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Today I’m excited to be a part of Tor Books’ #FearlessWomen celebration of science fiction and fantasy books by women and the blog tour for Jacqueline Carey’s latest epic fantasy novel, Starless—which will be released tomorrow! I absolutely loved this book, as you can see from my review below the book information. This is also followed by an excerpt from chapter three and a US/Canada giveaway of one hardcover copy of Starless plus a swag bag containing a Starless quote postcard, hawk feather, #FearlessWomen sticker, #FearlessWomen pen, and star confetti!

For more on Starless and other opportunities to win a copy, check out the other blog tour stops this week:

Tuesday, June 12
Tuesday, June 12
Wednesday, June 13
Thursday, June 14
Friday, June 15
Utopia State of Mind
If the book will be too difficult
Bibliophibian
Between Dreams and Reality
Her Graces Library
Starless by Jacqueline Carey

ABOUT STARLESS:

With STARLESS readers will fall in love again with Jacqueline Carey’s lush, character-driven fantasy: Kushiel’s Dart took the fantasy world by storm, winning the Locus Readers Award for Best First Novel and launching the New York Times bestselling Kushiel’s Legacy series. Now in STARLESS (A Tor Hardcover; $25.99; On-sale: June 12, 2018) Carey creates a whole new world and introduces a compelling hero.

In the world of STARLESS the gods have been cast down to earth by Zar the Sun for their rebellion.  Born during a solar eclipse, Khai has trained his whole life in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect to prepare him to serve as protector of the princess Zariya. But when the dark god Miasmus rises Khai and Zariya join an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

Pick up STARLESS and meet a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last page is turned.

Jacqueline Carey
Photo Credit: Kim Carey

Jacqueline Carey is the author of the bestselling Kushiel trilogy and has won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

Always an avid reader, Carey began writing fiction in high school. After graduating from Lake Forest College, she worked for six months at a bookstore in London, and returned to the United States with a driving passion to write professionally.

She resides in western Michigan.

Website: www.jacquelinecarey.com
Facebook: jacquelinecarey.author
Twitter: @JCareyAuthor

Jacqueline Carey’s standalone epic fantasy Starless showcases her extraordinary skill as a writer and worldbuilder, but especially as a wonderful storyteller. It’s a beautiful, memorable novel incorporating the tropes of chosen ones and prophecies while exploring gender identity, honor, redemption, fate, love, and the necessity of change and progress. It’s riveting from the very first page, and though I did prefer the earlier smaller scale parts of the story to the later larger scale ones, I absolutely loved Starless.

Long ago, the sky was alight with shining stars, the children of the sun and the three moons. But these stars grew weary with their place and rebelled against their parents. As punishment, the sun cast them to the earth and the gods have been bound there since.

The land of Zarkhoum is protected by two of the sun’s favorite children, the Sacred Twins Parhkun the Scouring Wind and Anamuht the Purging Fire. Throughout the ages, a member of the royal family has occasionally been born during an eclipse, and their soul’s twin always comes into the world at the same time. In order to find this child, the priestesses of Anamuht find and gather the babies that could potentially be this shadow of the young prince or princess and drop a hawk’s feather from above—and the one who catches it is revealed to be Parhkun’s chosen.

Khai is one such child, and before he and Princess Zariya were so blessed, there had not been such a pairing in 150 years—nor had a girl of the royal family ever been born during an eclipse before. As a shadow, Khai is raised as part of the Brotherhood of Parhkun in the desert, where he learns to fight so he will be able to protect the princess when they are both older. Though this training is traditional for the god’s chosen, Khai’s training is not conventional since it seems his god wants him to learn methods of stealth and trickery that the brotherhood always considered to be dishonorable.

Far away, the angry god Miasmus is awakening and beginning to wreak havoc across the earth—and Khai and Zariya have a role to play in the upcoming fight, a destiny that draws them far from their homeland.


With Starless, Jacqueline Carey weaves a mesmerizing story about a god-chosen young person who does his best to follow the path that’s been laid out for him since birth—and the strong, supportive bond he has with his soul’s twin that enables them to face their numerous challenges together. Though this is ultimately Khai’s tale as it’s told from his gracefully written first person perspective beginning with his training seven years before he meets the princess, Zariya plays a major role and is in his thoughts from the very start since he’s preparing to be a capable warrior in her service, like all shadows before him.

