Subpress Week: Giveaway

Once again, a new day brings another giveaway! This time, the folks at Subterranean Press will hook up one winner with a signed copy of the limited edition of A Fantasy Medley edited by Yanni Kuznia. The giveaway we had a few weeks back was for a copy of the trade hardcover. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress).

So here's you're chance to get your hands on a copy autographed by Robin Hobb, Kelley Armstrong, Kate Elliott, and C. E. Murphy!

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "MEDLEY 2." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More Scott Lynch news

Anne Groell just got in touch with me, and here's the lowdown on Scott Lynch's The Republic of Thieves (Canada, USA, Europe).

If she receives a final manuscript before April 16th, then we are looking at a spring 2010 pub date. If not, then we are looking at summer 2010 and beyond. . .

Alas, it looks as though this book will be postponed once again. . .

Jonathan Maberry contest winner!

This lucky gal will receive a complimentary US edition of Jonathan Maberry's Patient Zero, courtesy of Yours Truly! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Megan Holmes, from London, Ontario, Canada

Thanks to all the participants!

Subpress Week: Giveaway

Another day means another contest!

This time you can get your hands on a copy of the limited edition of Stephen King Goes to the Movies. You can find out more about this collector's item here.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "KING." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Quote of the Day

Today will only happen once.


This tv show just won the Gemini Award for Best Photography; a well-deserved accolade. This show will make you dream about regions and countries around the globe!

Check it out!

A MEMORY OF LIGHT: The official press release

From Tor Books:

New York, NY: Monday, March 30, 2009

Tor Books is proud to announce the November 3rd, 2009 on-sale date for The Gathering Storm, Book Twelve of The Wheel of Time and the first of three volumes that will make up A Memory of Light, the stunning conclusion to Robert Jordan’s beloved and bestselling fantasy series. A Memory of Light, partially written by Jordan and completed by Brandon Sanderson, will be released over a two-year period.

Robert Jordan, one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th and early 21st centuries, passed away in 2007 after a courageous battle with the rare blood disease amyloidosis. Brandon Sanderson, the New York Times bestselling author of the Mistborn books, was chosen by Jordan’s editor—his wife, Harriet McDougal—to complete the final book.

The Wheel of Time series has sold over 14 million copies in North America and over 30 million copies worldwide with translations into 28 languages. The last four books in the series were all #1 New York Times bestsellers, and for over a decade readers have been eagerly awaiting the conclusion to the epic story.

Harriet McDougal said on the process behind A Memory of Light: “The scope and size of the novel was such that it could not be contained in a single volume. It was a piece of marvellous good fortune that Brandon Sanderson undertook the work. He is a great pleasure to work with, as well as a wonderful writer.”

President and Publisher of Tor Books, Tom Doherty, also expressed his happiness with A Memory of Light, saying: “It is a magnificent closure to a great American epic fantasy whose journey began almost twenty years ago. There is no way Robert Jordan would have squeezed it to a single volume, and somehow it seems fitting that what began as a trilogy will also end as one.”

The first ever JordanCon will take place this April 17th – 19th, 2009 in Alpharetta, GA. Harriet McDougal, Tom Doherty, Brandon Sanderson, and other members of “Team Jordan” will attend as featured guests and speak personally on The Wheel of Time and The Gathering Storm and the stories behind the rich literary legacy of Robert Jordan. JordanCon will also include a special preview of The Gathering Storm.

This year will also see major publications of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time comic books and graphic novels with the launch of The Eye of the World comics in May and the New Spring graphic novel with bonus material in November. The Dabel Brothers will be releasing the comic book series, which will then be collected and published as graphic novels by Tor Books.
Universal Pictures acquired the movie rights to The Wheel of Time in August 2008, and currently plan to adapt
The Eye of the World as the first movie.

There is an interview with Harriet McDougal here, and Brandon Sanderson chimes in on the subject here.

Hmmm, I'm a bit perplexed by all this. . . Namely because I was contacted last week to let me know that I had jumped the gun and was disseminating erronous rumors. It turns out that what was leaked is essentially the truth. Other than the cover art being final and the trade paperback thing, that is. So what the hell???

The binding talk is a load of BS, by the way. It goes without saying that a bigger novel means higher production costs and less profits in the end. But it's been done before and will happen again. One only has to look at titles by authors such as Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, George R. R. Martin, Neal Stephenson, Steven Erikson, Tad Williams, and more to see that novels often exceed 250,000 words. Three volumes of about 250,000 words each could easily have been split into two installments.

Hence, to force loyal fans to fork out their hard-earned money to purchase three books instead of two is flagrantly taking advantage of them. It doesn't matter from what angle you look at it, as fans we are getting screwed.

I've been reading The Wheel of Time since 1991. That's 18 years of my life that I've invested into this series. I own every single volume in hardcover format. For a while, I also had the first six volumes in paperback as "reading copies." I bought Legends in hardcover when it was released, and the same thing goes for New Spring. I ordered The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time as soon as it became available in hardback. I purchased The Conan Chronicles and tracked down every individual Conan book written by Jordan. Heck, I even bought UK paperback editions of The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, and The Shadow Rising to kill time during those unending train rides while I was traipsing around Europe for more than 3 months in 2004. I've spent countless hours over the years discussing the books on various online venues, taking apart arguments and coming up with new looney theories. That's a monster load of money and man hours devoted to The Wheel of Time.

But I guess that's not enough.

Beyond the fact that I think it's a disgrace to treat fans in such a manner, there is also the issue that Robert Jordan himself claimed that splitting A Memory of Light in two wouldn't work because there was no adequate "breaking point." And now it will be truncated twice. . .

I am thoroughly disgusted by all this. . . Shame on you. WoT fans deserve better than that. . .

Subpress Week: Giveaway

In collaboration with the folks at Subterranean Press, I'll be hosting a different giveaway every day from Monday to Friday of this week. So that means a new contest every day!

Our first giveaway is for a trade hardcover copy of Philip José Farmer's The Other in the Mirror. For more info about this title, check out the Subpress website.

Here's the blurb:

The Other in the Mirror brings together three classic novels by Philip José Farmer: Fire and the Night, Jesus on Mars, and Night of Light. All three are united by one of SF’s central tropes, that of The Other.

Fire and the Night is a mainstream novel so rare that even many of Farmer’s most dedicated fans have never read it. First published in 1962, it is also one of the author’s most daring works, exploring the issue of racial Otherness in a mesmerizing tale of temptation and entrapment in a small industrial Midwestern town.

In Jesus on Mars, Richard Orme and the crew of the Barsoom embark on the first manned mission to the Red Planet, intent on investigating what seemed to be evidence of life beamed back to Earth by a robotic survey satellite. But Orme discovers in the hollowed-out Martian caverns what he and the scientists back home least expect: a group of aliens, as well as humans transplanted from first century A.D. Earth, led by a being who claims to be Jesus of Nazareth Himself. Soon Orme and his crew are shocked to find that The Other they face is made all that more alien because of its similarity to humanity’s past.

Night of Light is not only one of Farmer’s most psychologically gripping SF tales, it is also the novel which inspired Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic rock classic “Purple Haze.” John Carmody is a fugitive from Earth, condemned to exile for brutally murdering his wife. Hired by the galactic Church on a mission to squelch a burgeoning rival religion, Carmody must take the Chance on the planet Dante’s Joy and risk his worst nightmares becoming reality. But that’s not the worst of it: the Fathers of Algul and the Fathers of Yess have their own plans for the conscienceless Carmody—for to the inhabitants of Dante’s Joy, Carmody himself is The Other...and they need his alien flesh to give birth to God.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "MIRROR." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Don't miss this one!

