Set in a land where magic has faded into the stuff of legend, and a corrupt council dominates the realm, Birthrights is a story that grapples with the concept of the truth – following two young men who are navigating its shifting sands in a world on the brink of civil war.
The son of a street sweeper and last in line of a disgraced family, Whym has grown up in the RatsNest slum of the capital. In the hopes of escaping his father’s fate, he accepts an apprenticeship to be a seeker – something akin to a modern-day bounty hunter. Soon, he finds himself entangled in a web of treachery and set forth on a perilous journey across the Lost Land to locate a creature of myth and magic – a journey that will not only transform Whym, but shape the future of the realm.
Meanwhile, Quint – the privileged son of a powerful religious leader who has been groomed to inherit his father’s role – abandons his faith to join the fight against a corrupt council. As the adviser to a remote tribe in the Fringe, Quint must find within himself the wisdom and fortitude to save the people from the invading army – and their own leaders.
Told in alternating perspectives against a backdrop of heightening civil unrest, Birthrights tracks Whym and Quint as they are forced to distill what they believe, and decide on whose side they will stand in the coming conflict. The first installment in McNeal’s four-part Revisions to the Truth series, Birthrights is all at once a heart-pounding page-turner and a thoughtful, timely meditation on the unwieldy nature of the truth.
About the Author
Kyle McNeal grew up on the side of a mountain in Western North Carolina, far enough from neighbors that imagination was often his primary companionship. He discovered a magic therealong the winding logging trail, beside the backyard stream, and within the hidden hemlock fortthat instilled a dream to one day share that magic with the world. Thus, while meeting with recruiters during his graduation year from Georgia Tech, he answered the “five-year plan” question with his intention to write fantasy. But first, five years turned into twenty. He worked in management consulting and private equity before tackling the challenge to start and run an operation in China. Seasoned by his many travels and experiences, and eager to write full-time, he resigned his management role abroad and returned to the U.S. From his home in Fort Mill, South Carolina, he strives to merge the nuances of the real world with the magic of imagination, to weave stories that both entertain and provoke reflection.
Read an Excerpt
Book One of the Revisions to the Truth Series
By J. Kyle McNeal
Elevate PublishingCopyright © 2017 J. Kyle McNeal
All rights reserved.
MUDLANDS/36 Turns Earlier
When the fighting ends and the dead are counted, the Truth will endure. But whose Truth? Thus the call to arms.
Former First Lord ArWhym Ellenrond, justifying the Reformers Rebellion
ArWhym closed the boy's lifeless eyes and bowed his head in prayer, his white locks hanging to his shoulders. Beside him, the stream that bisected the battlefield gurgled, its once-clear waters now ruddied with death. The fighting had turned this part of the meadow into a muddy morass, with bodies piled upon bodies.
He stood, his shoulders drooped in defeat despite being on the winning side. "This must end," he declared and looked to his top commander, Ather Sandoval, who knelt nearby.
Ather turned, his momentary look of surprise quickly replaced by conviction. "If we keep winning, the other regions will rise," he argued. He wiped a dangling bead of sweat from his brow with the back of a hand covered by blood spatter, leaving an uneven streak of red across his forehead.
"No." ArWhym shook his head and cast his gaze across the battlefield. "For every soldier we kill, two more march to take his place." He looked toward the cloud-covered sky and exhaled, a long lung-emptying breath that caused his shoulders to drop even farther. "We're left recruiting boys whose voices haven't cracked. When they fall, what then? Their mothers?"
Ather grunted as he hefted himself to his feet. "Mudlands women are tougher than the men back home." He towered over ArWhym with shoulders broad as the trunk of a wildeash tree. "If the Council keeps pressing men into service, the other regions will rise. As their losses mount, even the soldiers may turn."
ArWhym bent to retrieve his staff from the ground and accepted the big man's forearm to help him stand again. Next to the burly officer, the former First Lord of the Council of Truth and the leader of the Reformers Rebellion appeared shrunken and frail. "If the other regions were going to revolt, they'd have done so already. And the army — with Samir Fen named my replacement as First Lord, the army's support for the Council is certain. This rebellion was a mistake."
The declaration was met at first with a steely silence, then a dispirited suggestion. "We could quit fighting and hide in Bothera or the Fringe. Eventually the others will see the right in our cause."
ArWhym leaned against his staff as if his legs alone couldn't bear him. "They see the right. They know the Council perverts the Truth with its edits. Still, they'll not rise in our lifetime." He turned a flinty gaze toward Ather. "As long as I live, the purges will continue. I won't hide while others die in my stead."
