Book Launch: The Illuminator Rising by Alina Sayre

Guys, today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Alina Sayre, author of The Voyages of the Legend Series!

 

The third book in the series, The Illuminator Rising, was launched last week (for a short review of the first book on the Bookwyrms Pinterest Board, click here!) and is already receiving great reviews.
 
 
Alina is joining me for a guest post today, but don’t go away after that, because below that will be further info on The Illuminator Rising and a sight of the truly GORGEOUS cover!

Five Tips to Jumpstart Your Creativity

with Alina Sayre

When I tell people I’m an author, they often sigh and say something like, “I wish I were that creative.” I do think of myself as a creative person, but I also think everybody has a creative side—it’s not a special gift awarded only to a select few. Wherever you are in your creative journey, though, creativity has to be nurtured. Especially with a long project like a book—my latest novel, The Illuminator Rising, clocked in around 76,000 words!—it takes careful habits to cultivate a well of creativity that regenerates every day. Here are some of my favorite tips for jumpstarting your creativity.

1: Get enough sleep. Nothing good ever happens in my life without enough sleep. Including writing. It may seem counterintuitive, but I will actually get more writing done in less time if I sleep that extra hour. Really. Sleeping in is productive. (Okay, sometimes.)

2: Walk outside. Sometimes when I’m in a really intense writing phase, I feel like I’m living in a cave.  Even a short walk outside totally reorients my perspective. The exercise, the fresh air, the beauty of nature—they all combine to give me not only less anxiety, but more good ideas. At any rate, it’s a way more productive and refreshing break than wasting ten minutes on Facebook.

3: Read. Some authors are afraid of reading because they’re afraid it will subconsciously lead them to plagiarism. That can be OK, especially with books in your genre. But at the same time, reading widely can help you cultivate a rich and diverse mental landscape. Obviously you don’t want to steal the words or ideas you read in other people’s books! But sometimes just immersing yourself in the language and imaginative richness of another person’s story can inspire your own brain to generate more creative ideas.

4: Work in the same room with someone else who’s being creative. Doesn’t matter if they’re working on the same project, or even if you know them. When my writing stagnates, sometimes I get together with a group of creative friends and we all work silently around a table (taking breaks to crack geeky jokes, of course). Sometimes I head to a local coffee shop and get motivated by all those productive-looking people hammering away at their keyboards (the caffeine also helps). Maybe it’s the shame factor, or the inspiration molecules bouncing off other bodies (don’t trust me with your science class), but for some reason it works.

5: Change places. I feel like each physical location only has so much creative “juice” in it. I can write like mad at my desk for two days, then sit down the next morning only to stare blankly at the screen. Or just loathe the thought of plunking down in that chair one more time. So I switch places: the couch, my bedroom, the floor, a coffee shop. Gardeners rotate crops in their soil; why not change places to stimulate more creativity in your life?

I hope these tips help you cultivate your creativity, in whatever form it takes. The world needs to see what only you can make. Unleash your inner genius!

 

And now for the gorgeous cover of The Illuminator Rising!

Book 3 ebook cover, Amazon, medium res

Synopsis of The Illuminator Rising, Book 3 of The Voyages of the Legend:

 

Driven from their home island of Rhynlyr, Ellie and her friends must solve a riddle to find the survivors of the Vestigia Roi. But instead of a safe haven, they discover a hopeless band of refugees paralyzed by fear. Strengthened by new allies and new gifts, the crew of the Legend faces dangers like never before. Can they escape being shot out of the sky, falling over the Edge of the world, or being engulfed by urken armies long enough to rally the Vestigia Roi? And can they rekindle a fire from the ashes of the One Kingdom before Draaken takes over the world? 

 

Advance praise: 

“…a thrilling read…[Sayre] has a flair for being able to capture the interest of a reader and hold onto it.” 
-Readers’ Favorite, 5-star review

About the Author:

Alina Sayre

Alina Sayre began her literary career chewing on board books and has been in love with words ever since. Now she gets to work with them every day as an author, educator, editor, and speaker. Her first novel, The Illuminator’s Gift, won a silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, and all three books in The Voyages of the Legend series have received 5-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite. When she’s not writing, Alina enjoys hiking, crazy socks, and reading under blankets. She does not enjoy algebra or wasabi. When she grows up, she would like to live in a castle with a large library.

