Monday, September 27, 2021

Blog Tour: Luminous by Mara Rutherford Excerpt & Q&A

   

Hiya, Booknerds! I was lucky enough to be selected for the Blog Tour of LUMINOUSAs such, I will give you some details about the interesting book as well as its lovely author. 

And you also get a BOOKISH BONUS: 

*A delightful morsel of an excerpt can be found below*

ABOUT THE BOOK:

PublisherInkyard Press
Release Date: October 5, 2021
GenreTeen & Young Adult Epic Fantasy
Pages: 38
4
Source: E-ARC

THE STORY:
From the author of Crown of Coral and Pearl comes an immersive new fantasy about a witch who must learn to harness her power—or risk losing her loved ones forever.
Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.
To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos—and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.  
BUY LINKS:

Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Bookshop.org
Apple Books
Google Play


Q&A WITH MARA RUTHERFORD

Q: What was the hardest scene to write in Luminous? What was the easiest?

A: The hardest scene to write in Luminous was probably the climax. This book has changed a ton over the past five years, so balancing a few different aspects of the novel was challenging. I don’t want to give anything away, but I hope I hit the right combination of exciting and heartbreaking. Fingers crossed! The easiest part to write was somewhere in the middle… Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say I really enjoy writing anything with monsters. 

Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)?

A: I always have some inside jokes/secrets in my books. In Luminous, the three sisters are inspired by the three daughters of our good friends. My husband and I had a black greyhound as our first dog, so that helped inspire Lord Darius’s sighthounds (although ours was adorable and in no way demented!). There’s a part where Liora, the MC, is looking at the stars and she recalls a myth about one of the constellations. The triplets referenced are inspired by my triplet siblings.

Q: What do you hope people remember about Luminous?

A: I suppose with all my books I hope people will remember how they felt when reading them, and in this case, I hope they feel inspired to embrace the parts of themselves they may fear or doubt. Liora is a somewhat reluctant heroine given her circumstances, and I hope young readers will remember that even if you don’t feel like the hero of your own story, you can be.

Q: Did Luminous have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?

A: I currently listen to a combination of alternative music, classical, and Taylor Swift when I write. I drafted this novel a long time ago, and at the time I didn’t listen to music when I wrote. But I will say that Folklore and Evermore were on repeat for all of 2020.

Q: What is your dream cast for Luminous?

A: This question is always weird for me because I’m 41 now and not particularly in touch with who the up-and-coming young actors are! I think Mackenzie Foy would make a good Liora based on looks, however.

EXCERPT:

    My father once described magic as an invisible beast, an unseen enemy that could snatch our lives away at any moment. As a small, impressionable child, I had imagined a lupine creature lurking outside among the whispering pines, breathing over my shoulder in our garden. For years, I didn’t even leave the house; it was magic that had killed my mother, after all.

    I was old enough now to understand that magic didn’t work that way. But as I hurried down the dark road, past the woods that had become my haven during daylight hours, my childhood fears didn’t feel so foolish. I glanced behind me, sure I’d find Belle Sabine, the fabled witch of every young woman’s nightmares, swooping down as silent as an owl, ready to steal my youth and leave an empty husk behind.

    To my relief, there was nothing there. My only traveling companion was the wind nipping at my heels, spurring me forward. But in my brief distraction, I tripped over a rock in the road, falling hard onto my knees. Cursing myself for my clumsiness and superstition, I dusted off my hands, wincing as a sharp pebble dislodged from my palm. I couldn’t afford this kind of delay. It was close to midnight, and there was no moon to speak of, which made my situation even more precarious; my exposed skin glowed so brightly that moths circled me like a flame. But my little sister, Mina, was missing. I had to tell Father.

    As I rose, I heard the sound of footsteps up the road. I glanced around for a place to hide, but there was no time. A moment later, a figure loomed at the margins of my glow.

