Beth Cato’s BREATH OF EARTH Excerpt

Posted at Aug 23, 2016 6:49 pm

Beth Cato’s BREATH OF EARTH releases today! Deets and an excerpt below…



An Excerpt from Beth Cato’s Breath of Earth

In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.

When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .

Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

This excerpt from chapter 1 offers an introduction to geomancy.

Whimpers and moans welcomed Ingrid to the junior classroom. Nearest to the door, a dozen boys half sprawled over their desks. A blue mist overlay their skin, and beneath that mist were the sure signs of power sickness—skin flushed by high fever, thick sweat, dull eyes. The rest of the class stared, their expressions ranging from curiosity to horror. Some of them still showed signs of very recent recovery in their bloodshot eyes. None of these boys was older than ten; the youngest was a pudgy-faced eight.

“There you are!” The teacher scowled, as if it were Ingrid’s
fault he’d been so inept with his accounting. Biting her lip, she held out the bag. He snatched it from her fingertips.

The chalkboard laid out the terminology of the lesson, one
Ingrid had seen taught dozens of times: hyperthermia, hypothermia, and the quick timeline to a geomancer’s death. These young boys experienced the hard lesson of hyperthermia. The last earthquake noticeable by the wardens had taken place
three days before. These students had been directly exposed to the current and hadn’t been allowed access to any kermanite. As a result, they spent the past few days bed-bound in misery as though gripped by influenza.

Thank God none of them were as sensitive as Ingrid. Another direct tremor would cause their temperatures to spike even more, and could even lead to death.

The teacher adept pressed a piece of kermanite to a boy’s skin. He gasped at the contact. Blue mist eddied over his body, the color evaporating as it was pulled inside the rock.

If she could see the kermanite in the adept’s hand, the clear crystal would be filling with a permanent smoky swirl. It took a trained mechanic to rig an electrical current to tap the trapped magic as a battery. When the energy within was exhausted, a crystal turned dull and dark. Once that happened, kermanite became a useless rock.

The young boy sat up straighter. “Thank you, sir,” he whispered,
voice still ragged. It would take him hours to fully recover.

Ingrid looked away, that familiar anger heavy in her chest.
Wardens and boys in training carried kermanite openly from
watch fobs and cuff links, or most any other accessory where
stones could be easily switched out once they were full.

She had to be far more subtle. Her kermanite chunks clinked together in her dress pocket. She had to take care not to touch them today, or the energy she held would be siphoned away.

Ingrid loved this slight flush of power, because that’s what it was — power. It sizzled just beneath her skin, intoxicated her
with how it prickled at her nerves. Certainly, if she absorbed
any more energy, she’d use the kermanite. She didn’t want to feel sick, though she could hold much more power than these boys, or even the wardens. Mr. Sakaguchi said she took after
Papa — that she stored power like a bank vault, while most
everyone else had the capacity of a private safe.

When it came to her natural skill, Ingrid often regarded herself as a rare fantastic or yokai — not like garden ornamentals like the kappas or naiads sold to the stuffed shirts on Market Street — but like the geomantic Hidden Ones Mr. Sakaguchi so loved to research. She was a creature relegated to idle fancy and obscure mythology, and aggravating shoes.


Barnes & Noble

Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.



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Posted at Aug 9, 2016 9:26 am

Brooke Johnson’s THE GUILD CONSPIRACY releases this week! Deets and an excerpt are below!


pre order press kit author photo TGC cover & blurb



In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?

It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.
Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized … war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.
Release Date: August 9, 2016.


Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | Google Play | HarperCollins




“What do you want?” she spat.


Mr. Goss arched an eyebrow. “You would do well to show a little respect, Miss Wade,” he said, his usual honeyed voice carrying a hint of impatience. He gestured down the hall, away from the council chamber. “A quick word, if you please.”


She didn’t move. “I know what you’re going to say. You’re asking me to start a war.”


“No,” he said, forcibly taking her arm and leading her away from the council chambers. She tried to resist, but his fingers tightened like a vice. “I am asking you to keep your word. We had an agreement.”


He stopped at the end of the hall, far from the council chambers, and glared at her, his grip still tight on her arm. “I grow tired of this game of yours. This war will happen, and it will go far better for you if you cooperate.”


Petra raised her chin. “I will not.”


“You will,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “I have been patient with you, Miss Wade. I have allowed you to study here, to inconvenience the council with your banal proposals and Guild applications. I have even allowed you to continue communications with my son . . . but my generosity is now at an end.”


He released her arm and gathered to his full height. “Understand me, Miss Wade. If your next project is not in line with our agreement, not only will I revoke your studentship and prevent further association with my son, I will repeal the council’s pardon of your crimes and deliver you to the Royal Forces as a traitor and a spy. You will be conscripted into the military as a prisoner of war, forced to build my war machines—or else hang for your crimes.”


She swallowed, her mouth dry. “You can’t.”


“I can, and I will.” Footsteps sounded down the hall, and Julian leaned close. “You will build a war machine for me. By choice or by force, I will have what I want. Make no mistake.”