 

Links: 

Book Launch: MEMORIES OF ASH by Intisar Khanani

Release Week Blitz: Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2) by Intisar Khanani with Giveaway

MoA RWB

 

Hello readers! Welcome to the Release Week Blitz for

Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2)
by Intisar Khanani

Fantasy lovers, this one’s for you! Love magic, look no further!
And you definitely need to check out the awesome giveaway found below.

 

Happy Book Birthday Intisar!

Let’s celebrate everyone!!

 

MoA Cover

 

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

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Title: Memories of Ash
Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles, Book Two
Author: Intisar Khanani
Cover Designer: Jenny Zemanek
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: May 30, 2016
Publisher: Purple Monkey Press

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Kobo

 

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excerpt

“It needs a meal,” the mage says, voice rasping, “and it won’t be me.” He yanks me off balance. I cry out, jerking away from him and lashing out with my glowstone. I manage to smack him hard across the face, but then his boot comes between my feet. For a sickening moment I teeter on the edge of the stairs.

Get back!

I barely register the words ringing in my mind before the mage shoves me, hard. I swallow a scream, throwing my arms up to shield my head as I fall. I slam down the stairs, bouncing toward the mass of tentacles.

Feet first—get your feet first!

I follow the shouted advice mindlessly, twisting my body as I come to a stop amidst a tangle of three or four great tentacles.

Don’t move.

Someone is talking inside my head, and it’s not me. Somehow, that’s almost worse than lying surrounded by the talons of a nightmare monster. Almost.

 

OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES:

 

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The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

add to goodreads

 

About-the-Author2

Intisar Khanani

 

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.

Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles, an epic series following a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

 

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Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!

 

Multi-Author Kindle Giveaway

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Cover Reveal: MEMORIES OF ASH by Intisar Khanani

I’m excited to have Intisar Khanani on the blog today, revealing the cover for her newest novel Memories of Ash. This cover was designed by the amazing Jenny of Seedlings Design Studio (who, you may recall, also did my fabulous MASQUE cover). There’s also a Kindle Fire giveaway, so make sure to scroll down to the end of the post to enter.

I’ve already read Intisar’s THORN and SUNBOLT: two amazing novels. You’ll probably know by now that I love fully fleshed, beautifully crafted characters- not only does Intisar deliver on that point, she also writes gorgeous, lush prose and amazingly detailed settings. Add to that major heartstring-tugging, and you’ve got an author who is on my auto-buy list. Seriously, if I ever end up writing half as well, I’ll be extremely pleased with myself. Well, enough from me: over to Intisar!

Describe Memories of Ash in 3 words.

Walk with courage.

What compelled you to write your first book?

I always wanted to write a novel, so my senior year of university I decided I’d better buckle down and try. I chose a fairy tale (The Goose Girl) to give me an over-arching plot and narrative structure, and then went to town with it. I really wrote it as an exercise to test myself, not intending to do anything with it when I finished. But, by the time I finished, I loved my characters so much that I ended up working through over a dozen revisions to take it from “writing exercise” to my debut novel, Thorn.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?

Definitely the world of the Sunbolt Chronicles. Sunbolt follows Hitomi, a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, the dark mage who killed her father. Although there is a lot of darkness in Sunbolt, there’s also a lot of light. It’s a real world, in its way, and I love the diversity and vibrancy of the cultures and creatures that populate it. I’d have my choice of living in a tropical island sultanate reminiscent of historic Zanzibar, or among the nomadic desert tribes that eke out an existence alongside the cursed Burnt Lands, to name my two favorite options. Then again, in Memories of Ash, there’s the decaying grandeur of the capitol of a fallen empire that feels a lot like an Istanbul of old, right at the heart of the Eleven Kingdoms. Plus, I wouldn’t mind having shape-shifting friends and charms to keep my bread from burning.

What authors, or books, have influenced you?

As a young duckling, I imprinted on Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley’s earlier works. I read pretty widely, but those are the authors I kept coming back to, especially McKinley’s Damar books. I am also an incorrigible Jane Austen fan, but my books don’t reflect that very much!

What are you reading now?

I just finished “Kingdom of Ruses” by Kate Stradling. In a kingdom where the eternal prince who rules is just a ruse kept up by the prime minister’s family (and most recently, Viola, our heroine), keeping the peace is a delicate thing. Enter a stranger who manages to take the place of the doppelganger the family uses, and Viola has her hands full.

