Joshua Palmatier's forthcoming Shattering the Ley will be released in July. And thanks to the folks at Daw Books, here's the awesome cover art and an extract to whet your appetite for the book! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Erenthrall—sprawling city of light and magic, whose streets are packed with traders from a dozen lands and whose buildings and towers are grown and shaped in the space of a day. At the heart of the city is the Nexus, the hub of a magical ley line system that powers Erenthrall. This ley line also links the city and the Baronial plains to rest of the continent and the world beyond. The Prime Wielders control the Nexus with secrecy and lies, but it is the Baron who controls the Wielders. The Baron also controls the rest of the Baronies through a web of brutal intimidation enforced by his bloodthirsty guardsmen and unnatural assasins. When the rebel Kormanley seek to destroy the ley system and the Baron’s chokehold, two people find themselves caught in the chaos that sweeps through Erenthrall and threatens the entire world: Kara Tremain, a young Wielder coming into her power, who discovers the forbidden truth behind the magic that powers the ley lines; and Alan Garrett, a recruit in the Baron’s guard, who learns that the city holds more mysteries and more danger than he could possibly have imagined . . . and who holds a secret within himself that could mean Erenthrall’s destruction -- or its salvation.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Kara Tremain murmured to herself, even as she turned the final street corner and came within sight of the stone walls of Halliel’s Park. She halted and bit her lower lip, her body trembling with a strange mixture of apprehension and danger and excitement. The leather belt that held her schoolbooks hung heavy on her shoulder and she twisted the strap beneath her hand. She glanced up and down the street, catching glimpses of the park’s open gate through the throng of people and wagons that passed by as the city of Erenthrall bustled around her. One of the ley-powered floating carts skimmed by, Kara’s skin prickling with ley energy, and she frowned after it, distracted—the carts weren’t typically seen in the Eld District; no one here could afford them—but her attention didn’t waver for long. A flash of power from one of the lit globes above the park’s entrance drew her gaze back to the gates.
It was mid-afternoon. Her morning classes had ended nearly an hour before. Her father had wanted her to come directly home to help him with one of his projects. But the park. . .
The stone walls called to her with a low, persistent hum. They drew her, pulled at her, as if she were flotsam caught in the river’s currents. She didn’t understand what it was, but knew that it made her different—from her fellow classmates, from her friends, even Cory. She didn’t want to be different . . . but the hum thrilled her at the same time, made her catch her breath, made her feel alive.
With a huffing sigh she edged down the street until she was opposite the gates, then halted again. The globes above, hovering over the edges of the rough stone arch, brightened as she drew closer. The arch had been carved ages ago, when Erenthrall had been nothing more than a Baron’s keep at the confluence of the two rivers and a few scattered homes for the villagers, but Kara knew the area had been considered special long before that. She’d tried to find out as much as possible about the park from her instructors at school and her parents, without asking so many questions she’d draw attention to herself. As far as anyone she’d asked had known, the park had always been there, before even the Barons took control of the surrounding lands. It hadn’t always been walled in, hadn’t even really been a park, but it had been considered sacred.
Inside the heavy wrought-iron gates she could see the same paths and stone sculptures she’d seen the last hundred times she’d come to stand outside the entrance. One of the gardeners—a man with a short, trimmed, brown beard streaked with gray like his hair, wearing worn gray robes stained heavily with dirt—knelt in the earth, stones piled around him on all sides. Kara stepped back until she struck the stone of the building behind her, her books gouging into her side, and watched as the man arrayed the stones before him, then straightened and stared at them with a frown before shaking his head and tearing them apart again, stacking them in a different pattern.
On his fourth try, as he turned and reached for a fist-sized stone behind him, he caught sight of Kara.
