The Mirror Man – Blog Tour, Excerpt, Author Q&A

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Genre: Fiction, Sci-fi, Suspense

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Meet Jeremiah Adams. There are two of him.

The offer is too tempting: be part of a scientific breakthrough, step out of his life for a year, and be paid hugely for it. When ViGen Pharmaceuticals asks Jeremiah to be part of an illegal cloning experiment, he sees it as a break from an existence he feels disconnected from. No one will know he’s been replaced—not the son who ignores him, not his increasingly distant wife—since a revolutionary drug called Meld can transfer his consciousness and memories to his copy.

From a luxurious apartment, he watches the clone navigate his day-to-day life. But soon Jeremiah discovers that examining himself from an outsider’s perspective isn’t what he thought it would be, and he watches in horror as “his” life spirals out of control. ViGen needs the experiment to succeed—they won’t call it off, and are prepared to remove any obstacle. With his family in danger, Jeremiah needs to finally find the courage to face himself head-on. 

  1. What made you write this novel?

I love characters that are almost but not quite human. My favorite Star Trek characters are always ones like Spock, Data, and the Doctor from Voyager. Clones, to me, are about as almost human as you can get. Some of my favorite science fiction stories deal with clones. But there are so many good ones already out there I didn’t feel like I had anything to add, and I never really set out to try.

But I was reading something a few years ago that posed a straightforward and fascinating question: What would it be like to meet your own clone? The article I was reading left it at that, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I knew it might be interesting to write a clone story that focused not on the clone, but on the human, who had been cloned. I thought that presented a whole new set of ideas and issues within the topic. It sort of turns the whole thing around when you look at it from that human perspective. What would it feel like to see yourself replaced in your own life? There is something so creepy and sad about that idea. Also, though, I saw something hopeful. I think it brings up the possibility of making a change in your life or seeing the opportunity for a second chance, which is always a good thing to explore. Those are some ideas I tried to keep in mind as I was writing The Mirror Man.

  1. Medical thrillers are all the rage. Why, do you think?

I think there is something intrinsically threatening about so-called Big Pharma – especially right now. In the midst of a global pandemic, the world is waiting for a viable vaccine to fix it, but there’s this nagging doubt that maybe it’s being rushed. We have government agencies relaxing rules on testing protocol, funding research with budgets the size of planetary systems, and all these drug companies racing to be the one that comes charging in on the white stallion to save the world. But poll after poll in the news says the public won’t feel safe getting vaccinated right off the bat, even if it means getting back to normal. And there are more people in the world today that don’t trust mandated vaccines to begin with – not even for the tried and tested ones for polio or mumps. 

People don’t trust that these huge companies truly have the public’s best interest at heart. I think that really became more evident when pharmaceutical companies began advertising drugs on television and pushing people to “ask your doctor or pharmacist if (insert drug here) is right for you.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to suggest a drug to my doctor as though it were a brand of cookie that looked good on TV. I’d much rather my doctor had a more educated idea on what medicine I ought to be taking. 

So, I think medical thrillers are big right now because people are pretty easily convinced that an industry that seems motivated more by profit and less by altruistic science just might have the capacity for evil. For a lot of people, that distrust is already there.

  1. What are your thoughts about cloning?

I find the concept of cloning to be fascinating. The thought of having a clone – someone who could say, clean the bathrooms for me, make dinner, go to a meeting in my place – is sort of tempting. But there are all these sinister elements about cloning, and a whole lot of ethical questions, too, that are a lot more serious. What if we created clones for harvesting body parts in the event that we got sick or injured? What if we used them to fight our wars or for bomb disposal and other dangerous endeavors in our place? Would the auto industry begin using clones instead of test dummies for crash test data? Presumably, a clone would feel every bit as real and human as the host it sprang from, but would it be? Would clones have the same rights and privileges of personhood if they were mere copies? Would they be entitled to such rights and privileges? And if they didn’t get them – what then? Would they organize and rise up against us? 

There is a lot to consider about human cloning and I only touched briefly on these questions in The Mirror Man, but I think we – as a society and as a species – ought to start thinking about it.

  1. How did you research this novel?

Because the main focus of The Mirror Man is more the psychological changes of the protagonist as he watches his clone, it isn’t a book that’s especially science laden. That being said, the science (even though most is invented) had to be believable and plausible and so, is based on real science.

For the cloning aspect in the story I researched the way cloning is currently done in mammals – via cell transfer and embryotic implantation. But I also needed to identify ways in which scientists might grow a human clone quickly, so it would reach a full, adult maturation rate in about 48 hours. I read a lot about Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in the pituitary gland of our brains and its effect on how our bodies grow. The research was intriguing and sent me down so many rabbit holes dealing with the role this hormone plays in cell repair, muscle mass, weight gain, and even life expectancy. The articles I saved and the notes I took might well come in handy for a future novel.

I also did some research for Meld, the invented drug in the story. I wanted to create a drug that – if two people took it together – could offer a literal glimpse into someone else’s mind but one that could also be used to transfer brain patterns and consciousness from the main character into the clone. In the novel, the drug is used in a myriad of ways – not only to copy a mind, but also as a promising medical tool and as an illegal recreational drug with dire consequences. For Meld I researched the areas of the human brain such a drug might act upon – especially our aptly titled mirror neurons which are responsible for making us yawn when we see someone else yawn. (If yours are especially active, you might have yawned at the very thought of that. If so – sorry!)

  1. Do you believe human cloning is possible?

As the lead scientist in The Mirror Man likes to point out, “the science exists.” 

Human cloning is absolutely possible. We are already so adept at cloning animals that there are actual companies out there whose entire business model is built on cloning our dogs and cats. And people do that more often than you’d imagine. Did you know Barbara Streisand has had something like five clones of her favorite dog? It’s true. And we all know the story of Dolly, the sheep with the dubious distinction of being the very first mammal to be successfully cloned in 1996. From dogs and cats and sheep it isn’t a giant leap to cloning humans. Essentially, the science is the same. What’s stopping us (thankfully) isn’t the feasibility, but the ethical and moral dilemmas associated with human cloning.

While many countries have passed laws that prohibit human cloning, the US currently has no such legislation (although some states do). Congress has proposed many bills to that effect, but none have been enacted into actual law. The reason for that is partly because things like medical stem cell research overlap the science of cloning. But there are reams of material written on the ethical implications of human cloning from agencies including the World Health Organization, and there are ongoing congressional discussions to agree at least on some level of regulation. But at the moment, in the US, human cloning is both scientifically possible and essentially legal. That’s just a tiny bit terrifying.

  1. Talk about the meaning of identity in your book

It didn’t take me long to understand that what I was really doing with The Mirror Man was writing a story about self-identity. It’s a topic that finds its way into a lot of what I write and is strangely compelling to me. My favorite line from David Bowie’s song “Changes” is this: 

I turn myself to face me, but I never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker

I find that idea fascinating. We all have this idea of who we are, and how we come across to other people, but it’s probably not the truth. The way we see ourselves is muddled with all these filters and little lies. We are all, in a sense, just fakers. I wanted to explore that concept, so I came up with a way to put a character in a situation where he literally had to turn and face himself – to see himself exactly as everyone else sees him — from the outside. Cloning seemed an obvious choice for a science fiction writer. 

In the novel, my character, Jeremiah is largely locked in this laboratory/apartment and made to watch his clone on a TV monitor for four hours a day. Even though he’s typically seeing mundane things – the clone interacting with his family and co-workers – the experience is difficult and eye-opening for him. While he has to admit that his double is every bit identical to him, he begins to despise who he’s watching. It makes him question fundamental things about his own identity.

Meanwhile, we have this illegal street use of a drug called Meld that allows people to see themselves through someone else’s eyes and it leads to a rash of suicides. It’s another way of looking at what the main character is going through, but the result is basically the same: It isn’t easy to face the truth of who you are.

There are a lot of figurative and literal mirrors in my novel. Jeremiah is often looking at his own reflection as he grapples with questions about his life. He spends quite a bit of time creating an avatar of himself for a video game. And, obviously, his clone is sort of the ultimate reflection. But he never fully understands what he’s seeing until he’s forced to face himself. And I had to bring him to that point in a very literal way. Hopefully, the novel will leave readers asking some interesting questions about their own identity.

Charles Scott glared down at him with a glint in his green eyes that felt like a warning, and Jeremiah replayed in his head the man’s ambiguous threat during their first meeting several weeks before.

“You now know as much about this project as anyone else involved,” he’d said. “It wouldn’t do to have too many people walking around with this kind of information. Our investors have a tendency to get nervous.”

Although Scott had quickly followed that remark with the matter of Jeremiah’s substantial compensation, there was no mistaking the implication: the moment he’d been told about the cloning project Jeremiah was already in. That first meeting hadn’t been an invitation so much as an orientation, and the contract he’d later signed had been a formality, at best. And the entire thing had done nothing but gain momentum from that moment on.

Dr. Pike continued to affix the wires to Jeremiah’s head. Jeremiah focused on the man’s gleaming black hair and the deep brown of his sure, professional hands, and he struggled to remember the allure of the $10 million payout he’d get at the end of the whole thing. That kind of money could fix a lot of problems. It would change things. The prospect of that fortune had been enough to make him turn away from principles he thought were unshakable. Every man has his price, he supposed.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he also acknowledged the real temptation of a twelve-month sabbatical from his own life. It had seduced him every bit as much as the money had. Maybe more. Between a job that had already begun to make him question his own morals, and a marriage that felt increasingly more like a lie, stress was eating him alive. And into his lap fell a chance to just walk away from all of it—without consequence and without blame. A free pass. He could simply walk away without anyone even knowing he was gone. There isn’t a man alive, he told himself, who would have refused. Despite the ethical question, despite that human cloning was illegal the world over, it would have tempted anyone.

Dr. Pike injected the clone with Meld and then turned wordlessly to Jeremiah with the second syringe poised above his left shoulder.

Jeremiah closed his eyes and rolled up his sleeve.

After the initial stab of the needle, he felt nothing. Which is not to say he didn’t feel anything; he literally felt nothing. Seconds after the injection, he became aware of a total emptiness, like a towering black wave that threatened to sink him into an immeasurable void. The experience was unlike anything he’d ever known. He imagined an astronaut suddenly untethered from his ship, floating helplessly into unending darkness. Without thinking, he immediately felt his body recoil. His mind screamed against it.

I’m dying!

From impossibly far away, he heard Dr. Pike say something about a heart rate and felt the slight pressure of a hand on his shoulder. He couldn’t see anything of the hospital room anymore. He was drowning in the blackness. His chest felt suddenly constricted. He fought just to find his breath.

