In this weighty third installment of the Twilight Reign series (after 2009's The Twilight Herald), the gods, shocked by their defeat in battle against humankind, have decided to fight back by turning select humans into Mortal-Aspects, demigods who can act as their agents. Lord Isak of the Farlan foiled the advances of the shadow-god Azaer at the battle of Scree, but it was only a temporary fix, and the price paid by Isak and his followers was much too steep. Now, needing to mobilize an army against Azaer and the Menin people, Isak must whip his people into a religious frenzy. Though Lloyd's prose is as strong as ever, this volume is more of a stepping stone than a solid story in its own right. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Grave Thief (Twilight Reign Series #3)by Tom Lloyd
Scree has been wiped from the face of the Land in a brutal demonstration of intent. While those responsible scatter to work on the next step in their plan, the stakes are raised – all the way to the heavens – as the Gods themselves enter the fray. Returning home to a nation divided by fanaticism, Lord Isak is haunted both by the consequences of his
Scree has been wiped from the face of the Land in a brutal demonstration of intent. While those responsible scatter to work on the next step in their plan, the stakes are raised – all the way to the heavens – as the Gods themselves enter the fray. Returning home to a nation divided by fanaticism, Lord Isak is haunted both by the consequences of his actions in Scree and by visions of his own impending death. As the full extent of Azaer's schemes become clearer, he realizes prophecy and zealotry must play their part in his battle-plans if there is to be any chance of surviving the coming years. As a white-eye, Isak has had to embrace the darker parts of his own soul, but now the savage religious fervor sweeping his nation must also be accepted and turned to purpose, in the name of survival.
With the battle lines vague and allegiances uncertain, the time for heartless decisions and ruthless action has come. Two figures oppose Isak and his allies: the greatest warrior in history, who dreams of empire and Godhood, and a newborn baby whose dreams have no limit.
Read an Excerpt
The Grave Thief
By Tom Lloyd
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2009 Tom Lloyd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEvening fell with a whisper. The day's thick-falling snow had abated with the failing light and now, as the sky turned deepest blue, the air was clear and still. Venn felt the silence of the forest stretch away in every direction, disturbed only by his own laboured breath and heavy footsteps. The bite of the chill night air was savage and he urged himself on, knowing he had to reach the clearing before the cold took him. Too many travellers misjudged their journeys and succumbed. The Vukotic could keep their Saljin Man; winter was a daemon all on its own in these parts.
At last he reached the clearing and, against all common sense, stopped at its edge, staring dumbly forward. It had been years since he had last been here. The Land itself seemed to catch its breath, as if waiting for the tremors his return would bring. At last he stepped forward into the clearing, the ruin of his people hidden in his shadow.
He walked hesitantly, somewhat humbled by the grand, silent scene. Above him pink wisps of cloud catching the last of the light provided an unearthly backdrop for the place he had never expected to see again. The only sounds were his boots crunching through the snow and the occasional creak and groan of laden branches in the forest behind. He fumbled at his bearskin, trying to tug it tighter around his shoulders, but the weight of his shadow made it hard and after two attempts he gave up, leaving it open at his throat. His goal was visible now, and that was all that mattered.
The entrance to the cavern was only a hundred paces off, crowned by snow-burdened dwarf pines that covered much of these crumpled mountains. It abutted a long slow rise in the ground that continued for miles into the distance and formed one of the two crooked "legs" of what was called Old Man Mountain. There was a shrine to a God no one remembered, derelict yet still imposing, near the top. Venn remembered visiting it once, out of youthful curiosity. The God, whatever his name was, had been stooped and aged, like the bare mountain that served as his memorial. He had been no match for Ushull when the reckoning came.
Venn paused halfway to the entrance and looked back over the expanse of pine, studded by enormous cloud-oaks like nails driven part-way into the slopes, but before he could dwell on his childhood love of this view Jackdaw's wheezing broke the spell. Shaking his head, Venn turned away. He had been spared the sight of Jackdaw's twitching tattoos and scowling face that final day at least, as well as the man's incessant chatter, and for that much, Venn was glad. Once the former priest had cast the spell to bind himself within Venn's own shadow, he had learned not to waste his strength on complaints.