She froze, her heart thudding once hard in her chest as the man’s eyes caught hers. Creases appeared in his forehead as he leaned back, stone in hand, and considered her. His lips pressed together tightly. He began to raise one hand, but a shudder of apprehension ran down through Kara and she lurched to one side, back scraping against the granite of the building as she pushed away and joined those walking along the street. She didn’t know what he’d intended to do, but she knew she should be getting home, that her father would be surprised she was so late, perhaps even angry. She hurried down to the far corner, the pull of the park lessening with each step, but before she turned she glanced back, expecting to see the gardener coming after her, or at least watching her from the gate.
He wasn’t. He stood at the entrance of the gate, but his gaze was locked on the white ley globes floating up above.
They’d dimmed again.
Before he could turn and catch her watching, Kara slid around the corner and headed toward the marketplace. People jostled her from all sides, the streets of Eld district narrower than nearly all of the rest of Erenthrall except for East Forks, Tallow, West Forks across the rivers, and Confluence where the two rivers met. Kara brushed up against one of the brown-skinned women from the Demesnes to the west, the tassels of her finely embroidered shawl catching in Kara’s hair as she passed. The woman glared, tugging her shawl back into place, but her expression softened as she realized Kara wasn’t a thief. Then she was lost to the crowd as Kara skirted a group of black-clothed Temerite men. The scent of their cologne hit like a brick and Kara dodged further away, nose wrinkled.
Then she reached the market.
Hawkers shouted into the afternoon sunlight, holding up beaded necklaces, swaths of cloth, or skewers of meat as the buildings fell away into an open square. Patrons—mostly people from Erenthrall and the Baronies, but also from the western Demesnes, the mustachioed Gorrani men from the south, and more of the eastern Temerites—touched the wares with doubtful grimaces, questioning the quality of the cloth or the origins of the pottery before beginning to haggle. The peddlers had tents or carts and were generally respectable, so only a few of the Dogs—the Baron’s guardsmen—patrolled the square. Near its center, a lone man in the white robes of a follower of the Kormanley railed against the Baron’s continued desecration of the ley, begun over fifty years ago with the creation of the Nexus. Everyone cut a wide path around him, leaving him isolated near the remains of the old stone fountain. Even as Kara passed, ignoring his tirade, she caught sight of three Dogs converging on the man, their dark brown and black uniforms standing out in the crowd. She ducked her head as one of them brushed past her, scarred face set in a scowl. She didn’t look back as the Kormanley priest’s shouts escalated and were cut off. Everyone around her averted their eyes as the sounds of the Dogs beating him filled the plaza.
An old woman, mouth pressed into a thin line of distaste, murmured bitterly under her breath, “The priests know the Dogs will find them. Why do they continue to defy the Baron?” She shook her head and made a clicking noise with her tongue, but kept her back turned from where the Dogs had pulled the priest to his feet and were hauling him off.
“It’s the sowing of the new tower tonight,” the produce monger before her said gruffly. “That’s what’s brought them out. They’ve been riled up for weeks now.”
“The Baron won’t stand for it,” the old woman said. “He’d kill them all if he could find them.”
Kara paused, the muttered words sinking into her gut with a cold shiver of uneasiness. She glanced back toward the man in white, hanging slack between the arms of two guards as they dragged his limp body through the throng. His black hair obscured his face, but she could see a string of drool and blood hanging down from his mouth. Blood stained his white robe in strange splatters, bright in the sunlight. The Dogs hauled the priest into a side street and they vanished.
Everyone on the square went back to haggling, errens and wares exchanging hands.
Kara turned to find the old woman watching her through squinted eyes. “Oh, don’t let it worry you, poppet. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
But Kara could hear the lie in her voice. When she reached out as if to stroke Kara’s hair, Kara ducked and pushed past a Gorrani, the hilt of his ceremonial sword gouging into her side. He shouted at her in his own guttural language, angry and harsh, Kara catching only a few words, but she didn’t stop. Her chest ached and she didn’t know why. She’d never thought much about where the Dogs took those that they grabbed. Her father had told her they were taken to the Amber Tower, to the Baron’s court where they were judged and held accountable for their crimes. But that wasn’t what Kara had heard in the old woman’s voice. She’d spoken as if the priest were already dead.