“This is all perfectly normal, Mr. Adams. You have nothing to worry about. Concentrate on the sound of my voice. Nod if you can hear me.”

With considerable effort, Jeremiah managed what he hoped was a nod of his head. He was suddenly gripped by the alarming certainty that if he couldn’t communicate somehow, he’d be lost—swept away forever.

“Good. Good. Listen to my voice. It will keep you grounded.” Pike still sounded far away, but Jeremiah nodded again and struggled to focus. “What you are experiencing is to be expected. Do you remember when you took the Meld with Dr. Young? Do you remember the way you could feel her thoughts for the first few minutes?”

He nodded. It had been an unnerving thing to perceive her consciousness mixing with his like that. Flashes from her mind—odd, alien things like the feel of a blister on the back of her right heel, the familiar gleam in the eye of an old man he’d never seen—had swirled into the very structure of his own mind and fought for a place to settle. He had railed against that, too, and she had grounded him by flashing a penlight in his face, making him focus on that while the Meld took effect. Afterward, once he had sunk in, it had been easier.

“This is no different than what you experienced then,” Pike said. “This time, though, you are connected to an empty mind. There’s nothing there. But the more you resist, the longer this will take. You need to relax, Mr. Adams. Give in to it.”

Jeremiah nodded again and then shook his head with as much grit as he could muster. How does one give in to this? He didn’t think he could do it.

“Once your thoughts begin transferring into the mind of the clone it will be easier for you,” Pike urged. “Focus on a memory, as I suggested. Something vivid. It will help to fill that void you’re experiencing now. It will give you something to hang on to.”

Without the benefit of his full faculties, Jeremiah had little choice but to grab the last thing he’d been thinking about—his initial conversation with Charles Scott, the day all of this began.

He’d been surprised when he’d received an invitation to lunch from ViMed’s head of Engineering. The man was an icon in the science world, and although he’d quoted him a hundred times for the company, Jeremiah had never actually met him. He’d been intrigued enough to accept the invitation, especially when Scott had told him it involved a “proposition that could make him a very wealthy man.”

Flashes of that encounter and snatches of conversation now flitted through his mind like so many fireflies. He fought to catch them.

“We’ve been watching you, Mr. Adams.”

“All we ask is one year of your life. Isn’t that worth $10 million?”

“We can do this. The science exists. And with Meld, the clone will even share your thought patterns… Your own mother won’t know the difference.”

“This is sanctioned by powerful people—we have millions in secret federal backing. There are billions more in eventual funding… There’s no need to be so suspicious, Mr. Adams.”

From somewhere far away, Jeremiah heard Dr. Pike repeating his name. He had been so engulfed in his efforts to hold on to the memory that he’d almost forgotten where he was. As soon as he realized it, the void loomed again in his mind.

“Mr. Adams,” Pike said, “you’ve got to listen to me. The clone cannot pick up on any memory of the experiment. What you’re thinking about is not going to help. You need to think about something else, some memory that won’t be filtered. His mind is still empty.”

Jeremiah panicked. He couldn’t think. And now that he wasn’t focused on anything, the blackness began to take over again, creeping closer and threatening to swallow him. He fought for breath.

“Relax, Mr. Adams,” Pike said. “Think about your job here at ViMed. Remember something the clone can actually use. Something he’ll need to know.”

He felt a dull jab at his shoulder.

“This should help. I’ve given you a mild sedative. Take a few deep breaths. Concentrate on your breathing.”

With everything in him, Jeremiah tried to turn his mind away from the void that seemed to be all around him. He inhaled deeply and tried to focus on the rise of his own chest. Exhaled, and he felt his chest fall.

“Very good, Mr. Adams. Very good. Pulse is returning to normal. Deep breaths. Now, think about a typical day at work. Something ordinary and mundane.”

Inhale. Exhale. After a moment, Jeremiah began to relax and, as the sedative took hold, he found he could let his mind wander without the frantic thought that he’d never get it back. An oddly comforting fog seemed to expand in front of him, pushing the blackness away slightly, and Jeremiah retreated into it.

He began to think about the morning of the Meld fiasco—the day the New Jersey housewife had killed herself. The press had been circling. He’d arrived at his office with a terse mandate from his superiors to “get these fuckers off our back” and no idea how to accomplish that. It hadn’t been lost on him that not a single soul seemed bothered enough to stop and feel sorry about it, and he’d taken a quick moment behind his office door to offer silent condolences. It wasn’t thirty seconds before someone had come knocking, pushing him to get something done.

Weeks before, he’d heard talk of Meld being used to detect brain activity in a sixteen-year-old football player who had been comatose for nearly six months. Time to cash in. He tracked down the doctor somewhere in Delaware and the man started gushing about Meld, calling it “magical,” “a godsend” and “the most important medical advance of a generation.”

“After so many weeks,” he said, “the parents were hopeless.”

Meld was a last resort before pulling the plug, and it gave them the first clear signs of neural activity in the boy.

“Not only was he aware and awake in there, but he was cognizant of everything that was going on around him—including the fact that his parents were losing hope. He even heard them talking about funeral arrangements at one point. The kid was scared, terrified. He was begging for his life in there. That’s what I saw when I took the Meld with him. Meld absolutely saved his life. There is no doubt in my mind.”

Jeremiah had almost smiled. It was pure gold. A few hours later, the story was in the hands of every major news outlet, and that doctor was spending his fifteen minutes of fame touting Meld as “a medical miracle.”

Jeremiah focused on that now. Maybe Meld did have some silver lining, after all, he thought. Maybe it was miraculous.

Jane Gilmartin has been a news reporter and editor for several small-town weekly papers and enjoyed a brief but exciting stint as a rock music journalist. A bucket list review just before she turned 50 set her on the path to fiction writing. Also checked off that list: an accidental singing career, attending a Star Trek convention, and getting a hug from David Bowie. She lives in her hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts.

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Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards, #1) by Janella Angeles – Blog Tour Spoiler Free Review, Excerpt

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4.5 Stars

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*Bookshop is a new affiliate I am trying out because the proceeds go to your local bookstores!*

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

*Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me an e-arc via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and for having me on the blog tour!*

Y’all, it has been a hot minute since a YA book has gripped me. This one was actually really hard to put down! It has danger, slow-burn romance, love triangle (it’s actually done well! Trust me!), mysteries, and plenty of magic! Plus a it is a retelling of Phantom of the Opera mixed with a magic competition!!

I really enjoyed the characters. Everything including the characters is so mysterious! Kallia, our main MC, is feisty and speaks her mind. And listen, I don’t like ANY MCs that are jerks when they are written like that. Male or Female. But Kallia somehow isn’t! I really enjoyed her fierce personality. I think because she was still generous and wants to help people, like her assistant Aaros!

Let’s talk loooooove. Jack. This is the Phantom and the Opera part. Jack is the phantom. He is very dark and mysterious. And he is fiercely protective over Kallia. But he definitely smothers her. But Demarco has his own dangerous secrets too. He is just a bit of the gentler sort. A few times he got angry and I was just like, yeeeess Demarco, let it out.

I LOVED the world. Fantastic world building. Glorian is really the only place we see, so I would love to get more of the outside world! And the magic! It was so amazing to read about the unique and creative magic that Kallia could do! I could almost experience the 5 senses just from Angeles’s writing! She really wrote a magical book!

THAT ENDING. WHERE IS BOOK 2?! MUST HAVE IT!

Never come to Hellfire House without wearing a mask.

It was one of the rare rules in a joint without any. The only rule the master of the club did not mind following. He blended in with the sea of suits and white masks that arrived every other night, switching appearances from crowd to crowd. A bartender one moment, a dealer at the card tables the next.

Only his face remained the same, half-masked and haunting. Like a prince who relished the bloody crown on his head, and the ghosts that came with it. A face almost hardened by beauty, though glints of youth ran deep beneath soft black eyes. It always shocked new guests, to see him. The master of the House was rumored to be a dragon of a man. A monster. A magician who had no mercy for fools.

Only those who dared slur the word boy in his face understood how true those rumors were.

To the rest, he played the devil on all shoulders, leading patrons to his bar and game tables, guiding them toward his enchanted smoke lounge to drown in curated memories. The warmth of first love, the heady rush of triumph, the immense joy of dreams come true. The master kept a selection of sensations, and one hit of the pipes delivered magic the people came crawling to his house to taste.

They had no idea the show that was in store for them.

The master of the House sipped his short glass of scarlet whiskey in peace, tapping along the wide black strip over his brass knuckles. He’d long since manipulated his attire, sitting casually at a card table and savoring the mayhem. Raucous cheers erupted from the next table as dice rolled out across the surface. Smiling Hellfire girls in black blazers and masks of lace denied patrons begging for a dance. Loudest of all, the dealer’s crisp shuffling of the black cards with teeth-white numbers before she doled out hands to players at the table.

“No, no more,” one moaned. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can, chap.” A young man in a white thorn-edged mask cheerfully pressed him back in his seat. “We can’t leave. Haven’t even finished your drink, yet.”

His drunken friend’s mouth puckered under another gulp. “Think it’s true, the drink? Magician’s Blood, the menu said.”

“Think you have power, now?” Thorn Mask laughed, leaning back to appraise the club. “Here, you take your magic where you can get it. You wear a mask. You flip a card, smoke a memory. Or you look up . . . at her.”

The master’s fingers tightened around his glass, just as the lights dimmed. Dancers cleared the floor under the hush of music, shifting from smooth, steady beats to a racing rhythm loud as thunderous applause.

Right on cue.

The band’s worth of instruments he’d charmed for the night started up a wild entry tune of drums, the thick trill of trumpets. Chatter ceased and backs straightened as a beam of light speared toward the ceiling. A panel slid open over the dance floor.

And the chandelier descended.

Strings of crystals dangled along tiered rims of rose gold, cutting sharply into a jewel-set swing where a masked showgirl sat. A throne of glittering jewels, casting luminous lace across the walls and the ground and the audience taking her in. Her brown skin glowed against her corset, red as her gem-studded mask. Arms stretched out, she crossed and extended her legs in smooth lines all the way down, until her heels touched the lacquered black dancefloor. With the hint of a smile, she rose from her throne and stalked forward, thrusting a hand up with a snap.

Darkness engulfed the room.

Hoots and hollers rang at the drop of the beat, before a glimmer of her form reappeared in the shadows. The room pulsed at her command, matching the spike of heartbeats the master sensed throughout the club.

The smirk on his lips matched the girl’s as she arched her back to the raw stretch of the melody. She thrived under the attention, like a wildflower under the sun. A star finding the night.

His star.

“I’ll be damned.” The drunk at the card table breathed in awe, as the girl’s palms began brightening with a molten glow. “Nothing like an academy girl.”

