Last year, L. Penelope’s debut novel Song of Blood & Stone became another self-publishing success story. Originally self-published by the author in 2016 to acclaim and awards—including the 2016 Self-Publishing eBook Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association—it went on to be acquired by a major publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and became one of the year’s buzziest “first novels,” earning a coveted starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and kudos from authors the likes of Ilona Andrews, Rebecca Roanhorse, and K. Arnesault Rivera.
Today, we’re pleased to share with you the cover of the next book in the Earthsinger Chronicles, Whispers of Shadow & Flame—featuring artwork by veteran SFF cover illustrator Jamie Jones, who also provided revised art for the cover of the forthcoming paperback edition of book one—as well as an exclusive excerpt. Find both below the official summary, and place your preorders now. The book arrives this fall.
The Mantle that separates the kingdoms of Elsira and Lagrimar is about to fall. And life will drastically change for both kingdoms.
Born with a deadly magic she cannot control, Kyara is forced to become an assassin. Known as the Poison Flame in the kingdom of Lagrimar, she is notorious and lethal, but secretly seeks freedom from both her untamed power and the blood spell that commands her. She is tasked with capturing the legendary rebel called the Shadowfox, but everything changes when she learns her target’s true identity.
Darvyn ol-Tahlyro may be the most powerful Earthsinger in generations, but guilt over those he couldn’t save tortures him daily. He isn’t sure he can trust the mysterious young woman who claims to need his help, but when he discovers Kyara can unlock the secrets of his past, he can’t stay away.
Kyara and Darvyn grapple with betrayal, old promises, and older prophecies—all while trying to stop a war. And when a new threat emerges, they must beat the odds to save both kingdoms.
TWO AND A HALF WEEKS BEFORE THE FALL OF THE MANTLE
“I-I’m sure we can come to some kind of understanding.”
The man before Kyara ul-Lagrimar scrambled backward, slamming his back against the wall, shaking the tapestry hanging next to him. The scent of his fear was rancid, filling the room. The stench overpowered the savory aroma of the freshly roasted goat laid out on the table behind her. His whimpers drowned out the weeping of the woman cowering across the room.
Kyara judged the distance between them and determined the wife was far enough away to remain safe but only if Kyara stood very close to her target. Close enough to feel his sour breath on her skin.
Her stomach clenched at the thought, however, she forced herself forward, erasing the few paces between them. The finely woven rug swallowed the sound of her boots. Now added to the room’s collection of odors: the scent of piss. The dark stain spreading across the front of his trousers proof enough that the fellow knew who she was and why she was here.
“W-we can negotiate. I’m sure there must be something you want.” Beads of sweat punctured his forehead, and the thick vein at his neck jumped with his rapid pulse. “I have money, enough grams to make you a wealthy woman. And jewels, trunks full of them. The finest s-silks.” He spread a shaking hand pointing to the wealth on display in his home.
Delicate crystal and china graced the polished table, ornate tapestries hung from the walls, and electric lamps brightened the space. Kyara had noticed it all in one sweep of the room when she’d first burst in the front door, brushing past the weary maid. The house: three levels of sandstone within view of the glass castle, spoke for itself. This man—a payroller most would call him—had been very useful to the True Father for some time. And had been paid well for his trouble. But now his usefulness, and his trouble, were at an end.
“I am not here to negotiate with you.” Kyara’s voice was paper thin.
“Whatever transgression His Majesty believes I’ve made, I will redress, threefold. I am but a simple man. A husband and father.” He waved a pudgy hand at the shaking woman in the corner. “I give tribute for all I collect, I pay on time and—” His pleas became a drone in her ears, mingling with those of a hundred other men who had begged for their lives over the years. Other men in other homes like this, flaunting their wealth while so many starved.
Rugs and tapestries and real glass in the windows. The enticing fragrance of meat, fresh vegetables, and butter tickled her nose. Some unidentifiable spice hung in the air. All this, while most of the city found ways to make their meager rations last far longer and feed more mouths than intended. And those in the Midcountry scraped by with even less.
Kyara’s mouth watered at the dinner she’d interrupted, but she never ate the food of the dead.
The heat in the room became oppressive. She wasn’t sure if it was the fear or the piss or the meal, but nausea overwhelmed her. If she didn’t end this quickly and get out, she would be sick, right here on this beautiful rug.
Her warped Song prowled inside her, restless. It wanted to launch itself into the maelstrom of source energy, to ride the brutal currents of the force like a kite in a violent wind. She shuddered and reined in her power. Instead of giving in to the despised urge, she opened her mind’s eye. The world fell away, leaving only a field of black. She spread her senses, shutting out the energies of the overcrowded city and focused on this home, this room. Moving arcs of white light burst across her vision, like the undulating waves of brightness produced by a fire dancer swinging a torch.
This was Nethersong. Her gift and her curse.
Just as all life carried energy—Earthsong—so did death. And while an Earthsinger may grow crops from seeds or feel the pulse of life moving in the plants and animals around them, Kyara did the opposite.
In her vision, the light of the man before her pulsed brightly. His death energy was a cyclone spinning out of control. Judging by the strength of Nethersong within him, he had not been kind to his body—a feat much easier when you were on the True Father’s payroll and could afford an abundance of rich food and drink. If the immortal king were a patient man, Kyara wouldn’t be needed at all. This payroller would die from his dissipation sooner rather than later.
In the corner of the room, the wife’s light was dimmer. She was younger and healthier than her husband. A barely there glow several paces away from the wife indicated a faint trace of Nethersong which surprised Kyara. There was a child hiding under the table. She had been careless not to notice.
“You two. Out.” She didn’t turn from the payroller, merely pointed behind her ignoring the shuffling and desperate whispering which ensued. There were others in the house as well, but all were far enough away to be safe.
The mangled skin on her chest began to ache. She must act soon or the pain would intensify. Her orders were clear, and she would have no peace until they were carried out.
She shuttered her extra sight, bringing the man’s jowly face back into focus. A silent apology cramped her heart. Yes, this payroller had sinned, had contributed to his people’s poverty and strife, but no judge or jury had convicted him. He had merely chosen to align himself with a mad, immortal king who was as capricious as he was powerful. And the payroller’s time had run out.
The executioner had been sent for him.