"And those already dead? They didn't die for you," Ather asserted. "They died fighting for a cause you can only serve alive."
"Look around!" ArWhym's tone sharpened and he swept his arm out to display the devastation. "With every victory we bury more of the future. If we fight on, there'll be no one left to carry the banner. Reforming the Council of Truth was never worth such a price." He straightened his back then grasped the commander's shoulder. "Trust me. I've thought this through."
Ather stiffened and brushed his leader's hand away. "I won't do it."
ArWhym ignored the protest. "If you hand me over, you can negotiate a safe return for our men, a future for Stern and the other children."
Ather squinted back with a granite jaw and searing eyes. "I'd rather die than live as a traitor."
The white-haired leader of the rebellion shrugged. "Negotiate that, too, if you must." Using his staff as a walking stick, he started up the incline and back toward camp.
"And what of your son?" Ather stopped him. "He's been held captive in Riverbend three turns. You think they'll free him as well?"
The words cut deep. ArWhym swayed before righting himself and delivering a halting response. "Death would be kind. I can't bear to imagine what Samir will do otherwise."
Ather spat on the ground. "I've fought by your side from the start! I won't do this!"
ArWhym spun back around, pointing his staff with flinty determination. "You will," he commanded, his face flushed. Then his expression softened and a mirthless half-smile revealed his resignation. "You will," he repeated, his quiet voice approaching a whisper. "You're the only one who can."
"Curse you and the Council both!" Ather spat again, but he still moved to join his leader and help him up the incline with a steady hand against the old man's lower back.
As they reached the top, a zilhorn sounded, its plaintive call opening the battlefield to the scavengers. "I'll await you in the pass," ArWhym mumbled then looked up at his friend and fellow rebel. His weary face told of countless trials, his stooped body of the passage of many turns. His glistening eyes, though, welled with hope for the future. "Negotiate a good price for my head."
The guilt of a father's transgressions must be borne by his sons, generation after generation, until atonement is complete.
Truth (Judges 4:12)
"Catch the Rat!" a woman shouted — the same words used every turn to signal the beginning of the Hunt. A pack of youths bolted toward her.
"Which way?" an older boy at the front called out, gripping a broom with prickly vine woven through its bristles. Past fifteen turns, with stubble shading the angles of his jaw, he looked like a man. This would be his last Hunt.
The woman pointed in the direction of the bridge that crossed the Inge River into RatsNest and another woman several blocks away shouted, "Rat! Rat!"
The boy rushed toward her. "Bet the Rat Man's heading home," he said and flashed a knowing smile to a friend keeping pace beside him.
At the back of the pack, Whym struggled to keep up. Only a moon past his sixth turn, he clung to a broom taller than him, his unruly mop of brown hair obscuring his vision. When his ankle turned on a loose cobblestone, he tripped over the broom's worn straw head. His knees and elbows hit the street before he could raise his hands to brace his fall.
His best friend, Kira, stopped to wait when he cried out. "Get up!" she urged, bouncing on her toes and shifting a small hearth broom from hand to hand. "They're leaving us behind."
Whym hopped up, brushed grit from his skinned knees, then sprinted to catch up. By the time he reached her, the other children had rounded the corner. He could no longer see the pack, but he could hear the air voices. "I think they're heading toward the bridge."
With Kira by his side, they ran until their lungs burned in their chests. Then they slowed to a jog, then a walk. Then Kira stopped. "We'll never catch them," she said. The calls of the other children were now faint and far in the distance.
Her shoulders sagged as she peered dolefully across the river. Since the first pink megara blossoms heralded the start of spring, the two friends had talked about little other than being named Guardian of the Faith, the title given to the first child to find and beat the Rat Man. Although the authority attached to the title only lasted during the feast day following Spring Clean, the bragging rights endured.
For Whym, the title was about more than bragging rights. As the great-grandson of ArWhym Ellenrond, instigator of the Reformers Rebellion, he'd been picked on and bullied all his life. Soon, though, he'd be escaping the city's slum to attend school in NewTown. He longed to start this new phase of his life being known for something other than his family's past.
When he'd mentioned his plan to his mother, however, she'd not shared his enthusiasm. Far from it — she'd refused to let him join the Hunt. "Tradition," she'd sighed at his pleas to change her mind, "is sometimes best forgotten. When you're older, you'll understand." With his father absent, as always during Spring Clean, he'd had no recourse. Undaunted, he'd waited for her to leave, swiped her broom, then sneaked away to meet Kira.