“Worth the trip, right?” His friend clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know they could be magicians like . . . this.

The master smothered a dark scoff under a sip of whiskey. The girl showed off good tricks—improvised and bettered from his basic crowd-pleasers. Treating the ceiling like a sky and showering comets from it, casting an elaborate shadow show of dancing shades over the floor, shifting every candlelight in the room to different colors to the beat of the music.

But always the performer, she preferred to be front and center. Teasing her power just enough to make the audience want more of her magic, more of her.

He wet his lips as flames shot from her hands, arcing over her head and around her body. The fire’s melody bent to her every movement, and she gave everything to it. If she wasn’t careful, she’d overexert herself like she did most nights, never knowing when to stop. How to pull back.

Careful never was her strongest suit.

Sparks fell before her, sizzling on the ground. Unafraid, she sauntered down her stage of flames with slow swaying hips and a firelit smile.

“Magicians like this are best kept a secret,” Thorn Mask went on. “And besides, the work is far too scandalous for a lady. Only clubs will take them.”

“What a shame. Imagine going up against the likes of her at the competition.”

The master paused, drawing his gaze back to his glass.

“Not this again. That flyer was nothing but a joke.” Thorn Mask slapped the table with a groaning laugh. “A prank.”

The drunk sloppily patted around his coat, pulling from his breast pocket a dirty, scrunched ball of paper. “It’s real. They’re all over the academies, in Deque and New Crown and—”

“A prank,” repeated Thorn Mask, unfolding the flyer anyway. “It has to be. No one’s been to that city in ages, it would never open itself to such games.”

“That makes it all the more interesting, don’t you think?” As another roar of cheers erupted around them, the friend sipped his drink smugly. “Imagine if she entered, the city might implode.”

“Right. As if that would ever happen.” Thorn Mask leered. “Competition would eat a creature like her alive.”

“Because she’s . . . ?”

With an impish lift of his brow, the man in the thorny mask flicked the flyer off the table and returned to his forgotten spread of cards. “Let’s get on with the game, shall we?”

Before he could gesture at the dealer, the master suddenly appeared at their table, snatching the young man’s wrist in a biting grip. The man yelped as the force knocked over his drink, and sent a stream of hidden cards spilling out from his sleeves.

“What’s this?” The master bent toward the ground and picked up a couple, entirely too calm. “Cheating in my house?”

The man froze, recognition dawning at the brass knuckles alone. “Where did you—I-I mean,” he sputtered, patting frantically at his sleeve. “That’s impossible. Those aren’t mine, I swear.”

“Then where did they come from?”

Sweat dripped from his temple, his face paler than the white of his mask. “I emptied my pockets at the door. Honest.”

Honest. That was the best he could do? The master almost laughed.

“You want to know the price cheaters pay in my joint?” His question offered no mercy. Only deliverance, served on ice. “Memories.”

“No, please!” The man’s lip trembled. “I didn’t, I-I’ll do whatever you want!”

“This is what I want.” The master rose from the table with the jerk of his wrist. The cheat flew to the ground in a gasp as he gripped at the invisible chain-like weight around his neck. Sharp, staccato breaths followed the master as he dragged his prisoner toward the smoke dens.

The man screamed, but no one heard him. No one saw, no one cared. All eyes fell on the star of the show as she searched for a dance partner to join her. The drunken friend, noticing nothing amiss, raised his half-full glass of Magician’s Blood to his lips before waving his hand high like the others. The man thrashed harder, only to feel his cries smothered and deeper in his throat. His form, invisible at the sweep of the master’s hand.

With a disdainful glance, the master chuckled. “You’re only making this more difficult for yourself. One memory won’t kill you.”

At once, he paused. The lights blinked around them, the air grown still. Dim and hazy, as though locked in a dream.

He thought nothing of it until he caught the movements of the patrons—their arms raised and waving slowly, increment by increment. Their cheers dulled and stretched into low, gravelly roars, as if the sound were wading through heavier air. Against time itself.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

The sound of her voice slithered around him, stopping the master in his tracks. The man quieted. Sweat soaked his pale face, his chest heaving. The showgirl stood in their path, every stare in the room still locked on the spotlit floor where she’d been. As though she’d never left.

Impressive.

Her red corset glinted as she cocked her hip and pointed at the man on the floor. “I choose him.”

She could never let things be easy.

“Kallia,” he growled, warning.

She smiled. “Jack.”

“Pick another. He’s a cheater.”

Her lips pursed into a dubious line. “Then let me teach him a lesson. He’ll no doubt prefer it more.” She swung a leg over the man’s prone form so she stood directly above him. Invitation dripped from the crook of her fingers. “The music calls, darling. Let’s have ourselves a grand time.”

The man’s terror turned swiftly into awe, and he looked at her as if ready to kiss the ground she walked on. As soon as he took her beckoning hand, the room resumed its lively rhythm—a song snapped back in full swing. The cheers and hollers returned to their normal speed, exploding in delight as patrons found their lovely entertainer in their midst, her chosen dance partner in tow.

She bypassed the master, pressing a casual hand on his chest to move him. It lingered, he noticed. Unafraid, unlike most. Their gazes locked for a moment, their masked faces inches apart.

No one ever dared to get this close. To him, to her.

Only each other.

At the next round of cheers and whistles, she pushed him away, smug as a cat. Tugging the man close behind her, she sent fires onto the ground that illuminated her path and warded others from trying to follow them to the stage. Never once looking back at the master, even as he watched on after her.

His fist tightened, full of the cards from his earlier trick. They disappeared into mist, having served their purpose. Along with the flyer he managed to grab.

He didn’t even bother giving it a read. It died in the fire caged by his palm. Tendrils of smoke rose between his brass knuckles, and when he opened his fingers, nothing but ash fell to the ground.

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

Social LinksTwitter: @Janella_Angeles // Instagram: @Janella_Angeles

The Lost City (The Omte Origins, #1) by Amanda Hocking – Blog Tour, Spoiler Free Review, Author Q&A, Excerpt

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: July 07, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Buy Links: Macmillan | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Amanda Hocking, the New York Times bestselling author of The Kanin Chronicles, returns to the magical world of the Trylle Trilogy with The Lost City, the first novel in The Omte Origins—and the final story arc in her beloved series.

The storm and the orphan

Twenty years ago, a woman sought safety from the spinning ice and darkness that descended upon a small village. She was given shelter for the night by the local innkeepers but in the morning, she disappeared—leaving behind an infant. Now nineteen, Ulla Tulin is ready to find who abandoned her as a baby or why.

The institution and the quest

Ulla knows the answers to her identity and heritage may be found at the Mimirin where scholars dedicate themselves to chronicling troll history. Granted an internship translating old documents, Ulla starts researching her own family lineage with help from her handsome and charming colleague Pan Soriano.

The runaway and the mystery

But then Ulla meets Eliana, a young girl who no memory of who she is but who possesses otherworldly abilities. When Eliana is pursued and captured by bounty hunters, Ulla and Pan find themselves wrapped up in a dangerous game where folklore and myth become very real and very deadly—but one that could lead Ulla to the answers she’s been looking for.

*Thank you to the publisher for sending me an e-arc in exchange for an honest review!*

Hocking painted such a vivid, lush world full of wonder and magic. I got major Gail Carson Levine vibes, and my inner teenage self was squealing with joy. It felt nostalgic. It felt sweet. I loved it!

I want to find out so badly about Ulla’s past! It’s so mysterious! I have a few guesses but we will see if I am right! Y’all, I also LOVED that she was written as plus sized! But I also loved that it wasn’t a big deal. It was normal. She is so cool! She is wicked smart and has a ton of courage.

I also loved the side characters! Hanna, Pan, Dagny, and Eliana! Eliana is as mysterious as Ulla. I want to know more about her as well. Pan is the sweetest ever and I for sure ship him and Ulla! Dagny is the surly roomate with a secret heart of gold. And Hanna is the bubbly young teen who wants to be a part of everything.

There are so many mysterious things that are happening in this world that I MUST know!! Like the mysterious stranger Ulla keeps running into!

The only thing I wanted a bit more of was adventure. The book took place all in one city the whole time and basically there was a bunch of information to be found while the characters talked and researched. But it looks like book two will have that adventure I am looking for and I can’t wait!

Prologue

Ten Years Ago

“Tell me about it again,” I entreated—begged, really, in a small voice, small especially for a girl like me. 

Mr. Tulin, on the nights he had a little too much hot tea and brandy, would tell me stories of other, less fortunate babies. One had been left out for the wolves, another drowned in the icy river. Still another was killed by an angakkuq, this time to be mashed into a paste for one of her potions.

On the other nights, he’d try to convince me there wasn’t any time for a story. But I’d beg and plead, and his eyes would glimmer—already milky with cataracts, lighting up when he spoke about monsters. I would pull the covers up to my chin, and his normally crackled baritone would go even lower, rumbling with the threat of the monsters he impersonated.

I was never sure how much he’d made up or what had been passed down to him, as he’d weave through all sorts of patchwork folklore—the monsters and heroes pieced together from the neighboring Inuit, our Norse ancestry, and especially from the troll tribe that Mr. and Mrs. Tulin belonged to—the Kanin.

But I had a favorite story, one that I asked for over and over again.

This one I loved because it was about me, and because it was true.

“Which one?” Mr. Tulin asked, feigning ignorance as he lingered at my bedroom door.

It was dark in my room, except for the cast-iron woodstove in the corner. My room had been a pantry before I was here, before Mr. Tulin had converted it into a tiny bedroom. Outside, the wind howled, and if I hadn’t been buried underneath the blankets and furs, I would’ve felt the icy drafts that went along with all that howling.

“The day you met me,” I replied with unbridled glee. 

“Well, you turned out to be a big one, didn’t ya?” That’s what Mr. Tulin liked to say, particularly when I was scooping another helping of potatoes on my plate at the supper table, and

then I would sheepishly put half a portion back, under the sharp gaze of Mrs. Tulin.

But he wasn’t wrong. I was tall, thick, and pale. By the age of nine I was nearly five feet tall, towering over the kids in the little schoolhouse.

Once, I’d overheard Mrs. Tulin complaining aloud to a neighbor, saying, “I don’t know why they chose our doorstep to leave ’er on. By the size of her, her da’ must be an ogre, and her ma’ must be a nanuq. She’ll eat us out of house and home before she’s eighteen.”

After that, I tried to make myself smaller, invisible, and I made sure that I mended all my clothing and cleaned up after myself. Mrs. Tulin didn’t complain too much about me after that, but every once in a while I would hear her muttering about how they really ought to set up a proper orphanage in Iskyla, so the townsfolk weren’t stuck taking in all the abandoned strays.

