Part personal memoir, part lyrical meditation, London Clay takes us deep in to the nooks and crannies of a forgotten city: a hidden landscape long buried underneath the sprawling metropolis. Armed with just his tattered Streetfinder map, author Tom Chivers follows concealed pathways and explores lost islands, to uncover the geological mysteries that burst up through the pavement and bubble to the surface of our streets.
From Roman ruins to a submerged playhouse, abandoned Tube stations to ancient riverbeds, marshes and woodlands, this network of journeys combines to produce a compelling interrogation of London’s past. London Clay examines landscape and our connection to place, and celebrates urban edgelands: in-between spaces where the natural world and the city mingle, and where ghosts of the deep past can be felt as a buzzing in the skull. It is also a personal account of growing up in London, and of overcoming loss through the layered stories of the capital.
London Clay is a fascinating deep dive into what makes up London. The hidden rivers, the buried history, the layers upon layers that make up our capital city. The title suggests a book of geology, and whilst there is a seam of that running through the book, it’s so much more.
Chivers’ writing takes you on a series of journeys in and around (and underneath) London. Walk with him as he explores the streets, pokes behind the construction boards and delves into the history of the city. I’m fascinated by the city that I only ever see in passing – a day trip here to see friends, a shopping trip there, only ever brushing the surface. I found myself reading this book and stopping to bring up the places mentioned on google maps, to further place myself alongside the author as he tells you yet another fascinating fact or anecdote.
It’s a book that I’m sure I’ll go back to next time I’m heading there, though the hardback is quite chunky and probably doesn’t lend itself well to being carried on a day out!
It’s more than just a series of places though. It’s also part memoir, with Tom Chivers’ own personal stories and history laced throughout. In the latter stages of the book we also see the impact of the pandemic on the city (and his family). It may have taken him several years to write, but feels bang up to date and current.
Finished off with a plethora of footnotes inviting further research London Clay is a fascinating book, and recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in London, its streets, geology and history.
London Clay by Tom Chivers is published by Doubleday and is out now in hardback. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the copy of the book to review.
Today I’m taking part in a blog tour for something a little different. BOTH Publishing is a new venture set up to make exciting good quality fiction accessible to a minority group currently not provided for by today’s UK traditional mass book market and providing a new tool for booksellers to use in their drive to increase diversity and inclusion.
They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign, which aims to publish and print 8 titles of dyslexic friendly books for adults. Their long term goal is to continue publishing good quality adult fiction to produce a wide range of books for people who have challenges when reading.
Their initial target is 3 titles with successive stretch goals to get them to the magical 8. Of course they want to do more and if by your support they really go over our target, they will produce yet more stunning books with great authors.
Books on the Hill is passionate about helping people who have dyslexia, or have any difficulty with reading, to access the joy of good fiction. There are great books out now for children with dyslexia, with specialist publishers like Barrington Stokes and mainstream publishers such as Bloomsbury doing their part. However, there are sadly very few books for adults with Dyslexia in traditional mass market publishing.
Dyslexia is a learning difference that primarily affects reading and writing skills. The NHS estimates that up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK have some form of dyslexia, while other dyslexic organisations believe 1 in 5 and more than 2 million people in the UK are severely affected.
Dyslexia does not stop someone from achieving. There are many individuals who are successful and are dyslexic. Famous actors, such as Orlando Bloom; Entrepreneurs like Theo Paphitis, and many, many more, including myself. All of who believe dyslexia has helped them to be where they are now. Dyslexia, though, as I can attest to, does not go away. You don’t grow out of it, and so we are acknowledging that and trying to without being patronising, create a selection of books that will be friendly to people who deal with dyslexia every day.
Since we started the project in 2019, Books on the Hill have had many adults customers with dyslexia come in shop the asking for something accessible to read. For example, one customer asked if we stocked well known novels in a dyslexic friendly format. Unfortunately we had to say no, as they just don’t exist. We explained what we are trying to achieve by printing our own and she replied:
“I have been reading [children dyslexic] books but they are a bit childish so am really happy I have found your company!! Thanks so much again and thank you for making such a helpful and inclusive brand – it means a lot. “ This response is not isolated. We have had many adults come in to the shop with dyslexia, who do not read or struggle to read and they they believe dyslexic friendly books would have real impact on their reading for pleasure.
How To Get involved
We are launching a Kickstarter beginning in April 2nd 2021 for 30 days, with the focus on paying for the printing of our books and giving us starting capital to continue to print more titles.
