Book Review: Demon Magic and a Martini (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #4) by Annette Marie

Book Blurb:

When I first landed a bartending job at the local guild, I didn’t know a thing about magic. These days, I’m practically an expert on the different magical classes, but there’s one nobody ever talks about: Demonica.

Turns out they have a good reason for that. My guild is strictly hellion-free, because who wants to risk life and limb to control the biggest bullies on the mythic playground?

Well, some people do, and now a demon has been loosed in the city. My three best friends are determined to slay it, but even badass combat mages are critically out-magicked. And that’s not all. The monster they’re tracking—it’s not hiding. It’s not fleeing. It’s not leaving a trail of corpses everywhere it goes.

The demon is hunting too. And in a city full of mythics, it’s searching for deadlier prey.

If we can’t unravel the demon’s sinister motivations, more innocent people will die, but finding the answers means digging into dark secrets … and learning truths I never wanted to know.

Published April 12th 2019 by Dark Owl Fantasy Inc.

My Review:

How on earth does Annette Marie write books that I simply can’t put down? It’s the darndest thing really. I start one of her books and all too soon, hours have skated by without me realizing and I’m flipping that last page.

She hits it out of the park once again in her fourth installment of her Guild Codex: Spellbound series. The plot hits the ground running, thrusting Tori and the Crow and Hammer Guild into the center of a demon hunt. Scary stuff, given the expert world-building and characterizations both in this novel and leading up to it in previous books.

The world-building, once again, is one of my favorite parts. I love how magic doesn’t always make things easier for the characters occupying this world. It’s a love-and-hate relationship, just like with social media for example, that has it’s good parts and it’s bad ones. The complexity of guild interactions, how the laws are set up by the MagiPol, and the prejudices and taboos all give this novel a very real feel.

That level of detail and imagination bleeds over to the characters as well. We learn more about our favorite Crow and Hammer mythic trio, the elements teased out expertly in the narrative. And, in the center of it all, we have Tori’s spunk, sass, and flaws prevalent as she tries to navigate this demon hunt.

What can I say? 5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Long Witch Night (Red Witch Chronicles #2) by Sami Valentine

Book Blurb:

Lights, Camera, Poltergeist. A Hollywood dream becomes a nightmare.

Called to a movie set, Red investigates a haunting that threatens to turn a Christmas flick into a slasher film. Allied with a soulmancer, she has to save the Hollywood A-Listers from a phantom that wants souls instead of autographs.

Busting ghosts is easier than laying her own personal demons to rest. With a paralyzed mentor, a sexy vampire playing hard to get, and petrifying anxiety about her own mysterious origins, Red is struggling to find the holiday spirit.

Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame in Los Angeles, Red has to find out who is willing to kill for it.

…Before the poltergeist takes her out first.

Published December 20th 2019 by Pocketmaus Publishing

My Review:

Just like with its predecessor, I got some serious Buffy vibes coming from this book. Though it definitely took one a more ghostly vibe as the story progressed. In this installment of Sami Valentine’s Red Witch Chronicles, we find Red and Vic working to exorcise the Bell Witch from a Hollywood set.

But things aren’t straightforward when you’re dealing with ghosts.

And soon Red finds herself fighting for her life against dark forces hellbent on vengeance.

It was a fun read–especially if you adored Buffy or The Vampire Diaries. Exactly the kind of supernatural cozy you might be looking forward if you need a little romance, a lot of action, and spades of spooks. The characters kept true to their first installment, which I loved, and I seriously felt for the trauma they experienced in the first book. I appreciated that immensely–it wasn’t just something that was dealt with and hardly brought up again. There were lasting repercussions from the first novel that made themselves apparent in this one, giving the story more oomph in my opinion, especially in terms of world-building.

The writing felt sharper and cleaner too. Though there were some parts that felt too stylized, at the expense of clarity. It was beautiful writing, don’t get me wrong, but I found myself rereading the parts and trying to puzzle through what the flowery prose meant. That being said, it was definitely cleaner and felt generally more professional, which just goes to show how dedicated to her craft Sami Valentine is.

I loved my second jaunt through the supernatural LA of Sami Valentine’s imagination. 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: The Runaway’s Homecoming by JF Lee

Book Blurb:

Li Ming is a disgraced swordsman searching for the man who killed his family. Shu Yan is a runaway serving girl from the pleasure houses. When she hires the swordsman to take her to her hometown, she sets off a chain of events that could topple the Southern Kingdom.