    Some said Belle Sabine had died, others that she was biding her time until the townspeople became complacent once again. But I was convinced she had come to kill me on the one night I had dared to venture past our threshold.

    I shrank back as skirts and slippered feet came into view, followed by a woman’s arms cradling a basket, and finally, the face of Margana, the weaver who lived next door. Not here to kill me, then. But a witch, nevertheless. And one arguably as dangerous as Belle Sabine, given who she worked for.

    “What are you doing on the road, Liora? It’s the middle of the night.”

    “Mina is gone,” I said. “Father is still at work, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

    Margana scrutinized me for a moment. “You’re a witch.”

    A chill that had nothing to do with the cool night air crept over my scalp. No one had ever called me a witch to my face before, though of course I knew what I was. My entire life revolved around my glowing skin and the fear that the kingdom’s most powerful warlock would discover it. Lord Darius was employed by the king himself, gathering mages and torturing them if they didn’t do his bidding.

    I pulled Father’s cloak tighter around myself, but it was futile. She already knew. I had wasted too much time getting up the nerve to leave the house after I found Mina’s bed empty, wringing my hands at the window, wondering if she’d been kidnapped by drifters or lured into the forest by a ghost lantern. Then, once I was on the road, I had foolishly stopped to look at the devil’s footprints, little white mushrooms that grew in pairs of two, resembling the cloven hooves of a demon. I’d seen them in daylight plenty of times, but never at night. They had caught my eye because their glow was so similar to my own.

    Oddly, Margana’s basket was full of the mushrooms. Her cornflower-blue eyes and auburn hair were pale and otherworldly in their light. As if sensing my curiosity, she shifted the basket to her other hip. Margana was one of the few people who lived outside the gates of the ancient village of Sylvan, like us. She was also my best friend Evran’s mother—and the only other witch I knew.

    “I always wondered why your father moved you girls out here after your mother died,” she said. “Now it all makes sense. But something tells me your father wouldn’t be pleased to know you’re outside, exposing yourself.” She grabbed one of my hands and turned it over, examining it like a bruised apple at market. Against Margana’s dull skin, mine looked false, as if I wasn’t a real person at all.

    I pulled my hand free as politely as possible. “I should go.”

    She sighed. “Keep your head down, and pray you don’t meet anyone on the road. Darius’s spies are everywhere.”

    My eyes widened in fear, and she chuckled to herself. “Not me, silly girl.”

    I swallowed audibly. If there really were spies in Sylvan, Margana was the most likely suspect. After all, she did work for Lord Darius. She might not be his servant by choice, but he was dangerous enough that no mage dared cross him. No mage who had lived to tell about it, anyway.

    I was about to step around her when my eyes drifted to the basket once again. “I thought the devil’s footprints were poisonous.”

Her lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Oh, they are. Highly. Fortunately, I don’t plan on eating them. Good luck, Liora.”

    I nodded and hurried to the stone steps leading down to Sylvan, which was tucked away in a gorge, hidden from the roving eyes of river pirates. Above me, a heavy iron chain was suspended between the cliffs. As far as I knew, Sylvan was the only village in Antalla—maybe the world—that could boast having attracted not one, but two falling stars. A fragment of the first had been melted into the shape of a five-pointed star and hung from the chain. At night, it was only a glimmer overhead.

    The second star—my star—had disintegrated amid the flames when it landed.

    I wound my way silently through Sylvan’s narrow streets, toward Father’s shop. He and Adelle, my older, more responsible sister, were likely the only ones working at this hour. Just as I quickened my pace, I heard a high-pitched shriek from somewhere above me. I looked up to where a lamp winked on in an apartment window, illuminating two silhouettes, then down to the shop on my left. The tailor’s shop.

    Mina.

    Without thinking, I grabbed the cast-iron boot scraper sitting by the front door of the shop and hurled it through the window. Glass shattered, leaving a jagged hole that gaped like a mouth midscream.

