Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.
Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.
When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homelandone of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen SunLira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.
As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun …
About the Author
Jill Criswell is a writer of young adult historical fantasy. Born and raised in the swamps of northeastern Florida, she earned degrees in English and psychology and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Central Florida. Her greatest passion, besides reading and writing, is traveling the world; she’s visited fifty countries across six continents, falling in love with places like Iceland, Namibia, and Cambodia. She works as a university English teacher and lives in South Carolina, near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with her husband and daughter (who is named after a volcano in Iceland). Beasts of the Frozen Sun is her debut novel. For more information, visit JillCriswell.com.
Read an Excerpt
It was no small thing to touch a man's soul. To trace the essence of his being, know him as no one — not his mother, brother, or lover — ever could.
Each soul I'd touched was different. They could be dark or light, warm or cold, sharp-edged or smooth. They contained colors and shapes that didn't exist in our world. Some hummed, sang, or screamed. Some smelled of metal, others tasted like salt. Often I saw scattered images of things the person loved, hated, or feared.
No matter what a soul was like, I sensed its burdens. The weight of guilt was distinct.
The prisoner standing before me, the cord of his life tangling fatefully with mine, was a herdsman named Dyfed. His ankles and wrists were shackled, but my brothers and uncle still held him as Father ushered me forward.
"I done nothing wrong, milady," Dyfed said.
I placed my palm inside his tunic, against his chest. His heart drummed nervously beneath my hand. I closed my eyes, searching.
Around me, the great hall disappeared. I floated in the gauzy realms of the intangible. This man's soul was sharp and light, spread out before me. A warm sphere in its center held an imprint of his family. I waded through pride, love, disappointment; each emotion had its own texture and consistency. I caught a glimpse of what I sought, appearing as if from a fog: the outline of swords, poleaxes, bows. A cartload of weapons, shrouded in cold guilt.
I let go and took a step back.
"Well, Lira?" Father asked. "Did he steal from the armory?"
This was my role in our clan: I'd been touched by the gods, born with the ability to read souls. While other god-gifted women of my island — the Daughters of Aillira, as we were called — were adept at healing, storytelling, navigation, and foretelling foul weather — my gift was different. As a soul-reader, I could steal a man's secrets, reveal his darkest sins.
Father trusted me. I could not lie. "He is guilty, as suspected."
"You're wrong!" Dyfed cried. With a quick jerk, he pulled free from the other men, grabbing my arms. His red-rimmed eyes bored into mine. "There's more. Look again, soul-reader, and you will see —"
My uncle, Madoc, tackled Dyfed, slamming his head against the ground, and Dyfed's eyes rolled up until only the whites showed. My older brother, Garreth, kicked the prone herdsman for good measure, cursing him beneath his breath. When Garreth turned, we shared the briefest of looks, but much was said. Father is wrong to use you this way, he seethed in a silent language only siblings could share. Mother would never have allowed this.
Mother would want our clan to be safe, I responded. I want to help, however I can.
We'd quarreled over this point many times. Was it right for me to be a man's judge? Was it right for Father to ask it of me? I knew Garreth's feelings on the matter. I'd yet to find answers that satisfied my own conscience.
My younger brother, Rhys, clasped my elbow, offering what comfort he could.
"Ready the gallows," Father said to Madoc, "and inform the chieftain and the villagers that there's to be an execution."
My throat tightened at the word. I'd condemned men before, but they had been whipped, imprisoned, or exiled. Never executed. Madoc's spine stiffened at being given an order by his younger brother. His mouth was an angry slit in his hardened face, but he grabbed Dyfed by the chains on his wrists and dragged him away. When they were gone, Father sighed and bent over the grand table that took up a corner of the room, palms pressing against the tabletop. On the back of his right hand was the warrior-mark of the Sons of Stone, my clan's legion of warriors: three swords in the shape of a triangle, inked onto the back of the sword-hand so any man foolish enough to cross blades with them would know which clan was about to send him to his grave.
Between Father's hands lay a map of Glasnith, detailing all the village names and the clans who controlled them. I could see Stony Harbor depicted at the very top of the map — the seat of clan Stone, ruled by Lord Aengus, my grandfather. Our village was reduced to a name and the triad of swords that was our clan's symbol. I'd watched my father study this map, seeing the keen way his mind sorted through lists of landholdings and goods produced, access to ports and trade routes, quality and quantity of combat forces. He was always looking for opportunities to strengthen our clan's position within the convoluted web of alliances.