One of the redcoats from the council meeting rounded the corner and spotted them. “Pardon the interruption, Minister,” he said crisply, “but you are needed back in the council chambers.”


Julian glared at the junior officer. “Very well. Inform them that I will return shortly.”


But the soldier made no motion to leave. “The vice-chancellor is expecting you now, sir.”


“Well, as you can see, I am presently occupied,” he said sharply. “The vice-chancellor can wait. I have important matters to discuss with Miss Wade, and I require a measure of privacy. Now go.”


The soldier hesitated, his gaze lingering a moment on Petra. “Of course, sir,” he said with a stiff bow. Then he strode away.


Julian waited until the officer was well out of earshot before turning back to Petra. “I leave the decision to you, Miss Wade,” he said. “You know the consequences should you refuse my request. However, if you cooperate, I give you my word that I will not question your studentship, I will continue to allow your relations with my son, and I will even offer you my recommendation for Guild placement. Help me, and I will help you. Do you understand?”


Petra glared at him. “Yes, sir,” she hissed.


“Good,” he said, his charismatic smile brightening his face with the same easy handsomeness as his son. “Then I expect your next proposal will be most satisfactory. Good day, Miss Wade.” With that, he turned on his heel and left.


His footsteps faded into silence, and Petra pressed against the wall with a shaky sigh, hands trembling. Damn him! Damn the Guild for giving him such power over her. He could do it. He could take away her freedoms and hand her over to the Royal Forces with a single order. He would, if given the chance.


If she defied him again, he would end her.


Slow footsteps approached, and Petra started, but it was only the Royal Forces officer again.


“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice kinder than she expected.


“I’m fine,” she said automatically.


“Are you sure?” he asked. “The minister seemed angry with you.”


A bitter laugh escaped her throat, Julian’s threats still fresh in her mind.


Forced conscription.


That was her punishment for her disobedience if she defied Julian again. She had delayed and resisted as long as she could, had pushed his patience to the brink, and now her choice was made for her—choose to build his war machine or lose everything she had left.


“For what it’s worth, I thought your project had merit,” he said. “Assuming you could achieve what you proposed.”


“Of course I could,” she snapped. She peered down the hall toward the council chambers. “Not that it matters to them.”


“Why not?”


“Why do you think? They want a war machine. Anything less isn’t worth their time.”


“Then why don’t you build one?”


She glanced sharply at the soldier.


“That’s what they want from you, isn’t it?” he went on. “Why the minister is so angry with you, why the council keeps rejecting your projects. I overheard them talking. You’ve applied to the Guild five times in the last six months, but none of your proposals were for war technology. Why not? If you built what they wanted, they’d accept you into the Guild, wouldn’t they?”




“Then why don’t you?”


“Because becoming a Guild engineer isn’t worth that,” she said. “If I earn my certification, I want it to be on my own terms, not theirs.”


Not that she had a choice. Julian had made that very clear.


“Could you, though?” he asked, a hesitancy to his voice. “If you wanted to? Could you build a war machine?”


She dropped her gaze to the floor, thinking of the automaton she and Emmerich had built together the previous summer, how brilliant it had been when Emmerich powered it up for the first time, all its gears exposed, whirring and ticking with musical synchronicity. It had been a terrible, wonderful thing to behold, a beautiful monstrosity . . . capable of so much destruction.


Yes, she could build a war machine. She already had.


But she never wanted to build another like it, not for the rest of her life.


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The Inevitabity of the Cute

Posted at Aug 2, 2016 9:23 am

The Inevitabity of the Cute

Guest Post by Marcella Burnard


Actors have a saying. Never work with children or animals. Reason being that if there’s an animal or a kind in whatever work you’re doing, no one is looking at you. Or listening to you. Not ever. They’re looking at the cute thing.

I’m a little surprised to find the same is true of novels. When I wrote Damned If He Does, I knew the heroine needed a cat with some attitude. Inspiration wasn’t hard to find. Anyone who knows me or who takes the occasional gander at my social media sites knows that I’m a crazy cat lady. All I had to do was look around. I have an orange tabby, though my orange guy is a short-hair and has no tail (amputated by the Humane Society vet before we got him).



But I needed just a bit more of a sense of entitlement. So I combined Autolycus with his littlest sister, Hatshepsut, and came up with a long-haired, orange tabby with some serious opinions on the people who enter his house. That trait came from a third cat – a Siamese queen from my childhood named Natoa. She used to sit in the window that looked out at the front door. If you walked up to ring the doorbell, there would be this baleful seal point Siamese giving you the evil eye and hissing at you. So Archimedes is grounded in cats who’d once been real-live cats.


The bit about no one wanting to work with animals and children, though, is that after writing a story about an asexual heroine, an incubus who needs to bottle her sexual energy for the devil, and the devil himself, the character who’s wining the popularity contest in reviews? You guessed it.


The cat.


Looks like feline kind really did make a deal with the devil.




Rejected by heaven, twisted by hell, what’s a damned dead man to do when he stumbles upon a life and love worth fighting for?

