Exclusive excerpt from Jon Sprunk's SHADOW'S SON

Reading Adam and Ken's reviews of Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son piqued my curiosity. Which is why I invited the author to write a guest blog for the Hotlist. And now, to give you a taste of this novel, the good folks at Pyr supplied this extract. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

In the holy city of Othir, treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, just the place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and few scruples.

Caim makes his living on the edge of a blade, but when a routine job goes south, he is thrust into the middle of an insidious plot. Pitted against crooked lawmen, rival killers, and sorcery from the Other Side, his only allies are Josephine, the socialite daughter of his last victim, and Kit, a guardian spirit no one else can see. But in this fight for his life, Caim only trusts his knives and his instincts, but they won't be enough when his quest for justice leads him from Othir's hazardous back alleys to its shining corridors of power. To unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the empire, he must claim his birthright as the Shadow's Son...


Caim leaned into the Vine’s dingy whitewashed siding as the sick­ness washed over him. Black lines wriggled before his vision. His stomach tried to squirm up into his throat, but he fought it back with firm determination. Twilight’s veil was drawing over the city. Angry shouts resounded from inside the wineshop. What had happened inside? His talent had never reacted like that before. It usually took every ounce of concentration he could muster to conjure a few flimsy shadows, but this time they had flocked to him like flies to a corpse, and whatever else had emerged from the dark. He took a deep breath. Stars filled the darkening sky. No light shone from the new moon, hidden as it crossed the heavens. A Shadow’s moon, a night when the shades from the Other Side could cross over to walk in the mortal world. He shivered. The sweat under his shirt had turned cool. Gods­damned legends. Stories to spook little children. Then why are you shaking? Caim pushed off from the wall and started walking. The alley was empty. Kit, as usual, was nowhere to be found. Neither was Hubert, which was a good thing. Maybe he’s learning. Kit appeared over his head. Her violet eyes shone in the twilight gloom. “Fun night, huh?” “Sure. A little more fun like that and I could be enjoying the com­forts of a pinewood box.” Caim glanced over his shoulder. An uneasy sensation had settled in the pit of his stomach, the feeling he was being watched. He tried to pass it off as his imagination, but it refused to leave. There was something in the air tonight. The city, never a safe haven for fools, seethed with barely restrained frustrations. Like a boiling kettle, the steam needed to vent before it exploded.
“Oh, Caim. I’d never let that happen to you.”

“I’m serious. Something happened in there.”

“Yeah. You finally let loose. Felt good, didn’t it?”

He shook his head. It had been terrifying to feel that much power flowing through him, out of his control. “That’s never happened before, Kit. Why this time?”

Her dainty shoulders lifted in a shrug. “How should I know?”

“You’re supposed to know about this kind of stuff, but you never tell me anything useful.”

“Well then, since I’m not useful . . .” With a mighty huff, she disap­peared in a shower of silver and green sparkles.

Caim sighed and continued on his trek.

Three streets later, he turned a corner and stopped before a mono­lithic structure. The dark mass of the city workhouse eclipsed the sky­line like a colossal black glacier. The building had been closed years ago, but the specter of its presence hung over Low Town like a bad dream. Among the Church’s first creations in the chaotic years following its rise to power, the workhouse had been heralded as an opportunity for the unlawful to repay their crimes against society. Thousands of convicts had entered its iron doors. Most of them died before their sentences were complete, killed by either sadistic guards or the miserable condi­tions. A mournful wail rose from behind the weather-­stripped walls. It was the wind, no doubt, blowing through a broken window, but it was unnerving nonetheless.

Caim picked up his pace to put the unpleasant edifice behind him. He wished now he’d been smart enough to turn down Mathias’s offer. With the city in such a state of turmoil, the last thing he wanted was to risk his neck doing Ral’s secondhand work. This job had better be the easiest he’d ever done or someone was going to regret it. Hell, he regretted it already.

A pair of painted slatterns called out to Caim with promises of earthly delight from the mouth of a cramped alley and flicked their chins at him as he walked past. The street branched ahead of him, both lanes crowded with street­level shops and sprawling tenement houses above. Murmurs of life filtered through their faded, whitewashed walls, sounds of laughter and tears, talking voices and wordless moans. The city was a living crea­ture, hungry and untamed beneath its thin veneer of civilization.

