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fantasy

Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 4

The special Boosting the Signal feature week for the 2015 NIWA anthology continues! Today’s post features another previous Boosting the Signal guest, E.M. Prazeman, who now offers us a bit of a prelude to the story “Travail”. See below for the author’s own intro, and a bit of backstory for the jester Pick, in which Pick faces the goal of not only acquiring a messenger boy—but also surviving keeping him.

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Asylum

Asylum

Travail takes us back in time, about three hundred fifty years before the events in The Lord Jester’s Legacy trilogy. In this era, Jesters, the masked courtiers that do the dirty political work for the noble class, wear bells to warn of their presence, and knights in armor are given a piece of a king’s or queen’s soul and sworn to dispense the monarchy’s justice.

Pick is a jester to a minor lord. Strong, tall, and quick-witted, he has a somewhat undeserved reputation for skipping the bribery, scheming and trickery associated with his trade and going straight for the throat of the matter. Unlike most of his compatriots he prefers gaining the trust of people who have great skill, intelligence, learning, or preferably all three, regardless of accident of birth.

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I made my way through the broad, cluttered alley where merchants store their empty crates and barrels that will later be filled with goods to be traded at the Amendsday market. In daylight this was an innocuous place, but I traveled at night with a lantern that burned too low to serve well. I had the wick set that way on purpose. If I thought I could get away with no light at all I might have tried it. It’s so much easier to intimidate someone when they can’t get a good look at you. I had height, strength and a good sword on my side, but that only really meant that whoever might try for me would either have me outnumbered or they’d ambush me. So much for height and strength.

“Pick?”

The relief rushed out of me like a wintry gust. “Gary.” The artfully-named little boy, Gary Gray, moved into the light. My relief was short-lived. He had someone with him, someone burly. No. Two men, one close behind the other.

Lovely.

“You didn’t say he was a jester,” one of the men said.

“You didn’t tell me you were bringing friends,” I added. I turned my head just so and allowed the bells on my steel-beaked mask to ring as I did it. “Is there a problem?” I listened carefully, not to them but behind me. That’s where the real danger would come from. Two men in an alley I could handle. An axe through the back of my skull, on the other hand, would fell me. It’s a weakness of mine.

“You have him running messages and he’s no messenger,” the man informed me, as if I didn’t know. “So yes, there’s a problem, jester.”

“I’ve heard of you, Pick,” the other man said.

That wasn’t good news. “Gary gets paid for his trouble.”

“Will you pay his corpse when whatever you’re tangling him in gets him killed? He’s only a child, for pity’s sake.”

Hmm. That didn’t sound like concern. My guess? They found out he was getting money and they wanted him to get more so they could take it from him. The air in the alley didn’t carry much but I would have bet my bells that they smelled like wine and shit. The sort that took a small boy’s bread money usually did. “It’s better than begging, wouldn’t you say? But you’re right. I’ve been taking advantage and that’s wrong, so wrong of me that I should like to make amends. It is Amendsday, now that it’s after midnight. How does ten ar sound? And I shall never trouble you to carry messages for me again. Unless.”

They took in so much air in anticipation of my next offer that I wondered that there was any left for me to breathe.

“You would like to keep carrying messages for me. For an ar each?” I had no intention of paying that rate, of course. To a beggar boy? That, not my messages, would get him killed once word got out. Word usually did, too. I kept listening behind me. Someone was there, I was fairly sure. They hadn’t been there before. They must have hidden well away and had only now reached the alley to cut off my escape. My nerves lit like lightning inside me.

“Tell you what,” the first man said. “You pay ten ar now, for the trouble you’ve brought him so far, and he’ll run those messages for an ar a week. Won’t you, Gary?”

“Yes, please.”

“It’s one or the other.” I had to make some sort of show of resistance or they’d catch on too soon. It might have been my growing fear that I wouldn’t get out of this alive but I thought they tensed. Maybe they already knew. “Consider. Ten dangerously attractive ar now in ten silver coins, versus an ar, dispensed in cupru so that it doesn’t draw too much attention, at least once a week for as long as he cares to carry. You’re the boy’s father. Consider his future. That’s a decent living for him.”

“He’s not my father.” Gary’s small voice released the lightning.

