Category Archives: Excerpt

Book Excerpt: BURY THE LIVING

Bury the Living by Jodi McIsaac

“Can I help you?”

“Do you work here?”

“I’m one of the volunteers, yes. My name’s Suzanne. How can I help you?”

Nora thrust the picture of Thomas into her hands. It was time for complete honesty, come what may. “Right, Suzanne, I know this is going to sound crazy. I’m not off my head, I swear it. But I’ve had several dreams about this man. He told me to come to Kildare so I could talk to a woman called Brigid. And then I found this photo of him. See, it says here he died in 1923. And I keep seeing visions of the past, knowing things I shouldn’t know. So I’ve come here, just like he asked.” She stopped, unable to believe she’d confessed all of that out loud to a complete stranger.

The woman glanced at the photo for a moment, then handed it back. “Are you looking for prayer?”

“No! I’m trying to find out how a man who’s been dead for almost a century is getting into my head.”

It was clear from Suzanne’s expression that she thought Nora was mentally unstable. “Have you checked at the heritage center? They might be able to—”

“Yes, and they sent me here. I’m not making this up! Someone must know—”

“Is there a problem?” Another woman emerged from a door at the side of the church. She was short and on the plump side, with closely cropped coarse brown hair and an uneven fringe. She wore a long green shawl with a gold brooch.

“May I?” Suzanne said, taking the photo from Nora. She passed it to her colleague. “She’s trying to find out about this man. He’s called Thomas Heaney. Do you recognize him, Mary?”

Mary’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. “Yes, I do,” she said slowly, her eyes drinking in the photograph. Finally, she stared up at Nora. “You’re the one looking for him?” Her voice held a hint of incredulity.

“Aye,” Nora said warily. Was this woman having her on? Or was she really about to find some answers?

Mary pressed her hand over her heart. “It’s a fine day. Why don’t we take a walk outside? Thank you, Suzanne, I’ll help this young lady from here.”

Nora followed Mary past another stone coffin and a display of Kildare in the fifth century, back into the churchyard.

“Well,” Mary began once they were well away from the front door. “I’m not exactly sure how to proceed, but I’ll do my best. You see, we’ve been waiting for you.”

“You’ve been waiting for me?” Nora repeated, dumbfounded. “Why?”

“Are you a religious person, Nora?”

“Yes, o’course.” They were behind the cathedral now, wandering among the tombstones. The round tower loomed overhead.

“That’s good to hear. So many young people have left the church these days. If they only knew how it sustained us in days gone by. But I digress. I belong to an order called the Brigidine Sisters.”

“A Catholic order? But isn’t the cathedral Church of Ireland?”
“It is now, but that hasn’t always been the case. The church you see now was built in the thirteenth century, but it rests on the site of the church Saint Brigid herself had built in the fifth century. Before that, it was a site of worship to the pagan goddess Brigid. So I count it a privilege to volunteer at the cathedral as part of my devotion to the saint.”

“Makes sense.” They had walked to the base of the round tower, which was surrounded by gravestones.

“But it may surprise you that a few months ago, several of us experienced the same vision while praying at Saint Brigid’s Well. Have you been there?” Nora shook her head. “It’s down on Tully Road. It was here that Brigid herself appeared to us. She told us a young woman would come looking for a man with gray hair called Thomas Heaney. And that she wished to bestow upon this young woman a very special gift.” Mary’s face shone with excitement as she leaned toward Nora.

Nora stopped walking. “Are you saying Saint Brigid appeared to you and told you I would be coming? I didn’t even know I would be coming until this morning.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. And it wasn’t just me. My Sisters all had the same vision. Many of us work or volunteer in some capacity at the cathedral. She must have wanted to ensure one of us was there to greet you when you finally came looking. I’m just so glad I overheard your conversation with Suzanne. She’s not a Brigidine Sister, you see.”

Nora chewed the inside of her lip. She was Catholic, sure, but the idea of saints actually appearing to people wasn’t something she’d considered before. It had certainly never happened to anyone she knew. The logical side of her rebelled. “And you all had the same vision?”

“I know how it sounds,” Mary said. “But you yourself said you’ve seen visions of the past, have you not? And dreamed of a man who is long dead?”

“Yes, but . . .”

“It’s hard to fathom, I won’t deny it. If Brigid hadn’t told me herself, if I hadn’t seen her with my own eyes, I’d not believe it.”

