magic. And dark magic it could be, for a dangerous alliance with witches could not only grant Corajidn control of Shrīan, but once again plunge the nation back into war—especially after a sorcerous battle destroys much of the city…and forces Indris and Mari to part ways. In The Obsidian Heart, the second volume of the Echoes of Empire series, darkness falls over a kingdom already reeling from a costly civil war. Can the Indris and Mari survive this new threat to save not only the ones they love, but possibly the entire world?
In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international bestselling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later with an epic of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, bandits and soldiers, nomadic invasions, and a woman battling in her own way, to find a new place for women in the world – a world inspired this time by the glittering, decadent Song Dynasty.
Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.
Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.
In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.
12 May 1940. Westminster, London, England: the early days of World War II. Again. Raybould Marsh, one of “our” Britain’s best spies, has travelled to another Earth in a desperate attempt to save at least one timeline from the Cthulhu-like monsters who have been observing our species from space and have already destroyed Marsh’s timeline. In order to accomplish this, he must remove all traces of the supermen that were created by the Nazi war machine and caused the specters from outer space to notice our planet in the first place. His biggest challenge is the mad seer Greta, one of the most powerful of the Nazi creations, who has sent a version of herself to this timeline to thwart Marsh. Why would she stand in his way? Because she has seen that in all the timelines she dies and she is determined to stop that from happening, even if it means destroying most of humanity in the process. And Marsh is the only man who can stop her. Necessary Evil is the stunning conclusion to Ian Tregillis’s Milkweed series.
For generations, the solar system -- Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt -- was humanity's great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.
Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.
Cassandra Kresnov-a highly advanced hunter-killer android-returns to face down a rogue government's plot to eliminate free will. Commander Cassandra Kresnov has her hands full. She must lead an assault against the Federation world of Pyeongwha, where a terrible sociological phenomenon has unleashed hell against the civilian population. Then she faces the threat from a portion of League space known as New Torah, in which a ruthless regime of surviving corporations are building new synthetic soldiers but taking the technology in alarming directions. On the Torahn world of Pantala, Sandy encounters betrayal, crisis, and conspiracy on a scale previously unimaginable. Most challenging of all, she also meets three young street kids who stir emotions in her she didn't think she was capable of. Can the Federation's most lethal killer afford unexpected sentiment? What will be the cost if she is forced to choose between them and her mission, not only to her cause, but to her soul?
To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.
The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.
This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don't look to me to save you. Don't think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don't follow me.
A major new work from "a writer to make readers rejoice" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)— a moving story of memory, magic, and survival. Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what. A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
Part historical adventure, part vampire thriller — the fourth dark and dazzling novel in Jasper Kent's 'Danilov Quintet'. Turkmenistan 1881: Beneath the citadel of Geok Tepe sits a prisoner. He hasn'’t moved from his chair for two years, hasn'’t felt the sun on his face in more than fifty, but he is thankful for that. The city is besieged by Russian troops and soon falls. But one Russian officer has his own reason to be here. Colonel Otrepyev marches into the underground gaol. But for the prisoner it does not mean freedom, simply a new gaoler; an old friend, now an enemy. They return to Russia to meet an older enemy still. In Saint Petersburg, the great vampire Zmyeevich waits as he has always waited. He knows he will never wield power over Tsar Aleksandr II, but the tsarevich will be a different matter. When Otrepyev delivers the prisoner into his hands, Zmyeevich will have everything he needs. Then all that need happen is for the tsar to die. But it is not only the Otrepyev and his captive who have returned from Geok Tepe. Another soldier has followed them, one who cares nothing for the fate of the tsar, nor for Zmyeevich, nor for Otrepyev. He has only one thing on his mind – revenge. And it'’s not just Zmyeevich who seeks the death of the tsar. Aleksandr’'s faltering steps towards liberty have only made the people hungry for more, and for some the final liberty will come only with the death of the dictator. They have tried and failed before, but the tsar’'s luck must desert him one day. Soon he will fall victim to a group that has vowed to bring the Romanov dynasty to a violent end — a group that calls itself The People’'s Will.
The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed... but not for everyone.
Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.
Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier—cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.
Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place—Oscar Britton, public enemy number one...