    Heart racing, I flattened myself against the alcove by the door as a man shouted and a window screeched open. The tailor, a young man nearly as alluring as the fabrics he sold, poked his head out for a moment, then disappeared, likely heading downstairs to look for the culprit. I scurried to the nook in front of the butcher’s, hoping my light would be hidden there.

    “Get behind me,” Luc said from somewhere inside the shop. “The thief could still be out there.”

    “You’re so brave.”

    I sighed in relief at the sound of Mina’s voice, before fury shot through me like an arrow. I should have known she would come to the tailor’s; she had flirted with Luc relentlessly today, which was how we’d acquired four yards of the champagne-colored silk she wanted for the dress I’d spent all evening working on.

    A moment later, they emerged onto the street, Mina clutching at Luc’s sleeve as he lifted his lamp and peered into the darkness.

    He tossed his black hair out of his eyes and frowned. “It doesn’t look like they stole anything. Just vandals, I suppose.”

    “Or someone trying to send you a message,” Mina breathed, dramatic as ever. “Do you have any nemeses?”

    When he turned his dark gaze on her, something tugged at my heart. She was wearing a dress I’d made for myself when I was her age. It hung loose on her thin frame, but the hem grazed her calves, a sure sign she had altered it. She had nothing but a shawl pulled around her shoulders, and from where I stood, it was painfully clear that the tailor was not interested in her the way she no doubt hoped.

    “I have to find a member of the night guard and report this. You shouldn’t be here. If your father catches you, he’ll have me hanged. You’re a sweet girl, Mina, but this is inappropriate.”

    “But the silk…”

    “That was for your sister. Now, please, go home.”

    Mina caught her lip in her teeth to keep from crying. With a nod, she hurried away, tears already streaming down her cheeks. I waited for Luc to start up the street before I ran out of the alcove to catch her.

    She squealed in alarm when I placed my hand on her shoulder, and I quickly clapped my other hand over her mouth.

    “It’s me,” I whispered, lowering my hand slowly when I was confident she wouldn’t scream.

    She swiped at her tears. “Liora? What are you doing out? What if someone sees you?”

    My anger softened at her concern, until I remembered that she was the reason I was out in the first place. “I might ask you the same questions. If Father had come home and found you missing, he’d have killed you.”

    “And what if he goes home and finds both of us missing? Have you considered that?”

    I opened my mouth to scold her, but she was right. “You can explain what you were doing once we get back,” I said.

    In typical Mina fashion, she stuck her tongue out at me, then turned and ran toward home.

* * *

    We were indeed lucky. We made it home not long before Father and Adelle. By the time he came to our room to check on us, we were both in bed. I waved sleepily at him and Mina let out an emphatic snore, but once the door was closed, I threw back my covers and leaped out of bed.

    “I hope you have a good explanation for this,” I hissed.

    Her voice was muffled by the thick blanket pulled up to her nose, but I could hear the tremor in it when she said, “I thought Luc liked me.”

    “And I thought you were dead!” I whisper-shouted, then stalked to the window ledge to keep myself from throttling her. I plucked a pendant from the collar of my nightgown, running my fingers over the five points on the star charm to calm myself. Evran had given it to me, years ago, and its contours were as familiar to me now as the feel of his hand in mine as he pulled me through the Sylvan woods toward home at twilight. Perhaps I was being too hard on Mina. I would risk a lot of things for Evran.

    “Luc told me he was having a party tonight,” she said. “I didn’t realize how late it was when I got there. Everyone else had already left.”

    I was surprised that the thought of her getting ready for a party, the excitement she must have felt as she sneaked into Sylvan to meet a handsome young man, made me more envious than angry. “I heard you cry out.”

    The whites of her eyes flashed in the dark.

    “Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me,” I snapped.

    “I’m just stretching them, Ora.” The world-weary tone was classic Mina: so eager to be a grown-up, ever since she was little. “A moth got tangled in my hair. Anyway, Luc was a perfect gentleman. And as it turns out, it’s not me he wants.”