There will be many ways you can be involved in this. You can contribute on the Kickstarter website itself. There will be a number of different options of donating money, in which you will receive rewards, such as ebooks of a title or a paperback of one or more of the titles to be published. In addition a unique reward from authors who are contributing to the project. You can still contribute outside the kickstarter. We are happy to receive your help in the shop, where we will have a donation box available.
Who Are We Working With
We have been so fortunate that many great authors have agreed to contribute to this project. All are brilliant authors and are names I am sure you will recognise. Stan Nicholls, who has been a great support to me particularly with my PhD. He is the author of many novels and short stories but is best known for the internationally acclaimed Orcs: First Blood series. Steven Savile, the fantasy, horror and thriller writer, now lives in Stockholm whose father is a customer of our bookshop. The horror duo that is Thana Niveau and John Llewellyn Probert, both well established and engaging authors and also residents of Clevedon. Adrian Tchaikovsky is an Arthur Clark Award winner and best known for his series Shadows of the Apt, and for his novel Children of Time. Steven Poore is the highly acclaimed fantasy writer who I first met on my first fantasy convention in Scarborough. We finish the Magnificent Seven with Joel Cornah, who also has dyslexia, and with whom I participated in a podcast on dyslexia for the Clevedon Literature 2020 ‘Festival in the Clouds’.
Books on the Hill is Alistair Sims. He is the manager and commander-in-chief of the bookshop (though his partner, Chloe and his mother, Joanne, who set up the bookshop with him, may disagree with this description ). Alistair is dyslexic and has a PhD in history and archaeology. Alistair could not read until he was 13 and is passionate about helping anyone who has difficulty reading. He is the driving force behind BOTH Press and has been involved in every step in this project, from finding award winning authors to contribute, the cover design, and the road to publication, including setting up for distribution.
Books on the Hill are collaborating with Chrissey Harrison, who is also an local author and member of North Bristol Writers Group. Chressey and Alistair have designed the book-covers together, with Chrissey creating the finished product we now look on at awe with. Nearly all the design work has been done by Chrissey, and she is also in charge of the printing process, typesetting. We are so proud and appreciative to be working with her.
Special mention must go to Harrison Gates, who runs Nine Worthy, and who has dedicated his time and expertise to produce our print catalogue for us free of cost.
Joanne Hall is an author, editor and formerly the Chair of BristolCon, Bristol’s premier (and only) science fiction and fantasy convention. We must give a huge thank you to Jo for proof reading the stories free of cost.
Vicky Brewster has edited all the new stories by the authors. She specialises in editing and beta reading long-form fiction. Vicky is a great professional editor.
It’s 1994. The music industry is mourning Kurt Cobain, Right Said Fred have re-emerged as an ‘ironic’ pop act and John Major is the country’s prime minister. Nothing is as it should be.
Emma, a working-class rock music fan from Hull, with a penchant for a flaming Drambuie and a line of coke with her best mate Dave down The Angel, is troubled.
Trev, her beloved whippet, has doggy IBS, and her job ordering bathroom supplies at the local caravan company is far from challenging. So when her dad, Tel, informs her that Kurt Cobain has killed himself aged 27, Emma is consumed with anxiety.
Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix…why have so many rock musicians died aged 27? And will Emma be next to join The Twenty Seven Club?
I really enjoyed The Twenty Seven Club. It’s steeped in a lovely 90s vibe that is a real joy to read. Told from the point of view of Emma, a young woman from Hull who enjoys rock music, beers (and the occasional Drambuie or a little something… extra) with her best mate Dave down their local. She’s shaken by the untimely death of her rock hero Kurt Cobain at 27, and is filled with worry that she’s approaching that age.
The book follows Emma’s daily life, the highs (literal, in some cases) and lows of life in Hull in the nineties and her existential crisis following Cobain’s suicide. The music forms a backdrop to Emma’s life and story, and as someone who was there (though slightly younger than Emma in 1994) is pitch-perfect for the time.
I read this book in two sittings, staying up far too late one night and getting up early the following morning to finish it off. I enjoyed spending time with Emma and Dave (and her whippet Trev), and following their adventures over the course of the book. It’s warm, often funny, and a delightful dose of 90s nostalgia.
The Twenty Seven Club by Lucy Nichol is out now. Huge thanks to the author for the free copy to review via NetGalley. Opinions are, as always, my own.
While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.
