I’m releasing my latest historical speculative fiction / magical realism book today!
What if you knew when someone was about to die… and could do nothing to stop it?
Each time, it starts as an itch in the back of her throat. It builds into a scream that shatters windows… and brings death.
Elspeth does not know what she is, until she arrives at Ravenswolde. Fresh from a nunnery, with only her faith as a comfort, she is thrust into a world full of murderous intentions and unseen adversaries. In the school’s cold corridors, above a haunted wood, students learn the art of murder… seduction… betrayal… to fear and prey upon one another, in training for a future as one of Napoleon’s assassins.
She has three chances to refuse and resist instruction. Three. The first earns her a warning. The second, a visit with the school’s mysterious Professor Hayes. The third… death.
Will she choose her faith, or her life?
Many years ago, I imagined a world in which a woman was forced to marry a man she hated, confronting her own faith and prejudices along the way. Never content to leave my characters alone for very long, I took the same characters and their plight and placed them in France during the reign of Napoleon. Elspeth is caught between her intense devotion to her faith and her desire to survive, when she is torn from a nunnery and forced to attend an assassin’s school. Throughout her adventures, she must confront her own demons and those of her future husband, unlock the secrets contained within the dark and terrible walls, unravel the mystery surrounding a spirit that continues to appeal for her assistance, and even walk through the afterlife in an attempt to assist another in their search for redemption.
For me, this book was a labor of love, but also one full of doubt, because it is in many ways darker than my earlier books, and raw in its evil. Here, we have far greater forces of darkness than I have toyed with before – a ruthless murderer of ghosts and men in its anti-hero, a heroine threatened in every way possible by her new circumstances – her virtue, her faith, and her life is put on the line. It casts a different light on a character present in my other books, so much so that you may not recognize him at first. Mostly, it forced me to realize that I like setting myself impossible tasks, and asking such terribly powerful questions as – what would matter to a heroine more, her virtue … or preventing another from sinning?
Love is not love, if it does not care for another entirely unworthy of that love, more than it cares for itself.
I have a bad feeling.
It isn’t about the wayside inn, the lonely road, or my mother sitting on the other side of the coach. There is nothing amiss in the cheerful servant girl’s face that greets us as we step out onto the damp grass, nor in the thunderclouds looming overhead.
It has to do with the driver.
He is kind. Nimble fingers work to loosen the harnesses of the horses, pausing to rub their noses in the process. He whispers in their ears and pats their flanks affectionately. His gray eyes dance and his broad, crooked grin can make anyone smile. I like him. He brought us a long distance on the public coach, his cheerful singing complimenting the journey from the flat lands to the mountains. I still have one of the hard candies he slipped me when we set out in my cloak pocket. He beamed at me and said, “A bit of sweetness for the trip.”
The bad feeling started early this morning, in a faint kind of unease. It is now strong enough that my throat aches.
I want to scream. Everything in me tells me to do it. But I can’t. It will draw too much attention, and the others will know something is wrong with me. It has always been wrong. I’m wrong.
Most people don’t know when someone else is going to die.
“Elspeth, come along. We only have a half hour to eat before we set off again.” Mother drags me by the elbow into the inn, where several faces turn to us with interest. My feet feel heavy as I stumble to a corner seat and sink into it, lowering my hood and pushing dark hair out of my eyes. My hands shake until I can close them around the mug of water a serving girl brings. She is fresh-faced and freckled, oblivious to all but what she sees. I envy her.
The driver enters and exchanges cheerful words with the innkeeper. He pulls out a stool at the bar and sits, tossing down a coin in exchange for a pint of beer. He’s going to die. I know it, and I can’t stop it. I’ve tried. I can never stop it. “Is it much further?” I ask faintly.
Mother surveys me distantly across her plate. “No.”
We eat in silence and climb back on the coach. There is only one stop left and we’re the last passengers. The driver winks at me as he shuts the door. I feel sick and can hardly manage a weak smile. He swings up onto the broad seat and clicks to the horses.
The feeling grows. Miles pass beneath us, taking us into a thick wood that lets in very little light. There are no birds, and brambles line the roadway, their gnarled thorns retreating into the shadows. The trees are strange, growing in unnatural formation, shadows encased in their limbs. I sense death among them, decay. Mother is asleep in her corner, not stirring even with the distant rumble of thunder. I feel a scream build inside me. The coach lurches forward with a snap of the wheel. It sinks into a deep rut and the driver comes to the window. “Won’t be more than a minute,” he says cheerfully. “We lost a pin on the drive. I have another.”
Don’t do it.
He can’t hear my internal plea. My throat tightens and my teeth clench as he rummages in the box at the back of the coach. Trembling, I step out onto the road…