I'm nearing the halfway point of Jasper Kent's Twelve, and I have to say that this novel sure looks like one of the best SFF books of 2009!

So far, I'm enjoying everything about this historical vampire novel! Check it out!

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

How the Dead Dream

Lydia Millet garnered critical acclaim for her novel Oh Pure and Radiant Heart in 2005. The book was even shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The author sort of fell under my radar since then. But when William "Stego" Lexner recommended How the Dead Dream on Westeros around the Holidays, I knew I needed to give it a shot.

T. is a young and brilliant real estate developer with a reverence for money. Solitary to a fault, he suddenly falls in love and his orderly existence is thrown into disarray. And yet, just as happiness is knocking on his door, the sudden appearance of his unbalanced mother seeking comfort following her husband's painful desertion will plunge everything into chaos. As T. gradually loses control after a series of heartbreaking losses, he develops a curious obsession for rare species on the brink of extinction. Soon, T. starts to break into zoos at night to be in the company of the animals that are the last of their kind.

Since environmental issues lie at the heart of this book, I was afraid that the narrative would turn political and kill the story. But Millet avoids, for the most part, the often heavy-handed lecturing tone of a majority of environmentally self-conscious works. Indeed, the story opens up with a recounting of T.'s childhood and teenage years, all told in the witty and satirical style and tone which are the author's trademark.

Although far from a likeable character, you can't help but root for T. Vain, driven, obsessed with money, full of predatory insights, there is nevertheless a more humane side to him that we discover and appreciate as the plot moves along.

Currency infused all things, from the small to the monolithic. And to be a
statesman the first thing needed was not morals, public service, or the power of
rhetoric; the first thing needed was money. Because finally there was a single
answer. As there was only one intelligence residing in a self, as trees grew
upward toward the sun, as women lived outward and men walked in insulation to
the end of their lives: when all was said and done, from place to place and
country to country, forget the subtleties of right and wrong, the struggle
toward affinity. In the lurch and flux, in all the variation and the same, it
was only money that could set a person free.

The gorgeous prose makes it a joy to read How the Dead Dream, yet the pace becomes decidedly uneven and begins to drag in the last third of the novel.

As the story progresses, the book takes on a darker tone which sort of clashes with that of the earlier parts. This melancholy state, as T. must deal with grief and loneliness, becomes an exploration of the character's spiritual crisis.

The main problem is that the author then interrupts the flow of the novel with a number of plot twists that contribute little to the story. Hence, the ending to this relatively short work is kind of disrupted by these events.

How the Dead Dream starts off as a truly brilliant novel, one that I thoroughly enjoyed on basically ever level. Yet the last third of the book suffers from unnecessary interruptions that take something away from the finale.

Still, a good, if uneven, read. If you are jaded and you're looking for something different, How the Dead Dream could be for you.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Robin Hobb news

When Robin Hobb turned in the final manuscript for the forthcoming Dragon Keeper, the book ended up being twice as long as it was supposed to be. Hence, the novel will be split into two volumes.

The first one will see the light in July 2009 in the UK and in January 2010 in North America. The second one, provisionally titled Dragon Keeper, volume 2, will be released simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic in the spring of 2010.

More Hobb is all well and good, but I hate the wait in between volumes. In other news, the author's short story collection will likely be published later this year. It will feature works written under both Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm.

Exclusive Excerpt from Melanie Rawn's FIRE RAISER + Giveaway

Here's an excerpt from Melanie Rawn's Fire Raiser, sequel to Spellbinder. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Bestseller Melanie Rawn plunges down the back stairs of the old South into a dark world of family secrets and the international flesh trade that lies underneath the surface of small town politics and romance.

Holly McClure and Evan Lachlan have survived the fiery beginning of their romance and left Manhattan for Holly’s ancestral home to raise their children. Evan’s the county Sheriff; Holly is still a trouble-making Spellbinder trying to manipulate her family as if they were characters in one of her novels.

But something’s not right in Pocahontas County. Churches are being burned down in mysterious arsons with a taint of magic on them. Sheriff Lachlan suspects that they have something to do with the new owners of the old Westmoreland plantation, now a very upscale Inn, but even if he could find proof, it’s going to be hard to bring a case of Black Magic before a Judge -- even in Pocahontas County, where witchcraft is the family business of all the oldest clans.

And to double the fun, in addition to the extract which follows, Tor Books will hook up two lucky winners with a copy of Fire Raiser!

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "FIRE RAISER." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!


He was fourteen years old when he found it.

It was summer, and his dad was traveling on business, so Cam was staying at Woodhush for a month or two. Holly, having just graduated from high school, was even more of a pain in the ass than usual--obsessing about college and clothes and guys. Cam tuned her out whenever possible. His own life had been getting more interesting lately, as he suddenly seemed to be making quantum leaps in height, musicianship, and magic.

As for the first--Lulah had found some old overalls that had belonged to her brother, and Jesse had contributed some aged Levi’s, for otherwise, Cam would have been condemned to wearing only cut-offs or pants that no longer had even a speaking acquaintance with his ankles. The overalls made him look like a refugee from the Depression, but they were surprisingly comfortable. The Levi’s were a little tight in the seat, but at least he could wear them into town without feeling like a complete dork.

The music was, as always, his comfort and delight. The ancient upright piano had been hauled up from the cellar, tuned, and a couple of the cracked keys replaced so that Cam could practice. For something that dated back almost a century, it had a unexpectedly sweet and mellow voice. In the wobbly bench he’d found sheet music for everything from Scott Joplin rags to Classic Opera Arias for Piano, and happily spent most afternoons and evenings sight-reading and then memorizing as he played.

As for the magic…Jesse was teaching him smithcraft, and he dabbled every so often over at Clary Sage’s whenever Holly could be persuaded to drive him. Mainly he learned from Lulah. And only four days into his stay, they’d finally found out what his specialty was.

Among the family treasures were quilts dating back four and five generations, needlepoint samplers created (possibly at gunpoint) by Flynn girls for at least three hundreds years, and a peculiar collection of crocheted and tatted doilies and tablecloths, not one of which matched any of the others. There were saddle blankets and bed blankets woven with varying degrees of skill at the loom featured in one of the portraits on the staircase, and knitted things ranging from tea cozies to very silly hats for golf clubs. The most interesting, however, had come out of a box found only this past spring: a half dozen pieces of lace. They were fine, cobwebby silk, incredibly fragile, patterned in lilies and roses. It was Lulah’s idea to preserve and conserve them under glass in frames, and as the three of them worked on the delicate fabric, Cam found himself nudging the weaving back into place every so often, repairing the lace without even thinking about it.

Lulah noticed first. After a few shrewd questions that he couldn’t really answer, she took up the scissors from the table, reached over, grabbed the hem of his t-shirt, snipped--then yanked with both hands. The material ripped halfway up his chest.

“What the--? Are you crazy?”

“Fix it,” she ordered.

“You are crazy!” He looked an appeal at Holly, who folded her arms and pursed her lips and refused to say a word. “Fix it, she says,” he muttered, looking down at the ruin of his vintage Meet the Beatles t-shirt, torn right through Paul McCartney’s face. He thought about it, then thought some more.

“You’re intellectualizing,” Holly admonished. “Did you have to think when you mended the lace?”

“So speaks the expert Witch,” he shot back, and was instantly ashamed of himself. Holly couldn’t work hardly a lick of magic of her own; it was her Spellbinding blood that made her valuable. She was, understandably, touchy about it.

“Fix the shirt, Cam. Don’t think. Just do.”