I didn’t complain either, and not only because there was nobody to listen. There were a few kids at my school who served as a reminder of how much worse it could be for me. They were sketches of children, really—thin lines, stark shadows, sad eyes, just the silhouettes of orphans.

“You sure you wanna hear that one again, ayuh?” Mr. Tulin said in response to my pleas.

“Yes, please!”

“If that’s the one the lil’ miss wants, then that be the one I tell.” He walked back over to the bed, limping slightly, the way he did every time the temperatures dipped this low.

Once he’d settled on the edge of the bed, his bones cracked and creaked almost as loudly as the bed itself.

“It was a night much like this—” he began.

“But darker and colder, right?” I interjected.

His bushy silver eyebrows pinched together. “Are you telling it this time?”

“No, no, you tell it.”

“Ayuh.” He nodded once. “So I will, then.”

It was a night much like this. The sun hadn’t been seen for days, hiding behind dark clouds that left even the daylight murky blue. When the wind came up, blowing fresh snow so

heavy and thick, you couldn’t hardly see an inch in front of your nose. All over, the town was battened down and quiet, waiting out the dark storm. Now, the folks in Iskyla had survived

many a winter storm, persisting through even the harshest of winters. This wasn’t the worst of the storms we’d faced, but there was something different about this one. Along with the cold and the dark, it brought with it a strange feeling in the air.

“And a stranger,” I interjected again, unable to help myself.

Mr. Tulin didn’t chastise me this time. He just winked and said, “Ayuh, and a stranger.”

The old missus, Hilde, and I were hunkered down in front of the fireplace, listening to the wind rattling the house, when a knock came at the door. 

Hilde—who scoffed whenever Tapeesa the angakkuq spoke of the spirits and monsters—shrieked at me when I got up to answer the door. “Whaddya think you’re doing, Oskar?”

“We’re still an inn, aren’t we?” I paused before I reached the door to look back at my wife, who sat in her old rocker, clutching her knitting to her chest.

Well, of course we were. Her father had opened the inn years ago, back when the mines first opened and we had a brief bout of tourism from humans who got lost on their way to the mines.

But that had long dried up by the time Hilde inherited it. We only had a dozen or so customers every year, mostly Inuit or visiting trolls, but whenever I suggested we close up and move south, Hilde would pitch a fit, reminding me that her family settled Iskyla, and she was settled here until she died.

“Course we’re an inn, but we’re closed,” Hilde said. “The storm’s too bad to open.”

Again the knocking came at the door, pounding harder this time.

“We got all our rooms empty, Hilde!” I argued. “Anyone out in this storm needs a place to stay, and we won’t have to do much for ’em.”

“But you don’t know who—or what—is at the door,”

Hilde stammered, lowering her voice as if it would carry over the howling wind and out the door to whoever waited on our stoop. “No human or troll has any sense being out in a storm like this.”

“Well, someone has, and I aim to find out who it is.”

I headed toward the door, Hilde still spouting her hushed protests, but my mind had been made up. I wasn’t about to let anyone freeze to death outside our house, not when we had ample firewood and room to keep them warm.

When I opened the door, there she stood. The tallest woman I ever saw. She was buried under layers of fabric and fur, looking so much like a giant grizzly bear that Hilde let out a scream.

Then the woman pushed back her hood, letting us see her face. Ice and snow had frozen to her eyebrows and eyelashes, and her short wild hair nearly matched the grizzly fur. She wasn’t much to look at, with a broad face and a jagged scar across her ruddy cheeks, but she made up for it with her size.

She had to duck to come inside, ever mindful of the large bag she carried on her back.

“Don’t bother coming in,” Hilde called at the woman from where she sat angrily rocking. “We’re closed.”

“Please,” the giant woman begged, and then she quickly slipped off her gloves and fumbled in her pockets. “Please, I have money. I’ll give you all I have. I only need a place to stay for the night.”

When she went for her money, she’d pushed back her cloaks enough that I could see the dagger holstered on her hip. The fire glinted off the amber stone in the hilt, the dark

bronze handle carved into a trio of vultures.

It was the symbol of the Omte, and that was a weapon for a warrior. Here was this giant troll woman, with supernatural strength and a soldier’s training. She could’ve killed me and Hilde right there, taken everything we had, but instead she pleaded and offered us all she had.

“Since we’re closed, I won’t be taking any of your money.” I waved it away. “You need sanctuary from the storm, and I’m happy to give it to you.”

“Thank you.” The woman smiled, with tears in her eyes, and they sparkled in the light like the amber gemstone on her dagger.

Hilde huffed, but she didn’t say anything more. The woman herself didn’t say much either, not as I showed her up to her room and where the extra blankets were.

“Is there anything more you’ll be needing?” I asked before I left her alone. 

“Quiet rest,” she replied with a weak smile. 

“Well, you can always holler at me if you need anything. I’m Oskar.”

She hesitated a second before saying, “Call me Orra.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Orra, and I hope you enjoy your stay with us.”

She smiled again, then she shut the door. That was the last I ever saw of her.

All through the night, she made not a peep, which upset Hilde even more, since it gave her nothing to complain about. I slept soundly, but Hilde tossed and turned, certain that Orra would hurt us.

By the time morning came, the wind had stopped and the sun had broken through the clouds for the first time in days. I went up to check on Orra and see if she needed anything, and

I discovered her gone. 

She rode in on the back of the dark storm, and she left before the sun.

Her room had been left empty—except for a little tiny baby, wrapped in a blanket, sleeping in the middle of the bed. The babe couldn’t be more than a few weeks old, but already had a thick head of wild blond hair. When I picked her up, the baby mewled, but didn’t open her eyes.

Not until I said, “Ullaakuut,”—a good-morning greeting.

Then her big amber eyes opened. She smiled up at me, and it was like the sun after the storm.

“That’s how we met.” I beamed, and he smiled back down at me. Mrs. Tulin wasn’t sure if they would keep me, so she wouldn’t let him name me yet, but then they called me Ullaakuut

until it stuck.

“It was quite the introduction,” he agreed with a chuckle. “Oskar!” Mrs. Tulin shouted from the other room. “The fire’s gone cold!”

“I’ll be right down!” he yelled over his shoulder before turning back to me. “Well, you’ve had your story now, and Hilde needs me. You best be getting to sleep now. Good night, Ulla.”

“Good night.” I settled back into the bed, and it wasn’t until he was at the door that I mustered the courage to ask him the question that burned on the tip of my tongue. “How come my mom left me here?”

“I can’t say that I understand it,” he said with a heavy sigh. “But she’d have to have got a mighty good reason to be traveling in that kinda storm, especially with a newborn. She was an Omte warrior, and I don’t know what kind of monsters she had to face down on her way to our doorstep. But she musta known that here you’d be safe.”

“Do you think she’ll come back?” I asked.

His lips pressed into a thin line. “I can’t say, lil’ miss. But it’s not the kind of thing I would hang my hat on. And it’s nothing that you should concern yourself with. You have a home here as long as you need it, and now it’s time for bed.”

Chapter 1

Home

Emma sprinted into my room first, clutching her older brother’s slingshot in her pudgy hands, and down the hall Liam was already yelling for me.

“Ulla! Emma keeps taking my stuff!” Liam rushed into my room in a huff, little Niko toddling behind him.

My bedroom was a maze of cardboard boxes—all of my worldly possessions carefully packed and labeled for my move in six weeks—and Emma darted between them to escape Liam’s grasp.

“He said he was going to shoot fairies in the garden!” Emma insisted vehemently.

Liam rolled his eyes and brushed his thick tangles of curls off his forehead. “Don’t be such a dumb baby. You know there’s no such things as fairies.”

“Don’t call your sister dumb,” I admonished him, which only caused him to huff even louder. For only being seven years old, Liam already had quite the flair for the dramatic. “You know, you’re going to have to learn how to get along with your sister on your own. I’m not going to be around to get in the middle of your squabbles.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Liam replied sourly. He stared down at the wood floor, letting his hair fall into his eyes. “She’s the one that always starts it.”

“I did not!” Emma shouted back. “I only wanted to protect the fairies!”

“Emma, will you give Liam back his slingshot if he promises not to kill anything with it?” I asked her. She seemed to consider this for a moment, wrinkling up her little freckled nose, but finally she nodded yes.

“I was never really going to kill anything anyway,” he said.

“Promise!” Emma insisted.

“Fine. I promise I won’t kill anything with my slingshot.”

He held his hand out to her, and she reluctantly handed it back to him. With that, he dashed out of the room, and Emma raced after him.

Niko, meanwhile, had no interest in the argument, and instead made his way over to me. I pulled him into my arms, relishing the way his soft curls felt tickling my chin as I held him, and breathing in his little-boy scent—the summer sun on his skin and sugared milk from his breakfast. 

“How are you doing this morning, my sweet boy?” I asked him softly. He didn’t answer, but Niko rarely did. Instead, he curled up more into me and began sucking his thumb.

I know I shouldn’t pick favorites, but Niko would be the one I missed the most. Sandwiched between Emma and the twins, he was quiet and easily overlooked. Whenever I was having a bad day or feeling lonely, I could always count on him for cuddles and hugs that somehow managed to erase all the bad—at least for a few moments.

But now I could only smile at him and swallow down the lump in my throat.

This—all the scraped knees and runny noses, the giggles and tantrums, all the love and chaos and constant noise of a house full of children—had been my life for the past five years. Which was quite the contrast to the frozen isolation of the first fourteen and a half years of my life.

Five years ago, a Kanin tracker named Bryn Aven had been on an investigation that brought her to Iskyla in central Canada, and when I met her, I knew it was my chance out of that town. Maybe it was because of the way she came in, on the back of a storm, or because she was a half-breed. She was also blond like me, and that wasn’t something I saw often in a town populated by trolls and a handful of the native humans of the area, the Inuit.

Most trolls, especially from the three more populous tribes—the Kanin, Trylle, and Vittra—were

of a darker complexion. Their skin ran the gamut of medium brown shades, and their hair was dark brown and black, with eyes that matched. The Kanin and the Trylle looked like attractive

humans, and the Vittra often did as well. 

The Omte had a slightly lighter complexion than that, and they were also more prone to gigantism and physical deformities, most notably in their large population of ogres. With

wild blond hair and blue eyes, the Skojare were the fairest, and they had a tendency to be born with gills, attuned to their aquatic lifestyle.

Each of the tribes even had different skill sets and extraordinary abilities. All of the kingdoms had some mild psychokinetic talents, with the Trylle being the most powerful. The Vittra and the Omte were known for their physical strength and ability to heal, while the Kanin had the skin-color- changing ability to blend in with their surroundings, much like intense chameleons.