In the end it was just Gary and myself left standing in pure darkness, for the lantern had gone out in the midst of my attacks. I bled, I hurt, but we were both alive. I braced against the wall, gasping for air, and he braced alongside me. He’s a smart boy, Gary Gray. He might have invited those men to rob me or coerce me. But he didn’t grieve for them, and it seemed we were friends, for now.

“An ar a message?” he asked.

“I have a better, truer offer,” I told him. “I’ll be your patron, if you’d like to become a real messenger.”

“They’re rich,” he whispered.

“And they live in nice houses, and travel to see the world. Unless you’d rather have the ten ar.”

“No. I want to be a messenger,” he said quickly.

“Good boy.” With my wind back, I stood back up. “Did you deliver my message?” I asked.

He gave me the answer into my hand.

I knew then he would serve me well.

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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Al-Kabar, by Lee French

Earlier this week I did a cover reveal for Lee French’s new book Al-Kabar, and I’m pleased to report that that book has now been released! BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE–Lee has agreed to let me do a giveaway for this book, so if it sounds intriguing to you, drop a comment on this post by Monday the 21st, and I’ll choose a commenter at random. The winner will need to specify what digital format they’d like to get. If you don’t want to get in on the giveaway, you can actually buy the ebook for 99 cents until next Saturday! And what character goal can you expect to be pursued in this story? Peace. No matter what the cost!

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Al-Kabar

Al-Kabar

“What I really want is peace across Serescine. It would be magnificent to avoid all these ridiculous, costly wars.” From the second floor balcony, Zavin watched the sun slip below the horizon, painting the sky orange. The day’s heat would break soon and he’d leave the palace to wander the city streets in disguise for a few hours.

His lover rested a delicate ochre hand on his shoulder, her gold bangle bracelets clinking together. The smooth silk of her flame-red dress teased his dark skin and he gripped his olivewood staff tighter to avoid temptation. Its topaz crystal pulsed with dim light to echo his concentration.

“My husband–”

“Must you call him that in my bedroom?” He glanced over his shoulder with a scowl and found Mahdis smirking at him.

“Caliph Korval has proven receptive to your ideas so far. There’s nothing to worry about.” She slid behind him and kissed the bare skin between his shoulder blades.

“There’s always something to worry about.” At the moment, he worried about losing track of time in the throes of indulgence and passion. “The path ahead will have Korval taking the mantle of Sultan. Many things need to be prepared for that to become a reality.”

“Are you sure it can be done? There hasn’t been a sultan for a long time.”

“Of course I’m sure. I’ve devoted years of my life to setting this in motion. Korval will be the Sultan and I’ll be his right hand, ready to step in should an assassin ever manage to penetrate his security.”

Mahdis chuckled. “I’m sure that would never happen.”

Zavin bared his teeth in a feral grin. “No, of course not. There will be peace across Serescine, no matter how many lives I have to spend to make it so.”

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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Stormseer, by Stephanie A. Cain

Boosting the Signal is directly inspired by John Scalzi’s Big Idea column and Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bit. But given that I’m a much lower-profile author than either of them, I don’t usually expect to get any feedback about the books I feature. Imagine my surprise, then, when an author I saw featured on My Favorite Bit emailed me out of the blue to ask if she could also be on Boosting the Signal! “YES”, I said, particularly given that I’d already noticed her cover on Kowal’s site and thought that that sounded like a book I wanted to check out. Dynamically posed characters of color? Yes please I’ll have some. Particularly when the author serves me up an intro to their villain. I do so love me some villain POV pieces! So here’s Cain’s villain, telling you all about how his dastardly plans are of course entirely for the good of the kingdom.

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Stormseer

Stormseer

You should already know me, but on the off chance that you’re a foreigner or from some remote village in the far east of the kingdom, I’ll introduce myself. My name is Arisanat Burojan, and I am Lord of the First Family, cousin to the king of Tamnen.

That’s right, cousins. That’s how the Families work, you know. Well, of course I love my cousin. He’s a misguided fool, but I do love him. The same goes for Prince Razem. He’s only a few years younger than me, and I know I can count on him to keep this war with Strid going as long as possible. But the problem is, he’s still not in it to win it, so to speak.

