One girl. One chance. One destiny.
In the village of Martindale, hundreds of miles north of the new English capital of Windsor, sixteen-year-old Silver Blackthorne takes the Reckoning. This coming-of- age test not only decides her place in society – Elite, Member, Inter or Trog – but also determines that Silver is to become an Offering for King Victor.
But these are uncertain times and no one really knows what happens to the teenagers who disappear into Windsor Castle. Is being an Offering the privilege everyone assumes it to be, or do the walls of the castle have something to hide? Trapped in a maze of ancient corridors, Silver finds herself in a warped world of suspicion where it is difficult to know who to trust and who to fear. The one thing Silver does know is that she must find a way out . . . The heart-stopping first book in a new trilogy by UK author Kerry Wilkinson, Reckoning is the story of one girl's determination to escape the whims of a cruel king, and what she must do to survive against all odds.
About the Author
Kerry Wilkinson was one of two things as a child. If you ask him, he was a well-meaning, slightly hyperactive young man with an active imagination. If you ask his mother and/or teachers, he was a bit of a pain in the bum. Before the age of flat screen televisions, laptops, mobile phones, hover boards and the internet, there were BBC B Microcomputers and real books with actual paper pages. Really! Kerry grew up playing ropey-looking computer games for which you needed a keyboard, being rubbish at football, and reading science fiction and fantasy novels. The Silver Blackthorn trilogy is Kerry's first fantasy work, though he is a successful crime writer. He is definitely not a pain in the bum.
Kerry Wilkinson grew up in Somerset, UK, playing ropey-looking computer games for which he needed a keyboard, being rubbish at soccer (or "football" as he calls it), plus reading science fiction and fantasy novels. The Silver Blackthorn trilogy is his first fantasy work, though he is a successful crime writer.
Read an Excerpt
By Kerry Wilkinson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Kerry Wilkinson
All rights reserved.
It's difficult to describe the sensation when you walk out of your front door and there are thousands of people there. I have lived here all of my sixteen years and know almost every part of the cobbled streets that criss-cross Martindale. All the years of playing hide and seek, rushing in between the houses, exploring and generally getting into trouble means that I could close my eyes and still find my way from one side of the village to the other.
Not today though. Now the streets feel as if they belong to other people.
I'm not sure what it is that unnerves me the most: the sheer number of bodies I can see, or the noise. It vibrates everywhere around me, footsteps clipping loose stones along the crumbling paths and excited chattering voices bouncing around our usually quiet streets. There is a nervous hum too – an indefinable energy that you can feel in the air.
In the murky, dirtied window of our house, I catch my own reflection and push the light streak of long silver hair hanging across my face over the top of my head, where it settles with the rest of my straight, dark locks.
I look more tired than I feel, the weight of the day already upon me.
My family left a little while ago, wanting to give me time to think and get ready for my big day. My mother kissed me on the forehead, telling me to do my best and that she believed in me. Now they are somewhere among the crowd; individual parts of a single throbbing mass of humanity. Sat alone in my room, staring at my own reflection in the mirror, I could hear the atmosphere building but it didn't prepare me for this. It is almost overwhelming.
I find myself glancing down at the dull white-grey thinkwatch on my wrist. It is almost like a morning reflex, to check my alerts. Today, there is only one word – 'RECKONING' – followed by the time and place. On so many occasions, I have scrolled forward through the days to stare at that one word that now it feels a tiny bit under-whelming to see it there. Reckoning day and the Offering that follows only comes once a year and everyone has been waiting twelve months for this. For me, the Reckoning is something I have spent my whole life anticipating as each year's has become a progressively larger event. Even though we will only spend a few hours inside the village hall, the build-up has grown into a whole morning for everyone – a time for people to celebrate the end of war, although it isn't as if we have prosperity to enjoy. Perhaps that is why this is something to look forward to?
The time when us children become adults and go out to help rebuild the nation.
Our battered school with its leaking roof and mouldy, damp corners is too small to be suitable for the enormity of the day. Others may talk of the repairs that need to be done to the old building but I like the fact we get to use an item as modern as a thinkpad against the backdrop of something that comes from a different age. I am fond of my creaky, slightly soft wooden chair too. I suppose that is somebody else's now that I will no longer be going back.