The cavern entrance up ahead was unchanged since he had first marched out into the Land, his swords strapped proudly to his back and his white mask hiding the man underneath. Freestanding brass braziers on either side of the enlarged cleft cast a weak light over the darkened interior and the sap of fresh spitting pine cones mingled with incense in the evening air. Each brazier stood atop an octagonal stem thicker than a man's waist, high enough that some priests had to stand on tiptoe to see over the battered edge. They were centuries old and had suffered during those years. Venn remembered his disappointment when he had learnt the truth about the faint markings that covered the braziers. He had thought them incantations in a secret language, when instead they were only scratches, the effect of weather and time, of careless priests and gales tipping them onto the stony ground. His father had huffed and frowned at his imagination where others would have laughed.
Was that the first step on this path? he wondered. That first loss of wonder: was that the day I saw my father as something other than an otherworldly servant of the Gods? Where once I beheld priestly robes and a half mask of obsidian shards, I found just a tired man with thinning hair and a piercing wheeze when he slept.
"Hey-! Hey, you!"
Venn stopped walking. He didn't turn, knowing the speaker would have to walk into his line of sight. The speaker turned out to be a round-faced priest, his arms laden with logs. In his ear Venn heard an intake of breath from Jackdaw. He was invisible and near incorporeal, at least as long as he stayed in Venn's lee, and yet Jackdaw remained a coward.
Venn recognised the priest despite the smooth black porcelain that hid half his face. They were of a similar age and from the same clan, which had forced them to be something approximating friends as children. Corerr was his name, a foolish, fat little boy who'd grown up into a bewildered junior priest who'd never even lost his puppy fat in the process, a man still sent to fetch the wood for the fires in the cave, though doubtless there were younger priests to do that tiresome duty.
"Who are you? Why are you here?" Corerr called as he trotted forward to place himself between Venn and the cave entrance. Under the bearskin Venn's dyed-black clothes were just visible, clearly marking him as not belonging to any of the clans.
Venn didn't respond, preferring to wait for a grander audience. One face had already appeared at the cave entrance, his lined cheeks and lank, wispy hair illuminated by the weak light. Corerr took another step forward, peering anxiously into the gloom of Venn's snow-capped hood. In the twilight he would be able to make out that Venn wore no mask, yet he had a bloodred teardrop falling from his right eye, the same teardrop that Harlequin masks bore.
Venn kept his eyes on the cave entrance, knowing Corerr wouldn't have the courage to do anything more than look. At last another face appeared, this time that of a woman. She loomed over the first by at least half a head. Venn saw her mouth move. She was speaking softly to her companion, while never taking her eyes off Venn. He took that as his cue to abruptly move again, causing Corerr to yelp in alarm and almost fall over backwards. As Venn closed on the cave mouth he recognised the woman with eyes like polished cairngorm. Even after the long years of his absence she retained the bearing of a warrior-queen.
"Venn ab Teier? Merciful Gods, is that really you?" Corerr twittered in sudden shock and scrambled to walk alongside Venn. "Your face, your clothes-where have you been? What happened to you?"
Venn walked forward, careful to let the man's words drift over him without reacting. The other priests hadn't moved or spoken; the man was positioned slightly in the lee of one brazier, as though ready to hide behind it, and the priestess stood with hands entwined at her breast, falling naturally into the conventions of piety learned decades before. Her hair was greying and crow's feet marked the corner of her eye, but for all that she looked a younger woman, one whose heart hadn't been broken by this wilderness.
Her half mask was covered in obsidian shards, as his father's had been, but hers, crucially, also lacked the tear trails of moonstone signifying high rank. He held his breath and focused directly on her right eye, letting the glazed look fall away for the barest moment. He saw her reaction, though it was so slight he doubted she was even aware of it-only someone looking for it would have seen that flicker in the eye, but to a follower of Azaer it was enough.
Ambition in a place such as this ... you must hate them as much as I do.
After a moment, the priestess stepped to one side and offered Venn the path into the cavern. He shuffled forward, eyes vague as he ignored the icons and prayers painted on the rough stone walls either side of the passage and started on the downward slope, breathing in the incense-laced air of his boyhood.
He continued in silence, feeling as if he were being towed by some unseen rope. So focused was he on the image he was presenting that he found himself jerking to a halt at the far end of the tunnel as it suddenly opened out into an immense space. His eyes were still glazed over, but in his peripheral vision he spotted movement in the dim light of the cavern. He listened to the priestess catching up behind. It wouldn't do to let his herald fall behind. Herald: the word reminded him of Rojak's rasping, plague-ravaged voice and those final whispered commandment of twilight's herald: "Give them a king."
You're right, minstrel. These people want a king-they need a king-but I am not it. I can only lead them to one worth breaking their bonds for. Is that not our master's way anyway? To show a man the path and let him choose it himself?
