Hi there! I’m Kat Ross; I have a fondness for mutants, monsters and magic, and I’ll be hosting this leg of the YA Scavenger Hunt. Right now, you’re hunting on TEAM ORANGE.
During the hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a secret number for the hunt. Add up the numbers, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 120 hours!
There are seven contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the ORANGE TEAM--but there are also red, blue, green, gold, pink and purple teams for a chance to win a whole different set of books! If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.
SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE
How to play: After the exclusive content, you'll notice that I've hidden my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the ORANGE team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!).
Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by October 8, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
As a bonus prize, I’m also giving away the whole boxed set of my fantasy trilogy set in ancient Persia! You can enter in the Rafflecopter below.
Now...On with the Hunt!
Today, I’m hosting the lovely Melissa Chambers. Melissa writes contemporary novels for young, new, and actual adults. A Nashville native, she spends her days working in the music industry and her nights tapping away at her keyboard. She serves as the president elect for the Music City Romance Writers and is the author of The Summer Before Forever and Falling for Forever (Entangled Teen).
If you have grabby hands for Falling for Forever, you can snag a copy on Amazon here!
The second Jenna Quigley turns eighteen, she’s headed to L.A. to extend the timer on her fifteen minutes of fame. Too bad her dad made her promise to graduate high school first. Silver lining? Her new school has a serious talent competition with a $25,000 cash prize, which would go a long way in L.A. Jenna’s got plenty of talent—she didn’t almost win America’s Newest Sensation for nothing. But it’ll take everything she’s got to bring down the music nerd with a stick up his butt...no matter how cute he is in those glasses.
Miles Cleveland needs to win that talent contest. When some hot girl stole his audition spot on America’s Newest Sensation, his chance to study music flounced off to New York with her. Now, not only can he win enough money to pay for his education, he can get revenge on that very same girl. He can’t start to question his plan, though...no matter how deep Jenna buries into his heart.
Each book in the A Before Forever series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 The Summer Before Forever
Book #2 Falling for Forever
Ready for your exclusive bonus content?
Here's a deleted scene from Falling for Forever...
We go back to Miles’s house and snuggle up on his couch to watch a movie. I feel like I’ve known him a million years and just met him today all at the same time. It’s so natural cuddled up with him here, but then it’s like I can’t physically get close enough to him…like I miss him even though I’m here with him.
This is not me. I’ve been into guys before, but I see now that as much as I thought I was gaga, I so wasn’t. I had no freaking idea.
His mom is in and out of the room, back and forth between the kitchen and everywhere else in the house. She’s offered us popcorn, Cokes, candy, lasagna, and everything else under creation. Maybe she’s nervous I might corrupt her son if she goes to bed. I know how I must come off to people, but I’m really very shy when it comes to that stuff. I want him to make the moves, whatever those moves may be.
That’s probably one reason I’m so into him. He’s not all hands on deck every time we’re alone. It’s like we girls are supposed to be the ones proposing the challenge and holding the cards…saying how far things go, but sometimes I wonder if he’ll have that role for our relationship. I’ve always been in control of the situation when it comes to guys. Not this one. It’s like those dreams I have where I’m trying to drive a car from the back seat.
His mom looks exhausted as she stands near the couch, scratching her head. “So you’ve got to be downtown at the Station Inn at eleven?” she asks me.
I sit up. “Oh, no. My dad’s picking me up from here. I texted him a while ago. We had talked about meeting him at the Station Inn when we thought we were going to be out around the Gulch…before we decided to come back here.”
She brightens. “Oh. Okay. Then if you guys don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”
“Of course,” I say, a little shocked. She must not be too worried about me compromising her son if she’s willing to leave me in a dark living room alone with him, even if it is for just a little while. “I’m sorry. I should have told you earlier.”
She swats the air. “No, I’m just paranoid. I like to stay up if I know Miles is going to be out driving late. I’m a worry wart.”
I smile at her. “My dad is, too.” If only my mom could be a little more that way.
She nods with a tired smile. “Good night, sweetie,” she says to Miles, and then waves at us both.
“Night, mom,” he says.
Once she closes her bedroom door at the end of the hallway, I snuggle up to him again. “She’s so sweet. I like her.”
“Me, too,” he says.
“So she’s okay with you being in here alone with a girl?” I ask.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t she be?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. What if we decided to…” I trail off and waggle my eyebrows.
He gets that little grin on his face like he does when I push his limits, and he picks at a fold in his jeans. Meeting my gaze, his cheeks turn the cutest little color of tomato red. “Are we deciding to…”
I lift an eyebrow. “With your parents a few steps away? How brave are you Miles Cleveland?”
He gets that look like he’s about to call my bluff, and now I’m the one with hot cheeks. “I’m as brave as you need me to be, sweetheart,” he says.
Oh, god, he’s going Han Solo on me again. Who knew a Star Wars nerd could give me this kind of tingles in my chest.
“We’ll see about that,” I say, leaving everything vague and floating around in la la land. Neither of us is ready for that. I’m sure of it. But it doesn’t keep us from sort of poking each other about it and daring the other one to make a move, posing the challenge. I just wonder if either of us will ever be brave enough to accept it.
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Okay, we're almost there! To enter the contest, you need to know that my fat orange cat has 12 toes and makes strange, drawn-out moaning noises when he sleeps under my bed.
Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the orange team and you'll have the secret code to enter for the grand prize!
CONTINUE THE HUNT
To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, the fabulous Kat Colmer! Looks like she has some very cool bonus material waiting for you...
And here's the Rafflecopter for my bonus prize, all three books in the Fourth Element trilogy! Think Gladiator with a dash of Romeo and Juliet (and hot guys in sandals)...
Praise for the Fourth Element series:
"Fantasy lovers who enter this world will be wooed by its expansive world-building, soul-crushing romance, deeply layered characters, and page-turning twists." --Flylef Reviews
"One of the best trilogies I've ever read. I will read anything by Kat Ross. Hats off to her for creating these wonderful characters and making us fall in love with them!" --Cover to Cover Reviews
"Kat Ross turned me into a puddle of emotions with her final book of the Fourth Element series! Action, betrayal, romance and demons conclude this story which can keep anyone captivated till the final page." --Milky Way of Books
"An addictive, action-packed, glorious page-turner!" -Am Kinda Busy Reading
"I really hate the word ‘epic’ because, let’s face it, it’s so overused and it’s lost its true meaning, but this book [The Midnight Sea] deserves that word." -Book Reader Chronicles
"This is truly a grand finale of a book, mysteries from the very beginning of the series are put to rest and our heroes win in unexpected ways. Queen of Chaos delivers a beautiful ending that is perfect as it is but is left open enough for another story to seamlessly fit in." --Bibliobibuli
"I'm never a read-a-book-in-one-sitting kind of person, but I totally did it with Queen of Chaos. Then I hugged my Kindle and wanted to start the series all over again." --Rattle the Stars
"Extremely engrossing and so fast-paced...A truly exceptional series." --The InkedIn Book Blog
“I trembled, and my heart failed within me; when, on looking up, I saw, by the light of the moon, the daemon at the casement.”
― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein
Saturday, December 15, 1888
The Greymoor Lunatic Asylum made a grim impression even in daylight. It crouched at the end of a long, treeless drive, barred windows gleaming beneath a peaked slate roof. After her first interview with Dr. William Clarence, Lady Vivienne Cumberland had taken a hard look at those bars. She’d strongly suggested to the asylum superintendent that he move Dr. Clarence to a room with no window at all.
That had been just over a month ago. Now, in the darkest hour of the night, with rain coursing down the brick façade and thunder rattling the turrets, Greymoor looked like something torn from the pages of a penny dreadful, hulking and shadowed despite the lamps burning in every window. At the wrought-iron front gate, a black brougham drew to a halt. Following a brief exchange with the occupants, two officers from the Essex constabulary waved it through, immediately ducking back into the shelter of a police wagon.
“I told them to watch him,” Lady Cumberland muttered, yanking her gloves on. “To keep him isolated from the staff and other patients. Clearly, they didn’t listen. The fools.”
Alec Lawrence gripped the cane resting across his knees. He had been present at the interview, had looked into Dr. Clarence’s eyes, a blue so pale they reminded him of a Siberian dog. The memory unsettled him still, and he wasn’t a man who was easily shaken.
“We don’t know what happened yet,” he pointed out. “Superintendent Barrett can hardly be faulted considering we withheld certain information. I rather doubt he would have believed us anyway.”
Vivienne scowled. “You may be right, but it was only a matter of time. I’ve known that since the day Clarence was brought here. The S.P.R. made a very bad mistake entrusting him to Greymoor.”
“We still don’t know for sure—”
“Yes, we do. The killings stopped, didn’t they?”
“That could be for any number of reasons,” he said stubbornly.
“Including that the creature who committed them is behind bars. Or was, at least.”
Alec Lawrence buttoned his woolen greatcoat. This was not a new debate. “Perhaps. But there’s not a scrap of hard evidence against him. Nothing but a single reference in a report by some American girl and Clarence’s own odd demeanor. Had there been more, he would have been locked up tight in Newgate Prison.”
Vivienne turned her obsidian gaze on him. With her high cheekbones and full lips, she might have been thirty, or a decade in either direction. Only Alec and a handful of others knew better.
“That American girl is Arthur Conan Doyle’s goddaughter and she seemed quite clever to me. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway,” she added quietly. “Walls don’t hold Dr. Clarence’s sort for long.”
“Look,” he said, softening. “For what it’s worth, I think we did the right thing taking him off the streets. I just....” He trailed off, unsure how he meant to finish the thought.
“You don’t trust my judgment anymore. Since Harper Dods.”
“That’s not even remotely true. I simply think we need to keep open minds on the matter. The signs aren’t there, Vivienne. I’m the first to admit Dr. Clarence is an odd duck, perhaps worse. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t human.”
Vivienne arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. “And yet here we are, summoned by Sidgwick in the middle of the night. I wonder if he’s regretting his decision?”
The note from Henry Sidgwick, president of the Society for Psychical Research, had arrived in the form of a small, bedraggled messenger boy pounding on Lady Vivienne’s front door in St. James an hour before. It was both vague and ominous, citing an “unfortunate incident” involving Dr. Clarence and urging all due haste to the asylum.
