National bestselling author Carol Berg returns to the world of her award-winning Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone with an all-new tale of magic, mystery, and corruption....
How much must one pay for an hour of youthful folly? The Pureblood Registry accused Lucian de Remeni-Masson of “unseemly involvement with ordinaries,” which meant only that he spoke with a young woman not of his own kind, allowed her to see his face unmasked, worked a bit of magic for her....After that one mistake, Lucian’s grandsire excised half his magic and savage Harrowers massacred his family. Now the Registry has contracted his art to a common coroner. His extraordinary gift for portraiture is restricted to dead ordinaries—beggars or starvelings hauled from the streets.
But sketching the truth of dead men’s souls brings unforeseen consequences. Sensations not his own. Truths he cannot possibly know and dares not believe. The coroner calls him a cheat and says he is trying to weasel out of a humiliating contract. The Registry will call him mad—and mad sorcerers are very dangerous....
About the Author
Carol Berg is the national bestselling author of multiple fantasy novels, including Breath and Bone, Flesh and Spirit, The Daemon Prism, The Soul Mirror, and The Spirit Lens. She is a former software engineer. She lives in Colorado with her family.
Read an Excerpt
YEAR 1291 OF THE ARDRAN PRINCIPALITY
YEAR 214 FROM THE UNIFICATION OF ARDRA, MORIAN, AND EVANORE AS THE KINGDOM OF NAVRONNE
YEAR 1, INTERREGNUM, MOURNING THE DEATH OF GOOD KING EODWARD
Rumors flew into Palinur on a malignant north wind. After seven bloody months, Perryn, Duc of Ardra, Prince of Navronne, had battled his contentious brother Bayard back into the northlands. While frozen roads and rivers locked Bayard in the river county, Perryn was returning triumphant to his royal city. For better or worse, King Eodward’s throne was his. Navronne’s brief war of succession was over.
My unfocused anxieties felt somehow traitorous to my heritage. The politics of ordinaries shouldn’t touch me, a pureblood sorcerer, gifted by the gods to provide magic to the world. Were they yet living, my parents would berate me for unseemly distraction and my teasing brothers call me soberskull or grimheart. But the war had touched me, and would forever, no matter which prince won the prize.
The frigid air pricked like needles this morning. Another fretful night had left me nervy, as if bowmen stood on the rooftops, arrows nocked and aimed at my back. Ten times in the half quellé from my town house I’d spun around, imagining a pickthief fingering the gold chain about my neck. Now the babbling river of people flowing through the back lane of the Council District had come to a standstill, trapping me between a heavily guarded flock of squalling geese and a rickety tinker’s cart headed for some nobleman’s kitchen.
The blockage did naught for my composure. I’d determined to reach my studio at the Registry Tower early and had foolishly assumed the streets might be less crowded while the morning was yet dark as pitch. But refugees from the northern battles had swarmed into the city ahead of Prince Perryn’s legions. Barons and villeins, freeholders and crofters, monks, practors, and townsmen crammed the streets with wagons and carts, trading their belongings for what provision anyone could offer. What hopes people bore of sustenance in a famine year might be realized only in Palinur—and before the returning troops ravaged the remaining stores.
Fools, all. The new year had not yet turned, and Navronne already lay in the grip of yet another ruinous winter. Market stalls were bare, grain stores heavily guarded. Meat and fish commanded prices akin to rubies.
The poor light—a weedy torch here and a grimy wagon lamp there—scarce penetrated the murk. An escort to carry a lamp and clear my path was a luxury my purse could no longer support, and when my steward had offered to hire a linkboy, I’d refused, unwilling to wait. A poor decision. I was expert at those.
Exasperated, I squeezed past the tinker’s cart, only to end up ankle-deep in a stew of ice and muck, blocked yet again. Two men were pounding each other bloody, surrounded by jeering onlookers.
“Move aside!” Magelight blazed white from my hand, quieting the noise in the lane.
Most folk properly averted their eyes at the sight of my mask and claret-hued cloak and squeezed to the sides of the lane to let me pass. I could properly summon a constable to punish those who did not, but that wasn’t going to speed my progress.
Unfortunately, neither was the uncomfortably direct assertion of my prerogatives. A rag-topped cart crammed with women and children choked the lane ahead, while three men attempted to repair a broken wheel. The families had painted their foreheads with dung to appease whatever god they believed had brought this doom of war and winter on the world.
I considered reversing course altogether, but an alley sheering off to my left looked more promising.
The alley was certainly no garden path. I stepped over piles of unidentifiable refuse, a bloated cat, and a beggar, either sleeping or dead. But the empty quiet was a welcome contrast to the cacophony that rose again behind me. The wind sighed and whistled through the dark slot.
I dimmed my magelight. I needed to conserve power, rid myself of distraction, and focus on my work today. A portrait done the previous afternoon needed repairs before the Master of Archives inspected it.
Lucian . . . see . . .
I would not look back. Would not. The breathy words were naught but wind.
. . . meddling . . . end it . . .
. . . no saving him . . .
I made it halfway to the graying light at the far end of the alley before I whirled about and raised my light again to affirm that the touch on my shoulder and the footsteps—soft as bare feet on green grass—were mere imagining.
At six-and-twenty, I was a man of fit body and intelligent mind, a pureblood sorcerer of honorable bloodlines and with an exceptional magical bent for portraiture. Save for one small failure in discipline five years past, which had borne entirely unsubtle consequences, my conscience was clear. So why did I have this incessant sense of being watched? My eyes insisted that shadows darted away as I rounded corners and that wisps of colored light glimmered in the dark courtyards outside my windows. Only in the last tenday had my fancy added these whisperings just at the farthest limits of hearing. Warnings, but of what, I had no idea.
Not that I believed in them. That would be madness.
The sensations were not magic. Every day of my life was filled with magic. Nor were they ghosts. Were ghosts real, mine would be only three months raised and so numerous I could not mistake them. These oddities had gone on nigh half a year. Reason could explain none of it.
No matter reason or belief, my fears were undeniable. Reason did not always hold sway, and purebloods were not immortal.
Lucian . . . listen . . .
Without looking back, I raced from the alley into the busy boulevard that led uphill to the Tower.
* * *
Excerpted from "Dust and Light"
Copyright © 2014 Carol Berg.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
Praise for Carol Berg
“An absolutely gorgeous writer...[who] does incredible worldbuilding.” —C. E. Murphy, author of The Walker Paper series
Praise for Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone
“Engrossing.” —Sharon Shinn, National Bestselling Author of Royal Airs
“Altogether superior.” —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“Emotionally intense.” —Publishers Weekly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I hadn't read the Lighthouse duology before I read this. Now that I have I think the explanations of pure blood society and the world in general were better here. That said, after this one I promptly devoured the Lighthouse books and was just as engrossed. I look forward to the next one!