Oh, I don’t doubt that he hates our enemies. After all, he still thinks they killed his sister, Princess Azmei. I certainly haven’t told him I was the one who arranged for the assassination. Why would I do that? Right now he trusts me. He thinks we’re on the same side.

What side am I on? Why, I’m on Tamnen’s side, of course! I’m only doing this for the good of the kingdom. You think I want to murder my cousin’s family? What sort of monster do you take me for? I practically grew up with Prince Razem and Princess Azmei. I wept for her after I paid the assassin.

But the royal family has lost its edge. The king is actually talking about peace! Peace, after all the atrocities those Strid dogs committed on our people. After the sacrifices our people made in this war. After my brother died at the hands of those murdering Strid. The king talks of peace.

It’s intolerable. I will not allow it. And since there is only one other nobleman on the council willing to speak out, I must go about it another way.

I didn’t mean for things to turn out like this. But my cousin gave me little choice.

I embarked on this path three years ago, after Venra died. My brother died in the war, and how did Princess Azmei respond? She agreed to an arranged marriage with a foreign prince–despite the tenderness and affection between her and Venra, despite how she must have known he intended to speak to her father about an alliance. She had to have known how much Venra adored her. But she shed pretty tears at his funeral and then sauntered back to the capital where she agreed to marry a same-loving boy she’d never met.

Oh, I know that isn’t nice. I don’t really care if the Amethirian prince loves men instead of women. But Azmei’s arranged marriage was just one more demonstration of how weak the Tamnese throne has become. We agreed to marry our princess to a foreign empire so her husband could crush Strid for us. If that doesn’t show how ineffective my cousin’s rule is, what does?

So I arranged to have Azmei removed. I didn’t anticipate how angry Razem would be, how he would blame our enemies for it, but that’s certainly a bonus. But now that the king has finally decided to pursue peace by other means, it’s time for my plan to come to fruition.

First, the death of the king. Second, the prince.

And then I will be king.

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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Mating Flight, by Bard Bloom

Bard Bloom is a fellow member of the Outer Alliance mailing list, and was the latest to answer my call for Boosting the Signal submissions over the loop! When he told me his duology Mating Flight was about dragons, I leapt right on that. And I’m glad I did, because yoiks, check out that lovely cover art, won’t you? Not to mention that his protagonist is a female dragon, with a very basic goal: get through the coming mating and dominance matches of her people. And I am totally curious now as to how she recorded this diary Bard mentions!

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Mating Flight

Mating Flight

From the author:

This is a snippet from the Mating Flight duology by Bard Bloom, comprised of Mating Flight: A Non-Romance of Dragons and World in My Claws: Mating Flight Concluded. They’re on Amazon in Kindle and paper formats.

Jyothky, keeper of the diary that was edited into Mating Flight, is a dragoness of marriageable age. Which means she, two other dragonesses, and six male dragons — drakes — are going to go off for a few years, have lots of sex and dominance contests, and decide who will marry whom and which three drakes don’t marry at all. She has no sense of touch and no libido, putting her at a disadvantage.

Good to Be a Dragoness (?)

Advantages Disadvantages

I am guaranteed getting married, since there are two drakes for every dragoness.

I’m not really very eager to get married. Arilash, well, Roroku was right about Arilash, so I guess she does want to have a drake she can mate with whenever she wants and nobody will complain. I haven’t really been looking longingly on drakes very much. And I’ve tried, too.

This is rather more than a matter of gratifying intimate personal urges, or even producing progeny. Mated pairs of dragons control territory. Bachelors do not. They live on the territory of mated pairs, one way or another.

Dragonesses enjoy copulating more, according to Arilash. I can’t imagine how she found this out. If it’s true at all.

I can’t feel, so I’m not going to enjoy it much.

Drakes need to compete all the times, before they’re married or definitely not getting married. Lots of fighting, lots of verbal sparring, lots of treasure hunting, all that sort of thing. Which some of them enjoy (Greshthanu) and some of them don’t (Osoth).

Dragonesses compete too. The customs are a bit different. We fight and spar verbally as much. We don’t collect much treasure, that would be offensive to the drakes — the drake gets status from presenting his mate a good hoard. Sexual prowess is another realm of competition … for drakes too, but more for dragonesses. Arilash is going to beat me in that. She’s been practicising with the drakes, if the rumors are true. Which is very undignified and inappropriate of course!