“I suppose we’ll find out in a minute,” Alec said, turning his collar up. He swiped a hand through chestnut hair and jammed a top hat on his head. “Off to the races.”
A gust of rain shook the carriage as it slowed at the front entrance. A six-story tower capped by a Roman clock and white spire anchored two wings extending on either side. Unlike most asylums, which had separate annexes for men and women, Greymoor’s residents were all male. The north wing housed those poor souls suffering from garden-variety disorders like dementia and melancholia. The other was reserved for the so-called “incurables,” a euphemism for the criminally insane. Violent, unpredictable men deemed unfit for prison.
Despite his doubts, Alec Lawrence would have happily had the lot of them over for tea rather than spend five minutes in the company of Dr. William Clarence. In his heart, he wondered if Vivienne’s instincts were correct. But he wanted her to be wrong because the alternative was far worse.
The jouncing of the wooden carriage wheels ceased. A pocket of silence descended, broken only by the steady hiss of the rain on the roof. He watched Lady Cumberland compose herself, smoothing a stray curl into place. The pearl grey gloves seemed to glow against her dark skin. They had been together for many, many years, and frequently disagreed, but he’d never grown tired of looking at her.
Vivienne unclenched her jaw and took a long breath through her nose.
“Shall we, Mr. Lawrence?”
He nodded once, girding himself for what waited inside. The young coachman, Henry, jumped down and opened the carriage door, offering his hand to Vivienne. Freezing rain swept sideways across the heath, soaking them both despite Henry’s best efforts to subdue a wildly flapping umbrella. Alec ducked his head against the downpour and used his cane to clamber down. The winter damp always worsened his knee, but he limped swiftly up the stone steps to the welcome shelter of the portico. A tall woman, Vivienne’s stride matched his own. Henry snapped the reins and the carriage moved toward the rear stables. Somewhere off in the darkness, Alec heard the mournful baying of a hound.
Moments later they stood dripping on the carpet of Greymoor’s small entrance hall. The sour aroma of mutton and boiled cabbage emanated from a distant kitchen. Through the door of an adjacent parlor, Alec caught a glimpse of a fire crackling in the hearth, but the air in the hall was still uncomfortably cold.
A knot of police stood at the end of the corridor. They turned at the newcomers’ arrival. Alec recognized the bluff face of Detective Inspector Richard Blackwood. He acted as the liaison between Scotland Yard’s Dominion Branch and the S.P.R., of which Alec and Vivienne were members. They’d worked together on several previous cases of a delicate nature, and Alec liked D.I. Blackwood. He was shrewd, discreet and open-minded, embracing modern methods of investigation while at the same time accepting there were things in the world the general public would be better off staying in the dark about.
“Lady Cumberland,” he exclaimed, rushing forward in his usual energetic manner. Blackwood was small and wiry, with prematurely thinning black hair parted on the side and a faint Yorkshire accent. The buttons of his navy uniform had been done up crooked, as if he’d put it on in a hurry. “Mr. Lawrence. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Blackwood steered them into the parlor, which was marginally warmer, and closed the door. Fading rose-printed wallpaper provided the only color in the room. The rest of the furnishings were dark wood, and the paintings arranged above the fireplace—all of bearded men with somber expressions who were either alienists or benefactors of the asylum—did little to enliven things. Alec assumed the parlor served as a waiting room for the patients’ relatives, although the place had such an untouched, almost desolate air, he suspected visitors to Greymoor were a rare event.
Alec shrugged off his coat and hung it on a rack. Vivienne leaned against the mantel, letting the heat of the flames dry her sodden cloak. For an instant, he envied her ability to bask in the warmth and light. It was an experience he would never share.
“I have a dead orderly upstairs,” Blackwood said unhappily. “And if you two are here, I suppose I can expect things to get worse. Barrett says the patient who did it was voluntarily admitted at the personal request of Mr. Sidgwick.”
“Has Clarence escaped?” Vivienne asked.
Blackwood nodded. “Through a window. He must have used a prying tool. We have bloodhounds combing the grounds, but the rain isn’t helping any. Time of death was about eleven o’clock. The body was only discovered two hours ago. He’s had a head start.”
Alec and Vivienne shared a look. “You must tell your men not to approach Clarence under any circumstances,” she said. “Should they find him, we’ll deal with him ourselves.”
“I already did. As soon as I heard the S.P.R. was involved. We know the protocols.”
Alec nodded approvingly. Commissioner Warren had been astute to put Blackwood in charge of the Dominion Branch. He didn’t take chances.
“What have they told you?” Vivienne asked. “About Dr. Clarence?”
“Practically nothing,” Blackwood muttered, dropping heavily into an armchair. “Only that he was admitted four weeks ago after complaining of migraines. No one seems to have an adequate explanation of why he was placed in South Wing. He was the only patient there without a criminal record.” He gave them both a level look. “If this is a matter of interest to the S.P.R., I would like very much to know why the Yard was not informed earlier.”
“The short answer, Inspector? Dr. Clarence is a surgeon with the New York Police Department. Or was, until a few weeks ago.” She paused for dramatic effect. “It would cause them a great deal of embarrassment should the newspapers learn he’s a suspect in the Whitechapel killings.”
“What?’ Blackwood sat up straight. “The Ripper? I hope you’re joking. We’ve been tearing the city apart for weeks—”
“He’s not an official suspect,” Alec interjected, shooting Vivienne a quelling look. “There’s no physical evidence. None at all. Only circumstantial, and of a nature that cannot be made public, if you get my meaning.”
D.I. Blackwood took his cap off and sighed. “Let’s have it then.”
Vivienne withdrew a cigarette from a silver case and tapped it twice it on the lid. Blackwood waited with barely suppressed impatience while she produced a Magic Pocket Lamp, then took a long drag and exhaled a wreathe of smoke. “There’s a connection between Dr. Clarence and the Jekyll and Hyde case in New York.”
“I heard about that,” Blackwood said thoughtfully. “Nasty business. They caught him with a little boy in the Beech Transit Tunnel. But I thought it was solved?”
“The man’s name was Leland Brady,” Alec said, taking a seat on a sofa by the window that was about as cozy as a slab of granite. Lightning flashed in the low skies outside, followed by a rumble of distant thunder. “A perfectly respectable real estate agent who killed five people. Dr. Clarence was present when Brady took his own life. He was treating the suspect’s gunshot wound. Shortly afterwards, the doctor quit his post and boarded a ship for England.” Alec hesitated. “He arrived just before Polly Nichols was butchered on August 31st.”
D.I. Blackwood said nothing. He knew there was more to it than that.
“Before he died, Brady wrote a letter to his wife,” Vivienne said, flicking ashes in the general direction of the fireplace. Alec, ever fastidious, tried not to wince. “It expressed his belief that he was possessed by a demonic entity, and contained the words ‘From Hell.’ The letter was written in early August. You do see the significance?”
Blackwood rubbed his chin. “Aye. The note with that same phrase from the Ripper wasn’t sent until weeks later. Christ, it was the one with the piece of kidney, wasn’t it? What else?” He rested his hands on his knees. “Are you saying Clarence is a ghoul? That Brady somehow infected him?”
“He passed the iron test,” Alec said quietly.
“Yes. He also spoke to us quite normally, although he admitted to suffering from headaches. What about the dogs? How did they react to his scent on the bedclothes?”
“No frenzied barking, not like they would for a ghoul. One or two did whimper rather strangely. I wasn’t sure how to interpret it. But you say Clarence passed the iron test. And he carried on a conversation. Doesn’t that settle it, then?”
“Not for me,” Vivienne said. “There are too many oddities in the Brady case. Evidence that doesn’t quite add up. And now we have another killing.”
Blackwood stared at her uncertainly. “But if it’s not a ghoul and it’s not a man…what is it?”
“I’ve no idea, Inspector.”
Vivienne’s tone remained level, but Alec sensed her frustration. This was essentially the same conversation she’d had with Sidgwick a month ago.
“All right.” Blackwood pressed a hand against his forehead as if it pained him. Alec understood. It was a lot to digest in one lump. He still wasn’t sure what to make of it all himself. “You say there were oddities in the New York crimes.”
“A few. The report claimed that fingerprints were burned into one victim’s throat,” Alec said, earning a grateful look from Vivienne. “An actress named Anne Marlowe.”
The inspector leaned forward. They’d caught his interest. “Have you seen anything like that before?”
“Never,” Alec conceded.
“Who wrote the report?”
“An amateur detective in New York named Harrison Fearing Pell.”
“Fearing Pell? As in Myrtle Fearing Pell?”
“Harrison is the younger sister.”
“I’ve heard of Myrtle. The Yard called her in last year on a rather bizarre extortion case involving the Duke of Argyll. Solved it in record time, apparently. Is the sister any good?”
“Well, she managed to catch Mr. Brady, so I’d say she’s quite competent,” Vivienne said. “Her summary of the case came to us through Arthur Conan Doyle. He thought the Society would be interested because of the occult features of the case.” Her mouth tightened. “Unfortunately, Miss Pell’s report sat under a heap of papers on Mr. Sidgwick’s desk for nearly three weeks before he read it and passed it on. Had we known about it sooner, Mary Jane Kelly might still be alive.”
They were all silent for a moment. Kelly had been the last of the Ripper’s victims, and the most savagely treated. She’d died on November 9th, bringing the number of confirmed murders to five. Fear still gripped the city of London, although the man who called himself Jack appeared to have vanished as suddenly as he’d arrived.
“We found Dr. Clarence on November 12th in Cheapside,” Alec said. “He wasn’t hard to trace. The lodgings had been rented under his own name.”
Alec had a sudden memory of that night. Kicking open the door of a squalid room. William Clarence sitting on the edge of his bed, neatly dressed in a dark suit, black leather bag between his feet—the same bag Leland Brady had seized a scalpel from to cut his own throat.
The doctor slowly lifted his head. He didn’t seem surprised or alarmed at the sudden intrusion.
You’re to come with us, sir, Alec said firmly.
Dr. William Clarence smiled.
Certainly. If you say so.
“He came along readily enough,” Alec continued. “That in itself was rather peculiar, considering he claimed to be on holiday. But in light of the fact that we had no case against him—either on the Whitechapel murders or anything else—Mr. Sidgwick suggested he be committed to Greymoor. For observation.”