“Right, so, you said she wanted to give me a gift. What is it? And who’s this Thomas Heaney? You’ll forgive me for not understanding what this is all about.”

“Think with your heart, not with your head,” Mary said. “When you had this dream of Thomas, how did you feel?”

Longing. But she couldn’t say that out loud. She hardly wanted to admit it to herself. “Like I wanted to help him. More than anything. He begged me.”

“And these visions? Do you believe they were real?”

What if she did? Would it mean she was going mad? “I don’t know. They felt real.”

“Then they were. It doesn’t matter if it was just inside your head, or if you were seeing something that was really there. What matters is that Brigid was trying to speak with you.”

“Yes, but why?”

“I don’t know why she chose you. Or how exactly you’re supposed to help this young man. Or why she even wants you to help him. But she has made it possible.”

“How? He’s been dead for eighty years.”

“For this, we must go back to the church.”

Nora bit her tongue and followed Mary into the cathedral. Suzanne popped her head around the corner as they entered. “Everything all right?” she asked.

“Grand, thank you,” Mary answered. “We’re just going to have a peek at the records downstairs.” She led Nora down a narrow stone staircase into the basement of the church. They passed walls lined with bookshelves and stacks of boxes labeled in minute handwriting. Then they entered another small room, which was empty save for a dark fireplace set into the wall. Mary turned so quickly Nora almost ran into her. “You must swear to never reveal this to anyone.”

“Reveal what?” Nora was beginning to think this was some elaborate hoax . . . or a cult. She eyed the door nervously.

“What I’m about to show you is one of the greatest kept secrets of the church. Brigid, in her wisdom, has chosen to share it with you. You’ll be the first outside our society to have this knowledge.”

Nora narrowed her eyes. “What kind of society is this?”

Mary gave an apologetic shrug. “The complicated kind. To the outside world, we are the Brigidine Sisters, an order committed to service and harmony in the spirit of Saint Brigid. We were nearly destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. We survived, underground, until we revealed ourselves in the eighteen hundreds. All of that is true, but we’ve also kept this sacred knowledge secret and protected for centuries. And if you do not do the same . . .” She let her threat hang in the empty air, but Nora was not so easily cowed.

“Right, I’m beginning to think this is all a joke. Someone’s acting the maggot with me, so they are. Forget it.” She turned to leave.

“Wait!” Mary called. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . It’s precious to us. We’ve guarded it for so many years.”

“What it is, then?”

Mary counted the stones around the fireplace. Then she pressed hard against one with the heel of her hand. On the other side, a stone popped out about an inch. Mary pulled at it until it loosened, then reached inside the hole. When she withdrew her hand, it held a small red box with gilt edging. Nora stepped closer. “What is it?” she asked.

“’Tis the only true relic of our precious Saint Brigid,” Mary said, holding the box as though it might trickle through her fingers if she looked away for a moment. “A church in Portugal claims to have the blessed saint’s skull, and they’ve sent fragments to Killester and Kilcurry, but we Sisters know that this is the only true relic.”

“Why don’t you display it? Why keep it secret?”

“Because it has power,” Mary said, still speaking in a hushed, reverent tone. She gently opened the decorated lid and handed it to Nora. “Do not touch it. Not yet.”

Nora looked into the box. It was, as she had expected, a bone. Only an inch long, it was polished white and smooth, nestled on a ruby-red cushion.

“It was from her finger,” Mary explained.

“Is this the gift? What am I supposed to do with it?” Nora asked, closing the lid.

“No, my child, that is not the gift. But the power of Brigid’s relic will bestow on you the gift she wishes you to have: the ability to travel through time.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Excerpted from BURY THE LIVING © Copyright 2016 by Jodi McIsaac. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

About the book:
“McIsaac puts plenty of history and a little fantasy and romance into this entertaining time travel tale. McIsaac has an undeniable talent for immersing the reader in the plight of the Irish in the 1920s, at the height of the Irish Civil War. Comparisons to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series are inevitable.” —Publishers Weekly

Rebellion has always been in the O’Reilly family’s blood. So when faced with the tragic death of her brother during Northern Ireland’s infamous Troubles, a teenage Nora joined the IRA to fight for her country’s freedom. Now, more than a decade later, Nora is haunted by both her past and vivid dreams of a man she has never met.