Nearly two years after the harrowing events of The Straits of Galahesh, Atiana and Nikandr continue their long search for Nasim. The clues they find lead them to the desert wastes of the Gaji, where the fabled valley of Shadam Khoreh lies. But all is not well. War has moved from the islands to the mainland, and the Grand Duchy knows its time may be limited if Yrstanla rallies its forces. Worse, the wasting disease and the rifts grow ever wider, threatening places that once thought themselves safe. The Dukes believe that their only hope may be to treat with the Haelish warriors to the west of Yrstanla, but Nikandr knows that the key is to find Nasim and a lost artifact known as the Atalayina. Will Nikandr succeed and close the rifts once and for all? The answer lies deep within the Flames of Shadam Khoreh. From Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of the critically acclaimed debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo, comes the concluding volume in the Lays of Anuskaya trilogy, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh.
The colony world of Stittara is no ordinary planet. For the interstellar Unity of the Ceylesian Arm, Stittara is the primary source of anagathics: drugs that have more than doubled the human life span. But the ecological balance that makes anagathics possible on Stittara is fragile, and the Unity government has a vital interest in making sure the flow of longevity drugs remains uninterrupted, even if it means uprooting the human settlements. Offered the job of assessing the ecological impact of the human presence on Stittara, freelance consultant Dr. Paulo Verano jumps at the chance to escape the ruin of his personal life. He gets far more than he bargained for: Stittara’s atmosphere is populated with skytubes—gigantic, mysterious airborne organisms that drift like clouds above the surface of the planet. Their exact nature has eluded humanity for centuries, but Verano believes his conclusions about Stittara may hinge on understanding the skytubes’ role in the planet’s ecology—if he survives the hurricane winds, distrustful settlers, and secret agendas that impede his investigation at every turn.
A few weeks ago, I was complaining on Facebook that 2013 turned out to be the year of disappointments. And yet, looking back as I put together this annual Top 10, regardless of the disappointing titles and although many of the heavyweights are absent, it's been another good year for speculative fiction readers everywhere!
Thanks to the folks at Orbit Books, here's an extract from Miles Cameron's upcoming The Fell Sword. It's the sequel to The Red Knight. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Loyalty costs money. Betrayal, on the other hand, is free. When the Emperor is taken hostage, the Red Knight and his men find their services in high demand - and themselves surrounded by enemies. The country is in revolt, the capital city is besieged and any victory will be hard won. But The Red Knight has a plan. The question is, can he negotiate the political, magical, real and romantic battlefields at the same time - especially when intends to be victorious on them all?
Liviapolis – Morgan Mortirmir
As the Red Knight left the abode of the Wyrm of the Green Hills and rode south to the Inn of Dorling, Morgan Mortirmir, late of Harndon, sat in class in the Imperial capital of Liviapolis.
The classroom in which he sat was over a thousand years old; it featured dark oak benches and solid desks that sat four students per bench. The benches had, carved in so deeply you had to wonder how the professors and tutors had missed the vandalism, the graffiti of a hundred generations of would-be magisters in ten languages and in Archaic itself. The windows were mullioned and leaded and offered only the haziest glimpse of the outside world to the bored or frustrated mind.
Morgan shared his bench with three other students: two of the religious sisters from one of the great cities dozens of convents for women of noble blood, sisters Anna and Katerina, almost invisible in long brown gowns and wimples, and his sole near-friend, the Etruscan whose father was Podesta of the foreign merchants, Antonio Baldesce.
The logik master looked over the class.
‘Someone who is not Mortirmir,’ he said. ‘Tell me why.’
Sixteen students in advanced hermetical thaumaturgy squirmed.
‘Come, come, my children,’ Magister Abraham said. He was a Yahadut– the first Morgon had ever met. He was one of the kindest of the masters
– until he felt he had been ignored.
His eyes locked on the young Etruscan. ‘Baldesce?’ he asked, his voice rising a half-octave in academic impatience.
The silence was painful.
‘Let me restate the problem,’ Magister Abraham said in an increasingly dangerous tone. ‘Why can you not wield the hermetical power directly inside your own memory palace?’
Sister Katerina made a slight sound – more like a moan than anything. Sister Anna bit her lips.
Baldesce was not the sort of boy – young man – to writhe. ‘No idea,’ he said. He shrugged. ‘But if I am permitted to guess—’
‘Don’t,’ Abraham spat. ‘Guesses do not interest me at this stage. Very well, young Mortirmir?’