I am not much obliged to study anything in particular beyond the basics of breath, sorcery, combat, rulership of households and domains. A dragoness can get away with more laziness than a drake. I know a handful who have taken advantage of this option. (I’ve actually had more of the opposite problem: I’ve wanted to study sorcery, but nobody will teach me anything but the simplest, because it will stunt my growth more than it already is.)

Drakes who think it likely that they will lose generally need to study some craft or profession which will give them some status among dragons, afterwards. Osoth studies necromancy and Nrararn studies sky-magic, both quite respectable and useful specialities. Tultamaan studies the king, and is one of his advisors and retainers. Ythac should probably be paying more attention, though he is pretty good with information magic. Of those four, only Ythac has much of a real chance at getting married.

I am automatically considered attractive and appealing no matter what I look like or what parts of me got broken. This ought to be important. I am probably going to be the technically worst lover in all of the dragon-worlds. I’m going to keep asking “is it in yet?”, because I can’ttell. If not using an outright scrying spell — can you think of anything more offensive than that? But ultimately that doesn’t matter. I’m a dragoness, which means I am more desireable than the lack-of-mates that half the drakes have.

I am not actually very attractive. I’m a dull black color without much texture. Arilash is a dull tan color without much texture. Roroku is a dull green color without much texture. And so on. Compare that to the drakes: Nrararn with his twirly horn and incandescent mane and pretty cerulean color, Greshthanu with his garden of blue and orange spikes, etc. etc. etc.

This is really just the same as songbirds. Females are dull colors to avoid attracting attention. Males are bright colors to attract attention: attention of females, attention of predators, whatever.

But I’m not a stupid little songbird. I’d like to look exciting and dramatic. Again, I could shapeshift or use cosmetic spells the way drakes do, but everydragon can tell that they’re there and pretty much can tell what I really look like too so it doesn’t help.

I have a better-than-drake chance of surviving my Great Separation. (Mating flights must be nasty on Dragonhome for the original, un-Separated dragons. Two drakes for every dragoness is bad enough, but they’ve got three or four.)

I did survive my Great Separation, so this one doesn’t seem very important any more. Sure, I should be thankful and happy for it. But the only difference it makes to my day-to-day life is that I have a day-to-day life. That’s surprisingly hard to remember.

I’m going to get married.

… I’m going to get married.

I’m not even being flippant or clever here. Suppose that I have my choice of four drakes (really two or three) and I don’t want to marry any of them, or anyone at all? Suppose I want to go be an explorer, a discoverer of new worlds? A researcher into the depths of sorcery (bad for size, bad for fertility)? Anything other than the co-ruler of a tiny-to-small domain? That’s not a choice for me. I’m going to get married, because there are so many more drakes than dragonesses that every dragoness has to get married.

I hope there’s actually some fun in it. I’m not going to enjoy sex, that’s clear enough. My parents seem basically happy with each other, but they say that’s some work to achieve and due in a large part to a regular schedule of sex plus lots of unscheduled. Rankotherium and Dessvaria seem to basically hate each other.

I hereby resolve to meet my fate with all the honor and bravery of a dragon. And if I don’t have all the sensuality of a dragon, I’ll fake it as best I can.

(I hope you believe that resolution for me, ’cause I don’t.)

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Buy Mating Flight: A Non-Romance of Dragons: Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (Paperback)

Buy World in My Claws: Mating Flight Concluded: Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (Paperback)

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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Oubliette, by E.M. Prazeman

The first piece for Today’s Boosting the Signal doubleheader comes from fellow NIWA member E.M. Prazeman! She’s the author of the Lord Jester’s Legacy trilogy, and having laid personal eyes on her covers, I can report that they got a LOT of attention at Norwescon this past April. I’m looking forward to checking out her work, although from what I’m seeing in this piece, one will clearly want to tread lightly around her bad guys. She’s going to let you into the head of one of them now.