When she is given a relic belonging to Brigid of Kildare, patron saint of Ireland, the mystical artifact transports her back eighty years—to the height of Ireland’s brutal civil war. There she meets the alluring stranger from her dreams, who has his own secrets—and agenda. Taken out of her own time, Nora has the chance to alter the fortunes of Ireland and maybe even save the ones she loves. In this captivating and adventurous novel from Jodi McIsaac, history belongs to those with the courage to change it.

About the Author:
Jodi McIsaac is the author of several novels, including A Cure for Madness and the Thin Veil Series. She grew up in New Brunswick, on Canada’s east coast. After abandoning her Olympic speed skating dream, she wrote speeches for a politician, volunteered in a refugee camp, waited tables in Belfast, earned a couple of university degrees, and started a boutique copywriting agency. She loves running, geek culture, and whiskey.

Links:
Website: http://www.jodimcisaac.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jodimcisaac
Twitter: @jodimcisaac

Arabella of Mars: Q&A, Excerpt, and Giveaway!

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Q&A with David D. Levine

How do you make world-building choices when writing alternate history?

All of the pieces have to make sense together. Given the alternate-history premise, how would economics, politics, and warfare change? How about fashion and sports? How would these changes affect each other? I try to think through the implications of the initial change, and every change that results from it, until I come up with a fully-realized world where the reader can say “ah, of course that would follow.” I also pull in a lot of unexpected details from real history, which is weirder and more surprising than anything I could make up.

What inspired you to write Arabella of Mars?

Like many great successes in life, this one came from failure. I was shopping my first and second SF novels and working on a third, but editors and agents kept telling me categorically that “SF doesn’t sell.” I didn’t really believe it, but if the editors and agents did that was a sufficient obstacle. So I looked through my ideas file for something that was sufficiently SF for my own self-respect (and to hold my interest through the two years it takes me to write a novel) but close enough to Fantasy to match the market’s tastes. The idea I settled on was this: “What if the sky were full of air?” The answer, eventually, was Arabella of Mars.

What is your favorite quote from the book?

Wow, that’s a toughie. But I’m quite fond of this paragraph from the prologue:
Some day, Arabella thought, perhaps she might take passage on such a ship. To sail the air, and see the asteroids, and visit the swamps of Venus would be a grand adventure indeed. But to be sure, no matter how far she traveled she would always return to her beloved Woodthrush Woods.


EXCERPT:

ARABELLA OF MARS Continue reading Arabella of Mars: Q&A, Excerpt, and Giveaway!

Blog Tour: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator Excerpt and Giveaway!

Claudia ChristianMorgan Grant Buchanan

About the Book:
When her mother and brother are murdered, young noblewoman Accala Viridius cries out for vengeance. But the empire is being torn apart by a galactic civil war, and her demands fall on deaf ears. Undeterred, Accala sacrifices privilege and status to train as a common gladiator. Mastering the one weapon available to her—a razor-sharp discus that always returns when thrown–she enters the deadly imperial games, the only arena where she can face her enemies.

But Fortune’s wheel grants Accala no favors—the emperor decrees that the games will be used to settle the civil war, the indigenous lifeforms of the arena-world are staging a violent revolt, and Accala finds herself drugged, cast into slavery and forced to fight on the side of the men she set out to kill.

Set in a future Rome that never fell, but instead expanded to become a galaxy-spanning empire, Accala’s struggle to survive and exact her revenge will take her on a dark journey that will cost her more than she ever imagined. Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan is now available from Tor Books.

EXCERPT of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator, Chapter 2:

II

Out onto the balcony, past my clusters of miniature fruit trees, I stepped right up to the railing and in between two parallel bars. The bars ran back toward my apartment for a length of four feet before curving down to terminate in the balcony floor. The hot summer wind buffeted me as I gripped the bars on either side, thumbing the small built-in disc controls. At once my aer chariot broke away from the structure of the balcony and glided out over the Wolf’s Den, House Viridian’s family compound on the Aventine.

The Den was home. I was born and raised there, schooled in Viridian history, fed lists of Viridian virtues, surrounded by Viridian cousins so that when I reached eleven years of age and entered junior school with the children of the other noble houses, there should be no doubt in my mind that the greatest gift Fortune could bestow upon a newborn was that it should come into the world from the womb of a woman who had married into House Viridian.