My brothers and I had been taught by our father to be silent and still when he conducted clan business. We stood like statues, waiting for him to address us.
"Garreth." Father's voice cut through the air like a lash. My brother straightened his spine even farther, pulling his shoulders back. "You cannot allow your anger to get the best of you. Beating an unconscious prisoner is unseemly and beneath your station."
Garreth stepped forward. "The thief went after Lira, Commander. I should have done worse." He spoke with quiet respect, but rage simmered beneath the surface.
"If you wish to be commander one day, you must conduct yourself as a highborn warrior rather than a witless barbarian." Father stood eye-to-eye with his eldest child, regarding him with deep-seated frustration. The resemblance between them was so strong they looked like different-aged versions of the same man. "You'll be mucking out the hog sties this week instead of patrolling. That ought to cool your temper."
Garreth's face reddened. "But, Father —"
"Commander," he corrected. "And that was an order, not a request. You are dismissed." For a moment, I thought Garreth would argue, but then his mouth clicked shut. His steps, as he departed, were louder than necessary.
Father had always been hard on Garreth, grooming him to be a commander, possibly a chieftain. I knew he feared Garreth's dark moods and quick temper might turn him into a man more like Madoc than himself.
"Are you all right, daughter?" Father turned to me. When I nodded, he sighed again and ran a hand across his jaw. "What your brother did was wrong, but I cannot say the prisoner didn't deserve it."
"Father." I approached the table. "Please. Don't execute him. Dyfed is not an evil man. I saw —"
"Lira. As always, I thank you for your help, but you must leave decisions regarding men's punishments to me." He kissed the top of my head, a doting gesture left over from when I was small. Sadness glinted in his gaze. With each passing year, I looked more like my mother. I had the same long hair, a shade of red so dark it was nearly purple. I had the same eyes, a color Father called springtime grass. It must have hurt him to look at me, a constant reminder of what he'd lost. What we'd all lost.
"Rhys?" At the sound of his name, my younger brother's face lit up, eager for our father's attention. "Escort your sister home."
"No," I said. "I condemned Dyfed to death. I must bear witness to his execution." When Father started to protest, I overruled him with the logic he used on his own warriors. "How can I understand the consequences of my actions if I do not see them through to the end?"
Father regarded me. "Condemning a man is very different than watching him die. I'd prefer to spare you this, but if it's what you wish, I'll allow it."
"Very well. Rhys, escort your sister to the gallows."
My brother led me outside. We made our way out of the great hall, past the cells, stopping at the back of the crowd that was already gathering around the gallows. The grim tidings had spread quickly. "Why are you doing this?" Rhys asked.
"You know why." I loved both of my brothers dearly, but they filled very different spaces within my life. Garreth was my self-appointed mentor and protector, and Rhys was my friend. He understood me, as I did him.
"It's not your fault, Lir. Dyfed stole from our clan. That makes him a traitor. He earned his death sentence." These were Father's declarations, coming from my brother's mouth.
"You believe that no more than I do."
"It doesn't matter what we believe. Grandfather is chieftain. Father and Madoc are commanders, as Garreth will be one day. But you and I are followers. I'm a second-born son and a terrible warrior. You're god-gifted and smart, but you're still only a girl to them. Our place is to do as we're told. We've no other worth."
"Father's a second son."
"I'm not Torin." Rhys had the same nut-brown hair and eyes as Father and Garreth, but the similarities ended there; they were born warriors, but Rhys was a quiet, gentle soul. "You should leave Stony Harbor, Lir. You should go to Aillira's Temple. At least there you'll be allowed to make your own choices."
There were two diverging paths my life could take. As a god-gifted Daughter of Aillira, I could pledge myself to Aillira's Temple, a sanctuary in the center of Glasnith where girls like me went to study with priestesses, learning how to hone their abilities and use them to serve the gods. Or I could marry a highborn lord from an allied clan and sire children to continue the traditions of our clans and country. Both were lifelong commitments. My father had left it for me to decide, but there was little time left. It was only half a year until my eighteenth birthday, when I would have to give an answer. I'd not yet chosen. The notion that I must choose one, and that there were no options but these, rankled me.
"What, and leave my wee brother to care for himself?" I spoke in jest, but it was the truth. How could I leave Rhys, or Garreth or Father? How could I ever choose to be parted from my family? "You're more than a second son and a lousy warrior to me, you know."