But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.
I really enjoyed Winter’s Orbit, and polished most of it off in a single sitting. It’s got everything you could want. Murder, political chicanery, arranged marriages, devious goings-on, a disreputable playboy prince and a studious, quiet scholar.
It’s definitely a sci-fi romance, heavy on the romance though with goodly lashings of your galactic politics and a nice bit of worldbuilding going on in the background. Our good Prince Kiem is told that he must marry his freshly deceased cousin Prince Taam’s widower. He’s not a little alarmed by this, not only as it will mark the end of his current lifestyle, but also because of how soon after Taam’s death it is, and how his husband Jainan must still be deep in grief.
I really liked Kiem (and his PA Bel, who I wish we’d seen a lot more of). I loved the politics of it, and the slow-burn misunderstanding romance going on. I found Jainan a little annoying for a good chunk of the book, and his ‘oh no, I’m not good enough’ attitude, but warmed to him in the second half. Having the chapters switch between Kiem and Jainan worked really well at building the tension and you find yourself shouting (internally at least) JUST KISS HIM YOU FOOL.
The worldbuilding was also interesting, with the very odd and slightly creepy Auditor lurking in the background. I’d love to see a bit more of that corner of the galaxy should Everina Maxwell ever decide to return – I think this is a standalone.
In short, great fun and a welcome change from recent sci-fi books.
Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell is published by Orbit Books. Many thanks to Nazia Khatun from Orbit Books for the advance copy, and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
I’ve been intending to do this for years, a rewatch of Bond from the very beginning, and a post to go with each. I stumbled across the Really 007 podcast discussing the best Bond henchmen (and henchwomen) and it rekindled my plans. So you can blame Rob Parker and his mates.
And now No Time To Die has been pushed back (again), which seems like the perfect opportunity.
I’ve got a few of the movies already on blu-ray – three out of the four Craig-era films, and a weird little six-disc box set which is heavy on the Connery (Dr No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball), light on Moore (Live And Let Die and For Your Eyes Only), finishing up with Die Another Day.
The less said about that, the better.
So I need to pick up a box set of the rest – I had thought of streaming them or buying from Apple/Amazon/Google, but the digital versions are like 8 or 9 quid a pop to buy, whereas you can get the entire box set for about fifty quid.
I’m intrigued as to how well the old Bonds stand up (or don’t). I want to investigate the movies, the baddies, the henchmen, the cars, the music, everything. What makes a good henchman? Is there anywhere Bond *hasn’t* been?
Before I watch all the movies again I thought I’d have a go at ranking them from memory (though I have watched a couple, oops)
I’ve sorted them by Bond, then overall. Will my opinions change after a rewatch?
For Connery I’ve gone with
From Russia With Love
Diamonds Are Forever
You Only Live Twice
Lazenby is somewhat easier, obvs.
Live and Let Die
The Man With The Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
A View to a Kill
Dalton again is a little easier – only two to choose from and I’ve gone in order:
The Living Daylights
License to Kill
Brosnan next. Bit trickier
The World Is Not Enough
Die Another Day
Tomorrow Never Dies
Quantum of Solace
And finally, I’ve sorted them all into three groups – top tier, middle tier and the rest. Top tier are sorted in order, the other two are just pots.
What do you think? Who’s your favourite Bond? And your favourite movie? Anything else I should be looking out for on my journey back through 007’s adventures?
A year after a calamitous blunder by the Russian secret service left a British citizen dead from novichok poisoning, Diana Taverner is on the warpath. What seems a gutless response from the government has pushed the Service’s First Desk into mounting her own counter-offensive – but she’s had to make a deal with the devil first. And given that the devil in question is arch-manipulator Peter Judd, she could be about to lose control of everything she’s fought for.
Meanwhile, still reeling from recent losses, the slow horses are worried they’ve been pushed further into the cold. Slough House has been wiped from Service records, and fatal accidents keep happening. No wonder Jackson Lamb’s crew are feeling paranoid. But have they actually been targeted?
With a new populist movement taking a grip on London’s streets, and the old order ensuring that everything’s for sale to the highest bidder, the world’s an uncomfortable place for those deemed surplus to requirements. The wise move would be to find a safe place and wait for the troubles to pass.
But the slow horses aren’t famed for making wise decisions.
Mick Herron is one of those writers who make it look… effortless. He’s just got a way with a turn of phrase, a sentence dropped which is just… perfect.