Kara fled the square, slowing only when the raucous noise of bartering faded and she found herself on the streets near her home. The crowd thinned as the storefronts of the market area succumbed to residential buildings, the granite facades of the shops becoming the smaller brick houses of the laborers and servants that dwelled in Eld. Kara turned the corner and headed down her own street. She could see the myriad buildings of the University from here, surrounded by high stone walls, nestled on the top of the hill in Confluence. The slate expanse of the Tiana and Urate rivers cut toward it from the northwest and northeast. Beyond, East Forks and Tallow were a dark cluster of docks and cramped buildings covered over with a fine gray haze, the Butcher’s Block filled with smoke farther south. West Forks and Tannery Row hung with a similar haze, all of the districts beyond hidden from sight by the smoke and the rises in the land. Only a few steeples and the ley towers that marked the nodes of the ley network broke through the layers.
She hesitated on the steps of her apartment building, gazing out over the lower end of Erenthrall. She knew her father was waiting for her, but even now, the park pulled at her, faintly. A mere whisper. And there was the disturbing image of the priest, blood trailing from his mouth, the words of the old woman. . .
What did happen to the priests after the Dogs captured them?
Sighing, she pulled her schoolbooks off her shoulder and stepped up to the door of the building, shoved it open, and trudged up the stairs beyond the small foyer inside to the third floor, pausing only momentarily on the second floor where Cory lived. The door to her own flat was open and she could hear her father humming to himself as he worked. He sat at his desk, two small ley globes—all they could afford—hovering over him. One of them flickered fitfully, but he didn’t seem to notice, his attention caught by the gutted clock, its gears and intricate metal workings spread out on the black cloth that covered his workspace. The main housing of the clock—a darkly stained cherry piece that gleamed beneath the lights, its face white, surrounded by a band of gold—sat to one side. Its hands had been removed and its face looked barren, even though it was decorated with silver clouds.
Tables and chairs filled in the rest of the main room of the flat, with an open arch leading to the kitchen area and another door to one side where Kara and her parents slept. A few battered and misused clocks stood on the tables or were mounted on the wall, although nothing like the quality of the one her father was currently working on. Kara listened a moment, but the rest of the flat was silent; her mother hadn’t returned yet from her position as a servant at the Baron’s personal estate in Grass. Her father must have started cooking already, for the heady scent of roasting meat drifted out from the kitchen.
Kara tossed her books on the table inside the door, removed her shoes, and turned to find her father watching her, his face stern. The humming had stopped.
“I thought I told you to come home immediately after classes today. Your friend Cory’s been home for almost an hour already.”
Kara shuffled in place. “I came home through the marketplace.”
Her father frowned, creases appearing in his forehead beneath the patch of gray hair that had cropped up over the last few years. His hazel eyes caught her own, held them for a long moment, searching, and then he grunted.
Kara heaved a mental sigh of relief. He wasn’t truly angry.
“So,” he said, half turning back to his table. “I’d wanted you to help me with this clock. Some of the pieces are so small I thought your nimble fingers would be helpful, and then I thought you and I could take a special trip, but now. . .”
Kara took an involuntary step toward her father, then caught herself. “Where?” she asked, trying to sound casual, even though she could feel her blood pulsing in her arms, tingling in her fingers. She almost asked if he would take her to Halliel’s Park. She knew people could visit, that’s why the gates had been open, but she’d never dared to enter on her own, not with the gardeners constantly watching. If her father went with her, maybe she could see what was inside that pulled at her.
But her father shook his head. “I don’t think we’ll have time now. I need to get this clock finished.” He turned back toward her, put his narrow working glasses on, and looked at her over their thin metal rims.