Cam thought about the magics he’d learned so far in his life; no help there. Then he thought about music. The printed notes required his attention so he could memorize the piece and figure out how it worked. But when he knew it, and simply played it, thinking wasn’t involved. Instinct was.

He looked down at the cloth, seeing how the cotton yarn was interlocked. Then he bit his lower lip and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the Cute Beatle was gazing soulfully from the silkscreened photograph once more. There was no sign that the material had been rent at all.

Over the next week or so there were consultations with various of the Witchly relations, and some experimentation. From simple repair work (he learned to look on it as simple, anyway) he moved on to spellcasting directly into fabric. Nobody knew yet how long the workings might last; he wouldn’t be trying any using Holly’s blood until they got an idea about the natural duration and strength of his magic.

What with helping out around Woodhush, his music, daily rides, and now his new studies, he was exhausted by the time he got up to bed every evening. But one night in late July it was simply too hot and humid to sleep. He did the usual toss-and-turn routine. He lay naked on his stomach under the ceiling fan with a wet washcloth across the small of his back (Lulah would have knocked him silly for courting pneumonia). He thought long and hard about spelling coolness into the sheets, eventually deciding his control wasn’t good enough yet and he’d probably end up lying on a layer of ice. He even thought about some of the other distractions that had been occurring more and more often lately, embarrassing things that his body seemed determined to do without his conscious consent. But he shied away from those thoughts almost at once.

So he turned to an older method of self-distraction, one that dated to the year his mother had died. He turned onto his stomach, hands flat against his chest, face scrunched into a pillow, and dreamed himself someplace else.

He never went to real places. Over time he had built up a small library of imaginary ones: mountain lakes, castles, beaches that weren’t quite California, where he’d been born. There was a house where the whole second story was crammed with books, and a luxury hotel with a weird elevator that ascended in an impossible spiral through an atrium with redwood trees growing three hundred feet high. Sometimes he was in a sailboat with blindingly white sails, and sometimes he was behind the wheel of a 1930s vintage Rolls Royce, and a few whimsical times he held the reins of a coach-and-four only slightly less ornate than the one British monarchs rode to Parliament in. When he couldn’t fall asleep, he could imagine himself into one of these scenes, and whether he truly slept or simply kept dreaming while awake didn’t really matter.

That night he sorted through his mental file, wanting something that would banish the sticky heat and raucous insect chorus from his conscious mind. Someplace cool and pleasant, with music…well, of course. His personal version of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle as seen at Disneyland when he was about four. It even came complete with a Tchaikovsky soundtrack. He smiled into the pillow, thinking how ironic it was for a family of Witches to be visiting the Magic Kingdom.
Through the dark, narrow hallways he went, up stairwells, through vast chambers of his own devising, decorated with tapestries and huge heraldic war shields--prominently featuring Irish harps and Welsh griffins, of course. He chose a turning at random, opened a wooden door, started up another staircase. He could feel the thick nap of wool beneath his bare feet, smell the mothballs--

Wait a minute.

Cam flipped over onto his back and sat up. Mothballs?

His gaze unfocussed as he concentrated on the picture within his head. It was a new aspect of the castle, this set of stairs with its heavy flowered Persian carpet. No castle had wallpaper, much less the same wallpaper as the closet in Holly’s room: Regency stripes of dark crimson and cream, unfaded in the more than a century and a half since its finely woven silk had been pasted onto the walls….

That wall right over there. The one behind the dresser.

He got out of bed and pulled his boxers on, staring at the wall. The full moon outside was low and bright enough to let him see what he was doing. Hoping Lulah and Holly were sleeping better in the heat than he could, he carefully moved the dresser to one side. He felt quite impeccably stupid as he flattened his hands against the wall--but beneath layers of paint and paper and glue, he sensed silk. He had been working with the lace for a couple of weeks now; he knew exactly what silk felt and tasted and smelled like to his magic. There was an impression of metal that confused him until he realized he was venturing within the wall itself, and the metal must be electrical wires threaded down from the attic directly above his room.

Cam took a step back, chewing on his lower lip. There was no indication from this side that the wall was anything other than a solid wall, solidly plastered and papered, with a layer of sunshine-yellow paint on top. But he knew there was a staircase behind it. Running his hands over the slightly rough surface, he searched a long time for a seam or crease that would indicate a hidden doorway.

If there wasn’t a way in or out here, there had to be one someplace. If he could find the carpet again with its faint stink of mothballs, he might be able to follow it to…where did secret doors hide anyway? Fireplaces were standard in movies, and of course revolving and/or fake bookshelves. There was the ever-popular trap door beneath the rug. Oh, and big portraits of the ancestors that swung out from the wall….

He sat on his bed and considered. There were three fireplaces at Woodhush, using two chimneys: the back-to-back hearths that served the kitchen and dining room, and the big one in the parlor. The shared back wall of the double had been torn out years ago, and redone so that you could look--or yell--through it into the kitchen. Ripping it apart would have revealed anything odd about it. He was pretty sure there wasn’t enough room on the north side of the house, where the parlor fireplace and chimney were, for a staircase to be tucked inside the wall. And anyway, exploring would not only cause comment, he’d get filthy.

It was entirely possible that there were about five miles of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in Woodhush, all perfectly real and solid as far as he knew. There could be trap doors concealed anywhere in the hardwood floors throughout the house. Family portraits were all over the place. And what about all the quilts displayed on the walls? What could be hiding behind them? If there was an architectural drawing of the house, he’d never seen it, so he’d probably have to make his own survey to eliminate those places where it would be impossible to fit a staircase such as he’d seen--how thick was a standard wall, anyhow?

He was being stupid. Why did the hidden staircase have to conform to the laws of physics? After all, he’d originally sensed it with his magic, hadn’t he?

Hell’s bells, as his dad would say. But he’d only really been at this magic thing for less than a year. Like the majority of his male kinfolk, puberty triggered more than whiskers. The girls were different--Holly had been, anyway, her Spellbinder blood evidently operational since birth. Still, she’d never really learned to think like a Witch, had she? Not the way Lulah and Jesse and Clary Sage did, anyhow. The way he himself would have to learn how to do.

So he set himself to it, sitting there on his bed at well past midnight of a sultry, stifling summer night. His only real accomplishment was that he forgot about the heat.

The next morning, after Holly had driven into Flynton for yet more shopping and Lulah was busy in the stables, Cam acted on the results of his first attempt at thinking like a Witch and climbed up to the attic. With his newly discovered sense of silk and wool and magic, he found the upper limit of the staircase. It took some shifting around of trunks and boxes, and some serious sneezing at the dust thus disturbed, but at last he found the plank of the interior wall where a knothole had been punched out of the wood. He felt around with his fingers, then with his magic, and then with both.

The hinge really ought to have creaked and squealed, he thought. No time-honored atmospherics at all to this secret door. It should be ashamed of itself.

Bending almost double, he squeezed through--wondering irritably why he couldn’t have found this a year or so ago, before legs and arms started growing to unmanageable lengths. The steps were there, and the heavy flowered carpet. It seemed to have been woven specifically for this purpose, because it took the turns of landings in ways no ordinary staircase runner should. He grinned to himself. Magic carpet.

There was no dust here. The rods securing the carpet to each riser were shiny brass, untarnished. As he stood at the very top, looking down, he smelled the mothballs that had so disconcerted him the night before and wondered why nobody had spelled the wool to protect it. Maybe the reason was simple practicality--why use magic when a nonmagical solution worked perfectly well? Or maybe there was already so much magic at work here that even that little bit more would be too much.

