If you haven't read this book by now, you really need to. No, I don't care that it just came out and your To-Read list is a mile high. Yes, I know it is totally unfair that I got an ARC and was thus made aware of the awesomeness of this book before it even came out. But you know what? Take a second to put yourself in my shoes, guys. Geesh. I'm the one who has been sitting here since August 3rd, just chomping at the bit until I can urge you to rush out and buy this book. My review doesn't even cover how amazing it is. But this first chapter might give you an idea.
So I guess I will quit gushing and get to it. Then you can go buy the book, read it in one day (because trust: you will not be able to put it down), and we can gush over it together! Oh, and Rachel O'Laughlin herself will be stopping by on August 12th to talk about writing multiple points of view. Here's the blurb so you have a reminder of what the book is about:
The First in the Serengard Series
Release Date: August 6, 2013
The First in the Serengard Series
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Serengard has been under Orion rule for centuries—centuries of insufferable adherence to laws and traditions that its people no longer believe in. Raised by her scholarly grandfather in the fiery southern city of Neroi, Trzl is dedicated to turning the monarchy into a free society where knowledge is king and no one has to be subject to the whims of an Orion.
As the rebellion escalates, her choices have an eerie impact on the revolution at large, elevating her to a position of influence she has only dreamed of attaining. But there are downsides to her new power that entangle her in a dangerous web of emotions, appearances and alliances. Even as she plays to the attractions of Hodran, a rich nobleman who wants to aid her cause, she is drawn to Mikel, a loyalist farmer who hates the rebellion but just might be winning her heart.
COLDNESS OF MAREK
To the east of Dragon Country.
In the 10th year of The Four Cities.
THE HILL COUNTRY WAS SUPPOSED to be safer. Trzl would have put boards over her doors and windows like the rest of the settlers, but she did not believe in signs like the stirred fog and other nonsense.
“The fog is not lying still,” her neighbor told her, shaking his head. “Something is churning it, far away, up in the mountains.”
Rem was ancient and believed in the old sayings. Sayings that had kept people enslaved, kept them bound to nature. And it was too late in the year for cold dragons or fanged cats. Even Trzl knew that, and she was from the city.
But Malcom—Malcom looked worried, too. The last time Trzl had seen him afraid was two years ago, when a snake came into their pantry in broad daylight. Even then, he had been brave enough to kill the reptile. Her son was no weakling. His very name meant simply, in the Seren tongue, ground. A certain type of ground. Firm, high, far from the storms of the sea or the quicksand of the desert or the lowlands that flooded. His soul was older than most boys of his years, and she knew it.
Now he stared out the window, shivering.
Then again, her house was cold. It always was on mornings like this.
They all heard the hoofbeats at the same time. More than one horse. At least a dozen, moving at a smooth canter.
They swooped into the village common, the mist parting to reveal their bulky figures. Their heads and shoulders were covered with animal furs, broadswords heavy and well-fired. Nothing like any raiders she’d seen. These were more like the legends Rem spoke of around the village campfires as the children listened, wild-eyed and dreaming—Swamp people? Cliffmen? Tribes from the plateaus? She hoped not.
Malcom let out one little screech, then stood stock-still, huddled against the windowsill, watching. Trzl fingered the small, insignificant dagger she kept on the inside of her waistband. She caught her son by his arms and tried to drag him to the cellar. “Come. We must hide. Malcom, listen to me. We must!”
But there wasn’t time. The door was broken in and five of the raiders fit their large shoulders through it. They caught at Malcom’s hand, yanking and dragging him clear across the room. Trzl screamed. One of the men glanced at her as he threw the boy over his shoulder. Another walked toward her and she did not back away. Malcom was out there, and she wanted to go to him. The man grasped her roughly, tossing her onto his shoulder. She was a slight woman and felt like a child in this huge man’s arms.
Then they were outside in the heavy morning mist. She heard the calls of the renegades as they stamped their horses about in a circle. Someone was yelling at them from across the common.
“This is no slave raid,” one of the renegades bellowed back. His accent was strange. “We come for these two.” —He gestured to Trzl and her son.
If he said more, she didn’t hear. She kept her eyes locked with Malcom’s. His dark brown hair was rumpled, his face already scratched by the rough material the renegades wore. Trzl wanted to tell him not to fear, but that was probably a lie. Just keep your eyes on me, little man.
These men were probably going to kill her. Hang her in the nearest town, wherever they could find an audience, find a way to put a face to their hatred of the Empire. She closed her eyes, whispering a prayer to Allel. She doubted He would do anything for her—if indeed He did exist—but perhaps he could be persuaded to do something for her son.
Trzl and Malcom were thrown onto separate horses, ordered to remain quiet. Men mounted in front of them, clutched the reins and urged their strong mounts out of the village and into the fog.
Now it did scare her. The stirred fog. There was something horrible and surreal about it, as if this should all be a nightmare. She tried to see Malcom, a few horses away and quiet as a bat. She hoped he could not sense how afraid she was.
They rode north, far up into the hills, and beyond them. Soon there were rocks, as large as chariots or draft carts, slowing their climb, forcing the horses to work up a lather. Trzl could hear Malcom’s teeth chattering, whether from cold or from fear—it worried her. They both knew what lived in this land. Huge cats, mammoth beasts. Most villagers had never seen them, and Trzl always pretended that she thought their stories were just legends. But when she felt this chill in her bones and heard those horrible, echoing coos and caws from the caverns of these rugged, strange rocks—
Malcom’s horse tripped and he screamed. The man who held the reins almost slid off and took Malcom with him. After he righted himself, he laughed at Malcom. Trzl shot the man a dark look, rejoicing when he swallowed and looked away. She had some power over him, and thus there was a chance for escape, albeit slim. Maybe tonight while they slept.
