Winner of the 2017 Realm Award for Steampunk
What Happens When Your Soul Dies?
Kat Bloodmayne is one of the first women chosen to attend the Tower Academy of Sciences. But she carries a secret: she can twist the natural laws of science. She has no idea where this ability came from, only that every time she loses control and unleashes this power, it kills a part of her soul. If she doesn't find a cure soon, her soul will die and she will become something else entirely.
After a devastating personal loss, Stephen Grey leaves the World City Police Force to become a bounty hunter. He believes in justice and will stop at nothing to ensure criminals are caught and locked up. However, when Kat Bloodmayne shows up in his office seeking his help, his world is turned upside down.
Together they search World City and beyond for a doctor who can cure Kat. But what they discover on the way goes beyond science and into the dark sphere of magic.
Book 1 The Soul Chronicles
About the Author
Morgan L. Busse is the wife of a pastor, mother of four children, and the author of the Follower of the Word series. Her debut novel, Daughter of Light, was both a Christy Award and a Carol Award finalist.
Read an Excerpt
Today I make history.
Kat ran trembling fingers across the top of the cream-colored letter and took a deep breath, savoring the moment, calming the quiver in her stomach. The margins of the parchment were smudged from frequent perusal, though the letter itself contained very few words, and she had each one memorized.
To Miss Kathryn Bloodmayne:
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to the Tower Academy of Science. Please report for classes on the first of September at eight o'clock in the morning.
Sincerely, The Tower Academy
Not only accepted, but one of the first women chosen to attend the Tower Academy, the most prestigious school in all of World City.
Warmth filled her entire being, and a smile spread across her face. In a nearby corner, Cricket let out a mechanical chirp. She glanced at the gilded cage where the clockwork bird preened its metallic feathers, pausing to bob its head in her direction, emerald eyes twinkling.
Kat smiled and brushed the letter again. Never before the arrival of this letter had her future felt so full of possibility. She could pursue physics — develop the next great airship or locomotive. Or perhaps she would excel in biology. She did find the way life worked fascinating. Mechanical in some ways, and yet so much more. Or it could be research or chemistry. Maybe she would become an inventor, like her mother, and conceive and build whimsical devices like Cricket.
She tapped her finger along the linen tablecloth and sighed. If only Mother were here to see this day. She would be proud of her daughter. Unlike ...
The chime of the clock in the hall broke Kat's reverie. A matronly woman in a dark, conservative dress bustled into the formal dining room, carrying a plate of steaming sausages and one of sliced fresh bread. She set them down next to a small metal contraption with gears along the side, then took a slice of bread and popped it in the metal box, twisted the gears, and the box began to hum.
Smoothing her pristine skirt, Ms. Stuart frowned at Kat. "Kathryn, have you eaten anything?"
Kat glanced away from the box — another invention of her mother's — and down at her empty plate. "I'm not sure I can. My middle feels like a thousand butterflies are dancing around inside."
Ms. Stuart snorted. "And won't the naysayers dance when you faint on your first day." She straightened the bright yellow chrysanthemums in the vase that stood in the middle of the table. "They already insist we women are too weak for such study."
She had a point. Kat set her letter aside.
Ms. Stuart picked up the teapot on the other side of the vase. Unlike the other tableware, it was a simple white ceramic pot Kat had given Ms. Stuart for her birthday when Kat was seven. "Tea?"
Ms. Stuart poured the tea, its earthy aroma filling the air. Then she moved around the table to the place opposite Kat's, where another setting of white china cast a sterile gleam in the morning sunshine. She held the teapot over the cup, paused, and then set it back on the table, unpoured.
Kathryn glanced at the plate across from her, and the elation from minutes ago evaporated. Her shoulders drooped. Empty. Always empty. She couldn't remember the last time Father had joined her for breakfast, or for any meal. Today she had hoped that it would be different. That he would be here to share one last meal with her before she left for the academy. She swallowed and looked away. Apparently not.
Ms. Stuart stared at the empty seat, then at Kat. "Would you like me to join you this morning?"
Kat gave herself a shake. No. She would not let Father ruin today. Today was hers, and hers alone, and if that meant enjoying her breakfast with the housekeeper, so be it. She smiled. "Yes, please do."