Cam mulled that over, recalling something his father had told him. “Don’t mess with physics. Most Witches stick to ordinary things--herbs, rocks, tea leaves, wood, stuff that’s perfectly comfortable with itself in the everyday normal world--and juice it up with their magic. Major work, distorting physical space or playing around with gradations of reality, that takes a pile of effort and insane amounts of power. And the laws of physics will have their revenge sooner or later.”

So he restrained his natural impulse to see if he could do a banishing spell to keep moths from the carpet, and started down the stairs. Keeping a mental drawing of the house in his head did him no good at all. Someone had warped the laws of physics pretty thoroughly to make this staircase, which led through most of the house. He paused every so often to put his hands against the wall in an attempt to figure out what room was on the other side. Sometimes it worked. There were quite a few doors as well, most of them locked in ways he couldn’t understand. The three he could open led into the kitchen, the Wisteria Room, and the upper landing of the real stairs. Keeping alert for any sound that would mean Lulah had returned, he stepped out of the magic passage and into the real house and back again, making note of where the doors were and how they worked from each side. From the unspelled side, there was no hint that there was anything behind the walls except timber and the wires for electricity and phones. He was intrigued by the wiring, because he knew about how old it had to be--the first decade of the century at the earliest--yet there was no place where the sheathing had frayed. Somebody had been efficient with a preservation spell.

At last he climbed back up to the attic door, emerged from the staircase, and slid the opening shut. Two hours of piano practice later, he had decided that the secret passage would remain his secret for now.

Because even if he hadn’t heard all the gruesome details of the Salem Witch Trials from kids who were his fellow descendants, he’d had the lecture from Holly--and Lulah, and Jesse--about Witches and secrets.

“Learn to keep your mouth shut, Peaches.”

“It pains me to say this, because you’re a sweet child without a deceitful bone in your body, but there’s just a lot of things we don’t talk about.”

“You’re truly one of us now, and that means we all keep each other’s secrets --sometimes from each other.”

Okay, he did talk a lot (not as much as Holly). And he did have a tendency to blurt at times. But if what he was beginning to suspect was true about him--something that had nothing to do with magic--he would have to get good at keeping secrets. He figured this would be good practice.
He never did get around to mentioning that staircase.

* * *

“They’re not just secret,” he told Evan. “They’ve both got magic all over them.”

If he had expected Lachlan to say something like, “Okay, I am now officially weirded out,” he had underestimated Holly’s husband. There was not a single demand to have things proven to him. Cam wondered what Evan had seen and experienced of magic that had--well, not made him at ease with it, exactly, but at least had swept away the usual skepticism and discomfort.

What Evan said was, “Woodhush and the original Westmoreland were built about the same time, weren’t they?”

Cam nodded. “Before 1760--the basic fabric, anyway. There were additions and refurbishings, but the structure stayed the same.”

“So why are you sensing magic here? I thought Lulah and Jesse cleaned this place out years ago.”

With an elaborate shudder, he replied, “Don’t ever call her an amateur to her face!”

“I’m not,” Evan said mildly. “I’m saying that if they got rid of the magic at Westmoreland, somebody since has put it back. So what do we do with this secret staircase, Cam?”

He hesitated. “I really want to say that we leave it alone--”

“--but you’re not gonna say that, are you?” The older man grinned suddenly. “This’ll be fun.”

“Do me a favor, huh? Don’t ever ask me to represent you at a sanity hearing.”

“Aw, c’mon. You want to get in as much as I do.”

“I concede the point.” He ran his hands over the wall again, his magic pushing through it to the passage hidden inside. Once again, as at Woodhush, it was the carpet he sensed most strongly. But it wasn’t bespelled, it had never been touched by fire-- “Shit!” he exclaimed as he finally got a sense of its pattern. “It’s new!”

“The passage?”

“No, that’s old, probably as old as the first house. I’m talking about the carpet on the stairs in there--it’s Berber wool, and it’s brand-fucking-new!” He stood back, palms pressed together. “And so is the magic.”

“Okay,” Evan said. After a glance at his watch, he nodded to himself. “It’s ten o’clock, this place should be cleared out downstairs in about an hour. Take your suitcase back up to the room and leave it there. I’m gonna go talk to Holly and phone Lulah--” He stopped, cussed under his breath, and snagged his cell phone from his jacket pocket. A few tries yielded nothing. Cam brought out his own, handed it over. More nothing. Evan looked grim. “Somebody was telling me that he couldn’t get his phone to work tonight. The sign at the entrance is just to throw everybody off.”

“Isn’t that assuming kind of a lot? I mean, I’m pretty sure I saw somebody on the phone this afternoon when I came in.”

“One of the staff, or one of the guests?”

Cam thought for a moment. “Guy in a pale blue windbreaker--” He wanted to smack himself upside the head for sheer stupidity. “--with Westmoreland Inn and Spa in purple letters on the breast pocket.” When Evan nodded, Cam added stubbornly, “But I still think that’s a pretty big leap you’re making.”

“The sign asks people to turn off their cells. Anybody expecting a call is asked to leave the phone at the front desk, and they’ll come get you if the call comes through--and how much do you want to bet no calls ever come through?”

“Suppose somebody keeps his phone and keeps it on--”

“Malfunction, dead battery, interference in the signal to a tower--how many ways are there to explain it? Mine doesn’t work. I’m the sheriff--I make damned sure all my phones are working at all times. How about you?”

“New battery yesterday,” he admitted.

“Phones don’t work. Lulah felt blind here. You felt something weird with the bedspread. There’s a staircase hidden inside the walls--with new magic. How does that add up to you?” Evan paused, frowning, and for the first time Cam felt the power behind those hazel eyes as they searched his own. Not magic, but power all the same. “Okay, what else?”

“When Holly and I were outside earlier, I thought I saw something when I looked at the house. I don’t know what, so don’t ask. Just…something about the windows that’s not quite right. But why was somebody talking on a phone--”

“I think you got played. ‘Griffen’ isn’t a common name in this county, but anyone who’s magically connected would check out the locals pretty thoroughly. No Witch in this county knows anything about this place, which means that whoever’s using magic wants it kept secret.” He ran a hand distractedly through his hair. “Shit, I knew Weiss was hiding something! The guy you saw talking on the phone was doing so for your benefit, Cam. Just in case you might think you sensed something--which you did, when you lay down for a nap. When did you make your reservation?”

“A week ago. That’s plenty of time to have me checked out, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Look, why don’t you take your stuff back up to your room, and meet me downstairs in ten?”

“You have a plan?”

“Since I can’t phone Lulah, I’m sending Holly back to Woodhush to get her.”

“I like this part of the plan.” He brushed his fingertips across the wall one last time. “It may take me a bit to figure out how to get into this thing.”

“That’s your part of the plan.”

* * *

It was fast becoming Holly’s plan to find her husband and her cousin and get out of here. There had been a brief renewal of her discussion with Reverend Wilkens, which ended rather precipitously when Louvena Cox, bless her, sauntered over and said, “Reverend, y’all got a uterus? No? Then hush up. Holly honey, we have things to discuss. ’Scuse us please.”

After Louvena gave her a quick summary of her conclusions regarding magic and the church fires--mentioning that she’d told Evan the same things earlier--Holly promised to tell Lulah at the first opportunity. Louvena nodded satisfaction and went back outside to sit on the verandah with her second bottle of California champagne while Holly went in search of Tim and the vodka tray. But the Pledge of Allegiance’s “Under God” coterie tried to draw her into their discussion--on their side. Telling herself she really shouldn’t, she asked whose God they had it in mind to be under--Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, Muslim? While they (variously) gasped, spluttered, marshaled their arguments, or simply stared at her rudeness, she resumed her quest for the Stoly. Tim was nowhere in sight. Damn the boy--

Jamey approached her and said, “I’m supposed to give a speech about why we’re all here, and I can’t find Evan to give me the latest.”