"Aye, I'm the sap who helps you sneak around and defy Father's orders all the time." Rhys's tone was light, but his grip on my arm tightened. The crowd around us had grown. Dyfed's son Ennis was here, pale and frightened, glaring when he saw me.
I was the soul-reader, the one who judged men's guilt. The one who'd damned his father.
Would the other Daughters of Aillira at the temple hate or fear me as the villagers did?
Garreth spotted us, pushing his way through the crowd. "What are you doing here?" He stepped to my side, taking my other arm. "We're going home, Lira. I won't let you watch this."
"No." I held firm. "This is my choice. I'm staying."
Besides, it was too late. Father and Madoc were already steering Dyfed toward the scaffolding steps, his wrists and ankles still chained. Lord Aengus was with them. The chieftain was an older man, his hair and beard gray, his face wrinkled, but he still carried himself like the great warrior he'd once been.
Father threw the rope over the gallows' crossbeam. Madoc knotted the noose.
I could hardly bear to look at Dyfed as he was made to stand upon a crate beneath the gallows. He shook with terror.
"Dyfed of Stone," Aengus called loudly, "you have been found guilty of stealing weapons from your own clan. For this crime, you are sentenced to hang. May the god of death have mercy on your sinful soul."
"Look away, Lira," Garreth said.
I didn't. Madoc kicked the crate out from under Dyfed's feet. The herdsman thrashed, swinging from the noose. His son cried out, but others cheered.
Rhys and Garreth stood on either side of me, as if their presence could protect me from the sight, the awful consequences of using my gift. I swallowed hard to keep from retching and clenched my fists, digging my nails into my palms.
I had done this. I helped kill this man.
I watched until it was over, until Dyfed dangled motionless. The rope creaked in the wind. Only then did I let my brothers lead me away.
When we neared the stables, I pulled free from them. "I want to ride."
My brothers followed me as I entered the stables, breathing in the scent of straw and manure. Winter stuck her head out, whickering. I scratched between her ears and she pressed her muzzle against my chest. The beautiful white mare had been a gift from Father.
Garreth shook his head. "You're going home."
"Don't you have pig shite to shovel?" I ignored him and looked to my younger brother. "Please, Rhys. I need to get away. Just for a little while."
"No," Garreth said again.
Rhys hugged me. "Go on," he said. "Just be careful."
"Always." Through my skirts, I patted the knife sheathed to my thigh. I was on Winter's back and out of the stables in a flash, leaving Rhys to deal with Garreth's ire.
Our village was surrounded by the Tangled Forest, where trees warred, trunks and branches coiling together, competing for soil and sun — what appeared at first glance to be single, colossal trees were actually many plants knotted in strangleholds. I rode until the trees ended and the land dropped away in sheer bluffs that loomed over the crashing waters below.
The sea had turned angry, foam coating its surface like sugared icing. Anad, the god of wind, was fighting with his jealous wife, Faerran, goddess of the sea. Their passionate clashes flooded villages and sank ships.
The bluffs were the northernmost part of our island. I'd never left Glasnith, but Father and Garreth had taught me, through maps and stories, about the lands beyond. To the east were the Auk Isles, an archipelago of forests and farmlands, their people similar to my own. Sanddune and Savanna were arid landmasses to the south, ruled by dusk-skinned strandlopers and bushmen. The rocky northern isles of Skerrey were populated with hardy fishermen and whalers who kept to themselves. And if you sailed far enough west, you might find the elusive lands of the Frozen Sun.
The legends of the Westlanders were far-fetched: stories about frost giants with hearts of ice and souls of fire. I wondered how it would feel to touch a soul made of fire. Would it hurt? Could it burn me?
I glanced down at my wrist, at the strange, small scar there — slim white lines that curved at the ends and came together into a shape that resembled a small flame. A wound from a long-ago dream. A dream I still didn't understand.
I looked back at the sea.
Here, in this beloved place, I could let myself imagine a third option for my life. Not to be tied to a husband or a temple, but to explore the world. To cross the oceans spread out before me. To trek across hills of red sand, summit mountains made of blue ice, speak exotic languages, treat with mysterious tribes from other lands. This was the life my heart yearned for. A life I could never have because girls were considered too fragile to be explorers, and a chieftain's granddaughter — a Daughter of Aillira, no less — was too valuable to set free.