Like the other adults in the city, Whym's mother would be spending the morning tidying her workplace, a tiny workshop that converted salvaged wood into combs. The Hunt seldom ended early, so Whym expected to be caught when she returned home at midday to scour their home. For a chance to be Guardian of the Faith, he was prepared to accept punishment.
"Let's take a shortcut!" Whym grabbed Kira's arm and headed in the opposite direction. Reaching the main bridge required rounding the bend in the river — a lengthy detour — but there was a rope bridge nearby that crossed below the bend. If he'd guessed right about the Rat Man's destination, crossing the rickety rope bridge would allow the two to overtake the others despite their slower speed.
"But we don't know for sure that's where they're going," Kira protested, pulling her arm free.
"When I'm Guardian, I'll let you fetch my dinner," he teased then took off.
The tactic worked. "You can shoo flies from my food," she squealed and rushed after him.
They took in threes the narrow stone steps up to the hanging bridge, but slowed to a walk when they reached the wooden planks that swayed beneath their footfalls. To keep his balance, Whym held the rope with one hand. With the other, he clutched the broom's straw head against his side, the clacks of the handle counting their progress. "If I were the Rat Man, I'd hide under some straw out by Flint's Folly. No one would find me there."
"Then you'd face a bunch of angry, hungry grown-ups instead of kids," Kira mocked. "You know the rule. If the Rat Man's not out of the city by sunset, a fast replaces the feast."
Whym knew the rule, but in the more than thirty turns since the Council of Truth had started the tradition of the Hunt, not once had the children failed to find and expel the Rat Man from the city. Kira's comment, though, drove home a point Whym had never considered. The Rat Mans a real person. "Do you think we'll recognize him?" he asked.
"Of course! He'll be in a fur outfit with a tail."
"No, I mean recognize him," Whym clarified as they neared the bridge's end. "It's not like someone in NewTown would do it. The Rat Man might be our neighbor."
"I bet the Council found a beggar from the Maze." Kira's eyes alternated between the wooden planks and the approaching embankment. "Anyway, that's why he's hooded. We're not supposed to know." When they reached the stairs on the opposite bank, Kira yanked Whym's shirt and dashed past, nearly causing him to lose his balance. She jumped and pointed from the base of the stairs. "There he is!"
Whym looked just in time to see a hunched figure hobble into the entrance of the tangle of winding alleys known as the Maze. "It's a place for adults," his mother had scolded when she'd learned Whym had once accompanied his father there on an errand.
"Folks there'll sell anything they get their hands on, including you," Kira's grandmother had cautioned.
Kira bit her lip and looked at him, asking, without words, whether they should follow the Rat Man into such a dangerous place.
"It's Spring Clean. No one's selling anything today," Whym urged her on. They rushed off together in pursuit.
When they neared the arched entrance, the street was empty but for a water chestnut vendor sweeping around his metal roasting pan. The tiny shops and carts out front were just as Whym remembered. Without the crush of people and the competing smells of food vendors, though, the Maze was just a cluster of narrow alleys stinking of urine and refuse. "They'll be here soon," he warned when he heard the rumble of the approaching pack not far behind.
Kira again looked to Whym for reassurance. He hesitated, his fear of the place rivaling the thrill of the Hunt. "Psst," hissed the vendor, pointing toward an even narrower alley to the right. It was the nudge they needed. He and Kira hurried down the alley, peering down the dead ends as they followed it deeper into the Maze. When they reached a fork, there was no one to guide them.
"You go left," Whym directed and took an apprehensive step into the deserted alley to the right. Kira remained frozen, alternating between staring down the left fork and watching Whym. "Come out, Rat Man, and I'll be easy on you," he called as he followed the narrow street, his cracking voice exposing his false bravado.
"Whym?" A hooded figure, wearing a shabby coat of mismatched fur pieces, hobbled from behind an empty stall. The man's arms were bound behind his back, and his feet were shackled, accounting for his odd gait. Attached to his back with butchers twine was a tail that dragged on the ground behind him and looked like one long link of sausage.
"Dah?" Whym recognized his father's voice. When the Rat Man shuffled toward him, though, Whym backed away until he thumped his elbow against another stall. He dropped his broom and ran back toward Kira. As he neared the fork, an older boy arrived and shoved past, knocking Whym to the ground and against the wall.
"Rat Man!" the boy whooped and swung his broom. More children darted past Whym and Kira to join him.
