Hello everyone! This week, we’ll be doing something a little different. Instead of posting a review of a book I’ve just finished, I thought I’d give you a special sneak peek into my latest series, The Einherjar Games. It kicks off with a bang in Bread & Circuses, an action-packed, battle-royale adrenaline rush that follows Agnes Sinclair as she navigates the dangerous arena of Valor City in an effort to save her sister.
Interested in learning more? Check out this blurb and first chapter below. Enjoy!!
Create a Mantle. Battle the other players. The last person standing wins entry to Eden…all others cease to exist.
Agnes Sinclair never had a reason to play in the Einherjar Game before. Not with its fatal stakes. The winner might gain entry to Eden, but all others suffer a fate worse than death: their souls fade to nothing.
Then she looked in on her little sister.
The only way to save her is to win the Game. But to do that, she’ll need a Mantle, one composed of the myths, legends, and fairy tales trapped in Fólkvangr. Just when all hope seems lost, Arthur Pendragon offers one too enticing to refuse: The Twelve Knights of the Round Table. He wants them out of Fólkvangr, and she needs their strength to save her sister.
But it won’t be easy. The other players are determined to win; Valor City—even on a good day—is no place for the weak; and Valen Augustus, the Board Chairman of the Game, has his own agenda. An entire city is poised against them…
May the best player win.
If you enjoy Suzanne Collins, Victoria Schwab, and Annette Marie, you won’t be able to put down this action-packed, swoon-worthy, battle royale series starter to The Einherjar Games.
Meeting the King
The Raven’s Hammer was always packed—most bars in Valor City were—and because of the large number of people, Agnes tended to avoid them. But the Old Man had wanted to meet in a public place. With lots of people.
Which was weird. She would have pictured their topic belonged in a more dark-alley, away-from-prying-eyes venue. Like a seaside dock at midnight. Not that Valor City had a seaside dock, landlocked as it was, but still. That atmosphere suited the topic of their meeting better.
Not a bar where a physical fight was about to break out over near the pool tables.
Her gaze darted to the raised pitch in voices. It lasted a moment, calmed down somehow, but there was still a powder keg of tension radiating from that corner of the bar. Another spark and it would explode.
She caught a whiff of something sizzling. Fajitas, maybe, with bell peppers and onions, just like she used to get back home. Mouth watering, her head perked up like a prairie dog as she sniffed out the scent, forgetting all about the pool table, the crowd around it, and the Old Man sitting across the table from her.
Valor City might be hell, but at least food—good food—was always available. The Game Board made sure of it.
The Old Man chuckled. She was surprised she heard him over the din of the bar, especially from that commotion brewing over near the pool tables, but still, she heard it.
Smooth, dumbass. Way to be smooth.
Face flaming red, she snapped her head back front and chastised herself, first for letting her attention wander, and second for looking like a starving idiot.
“Hungry?” he asked, taking a sip of his own drink. Whiskey, she guessed, from the smell and color.
Huh. He seemed…genuinely considerate in his asking. Not as if trying to make small-talk or buying time—though he definitely need to, as the rest of his party had yet to show up. But he asked the way a host at a party might, determined to keep his guest happy. Well that’s…weird. Most people wouldn’t care.
Still, couldn’t hurt to be polite. And honest. Mostly to stay in his good graces, but also because those fajitas had smelled heavenly. “Wouldn’t say no to whatever that was.”
Smiling, he raised a hand as if to signal a waiter. Agnes swallowed down her gut-reaction snort. If he expects a waitress to work through this mess just to take his—
“What can I get for you?” a waitress asked, sliding up to the table, notepad and pen poised in hand.
Agnes started, not sure which surprised her more: the fact that he’d summoned her from nowhere with a quick raise of his hand or that, despite how haggard and tired she looked from working, she seemed to be basking in his presence.
Like a freaking cat in a sliver of sunlight filtering in through a window.
The Old Man ordered, giving the waitress a wink before she left with a giggle. Agnes watched, puzzled, as she moved back into the bar crowd, disappearing almost instantly in the swarm of bodies.
She turned her attention back to the Old Man. “Are your other two going to be showing up anytime soon?”
“They’re on their way,” he answered, taking another sip of his drink. A content sigh escaped him as he set the glass back down on the table. “Not to worry. I won’t let the brawl in the corner interfere with our business.”
Well he seems sure of himself.
Another surprise. Their interactions over the phone had led her to paint him as a funny guy. He’d made jokes, cracked quips, always had a humorous, carefree tint to his voice. When she’d first met him outside the bar, she’d been caught off guard by his navy pinstripe suit, bear-like physique, and behemoth gray beard. Mostly the suit, though. Because it had been tailored. And tailored suits like that could only be found in Alpha district. And an Alphaite slumming it in the Odin’s Hall district?