Iskyla was officially a Kanin town, and the Inuit coloring wasn’t much different from that of the Kanin. Most everyone around me had a shock of dark hair and symmetrical features. My noticeable differences had always made me an easy target growing up, and seeing the blond-haired tracker Bryn, I recognized a kindred spirit.

Or maybe it was because I could tell she was running from something, and I had been itching to run since as soon as I could walk. The Tulins had been good to me—or as good as an elderly couple who had never wanted kids could be when a baby is dropped on them. But Mrs. Tulin had always made it clear that I would be on my own as soon as I was ready, and when I was fourteen I was sure I was ready.

Fortunately, Bryn had been smart enough—and kind enough—not to leave me to fend for myself. She brought me to Förening, the Trylle capital in Minnesota, and found me a job and a place to stay with friends of hers. 

When I had started as a live-in nanny working for Finn and Mia Holmes, they’d only had two children with another on the way, but already their cottage was rather cramped. Shortly after I moved in, Emma came along—followed by a promotion for Finn to the head of the Trylle royal guard—and Mia insisted a house upgrade was long overdue.

This grand little house, nestled in the bluffs along the Mississippi River—cozy but clean and bright—had enough room for us all—Finn, Mia, Hanna, Liam, Emma, Niko, Lissa, Luna, and me. As of a few months ago, we’d even managed to fit in Finn’s mother, Annali, who had decided to move in with them after her husband passed away last fall.

This home had been my home for years, and really, this family had been my family too. They welcomed me with open arms. I grew to love them, and they loved me. Here, I felt like I belonged and mattered in a way that I had never been able to in Iskyla.

I was happy with them. But now I was leaving all of this behind.

From The Lost City.  Copyright © 2020 by Amanda Hocking and reprinted by permission of Wednesday Books.

1. There’s been so much excitement and anticipation for more books in the world of the Trylle and Kanin.  What made you decide to revisit those worlds now in The Omte Origins trilogy? 

I knew as soon as I wrote Ulla as a small character in Crystal Kingdom (the final book of the Kanin Chronicles) that I was going to write a trilogy about her, but it was just a matter of when. After the Kanin Chronicles, I wanted to take a little break from that world and visit others – which I did with Freeks and the Valkyrie duology. By then, I was so ready to dive back into the world and answer some lingering questions I had left for the Trylle and Kanin.  

2. Why make this the final trilogy?

With the Omte Origins, I feel like I’ve been able to say everything I want to about the worlds. Through the three trilogies, I spent time with all five tribes. Wendy’s mother is Trylle and her father is Vittra, and her story has her visiting both kingdoms. Bryn’s mother is Skojare and her father is Kanin, and her trilogy shows life in the Kanin and Skojare cities, as well as travelling to others beyond that. I won’t say who exactly Ulla’s parents are (that would be spoiling the story) but her journey takes her through the troll kingdoms, with interesting detours through the Omte, Trylle, and Kanin tribes.

3. What are the most challenging aspects of writing a new trilogy that can be read independently, but is set in a world–the Trylle and Kanin–that you’ve written about before?  

The hardest challenge is getting new readers caught up with the world and the lingo without feeling repetitive and boring to longtime fans of the series. I try use this an opportunity to show characters and situations from different angles. The Wendy the audience meets at the beginning of Switched is vastly different Wendy than the that Ulla knows in the Omte Origins. So for new readers, they get introduced Wendy as she currently is, and for repeat readers, they can see who Wendy has become and who she appears to be through the eyes of an average citizen with Ulla.

4. What’s the most fascinating thing you researched while writing The Lost City?

With the Omte Origins, I really looked back at the course of troll history, and their past has dovetailed with the Vikings and other artic peoples. So I did a lot research on early Vikings and indigenous arctic people, primarily the Inuit and the Sami. My favorite parts were reading their folklore. I even got an Inuit cookbook, and I attempted to make Bannock (a traditional Inuit bread). It did not turn out well, but I blame that entirely on my cooking skills (or lack thereof) and not the recipe.

5. The “Glossary” and “Tribal Facts” sections at the end of the book are fascinating and really help create a layered, fleshed out world.  Was putting those together as much fun as writing the novel?  

It was so much fun. It’s been over ten years and nine books (and several short stories), so I have spent a lot time of thinking and doing world-building. I honestly have enough information for a history book about the worlds of the Trylle, but I don’t know there’s a demand for fictional textbooks. The Tribal Facts were actually one of the first things I wrote for the Omte series, because I went through and get myself reacquainted and made sure I had all my important facts straight.

6. Was your writing routine affected by the stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic?  

My routine itself hasn’t been too affected, since I write from home, but I would say that the stress has a negative impact on me, the way it has for many of us that work in creative fields – or any field at all, honestly. My husband has been working from home, and my stepson had been doing long distance learning before summer break, but that hasn’t really changed too much for me. I usually work after they go to bed and stay up late into the early morning hours.

7. Were there any favorite songs or music you listened to while writing this book?  

Yes, definitely! I listen to so much music when I write, and I even have curated playlists to go along with my books on Spotify. open.spotify.com/user/127756215 Some of my favorite songs to write to were “Ella” by Myrkur, “Wild World” by Cat Stevens, and “Delicate” by Taylor Swift. I also listened to a lot of Wardruna, who are this Norwegian band who make traditional Nordic music with historically accurate instruments. For the soundtrack to the Omte Origins, I wanted it be a blend of traditional Nordic music, mellow seventies folk to go with the trolls delayed pop culture tastes, and pop music that gets through with the trendier younger generations of trolls.

8. Do you think the music you listen to has an influence on the stories?  Or do the stories influence the music you choose?

I think it’s both, honestly. When I’m picking songs for the playlist, I definitely choose them based on the kind of emotions I want to feel and the tone I want to set for whatever I’m writing. Sometimes I’ll put particularly romantic songs on repeat when writing a love scene or an angry fast-paced instrumental for a fight scene.

9. What books or authors are you reading or excited to read lately?

I’m super excited about Faith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy. It comes out the same day as The Lost City, and it’s about a plus-size teenage girl who discovers that she can fly. I recently read A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Rosanne Brown, and I’m counting down the days until The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna and The Project by Courtney Summers.

10.  Any hints you can share about what’s coming next after The Omte Origins Trilogy?

I’m currently working on a stand-alone fantasy inspired by Greek mythology, but I don’t know when it will be out yet. I’ve got ideas for dozens of projects after that, and I’m working hard (and having fun) getting through them all.

AMANDA HOCKING is the author of over twenty young adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. Her love of pop culture and all things paranormal influence her writing. She spends her time in Minnesota, taking care of her menagerie of pets and working on her next book.

Social Links:

Author website | Twitter @Amanda_Hocking | Facebook | Author Blog | Pinterest | GoodReads

The Court of Miracles (The Court of Miracles, #1) by Kester Grant – Blog Tour Review + Giveaway

Publisher: Knopf Children’s

Publication Date: June 02, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Retellings

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Buy Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Book Depository | Kobo | Google Books

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds,or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

*Thank you to the publisher and Fantastic Flying Book Club for the e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review!*

This book actually got me out of a reading slump, so doubly thank you!

I was really excited to read a Les Mis / Jungle Book retelling and this did not dissapoint! Like, what a freaking cool mash up!! I have always loved Eponine. She is my favorite character, so when I heard this book was also about her, I jumped at the chance to review it!

Eponine is a spit fire. She is on a mission to save her sister (then sisters), from an evil man. I loved her personality. She is fiercely protective but she also knows her own limits. I really liked that she wasn’t a can-do-it-all girl. She was humble enough to ask for help. BUT she also knew she was the best tactician. I loved her story and am nervous it still might end up like in the real Les Mis! Dear Grant, please don’t! Please give Eponine the ending she deserves!

I really enjoyed the world building as well. I loved there were 9 different guilds all with their own purpose. There are definitely some gray areas morally and I loved it. I did however want to see a bit more of the thieves guild where Nina (Eponine) is from. She was mostly on the streets or staying with another guild.

I liked the side characters. Montparnasse of the Guild of Assassins was my favorite. He was soooo mysterious and I totally ship him and Nina. In fact, I would love more on his story! And Ettie was so sweet! I loved how her and Nina interacted together.

What I didn’t like: this would have been a 5 star read for me, HOWEVER, I struggled with the flow of the book. It was choppy. It would be something like this: I did this. Then I did this. *Time Skip*. I am doing this now. Let me put it this way, the actual writing was quite good, descriptive, I could imagine everything, it was the execution that was choppy. And I couldn’t figure out the love quad going on. Nina had 3 boys after her? And she seemed like she couldn’t make up her mind. Like I said, I am hoping for Montparnasse!

This book was still very entertaining, y’all know I love to be entertained, and I can’t wait for book 2!

“Do not cry for me, I am already dead.”
“No, not dead, the dead at least are free.”

———–

“Our mother the City is not a merciful mother,’ she says as she gathers my hair in one hand.”

————

“Let us go,” says Monteparnasse. “The Dead are calling.”

———–

She takes my hand, and the gesture is a powerful declaration of sorrow, of forgiveness, of love, threads of silver and gold wrapping around us…

———-

Something inside her draws people to her. Innocence, a kindness that could swallow the city whole if she let it.

Kester Grant is a British-Mauritian writer of color. She was born in London, grew up between the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the tropical island paradise of Mauritius. As a wanton nomad she and her husband are unsure which country they currently reside in but they can generally be found surrounded by their fiendish pack of cats and dogs.

Author Links:

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The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet – Feature & Excerpt

Publisher: Mira

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Buy Links: Oblong Books: Signed, personalized preorders! | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Powell’s | Apple Books | IndieBound

I am so excited to feature and post an excerpt of this gorgeous book! I am drooling over this cover! It sounds absolutely magical and I can’t wait to read it!

“A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…

The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival… and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban – a lord as mighty as he is cruel – has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.”

Prologue

On the third day of the convocation, two of the Slonimi scouts killed a calf, and the herbalist’s boy wept because he’d watched the calf being born and grown to love it. His
mother stroked his hair and promised he would forget by the time the feast came, the following night. He told her he would never forget. She said, “Just wait.”

He spent all of the next day playing with the children from the other caravan; three days before, they’d all been strangers, but Slonimi children were used to making friends quickly. The group the boy and his mother traveled with had come across the desert to the south, and they found the cool air of the rocky plain a relief from the heat. The others had come from the grassy plains farther west, and were used to milder weather. While the adults traded news and maps and equipment, the children ran wild. Only one boy, from the other caravan, didn’t run or play: a pale boy, with fine features, who followed by habit a few feet behind one of the older women from the other caravan. “Derie’s apprentice,” the other children told him, and shrugged, as if there was nothing more to say. The older woman was the other group’s best Worker, with dark hair going to grizzle and gimlet eyes. Every time she appeared the herbalist suddenly remembered an herb her son needed to help her prepare, or something in their wagon that needed cleaning. The boy was observant, and clever, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that his mother was trying to keep him away from the older woman: she, who had always demanded he face everything head-on, who had no patience for what she called squeamishness and megrims.

