Earlier this year, Angry Robot Books released Smoke Eaters, the debut novel by Sean Grigsby, a high-concept romp (“magically gifted firefighters in a city beset by dragons”) we called “an explosive action movie in book form.” It left us eager to see what the author would do next, and we won’t have to wait long to find out: in September, Grigsby returns with Daughters of Forgotten Light, and it sounds like another opportunity for him to deliver on a brilliant concept—in this case, a sci-fi thriller than blends the righteous anger of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro’s Bitch Planet with the crackerjack action thrills of Escape from New York.
The cover art certainly promises great things. It’s from artist John Coulthart, and we’re showing it off today. You can check out the full image below the official summary, then keep reading for a sneak peek at the first chapter.
A floating prison is home to Earth’s unwanted people, where they are forgotten… but not yet dead, in this wild science fiction adventure
Deep space penal colony Oubliette, population: scum. Lena “Horror” Horowitz leads the Daughters of Forgotten Light, one of three vicious gangs fighting for survival on Oubliette. Their fragile truce is shaken when a new shipment arrives from Earth carrying a fresh batch of prisoners and supplies to squabble over. But the delivery includes two new surprises: a drone, and a baby. Earth Senator Linda Dolfuse wants evidence of the bloodthirsty gangs to justify the government finally eradicating the wasters dumped on Oubliette. There’s only one problem: the baby in the drone’s video may be hers.
And here’s the first chapter:
That’s one thing they never told Lena Horror about space – how damn dark it is. Her gang sped down the glowing glass streets of Oubliette, but it was only a tease of light, false and too dim for comfort.
Their cyclone motorcycles didn’t exactly have wheels, even though Grindy had always called them that. They were round like wheels, they spun like wheels, but the bikes hovered on swirling circles of blazing light. Pretty as Christmas in Hell and three times as hot.
No wind blew on Oubliette, but Lena wasn’t about to let that stop her. If she just went fast enough, the illusion of wind could be created. She adored feeling her hair thwap against the back of her shoulders and tickle her ears, the flapping brown strands a lot louder than the low hum of two-wheeled death between her legs. But most of all, she liked how the cyclones lit up the city, piercing the shadows and letting everyone know, when they saw blue light bouncing off the buildings, the Daughters of Forgotten Light were coming.
Always travelling in a V formation, they rode five strong, now. Only a month before it had been six. Even missing a rider, their bikes took up the street’s width and anyone in their path had better move or get run down. Riding like that, each Daughter rode at another’s side. If another gang shot at them from behind, they had more chance to see it coming, or at least one of the sheilas in the back could scream an alert before the rest of the Daughters got blasted.
There was a truce on, wasn’t there? Truce or no, Lena wasn’t about to drop her guard. Lena told herself a leader shouldn’t question her own decisions, just like those under her shouldn’t challenge them. Did they think paranoia had her all fucked up? This was still Oubliette, and trust had long gone extinct.
“The shipment just came through the Hole,” Hurley Girly shouted from Lena’s right. Her blond pigtails bounced as she whipped her head up, looking to where the box hurtled toward them like a meteor.
Shit. Lena could have spit if she didn’t think one of her gang would have caught it in the face.
Beyond Oubliette’s towering buildings, outside the city’s green, fabricated atmosphere – the Veil – the quarterly shipment jetted from the space gate. The Veil made Oubliette a sprawling roach motel. Whatever came in, never went out, and that included all the stale air, and all the sorry sheilas confined to the city.
Lena had watched every shipment entry over the last ten years. That made her – she always had to take a minute to remember – twenty-seven. The other Daughters were only a few years younger, except for Hurley Girly, who’d turned twenty the last quarter.
The shipment was the same metal box it always was, coming from Earth with the same fanfare. Emptiness and starlight filled the circle made by an oversized, ivory gate – the Hole – and then snap, a new shipment came through with a couple thrusters to guide it. A million miles cut out of the trip, so the shipment could reach its eternity quicker. At least, that’s how hyper drive was explained to them before they left Earth.