Mortirmir couldn’t render potentia into ops, but he head read every grimoire available and every scroll of philosophy, ethical or practical, that he could lay hands on. He met the magister’s eye – and hesitated.
If he didn’t give the answer, would they like him better? Probably not. And sod them, anyway.
‘Magister, I think you can manipulate the aethereal directly inside your own memory palace. I suspect you shouldn’t.’ Mortirmir shrugged, as Baldesce had shrugged, but it was a different gesture altogether – Mortir- mir’s shrug implied there was more to say rather than Baldesce’s indifference to the question.
Magister Abraham scratched his chin under his long beard, his eyes on Mortirmir. ‘Why do you think such an odd and heretical thing?’ he asked. He was trying – and failing – to hide that he was pleased.
Sister Anna winced at his pronunciation of High Archaic, which was the Alban and not the local Morean.
Magister Abraham had the odd habit of tapping his teeth with his fingers, and he did so. When he had ink in his fingers, he sometimes stained his teeth.
He nodded. ‘Yes. The Fell Sword. A weapon that will perform the same way in the real and in the aethereal implies that it can be forged inside the memory palace and then used – anywhere.’ He allowed himself a slight smile. ‘What would be the – result? – of such a use inside the memory palace?’
He paused for a heartbeat, and fifteen students paled to think of the literal destruction of the carefuly tended memories and workings.
‘But you wouldn’t know, would you, Mortirmir?’ Magister Abraham asked. It was a rhetorical question. Now it was the magister’s turn to shrug.
‘Scamper off, little ones. Alchemy is waiting for you. Mortirmir, stay.’
The other students hurried out, many with heads bent to avoid catching the master’s eye. He sometimes issued work at the end – massive lightning strikes of work, carefully or carelessly applied.
Mortirmir sat and fiddled with his paternoster until the last student left, and then rose as gracefully as his fast-growing body could manage and went to face the master.
The older man frowned. ‘You have a brilliant mind,’ he said. ‘And you work harder than most of these louts.’ He shrugged, and handed Mortirmir a rolled scroll. ‘I’m sorry, young man. Sorry to twit you on your failings, and sorry to have to give you this.’
Mortirmir didn’t even need to open it. ‘Summons? From the Patriarch?’ The magister nodded, and left the classroom. As he opened the door, Morirmir heard Baldesce’s voice, and Zervas – another Morean student – say something – and they all laughed.
He had no way to know if they were talking about him, but he hated them all in that moment.
The summons in his hand meant that he would be tested one more time for powers, and if he could muster none, he’d be sent forth. He’d worked his whole life to come here.
And now, he’d failed.
Sometimes it can be very difficult to be a child prodigy.
Morgan Mortirmir was sixteen and growing so fast that none of his clothes fit properly. His face was so young that despite his size, he could, at times, easily pass for twelve. He was tall and thin, but not in the way that might have given him authority or dignity. He was gawky and, even worse, covered in adolescent acne that burst constantly into white-headed pustules all over his face, so that the Morean sisters in his Practical Philosophy class called him ‘the Plague’.
And Morgan knew he was the Plague. He was too young to be at the school and worst of all – and for all his phenomenal intelligence – he lacked any ability to manipulate the world directly through phantasmia or even through alchemy. He had all the potential in the world.
He just couldn’t get a grip on the raw stuff of power.
He couldn’t make potentia into ops. But he was intelligent enough to know when he was not wanted. And no one in the great school of Higher Philosophy and Metaphysics wanted any part of him except as a scapegoat. They didn’t want him to quote the authorities he’d memorised, or to explain to them the fine points of how the aethereal worked in terms of mathmaticka. They wanted him to wield power, or leave.
He sat in a small tavern in the greatest city in the civilised world and stared into a cup of wine.
After a while, he stared into another. And then a third.
All day, every day, his magisters had thrust him into situations meant to unlock his powers. His ability to detect a casting – even the faintest emanations from Cravenfish, for example – earned him praise from the magisters. Every one of them agreed that he ought to have talent. His score on potentia was – phenomenal.
But they’d ceased to say it so loudly or so often. And today the Patriarch, who had to review each candidate for admission, and pass him as theologically reliable before granting a degree, had sent for him.
Mortirmir bit his lip to keep from crying, but it didn’t work and he wept. It was bitter, stupid self-pity, and he hated the sheer childishness of it even as he wept harder. The Patriarch would send him home.