My Review:

This novella promised action, epic settings, and a wuxia hero I couldn’t help but become endeared to. And…drum-roll please…it definitely delivered.

To be honest, I had no idea what wuxia meant when I first stumbled across this story. But thanks to the author’s very helpful website (check it out here!) I learned everything I needed. And, turns out, I already knew a healthy chunk about the wuxia genre–I just didn’t know the name of it. According to the author’s website, “wuxia is a genre of Chinese fiction that features itinerant warriors of extreme (almost supernatural) martial arts skill in ancient China.”

Turns out, I’m a fan of wuxia! And I didn’t even know it.

JF Lee definitely knows his niche though, as seen in his writing. You’re immediately drawn into the aesthetic, complete with sprawling, mist-covered landscapes and run-down villages populated with war-weary survivors. The characters are engaging, the conflict ends satisfyingly, and the tension amps up as the hero and villain dance around meeting. The only thing I would have preferred was more of an interaction between Li Ming (the swordsman) and Shu Yan (the runaway). Those interactions are glossed over in the story, and by the end of it, we can see the result of all that time spent together, without the effort put in. I would have enjoyed watching them getting to learn about one another, seeing them interact so as to better understand their characters and their relationship. As this is an introductory novella, I’m sincerely hoping the first full-length book will cover that more, because I did find the characters fun and interesting.

If you’re a fan of the genre, I’d definitely recommend this teaser. And yes, it’s absolutely a teaser. As a novella, it’s a short-read (I finished mine in less than an hour), so don’t go looking to be entertained for hours on end when you download your free copy of this story. However, it’s a wonderful appetizer to what I’m sure will be a phenomenal first course when Sword of Sorrow Blade of Joy is released. 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Oh, and if you want to get your free copy, click here!

Book Review: The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1) by Melissa Albert

Book Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away-by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Published January 30th 2018 by Flatiron Books

My Review:

Dudes, this is one creepy book.

I mean, yes, I was prepared for the dark, twisted fairy tales (thank you book cover!), but the unsettled sensation of seeing these characters in the real world? Watching them plucked straight from the gruesome fairy tales they inhabited and plunked down in our world? Yeah, that left me wigging.

Wigging, I say.

Which segues nicely into my favorite part of this story: the fairy tales themselves and how they were presented. I absolutely loved how Melissa Albert wove the fairy tales into Alice and Finch’s story–something about having a character tell the stories orally really hooked me into them. Especially if the story-telling was interrupted and I was left waiting for the ending. The tales themselves were wonderfully creepy, if not downright unsettling, and I found that I enjoyed that immensely. I know a good chunk of fairy tales have dark endings (have you read the original Little Mermaid story? Yikes!) but so often nowadays, fairy tales generally have this light and airy connotation ascribed to them. And it felt refreshing to read a book about unique fairy tales that refused to fit into that category.

However, the book did have its pitfalls. I wasn’t a fan of the main character, Alice. Her anger never seemed rational to me, and even though it was explained later, it was too late–I’d already spent hours with her and decided I wasn’t a fan. She never achieved that emotional resonance so important for main characters to have. I felt bad about her mother, and that helped motivate me to keep reading, but I wasn’t as invested because of her unexplained anger issues and the demeaning way she interacted with other characters.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I loved the meta concept of the fairy tales invading the real world and the tales themselves. The writing flowed smoothly and the world-building of the Hinterland was phenomenal. Sadly, I just didn’t like the characters. 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: A Symphony of Echoes (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #2) by Jodi Taylor

Book Blurb:

Book Two in the madcap time-travel series based at the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research that seems to be everyone’s cup of tea.

In the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, Max and the team visit Victorian London in search of Jack the Ripper, witness the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and discover that dodos make a grockling noise when eating cucumber sandwiches.

But they must also confront an enemy intent on destroying St Mary’s – an enemy willing, if necessary, to destroy History itself to do it.

Published August 20th 2015 by Accent Press (first published October 22nd 2013)

My Review:

Once again, Jodi Taylor knocked it out of the park with a witty, hysterical, and action-packed installment in her The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series.

Once again, Max races against Time (ironically enough) to finish the missions assigned to her by St. Mary’s.  Without dying in the process, if she can help it.  Like with the previous book, this one hops around between numerous time periods.  And again, I found that I enjoyed that immensely.  Visiting Victorian London in the same novel as taking a stroll through the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (well, kinda of)?  The snapshots of history kept me thoroughly engaged, giving me a taste without completely submerging me into the time period.  There’s something to be said about that deep immersion, but with the fast-paced, action-packed rhythm of this particular novel, the hopping around does a credit to the story-telling.