We had been taught that Viridians traced their genetic origins to the sons and daughters of Remus and Numa— honest and hardworking, rising from simple stock to achieve a nobility based on honor and tradition, renowned for our skills in strategy and our logistics expertise. As such, we had always occupied the Aventine. Our allies, House Calpurnian and House Flavian, held the Esquiline and Caelian Hills. The Calpurnians were skilled agriculturists with a long history of seeding barren planets with carpets of oxygen- rich greenery, while the Flavians were experts in the design of faster- than- light engine technology and communication platforms, connecting the citizens of the empire as she continued her eternal expansion. Together, we three houses were formally known as the Caninine Alliance.

Steering the chariot away from the plaza and parade ground (no point announcing my presence to the guards and soldiers), I shot low over the roofs of the stacked, terraced buildings that housed my extended family. Great flags bearing the emblem of the golden wolf flapped in the morning breeze atop the barracks hall. The compound’s armored walls, decorated in faded gold and malachite green, wore cracks like old cowhide. Its ancient structures might be worn and crumbling, but the Den, like the hill fortresses of the neighboring houses, was considered a sacred beacon— a center from which a house’s power radiated outward, managing its galactic province, territories, legions, assets, and possessions. Tradition dictated that each of the eight houses should possess one of the seven sacred hills upon which Rome was founded. The obvious problem of sharing seven hills among eight houses was pragmatically and symbolically solved by the emperor and his family— encompassing the other hills by classifying their “hill” as Mother Earth herself. The emperor’s house, the current being House Numerian, took on the honorific Sons of Romulus, the hero who founded Rome city after slaying his brother Remus in a fight over whose village had bigger walls.

Activating the homemade frequency decoder on my armilla, I dropped below the sensors of the western guard tower and slipped over the boundary wall. The decoder flashed to indicate that it had completed its job a split second before I passed right through the yellow- tinged security dome, thankfully without suffering disintegration.

I shot past the small balconies of administrators and military officers who lived in the crowded apartment blocks below the fortress, opened up the throttle, and pulled clear of the Aventine, the wind whipping my robes about as I met with the aerway and vanished into the rush of morning traffic, dodging in and out of flying chariots, palanquins, and transport convoys.

Eternal Rome spread out before me, gleaming in the light of the morning sun. Perpetually pristine— white marble temples, majestic porphyry towers, and haughty civic buildings of shining granite, architecture infused with vertical light- filled channels that lent the city a celestial glow. She was breathtaking. The noise and bustle of the traffic dropped away when you beheld her magnificence. The capital of Mother Earth, which was in turn capital of the imperial province of Terra Firma. Jewel of the provinces, the wellspring of civilization, the axial city upon which the entire galaxy turned. Honor, justice, loyalty, imperium, the Pax Romana, the Senate and the people, the Twelve Tables of Roman Law— these were the virtues and institutions that made Rome great. That was the way we were taught to think of the city, the way her solemn beauty reflected those ideals, but the last two years had taught me to look past the surface of things. I’d learned that the real Rome, devoid of honor and justice, lay behind the scenes, where old wounds festered. Three hundred families governed the empire. Forty- nine families led by consuls ruled over the three hundred. Seven families led by proconsuls ruled over the forty- nine, and one emperor and his family ruled over all. Like unruly children in the class of a strict tutor, the representatives of the great houses of the city feigned amity and cooperation as they carried out the dirty business of running the empire. Feuds between families, some millennia old, played out in assassinations, espionage, and double-dealing, but none of it was ever publicly acknowledged; it all stayed hidden beneath the façade of civilization. On the surface everything was peacefully perfect. You’d never have known that a civil war was raging, threatening to tear the empire apart.


The civil war started the moment House Sertorian launched their unprovoked attack on Olympus Decimus, but a potential conflict had been brewing for a long time before that. Two decades earlier the Sertorians began making a long play to take a step up in society and become one of the eight great ruling houses. They even bought up property in the Carinae, the fashionable district at the base of the Esquiline, to be near one of the sacred hills, but internal power disputes and factional fighting prevented them from rising very far; tolerance and cooperation were not natural Sertorian traits. Then the charismatic Aquilinus Sertorius Macula came to power. Aquilinus not only united his house, he gave them the essential ingredients they had lacked in their quest for upward mobility: roots and a connection to the ancient past.