“I’ll help,” Kara said, and grabbed one of the chairs from the table in the kitchen. Her father made room for her at his side, muttering, “Careful!” as she bumped the table. Then she leaned forward and stared down at what seemed like hundreds of pieces, most gleaming in the ley light. They’d been arranged in a clear pattern and had already been polished, gears and arms of all sizes and shapes. In the center sat the metal case that would slide into the back of the wooden house. Numerous gears had already been set in the case, which rested on its face, and after a quick glance at what remained, Kara could see what needed to be done next. This one was fairly basic, completely mechanical, without relying on any use of the ley at all.
Reaching out, she said, “This one goes in next.”
It hadn’t been a question, but her father nodded. “If you can get the next few gears and the arm into the casing, I’ll screw it into place.”
Kara reached out and picked up one of the many-sized tweezers off to one side, then carefully plucked the gear from the smooth black silk and slid it into the casing. Her hands shook slightly, but when she let go with the tweezers the gear slipped into place on the small metal post. She had to nudge it to get the teeth to mesh correctly before it dropped down. Her breath fogged the bright metal of the already assembled clock as she reached for the next gear and she realized she’d been holding it unconsciously. Behind, her father grunted once in approval, then moved into the kitchen. She heard pots clattering, the scent of cooked meat and vegetables growing strong enough to make her stomach growl, and then she became absorbed in the inner workings of the clock. Her father came by once in a while to check on her, but she barely noticed.
She was vaguely aware of her mother returning, standing over her as she worked. Then her mother kissed her on the side of the head and joined her father in the kitchen. Kara listened to the soft background murmur of their conversation without really listening. The ley globe above her flickered again and, frowning in irritation, she reached out and touched it, the pale light steadying and strengthening. Leaning over the casing again, she began twisting a screw into place but realized that her parents had fallen abruptly silent.
She glanced up to find them standing in the door to the kitchen watching her intently. Her mother’s mouth hung slightly open, eyes widened, but it was her father’s troubled frown that sent a sliver of fear into her gut. “What did I do wrong?” She glanced down at the gears of the clock, nearly finished now, then back at her parents. If she’d ruined the clock, the patron who’d hired her father to fix it would make him pay for it and they couldn’t afford that.
Her father grabbed her mother’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly before smiling and stepping forward. “Nothing, Kara, nothing. Everything’s fine. Are you almost finished?”
Kara glanced back at her mother—mouth now closed, but worry lines still surrounding her pale gray eyes—and then her father put his hand on the top of her head and drew her attention back to the clock.
“Ah, only a few more pieces left to go,” he said. “It looks like we’ll be able to go on that little trip after all. Let’s get this finished up, and then we can all have some dinner.”
At the thought of the mysterious excursion, Kara dismissed her mother’s concern—she was always exhausted after returning from work—and with her father’s help, placed the last of the inner workings of the clock inside the casing. They slid the casing into the wooden housing, attached the hands and spun them to the appropriate positions, then set the clock in motion before screwing the flat metal plate into place on back. Her father mussed her hair, then retreated to the kitchen with her mother and a final, “We can’t leave until your homework is done.”
Kara rolled her eyes, sat for a long moment listening to the clock’s motion, imagining the hidden gears inside ticking in precise, rhythmic steps. But finally she sighed, slid off her chair, and grabbed her books.
She had most of her work done—all except the rote mathematics—when her mother called her in for dinner. Her parents chatted as she wolfed it down, barely tasting it, watching the tension ease from her mother’s shoulders, until at one point her father said something stupid about the Baron’s court, his arms thrown wide as he flourished a mock bow while still sitting at the table, and she burst out in laughter, shaking her head. Her father caught her eye and she leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek before rising and setting her plate and utensils in a bucket, to be washed at the public fountain.
“Will you be coming with us?” her father asked.