Tears streamed down Whym's cheeks as he pressed his back against the stone, watching. His father lay curled on the ground, crying out when the prickly vine pierced the threadbare fabric below the fur coat. More and more children arrived, and the blows continued until the Rat Man's cries were drowned out by the crush of voices filling the alley.
"Beat the rat," the boy who'd knocked Whym down ordered with authority — an authority that would be bestowed the next day when he'd be named Guardian of the Faith.
Whym clutched his knees to his chest and hid his face between them as the youths dragged his father down the alley and out of the Maze. He knew the tradition — the mob would drag the Rat Man to the city gate and leave him, beaten and humiliated, beyond the walls. Then the residents of Riverbend would celebrate their triumph.
"Whym?" Kira's voice roused him. He looked up to see her holding his mother's broom, the handle snapped in two. She slid down next to him and took his hand in hers, the din of the crowd now a faint whisper. "Next turn, we'll stay home and clean," she offered. He buried his head in her lap and wept.
Riverbend/Ten Turns Later
Without guidance, men are beholden to tradition, forever repeating the same mistakes. The Truth is Jah's guidance to His people.
Truth (Fundamentals 6:5-6)
Soaked, Whym climbed from the slow-moving water, his bangs flat against his forehead. He'd rinsed the blood from his clothes, and his wrung-dry undershirt now clung to the muscles of his arms and chest. As he sank into the cool clay bank of the Inge, he watched the ripples of his passing drift away.
"Stupid!" he chastised himself for landing the punch to Tyrus Fen's jaw. He traced his finger over the bump under his left eye caused by Tyrus' elbow. The spot was tender, but the swelling was less than he'd expected. His ribs, on the other hand, sent shocks of pain with each breath. Just blowing the blood from his nose had wracked his back with spasms.
He thought back to the days when he'd started school in Newtown. He'd believed then that winning the title of Guardian of the Faith would liberate him from the stigma of being the great-grandson of ArWhym Ellenrond. Ten turns had passed since the day he'd learned otherwise. He was the son of the Rat Man of Riverbend and was destined to inherit the role — the punishment the Council of Truth meted out on ArWhym's Ellenrond's progeny for the Reformers Rebellion. Now, at sixteen turns of age, his every hope for the future was dampened by that realization.
Still, he knew he shouldn't complain. His parents had scrimped and saved to send him to school so he could hope for a better job than the street cleaner position the Council had foisted on his father. Few RatsNest children were fortunate enough to attend school. In fact, he and Kira were the only ones in their class. As a result, though, he was viewed by his neighbors as a cosseted snob schooled across the river. In NewTown, he was filth from RatsNest. Kira remained his best — and only — friend.
"You okay?" Kira lifted her dress to her calves and eased down the embankment to join him. "That looked like it hurt." Her soft tone mixed concern and reproach.
Excerpted from Birthrights by J. Kyle McNeal. Copyright © 2017 J. Kyle McNeal. Excerpted by permission of Elevate 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.
What People are Saying About This
"A fantasy of magic, power, corruption, and coming of age, all told in a vigorous prose."
Dr. Terry Norton
Professor Emeritus of Literacy, Winthrop University
"Kyle McNeal builds a diverse world, rich in history, steeped in mythology, and peopled with complex characters. Beginning on the first page, raw, beautiful language immerses the reader in a story that carries one from the slums of RatsNest to the edge of the Fringe. A pleasure to read."
Author of The Chasmaria Chronicles
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As an avid fantasy reader, it takes a lot to get me into a new world. This author did a superb job of making sure you know every character without making you wonder why you just read (x) number of pages. It pulls you through a great coming of age story and leaves you with an intrigue to know what will come with the next installment. That said, this is not a book I would recommend to all audiences, it is, to me, an adult fantasy novel with a character coming-of-age. I also know not all will find the author's particular style as engaging as some others, but I think with the right mindset to dive into something new and different and keeping an open mind, any reader willing to pick this book up will not be disappointed!
This is the first book in a four part fantasy series following the lives of Whym and Quint and their struggle to find the truth. Both men are disillusioned by events and expectations of their families and birthrights. Whym is the grandson of the executed leader of the Reformer's Rebellion group and Quint is the son of a religious leader. Both learn early in life that nothing is as it seems and both are on a journey where faith and beliefs are challenged in the struggle to find the truth. Fantasy is not a genre I normally choose to read, but I was intrigued by the world presented in this book. The writing is complex and beautiful, and the character development is very well done. Some of this book is very dark with brutal killings, betrayals and rape. Political intrigue and trickery are at the core of this story and as it is the first installment the reader is left wondering what direction it will take in the future installments. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy fantasy and to others as well. The story will quickly draw you in.