He reminded his people that, as the Viridians looked to Remus and Numa, House Sertorian could trace their genetic lineage to the ancient emperor Caligula. Although it was commonly understood that Caligula was completely insane, as well as demonically creative when it came to indulging his sadism, the Sertorians weren’t dissuaded in the slightest from adopting him as their ancestor and guiding influence. Aquilinus argued that what others called madness and cruel excess in ancient emperors could not be seen as sinful or blameworthy. He didn’t believe in the gods but he was of the opinion that emperors were a close equivalent, the highest point of human achievement. So a superior man’s passions could not be understood or contextualized by mere mortals. He argued that Caligula’s excesses should be embraced as an essential component of Roman character and emulated by those of the Sertorian nobility. To concretize this, Aquilinus developed a manifesto of genetic superiority, a path that he promised would lead to a Sertorian- led empire, a shared vision all Sertorians found very appealing. His manifesto united the factions of his house like nothing before, and within a few years they were powerful, influential, and wealthy beyond belief, exploring every avenue for profit in the most ruthless and backhanded ways. They were just waiting for their chance to swoop on a weakness, and ironically it was my own house, which sought to deter them more than any other, that gave them the means to elevation.

It came about when the old emperor Julius Heliogabalus Caesar died, his mind and body crippled by millennia of inbreeding that even radical gene therapy couldn’t correct. Heliogabalus’ madness reached its zenith with the decision to memorialize himself and each prior Julian emperor going back to Julius Caesar by sculpting the planets of a distant solar system into a series of monumental busts— which turned out to be not so easy, as some of them were gas giants—leaving the imperial treasury’s coffers nearly drained. My uncle, the Viridian proconsul Quintus Viridius Severus, led a contingent of houses seeking to reestablish a republic in which the elected representatives of the Senate ruled the empire in place of a single dictator. Unfortunately, House Numerian, famous for its powerful warriors and land barons, chose to reestablish the existing model, and our house was left in the lurch, having backed the wrong horse.

The Sertorian leader went out of his way to make a strong impression on the new emperor, promoting his house’s mastery of finance and commerce, and donating vast sums of money to fill the empire’s coffers. The result was their elevation to the Council of Great Houses, commonly known as the Eight, and possession of the Palatine Hill, right opposite us, on the other side of the Circus Maximus, a position of honor, traditionally owned by the wealthiest house after the emperor’s. Aquilinus became a proconsul and was granted a province that they named Aeria Sertorius. He wasted no time introducing corruption into areas of commerce no one had previously thought to exploit and using the proceeds to shower the mob with festivals to increase House Sertorian’s popularity.

Soaring high above the River Tiber, I passed the Palladium— the atmosphere-scraping statue of Minerva in full armor with her shield raised, lightning spear ready to cast, the great guardian of the city wreathed and decorated to celebrate her festival.

A niggling voice at the back of my mind told me to stop into the temple at the base of the statue and make a sacrifice. I’d missed my chance back at the apartment when Bulla surprised me. But no, Minerva would have to wait. I simply didn’t have the time. Roman life was set to a strict calendar of festivals. The Festival of Minerva was drawing to a close, and tomorrow the teams for the Festival of Jupiter’s games would depart. My life would be over if I couldn’t get back on the team today. How could I live with myself if I stopped to honor Minerva and in doing so missed a vital window to turn things around?
The aerway I was on ran on a counterclockwise route around the outer edge of the city, a longer route but normally quicker unless it was a busy day, and now that the news of the new rounds at the Colosseum had been released, I could already see the traffic starting to bank up, so I prayed for Minerva’s help and switched up two lanes to Via Cordia, which would take me right into the heart of the old city.
The downside of my new route, though, was that I had to double back a little, passing the eastern side of the Palatine. It took me right past the imposing ruby and onyx compound of House Sertorian. Great black flags whipped about in the wind— the emblem of the crimson hawk at their center, wings and claws outstretched in the moment before it snatched up its prey. The building had a circular base and interlocking layers of smooth, curving arcs that rose up and terminated in sharp points. It was supposed to symbolize the hawk’s talons rising up from a drop of divine blood, but to me it best resembled a bruised and bleeding artichoke.


Shortly after House Sertorian joined the Eight and had a powerful voice in the Senate, they started questioning the precise location of the traditional boundary between their new province and ours which neighbored it, insisting we were in possession of a couple of thousand light- years of space that was rightfully theirs, specifically the ice world Olympus Decimus. The world had only one major asset— its ionosphere was filled with supercharged particles that accelerated the speed of transmission signals passing through it. It was a valuable communication hub, but even so, not important enough to go to war over. Everyone was shocked when Aquilinus sent ships into Viridian space, bombed our settlement on Olympus Decimus, and laid claim to the world for House Sertorian.