Above, clouds scraped across firmament, torn asunder by Anad's breath. The water swallowed the sun, and Nesper, god of the heavens, split the sky into flecks of blue, orange, and gold. The stars were Nesper's children, appearing loyally to flicker and shine.
The scar on my wrist tightened suddenly, a warm flutter inside my skin — a thing it had never done before. I shook my hand and the sensation ceased. It must have been my nerves running riot.
Back in the village, they would cut Dyfed's body down from the gallows. The priest would read verses from the Immortal Scriptures and set fire to his body. Dyfed's family would pray and weep as it burned.
Quiet, humble Dyfed. Guilty but not evil.
I pushed the thoughts away. Rhys was right — we were followers, with no say in the laws of our people. I could do nothing for Dyfed now except beseech mighty Gwylor, the god of death, to be merciful and accept the herdsman into his Eternal Palace.
My dreams of adventure were useless, selfish. I should care more about what I could do for the people of my clan and my island. I owed it to my mother to make my life mean something, to make myself worthy of the sacrifice she had made for me.
I kneeled at the edge of the bluffs, head bowed, offering prayers to the gods for Dyfed's soul, and my own, until my knees and head ached. Please, I begged, fingers digging into the earth, let me use my gift for healing instead of hurting, for helping instead of damning.
A gust of wind tore at my hair, whistled in my ear.
Wait, it promised.CHAPTER 2
Had I not been burdened by the herdsman's death, I might not have lain awake that night. I might not have decided to sneak from my family's cottage to walk along the harbor.
How different my life might have been.
The sky was a black shroud. By the gleam of moon and stars, I crossed the hills of our village, where they sloped down to meet the pebble-strewn shore. Gray water funneled around the massive sea-worn boulders Stony Harbor was named for. The harbor was placid, its waters protected by arms of rocky cliffs stretching out on either side, ragged, like they'd been chiseled haphazardly by a drunken god. Fishing vessels were tied along the wooden pier, buoyed on the swells rolling in. Just beyond the harbor lay the Shattered Sea, full of jagged stone pillars rising like teeth from beneath the wild waves.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Beasts of the Frozen Sun"
Copyright © 2019 Jill Criswell.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really liked this book. Even though she has been gifted with the ability to read someone's soul, Lira is a girl who has seen heartbreak. Still, life seems normal, until it starts to fall apart. Until she meets Reyker, who is one of her clan's enemies... only... he's not like most of them. Throughout the course of the book, she discovers that her own clan can be just as evil as the enemies she's grown to despise. Not everybody is as they seem. Not everything she's been taught is what it seems. Beasts of the Frozen Sun has a nice romance, a sweet friendship, siblings, and political intrigue. The end of the book was great. I only knocked it down a star because it took a little while for me to get into. However, there was an earthquake while I was reading the end of the book (my mother-in-law saw the chandeliers sway) and I completely missed it because I was so absorbed in the book.
BEASTS OF THE FROZEN SUN features lush world-building, compelling characters, and a captivating plot that make it an engrossing read. Aillira (Lira) is a young woman in a land with little respect/prospects for women. Her father is a younger son of the chieftan and, as such, is a commander of the forces but will likely not become chieftan himself. One girl a generation is gifted with powers through the lineage of the original Aillira, and Lira is this girl. Lira is a soul-reader, which means that she can see the truth of someone and their memories when she touches their chest. Her powers are sometimes used to determine someone's guilt in a trial, something she is not always comfortable with. She is considering her future options where she can either join the women at the Daughters of Aillira, where women with gifts are trained and live out their lives, or she can get married to a man that would be politically advantageous. Across the ocean, Reyker is a trained killer working for Draki, the Dragon. Reyker hates him and what he does, but he feels powerless to stop it all. Death seems better, but Reyker does want to live. When he travels to Glasnith and his path collides with Lira's, they begin to find new truths and fight to stay alive. All this in the shadows cast by the gods of Glasnith and of the lands of the Frozen Sun from where Reyker comes. Lira and Reyker were easily complex and compelling characters that propel the story. The villains were also well-crafted albeit they sparked some gruesome descriptions, making this better suited for older readers (warnings for implied rape, demonic-like possession, character death, battle sequences, torture, and necromancy). The plot takes many twists and turns that keep the reader highly engaged. The world is built well in this book, and I would definitely be interested to learn more from the future books. I do wish we had gotten further into the powerful women of the book, as they feature as tertiary characters here, popping up every now and again. Most of the characters, aside from Lira, are men, and it would have been nice to more fully explore the female side of things, particularly since many of them wield