Though damned for his earthly sins, Darsorin Incarri likes being an incubus. Prowling women’s dreams to siphon off their sexual energy for Satan’s consumption has its perks: an array of infernal power and a modicum of freedom. Sure, Ole Scratch holds Dar’s soul in thrall, and Dar has to spend a few hours recharging in Hell every day, but it could be much worse. All he has to do is hold up his end of his damnation contract – five women seduced, satisfied and siphoned per night for eternity. So when he encounters gorgeous, bright, and funny Fiona Renee, it’s business as usual. Deploy the infernal charm and rack up another score. Except it doesn’t work. She’s immune. He has to find out what’s gone wrong or face Lucifer’s wrath.

Fiona Renee has the life she’d always wanted: a career, a home, a cat with a bad attitude, and peace. Fiona’s dated. Had boyfriends. And hated every minute of it. She’s reconciled to being lonely. So when a man shows up in her bedroom in the middle of the night demanding to know why her dreams turn to nightmares every time he tries to seduce her from within them, Fiona winds up negotiating a contract with a demon that allows him access to her life. She never anticipated that it would also give him access to her heart. If she’s going to fall in love at all, something she never thought would happen, shouldn’t it be with someone who’s alive? If Fiona wants to hang on to Darsorin, she has to find his true name—the one he’d been given at his birth over a thousand years ago. But Satan, himself, stands in her way. Even if Fiona can dodge Lucifer, she and Darsorin have to face the question neither of them can answer: What happens to a dead man if you manage to wrest his soul from the Devil?




“What the hell was that?” she gasped. Wrapping her arms around her chest, she shivered and switched on the bedside lamp. She glanced around the room, looking for comfort in the form of her orange tabby cat. “Archimedes?”

She frowned. No cat. He usually slept on the pillow beside hers. The bedroom door was closed. When had that happened? She climbed out of bed. The covers had been tossed askew as if she’d fought them the way she’d fought her dream. She hauled the sheet and blankets back into position. Her hands shook.

She opened the bedroom door. “Archimedes?”

He sat outside the door, staring up at her, expectation in the forward set of his ears and whiskers, and a dead mouse at his feet.

Gasping, she backed up a step. “Eugh. First a slightly rapey sex dream involving a patient, now mice? Thank you so much for nabbing it, Archimedes. I’m not crazy about the notion of mice waltzing through our living room and kitchen.”

The cat seized his prize, tossed it into the air, and then pounced when the limp body landed. He batted the rodent into the bedroom.

Fiona jumped back. Just what she needed to complete her less than restful night: stepping on a dead mouse in her bare feet.

Pupils dilated, whiskers quivering, Archimedes shot a glance her way, as if to be certain she’d noticed.

“You are a mighty hunter,” she said, crouching down and offering a hand to him. “And I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you protecting me.”

He tickled her fingers with his whiskers, then nudged them with his furry head. His rusty purr soothed her.

“Archimedes, my love, I’m going to the shower. I’ll never get back to sleep if I don’t wash off the memory of that dream,” she said, reaching for the mouse’s tail. “Could I have your prize, handsome? You caught and killed it, it is rightfully your snack, but I am not crazy about having to clean mouse blood out of my carpet. Not to mention the notion of where and how I’d find whatever bits you didn’t eat.”

As she pulled the corpse closer, the cat whirled and pounced. He grabbed the limp body in his jaws, growling. He bolted out the bedroom door.

“I’m not chasing your furry butt all over the house at 2:30 in the morning.” She sighed, rose, and went to turn on the shower. “I just had to share my life and living arrangement with an obligate carnivore. At least I’m not on early shift. Maybe the store carries carpet cleaning products.”




Marcella Burnard graduated from Cornish College of the Arts with a degree in acting. She writes science fiction romance for Berkley Sensation. Her first book, Enemy Within won the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice award for Best Futuristic of 2010. The second book in the series, Enemy Games, released on May 3, 2011. An erotica novella, Enemy Mine, set in the same world as the novels was released as an e-special edition by Berkley in April 2012. Emissary, a sword and sorcery short story released in the two volume Thunder on the Battlefield Anthology in the second half of 2013. Nightmare Ink, an Urban Fantasy novel from Intermix came out in April of 2014 and the second in that Living Ink series, Bound by Ink, came out in November 2014. She lives aboard a sailboat in Seattle where she and her husband are outnumbered by cats.








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Why an “American” faerie tale?

Posted at Jul 12, 2016 9:42 am

Guest Post by Bishop O’Connell 

Why an “American” faerie tale?

The Returned is the fourth book in my series, An American Faerie Tale. The obvious question is, why the qualifier? Why an “American” faerie tale? Well, there isn’t much in the way of American myth, or legend, or faerie tales. Yes we have Ichabod Crane and the like, but most of our stories and legends came with the hopeful immigrants who carried them. I want America to have a mythology, a faerie tale that’s all its own. I want to write not “the great American novel,” but “the great American faerie tale.”