After a hard day of play over the rocks and dry, grayish grass, the boy was starving. A cold wind blew down over the rocky plain from the never-melting snow that topped the high peaks of the Barriers to the east; the bonfire was warm. The meat smelled good. The boy had not forgotten the calf but when his mother brought him meat and roasted potatoes and soft pan bread on a plate, he did not think of him. Gerta—the head driver of the boy’s caravan—had spent the last three days with the other head driver, poring over bloodline records to figure out who between their two groups might be well matched for breeding, and as soon as everybody had a plate of food in front of them they announced the results. The adults and older teenagers seemed to find this all fascinating. The herbalist’s boy was nine years old and he didn’t understand the fuss. He knew how it went: the matched pairs would travel together until a child was on the way, and then most likely never see each other again. Sometimes they liked each other, sometimes they didn’t. That, his mother had told him, was what brandy was for.

The Slonimi caravans kept to well-defined territories, and any time two caravans met there was feasting and trading and music and matching, but this was no ordinary meeting, and both sides knew it. After everyone had eaten their fill, a few bottles were passed. Someone had a set of pipes and someone else had a sitar, but after a song or two, nobody wanted any more music. Gerta—who was older than the other driver—stood up. She was tall and strong, with ropy, muscular limbs. “Well,” she said, “let’s see them.”

In the back, the herbalist slid an arm around her son. He squirmed under the attention but bore it.

From opposite sides of the fire, a young man and a young woman were produced. The young man, Tobin, had been traveling with Gerta’s people for years. He was smart but not unkind, but the herbalist’s son thought him aloof. With good reason, maybe; Tobin’s power was so strong that being near him made the hair on the back of the boy’s neck stand up. Unlike all the other Workers—who were always champing at the bit to get a chance to show off—Tobin was secretive about his skills. He shared a wagon with Tash, Gerta’s best Worker, even though the two men didn’t seem particularly friendly with each other. More than once the boy had glimpsed their lantern burning late into the night, long after the main fire was embers.

The young woman had come across the plains with the others. The boy had seen her a few times; she was small, round, and pleasant-enough looking. She didn’t strike the boy as particularly remarkable. But when she came forward, the other caravan’s best Worker—the woman named Derie—came with her. Tash stood up when Tobin did, and when they all stood in front of Gerta, the caravan driver looked from one of them to the other. “Tash and Derie,” she said, “you’re sure?”

“Already decided, and by smarter heads than yours,” the gimlet-eyed woman snapped.

Tash, who wasn’t much of a talker, merely said, “Sure.”

Gerta looked back at the couple. For couple they were; the boy could see the strings tied round each wrist, to show they’d already been matched. “Hard to believe,” she said. “But I know it’s true. I can feel it down my spine. Quite a legacy you two carry; five generations’ worth, ever since mad old Martin bound up the power in the world. Five generations of working and planning and plotting and hoping; that’s the legacy you two carry.” The corner of her mouth twitched slightly. “No pressure.”

A faint ripple of mirth ran through the listeners around the fire. “Nothing to joke about, Gerta,” Derie said, lofty and hard, and Gerta nodded.

“I know it. They just seem so damn young, that’s all.” The driver sighed and shook her head. “Well, it’s a momentous occasion. We’ve come here to see the two of you off, and we send with you the hopes of all the Slonimi, all the Workers of all of our lines, back to the great John Slonim himself, whose plan this was. His blood runs in both of you. It’s strong and good and when we put it up against what’s left of Martin’s, we’re bound to prevail, and the world will be free.”

“What’ll we do with ourselves then, Gert?” someone called out from the darkness, and this time the laughter was a full burst, loud and relieved.

Gerta smiled. “Teach the rest of humanity how to use the power, that’s what we’ll do. Except you, Fausto. You can clean up after the horses.”

More laughter. Gerta let it run out, and then turned to the girl.

“Maia,” she said, serious once more. “I know Derie’s been drilling this into you since you were knee-high, but once you’re carrying, the clock is ticking. Got to be inside, at the end.”

“I know,” Maia said.

Gerta scanned the crowd. “Caterina? Cat, where are you?”

Next to the boy, the herbalist cleared her throat. “Here, Gerta.”

Gerta found her, nodded, and turned back to Maia. “Our Cat’s the best healer the Slonimi have. Go see her before you set out. If you’ve caught already, she’ll know. If you haven’t, she’ll know how to help.”

“It’s only been three days,” Tobin said, sounding slighted.

“Nothing against you, Tobe,” Gerta said. “Nature does what it will. Sometimes it takes a while.”

“Not this time,” Maia said calmly.

A murmur ran through the crowd. Derie sat up bolt-straight, her lips pressed together. “You think so?” Gerta said, matching Maia’s tone—although nobody was calm, even the boy could feel the sudden excited tension around the bonfire.

“I know so,” Maia said, laying a hand on her stomach. “I can feel her.”

The tension exploded in a mighty cheer. Instantly, Tobin wiped the sulk off his face and replaced it with pride. The boy leaned into his mother and whispered, under the roar, “Isn’t it too soon to tell?”

“For most women, far too soon, by a good ten days. For Maia?” Caterina sounded as if she were talking to herself, as much as to her son. The boy felt her arm tighten around him. “If she says there’s a baby, there’s a baby.”

After that the adults got drunk. Maia and Tobin slipped away early. Caterina knew a scout from the other group, a man named Sadao, and watching the two of them dancing together, the boy decided to make himself scarce. Tash would have an empty bunk, now that Tobin was gone, and he never brought women home. He’d probably share. If not, there would be a bed somewhere. There always was.

In the morning, the boy found Caterina by the fire, only slightly bleary, and brewing a kettle of strong-smelling tea. Her best hangover cure, she told her son. He took out his notebook and asked what was in it. Ginger, she told him, and willowbark, and a few other things; he wrote them all down carefully. Labeled the page. Caterina’s Hangover Cure.

Then he looked up to find the old woman from the bonfire, Derie, listening with shrewd, narrow eyes. Behind her hovered her apprentice, the pale boy, who this morning had a bruised cheek. “Charles, go fetch my satchel,” she said to him, and he scurried away. To Caterina, Derie said, “Your boy’s conscientious.”

“He learns quickly,” Caterina said, and maybe she just hadn’t had enough hangover tea yet, but the boy thought she sounded wary.

“And fair skinned,” Derie said. “Who’s his father?”

“Jasper Arasgain.”

Derie nodded. “Travels with Afia’s caravan, doesn’t he? Solid man.”

Caterina shrugged. The boy had only met his father a few times. He knew Caterina found Jasper boring.

“Healer’s a good trade. Everywhere needs healers.” Derie paused. “A healer could find his way in anywhere, I’d say. And with that skin—”

The boy noticed Gerta nearby, listening. Her own skin was black as obsidian. “Say what you’re thinking, Derie,” the driver said.

“Highfall,” the old woman said, and immediately, Caterina said, “No.”

“It’d be a great honor for him, Cat,” Gerta said. The boy thought he detected a hint of reluctance in Gerta’s voice.

“Has he done his first Work yet?” Derie said.

Caterina’s lips pressed together. “Not yet.”

Charles, the bruised boy, reappeared with Derie’s satchel.

“We’ll soon change that,” the old woman said, taking the satchel without a word and rooting through until she found a small leather case. Inside was a small knife, silver-colored but without the sheen of real silver.

The boy noticed his own heartbeat, hard hollow thuds in his chest. He glanced at his mother. She looked unhappy, her brow furrowed. But she said nothing.

“Come here, boy,” Derie said.

He sneaked another look at his mother, who still said nothing, and went to stand next to the woman. “Give me your arm,” she said, and he did. She held his wrist with a hand that was both soft and hard at the same time. Her eyes were the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen.

“It’s polite to ask permission before you do this,” she told him. “Not always possible, but polite. I need to see what’s in you, so if you say no, I’ll probably still cut you, but—do I have your permission?”

Behind Derie, Gerta nodded. The bruised boy watched curiously.

“Yes,” the boy said.

“Good,” Derie said. She made a quick, confident cut in the ball of her thumb, made an identical cut in his small hand, quickly drew their two sigils on her skin in the blood, and pressed the cuts together.

The world unfolded. But unfolded was too neat a word, too tidy. This was like when he’d gone wading in the western sea and been knocked off his feet, snatched underwater, tossed in a maelstrom of sand and sun and green water and foam—but this time it wasn’t merely sand and sun and water and foam that swirled around him, it was everything. All of existence, all that had ever been, all that would ever be. His mother was there, bright and hot as the bonfire the night before—not her face or her voice but the Caterina of her, her very essence rendered into flame and warmth.

But most of what he felt was Derie. Derie, immense and powerful and fierce: Derie, reaching into him, unfolding him as surely as she’d unfolded the world. And this was neat and tidy, methodical, almost cold. She unpacked him like a trunk, explored him like a new village. She sought out his secret corners and dark places. When he felt her approval, he thrilled. When he felt her contempt, he trembled. And everywhere she went she left a trace of herself behind like a scent, like the chalk marks the Slonimi sometimes left for each other. Her sigil was hard-edged, multi-cornered. It was everywhere. There was no part of him where it wasn’t.

Then it was over, and he was kneeling by the campfire, throwing up. Caterina was next to him, making soothing noises as she wrapped a cloth around his hand. He leaned against her, weak and grateful.

“It’s all right, my love,” she whispered in his ear, and the nervousness was gone. Now she sounded proud, and sad, and as if she might be crying. “You did well.”

He closed his eyes and saw, on the inside of his eyelids, the woman’s hard, angular sigil, burning like a horse brand.

“Don’t coddle him,” Derie said, and her voice reached through him, back into the places inside him where she’d left her mark. Caterina’s arm dropped away. He forced himself to open his eyes and stand up. His entire body hurt. Derie was watching him, calculating but—yes—pleased. “Well, boy,” she said. “You’ll never be anyone’s best Worker, but you’re malleable, and you’ve got the right look. There’s enough power in you to be of use, once you’re taught to use it. You want to learn?”

“Yes,” he said, without hesitating.

“Good,” she said. “Then you’re my apprentice now, as much as your mother’s. You’ll still learn herbs from your mother, so we’ll join our wagon to your group. But don’t expect the kisses and cuddles from me you get from her. For me, you’ll work hard and you’ll learn hard and maybe someday you’ll be worthy of the knowledge I’ll pass on to you. Say, Yes, Derie.”