“He’s been locked up here ever since, against my strenuous objections,” Vivienne said.
In fact, she had wanted to cut his head off, but Sidgwick wouldn’t permit it. Not without proof; not after the Harper Dods fiasco.
“The timeline of Ripper killings does fit.” Blackwood thought for a moment. “With all due respect, it’s still rather thin, milady. But I’ll send some extra men to Whitechapel. If nothing else, Dr. Clarence is a confirmed murderer now. Where were his lodgings?”
Alec recited the address and Blackwood went into the hall to notify the officers waiting there.
“The Met will check out Cheapside,” he said when he returned. “Where else would Dr. Clarence go?”
“I haven’t a clue.” Vivienne tossed her cigarette into the hearth.
“What about you? Would Dr. Clarence hold a grudge for bringing him here?”
“I doubt it. He has all of London to terrorize. No, I’m afraid we’ll find out soon enough where he’s gone. Now, perhaps we should see this poor orderly. What was his name?”
“John Davis Pyle. We’ve already taken statements from the staff, but I ordered the police surgeon to leave the body as it is until you had a chance to examine it.”
“Where’s Superintendent Barrett?”
“Upstairs with Dr. Cavendish. He was Clarence’s attending physician. Cavendish arrived just before you did, I haven’t spoken to him yet. Do they know about any of what you’ve just told me?”
“No,” Vivienne said with disgust. “Sidgwick insisted on complete secrecy. I suspect there was some pressure from the S.P.R. in New York. They’re all convinced the iron test is infallible. Anyway, Sidgwick and Barrett were school chums at Eton. I’m sure it helped grease the wheels.”
“Well, I suppose that explains the South Wing. But next time, I’ll thank you to take me into your confidence sooner. I’m not sure what we could have done to prevent Pyle’s murder, but we don’t need another incident like Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty would not be pleased.”
“You’re right, Inspector, and I apologize,” Vivienne said. “We should have come to you straight away.”
Somewhat mollified by the sincerity in her voice, Blackwood led them to twin curving staircases at the end of the hall. A grandfather clock on the landing sonorously chimed the hour: half past three. They turned right, away from the quiet, airy north annex toward the South Wing where Dr. William Clarence had spent the last thirty-three days in solitary confinement. At the top of the stairs, a burly attendant waited by an oaken door. He seemed to expect them and produced a ring of iron keys.
“I hope you catch him,” he said, unlocking the door. “Pyle was a good man. Didn’t deserve such an end as that brute gave him.”
“Don’t worry,” Blackwood said firmly. “We won’t rest until Clarence is found.”
The attendant shook his head. “He’s the last one I would’ve expected to snap like that. Never gave us any trouble. Quiet as a mouse.” He gave a resigned sigh. “Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t mad ourselves, working in this place.” The attendant stood aside to let them pass. “The other patients have been riled up since it happened. Don’t pay ‘em any mind, milady.”
The heavy door closed behind them, the tumblers echoing in the silent corridor. They passed an empty day room and several offices for the resident physicians. Around a corner, the cells began. Despite the wave of reforms that had swept England’s mental institutions mid-century, Greymoor’s secure wing harkened back to an earlier era when the mad were treated like feral beasts. Alec understood this was less a reflection on the asylum itself than the character of the men it was entrusted with.
Slack, unshaven faces pressed against the small grates of the cells. When they saw Vivienne, a collective howl went up, like chained dogs catching the scent of a hare. Blackwood flushed at the lewd and venomous suggestions hissed through broken yellow teeth. Vivienne didn’t appear to notice. Alec, on the other hand, gripped his cane with such force the silver falcon on the handle bit deeply into his palm.
“Black African whore,” one of the inmates growled.
Alec’s stride didn’t slow as he passed the man’s cell. He kept his eyes straight ahead. But a smile spread across his face as he heard a soft thud and cry of surprise.
“Witchcraft!” the man choked from the dark recesses of his cell. “She done hit me with an invisible cudgel!”
The other inmates erupted in loud laughter at this, and the vicious mood seemed to lighten. “Shut up, the lot of you!” an excited voice yelled. “She’ll think we’re all as barmy as poor Hobbes. Fer feck’s sake, mind yer goddamn manners. There’s a lady present.”
“I ain’t barmy,” Hobbes moaned. “Somethin’ clobbered me.”
His fellow inmates began to debate the relative merits of Hobbes’ sanity as they reached the end of the corridor.
“Really, Alec.” Vivienne glanced over her shoulder.
He raised an innocent eyebrow. “What?”
“I think Mr. Blackwood would agree that we should exercise discretion.”
Blackwood shrugged, sharing an amused look with Alec. “I didn’t see anything. The fellow’s quite mad, of course. I doubt anyone will believe him.”
They turned another corner. The smell of boiled cabbage grew stronger, then faded away. The cells in the furthest part of the ward sat empty, except for one at the very end, where a pair of constables guarded a door that stood slightly ajar. The light of a lantern spilled through the crack. Vivienne rushed ahead, long skirts rustling like dry leaves in the wind. There’d been no time to change and she still wore the sea green evening gown she had on when the messenger boy arrived.
“It’s not a pleasant sight,” Blackwood warned. “Not at all. Perhaps Mr. Lawrence….” He trailed off under Vivienne’s cool gaze.
“I’ll be perfectly fine, Mr. Blackwood.”
The inspector nodded to the constables, who stepped aside so Vivienne and Alec could enter.
The cell was bare save for a rusted iron bedframe and mattress. Someone had placed a lantern just inside the door. Rainwater pooled on the floor where it swept in through a broken window set high in the opposite wall. The bars had been bent to either side, leaving an opening just large enough for a man to squeeze through and drop to the ground outside.
Alec had a sudden vision of Dr. Clarence wiggling between them like an eel, his light blue eyes fixed on the damp grass below.
John Davis Pyle sat against the bedframe with his chin resting on his right collarbone. He would have been handsome in life. Strong jaw, dark wavy hair. A boyish face, with faint laugh lines at the corners of his mouth that spoke of an amiable disposition. Pyle’s eyes were half-open, lips parted, in a posture that suggested a man dozing off in his favorite armchair.
Vivienne cautiously approached the body, skirting the large pool of blood. The attendant’s navy blue uniform had soaked up a good deal of it. The only visible blood on his person was a large swath on the left side of his neck. It had flowed down from the ear, where a fountain pen had been embedded to a depth of five inches or so.
“Goddess,” Vivienne murmured. “It looks like Clarence must have caught him by surprise.” She studied the angle of the wound. “He attacked from the side and slightly behind, I would think.” Her face softened with pity. “Oh, Henry Pyle. What on earth did he say to convince you to open the door?”
Alec turned away from the gruesome sight and moved to the window to examine the bars.
“There are no tool marks,” he observed. “Bring over the lantern, would you?”
Vivienne obliged, while Blackwood watched from the door. Alec’s keen eyes took in every inch of the twisted iron. What he saw made his breath catch in his throat. He stared at the patterns, willing them to go away or rearrange themselves into something less horrifying.
“What is it?” Vivienne demanded.
“There are finger marks burned into the bars,” he said in a low voice. “Clarence did this with his bare hands. Some sort of heat transference, just like the Brady case.”
Blackwood laughed weakly. “But that’s—”
“Impossible?” Vivienne let the word dangle in the air.
They turned at the sound of footsteps approaching in the corridor.
“Lady Cumberland!” A small man with a wispy ginger mustache that quivered like a shy animal peered over Blackwood’s shoulder. His gaze landed on Pyle and darted quickly away. “Terrible business. Where is Mr. Sidgwick? I’d expected him to come personally.”
“Superintendent Barrett,” Vivienne said, moving quickly away from the window. “Mr. Sidgwick has been unavoidably delayed. He asked myself and Mr. Lawrence to come in his stead.”
They went back outside, where a second man in a tweed suit stood wringing his hands. “I see.” Barrett gestured to his companion. “I believe you know Dr. Cavendish?”
Vivienne inclined her head. “We met briefly following Dr. Clarence’s admission.”
Barrett introduced D.I. Blackwood, and Dr. Cavendish shook the detective’s hand. He was tall and grey-haired with a perpetual look of injured surprise, as though someone had just slammed a door in his face.
“There was no indication he would do something like this,” Dr. Cavendish burst out in a defensive tone. “He stopped speaking entirely three weeks ago, but he never behaved in an aggressive or self-destructive manner. Quite the opposite. The man was practically catatonic.”
“If I may ask,” Blackwood said politely. “Where did he get the fountain pen?”
Dr. Cavendish studied the ceiling. “I’m afraid it came from my office.”
“He was to be kept in total isolation,” Vivienne said, her voice cold. “I thought that was unambiguous.”
“This is mental institution, Lady Cumberland, not a medieval dungeon.” He puffed his chest out, a primate asserting home turf dominance. “It’s my duty to carry out periodic assessments of my patients. I assure you, he was accompanied by four attendants at all times. I’m not sure how he managed to steal it.”
“No one’s blaming you, Dr. Cavendish,” Barrett said, frowning at Vivienne.
“I last saw Clarence this afternoon. Very briefly, for fifteen minutes perhaps. I asked him a series of questions and received no response. Frankly, I couldn’t say if he even heard me.” Dr. Cavendish paused. “Something rather odd did happen. I was just signaling to Pyle and Stokes to take him back to his cell when he mumbled a phrase.”
“What was it?” Blackwood asked eagerly.
“I can’t be certain, but it sounded like, ‘they’re here.’ That’s all. Then he resumed his catatonic state.”
“They’re here,” the inspector repeated. “Was he looking at anything in particular in your office when he said it?”
“I believe he was looking out the window.”
“Did he have any visitors while he was at Greymoor?” Alec asked.
“Do you know how he spent his days?”
“Whenever I looked in on him, he’d be sitting on his bed, hands folded. Staring off into space. We only had one troubling incident, near the beginning of his stay here. The patients are not permitted writing materials of course”—he seemed to remember Pyle and paled a bit—“but that doesn’t prevent them from…communicating in other ways.” Dr. Cavendish glanced at Vivienne with obvious discomfort. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to relate in front of a lady, begging your pardon.”
“It’s all right, Doctor,” Vivienne said in an amused tone. “I won’t be offended. Please go on.”