“This was the spook trade, and when things went awry on Spook Street, they usually went the full Chris Grayling.”
The Slough House books are always a pleasure to read (start with Slow Horses and catch up!), and the series just keeps getting better. The gloriously foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, ever-flatulent, politically incorrect Jackson Lamb (soon to be appearing on our screens played by Gary Oldman) is back, and someone has wiped Slough House off the map and is picking off his Slow Horses.
He’s not happy about it. And you do not cross Jackson Lamb.
Herron has taken the landscape of today – the “you know what” which has left the country with fewer friends, less money and opportunities for populist windbags to opine on everything, the novichok poisonings in Salisbury, the gilets jaunes movement which made its way across the Channel, and layered a cracking spy tale over the top. It’s a tale of revenge for revenge, of the dangers of inviting a wolf to dinner, and just how far the Slow Horses will go for each other.
Whip-smart writing, multi-layered plotting, with some of my favourite characters in fiction, Slough House is just brilliant. Hugely recommended.
Well, January seems to have gone on for like eleventy billion days, and we emerge blinking into the joy* that is February.
*actual level of joy may vary. Serving suggestion only. May contain nuts.
So, what did we all read in January? I had a pretty good month, book-wise, and read eight and a half books (couldn’t quite finish Call of the Bone Ships in time due to cat-related issues – LokiCat decided that my lap was prime pussycat sleeping real estate last night and plonked himself down for a snooze, which made reading trick)
When homeless veteran Jimmy thinks he witnesses a murder in Newcastle, the police refuse to believe him. He’s not quite sure he believes his own eyes. Then he sees missing persons posters matching the description of the man he saw killed, and he realises he wasn’t mistaken. But how do you catch a killer when nobody believes a murder has been committed?
Together Jimmy and the dead man’s daughter decide to take matters into their own hands and hunt down the murderer themselves. They soon realise it will be a far more dangerous task than they could ever imagine.
But Jimmy has one big advantage: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
Recent winner of the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award, Trevor Wood’s The Man On the Street had been on my radar for a while. Then it went and won an award, I was between books and before I knew what had happened, I found myself clicking ‘buy it now’ and a copy arrived on my Kindle.
Nowt like winning an award to boost sales! I polished the book off in two sittings, and it was easy to see why it won. In a market saturated with grizzled detectives (often with an interesting past and a quirk or two), having a homeless veteran as the lead felt distinctly fresh and immediately interesting.
But a story doesn’t live on a main character alone, and The Man On The Street has a great cast, and a fantastic location (ok, I might be biased as I’m from Newcastle orginally!). I loved following Jimmy around the city as he investigated the suspected murder. Newcastle has a very distinct feel and atmosphere to it, and Trevor Wood captures it brilliantly.
Jimmy Mullen is a great character too, with a real depth and complexity to him. A veteran of the Falklands War, his flashbacks to his time in the Navy are raw and often brutal. Indeed all the flashbacks to his life leading up to the time of the story just make you want to root for him all the more.
It’s a dark, gritty story which has a real authenticity to it. Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy now.
The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood is published by Quercus and is out now.
Get a copy (some of these are affiliate links – it won’t cost you any more but I might get a small amount if you purchase using these links)
Suspended from duty, Detective Frølich is working as a private investigator, when his girlfriend’s colleague asks for his help with a female asylum seeker, who the authorities are about to deport. She claims to have a sister in Norway, and fears that returning to her home country will mean instant death.
Frølich quickly discovers the whereabouts of the young woman’s sister, but things become increasingly complex when she denies having a sibling, and Frølich is threatened off the case by the police. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the answers lie in an old investigation, and the mysterious sister, who is now on the run…
Sister is the 9th of Kjell Ola Dahl’s Olso Detectives books, following on from the events in The Ice Swimmer, which I loved. I’m a big fan of Dahl’s books, and it’s good to see our friend Frank Frølich back in action and taking more of a lead role this time round. Suspended from the force, he’s struck out as a private investigator. Then he meets the mysterious Matilde who might just have a job for him.
The case is, at face value, simple enough. Find a missing woman. So far, so standard. But this woman is the titular sister of an asylum seeker who is about to be deported. And she came to Norway years ago, changed her name, and disappeared into the system.
Coupled with the investigation into the sinking of a ferry some thirty years previous, the two cases appear unconnected. But are they?