Your first reaction to the cover in GIF format.

 

And here it is…

MoA_FC_FNL16_BN

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

Amazon Pre-order | Barnes & Noble Pre-order | Add it to GoodReads

A Special Treat For Those Who Pre-order…

Not only is the pre-order of Memories of Ash on sale for only 99 cents, but anyone who buys the pre-order will receive a free digital art print of Hitomi by artist Grace Fong. Just email your proof of purchase to moapreorder@gmail.com!

Haven’t read Sunbolt (Book 1) yet? It’s been knocked down to just 99 cents to celebrate the release and is available at most major e-retailers. That’s two fantastic books for less than a cuppa joe.

MoA_PreOrder Special

About Intisar Khanani

Khanani_Author_PhotoIntisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, featuring the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles.

Website/Blog | Twitter | Facebook | GoodReads

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Women In Fiction: Guest Blog Post By Loralee Evans

I’m very excited to welcome Loralee Evans to my blog today! I met Loralee on Goodreads a few days ago, when she was kind enough both to read and review Spindle for me: and such a lovely review, too! She also helped me out with a spot of trouble I was having on GR with some very timely and sensible advice, and then compounded her kindness by agreeing to guest post on my blog. 
Loralee is a writer of historical LDS fiction and MG fantasy, which you can check out at her Amazon Author Page here, or on her website, here. I’ve also interspersed her blog post with book covers and links, so if you’re interested in a book, just click on the cover.

That’s it from me! Over to Loralee, who is talking about Strong, Independent Women in Fiction.

Women In Fiction: A Study

Loralee EvansI want to thank W. R. Gingell for letting me be a guest author on her blog.  We met recently on Goodreads, as I had recently read her book, Spindle, which I loved immensely!  One big reason why I enjoyed Spindle so much, is because I like books where female characters are portrayed as strong and independent people who can take care of themselves if need be.  They can be soft and caring, but at the same time, they can stand up for what they believe, and they don’t need men to define them as individuals.  They do what they do based on their own consciences.  They don’t need to act in reaction to a man.

I’ve had the fortune of reading many a well-written romance where the male and female complement each other and support each other, but still are independent people who have purpose and strength each on their own.  They’re great together, but they don’t need each other to have purpose as individuals.
Unfortunately, I’ve also had the misfortune of stumbling upon stories that are not that way at all.  I have little use for stories Bountifulwhere one character, almost always the female, seems to be completely dependent upon the male character to define her and give her purpose.  Not only is such a viewpoint unrealistic, it is downright dangerous to the impressionable minds of young people, girls in particular.  (Though the objectification of women is certainly damaging to boys’ thinking as well.)
Sadly, far too many authors and far too many movie makers are forgetting or perhaps deliberately ignoring the idea that female characters can be strong, brave, and moral in their own right, and act in reaction to their sense of right and wrong, rather than needing a romantic relationship with a man to motivate them or define them.

One dangerous, insidious idea that both movie makers and book writers have developed, is to introduce what appears to be a strong female character, but immediately upon her introduction, a male character falls for her.  He often harasses her sexually, which we the audience are expected to interpret as funny and flirty rather than what it actually is, (verbal abuse, and sexual harassment) simply because the male character is young, hot, and white; a free get out of jail card.  Thus, King's Heirhe can act how he wants, without the audience realizing anything is wrong.  The female, of course, sometimes after a half-hearted comment regarding his rudeness, falls for his sexual harassment, and from that point on, everything she does is in reaction to him.  Many people reading or watching such a combination of events are not even consciously aware of the dangerous ideas this is teaching to society.  But in reality, such thinking is very toxic and dangerous.  Especially to young impressionable people who can’t differentiate between reality and the forced, choreographed actions of movie makers and book writers who can, with their writing skills, minimize or completely take away the consequences of this type of dysfunctional behavior that would, in the real world, result in an abusive relationship.