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Oubliette

E.M. Prazeman writes secondary world fantasies with strong historical leanings. Current works include The Lord Jester’s Legacy Trilogy (Masks, Confidante, and Innocence & Silence) and a short story which will appear in an upcoming anthology that will go on sale in November. Current works in progress are The Poisoned Past (Oubliette, Penumbra and A Dark Radiance), sequel series to The Lord Jester’s Legacy, and The Kilhellion, a sword and sorcery fantasy. The Poisoned Past will go on sale this summer. Oubliette looks good for an early June release! Now, please let me introduce to you a certain person from Oubliette whom you would not want to meet under any circumstances. If he succeeds, you’ll all get to see him again in Penumbra.

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I’m a villain. I like it, and I’m good at it. I wouldn’t have become one, if people weren’t slow, stupid liars. Are you afraid? I don’t care if you are. Not anymore. I used to like fear, and blubbering, and people pissing themselves. I’m not sure what happened. For a while I thought I got bored with it, but honestly … don’t you look for a way to escape when I’m talking to you. I thought you weren’t as idiotic as the others, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered with you. That’s a compliment, and a gift. You’re exceptional. Too bad for you, hmm?

Anyway. Years ago when I raped a man, something went wrong. He liked it, in a way. He killed himself later, but that wasn’t what changed me. I’m pissed that he changed me, by the way. He and his wife. I can’t stop thinking about that look in his eyes. Release. A strange joy behind his fear, as if I’d set him free. He wanted to die then. I didn’t want to kill him. Fuck, I wanted more from him. I wanted to make him mine forever.

I find it curious that both people I harmed who liked it were men. I should have enjoyed it better, I think, if they were women, but a hole is a hole when it all comes down to it, don’t you agree? No? It’s all right if you disagree. I don’t mind. Truly. As if I would care what people think of me.

Anyway, since then, for the most part, I kept my work simple. I interrogated, mainly using my wits and their lack thereof. I tortured people sometimes if I thought they’d respond in the way that normal, rational people do when they’re in pain, but that seemed risky to me. I should have trusted my instincts. Because that boy.

That boy.

I can still hear his exquisite voice calling my name softly down the dungeon hall. Cock. His mouth cupped the word like he wanted to take me in. A Trace. A lover’s whisper. Cock, a trace. Cockatrice.

Oh for pity’s sake you didn’t know who I was? Am? Whatever. It’s so obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. They called me Cock in school. I deserved it, earned it, both for the good and the wicked reasons, though they tried to humiliate me and make fun of it. And then, when I graduated, I took the name Trace. Cock. Trace. I have no idea why no one makes the connection between Trace the Master Jester and Cockatrice, the dreaded highwayman. It’s not even that clever. What can I say? I was young and I think part of me wanted to give the people who hunted me a little help because I didn’t feel hunted. I wanted to play the fox to their hounds and I wanted them to get close because that is about as thrilling as you can imagine. But they never got close to catching me, no matter how many sacred guards they sent after me. Now I’m employed rather than a free agent. I work alongside sacred guards every day. My employer would protect me if I was accused, but the pathetic nut rubbers that try to play mavson these days still haven’t caught on.

The boy, you ask? None other than the infamous regicide, that dreaded and feared little boy, Lord Jester Lark. Have you seen him? He’s as short and slight as they describe, with his angelic little innocent face. You’d never dream he was dangerous at all, especially when he’s not wearing his jester’s mask. I made the mistake of hurting him. And oooohhh, how he yielded to me, gave in to the pain. How he took strength from his endurance. I wanted to whip him bloody and then force myself upon him.

I’ve gotten quite carried away. Hand me that drink.

Thank you.

He got away and I want him back. I don’t want you. But I need you. Not like I need him. I need your skills. Track him for me. They say he ran off into the woods. That’s rather like saying he sailed away across the wide ocean, isn’t it? But you’re going to find him for me. It shouldn’t take you long. I know where he began, and I think I know where he’s going. We need to intercept him. And when you find him for me, I’ll be so preoccupied with my prize you’ll be able to slip away from me. I won’t care. I’ll happily let you go. Here. I’ll even pay you in advance.

Ha! You’ve never seen five sol together in one palm? Well now you have, in your own hand, my friend. I might give you another five if you find him.

But. If you don’t find him, I’ll have to take my money back and try to satisfy myself with you. For this boy does inspire a strange lust in me, and the closer I get to him, the stronger my lust becomes. Now, don’t you worry about him. He’ll be far more interested in me than you. He might be strong enough to kill me, which will be a great relief to the living world. But I’m betting he won’t hurt me. I’m betting that he felt the same thrill I did when I gripped his hair so hard that some tore free from his scalp, when I forced him against that cold, hard stone.