Our side protested to the Senate immediately (my uncle Quintus had served in the legions with Aquilinus and hated the man with a passion) and began to mobilize to retaliate, but before a ruling could be made, Aquilinus ordered thirty- six simultaneous bombing strikes on key Viridian outposts spread across the border of the contested space. His ruthlessness impressed houses Tullian and Ovidian, and they allied themselves to the Sertorians. Turning their backs on their gods, sacrificing worship of Mithras and Diana in order to follow Proconsul Aquilinus, they joined what became known as the Talonite Axis, a coalition of self- serving greed and ambition that threatened all the ideals that made Rome great.

Aquilinus had judged his combined fleet powerful enough to eliminate our defenses in a single, coordinated assault, but in typical Sertorian fashion, he overestimated his strength and underestimated ours. Uncle Quintus commanded our legions with those of our three allied houses in a counterattack that repelled the Sertorians and secured most of our territory, though not Olympus Decimus. He showed them that Viridians are tough, resourceful. We fight to the end; we don’t surrender.

By the end of the first year of fighting, we had the Sertorians on the back foot and were close to total victory, but then Proconsul Aquilinus, as if by some minor miracle, managed to convince one of our allies to abandon us and take up with his axis. The defection of House Arrian was a shock no one saw coming. Arms manufacturer and creator of the force field technology vital to the running of the empire, House Arrian was an ally we couldn’t do without. The tide turned, from four houses to three in our favor to four to three against.


About the Authors:
Claudia Christian is an actress, writer, singer, songwriter, director, producer, and voice-over artist. She has starred in studio pictures such as Clean and Sober with Morgan Freeman and Michael Keaton and in TV shows such as sci-fi megahit Babylon 5 and the new Showtime series Look. She lives in Los Angeles.

Morgan Grant Buchanan is an Australian writer of sci-fi and historical fantasy. He writes comics, film, and short stories.


Courtesy of Tor Books, I have a copy of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends July 29. I’ll draw a name on July 30, and notify winner via email.

ENTER DAILY TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING!

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Continue reading Blog Tour: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator Excerpt and Giveaway!

Book Excerpt and Giveaway: Enemy: On The Bones of The Gods

author photo

Excerpt from Enemy: On The Bones of the Gods by K. Eason
Copyright 2016 K. Eason, Published by 47 North, Seattle

Smoke collected on the belly of the storm. It rose up in slim fingers above the tree line, coiled into a fist when it cleared the ridge. Hung there and spread against the underbelly of the clouds like oil across water.

If a man stood just so, facing into the wind, he might imagine that it was the forest burning. Except this was the wrong season for natural fires. Too cold, too wet, snow underfoot and more waiting overhead. It was the wrong smell, too, for burning trees. The wind brought a firepit stink, flesh and charcoal and dung. Village smells, which most days meant sure shelter, with a storm on the way.

Then that man would peer skyward and consider the clouds, and give thanks to his ancestors that the village was so near and that he had a sackful of tradables to buy his welcome. Snowhare skins, soft and white. A fine rack of antlers he’d taken off a bull elk that had broken through the snow-crust upslope a day ago, weak and furious and an easy mark for arrows.

Good fortune, Veiko had thought then. Meat and hide, horn and hooves. Worth the extra day spent above the trees while the storm gathered. Worth the weight on the hike down. A stranger did not walk into an Alvir village unchallenged, from the forest, looking like Veiko did. A stranger came by the road, with goods and hands on clear display, his axe on his hip and bow slung on his back.

Except on that road now, there was a column of soldiers jogging toward the crease in the hills, and the smoke, and the village. Their collective breath streamed out behind them like steam off a boiling pot. The standard-bearer’s flag clung sullenly to its pole, wrapped tight against the gusts. Illhari legion, armed and armored and moving fast.

Now Veiko wondered if he’d caught the elk’s unluck. Failed to appease its spirit. Because that was not village smoke collecting there above the trees. Nor was that the smell of village cookfires.
Charred meat. Charred wood. The smell of raiding.