Ms. Stuart sat down in the other chair and placed her napkin on her lap. The gears stopped on the metal box, signaling the bread was done. Kat pulled the golden toast out with her fork.
"Would you like butter or jam?"
Kat shook her head and held the toast up, still impaled on the fork, contemplating it. With the way she was feeling, she would be lucky to eat the toast dry. Still, she had no intention of fainting on her first day of school. She nibbled on the edge.
As Kat took a sip of her tea, letting the hot liquid force the small bite of toast down to her tumbling stomach, Ms. Stuart placed two sausages on her own plate and picked up her knife. "You will do well, Kathryn. You are intelligent, resourceful, and accomplished. I can think of few others who are as suited to the task before you."
Ms. Stuart's words warmed her, soothing the butterflies in her middle. "At least I won't be the only young lady." Kat picked up the toast and took another bite along the edge. Marianne would be there. And a handful of other young women, but she didn't know them yet. She took another bite, then decided that was enough. Tea would just have to do.
"Still, you will need to be careful. You are entering a world known only to men until now. And there are people who are not happy about that."
Kat frowned. "You think there will be opposition at the school?"
"I don't know. What I do know is that people hate change. And letting women attend the academy is a big change."
Kat tapped her finger along the white tablecloth, her mind wandering to visions of the academy. Would there be a crowd this morning in front of the school? Probably. If nothing else, reporters from the Herald would be there.
"It's hard to believe how fast time has flown." Ms. Stuart placed her teacup down on her saucer and looked at Kat. "You're a fullgrown woman now."
Kat glanced down. A corset squeezed her small figure into a more curved one. She wore a blouse beneath and a long dark skirt, complete with button up boots. Her rich, dark hair was pulled back in a simple chignon.
Ms. Stuart sighed. "It is sad to think you won't be here anymore."
Kat looked up sharply. "I'll come back and visit."
"Yes, but it won't be the same."
Her mouth grew dry and she placed her silverware down. "You don't think Father will let you go, do you?"
Ms. Stuart smiled and shook her head. "No, I will still be here. But it will be quiet with you gone."
Kat looked away. Outside the dining room window hundreds of smokestacks filled the horizon, washing the blue sky away in a haze of gray. Faintly, she could hear the early morning bustle of World City. Carts rolling along the streets, bakers calling out their goods, horns blasting as factories opened their doors. "You can't leave. If you're not here, then there will be no one left for me to return to."
"That's not true, Kathryn."
"Yes, it is. Who will greet me at the door? Father? Father is never home. He hasn't been home in years." The words left a bitter taste in her mouth. Dr. Alexander Bloodmayne, recently dubbed the 'greatest scientist of this age' by the Herald, never had time for familial relationships. At least not with his only child.
"Perhaps that will change now."
"Why?" Kat turned and leaned forward, her tea forgotten. "Because I'm finally following in his footsteps?" A cold lump formed in her chest, beating with hard, heavy beats. Her breath came faster, and her fingers tensed across the table. Blood rushed through her head like the whooshing of water through narrow pipes. "I'm not doing this for him!"
Ms. Stuart's gaze darted from her face to her hands. "Kathryn," she said in a warning tone.
Kat barely heard her over the blood coursing through her body. The cold lump beat faster. "I'm doing this for myself. And someday I'll —"
Ms. Stuart's sharp voice snapped the coldness inside her. Kat sat up and gasped. She stared down at her fingers. She had almost lost control.
"It's happening again, isn't it?" Ms. Stuart said quietly.
Kat swallowed. "I don't know why." Tears prickled her eyes. "Nothing has happened in years. I haven't lost control since ... And then suddenly ..." She made a fist and pressed it against the top edge of her corset, right above her heart. "I feel like it's taking over."
"How long ago did it start?"
Kat shook her head. "A couple of weeks. Nothing happened, but I felt it there again, inside of me, waiting."
Ms. Stuart pulled her lips into a grim line. "And you never told me?"
"I hoped it was nothing. But now ..."
"Kathryn, you can't let it out."
"I know. But I don't want to live like this. I can't live like this! Always wondering when I'm going to snap and do something awful!"