A shame we were so rudely interrupted.

Compared to him, you’re not at all interesting. But if you’re all I’ve got, I will use you. So go get him for me. And make it quick. I’m more patient than I was as a youth, but that does not make me a patient man.

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Buy the Book: Oubliette is not yet released, but follow the author for news on when it becomes available!

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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Through Fire and Sea, by Nicole Luiken

Nicole Luiken is one of my fellow Carina authors who actually writes fantasy, and so I’m quite happy to feature her on Boosting the Signal today for her latest YA release. Nicole’s here to tell you about the difficulties her characters face surviving in a volcanic landscape.

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Through Fire and Sea

Through Fire and Sea

For my fantasy series, Otherselves, I created the True World and four Mirror Worlds. Each Mirror World is named after an element: Water, Fire, Air and Stone. (BTW, the True World isn’t our world (Earth). Our world is Water because we have so much ocean.) I had a lot of fun designing the four worlds and their magic.

Book one, Through Fire & Sea, features two worlds in detail: Water and Fire. It also features two girls. Holly is from our world, Leah is from Fire World. Although the girls are otherselves (mirror twins) of each other, they’ve each been shaped by the world they grew up in.

Imagine a landscape with a blood-red sky, dominated by volcanoes. That’s Fire World. Leah grew up in a castle in the shadow of a volcano named Grumbling Man. The Volcano Lords are quarrelsome Fire elementals and have ominous names like Grumbling Man, Thunderhead, Poison Cloud and Cinders. People scratch out a precarious existence in the valleys between the volcanoes because there is no other habitable land. How do they survive? The hot-blooded nobility have a magical talent that allows them to speak to the Volcano Lords. The Volcano Lords become quite attached to their dukes and the dukes are the only ones who can soothe them when they grow angry and tremble on the edge of eruption.

Early in the novel, Leah is forced to leave the castle and travel to the home of the sorceress Qeturah. I based Qeturah’s Tower on the weird volcanic rock formations found in Cappadocia, Turkey. Hundreds of years ago these were hollowed out and inhabited.

At a later point in the story, Leah has to pick her way across a cooling lava field, using her hot-blooded senses to tell her where it’s safe to step and where molten lava flows beneath a seemingly solid thin black crust.

When researching, I discovered that other signs of volcanic activity include hot springs, geysers and mudpots—areas of boiling mud, such as can be seen in places like Yellowstone Park or Iceland. I found the mudpots so cool, I had to use them in the story. Two characters have a dangerous duel on the narrow path between two mudpots, where any misstep will mean an ugly death.

I also populated Fire World with some exotic critters. I invented some nasty insects called fire wasps which spawn in mudpots and can set things on fire, and oh, yes, dragons. You knew there had to be dragons, right? Dragons are the off-spring of Volcano Lords and humans and are very rare. When a black dragon appears, it upsets the precarious balance of Fire World and sets the whole story into motion.

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Blurb

Mirror mirror, hear my call…

In the Fire world, seventeen-year-old Leah is the illegitimate daughter of one of the realm’s most powerful lords, able to communicate with the tempestuous volcano gods that either bless a civilization or destroy it. But then Leah discovers she’s a Caller, gifted with the unique—and dangerous—ability to “call” her Otherselves in mirror worlds. And her father will do anything to use her powers for his own purposes.

In the Water world, Holly nearly drowns when she sees Leah, a mirror image of herself. She’s rescued by a boy from school with a secret he’d die to protect. Little do they know, his Otherself is the son of a powerful volcano god at war in the Fire world…and he’s about to fall.

As Leah and Holly’s lives intersect, the Fire and Water worlds descend into darkness. The only way to protect the mirror worlds is to break every rule they’ve ever known. If they don’t, the evil seeping through the mirrors will destroy everything—and everyone—they love…

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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Leaves of Flame, by Joshua Palmatier

As I promised in the Boosting the Signal post for Well of Sorrows, here’s the companion post for Book 2 of the series, Leaves of Flame! And since this is Book 2 of the series, the Colin of this book has far different goals than the Colin of Book 1. As you can see in the piece Joshua has sent me for this book! Enjoy!

