Steph Swainston returns to the dazzling, dizzying world of the Fourlands with the audacious sequel to her acclaimed novels The Year of Our War and No Present Like Time. Jant Comet, the messenger, has survived deadly insects, internecine politics, and even his own debilitating, life-threatening addiction. But now he faces a challenge greater than any he has met in the last several centuries, one that could shake the foundations of the Fourlands forever. For the Emperor himself is riding to the front, and nothing is as it seems . . .
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About the Author
Steph Swainston was born in 1974 and comes from Bradford, England. She studies archaeology at Cambridge University and then worked as an archaeologist for three years, gaining a masters of philosophy from the University of Wales.
She also worked as a researcher in a company that develops herbal medicines. Her current job is in defense research.
Read an Excerpt
I woke. I tried to sit up and banged my head hard on a wooden plank above me. Shit, had they put me in a coffin already?
I was curled up tightly in a tiny space, tense with suppressed panic. I calmed down, relaxed and remembered where I was. It isn't 1925, it is the year 2025, and we are six kilometres south of the Wall in Slake Cross town. I had been sleeping folded up on the lowest shelf of an enormous bookcase. My wings extended, half-spread, taking up metres of the paved stone floor.
Frost, the Architect and owner of the bookcase, was sitting behind her table a few metres away. She glanced down. 'It's nearly nine o'clock, Jant. We only have an hour until the meeting, remember?'
I unpacked my long legs, stood and stretched, attempting to tie my hair back so I could see her.
Frost sounded curious: 'Did you have bad dreams again? Was it the nineteen twenty-five massacre?'
'Yes. I have flashbacks every time I come here. God, I hate this place.'
'I'm not surprised you have bad dreams if you sleep on a shelf. Sometimes I forget you're a Rhydanne but then you do something really bizarre. Tornado and Lightning haven't been bothered by nightmares.'
'They weren't eviscerated, and besides, they remember worse disasters.' I hooked my thumb in the pocket of my jeans and pulled the waistband down to show the old knotty scar that curved up the left side of my stomach.
'Yeuch. Still, you should have got over it by now. Have you been under the influence?'
'No.' Not since that last handful of mushrooms anyway, and whatever I'd washed them down with.'I'm clean.'
'Well, being "clean" seems to have done wonders for your vanity.'
I had unfolded a little mirror to check the kohl around my eyes. My irises were dark green like bottle glass, the pupils vertical like a cat's, backed with a light-reflecting membrane. It's a Rhydanne trait. So are my silver bangles and a brightly coloured serape shawl wound around my waist, its indigo tassels hanging down. But I am half Awian and at the moment my clothes are too; well-tailored boot-cut riding trousers.
The faience beads and broken buzzard feathers in my black hair. Then there was the natty slashed shirt I picked up in Wrought, through which I was windburnt, so now with the sleeves rolled, my arms were brindled and spotted. I had spent the last six months carrying messages for Frost and constant flying had honed me down to bone and muscle. I feel so much better these days and everyone can see how much better I look. I stretched my wings and Frost watched the workings of the joints, unfortunately not with the eye of a woman who finds them attractive, but as a fascinated engineer. Frost, through and through a Plainslander, was a human without wings. She looked to where the limbs, as thick as thighs, joined to me above the small of my back. The muscles around my sides, attached to the tops of my hips, drive them.
I folded them both neatly so the quills lined up, like organ pipes emerging from delicate, corrugated skin. The limey Lowespass water had dulled my feathers.
Frost sat behind a rough table in the middle of the hall, with a large brass coffee pot at hand. Propped up against it was her small and extremely threadbare soft toy rabbit with one eye. It had been a present from her husband more than three hundred years before. The coffee pot and the rabbit weighted down a stack of papers, a mound of dog-eared textbooks and notes, all in Frost's handwriting but some of the paper was ancient. An enormous chart of the Oriole River valley curled off the table at either end. Fiendish equations were pencilled across it; underscoring, memos and neat, blocky doodles. Her genius calculations were written in lines; tiny numbers and letters. There were all sorts of little triangles there too. I appreciated the little triangles.
Frost presided over this orderly mess, a double-handled glazed mug cradled in her square palms. Her round face was slightly blotchy without any trace of make-up and her nose was red. Dryness lines bunched together around her eyes and two vertical creases between them made her look fearsome, but they were caused by peering into windswept trenches, not by scowling. She had a bulky brown ponytail with a few grey hairs twisted and tethered behind her head with a clip. Wiry strands fizzed out of it, around her broad forehead and the pencil wedged behind her ear.
The arms of Frost's chunky cardigan were rolled back into bunches above her elbows. Its wool was pilled and marred with snags. She had knotted a kerchief around her neck and her big thighs in comfortable trousers fitted into the seat of her camp chair. Frost was not concerned with the niceties of dress and she only ever wore black. Her feet, in thick socks and steel-toed boots, rested alongside a stack of architectural plans on graph paper taped to drawing boards.
The hall was thirty metres long, echoing and austere; its half-round ceiling arched above us like the inside of a barrel. Since Frost had begun to use it as her office, she had covered its trestle tables with samples of masonry; keystones, voussoirs and coping stones milled into interesting shapes. There were metal boxes dumpy levels for surveying, pattress plates for strengthening brickwork, a basket of red-painted corks to measure water flow and an intricate scale model of the dam. The oil lamps hanging from the brick vault had just been lit as evening was wearing on and, against April's chill, a fire was set in the hearth. Frost's assistants were pulling some benches into rows. I reflected that her world is rather more practical than mine.Dangerous Offspring. Copyright © by Steph Swainston. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.