Home wasn’t even so bad. It simply represented the loss of everything he’d ever wanted. He wanted Liviapolis – magnificent women clad in glittering artifice talking about philosophy with men who wrote books rather than swung swords. Here, not barbaric Harndon, was where he belonged.
Or maybe not.
They didn’t even send a girl to his table to pour his wine. He got a stale-faced old criminal with a leer. He waved for another.
‘Pay first,’ the man said, accenting his Archaic for the meanest understanding.
Mortirmir wore an Alban jupon, boots, and a sword. Hence he was a barbarian and had to be treated like a fool.
He looked down into the cup of dark red wine. Better wine, in fact, than he would ever have at home – a wine to which the wines of Alba were mere shadows of the true form.
He cursed. He had all the theories down pat. He just couldn’t do the deed.
He’d had it as a child, or so they said – and the medical magister, who took the most interest in him, had said with terrible finality that the plague sometimes caused lesions on the brain that killed the ability to channel power.
He ordered a fourth cup of good wine and decided – again – to kill himself. It was a mortal sin and his soul would burn in hell for eternity. He thought that was fitting, because by doing so he’d hurt God. God who desired that sinners repent and come to him. Take that, you fuck!
It was a tribute to the duality of human nature as his philosophical masters taught it that on his fifth cup of wine he could see the terrible, stupid flaws in his own theology.
And then, of course, there won’t be any more wine.
At which point the evening took a turn that surprised him.
A lovely young woman – older than him and more worldly, but well dressed and obviously prosperous, paused in front of his booth. She looked around nervously, then with more annoyance.
Drink bolstered him. He rose and bowed – feeling more graceful than usual. ‘My lady? May I be of assistance?’ he asked in his best High Archaic – which seemed even more fluid than usual. His greatest accomplishment at home in Harndon had been his ability to read and write the true High Archaic, and here even the criminals spoke it. In the Morea, it was their native tongue.
She turned, and her smile beamed like the light from a bullseye lantern. ‘Ah, sir, my pardon.’ She blushed. ‘I am not used to speaking to a man in public,’ she said, and her fan came up and covered her face, but not fast enough to cover the cavalry charge of colour that swept over her neck and—
He looked around. It was hours since he had walked in – he’d ignored the summons to evening prayer, and so had some of the other patrons, but his stomach suddenly suggested that he needed to temper his new-found hobby of drunkenness with some food. Even if he planned to jump off a bridge later. Falling on his sword was out – it was too long.
He found himself sitting again, rather like a dream. In some corner of his head, a voice said I guess I’m pretty drunk. He had, in fact, been drunk before – twice. But not like this.
‘You could sit with me?’ he said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
She peeped, with just her eyes, from behind her fan. ‘Really, I couldn’t,’ she said. ‘I’m waiting for my father – who is late – by the Virgin Parthenos, there is no place here for a lady to sit.’
He thought she was perhaps nineteen, but his experience of ladies – most especially – of Morean ladies – was extremely limited. There were the nuns in his philosophical classes, but all of them wore full veils, and he knew nothing about them beyond their voices and the speed with which he annoyed them.
He couldn’t tell whether she was beautiful or plain or ugly as wretched sin, but he already enjoyed her blush and her courtesy. ‘Please – sit with me, and I will not trouble you,’ he said. He stood up – wondering when he’d so rudely sat down. ‘Sit here, and I will wander the room until your father comes—’
He suited action to word, and her fan shot out and pressed him back into his seat. ‘You will do nothing so foolish, although your offer is gracious for a barbarian,’ she said. She pushed him lightly and he was sitting again, and she was sitting, too.
It was like leafing through an illustrated Bible. He had to guess at the parts that were missing – when had she sat down? Had she been graceful?
‘How do you come to be in our fair city?’ she asked.
Mortirmir sighed. ‘My mother sent me to University,’ he said, with a little too much self-importance, he could tell.
‘You must be very intelligent!’ she said.
He smiled bitterly. ‘Very intelligent,’ he muttered.
The taverner was suddenly there – the old bastard was nearly spherical, with no hair on his head and he was pouring something from a pitcher, and the girl giggled and thanked him and the room spun a bit. ‘I am,’ he agreed. ‘I’m so smart that . . .’ He searched for something to say.
You are so smart that you answer every single question in any class even when you know it annoys your peers, so smart you don’t understand humour, so smart that you can’t talk to a girl, so smart you can’t work the simplest phantasm.
