Nyctophobia Fearsome Magics: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy World of Fire Solaris Rising 3 The Fire Prince One Night in Sixes
Wakening the Crow Riding The Unicorn

Newly-married architect Callie and her wealthy husband Mateo move to Hyperion House, a grand old home in southern Spain. It's an eccentric place built in front of a cliff: serene and beautiful, but eerily symmetrical, and cunningly styled so that half the house is flooded with light, and half – locked up and neglected – is shrouded in darkness. Unemployed and feeling isolated in a foreign country, Callie determines to research the history of the curious building. 

But the past is sometimes best left alone. Uncovering the folklore of the house's strange history, Callie is drawn into darkness and delusion. As a teenager Callie was afraid of the dark, and now with her adolescent nyctophobia returning she becomes convinced there's someone in the darkened rooms. Somewhere in the darkness lies the truth about Hyperion House. 


But some doors should never be opened.



 REVIEWS

“Where it wins out is in its deeply uneasy atmosphere, and Fowler’s assured, witty prose.” 4/5 – SFX

“Fowler has managed to come up with some very neat twists and frissons on this archetypical theme. The novel provides lots of quiet discomfort without gratuitous splatter or nastiness, and that’s rare in today’s marketplace.” – Locus Magazine 


“As the nights draw closer and everything gets colder, sometimes the thing you really need is a nicely-paced ghost story to help you go and make friends with the winter months. Nyctophobia is Christopher Fowler’s latest horror novel and it’s just the thing for dark nights. – 8/10” – Starburst Magazine


 “Fowler demonstrates that the medium – as well as chilling the blood – can be a repository for some truly elegant writing.” – Crime Time


“This is a creepy, atmospheric tale that blends the psychological and the supernatural effortlessly. If you’re in the mood for a ghost story that is going to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, then look no further.” The Eloquent Page


 “Fowler’s prose is visual, and he is a master of creepy imagery” – Books, Brains and Beer


“If you prefer your ghost stories to move at a slower pace, but with some truly eerie moments, this is your book.” – Books & Such


“The best thriller I have read in ages.” – Universe in Words


“I liked it for the intimacy of its horror… and the way the author entwined this so neatly with social and psychological ‘ghosts’.” – Violin in a Void


“If you appreciate the literary tradition that flowered in du Maurier and Rayne, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: well, here's a house I'd like you to visit” – Mallory Heart Reviews


“Those who are already happy to be a little scared when they read will find something to enjoy here.” – Fruitless Pursuits


“If you are in the market for a ghostly, psychological thriller that takes a few Spanish siestas here and there, Nyctophobia could well be the book for you.” – The Bookshelf Gargoyle

“Amazing. Horrific. Terrifying.” – I heart reading


“This one keeps the pages turning and the night lights burning.” – Bloggabook


“An incredibly creepy and beautifully written story” – A Bibliophiles Journey

FEATURED 

“If you're looking for a haunted-house read of a different color, take a look at Nyctophobia” – Kirkus Reviews, 12 Excellent Horror Reads for the month of October


Persephone Magazine – 31 Days of Horror Halloween recommended book


Tor.com October hitlist


Daily Dead Indie spotlight recommended read


Civilian Reader


A Fantastical Librarian Anticipated Books Fall 2014


Out now UK | US | DRM free eBook

The story that follows is a totally, 100% typical day in the life of our PR department.

Publishing overlord Ben Smith summons the PR department. "There's been a delivery," he says "it's got your name on it," he says.

There's something about his smile... the fear in the department is tangible. 

The walk down to reception seems to take forever. Then there it is.

The box.

Oh god, it's huge. 


"I said 5'6!" PR cries.
"Maybe it's just a trick of the light," editorial offers up.

As the un-boxing commences PR nervously retreats into a corner, rocking gently. 

"No, wait! It's not that bad. In fact it looks great!" editorial coaxes.


Shuffling gently forward the beautiful object contained within the box is slowly revealed, and PR's mood rapidly shifts from "Shitshitshit they're totally going to fire me for this" to "Take my photo with the monkey. Take my photo with the monkey."


Rapidly followed by "Hey wait, no you didn't let me sort out my lipstick." 