Faster, damn it!
Lena leaned into her cyclone, but she had her bike at full speed and all tapped out of patience. She just had to ride. The street curved round into a ramp that rose between the upper floors of two adjacent buildings then dipped into a steep drop. The downward slope helped, but the shipment neared and, fuck it all, they were late. It was the only disadvantage of claiming territory across the Sludge River and far away from the main thoroughfares, where trouble always waited.
Above the Daughters, the shipment broke through the Veil and green static sizzled around the descending metal, waves rippling outward toward the horizons like digital gelatin until the expanse settled again.
Two klicks still separated them from the receiving stage.
“They’re not taking this from us,” Lena shouted. “We’ve got first pick this time.”
Someone was waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp, a dark shape against a dark canvas, save the miniscule lights scattered throughout the dwellers’ buildings. Their unexpected guest had been leaning against her cyclone when the Daughters rounded the curve, but now she jumped onto her bike.
For a millisecond, a quiver in time, Lena considered slowing the gang behind her. But that would mean more seconds lost and the first choice of the delivery going to another gang. Worse, it would show weakness. Lena ground her teeth and let the false wind push her hair back. The bitch at the bottom of the ramp would have to make way or get flat.
The mystery woman lit up her cyclone – orange wheels. Amazon colors.
It wasn’t enough that just a few quarters ago – before the truce – the Amazons had been hunting down dwellers under the Daughters’ protection, butchering them in alleys and leaving behind the parts they didn’t have a taste for. Now, they’d left one of their own behind to fuck with Lena and her gang.
This Amazon was the scrawny one, the one with the busted teeth Ava gave her for making cracks about her Down syndrome. Even in the low glow of the glass street, Lena could tell it was her. The Amazon didn’t try to run. By the looks of it, she controlled her speed to stay at Lena’s right side.
Lena gripped her cyclone’s handles and smiled, wide and crazy. The rushing air dried the inside her mouth. Try it. I want you to. Raise your arm and give me a reason. Please.
The rang gun on Lena’s forearm pulsed to the same beat of her blood, begging to be discharged. When had she shot it last? Long ago enough to have flashing delusions she’d never fired it at all, like how aging hookers-turned-nuns could convince themselves they’d always been virgins.
Lena raised her left hand above her head, shaping it as straight as a shark fin, keeping her eyes bobbing from the street ahead, to the Amazon at her right, then back. The Daughters’ wheels sparked and hummed in a slightly different octave. She didn’t have to look. Her sheilas changed formation, gathering in a line behind her.
The Amazon’s hair stood straight in a long Mohawk. The streaks of purple and red staining the strands looked like a chemical fire in the glow of her cyclone’s wheels. The colorful sludge the Amazons put in their hair was just one of the specialty items commissioned from Grindy – one of the reasons the Amazons didn’t try to kill everyone and take over Oubliette. Lena thought the Mohawk would make an excellent trophy when she cut it off at the scalp, brought it back to the ganghouse, and glued it to a wall.
But that damned truce. It ruined Lena’s fantasies as quickly as they came. She knew it was for the best in the end. A means to create some form of order in the chaotic city. Still.
Do it, you twat.
The Amazon made no motion to raise her weaponed arm; only scrunched her face in a disdainful frown. A burn scar ran from her left cheek, down her neck, and then farther into the dark of her jacket. She was trying hard to keep her mouth squeezed shut, hiding the fucked-up grill.
Ahead, maybe a klick or less, the lights for the shipment receiving stage blasted on. The shipment, that big box of metal, hovered above the stage as if it had met the resistance of an invisible pillow. Slowly, it came down.
As much as Lena couldn’t stand the Mohawked Amazon’s ugly mug, it became worse when she tilted her head and smirked. It was the eyes, twitching with secrets. I know something you don’t. Lena’s own grin faltered and she had to squeeze the cyclone handles to refrain from shooting her rang into the smug bitch’s throat.
The Amazon zipped left, swerving into Lena’s path, causing every Daughter to slow.