Starless is composed of three distinct parts, each with a different focus. The first third of the novel concentrates on this early life in the Brotherhood of Parhkun, and even though I enjoyed the novel in its entirety, I found this part the most compelling and vivid from the desert setting to the individual characters who shaped the shadow in various ways. Khai’s relationships with his mentors are especially well drawn, particularly that with the unlikely Brother Yarit. He was a thief sentenced to death who opted to take Parhkun’s test and used devious means to pass it, meaning he was allowed to live as part of the Brotherhood. Their Seer believes that their god brought him to teach Khai, but Khai does not want to learn from someone without honor until he’s told of how the last shadow may not have failed his duty to protect his own soul’s twin had he had knowledge beyond honor. Despite their rocky start, Khai and Brother Yarit develop a close relationship and the latter was my favorite character. He can certainly be sneaky and keep a secret when the situation called for it, but his usual manner was coarse and straightforward—and as unlikely a member of the Brotherhood that he is, he even proves to be honorable in his own way, particularly when making sure Khai is equipped for his future.

I would rate this first third alone a perfect 10, as I loved everything about it. The perilous heat and wind of the desert come to life, as do the two gods that reflect its nature. The land and its gods are intertwined, and the deities are larger than life, truly alien and godlike. Though insular, it also shows another part that is done so well throughout Starless: the variety of different cultures with different values and beliefs. As is shown more later, these are often tied to the land’s deity in some way, such as worshiping a two-faced god through convoluted speech or a shrewd god with bargaining and trade practices.

This world expands more with each third that follows and continues to be fascinating; however, I didn’t feel that either section was quite as engaging as the desert and the true-to-life relationships Khai found there. In the middle part, Khai leaves the desert for the palace at sixteen years of age and meets Zariya for the first time—and goes from living among men to living among women. Normally, a young man would not be allowed to share a room with a princess in the women’s quarter, but Khai would have been raised as a girl had he not been chosen by his god and raised within the Brotherhood instead. Here, he grapples more with his complicated gender identity as someone who doesn’t quite fit into society’s expectations of men or women, and he also sees firsthand that some of his previous beliefs about women were misinformed. Zariya especially may be underestimated by people since a childhood illness left her unable to walk, but all who know her see that her heart is that of a fierce warrior. She’s a courageous, thoughtful person, and Khai immediately feels a deep bond with her due to their fated connection and comes to love her for herself as he gets to know her. With palace life comes some royal intrigue, and this section also shows more of the fire goddess Aramuht and the rising threat of Miasmus.

The last third opens up the world even more since this is the part involving traveling with the prophecy-hunters in the book’s description. The various lands and peoples (and the sea-wyrms!) are fascinating, but I actually found this the least engaging of the three parts that make up Starless because the character relationships were not as strong. The voyagers were supposed to have a deep friendship forged by their experiences together, but I didn’t think it came through the page and dialogue as clearly as the bond between Khai and the Brothers or Zariya and some of her family. However, I still enjoyed it immensely even if I felt the last third was the weakest part of the novel.

With Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey immortalized the phrase “Love as thou wilt.” These words could also be applied to Starless, but I kept thinking that the journeys of its two main characters could be summarized as “Be as thou wilt.” Khai and Zariya unconditionally accept each other from the start and they both learn to accept themselves regardless of societal expectations. I loved this about them, and Starless is a beautifully written, readable book that I can definitely see myself rereading in the future.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read below for an excerpt from Starless—featuring the favorite character I mentioned—followed by the giveaway form and rules!

 

T H R E E

 

“Right.” On the floor of the Dancing Bowl, Brother Yarit looked me up and down, a sour expression on his face. “Here’s your first lesson, kid.” With a deft twist, he unwound the tie that bound his hair back. “Catch.”

Something tumbled through the air; I caught it by reflex. It was a length of tightly braided leather cord with bone pegs at either end.

“Always keep a garrote handy,” Brother Yarit advised me. “That’s what I damn near used to kill you.”

Oh, I remembered.

“Here,” he said. “Let me show you how to do it.” Honor beyond honor.

Those were the words I whispered in my thoughts as I suffered Brother Yarit to lay his hands on me and demonstrate, pulling my hair back into a tail and winding the cord and the pegs around it, releasing it with a twist. Those were the words I whispered to myself as he made me practice it over and over.