As a mother of daughters and of sons, I want them to read books that portray the heroines and heroes as truly heroic.  As strong, independent characters who do their best to do what is right simply because it’s the right thing to do.  I don’t want to read about perfect characters, because no one is, and we can’t relate BIrthrightto perfect people.  But I want to see an honest effort.  I want my daughters to know they can, and should, have the strength to stand on their own two feet if need be.  I want them to look for the right men, the kind that know how to treat a girl like a person, rather than like property.  I want them to know that if a man treats them with any degree of disrespect, they have the right, in fact the obligation to walk away from him without a backward glance, without an explanation, and without another comment.  I want my sons to learn that being real men doesn’t mean controlling others, it means treating fellow human beings, male and female, with decency and respect.   I want them to learn that if a girl is not interested, she does not owe him an explanation.  I want them to know that real men take rejection with grace, and know how to accept personal responsibility.

Because of this, I try to find books, and to write books, that teach these things.  Because, let’s face it, we learn from what we read.  Even when we’re consciously aware that it’s fiction, what we take into our minds affects us for worse or for better.  I hope to be one of those who influence people for the better.

–Loralee
Felicity 1Felicity 2

Release Day Fun: THE BOY WHO FELL FROM THE SKY by Jule Owen

Fellow writer and ALLi member Jule Owen’s debut novel, THE BOY WHO FELL FROM THE SKY is out today! So without further ado, here is Jule Owen to tell you all about her debut novel, Cli-Fi fic, and The House Next Door trilogy. Stay tuned at the end of the interview for an exclusive excerpt of THE BOY WHO FELL FROM THE SKY.

boy who fell from the skyAbout The Boy Who Fell from the Sky (The House Next Door Series)

Mathew Erlang’s future is coming to get him.
The world is falling apart in 2055. Another flood has devastated London and it’s the eve of the First Space War. With the city locked down, sixteen-year-old Mathew Erlang is confined to his house with only his cat, his robot and his holographic dragons for company.

Desperate for a distraction from the chaos around him, Mathew becomes fascinated by his peculiar and reclusive neighbor, August Lestrange. Mathew begins to investigate Mr. Lestrange, turning to the virtual world of the Nexus and Blackweb for answers. But as he digs deeper, Mathew realizes that Mr. Lestrange doesn’t seem quite human.

When Mathew accidentally finds himself trapped in Lestrange’s house, he opens a door and falls four hundred years into the future—a week before the end of the world. Unwittingly, he starts to destabilise the course of human history.

A 1984 for a new generation, The Boy Who Fell from the Sky delves into a future where climate change and technology have transformed the world. It is the first book in The House Next Door trilogy, a young adult dystopian science fiction action adventure. Mathew’s story continues in Silverwood.

Click to download The Boy Who Fell from the Sky here

The Boy Who Fell from the Sky is the first book in the young adult dystopian science fiction action adventure the House Next Door trilogy. Mathew’s story continues in Silverwood.

 

About Silverwood

 Mathew Erlang’s mother is dying. He’s the only one who can save her. Thirty-five years in the future.silverwood

 When Mathew Erlang’s mother, Hoshi, becomes seriously ill, he’ll do anything he can to save her. He knows his future self would too.

Breaking into the house next door, the one belonging to his peculiar neighbour, August Lestrange, he activates his holographic games room, which doubles as a time machine, to hack into his own future. Alone in an England afflicted by extreme weather, biological warfare and civil war, Mathew needs to find his older self before Lestrange catches up with him and takes him back to his own time.

 You can download Silverwood, the sequel to The Boy Who Fell from the Sky HERE

***

Interview with Author

Jule Owen

What made you want to write YA time travel fiction?

I love books like the Hunger Games and Divergent. I also love books like Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking and Chuck Wendig’s Heartland Trilogy.  They are all exciting, deeply engaging dystopian action adventure series. They all make you stop and think. So I wanted to write something similar. But I’ve been reading about futurology and climate change for years and they have seeped into my subconscious. I liked the idea of exploring possible futures based on the non-fiction I’d be reading. To do that I needed Mathew Erlang, my main character, to be able to jump forward into the future to see how things turn out.

Why specifically write teen dystopia? Why not write for adults?

I’m not sure I am specifically writing just for teens. I read a lot of young adult fiction and I’m certainly not a teen! But when I built the world and the much bigger story that Mathew’s tale exists in, he happened to turn out to be a teenaged boy at the beginning of his series.

You describe your books at cli-fi. What does that mean?

Cli-fi means climate change fiction. It’s a spin on sci-fi, of course, but it’s a type of dystopian science fiction or speculative fiction that specifically deals with the impact of climate change on the people of the future.

Why did you want to write about climate change?