I turn and step into the crowd, heading in the vague direction of the hall but not wanting to get there too quickly. The atmosphere is friendly, parents holding onto their children's hands as we all bob through the streets, unable to move too fast because of the sheer weight of people.
Most of the residents of Martindale know me by name. They have seen me grow up; many of them have told me off at various times for not looking where I am going when I am running through the streets. As I look from person to person, I cannot see a face that I recognise. Feeling a stranger in my own village, I manage to reach the edge of the street, out of everyone's way, where I stand on tiptoes and glance towards the far reaches of the village.
Over the tops of the bobbing heads, I see a train with a long row of carriages behind it, stretching into the distance, rusty and battered. It becomes apparent where all the people have come from. Although some sixteen-year-olds would have been brought in for their Reckoning anyway, it seems like everyone they've ever known has come too.
I'm still not sure why – it wasn't like this last year.
After another glance at my thinkwatch, I slide into the crowd again. At first it is easy to move between the people but the numbers soon thicken. By the time I am within sight of the hall, people are standing four or five deep along the edge of the road, packed tightly, buzzing with excitement.
When I finally reach the main square, it isn't simply the number of people disorientating me. There is colour everywhere, baskets of flowers hanging from buildings – scattering yellows, pinks, reds, purples and everything in between as far as I can see. Decorations which have sprung up overnight.
Around me, every other person seems to be waving a flag with the cross of St George on it, the white corners glowing bright in the morning sun against the blazing blue sky.
I try to think where they might have come from but then I see a man walking along a space that has been cleared at the back of the square, handing them out from a box. It's not hard to realise he is different to us. His suit fits perfectly and his shoes are shinier than most of the coins we use. We make do with items of clothing which have been passed down that don't fit, are ripped and permanently stained. He walks tall and without pain, a clear sign he has not had to undergo the manual labour most of the people in Martindale endure.
The man disappears out of sight along an alleyway and then returns moments later with another box of flags. I wonder what it is all for, then I see heads turning to look behind me. I spin to see a man with a camera pointing in my direction and realise why there are so many people here. Ours is one of the villages that will be featured on this evening's Reckoning round-up. I suppose it is our turn. The cheers of the crowd suddenly increase and I turn to see the flag-man waving his arms around encouragingly.
Now I am closer to the centre, I notice a handful of familiar faces among the sea of bodies, neighbours and parents of people I go to school with. Then I look up to see the other teenagers taking the Reckoning standing on the steps of the hall. I am early for the test itself, but somehow late to the celebrations. I want to stay away from the attention, so sink into the crowd, a few rows back from the steps.
Behind me, the man in the suit is urging everyone forward towards the base of the stone steps that lead up to the hall. My friend Opie is in the centre at the top, bouncing awkwardly from one foot to the other and probably wondering where I am. I want to stop to watch them for a few moments but, behind me, I feel hands on my back as a woman who lives on our street pushes me towards the stage. 'Go on, love,' she says with a friendly grin, 'it's your day.'
Given the number of other people who seem to be enjoying themselves, I'm not sure the day is much to do with me any longer.
As I stumble forward, others notice and urge me on, delighted someone who is taking the Reckoning is actually among them.
Gradually, I nudge my way through, avoiding the stamping feet and manic, flailing arms. Over the voices and footsteps, I can hear the sound of someone playing a flute towards the back of the square. The beautiful melody catches on the breeze, carrying over the crowd before somebody else joins in. Within moments, it sounds as if there is a whole band playing: trumpets, recorders, a drum, perhaps even a violin? I have only ever seen one once, when a travelling show came through the village. I want to stand on tiptoes again to see if I can find out where the music is coming from but the crowd is too tight and I am being pressed forwards.
I have never seen or heard anything like this.
As I get to the front, I edge up the steps, trying not to attract too much attention. Kingsmen stand at either end of the line, their black uniforms in stark contrast to the white of the flags being waved around them. They aren't exactly unknown on the streets of Martindale but as I reach the top, I can see more of the dark colours that signify the country's combined army and police force massing along the back of the crowd, out of sight of the cameras.