To do that, the stories have to reflect America. That means people from other nations should feel something familiar there. Have their own neighborhoods; a little Italy, Chinatown, little Havana, Irish district, or any other cultural neighborhood. Some might be just a block or two, and in this literary world I’ve formed it might be only a few pages, but I hope it’s something that feels like a warm and sincere welcome.


So how do I achieve that familiarity but keep the story “American?” It turns out the two aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re one and the same. Just consider this simple phrase: e pluribus unum. Out of many, one. It’s the motto of the United States, and what the phrase embodies is what I love most about it. Originally it might have referred to the many states forming one nation, but I think it has come to mean so much more. It’s a cliché, but this nation really is a melting pot, a nation of immigrants. The United States’ culture is a collection and blending of countless other cultures. Most remarkably, none of them are diminished and the whole is made more with each addition. In short, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


So to be an American faerie tale, I knew that’s what I have to achieve with my series. Each book is a snippet, a piece that adds to the whole. The Stolen, the first book, is set in New England, which has a large Irish influence, so that culture is what I focused on. I’m very proud of my Irish heritage. My family came to this country along with millions of other Irish and Scots, fleeing death during the Potato Famine. So, Celtic culture will continue to influence the series, but in keeping with the larger theme, it will blend into all the others as well. Just like the immigrants themselves did through the generations.


The Forgotten, the second book, is set in Seattle and includes the influence of Russian, German, and Native American mythologies. Three Promises, the third book, is a collection of short stories about characters from the first two books, so reflects both. Additionally, it has a short story about World War II, and the weight of those who fought tirelessly and valiantly, but always felt like could’ve done more.


The Returned, the fourth and latest book is set in New Orleans. There are Cajuns, Creoles, Native Americans, Haitian, French, and African mythologies at play. There is of course another history to the city, one that goes back to the days of slavery, and the implications such a history brings into the modern age. Like our country as a whole, it’s a city of complex history; some beautiful, some shameful. But I tried to capture the spirit of the city, embodied by its residents and best described by their official motto: laissez les bon temps rouler, let the good times roll.


In the natural world, diversity, genetically speaking, is what keeps a species relevant. I think culturally speaking, it’s what has made these United States relevant through history, and why I love it. Across the country there are endless stories and they all have their own magic and wonder. Some are terrifying, some heartbreaking, some beautiful, some truly hysterical, and still others all of the above. They’re told by the young and the old, the privileged and the disenfranchised, the hopeful and hopeless, the dreamers and cynics, those with long histories and those right off the boat. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m indecisive, but I don’t want to choose just one, I want them all! That probably says something about how long this series will continue if I get my way.


I want to write an “American” faerie tale because I want to reflect what I think makes America great. But, to truly be American, it must be a tale blending the cultures and heritages that define its citizenry. Individually we might be Irish American, Scots American, Russian American, Mexican American, African American, Native American, LGBTQ, straight, rich, poor, and countless combinations thereof, but together, we’re just Americans. I hope my series achieves this, but with stories. It might be lofty, but I’ve always believed there is no shame in failing if you’re reaching for the stars.

Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint (, where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.


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The Returned_HiRes

Almost a year after their wedding, and two since their daughter Fiona was rescued from a kidnapping by dark faeries, life has finally settled down for Caitlin and Edward. They maintain a facade of normalcy, but a family being watched over by the fae’s Rogue Court is far from ordinary. Still, it seems the perfect time to go on their long-awaited honeymoon, so they head to New Orleans.
Little do they know, New Orleans is at the center of a territory their Rogue Court guardians hold no sway in, so the Court sends in Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, to watch over them. It’s not long before they discover an otherworldly force is overtaking the city, raising the dead, and they’re drawn into a web of dark magic. At the same time, a secret government agency tasked with protecting the mortal world against the supernatural begins their own investigation of the case. But the culprit may not be the villain everyone expects. Can Wraith, Caitlin, and Edward stop whoever is bringing the vengeful dead back to life before another massacre, and before an innocent is punished for crimes beyond her control?

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New Series from Harper Voyager – Welcome to the Wildlands!

Posted at Jun 24, 2016 4:43 pm

NineofStars mm c (003)

Welcome to the Wildlands! 

I’m super-thrilled to announce a new series from Harper Voyager. The characters from the Dark Alchemy series have made the jump to print, as NINE OF STARS continues the adventures of Petra and Sig in December! Details are here:

More deets will be coming soon, but here’s a teaser for NINE OF STARS:


Winter has always been a deadly season in Temperance, but this time, there’s more to fear than just the cold…

 From critically acclaimed author Laura Bickle comes the first novel in the Wildlands series

As the daughter of an alchemist, Petra Dee has faced all manner of occult horrors – especially since her arrival in the small town of Temperance, Wyoming. But she can’t explain the creature now stalking the backcountry of Yellowstone, butchering wolves and leaving only their skins behind in the snow. Rumors surface of the return of Skinflint Jack, a nineteenth-century wraith that kills in fulfillment of an ancient bargain.