“Yes, Derie,” he said.

“You’ve got a lot to learn,” she said. “Go with Charles. He’ll show you where you sleep.”

He hesitated, looked at his mother, because it hadn’t occurred to him that he would be leaving her. Suddenly, swiftly, Derie kicked hard at his leg. He yelped and jumped out of the way. Behind her he saw Charles—he of the bruised face—wince, unsurprised but not unsympathetic.

“Don’t ever make me ask you anything twice,” she said.

“Yes, Derie,” he said, and ran.

Excerpted from The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet. Copyright © 2020 by Kelly Braffet. Published by MIRA Books.

Kelly Braffet is the author of the novels Save Yourself, Last Seen Leaving and Josie & Jack. Her writing has been published in The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. She currently lives in upstate New York with her husband, the author Owen King. A lifelong reader of speculative fiction, the idea for The Unwilling originally came to her in college; twenty years later, it’s her first fantasy novel. Visit her at kellybraffet.com.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.kellybraffet.com/

Facebook: @kellybraffetfiction

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Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara – Excerpt and Q&A

Publisher: Mira Books

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Buy Links:

Harlequin | Indiebound | Amazon| Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Target | Walmart | Google | iBooks | Kobo

I am very excited to feature Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara! I am a little behind on the series but I’ve read some of them and LOVE these books. They’re so cool! They would make a great TV show. Check out the Excerpt and Author Q&A below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!

“In the aftermath of the events in the High Halls, there are loose ends. One of those loose ends is the fieflord, Candallar. In an attempt to understand his involvement—with the Barrani, with the High Court, and with the much hated Arcanum—Kaylin has been sent to the fiefs.

She has mixed feelings about this. There’s nothing mixed about her feelings when she discovers a very unusual building in the border zone between two fiefs, and far more questions are raised than are answered. Her attempt to get answers leads her back to the Imperial Palace and its resident Dragon librarian, the Arkon.

Things that were lost in the dim past were not, perhaps, destroyed or obliterated—and what remains appears to be in the hands of a fieflord and his allies—allies who would like to destroy Kaylin’s friends, the Emperor, and possibly the Barrani High Court itself. This is bad.

What’s worse: The librarian who hates to leave his library has a very strong interest in the things that might, just might, have been preserved, and—he is leaving his library to do in person research, no matter what Kaylin, the Hawks, or the Emperor think.

He is not the only one. Other people are gathering in the border zone; people who believe knowledge is power. But power is also power, and it might be too late for the Empire’s most dedicated Historian—and Kaylin and her friends, who’ve been tasked with his safety.”

Q&A with Michelle Sagara

Q: Your Chronicles of Elantra series is 15 books deep. How do you keep up with the characters and the plot? What do your notes look like?

A: I have a wiki that is not online, and I attempt to keep it updated as I write. This is not always as easy or tidy as it sounds. The wiki (I use VoodooPad) is easily searchable, but I have to remember to search it, and sometimes I don’t.

I am not a visual person, at all. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I had known my husband for years, and it wasn’t until someone in the store asked what color his eyes were that I realized I didn’t know. Since he’s blond (Finnish on his mother’s side), I assumed that they were blue, and after some thought said, “probably blue”, which caused mild confusion. Had I not known my husband for years? I went home and this time looked and paid attention to what I was seeing: they were blue.

Because eye color had not–obviously–been of great import to me, eye color was the start of my note-keeping. I needed to try to track eye color of characters because I knew I’d forget. And… I still got it wrong between books. T_T.

But… the internals of the characters–what they want, where they’ve come from, the experiences that produced them, I viscerally know. Height? No, not really. Shape? Well, I remember which ones are human, Barrani, Dragon, Tha’alani, etc. Hates? Likes? Yes. Goals as well, if they have them. I remember their place in the hierarchies they occupy, because in some ways, that’s part of their interior makeup.

But sometimes, when in the flow of the words, I… don’t remember to go and check the wiki for the details that, in the moment of writing, aren’t important to me.

My notes, however, and all cross-linked to each other, because of the wiki format.

Q: What kind of research do you do for your books? Is it mandatory (for you) for all your books?

A: It’s very much on a book-by-book basis. At this point in the writing, most of the research is… all the previous books. 

I have had books which are more research intensive, but in general I read history in bits and pieces, and file away what I’ve read. It becomes part of the mental soil from which books grow. 

So, there are specific books in which I realized, as I was writing, that I didn’t know something that I needed to know, and that stopped the writing dead as I then attempted to find answers to the questions that arose from my own ignorance. I think, as I get older, I realize far more easily when I don’t know something and need to know it.

But I’m what’s generally called a pantser. I don’t have a plan when I start; I usually only have the ending. To know exactly what I don’t know and need to know is therefore not entirely predictable. 

…and I admit that once I’ve started building bits and pieces of world, I become increasingly impatient because I just want to dive in and start writing. So sometimes I start, write, and then stop because something a specific character would know, I don’t know. And then I set the book aside and start to look at things.

I think it’s important to know what my characters know, or at least what my viewpoint characters know.

Q: What is it about fantasy that makes you love it above any other genre?

A: This is a harder question to answer, because it’s so specific; it’s entirely Michelle-context. Does that context overlap with other readers? Yes. But not all of it, and not simultaneously.

I’m a product of my culture, my reading culture, and my linguistic limitations; I speak only English, and can only read French with a fifty percent chance of understanding it.

So: books I read and loved when young had fantasy elements, were fantasy. I read a lot of fairy tales. Anything I could get my hands on. Portal fantasy like the Narnia books. Fantasy like McKillip’s Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Fantasy like The Hobbit, and eventually, Lord of the Rings. 

I also read a lot of mythology books–at first for kids, and later, translations of plays and sagas that hadn’t been written with children in mind.

I read other books, books without fantasy elements, growing up–but the things that spoke to me most strongly were those. They were the books of my developing reader heart. As I traversed the divide between childhood and not-childhood (does anyone truly ever feel adult on the inside of their own head? I always feel like I’ve gotten better at performing adulthood, but I can’t quite feel it as my base state), I found other fantasy. I also found books like The Left Hand of Darkness

And all of the reading overlapped with life experiences; everything on the inside of my head, like the soil out of which story grows and evolves.

I loved fantasy as a reader. I loved reading as a reader. When I made the choice to start writing, I wrote what I loved. 

Q: If you didn’t write, what would you be doing?

A: I cannot actually answer that question, because I have always written. From about six years of age, on. I didn’t write for other people, and I hid all my writing because I didn’t want to open it up to judgement and criticism. 

If you mean, what would I do to make money, I’m not sure. Work, yes–but I’m not sure doing what. I didn’t expect, growing up, that my work would be my life; a job was a necessity, because having a roof over one’s head and food on the table was a necessity. I didn’t therefore pursue a career about which I could be passionate until I started to write for submission.

If I worked for someone else for a living, I would still write, because I always did. Would I write as often or as consistently? Probably not. There were gap months in university in which I didn’t write at all. But I always came back to it because writing words was an act of communication.

How, if I didn’t share them?

Good question. It was an act of communication with myself. It was a way of seeing, more clearly, things I believed or things that moved me, that I had not fully processed or pragmatically understood.

It was also like an exorcism: I put these words down so that they didn’t envelop and overwhelm the rest of my thoughts.

Q: What is the most difficult thing about your writing process?

A: The answer will depend entirely on when the question is asked, sadly.

If, for instance, I’m starting a new book, the answer will be: beginnings. I start a book several times, trying to find the right tone, the right voice. The longest not right attempt at a beginning was thirty-two pages. Most peter out at between four and six. 

At the moment, I’m revising, so the answer is: Revision.

Writing, once I have a beginning, is about flow. The story is like a river; I can follow it. I can swim in it. I can drown in it if I don’t remember to come up for air. But the entirety of the book flows from beginning to end. I don’t write out of order. I don’t write to an outline. Part of writing, or the joy of it, is in the discovery. I have an idea of where things are going and how they’ll get there, but the act of writing the book produces a lot – sometimes a LOT – of surprises.

What I know is the end. I understand the world. I don’t know how the characters will reach the end from the beginning, because even when I do know, I’m often wrong.

So, I now have a finished book. I revise it for submission–but I’m aware that I’m too close to it, and that my editor is going to be reading it and pointing out the parts that didn’t work for her. 

Here’s the trick to editing: editors read as readers. Their editorial experience gives them the abililty to explain why they had the reader reaction they did. I’m not going to argue about the editor’s reaction to the book. Even if I disagree with it, what am I going to say? No you didn’t react that way? Clearly, they did.

What I can do is examine why the scene didn’t work for the editor. Why it wasn’t compelling enough or believeable enough. If I want to keep that scene in this book, I have work to do.

But. Revision requires–for me–an entirely different frame of mind. It’s more objective; objectivity is required for me to assess structure and structural changes. Subjectivity is required for me – and let me take this moment to stress that all writers have different processes and I’m talking about only mine – to write.

And I can get caught up between the two states, until I can’t tell what’s objective and what’s subjective.

The corollary to that is that the book is a metaphoric river, and it is very difficult to restructure a river. I can’t just cut out one part and move it to another part if the terrain and the riverbed are not substantially the same for the two parts.

Which means I frequently end up having to take a chapter which mostly works and throw the entire thing out and start it again because I can see the seams in the revision if I don’t. 

Q: Finally, what do you want readers to leave with after finishing your books?

A: I write books because reading books moved me. A lot. I could get lost in a book, sink into it, follow it, think about it, daydream about it. 

Parts of that were intellectual, but the drive to be intellectual about a book I’d read came from a strong emotional response to it. What I want readers to leave with is the emotional response to the story and characters I had, and built, while writing it. I want to open a window into what the book made me feel as the writer.

Writing story is, in some ways, building a vessel that is solid enough to carry the emotional weight of the ending.

“You are such a coward,” Bellusdeo said when they’d reached the relative safety of the street. The roads in and around Helen were sparsely populated at the busiest of times, which this wasn’t. They would soon join roads that were crowded at the slowest of times, but Kaylin was dressed for the office. The Hawk emblazoned on her tabard encouraged people to make space. 

Had Bellusdeo hit the streets in her Draconic form, she’d have cleared far more of it—but some of that space would be created by panic, and panic could cause both accidents and the type of traffic congestion that caused the Swords to investigate. Also, it was illegal. 

“It’s not cowardice,” Kaylin replied, scanning the windows of the buildings above ground level. 

“What would you call it?” 

“Wisdom.” 

“Oh, please.”