Her mother considered for a moment, turning to catch Kara’s eye, then smiled and shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m too tired. The Baron’s steward had us working like dogs today to get ready for the ball tonight. Most of the outlying lords are attending, as well as a few other Barons, which meant we had to get the tower and the surrounding grounds into tip-top shape.”
“I’m surprised they didn’t need you for the events tonight.”
“Ha! I’m glad I pulled the short stick on that one. I get to prepare for it, sleep during the celebration, and then clean up afterwards.” She made a face and sighed dramatically. “No, you two go and Kara can tell me all about it afterwards.”
“All right then,” her father said, glancing toward Kara with raised eyebrows and a stern expression. “Homework all done?”
Kara hesitated, but knew she could handle the mathematics easily tomorrow if she got called to recite answers, so grinned in excitement. “All done.”
“Then let’s go.”
Kara jumped off her chair and skipped toward the door, her father following more sedately behind her.
“Take a jacket!” her mother called from the kitchen. “It’ll get cold up there tonight!”
“You heard your mother,” her father said gruffly, then shooed her into the bedroom.
She flung the lid of the trunk containing her clothes back and rummaged through the layers, pulling the length of her gray jacket free and slipping into it as she half ran back to the open door. Her father ushered her out, then down to the street, heading uphill, away from the University and Confluence and northward toward the new heart of Erenthrall and the Stone district. Away from Halliel’s Park. Kara hid her disappointment, frowning as she tried to figure out where they were going. Others were on the street, headed in the same general direction—parents, with their children chasing each other through the streets, screaming. Her father nodded to a few of the other adults, chatting quietly. The Baron’s Dogs stood at every corner, eyeing the growing crowds, but generally hanging back. Kara thought of the priest in the market square that afternoon and shivered, pulling her long jacket tight against herself, but she didn’t see any of the white robes of the Kormanley anywhere.
A moment later, she caught sight of Cory’s dirty blond hair and small form next to his own father ahead of them. She shouted, “Cory!” and caught up with him as he turned.
The look of confusion on his face broke with a smile as he saw her and, as their fathers shook hands, he urgently whispered, “Do you have any idea where we’re going?”
“No idea. But it must be outside since my mother demanded I wear a jacket.”
Cory snorted and tugged at his own short coat. “I think it has something to do with the sowing of the tower. My parents have been talking about it for days. They haven’t sown a new tower in twenty years.”
Kara smacked her forehead, even though her parents hadn’t mentioned the tower much. “I should have thought of that! My mother’s been working her fingers to the bone at the Amber Tower. If it is the tower, then that explains why we’re heading toward Stone. We wouldn’t be able to see into Grass from Green or Leeds.” And of course they wouldn’t be able to get into Grass and see it close up, not with the lords and ladies from across the plains coming to the city to witness the event. Kara felt her excitement escalating, heightened by Cory’s and the general feel of the crowd around them, like the energy in the air before a storm. She practically bounced on her toes.
Everyone was converging on Minstrel’s Park, situated at the top of the highest hill in Eld, at the border of the Stone district. Her father wormed his way through the crowd, trying to reach the highest point possible, although it was already packed with people, blankets thrown out on the ground, some with picnic baskets and wooden folding chairs or stools. The park was riddled with trees and a few of the kids Cory’s age had shimmied up the branches and were perched with legs hanging down from above. Low stone walls divided the park up into sections, with obelisks at various points reaching to the darkening sky. It was nearing sunset, clouds skidding toward the east now tinged a burnished yellow.
Her father halted near one of the obelisks and Kara and Cory climbed up onto the wall so they could see above everyone else. The excitement built as the sun sank into the horizon and night settled, broken by the ley lines scattered throughout the city. From atop the wall, Kara could see the white bands of light forking in all directions, like a spider’s web, its center in Grass beneath the heights of the Amber Tower and the myriad other towers than had been sown around it since it was first raised. They couldn’t see the Nexus, but they could see the reflected white light from the towers. Even from this distance, it hurt to look directly toward the source, the light too intense. That light radiated outwards, from ley tower to ley tower throughout the city and beyond, to Tumbor and Farrade and all of the other cities across the continent.