He took a breath. “Well, he did write something on the walls of his cell. In…” Cavendish coughed. “I’m afraid it was his own feces. Over and over. It was at that point that Mr. Barrett and I agree he should be kept indefinitely.”
“What did he write?” Blackwood asked.
“A Latin phrase.” He searched his memory. “Pervadunt oculus, I believe it was.”
“They come through the eyes,” Alec said softly.
“I see you know your Latin, Mr. Lawrence,” Dr. Cavendish said approvingly. “I assumed he meant the headaches. Migraines are often accompanied by a phenomenon we call auras. It’s a shimmering light viewed in the peripheral field of vision. They commonly precede onset.”
D.I. Blackwood shot Alec a questioning look. Alec gave him the barest nod.
“Well, you’ve been very helpful, Dr. Cavendish,” the inspector said briskly. “If there isn’t anything else, I think we’re done here for now. I’ll write up your statement. You can sign it later.”
Dr. Cavendish seemed relieved to be off the hook. “Indeed. Such a tragedy. I do hope your men find him quickly. Good day, gentlemen. Lady Cumberland.” He gave a brief bow and fairly scampered off down the corridor, eager to get away from the macabre scene lurking behind Clarence’s half-open cell door. Alec didn’t blame him in the least.
“The morgue wagon is waiting downstairs,” Blackwood said to Superintendent Barrett. “I’ll have Mr. Pyle removed now.”
“Poor Pyle.” Barrett shook his head. “He had three children, you know. I’ll organize a collection for the family.”
“Please allow me to contribute,” Vivienne said immediately, offering him a card. “I…well, we brought him here. I feel responsible.”
“That’s very kind of you, Lady Cumberland, but I don’t blame you, nor Mr. Sidgwick. I’ve been superintendent of this asylum for more than twenty years and know better than anyone how difficult it can be to predict human behavior.” He stroked his mustache. “The soul of man is larger than the sky…ah, deeper than ocean or…or….”
“The abysmal dark of the unfathom’d centre,” Alec finished quietly.
“Yes, that’s it! You’re an admirer of Hartley Coleridge, Mr. Lawrence?”
“I enjoy poetry,” he admitted. “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
“Splendid. I’m not sure I know that one. What’s his name?”
“It’s a woman, actually. Sarah Williams.”
“Indeed.” Barrett seemed to lose interest. “Well, I can vouch that the mind is a strange and confounding place. We may never know what drove Dr. Clarence to this unspeakable act.”
“Perhaps. But I still wish to help his family,” Vivienne said, and Alec understood that she would carry her burden of guilt no matter what anyone said.
“I’m sure it will be appreciated, thank you, Lady Cumberland. Shall I accompany you out?” Barrett looked down the corridor, in the direction of the other occupied cells. “They’ve been worse since Clarence came. I really can’t fathom why. He kept to himself.”
“Thank you, but we can see our own way,” Blackwood replied. “Good day, Mr. Barrett.”
They made their way back through the cells. Dim wall sconces cast pools of alternating light and darkness. No bright electric bulbs, Alec thought. Not here, in this forgotten place. The usual cacophony of deranged voices accompanied their progress, but it was more subdued this time around, as though the men shared their foreboding.
It was in one of the pools of shadow that he heard a whisper from the cell next to him. Alec stopped, facing the grill set into the door at head height.
“What did you say?” he asked softly.
Ahead, Vivienne and D.I. Blackwood turned to stare at him.
“Alec?” Vivienne called.
He could see nothing beyond the grill but more darkness. Whoever was inside didn’t respond.
“Never mind,” he said.
Alec limped toward them, the iron tip of his cane clacking on the wooden boards. Vivienne watched him for a moment, then followed Blackwood to the stairway. Alec glanced back once. The ward had gone quiet again, but he was certain of what he’d heard.
Alec retrieved his coat and hat from the parlor. Barrett paused at the front door. “Pervadunt oculus. You’ve heard that phrase before.”
“It was in the Brady report,” Alec said. “He scratched it on the walls of the Beach Transit Tunnel.”
“What in blazes are we dealing with?”
“Not a ghoul.” Alec needed to think. To talk with Vivienne. “Something worse, I fear.”
“It might not be in Dr. Clarence anymore,” Vivienne said. “You should be aware of that possibility.”
Blackwood swore under his breath. “Then how do we catch it?”
Neither of them replied. Alec leaned heavily on his cane. His knee throbbed from all the stairs. For some reason, going down was always worse than going up.
“Well, that’s the problem,” he said at last. “I think we’ll have to get very lucky.”
“I’ll need a copy of that Hyde report,” Blackwood said.
“I’ll have it sent over straight away.”
“Stay in touch. If you come up with something.”
Outside, the rain had eased to a light mist. Alec scanned the grounds as they waited for Henry to bring the carriage around. He could still hear the faint baying of the dogs, but knew in his bones that Clarence was gone.
“What do we tell Sidgwick?” he asked at last.
“The truth,” Vivienne replied, lighting another cigarette.
“Those are bad for you, you know,” Alec pointed out. “No matter what they claim.”
Vivienne rolled her eyes. Alec turned away, but a faint smile played on his lips.
Dawn broke as they joined the flow of traffic back into London. Even at this early hour, the streets were jammed with carriages and omnibuses and people walking to their jobs in factories or shops. At Vivienne’s request, Henry took the Bow Road back into the city, which became Mile End Road and finally, Whitechapel Road. The thoroughfare itself was broad and busy, but the maze of alleys and side streets to either side concealed some of the worst slums in London. Clarence’s old hunting ground.
Neither of them spoke much. Vivienne looked out the carriage window, scanning the faces of the people on the street. The sober ones who had just woken up for work looked tired already, stoically ignoring the drunk ones who hadn’t gone to bed yet. Barefoot children played in the muck before rows of drab brick buildings. Vivienne’s eyes lingered on the children. Alec knew that Brady had killed a boy in New York. An organ grinder.
She’d been right about Dr. Clarence all along, but she didn’t rub it in his face, which Alec found surprising given Vivienne’s propensity for gloating. It occurred to him that perhaps she hadn’t wanted to be right, either.
A few minutes later, Henry deposited them at the front door of 19 Buckingham Street off the Strand where the Society for Psychical Research kept a suite of rooms. It had been formed in January 1882 to investigate growing claims of spiritualist phenomena in a spirit of rigorous scientific inquiry. That remained its primary mission, but following certain dire events at Buckingham Palace in 1886, a small and entirely secret subcommittee had been formed to deal with more dangerous aspects of the occult. This coincided with the creation of the Dominion Branch of Scotland Yard, and the two entities worked in tandem—with the Queen’s blessing—to contain the undead ghouls that plagued Britain.
Vivienne and Alec went straight to the library, where Henry Sidgwick waited with a tray of tea. He sat erect, bushy black beard falling down his chest, a sheaf of papers held loosely in his large hands.
“Well?” he inquired without preamble. “How bad is it?”
“We have a problem,” Alec said, pouring himself a cup and dropping into a wing chair. “Potentially quite serious.”
“Potentially?” Vivienne repeated. “I’d say it’s very serious indeed.”
She removed her cloak and tossed it carelessly on an ottoman. Her ball gown was sleeveless. Gold glinted in the light of the lamps—a thick bracelet circling her right arm. Words flowed across the metal in a script that had not been spoken aloud for more than two thousand years.
“Do you know what this says?” she asked Sidgwick, holding up her wrist.
“I’ve always wondered,” he replied dryly.
“We are the light against the darkness. And now we’ve failed in our duty. Clarence is gone,” she said bitterly. “Escaped. He murdered an orderly. There’s no doubt it’s the same creature that ran loose in New York. None at all.”
“Dear God.” Mr. Sidgwick turned to Alec, who could usually be relied on not to embellish the facts. “Is this true?”
Alec nodded wearily.
“Tell me everything.”
So he did, while Vivienne paced the room like a caged lynx, skirts swishing.
“What exactly do you think we’re dealing with?” Sidgwick asked when he’d finished.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
Sidgwick shut his eyes. “I’m still coming around to believing in ghouls. Not that I doubt it anymore, their existence is an unfortunate fact of life in England, it seems. Now you’re telling me that we have a creature that looks and sounds human, but can burn iron bars with its hands and do God only knows what else. Is it undead?”
“Probably.” Vivienne snapped her lighter shut and blew out a stream of smoke.
“Most definitely,” Alec added cheerfully. The hot, strong tea—three cups of it—had worked its humble magic. It was one of the few English customs he embraced with open arms.
“Dear God,” Sidgwick said again.
Vivienne dropped onto a settee and crossed her ankles. “We need to consult Cyrus. He might know something.”
“Agreed. I’ll send Mr. Ashdown a cable. When can you leave?”
“It would be better if he came to London,” Alec said.
“He won’t want to,” Vivienne pointed out. “You know he hasn’t left Ingress Abbey in more than eight years.”
“If Barrett’s men do manage to find the good doctor, or whoever he’s taken, we need to stay close.”
“Do you think you can kill it?” Sidgwick asked.
“It’s already dead,” Alec reminded him.
“That was a figure of speech.”
“We can try to banish it back to the Dominion through a Greater Gate.” Alec had rolled up his shirtsleeves and propped his feet on the edge of the ottoman. He idly traced the curving script on his own cuff, a match of Vivienne’s. “So, The Serpentine. It’s by far the closest one.”
Sidgwick swallowed. “I went boating in Hyde Park just a few months ago. Are you saying—?”
“That there’s a portal to the Underworld beneath the lake? Yes, but only in parts.”
“And they’re safely warded.” Vivienne looked at Alec. “Aren’t they?”
“How do you know the wards haven’t been broken?” Sidgwick persisted. “I don’t find your explanation to be the least bit comforting.”
“Because I know.” Alec gave a thin smile. “I have the only talisman.”
Sidgwick grunted. “You should have told me all this before.”
“It didn’t seem necessary. Nothing comes through the Gates anymore.”
“So you believe it was summoned?”
“Had to be. By a powerful necromancer, I’d say.”
“But if it came from New York, that would be the American branch’s problem.” Sidgwick brightened.
“The necromancer, not the whatever-it-is.”
“True. I’ll send a cable to Orpha Winter. Any chance this”—he consulted the papers—“Becky Rickard was the one who brought it through?”