If you'd like your photo with Ack Ack Macaque catch him on tour with his pet author Gareth L Powell from January next year. We'll even let you brush your hair first.

More dates TBC

Macaque Attack by Gareth L Powell publishes January 2015.


Pre-order UK | US




In the Christopher Fowler’s chilling new novel Nyctophobia he addresses one of humanity’s oldest, and most primeval fears: darkness.

“It’s a strange thing, nyctophobia. You’re not born with it. It can start at any time. It comes and goes, and it’s one of the only phobias you can transmit to other people.”

UK cover
US cover























In anticipation of the book’s release I sat down with some of the Solaris publishing team and in a badly thought out form of group therapy got them to reveal what keeps them awake at night…

Jonathan Oliver, Editor-in-Chief

As with so many things, you can blame it on TV. Well, you can blame it on one specific TV show that I saw around Christmastime when I was 6 years old: The Box of Delights. Yes, The Box of Delights for a time gave me a phobia of wolves. I blame the opening title sequence with that grinning wolf’s head; that haunted my dreams for years afterward. I would wake from a nightmare where a man in a suit with a wolf’s head was standing in my bedroom doorway. It’s certainly a silly thing to be afraid of, especially living in the UK where there aren’t that many wolves around. But the surreality of the wolf imagery in that old BBC show probably exacerbated the fear. For a while I found werewolf movies scarier than they probably were intended to be, and even images of wolves in documentaries gave me a frisson of fear.

No longer, however; I’ve grown out of it. There are much more horrible things to be scared of as an adult. Ali – my wife – and I recently revisited The Box of Delights, watching the BBC adaptation. It’s still quite weird, but it’s showing its age, and it’s particularly sad to watch Robert Stephens put in a lacklustre performance, clearly unwell, clearly suffering from the ravages of addiction.

Children take images and turn them into something way more sinister thanks to the power of imagination, and in the winter of 1984, and for several years afterwards, for this young boy, the wolves were running.


Ben Smith, Publishing Manager

Who needs a phobia when you have experienced real, rational terror?
My brothers and I were going to see Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark at the cinema, but when we got there it was sold out. However my mum – normally a careful, caring woman – spotted another movie that had Spielberg’s name on the poster and got us tickets to that instead.  The movie was Poltergeist. I was six years old.

I had nightmares FOR YEARS.

So no, I have no phobias. 

But if a television set comes on by itself, let’s just say I’m not staying in the building.



David Moore, Editor

My phobias – although I’d hesitate to call either of them phobias, for different reasons – are spiders (sort of) and heights.

I hesitate to consider my discomfort with spiders a phobia, since phobias (phobiae?) are irrational, and – frankly – I grew up in Australia. Spiders over there will fuck your shit up. I don’t scream, scarper, freeze or any of that nonsense; my response can generally be classed under “unrestrained bloody carnage.” Man, fuck those things. I actually like spiders – they’re beautiful, fascinating, extraordinary creatures – but if I see one of the fuckers in my house it gets the shoe.


Vertigo is an odd one. As a kid, like most kids, I scampered up and down climbing frames, trees and all sorts left, right and centre. I don’t even have a trauma to refer to, or remember developing vertigo; it crept up on me over the years. I think when we stop climbing stuff, we lose the nerve to do it. The weird thing about vertigo is, it’s almost more physical than anything else. Rationally, I can look over a balcony or down from the London Eye very calmly, knowing I’m perfectly safe. But if whatever I’m standing on and holding onto isn’t obviously, visibly, very secure, my legs start to tense, my knees tingle, my back tenses – everything, in fact, starts to react except my mind. It’s weird.

So I guess my greatest fear would be falling from a great height into a nest of spiders. Or falling off a big spider or something, I dunno.



Lydia Gittins, Digital Promotions & PR Assistant

Needles. Even just writing the word makes me feel anxious. 

In theory this is a totally logical fear; it’s letting someone deliberately insert a foreign object THROUGH YOUR SKIN.

Sadly though, as someone with multiple piercings when I present this phobia (normally in the context of a busy doctor’s surgery, to an over-worked nurse and via the medium of the ‘dead faint’) it somehow gets a little harder to rationalise to other people and a lot harder to sympathise with...