Angry shouts from her gang, Lena cut into the other side of the road. The Daughters followed in exact movement. Babies following mommy ducky. Lena regained her speed and cruised alongside the Amazon, whose frown had returned.
Lena laughed into the fake wind. So that was it. Have one of your cannibal ass-plungers stay behind and slow us down, huh?
“Put a rang in her ass, Lena!” Ava’s voice could carry over any machine and always sounded clear and enunciated. Her tact was a different matter.
They neared the receiving stage. If the cyclones were more like motorcycles on Earth, the roar of the engines could have announced their impending arrival, but with the low hum of their bikes, the Daughters had to rely on speed.
Lena raised her unarmed fist to the Amazon and extended a very direct middle finger. The cannibal widened her eyes and huffed from swelled cheeks. To make the insult dance at the edge of injury, Lena tapped the same finger against her bared, fully-intact teeth.
The Amazon snarled, giving Lena a fantastic view of what few teeth Ava had left inside the cannibal’s mouth. The orange of her cyclone wheels only reflected against a tooth or three. The rest of her mouth was as dark and barren as the rest of Oubliette. The Amazon swerved again, this time not speeding ahead first. She zoomed straight for Lena.
A ramp came up on their right. Lena took it. Had to. The stage disappeared behind a black building and whatever ground they had gained now dwindled farther behind them. The Amazon came along, staying close to Lena’s left. The Daughters berated the Amazon with an unfiltered assault of four letter words and shouts of, “Truce-breaker!” and “That counts! Let it fly!”
“You trying to get killed?” Lena asked the Amazon.
That counted. She attacked you with her cyclone. That’s an offense. What other reason do you need?
The Amazon laughed in her own gruff, self-satisfying way. She’d done her job. And even if the Daughters of Forgotten Light were to stop and reverse course, they’d lost time. The Amazon would surely follow them, too, a mosquito in the ear. Not that Oubliette had any insects – it had enough pests already. Well, this bug ached for a squishing, and Lena wanted to give it another stretch of road, give the Amazon another chance to make an offense, something Lena couldn’t argue away as a misdemeanor. What was another lost minute?
Draw your rang, Lena. Do it. Blast that glorious ball of light and send her off her bike.
Grindy’s voice kept coming up to put a lid on the boiling pot of Lena’s wrath. “The truce is the best thing to happen to this place since they started dropping every motherless child through the Veil,” Lena could hear her say. “I’d do my damnedest to keep to it.”
Lena raised her left fist. And the cavalcade slowed. They turned round, leaving the Amazon to hover off into the dark, and headed back toward Oubliette’s center, the receiving stage.
“You should have done it,” Hurley Girly said.
“We’re late.” Lena ground her teeth, wanting to scream.
She was about to signal them to return to the V formation, an ironic two-fingered peace sign, when a sparking noise rose from behind. Lena looked over her shoulder. The Amazon was back.
No. They had no time for this distraction. They’d been short on supplies for weeks, not to mention the lack of a sixth Daughter. Lena would just have to ignore the Amazon and get to the drop. There’d be plenty of time for retribution later.
They came to the ramp that arched over the Sludge River, where Oubliette’s fecal waste flowed, when the Amazon returned to Lena’s side. With a sneer, she gave Lena a return on her universal “fuck you.”
But the dumb bitch must have thought more about the “doing” than the way to do it. She’d used her right hand. The rang gun, strapped to the forearm was pointed at Lena’s head. Lena reacted. The pot had boiled over. Her body gave her no time to deduce what really happened, and it didn’t matter. With her left hand, Lena snapped the handle back, killing the front wheel, and leaned forward with every ounce.
Aided by a lower gravity, Lena and the cyclone, both together in one kamikaze package, soared into the air in a somersault. She laughed rabidly as it happened, not just for the thrill of going airborne, but for the release, the removal of the truce’s crushing formality.