Dahl’s plotting is as deft as ever, and whilst the story might not be quite as dark as with The Ice Swimmer, it’s just as good. I do love a good slice of Nordic Noir, and Dahl never fails to deliver. The pace is measured and never rushed, but still the tension is ratcheted up notch by notch as the investigations proceed to their entirely satisfying conclusion.
Translation is once again handled by Don Bartlett, delivering Dahl’s punchy prose. I’ve started getting used to Dahl’s style, with his short, snappy sentences, and was hooked from the off.
Sister, by Kjell Ola Dahl is published by Orenda Books at the end of April. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Matthew Ward’s Legacy of Ash – it’s a big chonky fantasy book, but more on that later!
First, an extract from the start of the book. Get yourself a brew, settle down and enjoy!
Preparations had taken weeks. Statues had been re-gilded. Familial portraits unveiled from dusty canvas and set in places of honour.
The stained glass of the western window glittered in the afternoon sun-light. Come the hour of Ascension it would blaze like fire and cast an image of divine Lumestra into the hall so that the sun goddess too would stand among the guests.
It would not be so elsewhere. In the houses beneath Branghall’s walls the part of Lumestra would be played by a doll, her limbs carved from firewood and her golden hair woven from last year’s straw. There, her brief reign would not end with the fading of the sun. Instead, hearth-fires would usher her home on tongues of flame.
The chasm between rich and poor, ruler and ruled, was never more evident than at Ascension. Josiri strove to be mindful of that. For all that had befallen his family, he retained comfort and privilege denied to many.
But a prison remained a prison, even if the bars were gilded and the guards polite.
Most of the guards.
“That will have to come down.” Arzro Makrov extended a finger to the portrait above High Table. “She has no place here, or anywhere else in the Tressian Republic.”
Josiri exchanged a glance with Anastacia. The seneschal’s black eyes glimmered a warning, reinforced by a slight shake of her head. Josiri ignored both and stepped closer, footsteps hollow on the hall’s flagstones. “No place?”
Makrov flinched but held his ground. “Katya Trelan was a traitor.” Impotent anger kindled. Fifteen years on, and the wound remained
raw as ever.
“This was my mother’s home,” said Josiri carefully. “She would have celebrated her fifty-fifth year this Ascension. Her body is ash, but she will be present in spirit.”
Makrov drew his corpulent body up to its full, unimpressive height. The setting sun lent his robes the rich warmth of fresh blood. Ironic for a man so pallid. The intricate silver ward-brooch was a poor match for his stolid garb. But without it, he could not have crossed the enchanted manor wall.
Josiri’s throat tightened. He locked gazes with Makrov for a long moment, and then let his eyes fall upon the remaining “guests”. Would any offer support?
Shaisan Yanda didn’t meet his gaze, but that was to be expected. As governor of the Southshires, she was only present to ensure Josiri did nothing rash. Nonetheless, the slight curl to her lip suggested she found Makrov’s behaviour tiresome. She’d fought for the Council at Zanya, and on other battlefields besides, earning both her scars and the extra weight that came with advancing years.
As for Valmir Sark, he paid little attention. His interest lay more with ancestral finery . . . and likely in broaching Branghall’s wine cellars come Ascension. Josiri had heard enough of Sark to know he was present only to spare his family another scandal. The high-collared uniform might as well have been for show. Sark was too young to have fought against Katya’s rebellion. And as for him standing a turn on the Hadari border? The thought was laughable.
That left Anastacia, and her opinion carried no sway.
If only Calenne were there. She’d always had more success in dealing with the Council’s emissaries, and more patience. Where in Lumestra’s name was she? She’d promised.
Josiri swallowed his irritation. He’d enough enemies without adding his sister to the roster.
“The portrait remains,” he said. “This is my house. I’ll thank you to remember that.”
Makrov’s wispy grey eyebrows knotted. “Were it up to me, I’d allow it. Truly I would. But the Council insists. Katya Trelan brought nothing but division and strife. Her shadow should not mar Ascension.”
Only the slightest pause between the words imbued challenge. Josiri’s self-control, so painstakingly fortified before the meeting, slipped a notch. He shook off Anastacia’s restraining hand and took another step.
Yanda’s lips tightened to a thin, bloodless streak. Her hand closed meaningfully about the pommel of her sword. Sark gazed on with parted mouth and the first spark of true interest.
“It is my hope,” said Josiri, “that my mother’s presence will serve as a message of unity.”
Makrov stared up at the portrait. “I applaud your intent. But the law-less are not quelled by gestures, but by strong words, and stronger action.”