She flicked her fan. ‘Where is my father?’ she asked rhetorically. The sober, analytical part of his mind noted that she didn’t look around when she said it. He theorised that she was used to being waited on, and probably couldn’t take care of herself. She smiled. ‘Are you from a good family? And what is a good family, among barbarians?’
She was funny. He laughed. ‘My father is a lord,’ he said. ‘Well – he was. Then he died. It is complicated.’
She sighed. ‘What’s complicated? I’m not in a hurry, especially not if you continue to serve me Candian wine and malmsey.’ The fan flickered. It seemed to flick at a different rhythm, so that, although she ended hidden, he saw the whole of her face for a moment. He was thrilled.
I’m talking to a Morean noblewoman! he thought.
He tried to shrug off his excitement because he was determined on self-destruction. But few things interested him more than talking about himself, and wine did not inhibit him in any way. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’m bastard born, but my father had no other children, so even though he never married my mother I’m probably his heir.’ He sat back. ‘He wasn’t a great noble, but there’s a castle and a town house in Harndon. My mother lives in the town house.’ He shrugged.
The girl laughed. ‘It sounds just like our court. You are not in the Church, I guess?’
He spread his hands. ‘No – I’m a private scholar.’ He said it with too much pride. He saw that she was amused and he resented her superiority and his own inability to make conversation without arrogance.
‘And you are rich?’ she asked. She poured more wine into his cup.
‘Oh, no,’ he said.
‘In that case, she’ll have nothing more to do with you,’ said a deep, scratchy voice. The Morean noblewoman turned, and Morgan raised his head – surprised at the effort – to confront the palest blue eyes he’d ever seen, in a moon-shaped face as big as a soldier’s breastplate. ‘Eh, Anna?’
She whirled and spat, fan flying. ‘Go away! You son of a mongrel dog and plague-stricken streetwalker, go swim in a sewer!’
Mortirmir rose unsteadily. ‘Is this man—’
The giant beamed. ‘Oh, Anna, only a crack as well travelled as your own is big enough for my member—’
Her fan slammed into his temple with the sound of lightning flashing close by. The giant didn’t even flinch.
‘—troubling you?’ Mortirmir managed, unreasonably proud to have dragged the routine phrase out of his pickled noggin. He reached for his sword.
He wore a sword. He was much mocked for it at the University, because student philosophers didn’t need swords, and by wearing one he made himself seem even more barbaric. But his failure to perform the least spell, the slightest phantasm, combined with a strong sense of adolescent stubborn- ness and some pride in his training at the art of arms left him with the most important sign of his noble status – in Alba – strapped to his side despite many warnings, some threats, and a great deal of ridicule.
He drew it.
The giant stepped away from the Morean lady and examined him with the kind of rigour usually given by the magisters to a corpse they were dissecting, when the religious authorities allowed such a thing.
‘You seem to know how to draw that,’ said the giant. Mortirmir shrugged. ‘Leave the lady alone,’ he said.
The taverna had fallen silent. Every eye was on him, and he felt a fool – the more so as the giant was a head taller than he and would probably have his guts for garters, and he knew – with bitter remonstrance – that he was too stubborn to back down now.
‘Whore,’ said the giant. He shrugged. ‘If you want to fight me – I like a fight. Outside, though. Inside, we’ll be arrested.’
Mortirmir had never been called a whore before, but he knew it meant a fight. He wasn’t walking too well, but the jolt of pure spirit that came to him as he rounded the table steadied him. With his left hand he reached ino his purse and scattered coins on the table – any gentleman would do as much.
That jolt of the spirit – was it fear? It was like the levin-power that the natural philosophy magisters produced out of the metal globes, and his fingers tingled.
The giant backed steadily away from him. ‘Put the sword away, and we’ll have a proper fight,’ he said. ‘If you insist on using it I’ll probably kill you. She’s a whore, younker. Wake up.’
Mortirmir had the sense, just, to slide the sword back into the scabbard, and he did it without much fumbling. He felt as if the giant nodded at him in approval. He looked back and saw that the Morean lady was scooping his coins off the table.
He took his time out in the yard, unbuckling his sword belt. The giant was huge. He sounded like a Nordikan, the foreigners that the Emperor kept for his bodyguard.