“There isn’t any ‘latest’ that I know of.” Giving him a long look, she went on, “What you really want to talk to me about is Cam.”

“Well, yes. But I do have to give a speech.” He glanced around. “Spectatum veniunt; veniunt spectentur.”

She sighed, privately bemoaning the day he learned his first Latin declension. “Caesar? Suetonius?”

“Ovid. ‘Some come to see; some come to be seen.’”

“What’s the Latin for ‘You are being a smart-ass; do so no more’?”

He laughed. “I’d have to look that one up. Could you do me a favor and check my facts on the church fires against your famous memory?”

She listened as he summarized. Old Believers Baptist, September 29, 2005. October 9, Calvary Baptist. Third was on November 8, First Baptist. December 10, the Lutheran church. Then a break until February 21, when the Methodists had been hit. Sixth had been the Anglican church on April 8. Finally, on August 2, Gospel Baptist.

“So it’s a month since the last one,” Jamey concluded. “And God grant that it was the last one. Has Evan got anything I can use tonight to reassure people? Are we anywhere with the investigation?”

“I’m assuming you won’t be discussing the similarities and anomalies--none of which make any sense.”

“If any of this made any sense, we’d have somebody in custody right now.” Jamey started to chew a thumbnail, caught himself at it, scowled, and stuck his hand in the pocket of his black leather jacket. “None of it makes sense,” he reiterated.

“Some of it does,” she said without thinking, cursing herself when his eyes lit with speculation. She’d almost told him that Louvena had figured out there was magic at all but the Methodist fire. Sometimes she came close to forgetting that he wasn’t one of them, that he didn’t know anything about Witchcraft in Pocahontas County. “They almost all started at night--is that significant?” A lame save, but a save nonetheless.

“I thought maybe you or Evan had thought of something,” he said, disappointed.

“He’s the cop, not me. I keep telling you guys, I’m no good at mysteries and clues and things. If you were thinking of reiterating the facts about the fires, my advice would be don’t. We all know why we’re here.”

“Yes, and I’d only be emphasizing that Evan and I are stumped.” He shifted restlessly, then glanced at her. “So here’s a mystery I’m trying to solve. When I interrupted just now, you were looking rather puckish. Who were you planning to eviscerate?”

“Take your pick. You know the one about the Lord High Executioner?”

Jamey laughed. “He has a little list--and they never will be missed.”

“My object all sublime,” she agreed. “So what were you and Cam up to in the garden?” As his eyes widened, she grinned. “Gotcha.”

“Dear lady,” he said pleasantly, “I refuse to become a source of innocent merriment, even for you. Oh, God--there’s Mr. Weiss and the microphone. Wish me luck.”

Finally catching sight of Tim, she pointed an imperious finger. He looked around with exaggerated innocence as if wondering who she could possibly be indicating.

“Mr. Weiss deserves our deepest gratitude for opening up the Westmoreland Inn tonight for the fundraiser,” Jamey was saying. The crowd duly applauded; Weiss nodded in several directions, a modest smile touching his lips.

Holly fixed Tim with what she liked to consider her most evil glare. He only grinned. Vile, loathsome child--

“I was hoping to bring you some encouraging words tonight about the progress of the investigation,” Jamey went on. “There are things we know, and things we’re going to learn, and that’s really all I can say at present. But this terrible series of fires has taught me something about the place I’ve made my home, and I’d like to share those thoughts with you.”

Holly held up her hands just high enough for Tim to see them, and pantomimed closing her fingers around his throat.

“We have our differences here, just as every community in this country has its differences. The conversations I’ve heard tonight have been about pretty much every issue and idea current in the national debate. Opinions come from all sides of each question. Tom Brokaw has said, quite rightly, that patriotism is not a loyalty oath. I think the most patriotic thing a citizen of this country can do is question the government. This is the remarkable thing about the United States--and it’s exactly what our Founders wanted and indeed demanded of us. The free exchange of questions and ideas. When that freedom is threatened--by the destruction of places in which so many of us meet in order to express our beliefs in company with each other--we come together as we have tonight in order to rebuild those places. Because that’s what a community does.”

Holly forgot about her drink.

“Now, I’m very new to Pocahontas County. I like to think I’ve been useful thus far--I guess I’ll find out in November, because even though I’m running unopposed--which is a very great honor--I still have to win a majority of your votes. But these church burnings have made me feel pretty damned useless. And that makes me angry. Sheriff Lachlan is just as angry as I am. So you’ve got two incredibly angry officers of the court working this thing, and that’s what we’re here for. That’s our function. I think, though, that what you’re here for--contributing to the repair and renewal fund--is even more important in many ways than what a sheriff and a district attorney can do. We’re supposed to find these criminals and stop them. You’re contributing to the future, making sure it will be built--you’re saying that the future is going to happen. And that’s the most basic faith a citizen of this country can have.”

She was aware of someone standing behind her now, but was so riveted on Jamey Stirling that it took her a moment to recognize Cam’s touch on her shoulder.

“America is a work in progress. Yes, I know, it’s a cliché--but think about what it means. America, it seems to me, was never meant to be completed. We were never meant to be a finished product, a thing that at some point would get a final polish and we could all say, ‘Okay, all done!’ and hold a champagne brunch to celebrate--and then not bother to think about it anymore.

“We have to think about it. We’re not a finished thing. When somebody calls the Constitution a ‘living document’ don’t they mean it’s supposed to do what all living things do--grow and change? So America is pretty much meant to be unfinished. It’s challenging work that puts us through a spiritual wringer, that demands our best--because America is the most important work in history.

“Now, anybody who’s ever heard me speechify on the subject--which now includes all of you!--knows that I pretty much go off the deep end when I talk about the Constitution. A lot of people wonder why. After all, it allowed slavery, repression, injustice. It forgot to give women the right to vote until nineteen amendments later. One of the amendments turned out to be such a lousy idea that another amendment was needed to repeal it--and then we could all legally enjoy our bourbon again. But the deficiencies aren’t in the document. Mistakes were made by those who interpreted the document, who wrestled with moral, intellectual, and spiritual questions--and sometimes got it wrong.

“The reason I get long-winded about it--I prefer to think of it as ‘lyrical,’ by the way--is that in the document are found the means for change. For correcting mistakes. For righting wrongs. For doing the work that brings progress. Where do we want to go, and how will we get there? What kind of society do we want to live in--and what are we willing to do in order to establish it? And, yes, to protect it. To form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare--and secure the blessings of liberty. Not the perfect Union, but a more perfect Union. The Founders knew we’d never get there--but they provided the means to keep working on it.

“And that’s what we’re all here doing tonight. Discussing our different views of what this country should be, where it should be going, what it should be doing. How to establish, ensure, provide, promote, and secure. Making certain that those places that were damaged will be repaired and restored, because that’s what communities do.”

He paused, and all at once seemed to shake himself slightly. A tiny smile curved his lips. “I’m a lawyer and a politician--give me a microphone and I’ll talk all night. But there are Labor Day picnics tomorrow all over the county, so I’m guessing you’d all like me to shut up now so you can go home. Thanks for being here tonight.”

“Damn,” Holly muttered as she joined the applause. “I could just kiss that kid right now.”

“Me, too,” Cam agreed softly. When Holly looked over her shoulder at him, he shrugged and showed both dimples. “What can I tell you? He’s always been like that. You should’ve heard him practicing opening arguments and summations--even during first year.”

“You’re an idiot,” she told him affectionately. “Where’s Evan?”