So basically, don’t come anywhere near me with a needle, unless you’re covered in poorly though-out tattoos and work in a dubious piercing salon.



Oh, also morph suits. I bloody hate morph suits.



Simon Parr, Head of Art and cover artist for Nyctophobia

I FEAR NO MAN
(except for Hulk Hogan)



Ed: The image used for Simon’s phobia is the one supplied by him with his statement. It has also directly contributed to a more general office-wide fear of the Hogan-infinity-beard. Thanks Simon.

Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler is out October 2014

Pre-order: UK | US


Advance praise:

 “It's wonderful to be in this beautifully created world where you know something very strange is going to happen, and as in all his work that astonishing sense of atmosphere, of being in Fowlerville.” – Jake Arnott

“Fowler demonstrates that the medium – as well as chilling the blood – can be a repository for some truly elegant writing” – Barry Forshaw, Crime Time

“A successful and highly recommended ghost story.” – Books, Brains & Beer
“This one keeps the pages turning and the night lights burning.” – Bloggabook

Nyctophobia is the best horror book I’ve read in 2014, and I doubt I’ll find a better book any time soon. The writing was exquisite, rich in detail, atmospheric and haunting.” – I Heart Reading

“The most effective and chilling horror novel I've read since House of Leaves -- be prepared to sleep with the light on for a while once you've finished it.” – James, a bookseller

Netgalley reviewers: Request a review copy today

You can follow the Solaris team on twitter @solarisbooks - feel free to drop by and sympathise with our crippling fears. Or send pictures of spiders. 



He sees them in his dreams...

A column which extends for miles. It comes down from the mountains, a snake of people marching south with the rime and bite of the high passes written on their wind-burnt faces. Warriors in furs with iron swords, leading tall horses. Women crammed in the few wagons that have survived, or stumbling along beside their mates. Children hollow-eyed and silent, tramping with their elders or carried on bent backs. An entire people is on the move, their faces set towards the green world of the south whilst behind them the huge snow-covered peaks and ridges pierce the sky as far as the edge of sight—mountains they once deemed impassable. Tens of thousands march south bruising the grass and scattering the wild things as they go. Thousands more lie frozen and still on the road behind them. They march like an army intent on conquest.



At night he hears the stamp of their feet, the thunder of a hundred thousand hooves. In his sleep they move ever farther south, and he can smell the close-packed smell of the Host at their campfires. They are never stilled. They eat away at his reason.