Had Veiko not found that elk, he might have been in the village when the raiders came, and it might be his meat stinking on the wind. He shivered. Perhaps it was not unluck the elk had given him. Perhaps its spirit had repaid him in kind: saved him from a trap and slow death in return for relief from the same.
Beside him, Helgi heaved a deep-chested whine. Protest. Query. Distress, maybe, at the smoke-reek and the movement on the road. Veiko dropped a quick hand to the dog’s head. Glanced sidelong and found Logi halfway out of his crouch, ears up and curious. Logi knew roads meant villages, people, new things, and warm sleeping.

But not that village, not now. Even if he might find walls still standing, or some shelter, the legion wouldn’t welcome him. Tall, pale foreigner, with village houses burned and people dead, no, they would—what was the Dvergiri word for it?—detain him. And likely shoot his dogs. Maybe throw him in chains after and sell him in the city. He’d heard his elders’ tales about Illhari justice. Best he get as far from the road as he could, as soon as he could. There were other villages. Let the raiders come for him, if they felt brave. Let them try to find him at all.

He took a handful of Logi’s scruff. “No.” He winced. Days since he’d used his voice. “Wait.”
Logi sighed and dropped his chin onto his paws. Helgi chuffed and settled back to his belly. And the three of them waited, part of the snowscape, until the last trooper bobbed out of sight.

Snowdenaelikk had just rolled the last of her jenja, lit it, and blown the first smoke that didn’t stink like destruction, when Briel’s sending came. A cascade of jumbled impressions crowded into her skull. A svartjagr’s vantage, above the tree line and moving fast: dizzy twist of tree and ground, a flash of

two legs
color, the hollow-gut swerve and there, a
clutch

trio of troopers, marching ragged up the path above Davni. One
trailed

wounded/prey
behind the others, who
pecked

kept heads together. Two male, one female. And because Briel remembered her training: an eyeblink’s focus on the weapons. Plain legion blades, still sheathed. Short javelins in a sling on the larger man’s back. Crossbow on the woman’s. The night-and-blood diamond pattern on the tunics. They were from Cardik’s garrison, that was no surprise. But to arrive at this toadshit village already, this fast—Laughing God, that was.

The sending ended, and the blindness came. Price of a svartjagr’s sending, yeah, count it out in heartbeats. No need for panic. Listen to the sizzle where her jenja had landed, smell the sweet and spice. She thought about trying to find it, pat-pat in the snow. Salvage something of it. Swore instead and crouched, her hands flat to the wall of the ruined temple. Cold stone, slick moss, a dead Alvir god’s face roughing her palms. She waited for the sunrise stages of vision, black to grey to, well, more grey, in the shadowless pre-blizzard twilight. This wasn’t so different than the cave-dark of Below, without witchfire.

Overhead, a whisper of wings and tail. A thump as Briel found a perch in what remained of the temple’s rafters. Soot sifted down from the impact, fresh stinging insult to offended eyes.

Snow blinked tears and blur as her vision crept back. “Fuck, Briel. Kill me someday, won’t you, if you send when I need to see.”

Briel hissed. One of her three primary utterances. Big talker, Briel.

Snow squinted up, scanned the rafters. Stone building, this one, the corpse of a temple gutted during the Purge. The walls still stood, moss- grown on the north sides, the tough mountain spine-vines on the rest. Most of the roof had spilled down between them. The thatch had gone first, collapsed and left a rib cage of crossbeams. Briel’s hide matched the wood’s greasy black. Invisible until she dipped her long neck and stared down at Snow. In the twilight, the svartjagr’s eyes glowed like embers. Like the village had when the last of the fires sputtered to ash. She and Drasan had picked through the wreckage, expecting the odd bit of surviving silver and coin. Instead, they’d found all the wealth you’d expect in an Alvir village on a caravan route, wealth no raiders would have left behind.


Courtesy of 47North, I have a copy of Enemy: On The Bones of the Gods by K. Eason for one (1) lucky winner!

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The Queen’s Poisoner Excerpt and Giveaway!

Excerpt of The Queen’s Poisoner: Chapter 17

A sound whispered from the corridor behind him. It was a footfall. Not the sound of a boot in the corridor beyond the wall. The sound of someone approaching within the tunnel. It was coming from behind him.

The queasiness blossomed inside Owen and a cold sweat started on his brow. Going back was no longer an option. The tunnel was narrow and there was no place to hide, so Owen hurried forward, hoping to find an escape into the main palace corridor. It would be infinitely better to be punished for wandering the hall at night than to be caught in the Espion corridor. His little heart started to hammer wildly in his chest and the blackness in front of him became even darker somehow.

