Today I have an exclusive excerpt from Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber to share with you! This prequel to Strangely Beautiful, a Prism Award winner for Best Fantasy Novel as The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, is being re-released in a new, revised trade paperback/ebook edition on June 20.


Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber

Cairo in the 1860s is a bustling metropolis where people from all walks of life mix and mingle, mostly in complex harmony. When evil ghosts and unquiet spirits stalk the city’s streets, the Guard are summoned―six young men and women of different cultures, backgrounds, and faiths, gifted by their Goddess with great powers.

While others of the Guard embrace their duties, their leader, British-born Beatrice, is gripped by doubt. What right has she, a bookish, sheltered, eighteen-year-old, to lead others into battle? Why isn’t dark-eyed, compelling Ibrahim, who is stronger of will than Beatrice, the one in charge?

Ghosts maraud through Cairo’s streets, heralding a terrible darkness. Beatrice and her Guard have little time to master their powers; a great battle looms as an ancient prophecy roars toward its final, deadly conclusion.

This enchanting prequel to Leanna Renee Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy, Strangely Beautiful, returns to print after more than a decade, edited and revised for Tor’s publication.


Ibrahim Wasil stared at the smoldering  foundation of his home. He’d watched it burn for several hours, hanging back from the crowd, his keen ears picking up all the murmuring about the dead bodies rumored to be inside. His, they thought, and the body of the man who had acted like his father. Not his true father. Only Allah knew where his real parents were or if they had ever felt guilty for abandoning him as a baby on the stoop of an Englishman’s home.

“Like Moses,” his friend Isaac had once said when they were children, playing in a university courtyard. Isaac was a Jew, but the Fatimid Caliphate had had a relative tolerance for other religious groups, and while that ancient empire was long fallen, some of its basic principles remained in Masir, in al-Qahira, in this city the Europeans called Cairo.

There were tensions, of course, between faiths, races, classes, and intentions. The pale skin of colonial interest could never entirely be trusted, whether it be French or British. However, one kind and gracious example of pale skin had raised him unquestioningly as his own, yet with respect for his birthright: James Tipton had made sure that Ibrahim was heir to his rightful Arabic language and faith and proud of the name Tipton had given him, the name of a prophet. Tipton had also taught Ibrahim the Queen’s English and escorted him to Christian services as well as Muslim calls to prayer. A professor of religion at the University of Cairo, Ibrahim’s father had encouraged him to be whatever he wished and had given him a place to call home while he determined what that might be.

Ibrahim wasn’t sure who or what he prayed to as he stared at the ashes of the only home he’d ever known, the tomb of the one true good man he’d ever known.

He’d begun the day as a creature of two worlds, English and Arabian. Now, alone at the age of eighteen, orphaned for a second time, he wasn’t sure which world would take him, or if he would have to choose. James Tipton had managed to effortlessly create a loving mix of faith, culture, and sensibility. Others Ibrahim had met, both English and Arabian, made it seem one had cling to specific viewpoints and reject all the rest. Some of his own people rejected outright the honest intentions of James and others at the university and had accused Ibrahim of abandoning his true self by living among them. For a boy who never for a moment forgot he’d been abandoned on a doorstep, this was a deeply painful accusation.

Uprooted, he could be anything now, anyone. He could choose to be a ghost, he realized. The crowd assumed him dead, after all. Was that the answer? To be a ghost? Wondering and wandering? Something had pushed him out of bed, into the market, early this morning, an unusual desire for ripe, glorious pomegranates. That strange, pressing urge, he realized, had saved his life. Would that it had saved the life of the man who’d provided a home for him.

A sudden, violent gust knocked him forward, and a furor rose within him as if a bird loosed from a cage flapped madly at his insides. The pomegranates he had held through all the hours he had watched his home burn fell to the ground, rolling away and bleeding onto the sandy stone.

As if this day had not held changes enough, Ibrahim now suffered yet another. Thinking he had become like the dead, he now saw them.

Ghosts stared back from every few feet; grayscale and luminous, spirits from Cairo and the specters of nomads, ghosts of all faiths and races, eras and classes. He felt an overwhelming wish to follow each and every one, to understand why they had been driven to Cairo’s streets, eternally wandering in and out of shops and homes.