“There’s no point in arguing with them now. Sedarias thinks it’ll be months before this ridiculous command performance occurs. We have months to attempt to talk her out of—” 

“Out of expressing any appreciation or gratitude?” 

Ugh. “You know they’re grateful. This isn’t about gratitude. It’s about rubbing that gratitude in the faces of the Barrani who attempted to brand you a—an army. An attacking army.” 

“I believe the term you want is Flight.” Bellusdeo’s eyes were orange. 

Hope squawked at the Dragon. Kaylin didn’t understand what he was saying. Bellusdeo did, but her eyes didn’t get any lighter. 

“You know as well as I do,” Kaylin said, emboldened by Hope’s entry into the discussion, “that this is not the time to visit the High Halls. I’m not sure the Emperor has ever been a guest there.” 

“We visited the Halls—more or less—when they came under attack, and the Barrani needed our help.” 

“From the outside. No one invited the Dragon Court in.” 

The chorus of Barrani voices that sometimes offered entirely unasked for opinions on the inside of her head maintained their silence for half a beat. The first person to break that silence was the fieflord. His words were tinged with amusement. 

You cannot expect that the cohort would suddenly cease to cause any difficulty, surely? 

I’m almost certain that the cohort understands why inviting a Dragon—any Dragon—to attend the High Halls would be a disaster. 

For the Dragons? 

For everyone. 

I believe some of the more conservative High Lords might be surprisingly supportive of such an invitation. 

Of course they would. It would be their best shot at killing Bellusdeo. If Bellusdeo died, there would be no new Dragons. No hatchlings. 

There’s no way the Emperor would give her permission to attend. 

Nightshade concurred. In his position, I would not. But I would be prepared, should I refuse to grant that permission, for all-out war. My brother has grown inordinately fond of her; living with you has made him reckless. 

He’s not— 

He has known Bellusdeo for even less time than you. He is willing to trust her in a fashion no one older would. And do not cite the Consort, please. 

Kaylin hadn’t intended to. The Consort seems to like her. 

Kaylin, the Consort “likes” me. But she does not trust me. 

She does. 

“Stop making that face, or it will freeze that way.” Kaylin reddened. 

I understand that you are attempting to avoid the Emperor’s ire. I consider this wise on your part. It is not, however, the ire of the Emperor that will be your most significant problem; he will do nothing to harm Bellusdeo. 

I know that. 

It is the ire of the High Lords. Sedarias is, I believe, genuinely grateful for Bellusdeo’s intervention. She does wish to honor her. But gratitude can be expressed privately—and in most cases, it is. Only rulers feel obliged to make that expression public because the public expression elevates those to whom one feels gratitude. It makes clear to witnesses that the aid tendered—in whatever fashion—is important and significant. The Emperor has codified such significance in public ceremonies and public titles, has he not? 

Kaylin shrugged. 

For Sedarias, however, genuine gratitude is not an impediment to political displays. She can be genuinely grateful and simultaneously, extremely political. She wishes to highlight Bellusdeo’s aid and import to Mellarionne. Why do you think this is? 

Kaylin thought about this. After a long pause, she said, She wants to thumb her nose at the rest of the High Lords, many of whom weren’t helpful at all? 

Nightshade’s silence was one of encouragement. 

Bellusdeo’s a Dragon. So…her presence means that even Dragons—with whom you’ve had a war or two— 

Three. 

Fine, a war or three, were more helpful, or at least more of a genuine ally, than any of the Barrani. 

Yes. I believe that is some part of Sedarias’s intent. That’s not going to help Mellarionne any. 

Perhaps, perhaps not. She will do so as An’Mellarionne. It would be considered a very bold move—but there are those who would assume that Sedarias is confident in her own power, and they would hesitate to challenge her. 

“If you are speaking about me,” Bellusdeo said, her voice almost a whisper of sound, “I must insist that you include me.” 

Hope squawked. 

“Well, yes, that could cause some difficulty,” the Dragon replied. “But I dislike Kaylin’s worry. She is mortal.” Squawk. “The marks of the Chosen don’t matter. She’s mortal. I may be a displaced person in these lands; I may no longer have a home or lands of my own. But I am a Dragon.” 

“I’m not exactly worried about you,” Kaylin said. When one golden brow rose in response, she added, “Not about you specifically. But—there’s no way for Dragon and High Halls to combine that isn’t political. Explosively political. On your own, you can survive more than any of the rest of the cohort—or me. But you won’t be on your own. The cohort won’t abandon you.” 

It was the Dragon’s turn to snort. 

Kaylin reconsidered her words and chose better ones. “Most of the cohort wouldn’t abandon you. Annarion wouldn’t. Mandoran wouldn’t. I don’t believe Allaron would either, from what I’ve seen. And you know what the cohort is like. The minute one of them enters combat to save you, they’re all going to rush in. It doesn’t matter if they’re there for your sake or their friends’; they’ll be there. But this is political, and anything political is far above my pay grade.” 

“You don’t seem to find this insulting.” 

“I consider it one of the biggest advantages of my rank. Which is the lowest rank I could be given and still be called a Hawk.” 

“One of? What’s another one?” 

“I’m not in command. I don’t need to make decisions that might cost the lives of other Hawks. No matter what happens in an action, large or small, I won’t have their deaths on my hands.” 

“But you don’t like being a private.” 

“Well, I could be a corporal, and it would still be mostly true. And the pay is higher.” 

“It’s not much higher,” a familiar voice said. It was Mandoran’s. Of course it was. Kaylin didn’t miss a step. 

“I don’t suggest you try to enter the Halls of Law looking like that.” 

“Like what?” 

“Like thin air.” 

“Oh. That.” Mandoran caused other people some consternation as he materialized to the side of Kaylin that Bellusdeo wasn’t occupying. To be fair, most of the street didn’t notice; people always had their own problems and their own schedules. “I was going to follow Teela into the office, but Teela’s not heading there directly.” 

“So you followed us?” 

“Not most of the way, no. I decided to head straight here to wait, but I caught up because you’re doing the Hawk-walk.” He glanced at Bellusdeo. “For what it’s worth, I think insisting on your presence on the inside of the High Halls is suicidal.” 

“Oh?” The Dragon’s voice was cool. “For who?” 

Mandoran grinned. “Mostly Kaylin.” 

Kaylin watched as flecks of gold appeared in Bellusdeo’s eyes. Mandoran had, once again, managed to set Bellusdeo at ease. Kaylin wondered if that was why he’d chosen to speak when he had. He never treated the Dragon with respect; had the Emperor been present for most of their spats, she wasn’t certain Mandoran wouldn’t be a pile of bleeding ash. Well, ash, because ash didn’t bleed, but still. 

“You left the rest of the cohort behind?” Kaylin asked. 

“We had a vote, and Helen decided it was safest to send me.” 

“She was the tie-breaker?” 

“Ah, no. She didn’t consider the first choice viable. But— we can all see what I see anyway, so unless there’s an attack, having more than one person here is superfluous. If Teela had been coming directly to the office, someone would have followed Teela.” 

“Not you?” Bellusdeo asked. 

“I had to live with Tain for a few years. Compressed into a few weeks, I might add. He’s stuffy and remarkably straightforward. Also, he hates fun.” 

“He hates mess,” Kaylin said, as they approached the stairs that led into the Halls of Law. 

“Define mess. No, wait, don’t. The problem with Tain—at least for me—is that Teela might actually kill us if we’re indirectly responsible for his death. He’s not like the rest of us; we can’t speak to him without shouting, and even if we can, he doesn’t listen half the time. So…it’s a lot less safe to tail Tain.” 

“I imagine it’s safer to tail Tain than it is to tail Kaylin if you’re worried about Teela’s reaction,” Bellusdeo said, frowning slightly. 

“You need a better imagination.”

Excerpted from Cast In Wisdom by Michelle Sagara, Copyright © 2020 by Michelle Sagara. Published by MIRA Books.

Michelle Sagara is an author, bookseller, and lover of literature based in Toronto. She writes fantasy novels and lives with her husband and her two children, and to her regret has no dogs. Reading is one of her life-long passions, and she is sometimes paid for her opinions about what she’s read by the venerable Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. No matter how many bookshelves she buys, there is Never Enough Shelf space. Ever.

American Royals (#1) by Katharine McGee – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: September 03, 2019

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fiction, Romance

Adventure Rating: 4.5 Stars

Amazon

What if America had a royal family? If you can’t get enough of Harry and Meghan or Kate and William, meet American princesses Beatrice and Samantha.

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.
Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.
This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American. And their country was born of rebellion.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history. “

*Thank you so much to the publisher and NetGalley for sending me an e-arc in exchange for an honest review! AND a big thank you to the publisher for having me on the tour!*

This is probably my favorite contemporary I’ve ever read. It read like a Hallmark movie with added drama. I loved every moment.

Characters: Beatrice seems uptight when you first meet her but quickly learn that she has her emotions under tight control. She is an extreme perfectionist because she is in line to become the next queen of America. I actually found her more interesting than her wild sister, Samantha, and her wild brother Jeff. I felt bad for Samantha though because she seemed like she would actually have been on the right path if she was encouraged (positively) to do so. She just couldn’t compete with her perfect older sister. Jeff seemed sweet but really naive when it comes to women! I guess he’s only 18 but still! He had me shaking my head sometimes! Nina seemed like the only normal teenager, which I suppose she was. Daphne… oh boy. What to say about her. While I admire her cleverness, she is also quite scary and just plain old MEAN! She makes a good “baddie” because you feel bad for her while at the same time hate her.

Plot: I think that McGee did a really good job of making this world feel real! I normally don’t like political insinuations but I have to say that I agreed a bit with some things she said. Especially the part where Beatrice is wondering what a vote would be like. And she came to the conclusion that it would basically be a mess and everyone would be corrupt… Agreed! Anyways, I liked the drama that Beatrice’s position caused. She didn’t really want it but has absolutely no choice. And the choices she has to make! I loved McGee’s look at what America would look like as a monarchy. McGee is actually a bit humorous at times, at one point she says that the Royals only drink coffee because of the Boston Tea Party incident. I almost laughed out loud at that!

Final Thoughts: If you like drama, alternate history, and lots of romantic tension, read this. That ending was so hard to read! I want the second book RIGHT NOW!

Katharine McGee is the New York Times bestselling author of the Thousandth Floor series. She studied English and French literature at Princeton and has an MBA from Stanford. She’s been speculating about American royalty since her undergraduate days, when she wrote a thesis on “castle envy”: the idea that the American psyche is missing out on something, because Americans don’t have a royal family of their own.

Katharine lives with her husband in her hometown of Houston, Texas.

For more information, check out her website (this is one of the COOLEST author sites I’ve ever seen!!).