“Brady’s first victim?” Vivienne said. “She was a medium, but that’s hardly the same thing as a necromancer. In fact, she was disgraced as fraudulent. It doesn’t seem likely.”
“Whoever brought it through, the thing is loose now,” Alec said. “And the usual rules don’t seem to apply.”
“We’ll have to tell the Queen.” Sidgwick’s tone was funereal.
“I suppose you will.” Alec’s choice of words was not lost on Henry Sidgwick, whose dark, close-set eyes narrowed.
“She won’t like it one bit.”
“Not much to like, is there?”
“I need to be able to tell Her Majesty truthfully that we have the situation under control.”
Alec picked up his teacup, saw with disappointment that it was empty, and replaced it in the saucer. “Of course. I don’t see a problem as long as you omit the word truthfully.”
“Gentlemen,” Vivienne interrupted. “This is getting us nowhere. When Dr. Clarence is found, which we all hope will be sooner rather than later, Alec and I are fully capable of disposing of him.”
Sidgwick brightened again. “Well, that’s good news.”
“We are?” Alec said, earning a withering look from Vivienne.
“Yes. So we’ll put off visiting Cyrus for now, at least until we hear from Inspector Blackwood. Do send that cable though, Mr. Sidgwick. Cyrus can start searching the archives. They go back quite a long way, as you know. Perhaps he can find a reference to something similar.”
“What about your original interview with Dr. Clarence?” Sidgwick sifted through the sheaf of papers. “I have it here somewhere. Ah, yes.…”
He began to read the transcript aloud. Alec already knew it firsthand. Vivienne had conducted the interview in the empty dayroom at Greymoor while he stood by at the door, ready to unleash a whip-crack of power should Clarence do anything Alec found objectionable.
The doctor had sat in a chair facing Vivienne. He wore a woolen suit and held a small valise on his lap. It contained toiletries and a change of clothing. Alec had kept his black surgeon’s bag, with its syringes and vials other tools of the trade. Including a set of exquisitely sharp knives.
Even as Henry Sidgwick’s pleasantly deep and learned voice recited the transcript—he was a professor of moral philosophy at Trinity College, after all—Alec heard the echo of two other voices in his head.
“Would you state your name, please?”
“William Howard Clarence, of thirty-four Greenwich Street, New York.”
“Do you know why you’re here, Dr. Clarence?”
Clarence raised a hand to his forehead. “I…I’ve been suffering from headaches.”
“Why did you come to England?”
“I had a difficult case. A man used my scalpel to…” His fingers fluttered limply. They were small, delicate hands. “May I have some water? My mouth is very dry.”
Alec signaled to the attendant who waited outside. A minute later he returned with a glass.
“You mentioned a difficult case,” Vivienne resumed. “Do you mean Leland Brady?”
“Yes. I wished for a change of scenery.”
“You booked passage on the RMS Umbria, which arrived in Liverpool on the 25th of August. What did you do then?”
His eyes grew vague. “I don’t know. I walked around. Looked for lodgings. I think I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral.”
“Where were you on the evening of August 31st?”
“What day of the week was that?”
“Well, I’m not sure. If my head was very bad, I might have gone to bed early.”
“Have you experienced lost time?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Periods in which you cannot recollect your own actions. Places you might have gone.”
“No.” The sun crept across the floor. A shaft of light fell across Dr. Clarence’s face and his pupils suddenly contracted. “Just the headaches.”
“What about the evening of September 8?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“September 30?” Vivienne persisted.
“Why are you asking me these questions?”
“Mary Ann Nichols. Annie Chapman. Elizabeth Stride. Catherine Eddowes. Mary Jane Kelly. Are you familiar with these names?”
Clarence held her gaze. “Of course I’ve heard about the murders. They’re all over the newspapers.”
“What sort of man do you think the police should be looking for?”
“Are you accusing me of these heinous crimes?”
“Not at all. I’m simply curious about your professional opinion. Having just concluded the Hyde case.”
Clarence folded his hands atop the valise. “He must be reasonably clever to have eluded the police. Whitechapel is a busy area.”
“Have you been there?”
“No. I read about it in the newspaper. I wouldn’t frequent that sort of place. It sounds like a cesspool.”
“Why do you think he does it?”
“Why?” A ripple passed over his features. “I’m not sure that question has a satisfactory answer, Lady Cumberland. Why does the earth suddenly slip its moorings and crush the little ants that crawl across the surface?”
Vivienne’s jaw tightened. Alec could sense the fury simmering beneath her calm exterior.
“Are you saying these women are insects, Dr. Clarence?”
He sighed. “You misunderstand.”
They looked at each other for a long moment.
“Or are you saying Jack is a force of nature?”
Dr. Clarence smiled. “That might be overstating it. I merely mean that these killings strike me as perfectly senseless. There’s no more meaning to them than the eruption of that volcano in Japan last summer.” He grew solemn again. “I do hope they catch him.”
“As do we all.”
Dr. Clarence rose and walked to the window. It looked out across the grounds, brown fields meeting white sky in the soft, monotonous palette of midwinter. “Will I be staying here?”
Vivienne looked at Alec. They’d reached the tricky part. Dr. Clarence had committed no crime, not that could be proven. He was an American citizen and member of the New York City Police Department. If he refused to admit himself to Greymoor and the consulate got involved, it would be a diplomatic nightmare. And Clarence would almost certainly end up slipping the net.
Fortunately, he had no wife or children. No one looking for him. By all accounts, his life in New York had been quiet and solitary.
“Dr. Cavendish believes he can help you with your headaches,” Vivienne said. She forced a smile. “A nice rest might do you good.”
Dr. Clarence raised a hand and curled it around the iron bars. Something in the gesture struck Alec as calculated, deliberate, although Clarence kept his back to them.
He’s toying with us.
Alec pushed the unbidden thought aside.
You’re letting Vivienne’s emotions cloud your judgment. Don’t.
“That would be most amenable,” Dr. Clarence said, returning to his chair.
Vivienne leaned forward and offered him a piece of paper. Their hands brushed and despite his misgivings, Alec’s heart beat faster.
“Thank you.” Dr. Clarence laid the form on his valise. He patted his pockets. “I’m sorry, but do you have a pen I might borrow?”
Vivienne gave him one. She waited, eyes fixed on the form.
Dr. Clarence paused, pen hovering over the paper. “How long would I be at Greymoor?”
“Just a short time,” Vivienne lied. “For observation. You can leave anytime you like.”
“All right, then.” Clarence didn’t bother to read the form. He signed with a flourish and handed it back. “Here you are.”
Vivienne scanned the document. It gave the doctors at Greymoor full legal authority to commit Dr. William Howard Clarence to the asylum until such time as they deemed him no longer a danger to himself or others. Alec knew that if Vivienne had her way, that day would never come.
“Thank you.” She stood up. “The attendants will see to you now. Good afternoon, doctor.” She’d reached the door before she stopped and turned back. “I believe you still have my fountain pen.”
Dr. Clarence looked down at his hands. “Oh, I’m awfully sorry. Here you are.”
He rose and gave Vivienne back the pen. His eyes met Alec’s for a single instant. They seemed to sparkle with some private amusement.
The attendant closed the heavy door. Alec waited to make sure he locked it.
Later, when they delivered the admission forms to Superintendent Barrett, he’d asked if sedation would be appropriate.
“Oh yes, give him everything you’ve got,” Vivienne said. “We promised Inspector Blackwood we’d share the full report from Miss Pell.”
“I’ll see it’s done right away,” Sidgwick was saying.
Alec came back to the present with a start.
“Send the report to Cyrus too,” he chimed in, hoping no one would notice his long absence from the conversation.
Sidgwick frowned. Vivienne sighed. “English, Alec. You’re lapsing into Greek again.”
“Sorry.” He repeated the request.
“He does that all the time.” She stabbed her cigarette into a heavy bronze ashtray. “It’s not even modern Greek. Some obscure third century dialect only a handful of scholars have ever heard of.”
Alec smiled apologetically. He’d probably forgotten more languages than he remembered, and he knew dozens fluently. Hundreds. Different places, different times. Different lives. It all swirled together in his head sometimes. Vivienne was much better at keeping the past neatly arranged. She was a perfect chameleon. It had only taken her a week to acquire a posh British accent, while Alec still sounded vaguely “Continental.”
“So what do we do now?” Sidgwick asked.
“Either Blackwood and his men will find Clarence,” Vivienne said. “Or he’ll do something to draw attention to himself.”
Kill again, she meant.
“So we wait.”
“Yes.” Vivienne lit another cigarette. “We wait.”
Outside the window, Alec could hear the clamor of London’s five million souls rushing through their day. He had been many places and seen many things in his long life, but never had he seen a city quite like this one. He’d watched it grow from a backwater of the Roman Empire to the undisputed capital of the world. Watched the factories rise like smog-belching dragons. Stood under the bright glare of electric lights, Vivienne on his arm, to see one of her plays. The pace of scientific progress was as swift as the steam trains that fascinated him so. The only thing that hadn’t changed was the weather, he reflected.
It was still lousy.
Coming June 26, 2017!
Get your copy on Amazon for a special preorder price of $1.99
Just a few quick things: I'll be giving away a book a week on Goodreads for the next few months, so check the widget below to enter, I'll update it regularly.
The audio books of the Fourth Element series are currently being recorded by Tantor Media, so excited for that. I expect them to be available sometime around June, and will post the release date as I soon as I know it.
And for fans of Darius and Nazafareen, I'm already planning the next several books in that series, picking up just where we left them! Aiming for an early fall release on Book #1, more info on that to come shortly.
I've almost finished writing The Thirteenth Gate. The cover is in revisions and I hope to share it very soon. This one continues the story of The Daemoniac, with added magical elements (and daevas!). I'll be posting some teaser chapters in April.
Okay, that's it for now. Happy spring! Kat
Brought to you by Buzz & Roar Publishing/Eomix Galaxy Books, this is the sequel to the super-fun ILLUSION, which is on sale for just 0.99 cents!
Summary: Daith has discovered some incredible things about herself: she is smart, charming, and has psionic powers that allow her to sense emotions, melt physical objects, even heal or injure with a thought. The problem is, she doesn't have any memory of who she used to be.