“I’ve given what leadership I can.”
“I know,” said Makrov. “I’ve read reports of your speeches. I’d like to hear one for myself. Tomorrow at noon?”
It was an artful twist of the knife. “If you wish.”
“Excellent.” He raised his voice. “Governor Yanda. You’ll ensure his grace isn’t speaking to an empty square? I’m sure Captain Sark will be delighted to assist.”
“Of course, my lord,” said Yanda. “And the portrait?”
Makrov locked gazes with Katya Trelan’s dead stare. “I want it taken down and burned. Her body is ash. Let her spirit join it. I can think of no stronger message of unity.”
“I won’t do it,” Josiri said through gritted teeth.
“Yes, you will.” Makrov sighed. “Your grace. Josiri. I entertained hopes that you’d lead your people out of the past. But the Council’s patience is not infinite. They may decide upon another exodus if there’s anything less than full cooperation.”
Exodus. The word sounded harmless. The reality was punishment meted out for a rebellion fifteen years in the past; families divided, stolen children shipped north to toil as little more than slaves. Makrov sought to douse a fire with tinder.
“Your mother’s memory poisons you. As it poisons your people.” Makrov set his hands on Josiri’s shoulders. “Let her go. I have.”
But he hadn’t. That was why Makrov remained the Council’s chief emissary to the Southshires, despite his advancing years and expanding waistline. His broken heart had never healed, but Katya Trelan lay fifteen years beyond his vengeance. And so he set his bitterness against her people, and against a son who he believed should have been his.
Makrov offered an avuncular smile. “You’ll thank me one day.” Josiri held his tongue, not trusting himself to reply. Makrov strode
away, Sark falling into step behind. Yanda hesitated a moment before following.
“Tomorrow at noon, your grace. I look forward to it.” Makrov spoke without turning, the words echoing along the rafters. Then he was gone.
Josiri glanced up at his mother’s portrait. Completed a year before her death, it captured to perfection the gleam of her eyes and the inscrutable perhaps-mocking, maybe-sympathetic smile. At least, Josiri thought it did. Fifteen years was a long time. He saw little of himself in his mother’s likeness, but then he’d always been more akin to his father. The same unruly blond hair and lantern jaw. The same lingering resentment at forces beyond his control.
He perched on the edge of High Table and swallowed his irritation. He couldn’t afford anger. Dignity was the cornerstone of leadership, or so his mother had preached.
“When I was a boy,” he said, “my father told me that people are scared and stupid more than they are cruel. I thought he’d handed me the key to some great mystery. Now? The longer I spend in Makrov’s company, the more I suspect my father told me what he wished were true.”
Anastacia drew closer. Her outline blurred like vapour, as it always did when her attention wandered. Like her loose tangle of snow-white curls and impish features, the robes of a Trelan seneschal were for show. A concession. Josiri wasn’t sure what Anastacia’s true form actually was. Only black, glossy eyes – long considered the eyes of a witch, or a demon, bereft of iris and sclera – offered any hint.
The Council’s proctors had captured her a year or so after the Battle of Zanya. Branghall, already a prison in all but name, had become her new home shortly after. Anastacia spoke often of what she’d done to deserve Tressian ire. The problem was, no two tales matched.
In one, she’d seduced and murdered a prominent councillor. In another, she’d instead seduced and murdered that same councillor’s husband. A third story involved ransacking a church. And then there was the tale about a choir of serenes, and indecency that left the holy women’s vows of chastity in tatters. After a dozen such stories, ranging from ribald to horrific, Josiri had stopped asking.
But somewhere along the line, they’d become friends. More than friends. If Makrov ever learned how close they were, it wouldn’t be the gallows that awaited Josiri, but the pyre.
Pallid wisps of light curled from Anastacia’s arched eyebrow. “The archimandrite is foolish in the way only clever men are. As for afraid? If he wasn’t, you’d not be his prisoner.”
Josiri snorted. “My mother casts a long shadow. But I’m not her.” “No. Your mother lost her war. You’ll win yours.” “Flatterer.”
The eyebrow twitched a fraction higher. “Isn’t that a courtier’s function?”
Genuine confusion, or another of Anastacia’s little jokes? It was always hard to be sure. “In the rest of the Republic, perhaps. In the Southshires, truth is all we can afford.”