It’s the big issue of our times and the biggest challenge we’ve faced as a civilisation. There’s a huge scientific consensus about the fact that climate change is man made and that it is likely to massively disrupt our lives in the future, but lots of people don’t believe in it. I read an article a while ago in The New Scientist (which is my favourite magazine) saying that the climate change lobby needs more artists and writers to go and spread the message. Frighteningly, young people, who are likely to suffer the most in the future, are particularly not engaging with the issue.

When will the next one in the series be out?

The Boy Who Fell from the Sky is part of the House Next Door trilogy, a series of three dystopian science fiction novels. Silverwood, which is the next is the series is already available. The third and final part, The Moon at Noon will be out in December 2015. Look out for the box-set in early 2016.

So is there a bigger story beyond Mathew’s then?

Oh yes. There’s much bigger story and more books to come! You need to find out more about the Lamplighter, the Kind and understand more about who Mr. Lestrange really is.

***

An exclusive excerpt from The Boy Who Fell from the Sky

The House Next Door Series — by Jule Owen

At first he spins. The sky and the trees below spin too, and his stomach lurches. Then he is parallel to the horizon, arms and legs spread-eagled like a skydiver. The air pushes at his limbs. He extends and flexes his fingers, lifts his head and looks across the treetops at the breath-taking scale of the forest, the unbroken canopy of green stretching into the misty horizon and cloud-covered mountains in the distance. The assault on his senses and instincts is overwhelming. Beauty, joy, exhilaration, and terror all at once. The ground is pulling him towards it at an alarming rate.

I’m going to die, he thinks. Then, This isn’t real. This is not real.

As the trees rush towards him, as he nears the ground, he passes close to the side of a rocky cliff face, pounding white water throttling down, and he is like a stone in the waterfall. The spray soaks him to the skin. Fighting fear, he dares glance below. There is a lake where the falling water gathers: a blue pool, pale at the edges, shading to sapphire in the centre.

I hope it’s deep, he thinks as he breaks the surface, feet first.

He plunges until the water finally catches hold of him like firm hands, and he is slowed, for moments on end, still and hanging, suspended in chains of bubbles escaping to the surface. It is dark and cold. Visibility is limited to a few feet ahead. Staring into the darkness, he half-expects a monster of the deep to snatch him in its jaws or tentacles. Without even realising it, he is clawing his way towards the air, his arms reaching around and down, the pressure of the water helping him, forcing him towards the world. Light refracts on the surface, glistening and dancing.

Breaking through to his own element, he takes great gulps of air, his chest shuddering painfully, his arms thrashing. His head goes under and he swallows water; he emerges coughing and choking and thrashes some more, plunging under, panicking, until some strange, calm voice in his head tells him to stop, to be still, to lie back in the water, to trust, to get control of his breath.

Then he is suspended on the top of the sapphire pool, arms and legs outstretched like he is skydiving in reverse now, floating, waiting for his heart and the blood pulsing in his ears to quieten. The sky is a cloudless blue above him. There is a curtain of green in the corners of his eyes.

The sun is hot and already burning, but the water has chilled him, and he enjoys the sensation of his skin and his bones thawing. The water laps his ears with the wet, round, unknowable sounds of the lake. Bobbing in and out of the sounds of the forest, there’s a wall of noise, of birdsong and the calls of strange animals, and he tunes in to the clamour and distinguishes whistles, clicks, buzzings, individual songs, and angry cries.

Turning his head, scanning, he spies a bank of smooth rock and swims towards it. The water is much shallower at the edges, and he is able to stand and wade onto dry land. He sits on one of the rocks and takes off his boots, drains them of water, and sets them and his socks aside to dry, flattening the sodden wool against the hot stone.

He gazes at the waterfall and the empty air above it.

There is no door. Nothing.

He has literally fallen to this place from the sky.

This must be a game, or a virtual reality world. Admittedly, it would be the most sophisticated one ever invented. It is so real. He taps the rocks with his knuckles – it hurts. It genuinely hurts. The sensation of falling, of hitting the water, of swimming, of almost drowning – well, it was remarkable. His throat is still sore from choking.

Still, this is the most obvious explanation: He has logged into Mr Lestrange’s Darkroom, which happens to be playing the most remarkable virtual world ever made.

Now all he has to do is to find a way to leave.

