At the edge of the known world, an ancient nomadic tribe faces a new enemy-an Empire fueled by technology and war.
A young spiritwalker of the Aniw and a captain in the Ciracusan army find themselves unexpectedly thrown together. The Aniw girl, taken prisoner from her people, must teach the reluctant soldier a forbidden talent - one that may turn the tide of the war and will surely forever brand him an outcast.
From the rippling curtains of light in an Arctic sky, to the gaslit cobbled streets of the city, war is coming to the frozen north. Two people have a choice that will decide the fates of nations - and may cast them into a darkness that threatens to bring destruction to both their peoples.
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The Gaslight Dogs
By Lowachee, Karin
OrbitCopyright © 2010 Lowachee, Karin
All right reserved.
From the black ship spilled all manner of tall Kabliw—men from the South land, men from a world past the barrier of stunted trees that Sjennonirk’s people called the Hackles of the Dog. That stick barrier was a warning laid by the spiritual ancestors of the ankago: no Aniw should venture farther than their tundra plain and frozen seas. Instead the People stayed to the ends of the rivers that flowed below the beginning of the sticks.
But the Hackles of the Dog couldn’t stop the Kabliw of the South from sailing to North shores. These Kabliw, these people of the boats, went where they would and did as they pleased. Through late winter ice and the onset of spring their dark ship forged a passage, some great black whale to blot out the blue and white of her home.
Sjennonirk, an ankago of her people, named after her grandfather, stood on the small rocky hill overlooking the inlet where the Kabliw ship had anchored and watched these tall men unload their long wooden crates upon the Land. They’d rowed ashore with their load in smaller boats that still sat twice the size of her people’s kayaks. One of the men, bundled in black and brown wolf pelt, pried open the lid of the nearest crate to reveal the steel contents glittering within. She knew them to be guns. Father Bari from the South, a priest of his Seven Deities, had told her grandfather long ago about Southern hunters and their guns.
Now, it seemed, he had brought them to the Aniw. She recognized Bari’s thin silhouette in his heavy gray robes, standing just to one side of the rougher-shaped men and their determined task.
Sjennonirk turned and fled down the opposite side of the hill, sealskin boots scratching over the crust of hard snow. She did not stop until she reached her family’s camp.
In her mother’s snowhouse they gathered, a small tribe of nomad Aniw that traveled together to hunt and fish. Sjennonirk sat upon the wide sleeping platform made of packed snow, the stone lamp by her side burning seal oil into the close quarters, creating a warmth she did not feel inside. All around her the white walls of their winter home glistened, narrow light glowing from the lamp. She saw many shadows.
“What has your little spirit seen?” her mother asked, kneeling on a bed of tan caribou skins and white bear fur. All of her family and the other Aniw they traveled with, her small tribe here at the corner of their Land, gazed up at her for answers and direction. Her father Aleqa, before he’d been killed by the great white bear, had been her tribe’s ankago, and his father before him. They traced her ancestry of the little spirit straight back to the First Female, the great Dog that now resided in her and paced in the pit of her chest. She felt the paw steps behind her ribs, beating softly like a drum, like a heart.
She was the ankago, and she had no answers.
In the middle light, where her little spirit roamed, she had seen nothing but the smoky depths of the Kabliw world. They moved against the wind lines of the winter tundra, and the direction they pointed was nowhere she wanted to go.
“I will speak to the priest,” she said to broad hopeful faces and dark fearful eyes. Though they’d traded with the Kabliw since the spring season of her birth, some Southern deeds weren’t wanted on the Land.
When she was a child, Father Bari had talked of war.
The priest met her at the feet of the rocks, some distance from the men, who paid her little attention. They knew the Aniw—she was nothing spectacular to them anymore. The captain from that black ship had sat among her people, and captains before him, and eaten of seal meat with the Elders. Through all of these changing Kabliw, Father Bari had remained, the first of them. He kept a notebook and scratched in it often. He’d taught her with books from the South, and from these things she’d learned of war.
She looked up at him and the black freckles on his dark cheeks. His eyes were pinched. “Why do you bring guns?” she asked him.
“They say they’ve come to protect the Aniw. The people they fight with, the Sairlanders from across the ocean, they say the Sairlanders might come to the Land.”
“Why would they come?” She knew the only reason the Land was not flooded by Kabliw was that most Kabliw couldn’t sustain in the weather. They were too warm-blooded against the gouging cold and knew no way to navigate the terrain. They had no little spirits to guide them, and their gods were snowblind.
Father Bari shook his head.
“We trade,” she said. This was a fair arrangement made long ago. What reason would any Kabliw have to bring force of arms?
“I’m sorry,” the priest said. “I couldn’t stop them. I tried. My church tried. But these are army orders.”
She stared at the men and the crates. More of them treaded on the shore, and they weren’t the sailors she knew. They wore black uniforms beneath their furs, and from their belts hung long blades and short guns.