“If you’re going to start moping, I’d like to be excused.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Josiri’s mouth. “If you don’t show your duke a little more respect, he might have you thrown from the manor.” Anastacia sniffed. “He’s welcome to try. But these stones are old, and the Council’s proctors made a thorough job of binding me to them.
You’ll fail before they do.”
“You forget, I’m a Trelan. I’m stubborn.”
“And where did stubbornness get your mother? Or your uncle, for that matter?”
Josiri’s gaze drifted back to his mother’s portrait. “What would she do?” “I doubt she’d put a mere thing, no matter how beautiful, before the lives of her people.” She shrugged. “But she was a Trelan, and some-one once told me – though I can’t remember who – that Trelans are
“And none more than she,” said Josiri. “I don’t want to give up the last of her.”
Anastacia scratched at the back of her scalp – a mannerism she’d picked up off one of the servants in her frequent forays to the kitchens.
Her appetites were voracious – especially where the manor’s wine cellar was concerned.
“Might I offer some advice, as one prisoner to another?” “Of course.”
“Burn the painting. Your mother’s legacy is not in canvas and oils, but in blood.”
The words provoked a fresh spark of irritation. “Calenne doesn’t seem to think so.”
Anastacia offered no reply. Josiri couldn’t blame her for that. This particular field was well-furrowed. And besides, good advice was good advice. Katya Trelan had died to save her family. That was her true legacy.
“I should tell her how things went,” he said. “Do you know where she is?”
“Where do you think?” Anastacia’s tone grew whimsical to match her expression. “For myself, I might rearrange the window shutters on the upper floor. Just in case some helpful soul’s watching? One who might be agreeable to expressing your annoyance at the archimandrite where you cannot?”
Josiri swallowed a snort of laughter. Regardless of what his mother would have done about the painting, this she would approve of. Humiliation repaid in kind.
“That’s a grand idea.”
Anastacia sniffed again. “Of course it is. Shall we say nightfall?” That ran things close, but the timing should work. Makrov was due
to hold celebration in Eskavord’s tiny church at dusk. Afterwards, he’d make the long ride back to the fortress at Cragwatch. It all depended on whether Crovan’s people were keeping watch on the shutters.
Still, inaction gained nothing.
Josiri nodded. “Nightfall it is.”
Each creak of the stairs elicited a fearful wince, and a palm pressed harder against rough stone. Josiri told himself that the tower hadn’t endured generations of enthusiastic winds just to crumble beneath his own meagre weight. He might even have believed it, if not for that almost imperceptible rocking motion. In his great-grandfather’s time, the tower had been an observatory. Now the roof was a nest of fallen beams, and the walls stone teeth in a shattered jaw.
At least the skies were clear. The vistas almost held the terror at bay, fear paling before beauty. The town of Eskavord sprawled across the east-ern valley, smoke dancing as the Ash Wind – so named for the cinders it gusted from the distant Thrakkian border to the south – brushed the slopes of Drannan Tor. Beyond the outermost farms sprawled the eaves of Davenwood. Beyond that, further east, the high town walls of Kreska nestled in the foothills of the Greyridge Mountains. All of it within a day’s idle ride. Close at hand, and yet out of reach.
But it paid not to look too close. You might see the tabarded soldiers patrolling Eskavord’s streets, or the boarded-up houses. The foreboding gibbets on Gallows Hill. Where Josiri’s Uncle Taymor had danced a final jig – where his mother had burned, her ashes scattered so Lumestra could not easily resurrect her come the light of Third Dawn. It was worse in the month of Reaptithe. Endless supply wagons crept along the sunken roadways like columns of ants, bearing the Southshires’ bounty north.
Duke Kevor Trelan had never been more popular with his people than when he called for secession. The Council had been quick to respond. Josiri still recalled the bleak Tzadas-morning the summons had arrived at Branghall, backed by swords enough to make refusal impossible. It was the last memory he had of his father. But the Council had erred. Duke Kevor’s execution made rebellion inevitable.
Another gust assailed the tower. His panicked step clipped a fragment of stone. It ricocheted off the sun-bleached remnant of a wooden beam and clattered out over the edge.
“I suppose your demon told you where I was?”
Calenne, as usual, perched on the remnants of the old balcony – little more than a spur of timber jutting at right angles to a battered wall. Her back to a pile of rubble, she had one foot hooked across her knee. The other dangled out over the courtyard, three storeys and forty feet below. A leather-bound book lay open across her lap, pages fluttering.
“Her name is Anastacia.”