    The silk was for me. The last of my anger waned as I imagined how sure Mina must have been of Luc to do something so foolish, only to find she’d made a huge mistake. This was his fault as much as it was hers. “He was just being kind because I spend so much money in his shop.”

    She snorted. “He spoke about you the entire time. He asked why you hadn’t come to the party, and what you liked to do in your free time, and why he never saw you out in town.”

    “What did you tell him?” I dropped the pendant into my collar and pulled back the edge of the curtain just a bit to gaze at the real stars.

    “I told him you were making me a dress, that that’s what you’re doing most of the time.”

    I sighed and let the curtain fall. For a girl with glowing skin, I sounded unbearably dull. But it was the truth. If I wasn’t sewing, I was cooking, cleaning, or rereading one of our few books.

    Father trusted me enough to let me go out on sunny days now. The smallest stars don’t shine at noon, he said, and my glow could be kept dim as long as I stayed in control of my emotions. But the downside of having even just a little bit of freedom was that it came with responsibilities. Father had only given me permission to go to town for errands, never to dawdle, which made taking Mina along particularly frustrating. She had made an art form out of window-shopping. I missed my afternoons in the woods with Evran, those glorious days when I could sneak out unnoticed while Father was working and my sisters were in their lessons.

    I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up, a wave of guilt washing over me. Had I really believed Mina was in mortal peril? Because if not, there was no excuse for my own behavior. What if some part of me had risked going out tonight because I wanted to prove to myself, finally, that my magic wasn’t as dangerous as Father feared?

    If that was the case, I had failed spectacularly. It had only taken a few minutes for me to undo all our years of hard work, and I couldn’t blame my sister for that.

    “Promise me you won’t sneak out again, Mina. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”

    She twisted onto her side to face me. “I’m sorry. I should never have put you at risk like that. I won’t do it again.”

    “It’s all right. Get some sleep now.”

    Mina responded a moment later with a very genuine snore.

    I smiled and tried to fall asleep myself, but I lay awake for hours, thinking about Margana. Would she tell Darius about me, potentially destroying not just my life but those of everyone I loved? I thought of Father and wondered if all this time it hadn’t been me he was protecting, but them.

    Because as much as I had wanted to believe that the invisible beast was out there, that if I simply hid myself away like a secret, we would be safe, I had known for quite some time that the beast Father feared most lived inside of me.

Excerpted from Luminous by Mara Rutherford, © 2021 by Mara Rutherford. Used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Mara Rutherford began her writing career as a journalist but quickly discovered she far preferred fantasy to reality. Originally from California, Mara has since lived all over the world with her marine-turned-diplomat husband. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara holds a master's degree in cultural studies from the University of London. When she's not writing or chasing after her two sons, she can usually be found pushin_g the boundaries of her comfort zone, whether at a traditional Russian banya or an Incan archaeological site. Mara is a former Pitch Wars mentee and three-time mentor.

Social Links:

Twitter

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Goodreads -- Author

***Check out Mara Rutherford's website for more information about her and LUMINOUS: https://www.mararutherford.com/

Happy Reading!





Monday, April 12, 2021

Blog Tour: These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy Excerpt

 


Hiya, Booknerds! I was lucky enough to be selected for the Blog Tour of THESE FEATHERED FLAMESAs such, I will give you some details about the interesting book as well as its lovely author. 

And you also get a BOOKISH BONUS: 

*A delightful morsel of an excerpt can be found below*

ABOUT THE BOOK:

PublisherINKYARD PRESS
Release Date: April 20, 2021
GenreTeen & Young Adult Fantasy/ Epic/Fairy Tales & Folklore/ Adaptations/Family/Siblings/Romance/LGBTQ+romance
Pages
496
Source: ARC

THE STORY:
Three Dark Crowns meets Wicked Saints in this queer #ownvoices retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale, by debut author Alexandra Overy.
When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.
But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.
As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.
BUY LINKS:

Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Apple Books
Google Books


EXCERPT:

CHAPTER ONE:

The prey wasn’t meant to be a child.