She couldn’t decide if she liked all these weird surprises. She’d survived as long as she had by playing it safe, being careful, and not taking unnecessary risks. Caution had become her middle name since coming to Valor City. Well, caution and instinct.
And, another surprise—as much as she wanted to exercise caution here, her instincts screamed at her that the Old Man was safe. That he wouldn’t harm her, that he had been truthful in their conversations so far, and that he truly did want what he said he wanted.
Which, you know, was surprising since he still hadn’t given her his name. She just called him Old Man because he refused to give her anything else to work with and that moniker worked just fine. In fact, when she’d threatened to use that title, he’d just laughed. A great, big, booming one that had infectiously made her smile and solidified his new name in place.
Why he hid his name, she didn’t know, but now that she’d seen he was from Alpha, maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe she’d recognize the name, once she heard it, and that would color her impression of him. Something he didn’t want.
But the only way she wouldn’t trust him was if he was affiliated with Valen Augustus somehow. And he wouldn’t even know that—it wasn’t like she made her disgust of Valor City’s most prominent and powerful citizen public knowledge. No, she preferred to keep that animosity tight to the chest, so why not give her his name?
Movement in her periphery jerked her from her thoughts. She saw a woman emerge from the packed crowd around them and slide into the empty chair beside the Old Man. She wore a plaid green apron over her jeans and blouse, one dusted with flour. Her red hair, peppered with graying strands, was pulled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck, though strands near her temples had worked loose, framing her wrinkled and pleasant face. Beaming, plump, and with the tastiest scent of homemade cookies swirling about her, she took her seat and beamed at Agnes. “And you must be the dear girl we’re here to meet. I’m Martha. Martha Murray.”
The woman had a Scottish accent. Not thick, thank goodness. For the most part, anything beyond a Texas twang or Hispanic accent had her asking “I’m sorry, could you say that again?” on repeat like a broken record. Agnes held out her hand and the woman shook it. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Murray. I’m Agnes.”
“Well aren’t you just lovely. I have a daughter a few years younger than you—Constance is her name—I hope she has manners like yours when she’s older.” The woman patted her hand over their clasped handshake before readjusting in her seat.
The chair beside Agnes screeched against the hard floor as it was pulled out. A man sat down, a stranger, one she’d never seen before. She straightened in her seat, scooting as far from him as she could without leaving the table altogether, and then studied him with a scowl that warned she didn’t appreciate being caught off guard like that.
He was tall, physically impressive, and strong—but then again, a lot of people in Valor City were. Around her age, if she had to guess, maybe a few years older at twenty-five or twenty-six, though the short, full beard made him appear older, regal almost. He had mussed blonde hair, not surprising, given the winter winds she, herself, had fought through outside, and piercing blue eyes that met hers and held them. Her scowl relaxed.
“This is Arthur,” the Old Man said. “Arthur, meet Agnes.”
He held out his hand. “Agnes.”
Only he didn’t say it like everyone else did. He said it in the French manner. On-yes rather than the Ag-nes she always heard. And he said it in a British accent, his voice deep with a baritone timber and a booming quality to it that, for a moment, cut through the noise around them.
Shivers raced down her spine from just hearing her name spoken.
Son of a biscuit.
She shook his hand, lightning tingling down her arm from the contact. “Are you the medium?”
“No,” Martha interjected, “that would be me.”
Agnes felt her face warm. In that brief exchange, she’d forgotten that the other two were there. Jerking her hand back to her, she turned in her seat to place Arthur in her periphery. Get it together. Business. You’re here on business—not blue eyes.
Martha gave her a warm smile as she began wiping her hands on the green apron. “Have you ever had your soul measured before, dearie?”
Agnes shook her head. She’d thought about it, sure, but there had never been a need to before. People measured their souls for one reason. Because, on some level, they wanted to play the Game.
She’d never wanted to play, never even joined the frenzy the city devolved into each year when the Game started again. Didn’t understand it, either.
But that had changed the last time she’d looked in on her little sister.
Agnes gritted her teeth—refusing to let the image surface. Refusing to think about it. She needed a level head, needed to keep her wits about her. Thinking about Arielle, about what she’d seen, would only infuriate her, make her emotions run high. For this conversation, she needed logic to prevail. Cooler heads and all that.
Martha waved for Agnes’ hand. She wiped it on her jeans, hoping to dispel some of the clamminess, before she laid it in the woman’s.
Her eyes fluttered shut as her fingers tightened around Agnes’ palm. They sat like that for a moment, the woman holding tightly onto her hand and Agnes aware of the people around them, wondering if they were watching. Most, if not all of them, would realize what was happening.
Why did we need to do this in public?
Martha’s eyes flew open and she jerked back. Her mouth formed a little O of surprise before a giddy smile stretched across her face. Her eyes snapped to Arthur and she nodded vigorously. Her other hand came up, patting Agnes’ hand, just like that initial handshake.