The new sheriff in town, Owen Rutherford, isn’t helping matters. He’s a dangerously haunted man on the trail of both an unsolved case and a fresh kill – a bizarre murder leading him right to Petra’s partner Gabriel. And while Gabe once had little to fear from the mortal world, he’s all too human now. This time, when violence hits close to home, there are no magical solutions.

It’s up to Petra and her coyote sidekick Sig to get ahead of both Owen and the unnatural being hunting them all – before the trail turns deathly cold.



#SFFchat and Giveaway!

Posted at Jun 21, 2016 12:01 pm

About #SFFchat
Back in December, a bunch of Harper Voyager US/UK authors got together on the #SFFchat hashtag to talk about writing, publishing, and the sci-fi/fantasy genre with aspiring SF/F authors. We had a fantastic discussion (read thehighlights), so we’re going to do it again.
On Wednesday, June 22nd at 3pm Eastern and 9pm Eastern, 18 Voyager authors will be answering questions on Twitter under the #SFFchat hashtag. Each chat will last an hour. We’re also doing a massive giveaway of Voyager e-books and print books, which you can enter using the widget below. All are welcome! Please join us if you want to talk about SF/F and maybe win some free books.
If you’re an author seeking representation or publication, we hope you’ll also join the #SFFpit Twitter pitching event on Thursday, June 23rd.
BONUS: And the Voyager authors have started a Facebook group just for SFF fans called SFF Junkies. It’s a new place to hang out and talk SFF books or even writing. You can find it in the rafflecopter or use this link.
Enter the Giveaway

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Auston Habershaw’s NO GOOD DEED

Posted at Jun 21, 2016 12:58 am

Auston Habershaw’s NO GOOD DEED releases today. Deets for all the awesomeness follow below!


NoGoodDeed_cover art


Back Copy

Cursed with a magic ring that forbids skullduggery, Tyvian Reldamar’s life of crime is sadly behind him. Now reduced to fencing moldy relics and wheedling favors from petty nobility, he’s pretty sure his life can’t get any worse.

That is until he hears that his old nemesis, Myreon Alafarr, has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit and turned to stone in a penitentiary garden. Somebody is trying to get his attention, and that somebody is playing a very high-stakes game that will draw Tyvian and his friends back to the city of his birth and right under the noses of the Defenders he’s been dodging for so long. And that isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that the person pulling all the strings is none other than the most powerful sorceress in the West: Lyrelle Reldamar.


Tyvian’s own mother.

Harper Collins
Google Play


No Good Deed Excerpt




The main courtroom in Keeper’s Court, Saldor’s hall of justice, had five sides, one for each of the arcane energies that made up the world. The accused stood in the center, chained by the wrist to a large squat stone at the center of the floor. Dull, black, and trapezoidal, “the Block” was so old that the courtroom itself was several centuries its junior. It was said that, in the old days, the condemned would have their heads struck off the moment the verdict was read. Those were primitive times, however—blood was no longer spilled in the Saldorian courts. They had other ways of making the condemned regret their actions. Ways that would not stain the woodwork or upset any children present.

There were four judges for any major trial—one for the Ether, one for the Lumen, one for the Dweomer, and one for the Fey. They each sat in a pulpit that loomed over the Block, as staring down one’s nose at the accused was an ancient custom that even this modern, enlightened age wasn’t keen on abandoning. The fifth pulpit, the Astral one, was occupied by a rotating cast of witnesses, accusers, defenders, and officers bound to present physical evidence to the court. Between these five pulpits and elevated a dozen feet above the floor was the gallery, where citizens of Saldor were encouraged to come and witness their justice system operate. They were even encouraged to bring things to throw sometimes, and jeering was understood as good form. It was surprising, honestly, the frequency with which persons present could shed illumination on a matter with a simple threat or insult, whether by prompting the accused into a rash reply or bringing new evidence to light. Justice in action, as it were.

            Today, the gallery was in a rare mood, and eager to speed justice along. Beneath them, standing tall and graceful in her gray robes, a Mage Defender was about to hear her sentence. Kari Dempner looked at her, big eyes heavy with what might wind up being tears, despite her best efforts. “It’s not fair,” she muttered beneath her breath. “It just isn’t.”

            The question, of course, was whether Kari, runaway merchant’s daughter turned ink-thrall, would do anything about it. Could she stand up there, in court, with all those eyes on her, and speak what she knew to be true? Did she have the courage? Her knees shook beneath her skirts and she wished she had some Cool Blue to calm her. “It’s not right,” she muttered again.

The howls of the mob drowned out her whispers. She doubted the rabble had even the slightest clue what the charges were, but to them it didn’t matter. Corruption trials always brought out the worst sorts—there was no shortage of criminals in the gallery, as well as a smattering of moon-faced idealists and bitter conspiracy loons. To see their biases confirmed by the courts was too rich a confection for them to abstain. They were here to wallow in it.