A large natural pillar at the centre of the cavern dominated his view; its rough sloping sides studded with glinting quartz and stained by long rusty streaks. At points on the pillar some industrious priest had hacked or drilled holes to insert wooden beams that now protruded directly out some eight feet in all directions. From those hung shallow brass braziers like those by the cave entrance, once decorated but now as battered by the years as the priests who tended them. The hum of quiet chanting and a haze of incense filled the air, bringing back more memories of his father; of long days and nights in prayer that had left him drained and exhausted when he returned home.
The cavern stretched two hundred yards from left to right of Venn's vantage point. At its widest, directly ahead of Venn, the cavern floor ran for fifty yards until reaching one of the twelve open chapels dotted around the wall. Those were dedicated to the Gods of the Upper Circle, but there were many more shrines beside these. The holy words of his people dominated the cavern from one end: foot-high characters cut into the rock with such precision only magic could have achieved it.
Even with his back to them Venn could feel their presence. Their creation had signalled the end of the Age of Darkness, the return of the Gods to the Land and to their mortal servants. Their message had enslaved the Harlequin clans and bound them to these frozen mountains. He resisted the urge to turn and look at them; his mission led him elsewhere first.
At the base of the pillar was the smallest and meanest of the cavern's shrines, little more than a trickle of water that ran down a natural channel and collected in a carved hollow. The inside of the hollow was coated in some icy substance that gave off a faint white glow. Animal symbols etched into its rim represented the Gods of the Upper Circle.
The priestess drew closer and he heard the hesitation in her footsteps. Perhaps she was wondering whether to reach out and pluck his arm, maybe even guide his elbow forward. He didn't wait for her to come to any decision but lurched off again, down the steps to the small shrine. Every visitor to the cavern would take a thimble-sized cup of polished brass and drink the ice-cold water. Legend said it had been blessed by the Gods and was the source of their remarkable abilities, but there had never been any mages among the clans and no one knew for sure.
Venn knew; his time in the Land had revealed much of its workings and he was in no doubt about what lay behind his people's abilities, yet as he knelt at the edge of the basin he felt his breath catch. With ponderous movements he took up a cup and drank. His throat tingled at the sharp chill of the water as he swallowed and began to murmur a prayer he'd not spoken in years. The prayer tasted bitter, but he knew Jackdaw needed the delay.
"It is there." He caught the faint whisper in his ear. Jackdaw sounded out of breath, but Venn couldn't tell whether the man was simply drained by the exertion of his spell or if it was an effect of turning himself to shadow. "I need only a few moments to turn the spell to our purpose."
Venn had to force himself not to shiver. In this form the craven mage was no figure of ridicule. As a shadow, Jackdaw reminded him disturbingly of Rojak, Azaer's most favoured disciple. Something in his voice reminded Venn that they had found no trace of Rojak's body-not even his enchanted gold chain, which should have been untouched by the flames that had obliterated the city of Scree.
He put the thought from his mind and continued the prayer. Rojak had ordered him to give his people a king, and in a few moments, Jackdaw would have added to the spell on the water, opening his people to change, to ambition.
Let them choose a new path. Venn thought, adding his own blessing. Let them hope to be more than just entertainment, let them strive for something new. A king they will wish for, a newborn prince they will find.
"It is done," Jackdaw said softly in his ear. Venn gave a fractional nod of the head and spoke the final words of the prayer. He rose and turned to discover the priestess standing close by with a proprietorial air.
Here is the reward you've been seeking all these years. Do you remember the tale of Amavoq's Cup? How deeply will you drink of this poisoned chalice?
Venn looked past her as she glanced down at the basin as though expecting a miracle to be thrown into her lap. His eyes were fixed on the far wall, where the holy words of his people had been carved in the rock. All eyes were on him and sudden silence reigned in the cavern, except for the faint hiss and pop of sap in the braziers. Keeping his movements unnatural and jerky, Venn made his way to the long stretch of wall that bore the holy words and sank to his knees before them, staring up.
"Why are you here?" croaked a voice on his right.
His face blank, Venn turned to look at the stooped figure addressing him. His guard dog, the priestess, stood behind him, almost as close as Jackdaw as she staked her claim. She said nothing, but Venn could feel her poised to strike. The old man was a windspeaker, one of the revered priests whose years of service had taken them beyond prayer to a place where they could hear their God's voice on the wind. She would not challenge one so senior, but Venn knew she would pounce on anything she could to regain control of the situation. Ambition could tear down mountains.