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Leaves of Flame

Leaves of Flame

I wanted to thank Angela Korra’ti for the chance to signal boost my novel LEAVES OF FLAME, the second in the series, here at the blog. This is an epic fantasy, with the first book called WELL OF SORROWS (available now) and the third book, BREATH OF HEAVEN, written but not yet released. Here’s a little scene featuring Colin, the main character, and what’s motivating him in LEAVES OF FLAME. If it piques your interest, then check out the books, available from Baen in ebook format, and on the Kindle and Nook. Hope you enjoy!

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The White Fire of Aielan’s Light burned bright and cold in the depths of the mountains of the Alvritshai. The flames licked upwards from the stone, without source, tendrils brushing the ceiling, acting exactly like a regular fire, but silent and a pure white that caused Colin’s eyes to ache as he stared at them, entranced. But if the Alvritshai knew he was here, inside their most sacred shrine—if they knew his purpose—

He shook himself, then knelt, pulling his backpack from his shoulders and setting it on the floor. From within, he drew out a bundle of cloth, which he laid on the floor, shoving the pack aside. He tugged the cloth aside, revealing a length of heartwood, gifted to him by the forest itself, as long as his arm. It had been soaking in the waters of the Lifeblood for years in preparation for today. Tonight, he intended to forge it in the white flame, in Aielan’s Light. He needed to imbue the heartwood with the fire’s protective power. He hoped that the Lifeblood would give it the wood the strength to survive the forging process.

And if he succeeded . . . if he succeeded, then the three races of the New World—human, Alvritshai, and dwarren—might have a chance against the destructive darkness of the Wraiths and the Shadows.

Reaching forward, he grasped the length of heartwood, felt a pulse of response from deep inside as it recognized him, recognized the power that flowed through him, and then he stood. Holding it before him, he closed his eyes and gathered himself before stepping into the white flames. They wrapped around him, enfolded him in their cold silence, seeping into him, judging him. He’d stepped into their fires before, been judged, so now he reached out into the fire’s presence, formed his intent in his mind and beseeched the fire to help him.

The races needed protection. The Shadows had awoken, had learned to expand their influence beyond the prison of the Well within the forest. They were a plague upon the land, led by Walter and those that had been turned by the Lifeblood to their cause—led by the Wraiths. The races were vulnerable, were being attacked on every side as the Shadows fed upon them. They and the Wraiths needed to be stopped. They needed to be destroyed. They needed to be imprisoned again. And only Colin could do it. But he needed the Lifeblood and the Fire and the permission of the forest. He needed their sanction.

And so he asked, and permission was given. The forest provided the heartwood, the vessel, and the bane to keep the Shadows and Wraiths at bay. The Lifeblood provided the healing, the strength to sustain the warding for decades, for longer if necessary. And the Fire provided the soul, the consciousness to recognize those tainted by the Well.

He felt that consciousness seeping into the heartwood. Reaching forward, he guided it with purpose, felt it take form, felt it merge with the heartwood, with the Lifeblood, combine into something more. But it needed power. It needed to last, and so he forced more and more of the flame into the wood. It surged through his body, throbbed from his fingers into the wood, until the wood was engorged. Yet it needed more. If it were to last, it needed more, and so he let the flow continue, until he felt the heartwood trembling beneath his grip, until his arms began to shake. He fell to his knees, tears streaming down his face, gasping, the Fire around him billowing higher in utter silence—

And then the heartwood split beneath his fingers with a shivering hiss and exploded.

Crying out, he stumbled back out of the flame and collapsed to his side. Lifting himself up, he roared in defiance, hands clenching into fists over the splinters of wood that remained, then sagged forward into hitching, frustrated sobs.

An hour later, he picked himself up and gathered together his pack. He stood staring at the White Fire of Aielan, jaw set, teeth clenched. He would have to try again. And again and again and again, if necessary. Because the three races still needed protection from the Shadows and the Wraiths. Because they were still dying by their hands, by Walter’s hand. And no one understood how devastating the Shadows and Wraiths could be. Would be. Because no one, other than Walter and the Wraiths, had drunk from the Well and knew its insidious power besides Colin.

And he meant to stop them, even if it meant sacrificing his own humanity to do it.

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