Dozens of men poured out of the taverna’s open doors into the hot summer night, and a few women with them. The giant pulled his shirt over his head, revealing a body that seemed to be composed of sharply angled slabs of flesh-coloured rock. He had muscles on top of his muscles.
Mortirmir was wearing his best jupon, and he took it off carefully, folded it, and wished he had a friend to hold his purse. He wished, in fact, that he had a friend at all.
‘I just want so say you’re a brave little shit to take me on, and I intend to make you look good before I put you down,’ the giant said. ‘And you need to know that she’s a prostitute, and even now she’s watching your purse like a drunk watches a new vase of wine.’ His Archaic had a strange accent. ‘I like her – she’s my favourite.’ The huge man shrugged. ‘I’d even share her with you if we were sword brothers.’
Mortirmir laughed. It was insane, but he was suddenly released. He was happy. His laugh rang out, and men betting in the doorway listened and bets changed a little – not much, but a little. He wanted death – no suicide required.
‘I’m ready,’ he said.
The big man bowed. ‘Harald Derkensun,’ he said. ‘Of the Guard.’ Mortirmir returned the bow. ‘Morgan Mortirmir,’ he said. ‘Of the Uni-
At that, men in the crowd roared. The Academy was loved and hated in the city – a bastion of brilliance and a nest of heretics, all in one.
Mortirmir was not untrained. He began to move on his toes as his father’s master-at-arms had taught him, and, with nothing to lose, his first attack was all-out. He stepped forward in mock hesitancy and kicked – hard – at his opponent’s knee.
He connected – not with the giant’s knee, but lower, and the giant hopped, off balance, and Morgan moved in, suddenly sober enough to do this, and landed a strong right with a right foot lunge, actually rocking the giant back half a step when he connected with the man’s gut.
Mortirmir felt as if he’d punched a barn. But he changed feet and tried another kick—
And had to pick himself out of the manure heap. He’d missed the move that flung him a body length across the torchlit night, but while he was more odiferous for his fall he was uninjured, and he bounced back at his opponent, who seemed to be made of iron.
‘That’s one fall,’ said the giant. ‘Good kick. Very good, really.’ The huge man grinned. ‘In fact, I think we’re going to have real fun. I thought I’d have to do both sides of this fight, but apparently—’
Mortirmir was thin and stringy, and his only real physical advantage was that his arms and legs were abnormally long. While the giant rattled on, he feinted another cross-body punch and kicked under it – caught the giant’s arm as it shot forward defensively—
It was a near-perfect arm-lock . . . right until he was flying through the air again. This time, his buttocks hit the stable wall before he slid into the manure heap.
The pain was intense, and the laughter of the crowd lit him up like a lantern. He rolled off the manure, and ran at the big man.
Derkensun waited for him with stoic resignation, obviously disappointed with his adolescent rage. But just as he entered the giant’s measure, Mortir- mir swayed his hips, trusting to wine and luck, and then planted his foot and passed under the Nordikan’s fight-ending blow, planted his leg firmly behind the bigger man’s knee, put his head under the man’s arm and threw him to the ground. It took an incredible wrenching of his body to do it – it was like throwing a house.
But Derkensun crashed to earth.
He was only there long enough to shout something, and then he rolled heels over head faster than such a big man had any right to do, and he was on his feet, rubbing his left shoulder. He grinned from ear to ear. ‘Well struck, younker!’ he roared. His left leg shot out and Mortirmir jumped it – more by luck than training.
Mortirmir was breathing like a bull. The giant was smiling.
‘I guess that’s not going to work again,’ muttered Mortirmir. The giant shook his head.
Mortirmir grinned. The sense of release was wonderful – the physical exhilaration was a novelty. And the lightness of heart couldn’t all be wine.
He stepped forward intending to feint a head punch, but he never got there. As soon as his weight shifted he was on the ground, gasping, and his back hurt.
The pain flowed into something in his head, and he rolled to his feet and grappled, perhaps the stupidest thing he could have done. The man was so large that he simply bent Mortirmir’s hands back until he freed them of their lock, and then crossed his hands involuntarily. The ease of the giant’s victory angered Mortirmir further, and he changed his stance and put his knee – quite viciously – into the other man’s balls.
The Nordikan stumbled back, and Mortirmir kicked him hard in the middle of the gut – the man folded at the waist, and Mortirmir’s right hand shot out—
The giant took it in one great paw, rolled to his left and threw the student like a trebuchet throws a stone.