The characters were truthful to their roots, and the chaos was as charming as ever.  My only problem was a teensy-tiny one.  The Victorian London bit felt disjointed from the remainder of the novel.  Everything else seemed to tie into the over arching plot, but the quick jaunt through the swirling London fog felt disconnected from the rest.  I’m hoping it’s just groundwork being laid for subsequent novels, but I couldn’t help but feel that slight pang of dissatisfaction at reaching the conclusion with some questions left unanswered.

Still, it was a delightfully entertaining story, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone looking for a quirky read.  4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1) by Jodi Taylor

Book Blurb:

“History is just one damned thing after another.”

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake….

Published June 2016 by Night Shade Books (first published June 1st 2013)

My Review:

Is it too late to change my major? Go back, chuck English, and go with History instead?

Ok, no, I probably wouldn’t actually do it. But I do love books that bring me right close to that edge, and this one gets gosh-darn close in making me love history as much as literature.

The humor in this book had me doing more than the snort-giggles-puffing-out-air thing most people usually do when they get to a funny bit. I actually laughed out loud when reading this book. Courtesy of the wonderfully created characters working at St. Mary’s.

More than just their dry British humor–which should be reason enough for you to pick up this book–the cast feels real on a more complex level. Especially our brash heroine, Max. There’s a history there, complete with trauma, that motivates her actions. In fact, all the characters have deeply personal motivations that drive them. We see villains acting out of pettiness, friends turning jaded, rivalry department bravado, the long suffering voices of reason trying to wrangle their more rambunctious coworkers…you know, just like your typical work environment.

Another thing I loved about this time-hopping narrative was that they actually hopped through time. So many stories around time-travel center on a specific date and time. Not so much here. The characters talk about visiting dinosaurs in the same breadth as they discuss going to see the Library of Alexandria–the reader actually gets a jaunt through history, sight-seeing in a manner that most narratives don’t.

But the quality doesn’t lack for it. If anything, the expert writing and fast-paced narrative structure make it all the more engaging. There’s this undercurrent of “too many places, too little time,” which I think compliments one of the problems St. Mary’s faces: with the whole of history open before you, how do you pick where to go first?

I loved this book. And was so glad it was recommended to me. If you’re looking for an entertaining, hysterical, bad-ass story to lose yourself in for an afternoon, I recommend this one. One-hundred percent. 5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: The Near Witch (The Near Witch #1) by V. E. Schwab

Book Blurb:

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

Published March 12th 2019 by Titan Books (first published August 2nd 2011)

My Review:

Does anyone else think audio-books give you a different reaction when you first hear a story? That some books are made for being read aloud while others do infinitely better when you sit with the actual book in your hands, reading silently?

Because this is definitely a book that needs to be heard.

I don’t do audio-books that often, but I had a drive coming up, and this one had been on my To Read list forever, so I downloaded it (thank you, public library!) and was good to go.

The fairy tale cadence of the writing, that breathless, almost whispered rhythm, lent itself so beautifully to the story. It enhanced it, actually, drawing me in deeper. Which was weird, because when I arrived at my destination and tried to finish the last few chapters by reading them on my Kindle, I lost some of the magic of the story.

Not to say the ending was disappointing. It wasn’t, by any stretch. But the allure of hearing this particular story aloud had been such a powerful force, that with it gone, I felt it powerfully.

Especially in instances where the magic happened. Most notably, with the wind.

You could hear the wind in the writing. Could feel it, and while I listened to the story, I was even more conscious of the wind whistling past my car.

Which I freaking loved.

Because the story itself felt a bit obvious. You have a witch, with a witch-hunt, and fear spiraling through the town of Near. The story was masterfully crafted, but it was a story I’d heard before: fear of the other and the unknown. I would have enjoyed it more, I think, if it hadn’t been so cliche in some of its instances and if the characters hadn’t fallen so completely into the molds that all witch-hunt stories inevitably have.

Still, I adored this story, and I was so glad I got the chance to listen to it. And even with the the straightforward flow of the narrative, the writing was so compelling, so captivating, that I was memorized while I listened. It deserves a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Vine Witch (The Vine Witch #1) by Luanne G. Smith

Book Blurb:

A young witch emerges from a curse to find her world upended in this gripping fantasy of betrayal, vengeance, and self-discovery set in turn-of-the-century France.