There is no possibility of going back the way he has come.  But there is no rush. It is a lovely spot, with the sunlight pouring in, the rocks hot under his skin, the sound of the birds, and the roar of the waterfall.  Lying back, he closes his eyes and dozes off.

And wakes with a start.

Something disturbing – life-threatening, even – has pulled him from his dreams. But when he sits and looks around, nothing has changed except the position of the sun in the sky, which is now much farther to the east and casting longer shadows. It is still hot, and the air still sings with birds and insects.

Discomfort registers in his brain. His arms and feet are red: burnt. Stupid, he thinks. And he wonders again at the advanced nature of this world, making him believe he is sunburnt. Virtual world or not, his skin hurts like hell, his head is sore, and he is parched. The water in the lake, he supposes, is fresh. Wading a little into the shallows, he bends and takes a couple of tentative sips, cupping the water to his mouth with his palms. It tastes good, and he gulps more.

He ponders what he should do next. Where to start to search for the door? Remembering his view of the canopy of the forest – it stretches forever. The door might be anywhere. Or maybe Mr Lestrange will come home from wherever he has gone to and pull the plug on the game, take the skullcap off his head. That’s the most likely scenario. In which case, he should make the most of this enormous playground.

If this is a VR world, he thinks, then there should be a map. He calls his Lenz to try the Nexus and sees a list of available networks. They are all in a strange alphabet. He tries one and is prompted for a password, and a warning message flashes. He closes it and tries the Blackweb. It is not there. He doesn’t understand.

I’m really on my own.

Wading back to the shore, he sits to pull on his boots. They are dry outside but still damp on the inside. There’s no choice but to put them on. His feet are swollen from the sunburn, and it hurts to pull his socks and boots onto his feet. Cursing, he ties his laces.

All around the perimeter of the lake is an unbroken wall of creeping, thriving green, with no obvious way through the jungle. He needs something to beat a path in front of him. He finds a long pole, wide enough to be substantial but thin enough to grip, breaks some smaller branches off and tests the weight of it in his hand. It’s good.

The lake empties into a small river, which he decides to follow. It’s bound to lead to people, to the coast or something else.

It’s easier going than he imagined, although he has to veer away from the stream to walk around trees and bushes. His feet chafe in his wet boots. The pain from the sunburn on his feet and arms is persistent. It’s humid.

He stops to drink again from the stream. The water pooling in his hand has bits floating in it. He swills his hand and tries again, this time scooping closer to the top where it runs faster. It tastes fine. If this was real, if he was in Elgol, hiking into the wild mountains surrounding the community, he would never be so bold, but he needs to drink. His clothes are soaked with his own sweat.

His ears are assaulted by the sounds of life all around him, but he sees only an occasional flicker of movement of birds in the trees above. Flies swarm about his face, attracted by the salt on his skin, and beyond the path he is beating for himself he is aware of small life, insects cutting leaves, crawling amongst the humus of the forest floor, gathering dying and decaying things for their food. He tries to block them from his mind.

The light is dimming, and he starts to reflect on what he will do at night for warmth and light. Although he certainly doesn’t need the heat, a fire would give him light and keep animals away.

The filtered greenish sunlight in the forest suddenly curdles yellow, electricity charges the air and there is a crack of lightning and then thunder, rumbling under the ground towards him. Another round of the same and a large raindrop breaks on his nose, then another on his hand, his arm, his neck, his head.

He’s experienced a lot of rainstorms in London, but this rain comes in drops so large they hurt. As the storm gains momentum, it is like whole buckets of water are being thrown over him.

Water rolls off the green, shiny leaves all around him onto the ground in rivulets and streams.

Drenched anyway by his own sweat, the rain cools him and plasters sodden cotton to his skin. Carrying on, he tries to ignore it, but drops pound on his head – it’s hard on his scalp, like a persistent finger prodding him.

Eventually, he stops and searches around for somewhere to shelter. He gets under a plant with large, long leaves, but the rain comes through as the branches bow with the force of the water. He grabs a leaf and twists and yanks to snap it off – then breaks off another and another and props them against the trunk of a tree, managing to build a makeshift shelter, like a half-tepee. He just fits inside if he crouches into a ball, his knees drawn to his chin. It is not totally dry, but at least it keeps the pounding off his skull. Then he sits and waits, staring at his boots, worrying about his feet and grateful for the opportunity to rest. When he’s still, they don’t hurt as much.

