Whether or not you’re already a fan of Thorley thanks to her debut, An Affair of Poisons, you’re definitely going to want to check out this sophomore novel, which is loosely inspired by The Hunchback of Notre Dame and releases from Page Street on February 11, 2020! Night Spinner is about a warrior named Ebenish who possesses the power to control the threads of darkness…or at least she was before the massacre. Now she’s been banished to a monastery, with her only hope of release and redemption being to capture a notorious war criminal. Of course, that’s only the beginning of the story, because the mission and its aims aren’t quite what she’d been led to believe, and suddenly there are new moral choices to make while enemies continue to advance. It sounds terrifying and thrilling and thanks to the design work of Kylie Alexander, it’s got a stunning cover to match! Come check it out and see an excerpt of the first chapter!
Darkness waits like a devil outside my window— curling its shadowy fingertips beneath the shutters, drawing its inky claws across the latch, raising every hair on my body as temptation trickles down my spine.
Enebish, it whispers. Not with words that anyone else can hear; the ghostly plea lives inside my mind, inside my entire being, coursing through my veins like blood and filling my lungs with breath.
I grit my teeth and burrow deeper into my bedroll, one hand clenched around my prayer doll, the other fingering the small circular stone embedded at the base of my throat. The harder I press, the quicker its calming tingles flow into my bloodstream, filling me with warmth and steadiness and light. The perfect antidote to darkness.
Tonight, I will not listen. Tonight, I am in control.
The night slams against my window in protest, lashing the glass like rain.
Enebishhhhh, it cries.
It feels like thousands of tiny fire ants are burrowing beneath my skin. I toss and turn and sweat for as long as I can stand it. Then I bolt upright and turn to the window.
Just a peek. One tiny glimpse and I’ll be satisfied. There’s no danger in simply looking at the darkness. . . .
Lies! my conscience screams. A glimpse is never enough. Remember what you did. Remember why you’re imprisoned.
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to picture the rolling fields of Nariin drenched in vicious orange flames. I press my fists to my stomach, trying to evoke the shredding pain I felt when the monster inside me ripped through my bones and seized control of my Kalima power. But thanks to the glorious, gleaming moonstone embedded in the center of my collarbone, there’s nothing. No monster. No memories. Just a swirling, amorphous darkness and a crushing weight upon my chest. Making the incident feel less real, less horrific.
Hardly dangerous, the night coaxes.
With a pathetic squeal, I kick out of my blankets like a fly escaping a spider’s web, and limp across my chamber to the window.
Even though I know what I’ll find, I gasp when I fling the shutters wide. Millions of ebony tendrils crash against the glass. To anyone else, the midnight sky would look empty and quiet. Peaceful, even. But to me, it looks like a tangled mass of coal-black snakes: frenzied and teeming and alive. Each ribbon of darkness is roughly the length of my forearm, and together they form the undulating tapestry of night.
I lift a finger to the frosted pane and trace a slow, looping spiral. The whorls mimic me, so close that I can feel their heat through the glass. Begging me to flatten my hand. To press my entire body against the window. Needing more, More, MORE.
I stagger back and stab my nails into my palms.
There. You’ve seen them. Now close the shutters, bury your head beneath your pillow, and pray to the skies for forgiveness.
But the night won’t let me go so easily. Not when it’s lured me this far.
Come, it beckons.
My throat tingles.
I won’t give in.
Sweat beads along my hairline.
I can’t. The moonstone severs my ability to wield the darkness.
Precisely, it hums. There’s no risk, no reason to resist. . . .
My resolve snaps like a bowstring, and I snatch my crumpled cloak off the floor and steal into the dormitory hall.
The narrow corridor is twice as long as the throne room at the Sky Palace, and I limp past door after door with careful, measured strides. Unfortunately, no matter how softly I tread, the thump-slide of my injured leg echoes off the unforgiving tiles and high, frescoed ceiling. I tighten every muscle and will my body to cooperate. One wrong step will bring every monk at Ikh Zuree running. They all watch me like hungry, circling hawks. Eager to earn their salvation, and more important, the king’s favor and a seat on his Council of Elders, by “saving” sinners like me. Which isn’t done through selfless service and finding harmony with one’s family, one’s enemies, and one’s self, as the First Gods taught. No, followers of the New Order attain exaltation by reporting the mistakes of others. The more grievous the infraction, the closer they come to rapture. And I, the most notorious criminal in the empire, am imprisoned in the heart of their den. Constantly bombarded by hundreds of predatory eyes and salivating mouths.
Thankfully, the rushes I laid this morning help to muffle my uneven gait. The rushes aren’t technically my duty, but the old ones always smell of rat piss, so I’ve taken to changing them out of the goodness of my heart. Not because I plan on sneaking out.
At the end of the hall, I crack the door and slip like smoke into the moonlit courtyard. The night chitters in welcome, flocking to me like bees to budding globeflowers, delighted to have won our battle of wills again.
Now that I’ve submitted, the tendrils no longer growl like hungry panthers, but rub against my hands like sweet, purring kittens. I sigh and tilt my face skyward. The sensation is euphoric. More freeing than galloping across the grasslands with the wind in my hair. More satisfying than the whistle of an arrow flying straight and true toward the center of a target. Even better than the memory of Ghoa’s proud smile.
The thought of my sister makes my stomach lurch.