When Asya had smelled the sharp tang of magic—strong even before she emerged from the tree line—that possibility hadn’t so much as fluttered across her mind. It was never meant to be a child.

But the scent of magic was undeniable. That indistinguishable combination of damp overturned earth and the metallic copper of blood, cut through with the acrid burn of power. It was overlaid with the cloying sweetness of waterose, as if someone had tried to mask it.

A futile attempt.

And Asya was sure this time. The person they were looking for had to be here.

The comfort of the forest stood at her back, the dark canopy of trees stretching behind her in every direction. The fading sunlight could not break through the writhing tangle of branches, so in the shadow of the trunks, it was dark as twilight.

Most people feared the forest. Stories of monsters that lurked in its depths, witches who lured unsuspecting children in and tore out their hearts. But to Asya it had always felt safe, the gnarled trunks and rustling leaves were like old friends.

“This is it,” Asya said, inclining her head toward the clearing in front of them.

A slight smile tugged at her lips. Two years ago, when her great-aunt had first deemed her ready to try tracking herself—to follow the magic with only her mortal senses once they were close enough to the source—she’d found it impossible. More often than not, she just led them in circles until Tarya gave up on her. But today, Asya had managed it.

She might not be as unwavering as her aunt, as strong or as dutiful, but at least Asya had succeeded in this.

She glanced over at Tarya, waiting for her reaction. But her aunt stood stiller than the trees, an immovable presence in their midst. The shadowed light filtering through the leaves cast her face in stark relief, carving deep hollows into her snow-white cheeks and emphasizing the wrinkles at her brow. She could have been a painting—one of the old oil portraits of the gods, soft brushstrokes of light adding an ethereal glow to her stern face.

It made her look otherworldly. Inhuman.

Which she was. One of the creatures that prowled these trees.

While Asya, or any other mortal, could smell the residual magic, her aunt could feel it. No amount of waterose or burned sage—or any of the other tricks people tried—could hide magic from Tarya.

Her dark eyes flickered to Asya. “Correct,” her aunt murmured, a hint of satisfaction in her soft voice.

In front of them, the comforting trees gave way to an open paddock. It had been allowed to run wild, chamomile glinting yellow in the long grass, like sun spots on water. Purple-capped mushrooms pushed their way through the weeds, intertwining with the soft lilac of scattered crocuses.

The tinge of pride in Asya’s chest melted away, replaced by a thrumming anticipation. The paddock could have been beautiful, she supposed. But the cold apprehension burning in her stomach overshadowed it, darkening the flowers to poisonous thorns and muting the colors like fog. It was always like this. Ever since the first time Tarya had taken her on a hunt. Once she was left without a task to complete—a distraction—Asya couldn’t pretend to forget what came next. She’d hoped it would get better, but she still couldn’t shake the lingering fear.

She shifted her feet, trying to ignore the erratic rhythm of her heart. She hated waiting. Each frantic beat stretching out into an eternity.

She just wanted this to be over.

After all, her sister had always been the brave one.

But that was why Asya was here. Why she had to follow this path, no matter how she wavered. She owed it to her sister. They were the two sides of a coin, and if Asya failed, then her sister would too.

Tarya’s words—the words Asya had to live by—pounded through her. This is our duty. Not a question of right or wrong, but balance.

Her aunt stepped forward. She moved silently, slipping like a shadow untethered from its owner, from the gnarled trees and out into the overgrown paddock beyond. She didn’t speak—she rarely did when she felt a Calling—but Asya knew she was meant to follow.

Asya took a shaky breath, touching one finger to the wooden icon around her neck. An unspoken prayer. She could do this.

Far less quietly, she followed Tarya into the uneven grass, wincing at the snapping twigs beneath her boots.