magical gifts as the Daughters of Aillira. However, it was still a highly engaging story (and those twists at the end were quite a surprise). It does have an open ending to pave the way for the next book, but it didn't feel like too big of a cliffhanger. I would certainly recommend to fans of YA fantasy like SKY IN THE DEEP, FURYBORN, and DANCE OF THIEVES. This is quite an engrossing new story. Please note that I received a copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Beast of the Frozen sun opens with a very dark and creepy scene of war and bloodshed. This opening gives the readers a glimpse of what is to come in the story. It also has a richness to it in the detail, luring the reader into the story before taking the reader on a fast-paced journey. It does not give a hint as to this male character but alludes to this internal battle within him. It is unknown what is going to happen to him, especially when the story shifts to Lira. This shift is where the story begins. Criswell does an excellent job world building, giving the reader just enough detail and history to familiarize the reader with Lira’s world. The atmosphere in the storytelling is very telling as well. Lira has love in her world, but there is also this cold bleakness to it as well. She is a conflicted character who uses her power as her people see fit rather than as she would want to. It brings rise to conflict within her narrative that makes for magnificent tension building. Her power is a core element in the novel, and the place where her gift came from is as well. There are times when this novel feels very much like the tale of Tristan and Isolde because of how the story brings Reyker and Lira together and how they seek to battle Gods and monsters together against all the odds. It has that medieval feel to it as it tells the story which makes is invigorating. As for the story after the initial opening, the pace of the novel does slow down. It is hard to say where exactly the story is going to take the reader because there are multiple antagonists. The central antagonist is off screen manipulating the events of the story. It is interesting to read the events unfold, but the pace for part one of the novel is slow as it introduces these many villains and sets up the direction for the characters. As for the characters, the flip back and forth between POVs allows for a better understanding of the world, the characters and the challenges they face. Lira is a strong character and is very reminiscent of a shield maiden. She has the strength and will to fight this battle and keep her head high through it all. Yes, there are times where she falters, but this only makes her human and more relatable. As for Reykey his internal battle between darkness and light, while cliché, it works here and does not come off as cliché. His past and pain he feels mirrors the conflict very well and allows the reader to connect to him. Together these two characters make a dynamic team. How they interact, how they evolve through the course of this novel is compelling, and the way the story evolves around them, bring to light twists and turns is exceptionally well done. Overall it is an exciting start to a new series.
Oo such a pretty cover, there's no wonder it caught my attention. This is set on an island not too dissimilar in many ways to ancient Britain and has what I can only describe as Vikings attacking with the usual murder, rape and pillaging going on but actually there's far more to it than that. We have Draki, a truly nasty villain who appears to be a demigod of some type and he's pitted against Lira who is also God touched in that she can quite literally read souls. Her ability is both a blessing and a curse and it's quite intriguing the way the author leads her readers to second guess just what truly is Liras purpose and destiny. Now every story needs a hero so step forward Reyker. He is an enemy and yet he is also this truly sweet man who battles to do the right thing. The romance between them might not read as torrid but it does feel genuine and well timed. There's a wealth of supporting characters too from old friends to family members who just might break Liras heart and as events unfolded at times this was anything but a pedantic run of the mill fantasy. Atrocities occur, characters the reader could like die and through it all Lira and Reyker battle on. Not perfect as I didn't really care for the made up language although I did think the author did a good job of showing how females were sadly undervalued as well as underrated. These Gods are not kind though but selfish and pernicious and as this ends our couple are far from safe and happy but that's only going to make readers want to read more. This voluntary take is of a copy I requested from NetGalley and my thoughts and comments are honest and I believe fair.
This book was received as an ARC from Blackstone Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own. This book was so enticing and it immediately takes you away into their world and the love story that unfolded between two unlikely heroes that come from two different worlds. This book reminded me a lot of Wonder Woman in the beginning when Diana and Steve Trevor meet for the first time on Thiemyscira. All the suspense, action, drama and climax were really exciting and addicting and I know our young readers are sure to love this book. Maybe this could be a nominee for our next Battle of the Books competition. We will consider adding this title to our YFantasy collection at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.