No Present Like Timeby Steph Swainston
God is still on vacation, the Emperor still leads the war against the insects, and his cadre of immortals is still quarreling among themselves. But a new land has been discovered, one that/center>/b>
God is still on vacation, the Emperor still leads the war against the insects, and his cadre of immortals is still quarreling among themselves. But a new land has been discovered, one that holds the secrets of centuries, and one of their own, now exiled, foments rebellion against the Circle. In the brutal battle that follows, Jant Comet will discover that even immortals can fall. . . .
Wildly inventive, engaging, and witty, Steph Swainston's trilogy is building to be a landmark of modern imagination.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)
Read an Excerpt
No Present Like Time
By Steph Swainston
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Steph Swainston
All right reserved.
On this soft night I followed the Moren River valley, flying back to the Castle, hearing the chimes of clock towers in the Plainslands villages as I passed high above.
The night air was shapeless. I couldn't sense any current. I concentrated, flapping steadily on, marking distance by time, marking time by going through all the songs I know. I lay horizontally, looking down around me, cruising with stiff, shallow beats. I felt the air rushing between my feathers on the upstroke. Then I pulled my wings down again, the feathers flattened, the tight muscles moved around my waist.
Thermals were dissipating as the sun set. I was dropping altitude to find them and the work was getting harder. Fog was forming, low in the pasture and along the river bank. The tops of the valley sides were dark shapes rising from the mist like islands. Beyond, I could see parallel hills all the way out to the beginning of Donaise. Hedges and drystone walls looked like black seams separating fields of clean, lapping white mist. There was no sound, just the skeleton zip of my wings peeling back the air.
I spotted a point of light in the distance, like a city, and checked my compass -- bearings dead on for the Castle and hopefully there would be some supper left. The speck resolved into a cluster of lights, then each cluster separated again, and distances between them seemed to grow as I got closer. Lights slipped from the horizon down toward me, until I was over Demesne village. Street lights shone up, picking the mist out in flat beams. Denser wisps blew past, curling, and the fog began to take on a shape of its own.
The fog changed everything. Fog covered the river's reflective surface, meandered to the water meadows. Fog poured between the cultivar yew plantations and spiky poplar coppices where tomorrow's bows and arrows were painstakingly being grown. Fog drifted over the roofs of the village where most of the Castle's staff live. It pooled on the carp ponds, stole into the tax barns and settled on the market's thatched roof. It cloaked the watermill, the aqueduct's dark arches, Hobson's stable and the Blacksmith's yard. Fog overran the Castle's outermost boundaries. It advanced through the archery fields, lay in the tilting lists, rolled over the tennis courts. It muffled the concert hall and the bathhouse complex.
One of the Castle's spires was silhouetted against a white light, which suffused into the mist in an immense grisaille sphere. The floodlights were on in the amphitheater. They only illuminated the sharp Northeast To wer, its black sarsen stone striking in the whiteout. Features became visible as I closed the distance. The Castle's vast bulk was obscured. Occasionally angular roofs and the crenellated tops of walls appeared, fragmentary, through the mist. The square base of the round tower was submerged two meters deep into a sea of fog. I flew through thicker patches -- then it looked as if it was receding on the plains. On a whim, three hundred years ago, the Architect had encrusted her studio in the turret with sculptures. Eagles, storks and eels loomed out of the mist, with her company's logo and the tools of her trade in stonework blackened by kitchen smoke. The windows bristled with deep, tangled marble ivy so realistic that birds were nesting in it.
Fog cold in my eyes and throat like clouds. A smell from the kitchens of wood smoke, roast beef and dishwater had caught in it. A faint scent of lavender from the laundry house tainted it. Burned whale oil from the floodlights saturated it, turning the fog into smog.
Stories and gable roofs and towers rose behind towers. The spaces under the buttresses were filled with tracery. The Carillon Courtyard had a lawn mowed in wide stripes and a roof that had been covered in scaffolding for eight decades. On the steeplejack's walkway was a wooden treadmill twice as tall as a man, used to raise loads of Ladygrace stone. Its basket hung from the rope wound on its axle.
Two centuries ago, I thought the North Façade was a cliff face formed by the power of nature. I had tilted my head until I thought I would fall over backward, but I still couldn't see the top of its spire. I had crouched on the hard grass a few hundred meters away, looked up and realized -- all the crevices are carvings. The cliff ledges are parapets. Statues of idealized immortals, pinnaform spires embroidered with vertical lace. The glory of the Emperor, god's governor of the Fourlands. It had made my neck ache.
I flew an assured path around walls flaking masonry, mottled with moss. I passed pinnacles decorated with ball flowers. The Finials, a memorial sculpture, was a row of scalloped arches resting on freestanding black marble shafts. It carried the signatures of Eszai, people who through their peerless talents have won immortality, a place in the Circle, and reside here. Graffiti scarred the arches, the names of immortals past and present; I had incised CJS & TW 1892 in a love heart on the highest topstone.
Now invisible in the mist, the gravel courtyard at the foot of the Finials encircled a statue of Dunlin, recently the King of Awia. I had ordered it to be placed there with the statues of other great warriors so that he would always be remembered.
The tall Aigret Tower seemed to drift in the mist and I sheared through it. It was the Slake Cross Battle cenotaph, square openwork, completely hollowed out to a lantern of air. At every level its pillars were thicker at the top than at the bottom, so they looked like they were dripping down -- melting. It had no walls, its pillars were backed by those of a second and third tower nested inside; through its worn bird-boned latticework I flew without breaking pace.
Excerpted from No Present Like Time by Steph Swainston Copyright © 2006 by Steph Swainston. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Steph Swainston was born in 1974 and comes from Bradford, England. She studies archaeology at Cambridge University and then worked as an archaeologist for three years, gaining a masters of philosophy from the University of Wales.
She also worked as a researcher in a company that develops herbal medicines. Her current job is in defense research.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
In the Fourlands several years have passed since THE YEAR OF OUR WAR, but now a rare challenge to a position in Emperor San¿s Circle of the immortal Eszai occurs. Shockingly the newcomer defeats Gio Ami, and replaces him as the Swordsman, Serein. Feeling humiliated by his defeat, as only the second immortal to lose the vaunted inner circle position in several centuries, Gio vows to regain his place of prominence and more.----- Meanwhile San sends Eszai members Comet Jant Shira, the new Serein, and the Sailor to negotiate with the natives of a newly discovered island, Tris to obtain their agreement to join the Fourlands. The mission fails as the islanders, knowing they were once the fifth land of the Fourlands, want their paradise to remain out of the empire. However, a deadly Insect, who should never have been on board the Stormy Petrel, is released on Tris at about the same time Gio leads an assault on San's castle.----- The sequel to THE YEAR OF OUR WAR is a fine fantasy that contains two major well written subplots: the future of Tris and the insurgency led by former Swordsman Gio. There are also several minor threads involving specific relationships between characters, but those weigh down the prime sagas even when Jant uses drugs to visit the intriguing and critical to this tale realm of Shift. Still this is a well written original thriller that fans will enjoy as more people see the 'Emperor¿s New Clothes' while the Insects still cause havoc.---- Harriet Klausner