Regardless, Daith made a choice between leaving the ship to learn who she is or staying aboard to help the crew’s mission. But someone from her past knows the truth about her, and if he finds her, that truth could shatter her decision–and leave everyone vulnerable to her powers.
Where to get the book:
Buzz & Roar Publishing: http://www.buzzandroarpublishing.com/our-books.html
IDENTITY on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M0864DQ
ILLUSION on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B014GA68AA
Trailer on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0R-0fTOB51U
IDENTITY continues the story of Daith Tocc as she slowly starts putting together the pieces of her past aboard the starship Horizon. Blessed (or cursed) with potent psychic powers inherited from her father, Daith has been used as an unwitting puppet by the ambitious and ruthless Aleet Army Commander, Trey. But she turns out to be stronger and more resilient than anyone expected, setting up a final, explosive confrontation that kept me turning pages way past my bedtime.
Multiple points of view keep the pace moving quickly, and one of the things I enjoyed most is that all of the characters, major and minor, are nuanced and believable. Personal motivations drive the larger plot, which revolves around themes of memory and loss, vengeance and redemption. Daith is a sympathetic heroine, struggling to do what seems right even as her amnesia prevents her from seeing the truth. The supporting cast of villains and antiheroes are all colorful and distinct, as is the impressive world-building. There were plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing, and characters I started off hating turned out to have sympathetic secrets that had me revising my opinions by the end.
I highly recommend this series for fans of space opera, adventures and sci-fi/fantasy, and eagerly await the next installment!
You can find out more about Christa and her books online:
Will we be living in some version of Josh Bellin's vividly imagined political satire-slash-sci-fi thriller in the next, say, twenty to thirty years? I hope not, but this author (of the wonderful duology SURVIVAL COLONY NINE and SCAVENGER OF SOULS) has all the chops to turn such a dystopian scenario, where the world is firmly under the thumb of greedy, soulless corporate overlords, into a page-turning space opera that is pure pleasure from start to finish.
Chapters alternate between past and present, slowly revealing the story of star-crossed love at the heart of the book. Sophie is the young, idealistic leader of the oppressed Downworlders (the 99 percent), while Cam Newell is a privileged son of the Upworlders (think 1 percenters). He's a decent sort though, and falls hard for Sophie's powerful oratory and sheer magnetism, leading him to question all the master-race propaganda he's been silver spoon-fed his whole life.
Cam and Sophie end up on massive ships headed into deep space with the aim of colonizing a new planet since ours has been stripped clean by the corporate locusts. A saboteur kicks the present-day plot into motion, stranding them on a hostile planet with very nasty native life forms (a Bellin specialty) and bringing simmering tensions to a boil.
The opening sequence, in which Cam wakes up after a lengthy hypersleep to find himself trapped in a damaged pod, is heart-pounding and cinematic, and Bellin excels at both these suspenseful action scenes and the quieter moments (mainly in flashback) where we get to dig deeper into the backstory and key characters, including Cam's two best friends, Adrian and Griff. As always, it's the relationships that drive the plot, even when it's as high-octane as this one, and the tale of Cam and Sophie – basically two kids from different sides of the tracks trying to find their way together – will not be easily forgotten.
FREEFALL is an allegory of the times, but Bellin keeps his story fresh and even light-hearted in places, with corporate jargon taken to its final black-comedy extreme (corponation names include SubCon, Frackia, ConGlo, MicroNasia and Can-Do Amortization!).
The upshot? If I had to live in such a screwed-up future, I'd want it to be Joshua David Bellin's.
You can check out his website for more info on the other books!
BLOG TOUR & LAUNCH PARTY for SCAVENGER OF SOULS by Joshua David Bellin, Plus a Sweet Giveaway (signed copy + bookmarks + t-shirt)!
Oh, how I loved this book. The sequel to the terrific Survival Colony Nine, it picks up pretty much where we left all the finely drawn characters from book one: the wry protagonist, Querry Genn, his mother Aleka, various other adults, and the children and teens they're trying to keep alive in the parched wasteland of a future dystopia. And we get a new character: the enigmatic, trash-talking, ass-kicking Mercy of the cover, who it's pretty hard not to fall in love with.
Of course, there are plenty of secrets and surprises and twists, with the mystery of who the amnesiac Querry really is central to the story. Bellin is a sly plotter (you kind of know what's coming, except it turns out you don't), but his deepest gifts lie in creating memorable, all-too-human characters you can't help but care about, and finding the moments of haunting beauty in this bleak world he's created. The prose soars without ever feeling overheated, and there's a sense of optimism and resiliency even in the darkest moments that elevates it to the feel of a sci-fi classic. He's also a wonderfully visual writer, with an ear for dialogue and crisp, concise description that keeps the pacing hurtling along without sacrificing a strong sense of place. And the end…well, it's great when that's your favorite part, yes? It's what we carry with us, and Bellin's is exactly how I hoped this story would go.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC; fans of the first book will be well-satisfied with the deft handling of all the dangling plot threads, and will hopefully demand a third installment. Without any spoilers, I'll just say there's definitely room for one!
About the book:
Querry Genn is running out of time. He may have saved his survival colony and defeated a nest of the monstrous Skaldi, but that doesn’t mean he has any more answers to who he is. And Querry’s mother, Aleka, isn’t talking. Instead, she’s leading the colony through a wasteland of unfamiliar territory. When they reach Aleka’s destination, everything Querry believed about his past is challenged.
In the middle of a burned-out desert, an entire compound of humans has survived with plenty of food and equipment. But the colonists find no welcome there, especially from Mercy, the granddaughter of the compound’s leader. Mercy is as tough a fighter as Querry has ever seen—and a girl as impetuous as he is careful. But the more Querry learns about Mercy and her colony, the more he uncovers the gruesome secrets that haunt Mercy’s past—and his own.
With threats mounting from the Skaldi and the other humans, Querry must grapple with the past and fight to save the future. In the thrilling conclusion to the story that began with Survival Colony 9, Joshua David Bellin narrates a tale of sacrifice, courage against overwhelming odds, and the fateful choices that define us for a lifetime.
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: August 23, 2016
For order links, visit http://joshuadavidbellin.com/my-books/
Available in hardcover and e-book
Praise for Survival Colony 9:
Tantalizing mysteries abound among the human and inhuman inhabitants of the bleak landscape, and the post-apocalyptic plot is satisfyingly full of twists.--Booklist
Joshua David Bellin brings serious game in a post-apocalyptic thriller that collides breathless action with devious world building and genuine heart. A terrific novel!—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and V-Wars
Set in a gritty post-apocalyptic world, Survival Colony 9 is both an adventure and an exploration of what it means to be human.—Margaret Peterson Haddix, New York Times bestselling author of the Missing Series
And now for the giveaway, plus my interview with Josh and an excerpt from the book...
What makes you unique as a writer?
JDB: One of the great things about writing (or any creative field) is that each writer is unique. Yes, every writer borrows plot elements and character traits and so forth from the other things we’ve read, but unless you’re self-consciously copying another writer, which is not a good thing to do, each writer puts words and ideas together in a way no one else can. In my case, that means I lean toward literary language even when I’m writing popular fiction, which some readers love and other readers don’t. Which is another great thing about writing: every reader is unique too, and each reader will gravitate toward the writers who most speak to him or her.
How has your writing career changed since you started?
First of all, let me just say how weird it is to think of this thing I’m doing as a career! When I first started writing, it was purely because I wanted to (or needed to)—I had these stories in me that I had to put on paper. But then I discovered all the things that go along with publishing: marketing one’s books, and appearing at conferences, and planning the next book, and all that. None of these are bad things, but they do require a different kind of thinking than the pure act of writing. So I’d say that right now I’m in Phase 2 of my writing career, where I’m trying to balance the writing with all the other stuff. Hopefully, Phase 3 will be the part where everything’s in balance and I can let it all unfold naturally. Hey, a guy can dream, right?
What are your writing goals for the next year?
My third novel, Freefall, which is a stand-alone YA action/romance set in deep space, is due to come out in 2017. Then I’ll have some choices to make. I’ve started a YA historical horror novel called Polar, and I’ve also started a new YA science fiction novel called Deep-Six. I haven’t yet decided which one to pursue. But fortunately for me, I’ve got a sabbatical from my teaching position in Spring 2017, so I’ll have a solid four months to write!
What character would you most like to be stuck in an elevator with?
If we’re talking about my own characters—well, they’ve been stuck in my head so long, I’m not sure I’d want to be stuck in an actual place with them! Mercy would be funny at first, but eventually I’d start to worry about her killing me just for kicks. And Querry is so much like me, we’d constantly be anticipating what the other person was going to say before he said it.
So I guess I’ll go with Aleka. If she’d been born into our world instead of hers, I think she’d have been a teacher, and I enjoy talking to teachers.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I mostly hear from readers when I attend signings and other events, especially in schools. They say the most amazing things, and I don’t only mean things that give me an ego boost. Recently, some students asked me why I killed off one of their favorite characters. That was a great question, because it gave us a chance to discuss the choices authors make for artistic reasons, even if those choices are tough for ethical or emotional reasons. And many of the young people I talk to are aspiring writers, so I love having conversations with them about craft. I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to writers when I was young, and it makes me feel as if I’m doing something really valuable when I get the chance to talk to young writers now!
About the author:
Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, with the sequel, Scavenger of Souls, set to release on August 23, 2016. A third YA science fiction novel, the deep-space adventure/romance Freefall, will appear in 2017.
Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.
To find out more about Josh and his books, visit him at the following:
And now for an excerpt from SCAVENGER OF SOULS!
Scavenger of Souls
© 2016 by Joshua David Bellin
Aleka looked out over the land and frowned.
She stood at the crest of a low hill, squinting in the sunlight, the lines deepening around her mouth. I tried to read her expression, but as usual I failed.
This was Aleka, after all. Her close-cropped, graying blond hair framed a face she could turn into a mask at a moment’s notice. I’d been studying that face for the better part of a week, and I still had no idea what was going on behind her deep gray eyes.
Aleka. My mother. And as much a mystery to me as my own past.
After a long minute she spoke the name of her second-in-command. “Soon.”
Soon, a big guy with what might have been called a pot belly in a different time, came up beside her.