“That’s not her name.” The wind plucked a spill of black hair from behind Calenne’s ear. She tucked it back into place. “That’s what you call her.”
Calenne had disliked Anastacia from the first, though Josiri had never been clear why, and the passage of time had done little to heal the one-sided divide. Anastacia seldom reciprocated the antipathy, though whether that was because she considered herself above such things, or did so simply to irritate Calenne, Josiri wasn’t sure.
“Because that’s her wish. I don’t call you Enna any longer, do I?” Blue eyes met his then returned to the book. “What do you want?” Josiri shook his head. So very much like their mother. No admission
of wrong, just a new topic.
“I thought you’d be with me to greet Makrov.”
She licked a fingertip and turned the page. “I changed my mind.” “We were discussing the arrangements for your wedding. Or do you
no longer intend to marry at Ascension?”
“That’s why I changed my mind.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
A rare moment of hesitation. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I see.” Steeling himself, Josiri edged closer. “What are you reading?” “This?” Calenne stared down at the book. “A gift from Kasamor. The Turn of Winter, by Iugo Maliev. I’m told it’s all the rage in Tressia.” “Any good?”
“If you admire a heroine who lets herself be blown from place to place like a leaf on the wind. It’s horrendously fascinating. Or fascinatingly horrendous. I haven’t decided yet.” She closed the book and set it on her knee. “How did the meeting go?”
“I’m to make a speech tomorrow, on the topic of unity.” She scowled. “It went that badly?”
“I didn’t have my sister there to charm him,” Josiri replied. “And . . . he reacted poorly to mother’s portrait.” No sense saying the rest. Calenne wouldn’t understand.
She sighed. “And now you know why I stayed away. If Makrov reacts like that to Katya’s image . . . I didn’t want complications. I can’t afford them. And I do want this marriage.”
Josiri didn’t have to ask what she meant. Katya in oils was bad enough. Her likeness in flesh and blood? Even with Calenne at her most demure and charming – a rarity – there was risk. With every passing year, his sister more resembled the mother she refused to acknowledge. Perhaps she’d been right to stay away.
“You think Makrov has the power to have it annulled?”
She shrugged. “Not alone. But Kasamor’s mother isn’t at all pleased at the match. I’m sure she’s allies enough to make trouble.”
“Kasamor would truly let her interfere?”
On his brief visits to Branghall, Kasamor had seemed smitten. As indeed had Calenne herself. On the other hand, Josiri had heard enough of Ebigail Kiradin, Kasamor’s mother, to suspect she possessed both the reach and influence to thwart even the course of true love, if she so chose.
“On his last visit, he told me that I was the other half of his soul. So no, I don’t believe he would. He’d sooner die, I think. And I . . . ” Calenne shook her head and stared down at the book. “It doesn’t matter.”
Josiri frowned. “What? What doesn’t matter?”
Calenne offered a small, resigned smile. “I’ve had bad dreams of late. The Black Knight. Waking up screaming doesn’t do wonders for my mood.”
The Black Knight. Viktor Akadra. The Phoenix-Slayer. The man who’d murdered their mother. He’d taken root in the dreams of a terri-fied six-year-old girl, and never let go. Josiri had lost track of how often in that first year he’d cradled Calenne as she’d slipped off to broken sleep.
“Is that why you’re back to hiding up here? He’ll not harm you, I promise.”
“I know he won’t.” Her shoulders drooped, and her tone softened. “But thanks, all the same.”
She set the book aside and joined him inside the tower proper. Josiri drew her into an embrace, reflecting, as he so often did, what a curious mix of close and distant they were. The decade between them drove them apart. He doubted he’d ever understand her. Fierce in aspect, but brittle beneath.
“The world’s against us, little sister. We Trelans have to stick together.”
Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward is published by Orbit Books and is out in paperback now.
A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.
Ruling families — once protectors of justice and democracy — now plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives. Blinded by ambition, they remain heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.
Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.
Viktor Akadra is the Republic’s champion. A warrior without equal, he hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.
Josiri Trelanis Viktor’s sworn enemy. A political prisoner, he dreams of reigniting his mother’s failed rebellion.
And yet Calenne Trelan, Josiri’s sister, seeks only to break free of their tarnished legacy; to escape the expectation and prejudice that haunts the family name.
As war spreads across the Republic, these three must set aside their differences in order to save their home. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. And victory — if it comes at all — will demand a darker price than any of them could have imagined.