In the kaleidoscopic days and weeks after the attack on his family’s home, he and Kit had trekked across the countryside like hunted animals, moving at night, holing up during the daylight hours under whatever cover they could find. He ate whatever came his way—wild berries and nuts, the few animals he was able to catch or knock down with well­-aimed stones, stolen goods from the occasional farmstead. Chicken coops were his favorite. He became adept at pilfering eggs without disturbing the sleeping hens.

The towering gray walls of Liovard, the first real city they encoun­tered on their flight south, amazed him. They stretched up to the sky sev­eral times the height of a grown man. Beyond those mighty stone ram­parts protruded the peaks and turrets of more buildings than he had ever seen in one place. His father’s estate, including the fields and bordering woods, would have been lost inside the walls, and Liovard, as he would learn later, was petite compared to the great cities of the south: Mecantia, Navarre, and Othir were all larger and more diverse. Yet, walking through the iron-­shod gates was like passing into another world, a realm of noise and commotion where everyone hustled on vital business. Busi­ness was a new word he’d learned in Liovard. Just the sound of it quick­ened his pulse. That’s what he wanted to be reckoned: a man of business.

It didn’t take him long to learn about the messy underside of city life. For a young boy with no family and no prospects, the city was a fright­ening place. He slept in alleyways and inside piles of garbage. A stack of discarded shipping crates provided shelter for almost a month until the street cleaners took them away. He moved from place to place, always hungry, always searching for his next meal. If he thought he was safe from harm amid the bustle of the city, he learned better the first time he encountered a street gang. He’d been rooting through a barrel of half­rotten apples when cutting laughter erupted behind him. A dozen older boys surrounded him. As a lesson for trespassing on their territory, they beat him bloody. After that, he learned to avoid them. He snuck like a rat through the slums with Kit, his only companion.

But if the street toughs were dangerous, the tinmen were worse. The bully boys only wanted your food and whatever you had hidden in your pocket, and maybe to rough you up a bit. Yet when he was dragged into a backstreet by two looming guardsmen after stealing a pomegranate from a vendor’s stall, he knew with sinking certainty they wanted more than to thrash him. While Kit swatted ineffectually at their heads, one held him fast while the other ripped open the laces of his breeches. He struggled, but they cuffed him hard across the face, knocking him to the ground. A white-­hot ember of rage burned in the pit of Caim’s chest as he remembered that day, but also a thread of euphoria, for no sooner had the guards begun pawing at him with their big, clumsy hands than some­thing erupted inside him. At first, he thought he was going to be sick as the feeling bubbled in his belly. Then, the colors of the waning day faded before his eyes. As he was turned onto his stomach, a new spectrum of shades emerged from the bleak drabness of the alley, blacks and grays of marvelous, vivid tones. While his tears mingled with the dust beneath his face, something extraordinary happened.

A shadow moved.

He had seen shadows move before, when a cloud passed in front of the sun or the object casting the shadow shifted, but this shadow stretched out from under a heap of broken boards like a black tentacle of tar. Strangely, he wasn’t afraid as it oozed toward him, and the guardsmen were too distracted to notice. One held him down by the shoulders while the other tugged down his pants. Caim didn’t recoil; he wanted to know what it was, this crawling, amorphous darkness. When it touched his hand, he yelped as a sensation of burning cold slid over his skin, like dip­ping his hand into a bucket of ice water. More shadows crawled into the light, swarming over the alleyway until Caim couldn’t see the ground under his nose. The guardsman holding him down shouted and let up enough for Caim to wriggle. He kicked and scratched. When a hand seized his face, he bit down hard until warm, salty blood filled his mouth. A strangled scream pierced the gloom, and then he was free.

He didn’t hesitate, but hitched his breeches around his waist and ran. Fear thundered in his ears with every stride.

Caim let the memory fade away as he turned his footsteps toward High Town. Two things were clear to him. First, he couldn’t risk using his powers until he figured out what had happened at the Vine. He couldn’t risk losing control. And second, he would avoid contact with the Azure Hawks for the time being. Those decisions made him feel a little better. Then he remembered that he’d left his cloak back in the taproom.

Caim hunched his shoulders against the night’s chill and hurried through the umbrageous byways of the city. Yet the haunting images of his past followed him down every street.

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