The paddock led to a small cottage, surrounded by more soft crocuses. Their purple seeped out from the house like a bruise. The building’s thatched roof had clearly been recently repaired, and the gray stone was all but consumed by creeping moss. The stench of magic grew with each step Asya took. Wateroses lay scattered on the ground, interspersed with dried rosemary sprigs. The too-sweet scent, cut through with the burn of magic, made her stomach turn.

Tarya stopped by the wooden door. Marks of various saints had been daubed across it in stark black paint, uneven and still wet. Acts of desperation. They felt out of place in the idyllic scene. The sight sent a prickle of unease through Asya’s gut.

“Your weapon,” Tarya prompted, her voice as low as the rustle of grass behind them.

Asya’s fingers jumped to the curved bronze shashka at her waist. A careless mistake. She should have drawn the short blade long before. She couldn’t let the apprehension clawing at the edge of her mind overwhelm her. Not this time. 

She had to be sure. Uncompromising. She had to be like Tarya.

Asya unsheathed the weapon, the bronze glinting in the fading light, and forced her hand to steady.

Her aunt gave her a long look, one that said she knew just how Asya’s heart roiled beneath the surface. But Tarya just nodded, turning back to the freshly marked door. Sparks already danced behind her eyes—deep red and burnished-gold flames swallowing her dark irises. It transformed her from ethereal into something powerful.

Monstrous.

Asya swallowed, pushing that thought away. Her aunt wasn’t a monster.

Tarya reached out and pressed her palm to the wood. Heat rolled from her in a great wave, making Asya’s eyes water. A low splintering noise fractured the air, followed by the snap of the metal bolt. The door swung open. All that was left of the painted sigils was a scorched handprint. Asya’s mouth went dry. She couldn’t help but feel that breaking the saints’ signs was violating some ancient covenant.

But Tarya just stepped inside. Asya tightened her grip on the blade, trying to shake off the sense of foreboding nipping at her heels, and followed.

The cottage was comprised of a single small room. Heavy fabric hung over the windows, leaving them half in shadow. As Asya’s vision adjusted, she took in the shapes of furniture—all overturned or smashed against the cracked walls. Clothes were strewn across the floor in a whirl, along with a few shattered plates and even a broken viila, its strings snapped and useless. A statue of Saint Meshnik lay on its side, their head several paces from their armored body. The room looked like it had been ransacked, perhaps set upon by thieves.

Or like someone wanted it to seem that way.

Tarya turned slowly, her sparking eyes taking in the room. Then her gaze fixed on a spot to her left, and flames reared across her irises again. Asya couldn’t see anything. But she knew her aunt was not really looking at the wall, she was feeling—reaching for those intangible threads that bound the world and using them to narrow in on her prey.

Asya waited, her breath caught in her chest.

Tarya moved in a flash, as though Vetviya herself had looked down and granted her secret passage through the In-Between. One moment beside Asya, the next in front of the wall. Flames, as golden and bright as sunlight, sputtered from her wrists, licking along her forearms. She put her hands on the wall, and the flames eagerly reached out to devour.

They burned away what must have been a false panel, revealing a tight crevice behind. Three faces stared out, eyes wide and afraid. Two children, a boy and a girl, clutching onto a man with ash-white hair, now covered in a faint sheen of soot.

“Oryaze,” he breathed, terror rising on his face like waves over a hapless ship. Firebird.

Bile burned in Asya’s throat. She took a halting step back, staring at the huddled family. It’s the man, she told herself. It had to be. The thought murmured through her, a desperate prayer to any god or saint who might be listening.

The man leaped forward, spreading his arms as though hiding the children from view might protect them. As though anything he did would make a difference. “I won’t let you touch her!” he cried, grabbing one of the broken chair legs and brandishing it like a sword.

Asya clenched her teeth, a sharp jab of pity shooting through her. It would be no use. Nothing would.

The flames coiled lazily around Tarya’s wrists as she watched the man with a detached curiosity. “The price must be paid.”