“Myreon Alafarr.” The voice of the Lumenal judge echoed through the chamber, amplified by the enchantments placed upon the pulpit itself. He was a frail old man in a white robe too large for him and a wig that seemed likely to slide over the front of his crumpled face at any moment. Arthritis had bent his hands into claws that could barely cling to the white orb he bore. “You will stand, please.”

A scent wafted past Kari’s nose—cologne, probably of Akrallian make, expensive and too liberally applied. Its cloying odor sent icy needles dancing down her spine. It meant one thing …

“Why, Ms. Dempner, what a pleasant surprise.” A voice, soft and gentle as a baby’s hand, whispered breathily in her ear. A man’s hand—also soft and powdered, bedecked with jewels and well-manicured—fell upon her shoulder and lay there, limp and heavy. “Enjoying the show?”

Kari knocked the hand away by instinct and turned to see Gethrey Andolon, her former lover (though the term applied only loosely). He grinned at her with teeth buffed and polished to an ivory shine, which marked a stunning contrast to his rouged lips and dyed blue hair. It was a fashion popular among young men, but Andolon was too old by almost twenty years to wear it. He ought to have looked ridiculous. Instead, his soft brown eyes made Kari’s heart shrivel up like a raisin in her chest.

Meanwhile, the Lumenal judge had interrupted the proceedings in order to have a coughing fit, the sound magically cast about the room so that all could hear the phlegm in his throat with the juicy clarity afforded someone sitting next to him at a dinner table. When it passed, the judge proceeded with the rituals of justice. “You stand accused of fraud, improper sorcerous conduct, and conspiracy to traffic in illicit magecraft, to which you have pled innocent. You have heard the arguments brought against you in the case and have been confronted by the evidence collected by the Defenders of the Balance. Do you wish, at this point, to change your plea and throw yourself upon the mercy of the court?”

Kari looked back at the accused. All it would take would be for her to stand and make herself heard, and the world would know Myreon was innocent. “I could do it,” she said over her shoulder. “You couldn’t stop me.” 

Andolon chuckled quietly and motioned to the taciturn Verisi with the crystal eye sitting beside him. “So I’ve been told, Ms. Dempner. Why do you think I’m here?”

Kari glanced at the Verisi—an augur. Of course. She should have known. Anything she might do, Andolon’s pet augur could predict, assuming he had scryed the outcome of this proceeding. Nothing about to transpire was a surprise to Gethrey Andolon. He had set it up all too well.  

Andolon tsked through his teeth. “Don’t be so glum, my dear. Perhaps Magus Alafarr will change her plea, eh? Maybe none of this will be necessary.”

“She won’t.” Kari hissed. “She’ll never. That woman has balls bigger than you’ll ever have, Andolon.” All about them, the gallery howled for Alafarr’s blood.

“She won’t do it,” the augur stated, his real eye far off, scanning the strands of the future.

“She’d better not.” Andolon snorted. “Otherwise we’d have come across town for nothing.”

Alafarr had to think she might win. Kari knew the mage had a lot of friends come forward in her defense—staff bearing magi, Captain-Defenders, and so on. Her alibi was strong, too, and her accusers had no motive they could clearly articulate. It was agony to think all that evidence was going to count for nothing. Finally, the Mage Defender’s voice echoed up from below. “I will retain my original plea, your honor.”

Andolon snickered, adjusting his lace ruff collar. “Perfect! Perfect!

            The gallery loved it, too—a chant of “Stone her good’ began in one corner. Others threw rotten vegetables her direction. They missed. Kari felt her heart sink, weighed down by the slippery, limp hand of Gethrey Andolon creeping back onto her shoulder, finger by finger.

            “Don’t do it,” he whispered in her ear, the heavy scent of his cologne making her cough. He rubbed her shoulder again, slowly, gently—a man stroking a prized possession. “I can make it worth your while, Kari. Ink enough to swim in. Think about it.”

The Lumenal judge raised his orb and it flashed with sun-bright brilliance. Order fell over the court. “Does the accused wish to address the court prior to hearing our verdict?”

Kari trembled. The temptation of the ink was like a physical force—she could scarcely breathe with the thought of it. Andolon could afford it, too—that was why she first latched onto him. He was the first educated man who had spoken to her in months and he didn’t mind her vices—even approved of them. It wasn’t until later that she realized the price she had paid for his company. The price to her pride; the wearing out of her soul. Gethrey Andolon wanted to consume her, just as he wanted to consume everything around him. He was like ink given human form.

Alafarr’s voice was firm, even in the face of her disgrace. “I wish to say only that I am innocent of these charges. I am being framed for a crime I did not commit …”

Now was her last chance. Kari glanced over her shoulder and saw Andolon, watching her carefully, his augur whispering in his ear.

“… the evidence is faulty or tampered with, and I ask the court to reflect upon my service to the Defenders of the Balance, to Saldor, and to the Alliance of the West when considering my guilt in this matter.”

Kari saw in Andolon’s eyes her future—her long, slow slide into oblivion, cheerfully abetted by her onetime lover. She saw herself winding up in some Crosstown whorehouse, barely aware of the world around her, her blue-stained fingers wedged forever in a series of little glass jars.