Several of the brothers watched from the mouths of tunnels above the Dancing Floor. It made Brother Yarit uneasy.

“I agreed to train the kid!” he shouted up at them. “I never agreed to share clan secrets with all of you!”

None of the brothers responded.

“You agreed to everything when you undertook the Trial of Pahrkun,” I murmured, twisting and untwisting the garrote around my hair. “You are Pahrkun’s instrument now, brother.”

Brother Yarit glared at me. “Let me see you jump.”

“Jump?” I repeated.

“Jump.” Suiting actions to words, he ran lightly toward the western wall of the Dancing Bowl, launching himself with a prodigious leap; high, higher than I would have thought possible. He caught an outcropping with both hands, hauled himself up, and launched himself again with a standing leap. Wedging fingers and toes into narrow crevices, he scrambled up the face of the bowl to the mouth of an unoccupied tunnel, then sat on the ledge with his feet dangling. “Come on, kid!” he called down to me. “Jump!”

I took a running start and did my best.

Brother Yarit snorted in disgust as I slid futilely down the face of the bowl, scraping my hands. “You’ve got the legs of a seven-year-old.” Dropping into a low crouch, he launched himself from the ledge. I heard someone above him make a muttered sound of alarm, but he landed safely, hands and feet braced against the stony ground, flexed limbs absorbing the impact. Shaking out his hands, he straightened. “Right, then. Jumping practice it is.” Glancing around, he led me over to a staircase etched into the wall that led to one of the middle tunnels, this one carved by human hands. “Hop up it.”

Feeling foolish, I hopped onto the first step.

“No, no, no.” Brother Yarit shook his head. “You pushed off on your right leg. Hop with both legs, feet together.” I did as he said, finding it considerably more difficult. “All right, keep going.” He clapped his hands together. “Hop like you’re a desert toad with a . . . what eats toads?”

“Hawks,” I replied, slightly breathless.

“Hop like you’re a desert toad with a hawk on its tail,” he said. “Do toads have tails? Never mind. All the way to the top.”

It was twenty steps to the top, and when I reached it, he ordered me to turn around and hop back down. When I regained the floor of the Dancing Bowl, the muscles of my legs felt wobbly.

“Good. Do that . . .” Brother Yarit considered the staircase. “We’ll start with ten times a day. Five in the morning and five in the evening.”

I pushed down a wave of resentment. “Hop.”

“Hop,” he said. “You want to learn to run? You start by walking. You want to learn to jump, you start by hopping.” He clapped his hands again. “Go on, kid! Hop to it.”

I turned back to the staircase.

“Hold, Khai.” Brother Merik emerged from the mouth of one of the lower tunnels. He folded his arms over his chest. There was a bloodstained white bandage around his left forearm. Sunlight glinted on his kopar and the pommel of his yakhan. “Do you seek to mock us?” he asked Brother Yarit in a grim tone, dropping one hand to his hilt. “Because I would welcome a, shall we say, friendly rematch in the broad light of day, with no trickery between us.”

Brother Yarit grimaced. “I’m sure you would, brother. I’ve heard the tales.”

“What tales?” There was a dangerous edge to Brother Merik’s voice. “They say the warriors of Pahrkun are as fierce and deadly as the desert.

They say the wind itself warns them of a blow before it lands.” Brother Yarit shrugged. “Make no mistake, I am no warrior. And yet I am here. Shall I tell you what defeated you the other day?”

“I know what defeated me,” Brother Merik said. “And I know what slew Brother Jawal. Trickery.”

I glanced uneasily from one to the other. Sparring was permitted among the brothers; feuding was not.

But Brother Yarit was shaking his head. “No, what defeated you was your own expectations. Brother Jawal expected a fat merchant who would be easy prey; he did not expect that merchant to spit out the wads of cotton wedged in his cheeks and use his fine robe as a weapon. You, Brother . . . Merik, is it? You expected the advantage of darkness, not the glare of an oil-wood knot. Brother Khai . . .” He glanced at me. “You expected me to be weaponless when I was not.”

Brother Merik regarded the smaller man with narrowed eyes. “It is not our way.”