As the sun burned itself out in the west, the light from the ley lines intensified, flaring once before settling back to normal. Kara followed the rivers of light with her eyes for a moment, then turned her attention back toward the still visible towers in Grass. “Where do you think the new tower will be sown?”
“I don’t know.” Cory craned his neck, eyes darting back and forth across the distance, face anxious. He was at least half a foot shorter than Kara, and at ten, a few years younger. “Do you see anything yet? Have they started?”
“Calm down, Cory,” his father growled. “You’ll know when it starts, trust me.”
And then, abruptly, the light of the Nexus intensified even more, forcing Kara to shield her eyes with one hand. A collective gasp went up from the crowd as the ley lines throughout the city’s districts fluctuated and dimmed, as if the Nexus were drawing energy toward it. Cory reached out and grabbed her upper arm and squeezed, but her own adrenaline dulled the pain. Her heart throbbed in her throat, in her arms, and her skin prickled, all of the little hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. A tingling sensation washed through her from head to toe, as if energy were passing through her and being sucked into the ground. She shuddered, drew in a sharp breath, tasted something on the air, thick and metallic, coating her tongue like molasses or blood. She fought the urge to spit it out, even as the energy spiked, feeding down and down into the earth—
Far out in Grass, the light of the Nexus flared, a fountain of white light spewing skyward, cascading back down, throwing all of the myriad towers in all shapes and sizes into stark relief, windows and balconies and terraces like black orifices in their sleek, multi-colored sides. Kara saw people—lords and ladies and the upper echelons of Erenthrall—on some of the balconies, tiny figures ducking back and away from the sheaths of light seething upwards like a geyser.
Then Cory shouted, “Look!” He jerked forward, dragging Kara with him, his fingers digging in even deeper on her arm. Everyone around them stilled, drew in a collective breath and held it.
From the depths of the ley light, a thousand tendrils spiraled upwards, writhing like vines stretching toward the darkness of night. As they rose, they wove together, the base growing more and more solid. Leaves sprouted from the vines, growing thick and large, and as the hideous speed of the growth began to abate, the leaves began folding inwards and flattening themselves against the outside of the forming tower like a skin. It rose, higher than most of the towers around it, but not as high as the Baron’s Amber Tower, the top bulging out as the tendrils wove together, forming what looked like a giant seed pod with holes pierced through its center. Leaves began encasing the seed pod, leaving the holes empty. As the growth halted, the top of the tower solidifying into a thin spire, Kara thought she saw a bluish glow emanating from the holes, pulsing like the coals of a banked fire.
And then the gouts of white fire surrounding the towers of Grass began to abate, sinking back down into the depths of the inner city, the network of ley lines throughout the districts increasing in intensity as it did, until everything had returned to its regular glow.
The crowd in Minstrel’s Park remained silent for a long moment after, the newly sown tower shimmering a light forest green, appearing smooth from this distance, but threaded with veins, like those of a leaf held up to sunlight. Then, as if at some unspoken signal, people began to clap, men slapping each other on the back, conversations breaking out everywhere, punctuated by laughter.
Kara’s father turned to her, smiling widely, then said in a muffled voice, as if he were speaking through layers upon layers of cloth, “What did you think? That’s not something we’re likely to see again in my lifetime.”
Kara opened her mouth to tell him she could barely hear him, but a sudden wave of weakness passed through her. The tingling sensation against her skin had halted, but she felt drained, as if the stone and earth beneath her feet had sucked the life out of her. She felt her knees buckle, heard her father gasp in horror, heard Cory cry out, her arm wrenching as his hand was pulled away.
Her vision began to darken into a narrow tunnel of pulsing, jagged, yellow light, and the world receded. But before she could collapse, her father’s hands caught her and drew her to his chest.