He let out a low sob, the chair leg clattering uselessly to the ground as he clasped his hands together as if in prayer. “Please, take it from me. She didn’t know what she was doing.”

The room was too hot, the flames scorching the very air in Asya’s lungs. This is what has to be done, she intoned. This is our duty. The same words her aunt had hammered into her. Asya’s knuckles shone white on the hilt of her shashka, the cool metal tethering her to the ground, to this moment, and not the rising guilt in the back of her mind. A panic that threatened to crush her.

“I cannot,” Tarya said, her voice hollow. “The price must be taken from the one who cast the spell.” With a casual flick of her wrist, a burst of fire sprang at the man. He dived aside, toppling into an overturned table.

The little boy was crying now, soft whimpers barely louder than the spitting flames. But the girl did not cry, even as Tarya wrapped an elegant hand around her arm and dragged her forward.

Asya saw the stratsviye clearly against the milk-white skin of the girl’s wrist. A mass of black lines that coalesced to form a burning feather, seared into her flesh like a brand. The mark of the Firebird. The mark that meant a debt had to be paid. 

“Please,” the man said again, pulling himself from the collapsed table. “Please, she didn’t mean to—”

“Asya,” her aunt said, without looking up from the mark.

Asya knew what she was meant to do, but her legs took a moment to obey. Muscles protesting though her mind could not. But she moved forward anyway, placing herself between the man and the little girl, shashka raised in warning.

No one could interfere with the price.

The man scrambled for the chair leg again, leveling it at Asya with trembling hands. “She only did it to save her brother,” he pleaded, emotion cracking through his voice like summer ice. “He was sick. She didn’t know the consequences.”

Asya’s gaze slid to the little girl. To the determined set of her jaw, her defiantly dry eyes. That look wrenched something in Asya’s chest. The resolve she’d so carefully built crumbled around her. She knew what is was like to have a sibling you would do anything—risk anything—for.

But Tarya was unmoved. “Now she will know—magic always comes with a price.”

He lunged. He was clumsy, fueled by fear and desperation. Asya should have been able to stop him easily, but she hesitated. A single thought caught in her mind: Is it so wrong of him to want to protect his daughter?

That one, faltering breath cost her. The man swung the chair leg at her, catching the side of her head. Bright lights danced in front of her eyes. She stumbled into the wall as the man let out a fractured cry and threw himself toward Tarya.

Tarya did not hesitate.

Another tongue of flame reared from her, forcing the man back. This one was more than a warning. The acrid smell of burnt flesh sliced through the scent of magic. A low, broken sob trembled in the air as the man clutched his now-scorched left side.

Tarya’s head snapped to Asya, flames flashing bloodred.

Ignoring the throbbing pain in her head, Asya darted forward. She grabbed the man’s arm and twisted, sending the chair leg tumbling to the ground again. It was painfully easy. The injury made his attempt to swing back at her fly wide, and her hands fastened on him again. She spun him, one arm wrapping around him, the other holding the shashka to his throat. Her chest heaved, and her head reeled. But she didn’t move.

He let out a low whimper, still trying to struggle free. Asya pressed the blade deeper, almost wincing as a trickle of blood ran down his throat. “Don’t,” she said, half command, half plea. “You’ll just make it worse.”

Tarya had already turned back to her prey. Her gleaming eyes, still threaded with flame, stared down at the girl. There was no malice on her face, just a cold emptiness. Asya wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse.

“You must understand, child,” Tarya said. “The price has to be paid.”

And in a breath, she transformed.

Flames devoured her eyes, spreading from the pupils until they were no more than luminous orbs. Twin suns, captured in a face. But the fire did not end there. It rose up out of her like a living thing. Glinting golds and burnt oranges twisted with deepest crimson to form hooked wings, spread behind her like a blazing cape. Another head loomed above her own, a vicious, living mask. It formed a sharp beak, feathered flames rising from it to forge the great bird’s plumage. They arched up into an expression of cruel indifference, mirroring the human features below. The very walls of the cottage trembled.