For centuries, the vineyards at Château Renard have depended on the talent of their vine witches, whose spells help create the world-renowned wine of the Chanceaux Valley. Then the skill of divining harvests fell into ruin when sorcière Elena Boureanu was blindsided by a curse. Now, after breaking the spell that confined her to the shallows of a marshland and weakened her magic, Elena is struggling to return to her former life. And the vineyard she was destined to inherit is now in the possession of a handsome stranger.

Vigneron Jean-Paul Martel naively favors science over superstition, and he certainly doesn’t endorse the locals’ belief in witches. But Elena knows a hex when she sees one, and the vineyard is covered in them. To stay on and help the vines recover, she’ll have to hide her true identity, along with her plans for revenge against whoever stole seven winters of her life. And she won’t rest until she can defy the evil powers that are still a threat to herself, Jean-Paul, and the ancient vine-witch legacy in the rolling hills of the Chanceaux Valley.

Published October 1st 2019 by 47North

My Review:

Can we just take a moment to appreciate that cover? Gah, I think it’s so flipping gorgeous! I mean, just look at it! Earthy, mysterious, almost decadent in a way with those dark hued colors–whoever came up with that cover deserves a raise.

Anyway! On to the book itself!

The writing was masterfully done. Lyrical and elegant, in a way. It was definitely an instance of the form serving the narrative, because I’d go so far to say the writing was pastoral. And the celebration of earth–and of living simply with the earth, appreciating its beauty and gifts–was definitely a strong theme throughout. I’ll be honest, it made me long to get out and visit a vineyard, go hiking in the woods, spend the day at a lake–anything related to nature. So, mission accomplished, Vine Witch!

Elena’s character was such a delightful one to follow, thanks to her flaws. Her need for revenge clouded her judgement, which I could respect (after all, if I’d been cursed and spent seven years working to undo it, I wouldn’t be a happy camper either). And her recklessness contributed to some of the problems she encountered. Those mistakes made her feel like such a relatable person, drawing me deeper into her conflict and investing me in her story.

My only critique would be the romance plot. It could have, in my opinion, been fleshed out more. I couldn’t exactly see the sudden shift from awkward, to wary, to love that the narrative followed. It felt more like it was tossed in simply because a love subplot was needed. But I think the seeds were there, they just needed more attention to flourish.

Overall, I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down until I finished, only taking a quick break to shoot of a text to one of my reader friends telling her to drop everything and get this book! It’s such a captivating read! 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Heroine Complex (Heroine Complex #1) by Sarah Kuhn

Book Blurb:

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right… or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Published July 5th 2016 by DAW

My Review:

Ok, this book starts off with super-heroines fighting demonic-possessed cupcakes (which I don’t think counts as a spoiler, because look at those little buggers on that phenomenal cover).

I didn’t realize how much I needed a book to start off with super-heroines fighting demon-possessed cupcakes until this book.

And boy howdy, it just ramped up from there. I loved the over-the-top comic style nature of things, I loved the action, the drama, the romance. This book mashed all my favorite buttons so hard and fast it was like I was playing a round of Super Smash Bros.

Let’s start off with my favorite bit: the relationship between Aveda and Evie. Sadly, It’s a dichotomy I’m all too familiar with. In high school, I felt like I went through something similar, so seeing the angst of their situation unfold resonated strongly with me. And I think it will for a broader audience in general, even if they haven’t lived through something similar. After all, how many people have felt underappreciated? Or gotten so angry with a loved one that they exploded?

And that’s what I loved about it–the explosion. Because yes, we get into fights all the time with loved ones. But usually, as in the case with a majority of the young adult/urban fantasy books I read, the emotions are swept aside in favor of the “big picture” problem: Having feelings about a boy? Trouble with your parents? Feeling misunderstood or alienated? Well tough–bottle that up and put it on the back-burner because the fate of the world is at stake here. Wherein, magically, the personal problems disappear as the fate of the world is saved.

Not here.

Here, we see Evie forced to deal with her problems before. She had to suss out her emotions, confront them, and deal with those demons before, you know, the physical, cupcake-possessing kind ruin everything.

Which leads me to the characters. They were a glorious cast of misfits. Sure, their characterizations seemed over the top, more like caricatures of people, but somehow, that worked with the comic book vibe. I mean, Tony Stark is the epitome of over-the-top, so, you know, it worked for me.

I deeply loved this book. It’s one of those gems that I won’t be able to keep to myself–if I so much as get a whiff of a potential what-are-you-reading conversations with any of my friends and family, I’m going to recommend it. 5 out of 5 stars!

New Release!

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.

Chapter 1

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.

Yeah. Basking.

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.”

Oh shit.

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.