The cyclone dropped on top of the Amazon. There may have been a blip of a scream but the rest of the noise was snapping and searing, bones breaking, flesh burning, and the cannibal’s cyclone crumpling under the weight and heat of Lena’s blue wheels. Lena almost flew off her bike as the cyclone buzzed and tottered over the wreckage, careening toward the edge of the bridge before she remembered to jolt the dead side of the wheels back to life.
Free of the debris, Lena spun in a circle. To the rest of the Daughters, it must have looked like a celebratory doughnut, but they didn’t have much time to gander. The line of cyclones split, dodging the mess Lena had left in the street.
“Holy fuck!” Dipity, who, even though third in command, always insisted on riding caboose, hadn’t seen what happened after Lena’s short aerial journey. She swerved her cyclone to the right with dark-skinned, muscled arms. After avoiding the pile of metal and meat, she looked back to it every other second, as if trying to decipher what had happened.
The Daughters circled around Lena – an impromptu huddle.
Lena stared at the dead Amazon over Ava and Hurley Girly’s shoulders and giggled. Then frowned. “Shit.”
“Truce is broken,” Dipity said.
Ava nodded. “She raised the rang.”
“What was with the fucking flip?” Hurley Girly thumbed back to the wreck, putting her amusement on full display with a big grin.
Sterling, their fifth, hand-signed something so quick Lena couldn’t catch it.
“Swallow your words, ladies,” Lena said. “This didn’t happen.”
Ava began to object. “But–”
“Grindy’s right about this truce,” said Lena. “And that pile back there can muck it all up.”
They all stared at Lena. The cyclones buzzed beneath them. Sweat beaded on Dipity’s forehead.
“You wanna go back to before?” Lena asked. “One of us dying every week? Having to keep our supplies under lock and key? Getting dragged off and eaten by one of those shitheads,” Lena nodded toward the Amazon, “if a straggler got cornered? No fucking thank you, ma’am. We got to keep things nice and orderly.”
“But now we can have war, right?” Ava’s peanut-brown hair hung over an eye.
“Maybe,” Lena said. “But that’s more chance to die. And I still plan on flying out of this dump.”
The other Daughters traded glances. Sterling looked to the Veil above, probably fighting the urge to roll her eyes. Lena remembered when they used to laugh as she’d tell them of her escape plans. She’d let it slide since they went along with the many failed attempts to turn a shipment box into an escape ship. Now that Lena was leader of the gang, her pipe dream didn’t seem to be so funny to them anymore.
“I’ve got it,” Hurley Girly said. “I know why Lena got sent here. She was a serial killer.”
Shaking her head, Dipity said, “Like she’d admit to that, even if it was true.”
“This isn’t the time for your stupid bet,” Lena said. Then, after a silent moment had passed, “But no, goddamn it. That’s not why.”
Hurley Girly kicked the ground, mumbling a few swears. She’d have to put another manna loaf into the pot for guessing wrong.
Dipity cleared her throat. “So what do we do, Head Horror?”
Lena looked over the side of the overpass, down to the Sludge. It coursed through the glass river banks like rotten molasses. “Toss her over, whatever is left. It’ll look like she crashed.”
Ava shot her left hand into the air. “Not it.”
“We all do this,” Lena said.
They each grabbed a chunk of the Amazon. Ava and Lena shared the weight of what they guessed was a torso, while the others grabbed a severed arm or foot. The head must have flown over the side when Lena came down on her. It didn’t even feel like pieces of a human being. They were just warm, squishy objects that smelled mildly like pork steaks sizzling on a grill. It had been a long time since Lena had eaten meat, and she was disgusted to find her mouth watering. She could almost sympathize with the cannibal mentality. Her stomach heaved, and she almost vomited the little bit of manna she’d swallowed before they left the ganghouse. She and Ava tossed the torso over, but the river lay too far down to hear a splash.
All five of them pushed the wrecked cyclone to the edge of the road, against the glass overpass where they’d ditched the Amazon’s remains. From there, they sped toward the crowd gathering round the quarterly shipment, freshly sent from Earth, a place none of them were meant to see again.
Faster! Lena pressed.
They were late.