Ghoa wouldn’t be smiling if she could see me now. She risked her reputation and position as commander of the Kalima warriors to secure my sanctuary here. These midnight jaunts could jeopardize everything she’s worked for—and possibly her life. If I’m caught meddling with the darkness, the king could easily execute us both. And while I came to terms with my own execution long ago, I would rather die a thousand deaths than watch Ghoa swing beside me.
The horrifying image nearly sends me scuttling back to my room, but the night kisses my cheeks and buzzes in my ears, singing my worries away. In order to punish me, the king would have to visit Ikh Zuree to witness my disobedience, and since neither he nor Ghoa have set foot inside the monastery compound since my banishment, they never need to know I’ve allowed myself this tiny taste of freedom.
The chilly autumn breeze whispers through my cloak, and I draw the hood around my face as I hobble down the pebbled pathways. The monastery at Ikh Zuree is massive, with hundreds of bone-white prayer temples and dormitories encircling a towering jade assembly hall that stands in the center like an ever-watchful eye.
Tonight, the moon hangs heavy and full overhead, bathing the snow-dusted pathways in brushstrokes of light. Beautiful, yes, but it makes sneaking around far more difficult. My fingers twitch out of habit. Before my imprisonment, I could have gripped the threads of darkness spooling down my arms and swathed myself in shadow. I could have flounced across the complex as I pleased, invisible as a ghost. The only one able to see through the oppressive blackness. But now I’m forced to dart from temple to temple like a petty marketplace thief, my Kalima power nothing more than a fuzzy memory that passes swifter than the glacial breeze.
When at last I reach the mews at the northern edge of the compound, my convocation of eagles screeches in welcome. They flap their wings and blink down at me from their perches. Feathers litter the floor like gold-spun carpet, and the familiar sounds of nesting and preening make the tightness in my chest and shoulders vanish. At least the birds are always glad to see me.
The king keeps his hunting eagles at Ikh Zuree, and it’s my duty to feed and train them. In the kingdom of Ashkar, even prisoners must make themselves useful. Most dig trenches or haul heavy artillery to the war front, so I’m grateful to have a position I like so well. With the birds that never cower in my presence or call me ugly names that make me cry in my chamber late at night.
They are my only friends. Other than Serik.
I flit around, patting and scratching a few, until Orbai shrieks with impatience and scuttles back and forth on her perch. “You’re even more demanding than the night,” I mockscold her. She always encourages my midnight rebellions because it means she gets a few extra hours of freedom—and she has developed a taste for bats. I offer her my arm. “Just because you’re my favorite, doesn’t mean you get to boss me around.”
Except it does. And she knows it.
We return to the waiting darkness, and Orbai shoots into the blackness like a comet. Her feathers glint like liquid amber and her massive wings send the ribbons of darkness swirling. I smile at the chaos. Wanting to follow. Needing to be up there too.
While she stalks the skies, I duck behind the smallest prayer temple and run my fingers along the mosaic wall until I find the bloodred eye of a serpent, which I accidentally wiggled loose when I scrubbed the temple last month. I jam my boot into the hole, hold my breath against the pain, and heave myself up. Between my ruined arm and wounded leg, it’s difficult to get a firm hold on the ledge, and while I hang there, grunting and wriggling like a marmot, Orbai dives past me. The tips of her feathers tickle my cheek.
What’s taking so long? she seems to say.
“Impatient eagle.” I shake my head at her. “Not all of us have wings.”
Eventually I swing my leg over the edge and roll onto the roof. The ceramic tiles are cold and wet through my cloak, but I hardly notice the chill. I’m too consumed by the towering ebony swells crashing over my body like waves.
The sky doesn’t care that I am wicked and ugly. The clouds never rain down judgment for my crimes, and the moon shines without flinching on my injured limbs and scarred face. The majority of Ashkar may despise me, but the heavens will always embrace me in arms of frost and wrap me in a blanket of starlight. In the eyes of the Lady of the Sky and Father Guzan, I am accepted.
The king can decree all he likes about the First Gods being dead, but I refuse to believe it. I cannot believe it. Not when I feel the Lady and Father thrumming in every wisp of blackness.
The hours fly like minutes, and too soon the first rays of pink kiss the horizon, cutting like a saber through the gray. Stay. Just a little while longer, I beg. But as the treacherous sun creeps higher, the spools of night slip through my fingers like tadpoles. Abandoning me, yet again. My lungs heave against my too-tight rib cage as I watch the darkness race frantically toward the east. Toward the shadow of the Ondor Mountains in the distance. The last place the light will touch.
I would give anything to leave the monastery so easily.
It has been two long years since the king banished me to this holy prison. “A sanctuary,” he said. “Be grateful,” he said. “It is more than you deserve.”
But what does a criminal like me truly deserve?
Sighing, I slump down hard on the tiles and stare out at the hazy landscape. I can see everything from up here: the outer wall of the monastery compound, white with twisting iron spires; the endless frost-tipped plains I used to gallop across in full armor, the grass rolling beneath me like a great green sea; and far, far in the distance, the capital city, Sagaan, where Serik and I dueled in the streets with sabers made of sticks, and lay beneath the larch trees, imagining what our Kalima powers might be, telling stories of how we’d ride into battle side by side.
That part, at least, came true. We’re together.
I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.
I sit there, fingers pressed against my eyelids, wishing I could turn back time, until the shuffle of slippered feet rips me from my desolation. In perfect harmony with the rising sun, the monks emerge from the dormitories in lines of two. Their crimson robes look like a gash against the silver-white snow, and they spread like a slow-moving stain toward the prayer temples.
Night Spinner releases on February 11, 2020 and is available for preorder.