Her breath came fast again, and along with it came the cold lump. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing, slowing it with each breath. She then moved to her body, visualizing her heart, her lungs, her fingers, willing each part to calm down.
A hand covered hers.
Kat took a deep breath.
"You will find an answer, Kathryn. But until then, no one must know what you can do. And you need to keep it under control."
"I know." She shivered and pulled her hand out from beneath Ms. Stuart's. After each incident, it felt like something had died in her, like a piece of her soul had been ripped out. Even now she could feel another part of herself shrivel up and die, and she hadn't even fully triggered the power. What happened when every part of her died? Would she even be human?
Ms. Stuart let out a long breath. "I know you don't like this, but maybe there is a chance your father could help you."
Kat looked up, horrified. "No! Never! Please, you can't tell him. Father would only make me a guinea pig in his research." She rubbed her arms and trembled. "You know he would. He only cares about his discoveries and doesn't care about who or what he hurts." She had seen his laboratory and the experiments he conducted there. "No, I will figure this out on my own."
"But what if it gets worse, Kathryn? What if someone is injured?"
"I will leave." She had decided that a couple of weeks ago and had already hidden away a small cache of bills.
"Promise me you will see me first."
Kat glanced up.
There was a serious look on the other woman's face. "You are like a daughter to me, Kathryn. I would do anything to help you. "
"You would help me leave?"
Ms. Stuart nodded. "If it were best for you and for everyone else, then yes."
"And you wouldn't tell my father?"
Ms. Stuart's face paled. "Yes. But let's not dwell on that choice right now. Instead, let us focus on your first day at the academy. That is your future."
Ms. Stuart was right. Focus on today, not on tomorrow. Today she started her career as a scientist. Maybe she would find an answer to who she was, what she was.
Kat pushed her chair back and stood. "You're right." She glanced at the clock. A quarter till seven. "And I don't want to be late."
"One thing, Kathryn, before you leave."
Kat looked back.
"Be careful. Guard your emotions. Do not let them rule you. The moment you let them rule you, they will destroy you, along with everyone else."
Ms. Stuart's words sent a chill through her heart.
"I won't. I promise."
"You are strong, Kathryn. Just like your mother. And you're not alone, remember that."
Kat grabbed her letter and nodded. But as she dashed past her mother's mechanical bird and out into the hall, she felt alone. Very alone.CHAPTER 2
Kat's carriage rolled up in front of the Tower Academy and came to a halt just behind one of the new phaetons. Wisps of steam fluttered above the horseless carriage from the engine in front of the vehicle. Kat leaned over the side of her open carriage, craning her neck to see past the horses, hoping to catch a glimpse of the owner. Mother would have loved the phaetons with their glossy metal bodies and steam powered engines. Maybe that's why Father had not invested in one.
The phaeton shuddered, and the last of the steam disappeared into the pale blue sky above. A young man climbed out: tall, with ash blond hair and high cheekbones. New student, perhaps? Round goggles covered his eyes, and he wore leather gloves over his hands. He went around the phaeton and disappeared.
Kat sat back and turned her attention to the academy itself while she waited for Reginald to come around the carriage and open the door.
Three stories of brick and paned windows loomed over the street. Tall, iron gates completed the square enclosing the academy grounds. On either side of the courtyard were more brick buildings, each one housing laboratories, libraries, dormitories, and offices for the scientists who worked for the Tower.
Behind the academy, the Tower's namesake jabbed the sky a good fifty feet above an eight-story laboratory building. The Tower could be seen from almost every part of the city and stood as a monument to the scientific pursuits of World City.
Reginald opened the door and stepped to the side. "Miss?"
"Thank you, Reginald." Kat emerged from the carriage and looked up toward the top of the Tower. Somewhere amongst those windows was her father's office. Home, more like it. He lived at the Tower night and day, working for the World City council, creating new weapons for the war with Austrium or finding ways to expand the scientific horizon.
A band began to play just beyond the gates, drawing her attention. The academy had hired a band? For the first day of school?
Kat approached the open gates, her book bag secure across her body. A few young ladies stood just inside the gates, dressed as she was, book satchels clutched in white-knuckled hands. Probably her new classmates. But why weren't they going inside?
She reached the gates and stopped a couple of feet away from the cluster of girls. Now she knew why.