Agnes swallowed, glancing around between the three others at the table. The Old Man took another sip, grinning a lazy, triumphant smile behind his glass that reminded Agnes of a content cat after catching a canary. Martha was still patting her hand happily. And Arthur just looked gob-smacked.
She resisted the urge to jerk her hand back, but instead tugged it back to her. Politely, but stern enough to convey to Martha that she wanted to be let go of. “Is it a low number?” she asked, not sure why the three of them were acting so strangely. “Too low?”
The Old Man shook his head. He braced his forearms on the table and leaned forward. “Not at all, kid. In fact—and do stop me if I’m mistaken, my dear Martha—but we believe your soul can be fractured into twelve pieces.”
Agnes did snort at that sudden surge of surprise—the strongest she’d felt yet. Yeah, right.
Martha leaned forward across the table, eyes shining eagerly. “He’s right. I’ve never seen a soul as large as yours. It can be split twelve ways, I’m sure of it.”
She eyed them skeptically. This had to be a racket of some kind. A scam. The average ways a soul could be split was four. Four. Splitting a soul into twelve was impossible. No one, not even Valen Augustus, had enough soul to be split twelve ways.
“You could save them all.”
Her head snapped back to Arthur. He was staring at her in a mixture of awe and astonishment, like he’d found a winning lottery ticket discarded on the sidewalk.
She held up a hand. “Whoa, wait a minute. I’m not trying to save anyone but my sister.”
“And we’re in the unique position to help you do that,” the Old Man said. He threw back the rest of his drink, the empty glass making a sharp snap on the table when he slammed it down. “You want to play the Game to win the prize, correct? To reach Eden? And to save your sister? We want—”
“Assuming I can even contract twelve,” she interrupted, “is impossible. No one has that much soul.”
“The soul is a mysterious thing,” the Old Man shrugged. “No one, not even the gods, know the true depth and width of it. But I trust in Martha’s opinion. If she says you have enough soul to contract a mantle of twelve, I believe her.”
Now that the initial shock was fading off, something far more dangerous was worming into her chest. Hope. She could envision herself with a mantle of twelve spirits. She could see herself winning the Game. Rescuing Arielle. Hope was forcing her to see the path twelve spirits could give her, and that was dangerous.
“We have a mantle of twelve for you to use,” Arthur sad.
She eyed him cautiously. His shock was gone, replaced by a calculating, thoughtful expression. She could see the gears in his mind turning, forming strategies, making plans.
“If I really do have the capability of contracting twelve spirits,” she said, then held up a hand to cut the Old Man off, “I’m just saying, even if I do, why should I use your spirits? Why not contract my own?”
A cold, piercing steel came into Arthur’s eyes. Agnes straightened, goosebumps pricking down her arms from the fierce expression. “Because the Game starts in two weeks. You won’t have time to research spirits, contact each one, and negotiate a mantle. We have one for you, already prepared, with twelve spirits ready to listen to your every command.”
He’s trying to intimidate me. Normally, she would have thought that a stupid tactic, given where they were, but—great, another surprise—it was working. She felt like a stray cat that had just pissed off a lion. Her instincts were screaming at her to back down, roll over, and let him get his way.
And she might have, if it had just been her impacted by that decision. But Arielle was on the line too. Her little sister’s fate hung on the choices Agnes made, so she’d stand up and fight for the best option, the strongest mantle, to save her sister. And if that wasn’t the one they’d prepared, then so be it.
She leveled an equally frosty glare right back at him. “Firstly, I want to hear why you’re so gung-ho about me using this particular mantle. Then I want to know why you think they’re going to help me win.”
The Old Man chuckled, but she refused to glance in his direction. She and Arthur were trapped in an epic staring contest and she wouldn’t be the first one to crumble. Not over this, not with Arielle counting on her.
“You didn’t tell her,” Arthur accused.
For a beat, she thought Arthur was talking to her. But then the Old Man’s chuckle shifted to full-blown laughter, and she realized he was speaking to him. “No, I didn’t.”
“Tell me what?” she demanded.
The Old Man corralled his laughter back under control, though humor still flooded his voice when he spoke. “Agnes, this is Arthur Pendragon. As in King of Camelot, Ruler of Avalon, and King of Britain. The mantle of twelve? They’re his twelve Knights of the Round Table trapped in the realm of Fólkvangr.”
The waitress reappeared, a steaming tray in hand. “Dinner’s ready,” she sang, dropping the plate off in front of the Old Man. “Enjoy!”
I hope you enjoyed that little tidbit! This story is near and dear to my heart in so many ways–it incorporates so many myths, legends, and stories that I loved listening to when I was a child, Arthur and his twelve knights being near the top of my favorites.
It goes on sale May 22nd. Pre-orders are available now through Amazon.