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.)
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 …
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:
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.
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