Everything they wear is made of a thin, flexible metal called borodron that no one else seems to have access to. They have black tunics, matching trousers and shiny boots, as well as helmets that arch over their head and ears. Even their thinkwatches are made of the same black material, in contrast to the silver metal everyone else's is created from. Two of the Kingsmen at the top of the stairs stand motionless, their slick appearance somewhat jarring with the solid shining metal swords that are wedged into their belts.
I slide behind one of the people I don't know and glance sideways towards Opie, who hasn't noticed me yet. It looks as if his mum has made an effort to tidy his hair, as the blonde tufts that would usually be naturally tousled have been flattened. He has a bristle of dark hair on his chin. I remember the day two years ago when he excitedly showed me the first few wisps under his mouth, telling me he was on the road to becoming a man. I laughed then but he seems like one now with his larger, stronger shoulders.
He is looking at his own thinkwatch, a constant reminder of how different we can be. The devices remind us of what we need to do each day and when each night's curfew is. He accepts everyone has to use their thinkwatches to enter and exit buildings and pick up the weekly rations; I think about who decides what those limits are. He accepts that they work; I wonder why nobody can take the lifetime batteries inside and use them to make sure no one has to freeze to death during the winter.
Opie glances away from his wrist and, although I don't think he means to, he is so pleased to see a familiar face that he says my name. I smile awkwardly, attempting to ignore the camera now skimming along the line.
It is only from the top of the steps that I am able to take in the true scale of how different the square looks. Bunting, flags and the flower baskets are attached to every roof and the layer of grime which would usually greet us has been washed from the bricks and stone. It is so unfamiliar and I wonder how much it has all cost – probably enough to feed everyone who actually lives here for weeks. The effort to make this happen overnight is beyond my comprehension.
I try to look for the band but they have gone silent. The Kingsmen have now spread out, encircling everyone. From ground level, where another camera is, nothing is visible except for excited villagers waving their flags. It's not hard to picture how it is going to appear on everyone's screens at home tonight but then this is the biggest day of the year. Now I am a child but after a few hours in the hall, I will be expected to leave an adult.
It is a reckoning in every sense of the word.CHAPTER 2
As the hall doors open, the crowd cheers on cue. Then it's a whirlwind of action, the Kingsmen springing to life, ushering us into the main part of the building. I have only been inside once before, when we had to register my brother Colt for school two years ago. The grim, yellowing brickwork is as I remember and my footsteps clatter on the hard surface. I look up to see a full-length painting of King Victor hanging on the wall directly ahead, dwarfing everything else. His short ginger hair and regal crimson gown are instantly recognisable from the images of him on our screens but he seems utterly unnatural due to the sheer size of the canvas he has been depicted on. I am towards the back of a queue that has bottlenecked as people stop to stare in awe.
I manage to squeeze myself through the crowds until I am close to Opie. I can see the nerves rattling through him.
'I don't want to be a Trog,' he whispers to me.
I try to speak reassuringly but he isn't listening. 'You won't be.'
After the Reckoning, we will all end up in one of the four categories. An Elite is just that. I should probably be a Member, the next level down. Most end up as Intermediates but no one wants to be a Trog. They get the worst jobs and the lowest credit on their thinkwatches. They are assigned everything no one else can be bothered to do. For Opie, being graded as an Inter is something he aspires to; for me – for my mother – it would be a disappointment. Wanting to be an Elite is perhaps aiming too high; hardly any come from our village.
I say his name but his eyes are as blank as I've seen them. Eventually, he faces me, nodding towards my wrist. 'Did you change your mind?'
My eyes flicker sideways but there is only a nervous bustle of teenagers and no one around us to overhear. He is wondering if I have done anything to my thinkwatch to try to cheat the Reckoning but he knows we shouldn't talk about that here.
'I've not touched it,' I reply.
Opie is one of the few people who knows how good I am with technology; I've been doing it for so long that it is natural. But altering your thinkwatch is an offence punishable by either banishment or death. It is never for anything noticeable; an extra bit of food when my brother Colt was poorly, or a few more minutes of electricity when our house is unbearably cold in the winter. Opie is the only person I can trust to keep these secrets to himself.