She heard them singing even with the tundra and the jagged hill between their camps. The Northern air carried the boisterous male voices, and she spied a glow of orange fire over the bumpy cranium of snow-dusted rocks. The dogs whined, restless, and two of them pulled at their leashes in the direction of the noise, curious and wary. Sjennonirk stroked the lead dog’s white ears, calm for them both.
Her cousin Twyee stuck his head out from the low entrance of her family’s snowhouse and whistled to her. “You’re going to stand there all night? These Kabliw don’t sleep.”
Twyee loved to laugh. He loved to laugh mostly at the lumbering Kabliw and their odd Southern ways. Sjenn patted the dog’s ears once more, then crawled into the house as Twyee scrambled back. Inside was warm from the burning lamp and the clutch of bodies of her family: her mother, her aunt and uncle, and Twyee’s little sister, Bernikka.
“They make a lot of noise,” her mother said, sitting cross-legged on the sleeping platform, sewing up one of Twyee’s mittens.
“What are they celebrating?” her aunt asked. She was stroking Bernikka’s hair of knots with an ivory comb, and the little girl winced. Uncle was already asleep on the spread of caribou skins, snoring. He was older than her father had been when he had died, and not even a horde of Kabliw could keep her uncle awake.
“Celebrating? I don’t know,” Sjenn said. She didn’t want to scare them with talk of guns, not now when sleep pulled at them. Tomorrow would be a day to consider these Kabliw. The dogs outside began to settle; she felt their bodies burrowing into the snow, tails over noses. Her little spirit twitched her own tail in response, a feather tickle in the curve of her ribs.
“Sleep,” her mother said, looking up with pointed insistence, the sinew thread between her blunt teeth.
Sjenn may have been the ankago of her tribe, younger than all but Bernikka, but she knew to still respect her Elders. She set her parka down and curled up onto it, beside her mother on the platform of snow.
Her dream was a black expanse, like the tundra in the dead of a winter night. Moonlight and wind made the landscape moan. The Land’s spirit grew restless, like her dogs were, and on the long horizon line stood the silhouette of a black Dog. Aleqa’s little spirit.
“Father,” Sjenn called.
He threw back his head and howled.
Breath pushes against her cheek, rank with hours of alcohol. “The tattoos on your face.” The voice scratches against her skin.
Awake and the snowhouse is still, as quiet as her dream before her father spoke. Quiet except for the Kabliw bending over her, his large hand pressing into her stomach. In his other hand is a gun. Her family are shadows by the white walls, and Sjenn breathes up against the man’s touch. Across from her, the snow entrance lies obliterated. This big Kabliw broke through the blocks and let in moonlight. Outside the dogs bark. There is no more singing, no noise but this.
The dream had pinned her and she hadn’t heard this man come in. Now his gun waves around like the horn of a narwhale above gray waves. The gun shines above the shadows and keeps her family at bay. The Kabliw jabbers, every other word in a language she can’t understand. His chin tilts up, blue eyes like shards of sea ice reflecting a sky only he can see.
In her chest her little spirit growls, but there’s no time to Call and release her. The Dog bites at the back of her heart, making it leap.
She yanks the knife free from his belt and sticks it up below his chin. Through the skin and muscle, deep into his skull.
There is the sound he makes as the blood flows out, following the pull of the blade.
Her family shouts in dismay. The dogs bark in fury, scenting the blood. Soon the Kabliw men will hear it and come.
But through it all, she hears his dying. Her Dog falls silent, appeased. The Kabliw man collapses to the snow beside her. His cries are stangled and wet, like a baby born with the cord around its neck.
Sjenn drops the army blade into the snow, where it leaves a streak of red on the white, like a scar.
“You must go!” Twyee hisses, catching her trembling arm. “Run, Sjenn, before they get here!”
So she scrambles from the broken mouth of her snow-house. The night stands clear above her, looking down upon her with countless glittering eyes. “Father.” The shadows on the snow could be the form of a black Dog. But they begin to break apart as light from the Kabliw camp, voices, and the clatter of steel break above the rocky hill and rumble closer like a storm.
Excerpted from The Gaslight Dogs by Lowachee, Karin Copyright © 2010 by Lowachee, Karin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved it, although it took me a little while to orient myself in this strange world. All right, there are references to different races, the Boots - representing Caucasians, and the Aniw, obviously related to Inuit. Other than that, the world is very strange indeed. But it soon became tangled in my psyche and I found myself being horrified, saddened, frustrated, maddened, and frightened. The writing is beautiful. The author uses words like an artist -- to wit: The rage at the repudiation boiled deep and stinking in the general, some hidden sulfur preparing to shoot forth in his direction. And: In the creeping night the green grass was now black and blue, as though bruised by the feet that had trod upon it all day. Be warned: there is no HEA. Too many dark forces at work for that.
I'm left wondering what happens next - and I'm sure (hopeful) that it will become a series so that I can find out. I enjoyed the book - it was well written - but I wish it had really ended.