The Firebird.

Asya felt her hand go slack. A deep, instinctual fear sank into her bones. She had seen her aunt transform before, more times than she could count. But that primal fear never went away. The mortal instinct that she should run from this creature.

She was eleven when she’d first seen her aunt exact a price. Asya had been naive and desperate to shirk her new responsibility, to run back to her sister. Tarya had brought her on a hunt to see—to truly understand—the weight of this responsibility.

It had terrified Asya then. It still terrified her now, six years later.

Everything about the flaming creature exuded power. Not the simple spells mortals toyed with, but the kind of power drawn from the depths of the earth, ancient and deadly.

The girl could not hide her fear now. It shone in her dark eyes like a beacon as she tried to back away, but Tarya’s curled fingers held her tight. The boy was screaming. The sound rose in Asya’s ears to a high keening, writhing through her insides.

The creature—Tarya—looked down at the girl, head cocked to one side. Considering.

Asya wanted to close her eyes. To pretend she was somewhere far away, safe beneath a canopy of trees. But she couldn’t. 

She had to do this. This was the duty the gods had chosen her for. The burden she had accepted.

And looking away would feel like abandoning the little girl.

Asya tried to take a breath to steady her whirling thoughts, but the very air was bitter and scorched. Please be something small, she thought. Not her heart.

She couldn’t stand back and watch that. Or, perhaps, she didn’t want to believe that she would just stand aside as this monster tore the girl’s heart from her body.

Because Asya knew she would. Knew she had to. That was her price.

The flames spread down Tarya’s left arm, coiling like a great serpent as they bridged across her fingers to the girl. A cry tore through the air, raw and achingly human. The greedy, blazing tendrils wrapped around the girl’s arm, as unmoved by the screams as their master. They consumed the flesh as if it were nothing more than parchment.

In only a few frantic beats of Asya’s heart, the girl’s left arm was gone. Not just burned, but gone. No trace of it remained. No charred bone, not even a scattering of ashes.

The price had been paid.

The flames receded, the creature folding back in on itself until it was no more than a spark in Tarya’s eyes. All that was left was a heavy smoke in the air, thick and choking.

Asya let her hand holding the shashka fall. The man threw himself forward—though Asya had a feeling he would have moved even if her blade had still been at his throat—and clutched the little girl, who was still half-frozen in shock. The boy flung himself at his sister too, his screams reduced to gasping cries. 

Asya’s stomach curled as she stared down at the huddled family, enclosed in a grief she had helped cause.

She backed away. It was suddenly all too much. The suffocating smoke. The man’s ragged sobs. The blistered stump that had been the girl’s arm. Her aunt’s impassive face, as empty as the carved saint’s head on the ground.

Asya whirled around, pushing back through the broken door. She doubled over as she stumbled across the threshold, leaning a hand against the moss-eaten stone to keep upright. Bile rose in her throat.

It had never been a child before. Despite all the hunts Tarya had taken her on, all the training lessons, Asya hadn’t thought of that possibility—that it could be a little girl desperate to save her brother.

Something wet trickled from the wound on Asya’s head, but she barely felt it. Her insides had been hollowed out.

All she could see were the little girl’s eyes. The ghastly reflection of the Firebird in them, looming and monstrous. A creature of legend.

A creature that, one day, Asya would become. 


Excerpted from THESE FEATHERED FLAMES by Alexandra Overy © 2021, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ALEXANDRA OVERY was born in London, England. Ever since she was little she has loved being able to escape into another world through books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, and is completing her MFA in Screenwriting at UCLA. When she's not working on a new manuscript or procrastinating on doing homework, she can be found obsessing over Netflix shows, or eating all the ice cream she can.

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***Check out Alexandra Overy's website for more information about her and THESE FEATHERED FLAMES.: https://www.alexandraovery.com/ 

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