Mortirmir hit the inn wall. He had time to think that he was surprised at the colour of the whole thing, and had to tell the magisters, and then . . .
‘Damn Christ, you hurt me!’ said a scratchy deep voice by his ear. ‘But I never meant to hurt you so badly.’ He felt something cold touch his head, and it hurt. But everything hurt.
‘You are a very great fool,’ purred a woman’s voice.
‘You’re a big help,’ said the scratchy voice.
‘We could at least split his money. It is many months since you have been paid.’
‘That would be dishonourable, and I would never do such a thing. Besides, when he recovers, we will be great friends. The witch woman has told me this.’ The scratchy voice chuckled. ‘If I didn’t kill him. She said I might kill him. I tried to be careful, and then he hurt me and I lost it, as usual.’
Mortirmir tested his body, as if he was an experiment in school. His left leg moved, his left knee was full of pain, his right leg moved, his left arm moved, his left hand moved – his right hand and arm hurt like—
‘Holy Saint Eustachios and all the venerated saints and martyrs!’ he ripped off. He sat up a little, and found that he was lying on a bed – quite a high bed.
‘Holy mother of God he’s awake!’ the woman gave a scream and leaped from the floor, where she’d been lying naked. She had long legs and a muscular midsection and he had the impression of fine breasts high above a slightly bony ribcage and wonderful hips. The sight of her body rose above the pain of his broken hand and arm.
The giant leaned over the bed. ‘You are alive! By the gods!’
Mortirmir had a pain in his head like a spike in his temple. He put his left hand to his forehead, and the whole right front of his head was spongy.
‘Oh, my God, you’ve broken my skull.’
‘Oh, I’ve had worse fighting with my brothers,’ said the big man. ‘There is a lot of blood,’ he admitted.
Mortirmir forced his head back onto the pillow and the pain abated by the breadth of a hair. ‘How long was I out?’ he asked, trying to remember anything the medical magister had told him about head wounds.
‘Almost a day – Anna? How long was he out?’ cried the giant.
The woman spat something that sounded unkind. She appeared, pulling a gown over her head. Before her hair emerged, she spat, ‘I suppose you don’t care that I haven’t eaten in two days, you Christ-cursed barbarian! And now I must be seen naked by another barbarian. And I’m sure you can’t even pay me – Holy Mother, I open and shut for you for nothing and why? I have no idea, when you repel me so much! The ugliest man I’ve ever seen and I the very pearl of this city – the finest Hetaera – it’s like a fine mare lying with a boar. Oh – I hate myself! Why do I do this? Perhaps it is punishment for my many sins – God curses me to rut with the very lowest form of life in the gutters. Perhaps next it will be a leper.’ Derkensun watched her with a small smile on his broad face. ‘Are you finished?’ he asked. ‘I hate to interrupt.’
She slapped him as hard as she was able, cocking back her arm and her hand moving like the arm on a catapult. The slap echoed around the room and she clutched her hand as if the giant had struck it, when all he’d done was to stand perfectly still, a slight smile still curled comfortably in the corner of his mouth. He leaned forward very gradually, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her. ‘But,’ he said slowly, ‘I love you.’
‘I will never come here again,’ she said. Derkensun laughed aloud. ‘If you insist,’ he said.
‘I hate you!’ she shrieked.
‘Of course,’ said the Nordikan.
When she was gone, the giant watched the door for a long moment, and then came back to his patient. ‘Wine?’ he asked.
‘Never again,’ Mortirmir said. There was something odd about his right hand. Flames seemed to lick at it. When he looked, there was nothing there but the warm sun coming in the room’s single open window – it was still hot as hell – and falling on his hand and arm. But it felt pleasant, and it was a long chalk better than the pain. Mortirmir lay back.
His assailant came and brought him some nice water – bubbly from some underground spring. ‘This will make you better. The witch woman says so. Listen – I have to go on guard. I’m on the gate of Ares today. I will be all week. I’ll be back.’
Morgan nodded. ‘I thought you Nordikans guarded the Emperor?’ he asked.
Derkensun shrugged. ‘Something must be up, for me to be on a gate. Now sleep.’
Mortirmir had the strangest sensation in his hands and his head – like flying, like finding he could read a new language. It was all—
He shrugged it off, waved at the Nordikan, and fell back into sleep.