But night came, and no camp was made. She grew more and more suspicious that they were being led in a circle. To confuse them? Were they to be slaves after all? She knew the way of the cliff folk. They took people from the valleys whenever they pleased.
There was a slim canyon with a smooth floor, likely a dry riverbed, that they took by the bright moonlight. The air was bitter and cold up here. Trzl found herself leaning against her rider, trying to draw warmth from his heavy coat of…well, whatever animal skin this was. She did not recognize the texture of it. After a moment, he removed his coat and wrapped it around her. It was huge, enough to fit back around the rider after enveloping Trzl.
“Malcom,” she whispered, then regretted it. If they had any doubts, which it seemed they did not, they were now assured of her son’s identity.
“You want something for the boy?” her rider asked gruffly.
Might as well ask. “A drink of water and something warm around him.”
Her rider must have been their leader, because he grunted toward Malcom’s captor and the man did her bidding. She let some air out through her teeth. She would not thank him. He could not expect that surely.
Trzl must have slept because she woke a few times, her eyes snapping open at horrible sounds in the night. She made an effort to stay awake, to stay alert. Wherever they were going, it could not be for a public execution. Perhaps Malcom’s father had finally decided to get rid of her quietly? He had always hated Malcom. He would not wish to use his own guard for such a thing, and he would hire renegades to keep it from being traced to him. But she didn’t think he cared a whit about her anymore.
Wide awake now, the possibilities circled wildly. Escape plans that all failed in the first few steps of theory. Would the sun never rise? This riverbed was far too long.
Then it ended and she wished it had not. Above them were the sheer cliffs of ghost stories. A shrill cry woke Malcom, startling Trzl into looking around her. It cried again, an inhuman shriek, and she saw it. A huge, dark bird. It swooped about in the air above them. What kind of bird soared at night like that?
They rode forward again, straight toward the cliff. There was an opening, much like a hallway, much like stairs, a little of both. The horses climbed it, tired, soaked, but jumping with an energy made possible only by the best of feeds and exercise. Trzl pressed her legs against their mount and tried to feel his muscles through her frozen limbs, distracting herself from the pitch blackness of the cave.
Malcom had either fallen asleep again or he was silent with fear. She wanted to call back to him, to tell him not to be afraid. Mem was here. She would think of something. Only she knew there was nothing that could get them out of a fortress such as this in terrible country. Nothing.
The climb was not as long as anticipated—or perhaps Trzl lost track of time—because they broke out into a large cavern lit by torches. The horses stopped without being told. Her head started to thrum as her captor swung her down from the horse and tossed her toward two waiting men. They caught her arms and pulled on her roughly. She whined Malcom’s name—then saw he was right behind her, wide awake and staring.
“Malcom, it will be all right…”
Malcom did not pay her any mind. He looked around the room at the tall walls; the torches; the women running in to take the horses’ bridles, lead them about in circles, cool them down.
They were shoved down on their knees, and Trzl stared at a hard floor made of some kind of marble. A strange, pigmented color she had seen once before but could not remember where. Then came a voice she did remember. It was not husky and accented like the men who had taken her. It was clear, almost cultured. Disguised behind a deepness that was not its own.
“You are certain these are the two requested by Anaqi?”
“That’s them. The house was marked and they are the right age, aren’t they? Truthsome, they speak as if they were from the city.”
He knelt down, using the handle of a knife to shove her face upward. Trzl knew she should not do it, but her eyes shot up from the floor and into his. Just as quickly, a glove came down from one of the guards and slapped her across the face.
“How dare you look Lord Marek in the eyes?”
It stung madly, and she dropped her gaze. Lord Marek. The Lord of the Cliffs. Are we that far north?
Lord Marek said nothing. He turned her face from side to side, examining her features as one did with a new falcon.
“Strange sort of fair, isn’t she, my lord?” a voice said from the dark, somewhere behind him.
Still Lord Marek kept his peace. Trzl wanted him to speak again, wanted to hear his voice. But perhaps not. Perhaps hearing it appraise her so coldly would make her fear worse.
Finally he said, “It isn’t beauty I’m concerned with, Tev.” It was him. And then he spoke directly to her. “You are from the Third City, or from another?”
Trzl searched her brain for a suitable answer, frozen by confusion. You are supposed to be dead.
Again the slap of the glove against her face. “Answer your lord.”
“I…am from many places. I’ve not lived in a city for many years.”
“That is not an answer.”
Oh now she wanted him to stop talking. To never speak again. I have not thought of you since a lifetime ago. It was supposed to stay that way.
She did not look up, but she could hear his insincere smile. “Put them in separate dungeons. I will question the boy after you have fed him.”
Lord Marek turned to leave, heavy leather shoes with steel soles clacking on the marble. Then—a turn, an afterthought.“Feed the woman nothing.”
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Obsessed with all things history, Rachel O’Laughlin grew up writing adventure stories and only recently fell in love with fantasy as a genre. She lives in New England with her husband and children, grows roses and tweets often. She adores lattes, The Fray, long drives in the country, and any dark story with a good twist. Coldness of Marek is her first novel.