“Shall I apologize for not dying?” Brother Yarit said dryly. “I will not. The Shahalim are thieves and spies, yes, but we take our name from the Dark Moon herself, and we are not without pride. Our weapons are disguise, stealth, distraction, and agility; an agility won through strength. I’m trying to teach the kid the latter.” He made a show of adjusting the sleeves of the loose tunic of the brotherhood that he had adopted. “Believe me, it wasn’t my idea. If you don’t like it, speak to your Seer.”

Remembering the throwing knives he had wielded in the Hall of Proving, I had a strong suspicion his hands were no longer empty. I stepped between them, facing Brother Merik. “I like this no better than you do,” I said to him. “But I think it is Pahrkun’s will that I learn from this man.” I made myself smile. “Brother Saan has me squeezing rocks. Shall I balk at hopping?”

After a long moment, Brother Merik gave me a brief nod. “I will be watching you,” he said to Brother Yarit. “I do not trust you.”

Brother Yarit shrugged. “I’ll do my best to defy your expectations. Again.”

I expected Brother Merik to bristle at that, but he merely shook his head and walked away.

Brother Yarit smoothed his sleeves. “All right. Get hopping, kid.”

I pointed at his nearest sleeve with my chin. “Would you have thrown on him?”

“You saw that?” One corner of his mouth curved in a faint smile. “You’re observant. Good. No, not unless he’d drawn on me.”

“May I see?” I asked.

He hesitated a moment, then pushed up one sleeve to show me a brace of three throwing knives strapped to his forearm; odd, flat little knives wrought of blackened steel nested in a cunning sheath. “They’re called zims. Hornets, in the traders’ tongue.”

Honor beyond honor, I told myself.

“Will you teach me to use them?” I asked. “To throw like you do?”

Brother Yarit stared at me for a moment. “What happened to all that high-and-mighty palaver about dishonorable ways? When all’s said and done, you’re a violent little bugger.” He nodded at the heshkrat knotted around my waist. “Will you teach me how to use that whatsit?”

I saw no reason to refuse. “Yes.”

“Then we’ve a bargain,” he said. “Now get hopping.”

I hopped; hopped and hopped up the staircase and down until my thighs were burning. After the midday rest, Brother Yarit made me hop the staircase three more times before taking pity on me.

“Let’s try something else.” He spilled a satchel of loose pebbles and gravel over the floor of the Dancing Bowl, spreading it about judiciously. “Can you walk across it without making a sound?”

I walked across it as light-footed as I could, but even so, the gravel shifted and crunched under my weight.

Brother Yarit took a deep breath. “Watch.” Standing at the edge of the gravel patch, he flexed his knees deeply, centering his weight above his left leg. His right foot reached out slowly, little toe descending first, then the outer blade of his foot. The ball of his foot, then the sole and heel descended with a slow, rolling motion. There was not a single crunch as he shifted his weight from his left to his right leg, then repeated the motion on the other side. Again and again, until he’d crossed the entire distance without a sound. For the first time, I found myself truly wanting to learn what Brother Yarit could teach me. He was strange to me with his dishonorable ways and his coarse language—and I could not yet bring myself to forgive him for Brother Jawal’s death—but Brother Saan was right. There were things I could learn from him that I could not learn from anyone else.

Still, I was not quite ready to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. “You wouldn’t want to be in a hurry,” I observed. “Takes a long time to cross a patch of ground that way.”

Brother Yarit snorted. “Yes, and there are different ways of silent walking for different circumstances, most of them faster. But if you need to move over that kind of turf without making a sound, you’d damn well better take your time.” He nodded at the gravel patch. “Try it again.”

It took a lot of effort to move in a deep crouch, but it was the only way to truly control the shift of one’s weight from one leg to the other. I began to see the point of Brother Yarit’s hopping exercise. I practiced until the shadows grew long and Brother Drajan blew the horn summoning us to dinner. “You did well, kid,” Brother Yarit said to me, genuine sincerity in his voice.

“I know it’s hard. But give it a month, and you’ll be amazed at the progress you make. Give it a year, and you’ll be walking like you were born to the clan.”

I felt a surge of pride that was not wholly welcome; but not unwelcome, either. I touched my thumbs to my brow in respect, reckoning he was owed that much. “Thank you, brother.”