Aleka surveyed the unforgiving landscape, the lazy glint of river the only sign of movement in the waste. “How long?”
“A week. Maybe two if we’re extra careful.” He searched her face, but he must have come up empty too. “Why?”
She didn’t answer. The others had edged closer, listening. Any conversation that hinted at our dwindling supply of canned goods got their attention.
But after another long look over the barren land, she turned and strode back down the hill, refusing to meet any of our eyes. Everyone watched her go in silence, until she disappeared behind a clump of rock that stood at the base of the hill.
“Well, that was enlightening,” Wali said.
There were sixteen of us, the last survivors of Survival Colony 9. Five grown-ups counting Aleka, Soon, our camp healer Tyris, our craftswoman Nekane, and the old woman whose name no one knew, a wraith with wild white hair and a threadbare shift the same drab gray-brown as our uniforms. For the past week we’d been carrying her on a homemade stretcher, while she gripped her late husband’s collection container, a scuffed, bottle-green jar overflowing with scraps of hair and fingernails. She was amazingly heavy for a woman who’d dwindled to skin and bones.
The rest of us were teens and younger. Wali, with his shaggy hair and bronzed muscles, the oldest at seventeen. Nessa, the only teenage girl left in our colony since the death of Wali’s girlfriend Korah. Then there was Adem, a tall skinny awkward guy who communicated mostly with gulps and blushes. And the little ones, seven of them total, from ragged five-year-old Keely to knowing Zataias at age ten, with straggly-haired Bea in the middle.
And that left only me. Querry Genn. Fifteen years old last week, and thanks to an accident seven months ago, with no memory of the first fourteen.
Only my mother held the secret to who I was. But she wasn’t talking.
She hadn’t said a word to me the whole week. That entire time, we’d been creeping across a desert landscape of stripped stone and yawning crevices, the scars our ancestors had cut into the face of the land. For six of those seven days we’d been carrying the old woman. Aleka had driven us at a pace unusual even for her, with only short rests at the brutal height of day and long marches deep into the night. What she was hurrying for was another thing she wouldn’t talk to me about.
When we’d left our camp by the river, the old woman had babbled on about mountains somewhere to the north, licking her lips while she talked as if she could taste the snow-fresh air. She’d described green grass as high as our knees, wind rippling across it so it seemed to shimmer like something she called satin. She’d told us about yellow flowers and purple ones, trickling water so clear you could see brightly colored fish darting among the submerged stones. Clouds, she said, blanketed the mountain peaks, cool and white and soft, unlike the oppressive brown clouds that smothered the sun but almost never rained in the world we knew. At first I refused to believe her, told myself that half of what she said had to be exaggerated or misremembered or just plain crazy. But like everyone else, I’d fallen in love with the picture she painted. None of the rest of us had seen mountains, not even Tyris, who’d been two or three years old when the wars started. After a lifetime in the desert, the prospect of mountains rearing up out of nowhere, white and purple and capped with gold from the sun, was irresistible.
By now, though, it seemed even the old woman had forgotten where we were headed. She’d lapsed into silence, except for the times she stroked her collection jar, mumbling to it. She slept most of the time, sometimes beating her hands against her chest and mouthing words no one could make out. But even when her eyes opened, her glassy expression showed no awareness of anyone or anything around her.
We set her stretcher down in the best shade we could find and stood there, waiting for Aleka to return. Nessa held the old woman’s gnarled hand and sang softly, something the old woman had sung to her when she was a kid. I tried to organize a game with the little ones, but they just flopped in the dirt, limbs flung everywhere in postures of dramatic protest. I’d learned the hard way that you couldn’t get all seven of them to do anything at once, but occasionally, if you got one of them doing something that looked interesting enough, the others couldn’t stand to be left out.
Today, though, it wasn’t going to happen. A fossil hunt usually got them going, but this time even Keely wouldn’t bite when I told him an old, rotting buffalo skull was a T. rex.
“I don’t want to play that game, Querry,” he managed weakly, before putting his head down and closing his eyes. “It’s boring.”
Without warning, Aleka stalked back to the group. To my complete surprise, she took my arm and pulled me away from the others. I stumbled to keep up with her long strides. When we reached the rock where she’d hidden herself before, she stopped, so suddenly she just about spun me around.
“Querry,” she said. “We need to talk.”
“We’ve needed to talk all week,” I said under my breath.
She heard me. She always did. “That will have to wait. This is priority.”
“Something else always is, isn’t it?”
We faced off for a moment.
“I’m asking you to be patient,” she said. “And to believe I’m working on this.”
“Fine.” I wished for once I could meet her on even ground, but she had a good six inches on me, not to mention at least thirty years. “Let me know when you’ve got it all worked out.”
If I thought I’d get a reaction from that, I was wrong. Her face went into lockdown, and I was pretty sure the conversation was over. But then she asked, “What is it you want, Querry?”
“Answers,” I said. “The truth.”
“Answers aren’t always true,” she said. “And the truth isn’t always the answer you want.”
“Whatever that means.”
She glared at me, but kept her voice in check.
“It means what it means,” she said. “For one, it means that Soon’s estimate is wildly optimistic. I’ve checked our stores, and we have only a few days of food left. If we’re even stingier than usual. Which is a risk, since there’s nothing here to supplement our supplies.”
“Why would Soon. . . .”
She ignored me. “And it means the old woman is failing. Earlier today she asked me if she could talk to Laman.”
“I wish I were.”
I stared at her, not knowing what to say. Laman Genn had led Survival Colony 9 for twenty-five years. But like so many of his followers, he’d died a little over a week ago, just before we set out on our journey.
Died. Been killed. I tried not to think about it, but I remembered the nest, the bloody wound in his side, the creature that had torn him open.
The ones we’d been fleeing all our lives. Monsters with the ability to consume and mimic human hosts. It was hard to believe anyone could forget them. Even though we’d destroyed their nest, I kept expecting them to reappear, like a second nightmare that catches you when you think you’re awake and drags you back under.
“Any more good news?” I said, trying to smile.
She didn’t return the offering. “The children are failing too,” she said. “Keely and Beatrice especially. If we run out of solid food. . . . We forget how fragile they are. And how many of the little ones simply don’t make it.”
I turned to look at the kids, lying on the ground like so many dusty garlands. “What can we do?”
She didn’t say anything for a long time, and her gaze left mine, drifting to the desert beyond. I thought she wasn’t going to answer when her voice came again, as far away as her eyes.
“I know this area,” she said. “Or at least, I did. None of the others has been here—Laman seems to have avoided it assiduously. But I was here, once upon a time. So long ago the details are fuzzy. Either that or it’s . . . changed.”
I glanced around us, as if I expected to see something I hadn’t noticed before. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
Her shoulders inched in the slightest of shrugs. “I didn’t want to give anyone false hope. They were excited enough about the mountains. And I wasn’t sure I could find it again. I’m still not sure.”
“What is it?”
She waved vaguely toward the northwest. “A sanctuary, or as much of one as we’re likely to find in this world. Not mountains, but a canyon. Shaded, protected from the worst damage of the wars. The river gains strength as it flows through, nourishing what grows on its banks. If we could only reach it, there might be a chance for the most vulnerable members of the colony.”
I studied her face, as still and remote as the surface of the moon. This time, though, I thought I caught something there.
“If this place is so great,” I said carefully, “why did Laman stay away from it?”
Her eyes snapped to mine, and for the briefest second I imagined I saw a glimmer of fear.
It's August of 1888, just three weeks before Jack the Ripper will begin his grisly spree in the London slum of Whitechapel, and another serial murderer is stalking the gas-lit streets of New York. With taunting messages in backwards Latin left at the crime scenes and even more inexplicable clues like the fingerprints that appear to have been burned into one victim's throat, his handiwork bears all the hallmarks of a demonic possession.
But consulting detective Harrison Fearing Pell is convinced her quarry is a man of flesh and blood. Encouraged by her uncle, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry hopes to make her reputation by solving the bizarre case before the man the press has dubbed Mr. Hyde strikes again.
From the squalor of the Five Points to the high-class gambling dens of the Tenderloin and the glittering mansions of Fifth Avenue, Harry and her best friend, John Weston, follow the trail of a remorseless killer, uncovering a few embarrassing secrets of New York's richest High Society families along the way. Are the murders a case of black magic—or simple blackmail? And will the trail lead them closer to home than they ever imagined?
Buy for a special pre-release price of $0.99 on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble or Kobo
Every character has one—and it's your job to figure out what it is. I'm talking about The Ghost. The person or event lurking in the past that still haunts them in profound ways, whether they realize it or not. Nazafareen of The Midnight Sea is dogged by a literal restless spirit: Her sister Ashraf, who was possessed by an Undead wight and killed when Nazafareen was only twelve. The Ghost leads straight to her Lie: That revenge is her only purpose in life, and she will never know true love and happiness.
Screenwriters also call the Ghost the "wound." It is the emotional scar the protagonist must face and overcome in order to achieve their story goals. As Nazafareen gets to know and trust her bonded daeva, Darius, the Lie comes under increasing strain, leading her finally to make a choice between him and the cause of vengeance she's sworn to serve.
So as you plot, always ask yourself: what plot twists will force my main character closer to the final confrontation with their Ghost and/or Lie? How I put their feet to the fire?
I tend to work with two outlines. The first lays out the external events of the plot, and the second maps the emotional arc of the characters. Ideally, these should be intertwined and running side by side.
Here is a chunk of Nazafareen's emotional arc from my notes (minor spoiler alert if you haven't read the book yet):
1) Obsession with killing Druj and avenging her sister. To do that, she has to be loyal to the system. 2) Forbidden attraction to Darius. She quashes it because she still believes that being a Water Dog is the most important thing. 3) Discovery that the daevas are not inherently evil. It's a lie that they are cursed. The infirmities are part of the bonding process. Now she is doubting everything. 4) Darius confirms this with his refusal to free himself. Realization that she must choose sides. 5) Point of no return. She throws her fate in with Darius. 6) No longer cares for herself. Will do anything to set him free…
Basically, Nazafareen goes from whole-heartedly embracing her Lie to realizing that what she thought she wanted and what she really needed were complete opposites.
Personally, I think every character deserves a Ghost, not only the protagonist. It helps you figure out what drives them above all else—and how their own Ghosts relate to the MC's Ghost. If you want some extra friction, this is a good place to go looking for it.