In his peripheral vision, he catches something moving on a leaf, near his face. Something slow. The hair on the back of his neck stands. Without moving his head, he turns his eyes.

There is a spider, the size of his hand, walking across a leaf hanging beside him. It stops. It is waiting, watching, smelling, or whatever deadly jungle spiders do. He doesn’t dare move. He doesn’t dare breathe. Then, as silently as it arrived, it moves off into the undergrowth. He lets go of the breath he was holding.

The rain eases, then stops, and he crawls from his shelter. It’s getting dark. The forest is dripping.

Even if I knew how, he thinks, I’ll never make a fire in this dampness.

Less exuberantly, he starts to walk again, thinking it’s best to keep moving. The stream becomes a river.

Then he hears the noise from his dream. He remembers it now: a primal, horrifying sound, a deep, guttural growl. Angry. No – beyond angry – amoral. . . . More than anything it sounds hungry.

Stopping dead in his tracks, he surveys around. Nothing. But he knows now for sure, something in the forest is watching him. He strains to detect movement, the crack of a twig, the sound of branches or leaves brushing against a body. His ears pulse with the sound of his treacherous heart, louder than the birds and the insects. Sweat drips off his nose as he stares into the forest. Leaves bob as rainwater drips from higher branches.

It’s getting dark, and he doesn’t want to be walking in the forest when this growling creature might come at him from anywhere.

He is standing beside a tall tree. Long, thick, sinuous vines hang from its branches. He grabs one and uses it to pull himself up, his feet walking up the side of the trunk, wincing with pain. The vine rope slips in his hand, the muscles in his shoulders and arms burn, his arms aren’t strong enough.

Why didn’t he spend more time playing in the holovision gym?

He loses his grip and falls. Trying again, he finds footholds between branches and in knotholes, grits his teeth, and wraps the vine partially around his arm to gain leverage. After a few falls, he climbs the tree, swearing all the way. Twenty feet up, there’s a gap between the branches big enough for him to fit in if he scrunches into a ball.

He’s breathing heavily; the dripping forest pelts him with drops of rain still running off leaves and branches. At first he ignores it. He rests his head on his hands, his knees drawn up to his chest, and closes his eyes. The drips are less frequent but they are large and hard. Every time he starts to feel himself drifting off to sleep, one breaks on his head or his face. After a long hour, he is wide awake staring at the sodden wood of the tree. He doesn’t want to have to climb down from the tree again.

I’ll never sleep like this. I have to find a way to cover myself.

Grabbing the vines, he lowers himself from the tree and collects the same kind of leaves he used earlier to shelter himself from the rain.

He finds some long strips of supple bark to tie the leaves into a bundle and climbs again, slightly more adept this time. Once he arrives and secures his seat by wedging a leg to push his body back against the trunk, he hauls his parcel after him and unties it. He lays half of the long leaves in the fork of the trunk that is acting as his bed. The rest he wedges between branches above him, making a rough kind of roof.

It’s pitch dark now, and he tries to get comfortable. All around, plants and animals slither and move. He listens for a long time, his eyes open, staring into the creeping blackness.

What is this place? It can’t be real, can it?

The same question churns over and over in his mind. It muddles and twists and blurs.

Finally, miraculously, he falls asleep.

Guest Post & Excerpt From A.F.E. Smith, Author Of Darkhaven

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This week it’s my pleasure to introduce you all to A.F.E Smith! No doubt you’ve already heard of her: her fantasy novel Darkhaven is being released July 2nd, and is already receiving some very impressive reviews. Not only that, it has one of the loveliest covers I’ve seen in a while. So without further ado, here is A.F.E. Smith with an excerpt from Darkhaven and some accompanying murderous thoughts…

Darkhaven Excerpt, and Accompanying Murderous Thoughts…

When W.R. agreed to let me loose on her blog, I asked her what kind of post she’d like. An excerpt? An article?

Either would be great, she replied (thus demonstrating a touching but misplaced faith in my abilities). It’s totally up to you.

And so, since everyone knows I’m hopeless at making decisions, I present to you my one and only excerpt-article of the tour. Here’s the start of chapter 2 of Darkhaven, followed by a few relevant thoughts. Murderous ones, obviously.