That night I fell aching onto the carpet in my chamber. It was verging into autumn and the day’s heat gave way to a chill. I pulled a thick wool blanket over my sore body and slept deep and hard.

I awoke in the small hours before dawn to Brother Saan stooping over me with an oil-wood torch and shaking my shoulder. “Khai,” he murmured. “Brother Yarit is gone.”

“Gone?” I sat up. “What do you mean gone?”

In the torchlight, Brother Saan’s pupils were strangely wide and blurred. “He stole a horse and fled when the Bright Moon was yet high. As those who stood the Trial of Pahrkun for him, the duty falls to you and Brother Merik to retrieve him.”

Stifling a groan, I crawled out from beneath my blanket. My legs were so sore, I feared at first that they would not hold me. “Yes, Elder Brother.”

Brother Saan lit the wick of the little oil lamp in my alcove with his torch. “We will meet at the horse canyon.”

My legs wobbled. “Yes, Elder Brother.”

I dressed as swiftly as I could, donning a loose-fitting tunic that fell to my knees, wrapping my sash and my heshkrat around it and thrusting my dagger into the sash. In the Fortress of the Winds, we were shielded from the worst of the sun’s rays, but it would be different in the open desert. I wound a long scarf around my head and neck, securing it with Brother Yarit’s—curse him!—garrote, and laced my feet into tough camel-hide sandals. Throwing on my plain white woolen robe, I blew out the lamp and hobbled through the fortress in near darkness, making my way outside and down the long carved stone stairways to the horse canyon, where a cluster of men with torches was gathered.

The crescent of the Bright Moon was visible on the western horizon, and high overhead, the Dark Moon was full, a glowing sphere of ruddy ochre that laid a bloody pall over the landscape.

The horse canyon was long and narrow. Scrub grass and gorse grew there, and there was a brackish watering hole; enough to sustain the few hardy mounts—anywhere from four to six—that the brotherhood kept on hand for errands. There was a wooden gate across its opening and it had been left ajar, but it seemed the remaining horses had better sense than to flee into the open desert. Two of them were saddled and waiting. Brother Tekel, who tended them, stood at their heads.

“Khai.” Brother Merik noticed my limping approach and frowned. “Can you ride?”

I made an effort to straighten my stride. “Yes, brother.”

Brother Drajan patted a bag lashed behind the cantle of  the  nearest horse’s saddle. “You’ve two water-skins apiece, dried meat, and a satchel of grain,” he said. “I reckon you won’t want to stop to forage.”

Brother Merik gave a brusque nod of assent and swung effortlessly astride his mount. I followed suit gracelessly, assisted by a boost from Brother Tekel. To be fair, it was a longer step up for me.

“He will have gone due west toward the supplicants’ campsite.” Brother Saan hoisted his torch and pointed. “It’s the nearest watering hole, the only one he can be sure of. By the time you reach it, it should be light enough to pick up his trail. I suspect he will bear northwest and attempt to make his way to Merabaht.”

“I trust you want him brought back alive?” Brother Merik sounded as though he hoped otherwise as he took up the reins.

“Yes.” Brother Saan turned his strange, blurred gaze on him. “Have a care. The Sacred Twins have left the deep desert and are abroad in the west. I have Seen it.”

My breath quickened, wisps of frost escaping my parted lips. Brother Merik was less enthralled by the notion. “I mean no disrespect, Elder Brother, but I would that you’d Seen the villain’s escape before it happened,” he said in a dour tone.

Brother Saan smiled, and his smile was as uncanny as his gaze. “What makes you think I did not?”

My skin prickled at his words, and Brother Merik’s expression changed. He touched his  brow with the thumb of one hand. “Forgive me, Elder Brother,” he said. “We go forth to do your bidding.”

Brother Saan returned his salute with both hands. “Ride with my blessing.” We set out at a slow, steady trot. I had ridden out from the fortress before, but never farther than a hunting excursion and never at this hour. Everything looked strange and unfamiliar in the bloody light of the Dark Moon. I gazed at the sky overhead, trying to imagine it filled with a thousand upon a thousand sparkling lights, and could not. The air was still, not a hint of breeze, and the sound of the horses’ hooves on the arid, stony ground seemed unnaturally loud to me. Then again, perhaps yesterday’s lesson with Brother Yarit had made me particularly sensitive to the sound.