“Why am I an--no, don’t answer that. I thought Evan would be here already.”

“Haven’t seen him in awhile. Go find him, okay, so we can get out of here?”

“That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about….”

UK cover art for Steven Erikson's DUST OF DREAMS

Like every other Malazan fan, I was excited when Ken posted a photograph of the cover art for the upcoming Dust of Dreams (Canada, Europe).

So I asked Erikson's editor to send me a jpeg of the cover art. You can now see it in all its splendor, though I must stress that this cover has not been finalized yet.

Now that we have the cover art and the prologue, I can't wait to get my hands on Dust of Dreams!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 24th)

In hardcover:

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is up two positions, ending the week at number 4.

Kim Harrison's White Witch, Black Curse is down three spots, finishing its third week on the bestseller list at number 12. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

David Weber's Storm from the Shadows is down eight positions, ending its second week on the charts at number 20. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' From Dead to Worse maintains its position at number 22. This marks the novel's 25th week on the prestigious list.

Patricia Briggs' Bone Crossed is down five positions, ending its fifth week on the NYT list at number 24. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Jim Butcher's Small Favor maintains its position at number 12 for a second week.

William Gibson's Spook Country debuts at number 31.

WARRIORS has been turned in

This from George R. R. Martin's Not a Blog:

Gardner Dozois and I have completed work on our WARRIORS anthology, and delivered it to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, our editor at Tor.

This one is a monster, a gigantic "event" anthology with an all-star lineup of writers, most of them award winners and bestsellers in their own fields. The theme of the anthology is war and the warrior ethos... but what makes WARRIORS different from all the military SF anthologies that have gone before is that this one is a cross-genre anthology. Fantasy, SF, historical fiction, suspense, mainstream, romance, and more, all of it was welcome here.

Our final lineup:

Introduction: "Stories from the Spinner Rack," by George R.R. Martin
"The King of Norway," by Cecelia Holland
"Forever Bound," by Joe Haldeman
"The Triumph," by Robin Hobb
"Clean Slate," by Lawrence Block
"And Ministers of Grace," by Tad Williams
"Soldierin'," by Joe Lansdale
"Dirae," by Peter S. Beagle
"The Eagle and the Rabbit," by Steven Saylor
"Seven Years from Home," by Naomi Novik
"The Custom of the Army," by Diana Gabaldon
"The Pit," by James Rollins
"Out of the Dark," by David Weber
"The Girls from Avenger," by Carrie Vaughn
"Ancient Ways," by S.M. Stirling
"Ninieslando" by Howard Waldrop
"Recidivist" by Gardner Dozois
"My Name is Legion," by David Morrell
"Defenders of the Frontier," by Robert Silverberg
"The Scroll," by David Ball
"The Mystery Knight," by George R.R. Martin

There's twenty stories, all original and never before published, including a Forever Peace sequel from Joe Haldeman, a "Lord John" novella by Diana Gabaldon, an Emberverse tale from Steve Stirling, and a major new Dunk & Egg novella from yours truly. Vikings, doughboys, Roman legionaries, knights, Buffalo soldiers, cybernetic infantry, WASPs, Cossacks -- you'll find them all in the pages of WARRIORS.

Look for the Tor hardcover in March 2010.

So far there's no UK sale, nor any foreign deals on the table. Those may come later... but until and unless they do, if you want to read "The Mystery Knight" or any of the other stories, you'll need to grab the Tor edition.

Buy early and often, and help us smash these genre boundaries! It's the story that matters, not the label... at least that's our mantra here.

So you know what you have to do if you want to read the third Dunk and Egg story. . .:-)

Win an ARC of Brandon Sanderson's WARBREAKER

Speaking of Sanderson, I'm giving away an Advance Reading Copy of his forthcoming Warbreaker. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Warbreaker is the story of two sisters, who happen to be princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, the lesser god who doesn’t like his job, and the immortal who’s still trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago.

Their world is one in which those who die in glory return as gods to live confined to a pantheon in Hallandren’s capital city and where a power known as BioChromatic magic is based on an essence known as breath that can only be collected one unit at a time from individual people.

By using breath and drawing upon the color in everyday objects, all manner of miracles and mischief can be accomplished. It will take considerable quantities of each to resolve all the challenges facing Vivenna and Siri, princesses of Idris; Susebron the God King; Lightsong, reluctant god of bravery, and mysterious Vasher, the Warbreaker.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "WARBREAKER." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Bad news for Robert Jordan fans

Special thanks to Adam for the "heads up."

According to this report from the American Book Center, A Memory of Light will be split into two, perhaps three, volumes. The first installment, The Gathering Storm (Canada), will be published this fall, while future volumes would likely be released in 2010 and 2011.

If true, this shatters what little hope I had that they wouldn't try to milk this last WoT volume for all it's worth. Shades of the Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert Dune books are already haunting me. And forcing fans to wait till possibly 2011 to reach the conclusion of this epic fantasy saga is unacceptable.

Moreover, if The Gathering Storm is published as trade paperback instead of a hardcover, it would be inexcusable. My entire WoT collection is in hardcover format, and it wouldn't make sense to change that. The book will debut at number 1 on the NYT list whether or not they release it in hardback. But Amazon shows a hardcover version, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

And how they managed to top The Shadow Rising and Lord of Chaos in terms of crappy cover art, I'll never know. . .

Any way you look at it, it smells like dog poop in the sun. Bad, bad, bad. . .

Call me naïve, but I thought they would try to honor Jordan's wish to see A Memory of Light be published as a single novel, or one split into two volumes that would be released back to back. Anything else is taking advantage of fans and screwing them where the sun don't shine.

Extremely disappointing. . .

Steven Erikson's DUST OF DREAMS prologue

It's nice to return from work and realize that something special just made your day!

You can now read the prologue of Steven Erikson's Dust of Dreams (Canada, Europe) here.

I'm a bit pissed because I don't have time to read it now, but I'll do it as soon as I get back home tonight!


Win a copy of the limited edition of Jim Butcher's FOOL MOON

Thanks to the folks at Subterranean Press, one lucky winner will receive a copy of the limited edition of Jim Butcher's Fool Moon. However, it will be a PC (Publisher's Copy) version and not part of the numbered set. Essentially, it's the exact same book minus the number. For more info about this title:

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "MOON." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Excerpt from S. L. Farrell's A MAGIC OF NIGHTFALL

Having enjoyed the GRRM-recommended S. L. Farrell's A Magic of Twilight last year, I was looking forward to it's sequel, A Magic of Nightfall (Canada, USA, Europe). Hence, I was quite happy when we were able to get an excerpt posted on the Hotlist.

There is already an extract on Farrell's website, so you might want to read that one first.


The following is excerpted from A MAGIC OF NIGHTFALL. The novel is told in multiple viewpoints, but the sections below (with one exception) concentrate on the POV of one of the characters: the assassin called the “White Stone...” These sections are widely separated in the actual novel.

One small note: this is from the uncorrected galleys of the novel, and so may be slightly different from the actual text of the novel...

Hope you enjoy!


S.L. Farrell

The White Stone

THERE WERE EASY KILLINGS, and there were hard ones. This was one of the easy ones.

The target was Honori cu’Belgradi, a merchant dealing in goods from the Magyarias, and a philanderer who had made the mistake of sleeping with the wrong person’s wife: the wife of the White Stone’s client.

I watched him tup her,” the man had told the White Stone, his voice shaking with remembered rage. “I watched him take my wife like an animal, and I heard her call out his name in her passion. And now . . . now she’s pregnant, and I don’t know if the child is mine or . . ..” He’d stopped, his head bowed. “But I’ll make certain that he’ll do this to no other husband, and I’ll make certain that the child will never be able to call him vatarh. . . .”