Andolon rubbed her shoulder some more. “Don’t, Kari. Be smart for a change.”

Alafarr’s voice did not waver; she did not shout nor sneer. She was the picture of dignified poise. “I did not do it, there is no reason I would have done it, and I would not have been able to do it at the time my accusers claim. I have shown you as much when preparing my defense. The guilty parties are likely in this room as we speak, here to gloat over my misfortune. Were I not forbidden from naming them, I could tell the court exactly where to find them.”

She knew! Adrenaline surged through Kari’s legs. She shook off Andolon’s hand with a glare and stood. She was going to do it. She, Kari Dempner, was going to do the right thing for the first time in a long, long time.

She opened her mouth to speak, but the words were cut short by a bright, sharp pain across her throat. She clutched at her neck, eyes wide—a wire, thin and strong, lay across her windpipe. Strong arms dragged her back to her seat. She writhed, but the man with the garrote held her still, dragging her backward.

The Lumenal judge was reminding Alafarr of the complicated legal justification for her gag order while a low rumble of furtive conversation percolated through the gallery. Kari kicked her legs, flailed with her arms, striking people around her. She got a few annoyed glances but nobody seemed to notice anything amiss. Blood thundered in her ears, laced with panic. How did they not see? How could no one notice her being murdered, right here?

Andolon’s face floated into view. “I would introduce you to my little angel of death, but he’s the quiet type, you see. Nobody can hear you, Kari, and nobody will notice you are gone until the crowd clears.”

The orb was raised and flashed again. The gallery grew quiet, still oblivious of the woman being strangled in their midst. “Is that all?” The old judge asked Alafarr.

            “Yes, your honor.”

            The judge nodded. “Will the judges please stand to deliver their verdicts?”

            Kari felt her limbs grow heavy. The fight in her was gone. She looked back, trying to see her killer. All she could make out was a shadow of a man, nondescript save his mouth and a small tattoo of a button just above the corner of his lips. A Quiet Man of the Mute Prophets; a man with no soul.

Andolon tsked. “Such a shame, Kari. I would have liked just one more tumble with you. You always were so … so pliable in bed.”

One last jolt of energy surged in Kari—anger, shame, fear, all rolled together—and she threw her head backward at the Quiet Man, causing him to lose his grip for a second. She gasped one more breath of air, honking like a half-dead goose, only to have the garrote slam home again.

Her last attempt at escape was drowned out as the gallery hissed and booed at Alafarr. The Mage Defender stood stock-still as three hundred people shouted all manner of insults. A rotten apple squelched against the Block not more than a foot from her leg.

            The Lumenal judge raised his orb and restored order again. Everyone settled down; the theatrical portion of the event was over. The old judge’s voice came to Kari as though in a dream. “The Judge of the Lumen finds the accused to be innocent.”

The judge to the Lumen’s left, the Fey judge, nodded. “So noted. Do you affirm it seven times?”

            “I do so affirm.”

Kari felt her thrashing heart thrill at this small victory—maybe Alafarr would be innocent after all, maybe Andolon wouldn’t have her killed this way …

Andolon cocked an eyebrow at her. “Is she still alive? Dammit, man—finish the job. We’re almost done here.”

The Dweomeric judge was next. She was an older woman with iron-gray hair and a severe demeanor. “The Judge of the Dweomer finds the accused to be guilty.”

“She better,” Andolon grunted under his breath. “She cost a bloody fortune.”

The Lumenal judge asked for her affirmation, and the Dweomeric judge affirmed three times, as was traditional. A tie. For Kari, the world began to fade away. Her brief moment of escape and the seconds it bought her were almost at an end. She scarcely heard what followed.

“The Judge of the Ether finds the accused to be guilty.”

“So noted. Do you affirm it thirteen times?”

            “I do so affirm.”

            Kari’s mind drifted to her childhood in Ihyn, playing with her mother aboard her father’s ship, telling tales of selkies who stole naughty children. The sun on her hair and the smell of the sea …

            “The Judge of the Fey finds the accused to be guilty.”




There was a cheer from the gallery. The chant of “STONE HER GOOD” began in earnest, so loud it almost drowned out the final formalities. Gethrey felt buoyed by their petty hatred. He began to chant along, a grin splitting his face.

            “So noted. Do you affirm it once?”

            “I do so affirm.”

            Alafarr did not sink to her knees, or faint, or quail. If anything, she seemed more rigid than before. Her face was a mask of serenity. Gethrey grinned at this, knowing how the woman must have been raging inside. He nudged DiVarro, his augur, in the arm. “It’s too perfect. Too perfect by half!”

He spared a look at Kari—she had stopped twitching, finally. Gods, strangling people took forever, evidently. He’d had no idea.