The lake outside Martindale has long since run dry. It is filled with old computers and circuit boards, keyboards, screens, primitive thinkpads and watches. In the distance, there are mountains of old fridges and freezers, piles of rusting vehicles, metal, plastic, rotting wood; all different shapes and materials. Some of the areas I know well but there is more here than could ever be explored in a lifetime; a collection that spans decades of innovation, before the war and the shortage of electricity and power that followed. At some point these items would have filled people's homes and lives but they have long since been thrown away. I began to naturally drift there, playing with the objects as if they were toys and figuring out how everything worked – then creating my own versions. Opie and I have spent so much time there that we have our own nickname for the place – the gully. Even before the Reckoning tells me what I should be doing, everyone expects me to end up working in research and electronics, trying to find practical answers to the nation's problems. It sounds too easy, as if there aren't already people trying to do the same thing.
'I've heard Paul Fisher is going to try to trick it,' Opie adds quietly, nodding to a boy on the far side of the room who is standing by himself.
I'm not entirely surprised. Anyone who is aged sixteen on the first of July has to take the Reckoning. Opie and myself only just qualify this year but Paul is almost a year older than us and has had all those extra months of worry and anticipation. Opie is concerned too but no one in our village expects him to perform that well. He is a practical person and the Reckoning is an academic test, or so everyone assumes. No one really knows how it works. I'm expected to do what I always do – get by. For Paul, there is more to it than that. His family were rich before the war and, although they have the same rations as the rest of us, there is a belief that someone such as Paul should perform strongly. This could be the worst day of his life.
'What is he expected to get?' I whisper.
'He should be a Member but he wants to be an Elite.'
It's all guesswork anyway; some say you end up with the rank you want, others that you have to work for it. Some say it is all about what happens on the day but there are those who insist it is about the things you have studied over the years in school.
If Paul is going to interfere, I hope he knows what he's doing, even though I doubt it. There isn't enough power for any of us to go to school for more than two days a week and I know he wouldn't be able to rival me when it comes to assembling and reassembling a thinkwatch – not that he would be aware of my talents as I hide the extent of what I can do well enough.
Before Opie can say anything else, more Kingsmen appear, motioning for us to stand in single file.
Excerpted from Reckoning by Kerry Wilkinson. Copyright © 2014 Kerry Wilkinson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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
Reckoning by Kerry Wilkinson is pretty much a roller coaster with how I felt about this book. I feel if I divide the book in 50 chapter sections, each section would have a different rating. Overall I did give it four stars, but it also teeters towards a 3.5. Reckoning is about a girl who gets picked to be an Offering to the king, along with 29 other 16 year olds from the south, east, north and west. Everyone thinks being an Offering is a privilege and a ticket to luxury however they couldn't have been more wrong. The king that everyone would sacrifice their lives for is a drunken excuse of a man with a horrible mean streak. I'm saying he would let two offerings battle it to the death as a sort of entertainment to him. Puking so he can eat more of the luxurious food while all the country is on a strict ration plan. He disgusted me so much. The main protagonist, Silver, was very likable. I won't say I really connected with her but I think she was very smart and didn't settle. I was rooting for her to find a way out and liked how she wasn't selfish and only cared about herself. I have to say the twist towards the end of the book was crazy! Just such a fantastic twist from Wilkinson. Another thing worth mentioning is the relationships in this book. Some people that I personally thought would become Silver's enemies actually turned out into good friends later on. I like how people aren't evil or perfect (though the king is 100% EVIL!). The romance though, nothing worth mentioning since it isn't really prevalent in this book and I liked it like that. This is definitely a very fast paced book and while I had some issues with it, such as how realistic some situations and decisions were, I think it was a pretty solid first book in this dystopian trilogy. It didn't remind me of any books, except for the beginning of The Offering, but it took its own unique plot line and I am very excited for the next book!
Giving this a 4.5 rating. A pretty good and interesting start to a series I heard nothing about. And glad I did because while I like starting a new series, I like not knowing not too much about it. Read this because the summary for book 2 and the cover sounded good. Cover for this also interesting. Anyway, while reading this, it reminded me a bit of Divergent, Hunger Games and Grave Mercy. Other than that, I liked how the story played out and kept me wondering what Silver and co will do about their predicament, who to trust, tension etc. And that ending. Yes there is romance, but you can tell the focus is the story. And for that, makes me like the book more. Pace and writing style also good. Hope the next book is just as good.
Loved this. It was unique and interesting. Pretty brutal is some parts. Kind of scary that there are people/situations like the king and the kids in this book.