Relationships and lust were responsible for fully half of the White Stone’s work. Greed and power accounted for the rest. There was never a dearth of people seeking the White Stone; if you needed to find the Stone, you found the way.

Honori cu’Belgradi was a creature of habit, and habits made for easy prey. The Stone had watched him for three days, and the man’s ritual never varied by more than a quarter turn of the glass. He would close his shop in Ville Serne, a town a half-day’s ride south of Brezno, then stroll to the tavernhouse on the corner of the next street over. He would stay there until four turns of the glass after third call, after which he would go to the rooms where the woman-the wife of the Stone’s client-waited for their nightly tryst.

On the way to those rooms, Honori would pass the alleyway where the Stone waited now. The Stone could already hear the footsteps in the cool night air. “Honori cu’Belgradi,” the Stone called as the figure of the man passed by the opening of the alley. Honori stopped, his face cautious, then eagerly interested as the Stone stepped into the light of the téni-lamps of the street.

“You know me?” cu’Belgradi asked, and the Stone smiled gently.

“I do. And I would know you better, my friend. You and I, we have a business arrangement to make.”

“How do you mean?” cu’Belgradi asked as the Stone stepped closer to him. So easy . . . Only a step away. A knife thrust’s distance apart, and cu’Belgradi tilted his head quizzically.

“Like this,” the Stone answered, looking around the street and seeing no one watching, and clapping cu’Belgradi on the shoulder as if the man were a long-lost friend. At the same time the hand holding the poisoned blade drove hard up under the man’s rib cage and twisted it up into the heart. Cu’Belgradi made a strangled, blood-choked cry, and the body was suddenly heavy against the Stone’s athletic build. The Stone half-dragged, half-carried the dying cu’Belgradi into the alleyway, laying the body quickly on the ground. Cu’Belgradi’s eyes were open, and the Stone dug into a cloak pocket and brought out two stones: both white in the dimness of the alley, though one was smooth and polished as if from much handling. The stones were placed on cu’Belgradi’s open eyes, the Stone pressing them down into the sockets. The one on the left eye the Stone left there; the gleaming, white, and smooth one over the right eye-the eye of the ego, the eye that held the image of the face it saw in its last moment-that one the Stone picked up again and placed back in a leather pouch around the Stone’s neck.

“And now I have you, forever,” the apparition known as the White Stone whispered.

A breath later, there was no one left alive in the alley, only a corpse with a white pebble over its left eye: a contract fulfilled.

* * *

The White Stone

THEY CAME TO HER AT NIGHT, those who the White Stone had killed. In the night, they stirred and woke. They gathered around her in her dreams and they talked to her. Often, the loudest of them was Old Pieter, the first person she’d killed.

She’d been twelve.

Remember me . . .” he whispered to her in her sleep. “Remember me . . .”

Old Pieter was their neighbor in the sleepy village back on the Isle of Paeti, and she’d known him since birth, especially after her vatarh died when she was six. He was always friendly with her, joking and gifting her with animals he’d carved from oak branches, whittling them with the short knife he always carried on his belt. She painted the animals he gave her, placing them on a window shelf in her little bedroom where she could see them every morning.

Old Pieter kept goats, and when her matarh would let her, she sometimes helped him tend the small herd. The day her life changed, the day she started on the path that had led her here, she’d been out with Pieter and his goats near the Loudwhite, the creek falling fast and noisy from the slopes of Sheep Fell, one of the tall hills to the south of the village. The goats were grazing placidly near the creek, and she was walking near then when she saw a body in the grass: a doe freshly killed, its body torn by scavengers and flies beginning to buzz excitedly around the carcass. The doe’s head, on the long tawny neck, gazed forlornly at her with large, beautiful eyes.

“If ye look into that right eye, ye’ll see what killed her.” A hand stroked her shoulder and continued down her back before leaving. She started, not realizing that Old Pieter had come up behind her. “The right eye, it connects to a person’s or an animal’s soul,” he continued. “When a living thing dies, well, the right eye remembers the last thing they saw-the last face, or the thing that killed it. Look close into that doe’s eye, and ye’ll see it in there, too: a wolf, p’raps. It happens to people, too. Murderers, they been caught that way-by someone looking into the dead right eye of the one they killed and seeing the killer’s face there.”

She shuddered at that and turned away, and Old Pieter laughed. His hand brushed wisps of hair that had escaped her braids back from her face, and he smiled fondly at her. “Now don’t be upset, girl,” he said. “G’wan and see to the goats, and I’ll carve ye something new. . . .”

It was later in the afternoon when he came to her again, as she sat on the banks of the Loudwater watching the stream tumble through its rocky bed. “Here,” he said. “Do ye like it?”

The carving was a human figure, small enough to hide easily in her hand: nude, and undeniably female, with small breasts like her own budding from the chest. It was the hair that distressed her the most: a moon ago, a ca’ woman from Nessantico has passed through their town, staying at the inn one night on the road to An Uaimth. The woman’s hair had been braided in an intricate knot at the back of the head; entranced by this glimpse of foreign fashion, she had worked for days to imitate those braids-since then, she had braided her hair in that same manner every day.

It was braided now, just as the nude figure’s was, and her hand involuntarily went to her knot of hair on the back of her head. She wanted, suddenly, to tear it out.

She stared at the carving, not knowing what to say, and she felt Old Pieter’s hand on her cheek. “It’s you,” he told her. “You’re becoming a woman now.” His hand had cupped her head, and he brought her to him, pressing her tight against him. She could feel his excitement, hard on her thigh.

She dropped the doll.

What happened then she would never forget: the pain, and the humiliation of it. The shame. And after it was over, after his weight left her, she saw his belt lying on the grass next to her, and there in its sheath was his knife, and she took it. She took the hilt in hands that trembled and shook, she took it sobbing, she took it with her tashta ripped and half torn from her, she took it with her blood and his seed spattering her thighs, and she took it with all the anger and rage and fear inside her and she stabbed him. She plunged the blade low in his belly, and when he groaned and shouted in alarm, she yanked out the blade and plunged it into him again, and again, and again until he was no longer screaming and no longer beating at her with his fists and no longer moving at all.

Covered in her own blood and his, she let the knife drop, kneeling alongside him. His dead eyes stared at her.

When a thing dies, the right eye remembers the last thing they see-the last face they saw. . . ..”

She half-crawled to the bank of the Loudwhite. She found a stone there, a white and water-polished pebble the size of a large coin. She brought the stone back and pressed it down over his right eye. Then she huddled there, a few steps away from him, until the sun was nearly down and the goats came around her bleating and wanting to go home to their stables. She woke as if from a sleep, seeing the body there, and she found that curiosity drove her forward toward it. Her hand trembled as she reached down to his face, to the pebble-covered right eye. She took the stone from that eye, and it felt strangely warm. The eye underneath it was gray and clouded, and though she looked carefully into it, she saw nothing there: no image of herself. Nothing at all. She clutched the pebble in her hand: so warm, almost throbbing with life. Her breath shuddered as she clutched it to her breast.

She left then, leaving his body there. She walked south, not north, and she took the pebble with her.

She would never return to the village of her birth. She would never see her matarh again.

The White Stone turned in her sleep. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, girl,” Old Pieter whispered in her dreams. “Didn’t mean to change you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. . . .”

* * *

The White Stone

SHE WATCHED THE ASSASSINATION attempt from within the crowd, unnoticed and safe. How terribly clumsy, she thought, as people gaped and shouted and screamed around her. Clumsy and stupid to boot.