For example, Darius's is the cruel mistress he was enslaved to as a child and who took pleasure from causing him pain. This causes him to distrust others and push Nazafareen away, and to doubt his own goodness. Even as she comes to understand that he doesn't deserve his slavery, Darius continues to cling to his Lie.
Ghosts are critical for writing three-dimensional villains too. Ilyas's is the fact that he's a bastard and inherited his mother's barbarian looks. His Ghost gives him an intense need to prove himself and his loyalty to the empire. Because of this, he cannot accept that he loves a daeva, and his actions spin out control from there. But they all start with his Ghost.
K.M. Weiland has a great list of questions you can ask to nail down the nitty-gritty details of all this:
1. Why does your character believe the Lie?
2. Is there a notable event in his past that has traumatized him?
3. If not, will there be a notable event in the First Act that will traumatize him?
4. Why does the character nourish the Lie?
5. How will he benefit from the Truth?
6. How “big” is your character’s ghost? If you made it bigger, would you end up with a stronger arc?
7. Where will you reveal your character’s ghost? All at once early on? Or piece by piece throughout the story, with big reveal toward the end?
8. Does your story need the ghost to be revealed? Would it work better if you never revealed it?
Whatever you decide, the most important thing is to steadily ramp up the pressure on all your characters. There's a good reason Charles Dickens saved the worst, scariest Ghost for last in A Christmas Carol…
Next week I'll talk a little about how to start your story (as compared to where to start your story). Until then, happy reading and writing!
I have a confession to make—one that some of you might share. My favorite characters are usually the awful ones. The ones who do terrible things without a shred of remorse. The ones that I'm dying to see get their comeuppance, but not before they push our beloved protagonist to the very edge and nearly destroy everything in the story we care about. Yes, I'm talking about the villains.
Think the viscerally creepy Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. The icily elegant Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Elizabeth Wein's SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden in Code Name Verity, who we only meet second-hand but is terrifying nonetheless.
Villains can make or break a book. When they're boring or one-dimensional or clichéd, there's no tension and the plot deflates with that sad wheezing noise balloons make when you stick with them with a hatpin. But when they're done right, meaning that they are an actual character and not simply a clunky device to test the hero, they help keep the stakes of the story high and the reader turning pages late into the night.
In The Midnight Sea, King Artaxeros II is the obvious villain, but he's also a bit abstract—you don't meet him until more than halfway through, and then only briefly. So I needed another antagonist. One who you really get to know. One who has some admirable traits but, as the pressures of the plot slowly pile up, becomes something much darker. Without giving away too many spoilers, I'll just say that I spent as much or more time thinking about him as about my main characters, Nazafareen and Darius. If you're going to have a colossal betrayal, the reader had better care about everyone involved or it just won't have much emotional impact.
So here are a few tips on writing unforgettable villains.
First off, all this is very subjective. What gives me cold sweats might make you laugh yourself silly. So you might start by think about which villains in film, TV, books, wherever, have resonated the most and why. Is it the prosthetic hook? The creepy Malkovich-esque voice? The mask of sanity they wear with their family when they're not committing grisly deeds? Once you know what disturbs you in the deepest, most primal part of your monkey brain, channel that quality in your own bad guy.
Okay, this one I cannot emphasize enough: give the villain motivation that readers can relate to, even if it's totally twisted. So they're power-hungry. Why? Is it because they have a secret crush on someone they want to impress? Or maybe they're compensating for a horrible childhood, or their dog needs an expensive operation, or their ideas of right and wrong are simply skewed beyond repair? I like to think that even the worst villain has something they care about. Balthazar, a necromancer who gets a starring turn in the second book of my series, is madly in love with his wicked queen. Yes, he does terrible things. But everything he does, he does for her.
Rachel Aaron has an awesome blog post on character development where she breaks it down into the deceptively simple formula below. The key is to understand that what a character wants and why they want it are two separate things and as a writer, you need to be very clear on both.
What do you want? (Goal)
Why do you want it? (Motivation)
What's stopping you? (Conflict)
If you have trouble, you can also try flipping the story and imagining it from the villain's point of view. You might be surprised at what you discover. Setting aside hockey-masked killers and comic book arch-bad guys, a good villain could potentially be the protagonist if he or she weren't quite so extreme.
In my first book, the sci-fi thriller Some Fine Day, one of the most despicable characters is a military doctor who's deliberately infected innocent people with a super-nasty Level Four virus. But as she calmly explains to the main character, the project is simply a response to their enemies engineering a similar plague. From her point of view, it's a matter of self-defense.
Effective villains often embody an exaggerated version of the same things your hero is conflicted about. That's very much the case in The Midnight Sea, where both Nazafareen and her antagonist face a similar choice but react in opposite ways. This is where we dig down deep and see what our characters are made of. Often, it is the villain's inability to change and grow and face the truth (external or internal) that proves to be their undoing.
So now that you’ve got a fantastic, fully fleshed out villain that rivals Moriarty or Lecter, what's the best way to get them across to the reader? Well, if the story is third person, you can give your villain their own POV. Jack Torrance in The Shining is one of my all-time favorites because we get to watch him slide slowly into madness over the course of several hundred pages. But the scariest part comes just before he's lost it completely. We know he's probably going to do some very bad things, but there's still an unpredictable quality to him. In our hearts, we still vainly hope that his love for his wife and kid will somehow triumph over the evil ghosts running the Overlook Hotel, which makes it SO much worse when Jack finally, irretrievably snaps.
As King says, “This inhuman place makes human monsters.” And those are always the scariest kind.
Anyway, thanks for reading! For tons more on villains, I highly recommend Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction by Jessica Morrell.
Next week we will definitely do Ghosts and how key they are to plot and character development. Happy reading and writing!
This may seem incredibly obvious (the beginning, duh), but it can actually be a lot trickier than you might expect. I came to grasp this when I recently had to throw out 20k words of a manuscript because it just wasn’t working. I agonized for a while over why this was the case, and made repeated, increasingly desperate attempts to salvage it, but I knew in my guts that I had some major problems. See, I had this idea that I would use alternating chapters, switching from present to past, to tell the love story of Darius and Nazafareen in The Midnight Sea. It would start in the middle of some swash-buckling action and then go back and explain how they got there.
Yes, it is entirely possible to pull this off—but I wasn’t. I had a big, complicated fantasy world and there was just too much backstory necessary to understand it. Slamming the brakes on the action every other chapter to talk about stuff that had already happened is extremely risky. Readers can get angry and frustrated and bored, which is not what we’re looking for. So I hemmed and hawed and tinkered and rearranged and sought writing advice from the internet and finally, the answer dawned. There was only one way out of this mess.
Just start the damn story from the real beginning, where it needed to start.
And voila, the words started to flow and all was right in the world again. I went back to the point where Nazafareen first joined the Water Dogs, and let the reader discover what daevas were and how the empire worked and what the Undead Druj were at the same time she did, through her eyes. The voice in my gut knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I had made the right decision. Gone was all the clunky exposition and the whiplashing through time. I was telling the story in the order it needed to be told, and I still found a way to open with a bang (by showing the source of Nazafareen’s Ghost, which we’ll get into next week).
So if we’re in agreement that good, engaging stories need to find their true beginning, how do you figure out what it is? I was able to salvage some scenes from that first draft, but I still wasted time that I wish I hadn’t. So here are a few basic rules to get off on the right foot, none of which I can take credit for, but they’re very sensible.
Open at a moment of change for your main character. This is probably the most important, and universally accepted as a golden rule of story-telling. To clarify, it does not have to be the event that kicks the main plot into motion. That does need to come early on, say by the end of the first third of the book, but it actually tends to work better if the reader is already invested in the characters. But within the first few pages (or the first chapter, if you prefer more leisurely reveals), something needs to happen that will change the protagonist’s life for better or worse. It can be small. It can foreshadow the larger events to come. But it needs to hook into the main plot, and it needs to be interesting. Think Harry getting the letter from Hogwarts, or Katniss waking up on the day of the Reaping.
Easy on the exposition. Yes, you’ve spent months or even years figuring out every little detail of your setting and characters, but the reader does not need to know all of it right away. Unloading paragraphs of backstory at the beginning is what’s known as an infodump, and it makes people’s eyes glaze over. Do not do this. Backstory, by the way, is pretty much anything that brings the forward action to a grinding halt. Basically, Lucy, it’s all the splaining we authors must do to bring outsiders into our world, and it’s very important, but it also has to be viewed through the lens of less is more. Parcel out this kind of information (who Susie used to date, why the Klingons and the Romulans hate each other so much) on a need to know basis, as in, if the reader doesn’t have this particular fact at his or her disposal, they will have absolutely no idea what is going on. But if you can get away with waiting until later, do so. It’s the anticipation of answering all those questions that keeps us turning pages in the first place.
Imagine how the end will fit with the beginning. It’s okay if you’re a pantser and make it up as you go along. But I bet you still have some idea of where your story will wind up. This is where you can unpack the emotional arc of the protagonist a bit. What are they afraid of? How do they lie to themselves? How will they grow and change by the end? Does the opening reflect this evolution? Or maybe it’s a tragedy and they are unable to change? Is there a hint of this weakness at the start? In The Midnight Sea, the opening scene sets up Nazafareen as a somewhat damaged character who witnessed the death of her sister when they were both quite young. Besides being scary (monsters!) and suspenseful, it foreshadows her future internal conflict and gives the reader basic info about her character and the world she lives in, but little more. Think of it as a teaser—an emotional moment that can be understood without a huge amount of context, and that leaves the reader intensely curious about what happens next.
Break the rules, do whatever you want, but listen to your gut and be true to your characters, action and setting.
K.M. Weiland, who has one of my favorite writing blogs (as well as an excellent book on story structure), quotes Barnes & Noble editorial director Liz Scheier, who gives us this gem:
“A professor of mine once posed it to me this way, thumping the podium for emphasis: “It’s not ‘World War II began’! It’s ‘Hitler. Invaded. Poland.’”
Anyway, I hope this was helpful! I’ll definitely do a post on how to start your story in the next few weeks, which is a different, although related topic (and fun because we get to talk favorite first lines). See you next week for a chat about Ghosts, and happy reading and writing!