I couldn’t believe he’d fled. It felt like a betrayal, especially after I’d worked so hard yesterday.

I wondered what Brother Saan had meant. If he’d Seen Brother Yarit’s escape, why hadn’t he prevented it? I pondered these matters in silence, hoping that Brother Merik would weigh in on them. When he didn’t, I broke my silence to ask him.

“There’s no merit in trying to guess at the Seer’s reasoning,” he said. “I doubt he could even explain it to the likes of you and me. But as for the Shahalim . . .” He shrugged. “Well, he’s a thief, isn’t he? I reckon he thought he’d try to steal his life back from Pahrkun.”

I frowned. “And cheat the god of his due?”

Brother Merik’s teeth flashed in a bloody-looking grin. “I didn’t say it could be done, little brother.”

As Brother Saan had estimated, although the sun had not yet cleared the mountains behind us, the sky was beginning to pale by the time we reached the supplicants’ campsite nearest the fortress. There was a small watering hole in a patch of greenery. It was mostly silted over, but when I dismounted to dig, I saw someone else had done the same not long before me.

“Look.” I pointed to the piles of wet sand.

Brother Merik sifted a handful of it through his fingers. “That’s our man, all right. I’d say he’s a couple hours ahead of us.”

I watered the horses, their sweat-dampened hides steaming in the dawn air, while Brother Merik scoured the area for signs of Brother Yarit’s passage.

“Looks like he’s following the tracks of the king’s guardsmen.” Brother Merik remounted. “The Bright Moon must have been high enough to make them out when he came through. Why do you suppose he’d head straight back to Merabaht where he was caught?”

I clambered into the saddle, my thighs protesting at the effort. “Maybe he thinks to enter in disguise.”

Brother Merik grunted, displeased at the reminder. “Let’s make time before the sun catches us, little brother.”

In the desert we say Make haste slowly. Brother Merik and I resumed our ride at a brisk walking pace as the sun cleared the mountains and began to climb overhead, dispelling the night’s chill. Heat began to mount. I shrugged out of my woolen robe, lashing it to the packs behind me.

There was no outrunning the sun. As the morning wore on toward noon, Brother Merik began casting about for shelter. “There should be . . . ah!” Standing in the stirrups, he pointed toward a rocky formation shimmering through the rising heat haze in the distance. “There’s an overhang on the leeward side.”

It was large enough to provide shade for at least a half a dozen men and horses, but there was no evidence that it had been used in recent days. On Brother Merik’s orders, I gave the horses each a handful of grain, then a few mouthfuls of water in a leather bucket. While I tended to them, he stretched out in the shade, crossing his feet at the ankles, folding his arms behind his head, and closing his eyes.

Make haste slowly.

My duties done, I sat in the shadow of the overhang with my arms wrapped around my knees and gazed out at the desert. It shimmered in the heat of the midday sun, dun-colored sandstone interspersed with outcroppings of ochre deepening to rust-red in places.

“Do you suppose Brother Yarit is taking shelter?” I asked.

“If he’s got any sense, yes,” Brother Merik said without opening his eyes. “He made the crossing with the king’s guardsmen, he ought to have learned a thing or two. If he didn’t, he’s a fool.”

I tipped a water-skin and took a mouthful, swishing it around before letting it trickle down my throat. “What if he reckons it’s worth the risk to . . . to make haste swiftly?”

Brother Merik cracked open one eye. “Do you think we’ll lose him? If the Shahalim is pushing his stolen horse in this heat, it will founder; and we will catch up to him sooner rather than later if it does. We’re on his trail. Trust me, we will catch him.” He yawned and closed his eyes. “Let the desert teach you patience, little brother.”

Brother Merik slept, snoring faintly.

The horses cocked their hips and dozed, heads hanging low. I chewed a meditative strip of dried goat.

The desert shimmered with heat.

I rested my head against my knees and dozed, too.

The rising wind woke me. There was something in it that called to me, that tugged at me, saying Now now now.

Brother Merik awoke and caught my sense of urgency. We mounted and began riding westward into the teeth of the wind, moving again at a steady trot. Sand swirled around the horses’ legs, plumes dancing across the floor of the desert.

Pahrkun.