A knife was a much better weapon than magic. Stealth was much better than a brute attack. You should be there to see your victim’s eyes when you strike. You should see yourself reflected in his pupils. You should feel the heat of the blood washing over your hands. She’d been taught her blade skills at an early age, in the warrens of An Uaimth.

Her body still had the scars of those lessons, and she’d thought more than once that she herself would die of them. Her teachers were the dregs of society, the dark and twisted folk who were too violent and too twisted and too damaged to be tolerated by polite society. They were dangerous, and she had found herself abused and used and injured by them more than once. But they had physical skills she wanted, gained with blood and pain and fury. She had learned those lessons well, taking from each what she could.

She was never again going to let someone take advantage of her. She was never going to be weak. She was never going to let herself be vulnerable.

She had to kill a few of her “teachers,” when they became too dangerous or when they tried to become too close, when they began to pry or to guess her secrets. She had left her calling card with each of them, a white pebble over the left eye. The White Stone . . . She’d begun to hear the name, whispered in the streets. He always leaves a stone on the left eye . . .

They always assumed it was “he”; that was protection, too. She could walk anywhere and never be suspected. And they never knew there were always two stones; that she took one from victim’s right eye to keep with her. To keep them with her.

That stone was in the small leather pouch tied around her neck, nestled between her breasts under her clothing. That was with her always.

She touched the pouch now as the crowds surged toward the dais, as the A’Hïrzg stood up covered in the blood of the assassin and the new Hïrzg raised his hands to the crowds and called out for them to be calm.

The White Stone smiled at that.

Death . . . Death was always calm.

* * *

Allesandra ca’Vörl

DO I REALLY WANT to do this? Allesandra shivered at the thought.

It was, almost, too late to change her mind.

Alone, in the darkness of a narrow lane in Brezno on Draiordi evening, she waited where she’d been told. A man approached her, hobnailed boots clacking loudly on the cobbles, and Allesandra stiffened, suddenly alert. All her senses were straining, and she pressed a hand close to the knife hidden under the sleeve of her tashta, though she knew that if the White Stone were what he was rumored to be, no weapon would protect her if he decided to kill her. The man came close to her, his eyes on the shadows under the cowl of her tashta, assessing her.

“Ah,” the man said. “I guess you’re comely enough. Care to do some business with me, girlie?” he asked as he approached her, with the smell of beer trailing after him.

He thinks you’re a whore. This isn’t him. But, just to be certain, she opened her hand and showed him the gray-white, smooth pebble in her palm. He didn’t react. “I have a se’siqil that’s yours if you’re good to me,” the man said, and Allesandra closed her fingers around the stone.

“Be off with you,” she told him, “or I’ll call the utilino.” The man scowled, hiccuped, then brushed past her. He spat on the ground near her feet.

“Did you think it would be that easy?” At the sound of the voice, Allesandra started to turn, but a gloved hand gripped her shoulder and stopped her. “No,” the voice said. “Just keep standing there, looking across the street. I am the White Stone.” Husky, that voice, though pitched higher than she’d imagined. In her mind, she’d heard a deep, ominous voice, not this nondescript one.

“How do I know it’s you?” she asked.

“You don’t. Not now. You won’t know until you see the stone on the left eye of the man you want dead. It is a man, isn’t it?” There was a quiet chuckle. “For a woman, it’s always a man . . . or because of one.”

“I want to see you,” Allesandra said. “I want to know who I’m talking to, who I’m hiring.”

“The only ones who see the White Stone are those I kill. Turn, and you’ll be one of those-I know you, and that’s enough. Do I make myself clear, A’Hïrzg ca’Vörl?” Involuntarily, Allesandra shivered at the threat and the voice chuckled again. “Good. I dislike unnecessary and unpaid work. Now . . . You brought my fee, as Elzbet told you?”

She nodded.

“Good. You’ll place the pouch down at your feet, and place the stone you brought on top of it-it’s a light stone, as near white as you can find? You’d recognize it again?”

Again Allesandra nodded. Resisting the temptation to look back, she unlaced the pouch heavy with gold solas from the belt of her tashta and, crouching, put it on the cobbles of the street next to her feet. She placed the pebble on top of the soft leather and stood up.

“How soon?” Allesandra asked. “How soon will you do it?”

“In my own time and in the place of my own choosing,” the White Stone answered. “But within a moon. No longer than that. Who do you want me to kill?” the assassin asked. “What is his name?”

“You may not take the money when I tell you.”

The White Stone gave a mocking laugh. “You wouldn’t need me if the one you wanted dead weren’t well-placed and well-protected. Perhaps, given your history, it’s someone in Nessantico?”


“No?” There was, Allesandra thought, disappointment in the voice.

“Then who, A’Hïrzg? Who do you want dead badly enough that you would find me?”

She hesitated, not wanting to say it aloud. She let out the breath she was holding. “My brother,” she said. “Hïrzg Fynn.”

There was no answer. She heard a clatter out in the street to her right, and her head moved involuntarily in that direction. There was nothing there; in the moonlight, the street was empty except for a utilino just turning the corner a block away, whistling and swinging his lantern. He waved at her; she waved back. “Did you hear me?” she whispered to the White Stone.

There was no answer. She glanced down: pouch and stone were gone. She turned. There was a closed door directly behind her, leading into one of the buildings.

Allesandra decided it would not be in her best interest to open that door.

* * *

The White Stone

MY BROTHER. Hïrzg Fynn.”

She had thought herself beyond surprise at this point, but this . . . She’d been in Firenzcia now for some three years, longer than she’d stayed anywhere in some time, but the work had been good here. She knew some of the history between Allesandra and Fynn ca’Vörl; she’d heard the rumors, but none of them spoke of a resentment this deep in Allesandra. And she herself had witnessed Allesandra saving her brother from an attack.

She found herself puzzled. She didn’t care for uncertainty.

But . . . that wasn’t her concern. The gold solas in the pouch were real enough, and she had heard Allesandra clearly, and the woman’s white stone sat in her pouch next to the stone of the right eye, the stone that held the souls of all those the White Stone had killed.

Her fingers scissored around the white stone now through the thin, soft leather of the pouch. The touch gave her comfort, and she thought she could hear the faint voices of her victims calling.

I nearly killed you first . . . You were so clumsy then . . .”

How many more? We grow stronger, each time you add another . .. .”

Soon you’ll hear us always . . .”

She took her hand from the stone and the voices stopped. They didn’t always. Sometimes, especially recently, she’d been hearing them even when she didn’t touch the stone.

To kill a Hïrzg . . . This would be a challenge. This would be a test. She would have to plan carefully; she would have to watch him and know him. She would have to become him.

Her fingers were back around the stone again. “You’ve killed the unranked, you’ve killed ce’-and-ci’, and they are easy enough. You’ve killed ca’-and-cu’, and you know they’re far more difficult because with money comes isolation, and with power comes protection. But never this. Never a ruler.”

You’re afraid . . .”

“. . . You doubt yourself . . .”

“No!” she told them all, angrily. “I can do this. I will do this. You’ll see. You’ll see when the Hïrzg is in there with you. You’ll see.”

They’ll know you. The A’Hïrzg will know you . . .

“No, she won’t. People like her don’t even see the unranked, as I was to her. My voice will be different, and my hair, and-most importantly-my attitude. She won’t know me. She won’t.”

With that, she plucked the pouch of golden coins from the bed and placed it in the chest with the other fees. From the chest, she pulled out the battered bronze mirror and looked at her reflection in the polished surface. She touched her hair, looked at the haunted, almost colorless eyes. It was time for her to become someone else. Someone richer, someone more influential.

Someone who could get close enough to the Hïrzg . . .