            The old Lumenal judge spoke over the crowd. “Myreon Alafarr, you have been found guilty of the crimes of fraud, improper sorcerous conduct, and conspiracy to traffic in illicit magecraft. You are hereby stripped of your staff and expelled from the Defenders of the Balance from this day forward. Furthermore, you are to be petrified and confined to a penitentiary garden for a period not exceeding three years. May your time as stone allow you to contemplate your crimes with the depth and gravity such acts deserve, and may your ordeal strengthen your resolve against such misdeeds in the future. This is the finding of this court, under Hann’s guidance, and with the blessing of Endreth Beskar, the Lord Mayor of Saldor,nd Polimeux II, Keeper of the Balance. Court is hereby adjourned, and the accused’s sentence shall be set to begin immediately.”

Gethrey applauded with gusto as Alafarr was led away, giggling like a boy. Around him, the mob howled and jeered even as they headed for the exits. Nobody raised any alarm about any dead woman beside him. The plan had worked perfectly. “There, DiVarro,” he said finally, “that’s settled. We can proceed.”

“There is a complication.” DiVarro said.

He threw an arm around DiVarro’s waist and steered him toward the exits, drifting along in a river of human flotsam, all high on what they perceived to be justice. “You augurs—always so dire. Alafarr was our last obstacle, understand? I had all the other angles covered. Now, she is disgraced, Kari is dead, and you know what the best part is?”

            DiVarro said nothing, frowning at his hands.

            Gethrey laughed. “There is no one in all of this world who will bother trying to help Myreon Alafarr.”


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Beth Cato’s Final Flight

Posted at Apr 26, 2016 2:05 am



Beth Cato’s Final Flight, the latest in her Clockwork Dagger series, releases today! Check out her lovely cover and the following excerpt:

Final Flight: A Clockwork Dagger Story by Beth Cato: excerpt

Another breathtaking short story from the author of The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown, set in the same world…

Captain Hue hoped he was rid of his troubles once Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett disembarked from his airship Argus. But he was quickly proved wrong when his ship was commandeered by Caskentian soldiers. He is ordered on a covert and deadly mission by the smarmy Julius Corrado, an elite Clockwork Dagger.

Now Captain Hue must start a mutiny to regain control of his airship, which means putting his entire crew at risk—including his teenage son Sheridan. As the weather worsens and time runs out, it’ll take incredible bravery to bring the Argus down… perhaps for good.

An excerpt of the very beginning of the story: I stood at the rudder wheel of my airship Argus, in command of a ship I did not truly control. We flew north, destination unknown. A soldier stood several feet behind me. His pistols remained holstered—he wasn’t daft enough or desperate enough to fire a weapon in the control cabin of an operating airship—but he had already proven adept with his fists. My co-pilot, Ramsay, was currently getting patched up, as the sarcastic commentary he had offered was not kindly received. Throughout the cabin, tension prickled beneath the surface like an invisible rash we couldn’t scratch. Everyone stood or sat rigid at their posts, gazes flickering between their gauges, the windows, and the soldiers in our midst. These were soldiers of our own kingdom of Caskentia, in green uniforms as vibrant as the sprawling valley below. They had occupied the Argus since that morning. This was the second time in as many weeks that my airship had been commandeered. The previous time, rebellious settlers from the Waste had claimed it by force. I rather preferred them. Wasters made for an easy enemy after fifty years of intermittent warfare. This occupation by our own government was ugly in a different way. My fists gripped the wheel as if I could leave impressions in the slick copper. The futility of our situation infuriated me. I couldn’t stop the Wasters before. And now I couldn’t stop this, whatever this mysterious errand was. My son, Sheridan, was on board somewhere. I needed him to be safe, not snared in any more political drama. The Wasters had used him as a hostage to force my hand; I didn’t want these soldiers to do the same. “Captain Hue, sir.” My co-pilot saluted as he entered the control cabin. I assessed him in a glance. Bandages plugged his swollen nose. Blood still thickened his thin brown moustache. “You are well enough to resume your duties?” I asked. “Yes, sir. I’ve felt worse after a night of leave.” Ramsay knew his job; if only he could control his fool lips. I stepped back to grant him control of the rudder and leaned by his ear. “Corrado said this would be over in days. Bear through.” I saw my own frustration mirrored in his eyes, and in the other crew as I walked from station to station. I muttered what assurance I could and exited the control cabin. I needed to find my boy. —

Like the start of the story? Read the whole thing for just 99-cents–and that includes the first chapter of Beth’s novel out in August, Breath of Earth!

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Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger steampunk fantasy series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella Wings of Sorrow and Bone. Her short fiction is in Clockwork Phoenix 5, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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Posted at Jan 6, 2016 2:52 am


Wonder what Sparky and Anya have been up to? 

Copies of A FANTASY MEDLEY 3 are shipping now! The anthology received a lovely starred review from Publishers Weekly, and it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous book in hand. Order here:


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DARK ALCHEMY Series in One Book Two’s 2015 Standout Awards

Posted at Jan 1, 2016 7:06 pm

Stand Out Award Badge2

I’m so pleased to hear that the Dark Alchemy Series is included in One Book Two’s 2015 Standout Awards! This is a great way to begin 2016, and I can’t wait to see what adventures Petra and Sig get into next! 



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