***

The first thing they must have seen when they broke down Florentyn Nightshade’s door was the blood. Spattered across the walls, pooling on the polished wooden floorboards, dyeing the sheets to deep crimson: it didn’t seem possible for all that blood to have come from a single man. Not that there was much left in him. He lay sprawled on his back, bleached to bone white like driftwood left too long in the sun. The only colour in him was the night-dark hair that proclaimed his lineage, and the gaping hole where his throat had been.

Myrren stopped just inside the door, pressing the back of one hand to his mouth in a vain attempt to suppress the bile rising in his throat. The thick, metallic odour in the room was horribly familiar, but for a moment he couldn’t place it – and then when he did, he wished he hadn’t. It was the smell of the slaughterhouse.

He turned his head, searching the faces of the three or four Helmsmen crowding the doorway behind him.

‘Where is Captain Travers?’ he asked stupidly, as if that were the most important question. But he wanted Travers to be there. Travers was in charge of the Helm, and the Helm had clearly failed in their duty.

‘Called away to the cells, my lord,’ one of the men said – which reminded Myrren all over again of Ayla. No doubt Travers was currently learning of her escape. Yet now all Myrren’s anguish over that seemed trivial and irrelevant.

‘Then you tell me, please,’ he said. ‘W-what happened?’

‘We don’t know, my lord.’ Myrren couldn’t put a name to the speaker; the watching Helmsmen were all alike with fear. ‘A maidservant tried to deliver his breakfast, but found the door locked. She knocked and got no answer. And then …’ He swallowed. ‘And then she noticed the smell.’

Myrren nodded. ‘So she sent for you. I see.’

His gaze settled briefly on his father’s body, then shied away again. It was a good thing he hadn’t eaten this morning; as it was, the scant contents of his stomach were rapidly congealing into something cold and nauseous.

‘Did – did anyone try to revive him?’ It was another stupid question, given the state of the body, but it had to be asked.

‘I checked his pulse,’ a different man said. His striped sleeve was stained with a rust-dark smear, as though he had wiped his bloody hand on it. ‘But there was nothing …’

‘No. Indeed.’ Myrren could hear his own voice becoming ever more clipped and precise, a counterbalance for the tumult of emotion inside him. ‘So, then – so –’

‘We’ve had the physician to him, my lord.’ One of the Helm came to his aid. ‘He thinks it happened between seventh and eighth bell yesterday.’

Seventh bell A presentiment formed at the edge of Myrren’s thoughts, but he pushed it away.

‘So someone broke into Darkhaven last night,’ he said. ‘Crept to my father’s room, picked the lock, then relocked the door behind him after doing his murderous business – all without being seen by any of you?’

‘No, my lord,’ the Helmsman said. ‘He couldn’t have left through the door. Not with it locked from the inside.’

***

And so the investigation begins! But why murder?

When I first started writing fantasy, I was – quite naturally – influenced by the things I’d read and seen. And the things I’d read and seen tended to be of the classic good vs evil kind: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia. Of course, the problem with good vs evil narratives is that they present one side of a conflict as entirely disposable. It doesn’t matter how many stormtroopers or orcs get killed. They’re bad guys. They’re faceless.

So when I first started writing fantasy, I would have my hero get into fights and kill a bunch of people, because those people didn’t matter. They were just the opposition. (Strangely enough, this attitude characterises pretty much every political debate I’ve ever read on the internet.)Scavenger_day09

Yet as I grew older, and perhaps a little wiser, I became increasingly aware of the price of a life – human or otherwise. Writing fantasy in which the hero mowed down row after row of interchangeable bad guys didn’t seem quite so appealing. And it’s probably because of that shift in attitude that I turned to murder.

That might sound counterintuitive, but I think it’s because when murder is made the focus of a narrative, death immediately becomes a weighty, significant thing: a thing that has consequences and requires answers. A man investigating a murder is perhaps the opposite of those trigger-happy heroes of my early writing. He is taking a single death and resolving to bring the person responsible for it to justice.

Of course, when the murder victim is his father and the chief suspect is his sister, that makes things a little more complicated …

Darkhaven BlurbCover_image_DARKHAVEN_AFE_Smith

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

Get Darkhaven at:

HarperCollins
Amazon (global link)
Barnes & Noble
Google play
iBooks
Kobo

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Author_photo_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithAuthor biography

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

Author social media links:

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