Birthrights Book One Of The Revisions To The Truth Series is an excellent fantasy with adventure that keeps you wanting more. at the end of the book I found myself looking forward to the next book. This is a story of the search for ones place in the world split by beliefs and those who control others by fear and intimidation. The search for Truth and what that means. It's one boys struggle to find his place and not just be known as the grandson of a rebel leader. Whym is learning the ways of the seeker and trying to overcome his families past. He is seeking The Truth. He must learn the ways of the seeker and in a world split between the beliefs of what is right and wrong in The Truth he finds strength, skill and danger. This book has an excellent plot that leads you on a extraordinary journey through a fantasy world full of conflict, danger, a mystical creature and a realm where the Leaders of the Truth rule against the ones who want the real Truth and what's best for all people. It has strong characters that grow as the story unfolds to finding themselves and which side they belong on. I liked this line "make others see you as you wish them to see you, but never believe the disguise yourselve; The Truth is a book, but real truth depends on your perspective" this sums up the struggle found in this story. I found this book very interesting and a wonderful page turner. If you liked the Hungar Games or Eragon then I think you will like this book also. If you are a fan of fantasy then be sure to check this book out. I received this book for my honest opinion and review.
I can honestly say that I could not get through this book. I sat down with it one evening and hoped to settle in for a good read, but found myself getting lost in the details and the back and forth of the story. I was confused by the names and places and I couldn’t follow what was going on. While I am not typically a fantasy genre reader, I do like to branch out every once in a while and get lost in a story filled with magic and wonder. This, however, did not strike my fancy, and after picking it up and putting it down several times, I finally gave up and it has been collecting dust for about a week now. I don’t ever like to give up on a book, especially one that I was chosen to review for free, but I honestly could not get into the book and find the hook that normally keeps me turning pages.
The first in a fantasy series. It is a good start. I must say that I was confused in a few places. But all-in-all, a good start to this series.
Fascinating worldbuilding. I love the world that McNeal created. Full of intriguing characters and a fascinating plot. You can read about the plot in the description but I definitely liked it. The books narrative is so dense and wonderfully wrought that you cannot help but continue turning the pages. The settings are well described. I wish that there were a map in the book because I had trouble keeping up with what areas were near each other and where the characters were traveling to and from. Plus maps are amazing in fantasy books. The characters are written such that you care about them and what happens to them. They are multidimensional and well written. Their reasons for actions are purposeful and known without beating you over the head with it. Over all very enjoyable and I cannot wait for the rest of the series. However, I would have liked to have seen more strong female characters. Unfortunately epic fantasy authors rarely give us that. For too many horrible things happen in epic fantasy to strong female characters. Male characters are able to become strong without being raped or punished for their strength but that is rarely the case for female characters in epic fantasy.
Birthrights, Book One of the Revision to the Truth Series, is the riveting story of two young men’s struggle to survive in a harsh land and come to grips with the realization that truth is often a matter of perspective. It is a textured narrative that has broad appeal . The reader who just wants an engaging and exciting adventure story will not be disappointed. The author’s organic plot and character development that allows the reader to meet the characters and experience the cultures rather than be told about them does make the beginning a bit slow, but the action picks up and the development makes for a richer reading experience in the end. Once the action starts, it doesn’t stop and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the journey exciting. The reader who appreciates a literary touch, careful word selection and a thought-provoking story will also not be disappointed. Many of the chapter headers would make great topics for a book discussion group or just a conversation with friends. I also enjoyed the occasional poem in the headers. Though not burdened by excessive detail or novelty, there is enough of both to create a fascinating world that will capture the reader’s imagination. The author convincingly breathed life into his characters and I look forward to continuing my journey with them in Book Two. I’ve read many entertaining books whose plots I can now barely remember, let alone the characters. I will not forget these characters.
This was the first book since Hunger Games that I could not put down. I found myself staying up late unable to break away from the captivating fantasy word McNeal creates. The story follows two main characters, Whym and Quint, with a sprinkling of other characters giving the reader an opportunity to view the world and events through a variety of viewpoints. Much like Game of Thrones, McNeal portrays characters shaped by their experiences and beliefs; characters that are unpredictable and reactive, characters much like the people in our world today. These characters, and the way they change or respond when presented with new experiences or information, provide many plot twists and turns that keeps the reader anxiously waiting to see what will happen next. I absolutely love this book and can't wait to read more of this series and more from this author.