This hot debut, perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone and An Ember in the Ashes, is the first book in an epic new series about a princess hiding a dark secret and the con man she must trust to clear her name for her father's murder.
In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.
When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.
A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.
About the Author
Amélie Wen Zhao was born in Paris, grew up in Beijing, and moved to the United States when she was 18 to attend college in New York City, her current home. Blood Heir is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
The prison bore a sharp resemblance to the dungeons of Anastacya’s childhood: dark, wet, and made of unyielding stone that leaked grime and misery. There was blood here, too; she could sense it all, tugging at her from the jagged stone steps to the torch-blackened walls, lingering at the edges of her consciousness like an ever-present shadow.
It would take so very little—a flick of her will—for her to control it all.
At the thought, Ana twined her gloved fingers tighter around the worn furs of her hood and turned her attention back to the oblivious guard several paces ahead. His varyshki bull-leather boots clacked in smooth, sharp steps, and if she listened closely enough, she could hear the faint jingle of the goldleaves she’d used to bribe him in his pockets.
She was not a prisoner this time; she was his customer, and that sweet rattle of coins was a constant reminder that he was—for now—on her side.
Still, the torchlight cast his flickering shadow on the walls around them; it was impossible not to see this place as the fabric of her nightmares and hear the whispers that came with.
Papa would have told her that this was a place filled with demons, where the evilest men were held. Even now, almost a year after his death, Ana found her mouth running dry as she imagined what he would say if he saw her here.
Ana shoved those thoughts away and kept her gaze straight ahead. Monster and murderer she might be, but that had nothing to do with her task at hand.
She was here to clear her name of treason. And it all depended on finding one prisoner.
“I’m telling you, he won’t give you nothing.” The guard’s coarse voice pulled her from the whispers. “Heard he was on a mission to murder someone high-profile when he was caught.”
He was talking about the prisoner. Her prisoner. Ana straightened, grasping for the lie she had rehearsed over and over again. “He’ll tell me where he hid my money.”
The guard threw her a sympathetic glance over his shoulder. “You’d best be spending your time somewhere nicer and sunnier, mi dama. More’n a dozen nobles have bribed their way into Ghost Falls to see him, and he’s given ’em nothing yet. He’s made some powerful enemies, this Quicktongue.”
A long, drawn-out wail pierced the end of his sentence, a scream so tortured that the hairs on Ana’s neck rose. The guard’s hand flitted to the hilt of his sword. The torchlight cut his face, half in flickering orange, half in shadow. “Cells are gettin’ full of ’em Affinites.”
Ana’s steps almost faltered; her breath caught sharply, and she let it out again, slowly, forcing herself to keep pace.
Her disquiet must have shown on her face, for the guard said quickly, “Not to worry, mi dama. We’re armed to the teeth with Deys’voshk, and the Affinites’re kept locked in special blackstone cells. We won’t go near ’em. Those deimhovs are locked in safe.”
A sickly feeling stirred in the pit of her stomach, and she dug her gloved fingers into her palm as she cinched her hood tighter over her head. Affinites were usually spoken of in hushed whispers and fearful glances, accompanied by tales of the handful of humans who had Affinities to certain elements. Monsters—who could do great things with their powers. Wield fire. Hurl lightning. Ride wind. Shape flesh. And then there were some, it was rumored, whose powers extended beyond the physical.
Powers that no mortal being should have. Powers that belonged either to the Deities or to the demons.
The guard was smiling at her, perhaps to be friendly, perhaps wondering what a girl like her, clad in furs and velvet gloves—worn, though clearly once luxurious—was doing in this prison.
He would not be smiling at her if he knew what she was.
Who she was.
Her world sharpened into harsh focus around her, and for the first time since she’d stepped into the prison, she studied the prison guard. Cyrilian Imperial insignia—the face of a roaring white tiger—carved proudly upon his blackstone-enforced breastplate. Sword at his hip, sharpened so that the edges sliced into thin air, made of the same material as his armor—a half-metallic, half-blackstone alloy impervious to Affinite manipulation. And, finally, her gaze settled on the vial of green-tinged liquid that dangled from his belt buckle, its tip curved like the fang of a snake.
Deys’voshk, or Deities’ Water, the only poison known to subdue an Affinity.
She had stepped, once again, into the fabric of her nightmares. Dungeons carved of cold, darker-than-night blackstone, and the bone-white smile of her caretaker as he forced spice-tinged Deys’voshk down her throat to purge the monstrosity she’d been born with—a monstrosity, even in Affinites’ terms.
Beneath her gloves, her palms were slick with sweat.
“We have a good selection, mi dama.” The guard’s voice seemed very far away. “With the amount of money you’ve offered to see Quicktongue, you’d be better off signing one or two Affinites. We’ve a wood one and a weak iron one—pretty common types that’ll serve well in the household.”
Her heart stammered. He spoke of Affinite indentures as though he were selling livestock.
May had told her about this—May, the ten-year-old child who was like a little sister to Ana, yet so much wiser than her age. In hushed tones and wide eyes, May had spoken of how guards around the Empire worked with Affinite traffickers—“brokers,” they were called—to sell them into indenturement with contracts that they could never pay off. With the increasing number of Affinite rebellions against indenturement, collusion became easier in the chaos.
There were even whispers of guards and soldiers across the Empire falling into the pockets of Affinite brokers, goldleaves flowing into their pockets like water.
Ana had just never expected to meet one.
She tried to keep her voice steady as she replied, “No, thank you.”
She had to get out of this prison as fast as possible.