He slowly focused upon the windspeaker. With both hands gripping a gnarled staff, the priest scowled and repeated his question.
Windspeaker, if you hear words in the rushing of air you'll see the hand of Gods in my actions. Men such as you taught me to recite the tale of the Coward's Mirror from heart. Before the end I will perform it for you, as a one final chance to avoid your own foolishness.
"I have been sent," Venn whispered eventually.
"Sent by whom?"
"The Master." Venn paused, giving them time enough to glance over at the chapel of Death where a dozen gold-leaf icons bearing His face shone in the firelight. "A bearer of tidings; of darkness past and a path to come."
Lap it up, you old bastard. Time for you to choose; hesitate here and she'll step around you. You'll fall behind and another will be remembered as the one who attended at the moment in history.
A tiny sound behind Venn told him he was right. While the old fool dithered, the warrior-priestess had no such doubts. Deceived as she was, the priestess had no fear of the future and as she strode past, a soft sigh escaped the old man's lips. Venn followed in her wake, leaving the windspeaker behind as an irrelevance.
He lowered his head in prayer, the holy words a powerful presence ahead of him. A king for his people was Rojak's last order to him. They would not accept any king but one they chose themselves, but Venn had learned much from the twisted minstrel. Jackdaw's magic had opened the way, and a Harlequin's skills would lead them through.
"No king to rule you, no mortal lord to command you." The last line of the holy words made the clans think they were special, that they were blessed. His contempt tasted as bitter as the prayer had.
"Listen to me well, for I am a guardian of the past," he said in a cracked and raw voice, as though he had been silent all those years since last he had visited that place. It was the Harlequin's traditional opening to their audiences.
He waited, sensing the priests gather. He felt a hand on his shoulder and Jackdaw channelling magic through him. A shudder ran through his body and continued down into the ground below. All around he heard whispers of fear and wonder as the priests felt the ground tremble beneath their feet.
"I speak to you of peace-and of a child. Flawed is our Land; imbalanced and imperfect, yet perfection must exist for us to recognise the shadow it casts. Such perfection can be found in the face of a child, for a child knows nothing of fear. Armed only with the divine gift of life their souls are unstained, their hearts unburdened.
"Let the penitent among us raise up a child to remind us of the innocence we once possessed. Let the penitent speak with the voice of a child and have no use for harsh words or boastful manner. Let the penitent see the tears of a perfect child as they repent of their sins, weeping for the loss of innocence. What greater service can there be than the service of innocence?"
Excerpted from The Grave Thief by Tom Lloyd Copyright © 2009 by Tom Lloyd. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Tom Lloyd was born in 1979 and spent most of his childhood believing his mother was a witch – a white witch. He followed his degree in Politics and International Relations with a series of jobs in publishing, and currently works as contracts manager for a major literary agency in London. He lives in South London.
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Goin ahead and given it a 5 I have read all the books reading up to it so I expect his to as awesome as the others.
The book itself is, as in Books 1 and 2, dull and dragged out. But the last few pages are the BEST, MOST EPIC AWESOME things ive ever read in my entire life. I will not spoil them here, and although some my find it shockingly sad, i thought it was Insanely amazing. The writing was great, the descriptions awesome, the suspense was insane, and i just felt power and emotion coursing through me with every word. WOW. Not joking, I've read tons of fantasy and other books (Lord of the Rings and stuff like that) and I believe those last few pages to be better written and just plain better than anything ive ever read before.
Humanity stunned the gods when they failed to cower, hide or bow to their superiors. Instead mankind had the audacity to fight. Outraged and stunned especially since their pets are actually winning, the gods turned to a different gameplan. They created the super Mortal-Aspects from the humans to serve as their warriors. At Scree, Lord Isak, in spite of the visions of his death, led the Farlan to victory over the powerful shadow-god Azaer. However the human noble knows that was a minor temporary setback for the shadow god and devastated much of Scree. To the victors goes another battle as the bone weary Farlan must recruit rookies for the next fight; this time against Azaer and the well rested Menin while at the same time the Mortal Aspects are cutting a destructive path across the country. Though the third tale of the Twilight Reign fantasy (see THE TWILIGHT HERALD and THE STORMCALLER), THE GRAVE THIEF feels more like a transitional middle book in a trilogy as nothing major ends. Still the story line is fast-paced and filled with plenty of action especially with the heroic efforts of Isak trying to get his exhausted force in pitch battle berserker frenzy. Fans will enjoy the latest entry, but also lament nothing closes. Harriet Klausner