He heard a strange new voice, speaking in a language he’d never before heard and yet, miraculously, understood: “Hello, my torchbearer, Intuition. I saw the measure of the man you could be and had to save you from your fate. I’m sorry for your loss, but you gain new family and a new future today. I have plucked you from an early death to learn a story and fight the good fight. In the beginning were two lovers, beings of light who fought wrath and woe. We are their continued struggle, and it is in their name I welcome you to the Guard.”

Ibrahim heard these confounding words both within himself and all around him. Before he could begin to process them, his gaze fell upon the transparent ghost of James Tipton.

With a puzzled expression on his grayscale face, the man floated over his home, staring at its cremated remains, then surveying the gathered crowd. When his gaze fell on the young man he’d lovingly and unquestioningly called son, he smiled his small, consistent smile, as if in seeing Ibrahim safe, Tipton had determined that all was well.

His adoptive father waved, and Ibrahim bit back tears. His senses could not be trusted, and he would not show such womanly frailty, yet he was nearly overwhelmed. The bird kept beating in his chest. Something urged him to move forward, to seek out a new destiny. He had the uncanny sensation that he was now tied to other beings than himself and that he would never be alone again. But was that what he wanted? The sensation was both terrifying and wonderful. Was this comfort or madness?

A blinding light bloomed beside him and he turned to behold a luminous woman, the flawless epitome of many types of beauty, made from shifting colors.

“You are not Allah,” he said, uncertain.

“Correct, I am not,” she replied.

“Or one of the saints. Or prophets. You are an angel, then?” Ibrahim pressed his eyes closed, wondering if she would vanish when he opened them, if his mind had been entirely torn asunder by the day. She was still there, in all her colors.

“An angel if you like, it doesn’t really matter. Come, Ibrahim,” the woman entreated. “I’m sorry for your loss. Let me show you where you belong.”

She held out a shimmering hand. Ibrahim looked at it, then back at the burning rubble. James Tipton had vanished. Ibrahim hoped that his Christian saints would hold him close. He was a good man. Surely Allah would take him. The two faiths, having come from the same roots, weren’t dissimilar when one stripped away mankind’s trappings. Something greater would take care of his father.

“Do not be afraid,” the woman said. “I’m here to take you home.” Ibrahim gulped. She lowered her hand, giving no sign of offense that he had not touched her. Glancing at the pomegranates lying bruised and dribbling onto the stones, she frowned and kicked the fruit aside, then began to walk away.

“Come,” she bade him, and he did, following her through the city.

As they headed to a destination unknown, Ibrahim felt moved to ask only one question. He knew that whatever had spoken to him—the thing that was now within him—was inherently good, just like the man who’d raised him. His senses had grown sharper, and he’d never felt so alive. The world was at his fingertips.

Ibrahim had never been a social creature. He liked books, grand architecture, and quiet spaces. His brain was nearly bursting with strains of poetry, texts in their entirety, and scholarly pursuits, yet he was suddenly made happy by the certainty that he was on his way to meet friends.

“My mind is changing,” he murmured. “Why?”

“You’ll see” was the only answer the multicolored angel would give.

LR Hieber Author Photo (by C. Johnstone)

About the Author
Actress, playwright and author Leanna Renee Hieber is the award-winning, bestselling author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels for adults and teens. Her Strangely Beautiful saga, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists and garnered numerous regional genre awards, with new revised editions from Tor Books now available. Darker Still was named an American Bookseller’s Association “Indie Next List” pick and a Scholastic Book Club “Highly Recommended” title. Her new Gaslamp Fantasy saga, The Eterna Files and Eterna and Omega, is now available from Tor Books. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies such as Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, Willful Impropriety, The Mammoth Book of Gaslamp Romance, featured on and she writes for Criminal Element. A 4 time Prism Award winner for excellence in the genre of Fantasy Romance, Leanna’s books have been selected for national book club editions and translated into languages such as Complex Chinese, German and Polish. A proud member of performer unions Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA, she lives in New York City where she is a licensed ghost tour guide and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire. She is represented by Paul Stevens of the Donald Maass agency and is active on Twitter @leannarenee.

Photo by C. Johnstone