He heard the footfalls again, coming closer.

The boy was starting to panic. Ankarette had warned him this could happen. She had told him it was dangerous to wander the tunnels alone and that he needed to be very cautious and always listen for sounds that were out of place. Such as the footfalls behind him.

The narrow pinch of the corridor suddenly filled in ahead of Owen, the walls closing like an arrowhead. It ended abruptly and finally. It was a dead-end.

Excerpted from THE QUEEN’S POISONER © Copyright 2016 by Jeff Wheeler. Reprinted with permission by 47North. All rights reserved.

About the Book:
King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.
Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.

Jeff Wheeler-Photo-KimBillsAbout the Author:
Jeff Wheeler took an early retirement from his career at Intel in 2014 to become a full-time author. He is, most importantly, a husband and father, and a devout member of his church. He is occasionally spotted roaming among the oak trees and granite boulders in the hills of California or in any number of the state’s majestic redwood groves. He is the author of The Covenant of Muirwood Trilogy, The Legends of Muirwood Trilogy, the Whispers from Mirrowen Trilogy, and the Landmoor Series.


Courtesy of 47North, I have a copy of The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends May 20. I’ll draw a name on May 21, and notify winner via email.

ENTER DAILY TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING!

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Book Excerpt and Giveaway: Invision

Excerpt of Invision:

He’d just gotten comfortable again when the door opened to admit a new student. Something that didn’t happen often in their small private, parochial school. And it wasn’t just because St. Richard’s was hard to get into due to its high academic standing. But rather from the fact that the school had been set up as a place for preters to learn how to mingle with humans and not let the stress throw them into their animal states.

While there were a handful of baretos, or “normal” humans who had no idea that they were attending school with shapeshifters, the majority of the student body here was either shapeshifters or the children of Squire families. Squires who had been in service to Dark-Hunter like Kyrian and Acheron for generations.

As such, the Squires usually sent their kids to private school together so that they could be watched by older Squires to ensure that no one messed with them. Especially since their enemies might want to take their kids hostage, or kill them to get back at their parents or the Dark-Hunters in retaliation for the centuries of protecting humans from their supernatural predators.

It also allowed the shapeshifter families a controlled environment for their children so that they could have playtime with humans where if they had an accident and shifted into their animal bodies, the humans wouldn’t flip out and call the authorities. As Squires or their children, they all knew about Were-Hunters, and they could help cover for them with the humans here who didn’t know about them.

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Hexomancy Excerpt and Giveaway!

Hexomancy by Michael R. Underwood
Summary:
Fan-favorite urban fantasista Ree Reyes and her crew of Geekomancers—humans that derive supernatural powers from pop culture—take on their biggest foes yet in this fourth book of the Geekomancy series.

When Ree’s long time nemesis Lucretia is finally brought to trial and found guilty for the deadly attack on Grognard’s, the Geekomancer community breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Ree and her crew soon discover that Lucretia has three very angry, very dangerous sisters who won’t rest until Eastwood—a fellow Geekomancer—is killed.

What follows is an adventure packed with epic battles, a bit of romance, and enough geeky W00t moments to fill your monthly quota of adventure and fun.

Hexomancy Excerpt:
Chapter Two
Time to Face the Chiptune Music

Most months, the Midnight Market hosted a grand auction, where members of the Pearson Underground put up items of magical significance for sale. Bids came in the form of barter, and the process could get as nasty as the hotel queue for San Diego Comic-Con.
But tonight, with the trial supplanting the auction, the crowd was as big as ever. Bigger. Pearson had lost three of its own last month, and while people in the Underground seldom all saw eye to eye, they looked out for one another. Lucretia hadn’t done a great job of making friends along the way, even outside Grognard’s crew.
The steel-eyed and silver-haired Auctioneer stood atop the podium, still wielding her gavel like a badge of office. She’d preside over the trial, since she was as close as Pearson got to an impartial observer.
Eastwood took the lead, with Ree second and Grognard pulling up the rear. They strode down the aisle, making their way to the front table opposite Lucretia.
Ree still wasn’t sure why they couldn’t have just bound

16 Michael R. Underwood

Lucretia into fixing all the damage from Grognard’s and been done with it, but every community had their own method of self-policing.
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