I was at once exhilarated and scared. It was one thing to catch a glimpse of one of the Sacred Twins in the distance from the safety of the fortress; it was quite another to face the prospect of encountering one or both in the open desert. Pahrkun and Anamuht guarded the realm to which they were bound, but that didn’t mean it was safe to be in their presence, no more than it was safe to encounter lightning or a sandstorm or any great force of nature.

The wind toyed with us, rising and falling, changing directions. It rattled pebbles and raised eddies of sand, erasing the signs of the trail we were following. More and more frequently, Brother Merik was forced to dismount to examine the ground at close range, searching for the various signs, the fresh scrapes and gouges and overturned stones, that indicated recent pas- sage; signs that became increasingly scarce. An hour or so after we’d resumed our pursuit, he rose from a futile search and shook his head in a reluctant admission of defeat.

“I’m sorry, little brother,” he said. “Either we’ve lost his trail or it’s gone for good. Maybe we should have ridden  through  the  heat  of  the  day.” He dusted his hands with a grimace. “Or maybe Pahrkun doesn’t want the Shahalim in his service after all.”

“Brother Saan wouldn’t have sent us on a fool’s errand.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. “Look.”

There was a column of carrion beetles making their way in a northwesterly direction. While I watched, a scorpion emerged wriggling from its burrow and began scuttling across the sand in the same direction.

Brother Merik glanced at me, and there was something in his expression that reminded me of the way he’d looked at Brother Saan. There was a measure of respect in it. I was young, but I was Pahrkun’s chosen. I had caught a hawk’s feather in my fist. “We follow them?”

I nodded, feeling sure. “We follow them.”

The wind continued to rise as we followed the desert insects that were creatures of Pahrkun. Now sand filled the air, dimming the sun. The horses became balky, until at last Brother Merik and I had to dismount and lead them on foot.

“We can’t keep this up, Khai!” Brother Merik shouted to me above the roaring wind. “Time to take shelter or—” He halted mid-sentence, craning his neck and staring past me.

I followed his gaze.

A hundred yards from us, Pahrkun the Scouring Wind loomed out of the desert. For the space of a few heartbeats, my wits ceased to function altogether. Cloaked in swirling sand, Pahrkun stood mountain-tall. High in the sky, his great black head, long and inhuman, turned this way and that, glowing green eyes set in deep hollows surveying the landscape. I dropped the reins in my hand and fell to one knee, genuflecting without thinking. Beside me, Brother Merik did the same.

I forced myself to my feet, only to fall and genuflect again as Pahrkun moved with slow, graceful strides to reveal a vast tower of flame behind him: Anamuht the Purging Fire. One skeletal bone-white arm emerged from the flames to lift high, lightning crackling in her fist.

Brother Merik was shouting in my ear and pointing.

Anamuht flung her arm forward and a bolt of blue-white lightning struck the barren earth between us. In its sudden glare, the small figure of a man struggling to keep his seat in the saddle of a terrified horse was illuminated.

Brother Yarit.

“. . . with the horses!” Brother Merik shouted. “I’ll get him!” Dumbstruck and nigh frozen, I did as he said, gathering up the fallen reins. The horses tossed their heads in protest, fretful and fearful. Brother Merik ran unerringly toward the Shahalim, unwinding his head-scarf as he ran. He wrapped it around Brother Yarit’s mount’s eyes and began leading them back.

The wind howled.

“Let’s go!” Brother Merik cried. “Go, go, ride!”

I tossed his reins to him. Carrion beetles crunched underfoot as I hopped about in an effort to mount my horse. A strong hand grabbed the back of my tunic and hauled me belly-down across my saddle. From this undignified perch, I managed to scramble upright, my feet fishing for the stirrups.

“Watery hell!” Brother Yarit wheezed. His face was coated with a rime of dried sweat and sand, his eyes bleary and bloodshot. “All right, kid. I guess we’re stuck with each other.”

We rode, the wind dying in our wake.

I glanced over my shoulder once as we fled. The Sacred Twins had vanished into the desert.

 

Courtesy of Tor Books, I have a hardcover copy of Starless to give away, plus a swag bag featuring a Starless quote postcard, hawk feather, #FearlessWomen sticker, #FearlessWomen pen, and star confetti!

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Starless Giveaway.” One entry per person and a winner will be randomly selected. Only those with a mailing address in the US or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Wednesday, June 20. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

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