Fifty feet beyond the gates, a crowd gathered in front of the wide staircase that led up to the front doors of the academy. Green banners hung above the double doors at the top of the stairs like bright colored ribbons waving in the wind.
Kat held onto the shoulder strap of her bag and stared at the people gathered. There had to be at least a hundred, certainly more than the handful of reporters she had expected from the Herald. And no clear path to the doors ahead.
"Do you need anything else, miss?"
Kat looked back. Reginald stood behind her, stiff, his features carefully neutral. Unlike Ms. Stuart, Reginald believed in utmost propriety in station, even in unconventional households like the Bloodmaynes'.
"No, Reginald. Please take my chest up to my room."
He gave her a small bow. "Yes, miss."
"And let Ms. Stuart know I will be fine."
Reginald straightened. "I will."
Another carriage came rumbling up behind as Reginald headed back to his own transport. He paused to soothe the horses as the phaeton took off in a cloud of steam and sound, soon disappearing around the corner at the end of the block.
Kat turned and watched the crowd, taking note of the knot of young men standing near the fence, dressed in dark blue shirts and trousers with book bags slung over their shoulders and hands in their pockets. They appeared as uneasy as the women students and made no move to blaze a path.
Where were the professors? Or academy staff? Wasn't there someone here to greet them? Two uniformed men stood to the left of the crowd and another near the stairs. Perhaps they would help. At any rate, none of the other ladies seemed to know what to do. Maybe if she started across, the crowd would let her through.
Kat looked over to find a young woman hurrying her direction from down the street. Her carrot-colored hair appeared bright orange in the sunlight, and her mauve skirt whipped around her ankles. She waved and grinned.
Kat laughed. "Marianne!"
Marianne closed the distance between them and grabbed her in a tight hug. "You're here!" She let go of Kat and turned toward the crowd, her hands clasped together. "Can you believe it? All these people are gathered here for the opening."
"But in support or protest?" Kat turned her attention back toward the crowd. Ms. Stuart's words from that morning fluttered through her mind. How many were happy with women attending the academy, and how many were not? Her gaze found the policemen again, their telltale olive green uniforms standing out amongst the colorful gowns of the women and darks suits of the men. For the first time, it struck her how incongruent their presence was.
Ms. Stuart had been right. Kat drew back and held her book bag in front of her. "Does the administration expect a riot? And why isn't there someone here to greet us?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tainted"
Copyright © 2016 Morgan L. Busse.
Excerpted by permission of Third Day Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am excited for when book two of the Soul Chronicles comes out! Book one, Tainted, introduced Stephen and Kat, two individuals who are broken in their own ways, each with their own reasons for their trust issues. Circumstances force them to work together to unravel the truth of deaths, powers and how everything is linked. I was equally excited and wracked with nervousness as I read this. I didn't know what to expect! A twist near the end of the book left me gripping it, desperate to know how it was going to end. Then it ended. And now I am impatiently waiting for the second book, as so many questions are still there, and for what has been answered has only spelled DOOM. So curious! Will they learn answers in book two? Will they learn to trust in each other? Will they survive? What's going to happen!?
A fabulous read! This is the first steam punk novel I’ve read and I loved it. I was immediately drawn into the world Morgan Busse created. There was enough description to keep me well grounded in the story world, but not so much that I got overwhelmed or bored. I also appreciated the fully established culture and political system that is woven throughout the tale. All the characters are well developed and believable with clear motivations and goals. It was easy to have empathy for both the main characters, Kat and Stephen, and even though I thoroughly disliked the antagonists, I appreciate that Morgan gave us reasons for their behavior as well. I was fascinated by the different mechanical creations and I really want a ride on one dirigible in particular. The pacing and tension in the story were perfect and kept me turning the pages until the end. This is a world that I will eagerly re-enter when the next book in the series comes out.
I’m honestly not sure which genre this book falls into: I’ve seen it described as “steam punk” and “fantasy.” Is it one of them? Both? I’m pretty new to the fantasy scene, having only read a few books in the genre, but I’ve come to really enjoy some of those I’ve read. I managed to finish this book in a matter of hours, so engrossed as I was that I read for hours straight, not even noticing how quickly time was passing. I can very honestly say that I’ve never read a book anywhere close to Tainted. It reminded me a bit of a historical novel at first: the clothing, transportation, the mindset of the people, but the further I read, the more I realized how fitting the “steam punk” generalization is to the story. There are flying ships, and mechanical birds, and a guy with a robotic arm, just to mention a few things. The author did an excellent job of creating a place that was entirely different, while still making it easily relatable for me. I really enjoyed her writing style, how she managed to bring the story to life with colorful descriptions while keeping the action and suspense going. I was on the edge of my seat for so much of this story, wanting to know what was going to happen next, and bemoaning each interruption! The characters were incredibly unique, too. Kathryn is such an interesting heroine and I very quickly fell in love with her. She is sweet and kind, but also fearful. She has a power she cannot control and is terrified of hurting others. When she gets angry, or feels almost any emotion strongly, it’s as though she becomes a completely different person. I found her to be a very compelling character and immensely enjoyed how I easily I was able to connect with it. It was almost as though I could feel her struggle and fears. Every emotion is just there, stark and bright, which fit with the themes of the story very well. I’m really curious to see where her story goes next, especially with how it ended. Not quite a terrible cliffhanger, but I definitely have lots of questions! Steven is also a unique character and though I enjoyed getting to know him, I didn’t connect with him as easily as I did Kathryn. He is kind hearted and outwardly focused when I first met him, but them something awful happens to him and he becomes this dark and brooding person. This is actually my only really negative comment regarding the story. I found his reaction to what happened to him a bit over the top. I realize that something needed to spark a big change for the story to progress, but how he handled it just came across as a little immature, I think. Which may be part of the reason I didn’t like him quite as well as I’d hoped. He did redeem himself later with his care of Kat and how he still tries his best to be a kind person, while also protecting his heart from being broken again. Going into this book, I was really curious as to how the author would weave a spiritual side into the story. It sounds like magic and maybe a bit of sci-fi, so I was really intrigued with the idea of how she’d explain Kathryn’s “power,” but also center it around Christian beliefs. Though I don’t quite have my answer yet, seeing as how this is the first book in the series, I did really appreciate how the author carefully wove the spiritual matters into the tale. They aren’t overt and never detracted from the action going on, but rather raised some important questions and opened the door for them to be answered in the future books.
I love steampunk. It’s one of my favorite kinds of world-building, and if I had any free time at all, I’d be spending it making cool steampunk things. So when Morgan L. Busse (author of The Follower of the Word trilogy) announced she was publishing a steampunk novel, I had to jump aboard to read and review. Fortunately, this book doesn’t disappoint. Tainted is a solid foray into YA fiction with a likable heroine, a fantastic world, and a fast-paced narrative delivered in Busse’s usual direct style. Kat Bloodmayne (love that last name!) takes a different route from the usual steampunk heroine. Instead of a mechanic, she’s an intelligent, aspiring scientist. Her POV is thoughtful and wary and I enjoyed her innocence despite her unpleasant upbringing. I would have liked her to have more agency and use her scientific knowledge instead of just running from place to place, but it’s still a refreshing perspective. And there’s always the next book! Stephen Grey is a well-drawn, likable bounty hunter with a sympathetic backstory and a thoroughly rational mindset. Busse balances his rational side with a potent emotional core and the result is fascinating. He pushes the plot as much as Kat, if not more. The plot has intentional undertones of Frankenstein, which just happens to be one of my favorite books of all time. The narrative moves briskly, aided by the clean writing, and I was never bored. Busse has definitely improved her pacing from the Follower of the Word trilogy. The results are a book I couldn’t put down. All this being said, I would have liked a little more detail in-book about Kat’s condition. It was odd knowing more than she did half the time because the book blurb told me. Since she’s smart, I would have liked to see her figure things out. Also, Busse’s style is very clear and direct about motivations. Sometimes I didn’t need quite that much explanation about a character or place. But I read a lot, so I’m good at zooming between the lines. Note: there is very mild sexual content: a situation of infidelity, a particular setting, and a kiss. All are handled tastefully and YA-appropriate. There’s also some elements of violence and mad scientist-style horror. Final Verdict: a quick-paced steampunk adventure with a scientific bent and an engaging pair of protagonists. A worthy addition to the steampunk genre.