PART ONE
Willoby’s Madness


One

The early shift—the one he hated most. A dark, just-birthing morning, and the whole wing was filled with the sluice and clatter of buckets, brushes, the catwalks crawling with the pail-emptying queues, the smell already inching out of their covered containers. All the excrement of the night was being poured away by men still half asleep. They shuffled in blue-clad lines, yawning, grinding the slumber from their eyes or staring stupidly into space. Unlit cigarettes dangled from the lips of a few. They were pasty, grey-yellow in the light of the overheads.
‘Come on, Greggs, we haven’t all fucking day.’
‘I dropped me fag in the bucket—me morning fag!’
A ripple of laughter. ‘Shouldn’t have been sticking your nose into it, then! What were you looking for, your breakfast?’
‘Screw you!’, but said without conviction.
‘Move along and shut your mouth.’
They shuffled past endlessly. Most did not look at Willoby as he stood, a black, silver-flecked statue, but some raised eyes filled with blank hatred, flicking away just before his own locked with them. A few, a very few, smiled or winked at him.
Mawson the Mass-Murderer paused beside Willoby with his mop and pail. He was a tiny, wizened broomstick of a man, his bald head as pale and pitted as a golf ball.
‘Morning, Mr Willoby—another fine day in our salubrious establishment. ‘
Willoby only grunted in reply. Mawson made his flesh creep. Despite his nickname, he was only in for one murder: that of a pretty young man on a London to Edinburgh train. But he had been in so long and behaved so well that he had become a trusty of sorts. Christ knew the Governor made some odd decisions in that line.
‘A nice film lined up for tonight we have, and ping-pong for those as likes it. I’m thinking we—‘
‘Fuck off back to work Mawson,’ Willoby said mildly, and the man shuffled away, mopping as he went, face expressionless.
Some screws cultivated Mawson, for he knew all that went on in the wing—in the whole prison. But he was a queer, a right fucking nut-case in Willoby’s opinion. When he got out, whenever that might be, he would be chatting up pretty boys in trains again.
Christ, the smell. The piss smell in the morning, the unwashed smell, the old food smell. It had sunk into the very bricks and boards of this place. It had clotted in the mortar. High time they pulled the shithole down, built something new. Something’ different, for God’s sake.
He snatched a glance at his watch. Eight hours to go. Purgatory passing. Looking up, he saw the blackened skylights high above. Still dark. Still night. Somewhere beyond the glass the stars wheeled; Canopus the Dog was rising and Venus was a last gleam on the lightening horizon, but not a man in here would see them until the steel gate of Her Majesty’s pleasure had banged shut on his back. Years hence it would be, for some of them.
The prison tang caught in his throat for a second and the sweat popped out along the rim of his cap as he fought the panic, the screaming pressure of the walls and the creeping queues.
Oh, Jesus, not here.
But it passed, and he was Willoby the big bad screw again. Willoby the hard bastard with the flint eyes.
My luck won’t last for ever, he thought as the last of the trembling died away. One day it’ll hit me as I stand here, and they’ll laugh their fucking heads off as I go down.
The thought steeled him. His face stiffened further. Passing prisoners avoided the fish-cold stare, affording him a grim kind of pleasure. He was lucky in being a big man, with a prize-fighter’s nose and shoulders broad as a door. The years were thickening his middle, but by Christ he could still hospitalize any bastard that tried it on with him. Oh, yes.
They were filtering back to their cells now, preparing for breakfast. He jangled the chain of keys in his pocket gently. When this shift finished he would not go straight home. He would drive out of the city, up to the moors, and he would sit with the windows open and listen to the wind and the silence.
Except that he would not. He knew he would go homewards, and pick up Maria from school, and crack Jokes she never understood on the way. And he would doze in front of the telly until Jo came back from work and cooked his dinner.
Just there, hovering still—the panic and the blackness at the edge of vision. The need for violence, shouting and running. He closed his eyes momentarily, hoping to see something else when they were open again, some other world, perhaps. Mawson slopped water on the shining boots from his mop and went ashen, but Willoby did not even see him.
Close—so close.
But no cigar. Not this time. He had sweated through it again, and the inmates had not even noticed.
‘You all right, Will?’ another black-uniformed figure asked, striding up.
‘In the pink, Howard. These bloody early shifts, though—I hate them. It’s a God-awful hour to be awake.’
‘The dog watch, I know.’ Both Howard and Willoby had been in the army before this, and they knew the limb-leaden weariness of the last hours before dawn, when the body was at its lowest ebb.
‘Still, finishing at three isn’t so bad. I get a lot done around the house after an early, and the wife likes the dinner cooked for her for a change.’
Willoby looked at him quickly. Howard was a purple-faced, corpulent man, the kind who would accumulate weight with every year he made it past thirty until the first heart attack at forty. He liked his grub. So did Willoby, but that did not necessitate cooking it himself.
‘Things to do.’ AndWilloby walked away with his hands behind his back. He was blind to the line of prisoners; the last of the slopping-out line. Breakfast smells wafted from the mess hall below overlaid with a rancid veneer, like greasy fingerprints on a glass. His own stomach was knotted and closed. He was not a breakfast person. A tot of whisky, though—that would be welcome now, by Christ. A little pick-me-up. And he glanced around as though the thought had been audible. But the kitchen clatters and the talk and the feet on the metal catwalks were enough to drown out a storm.
What is wrong with me?
The notion popped into his head, as startling and un-welcome as a whore at a wedding. It sat there with the early morning racket playing around it.
‘Give us a fag, Bromley!’
‘Fuck off—smoke your own!’
‘You tight bastard!’
‘That’s enough there, Sykes.’
Nothing wrong that a stiff drink and a bit of quiet wouldn’t cure. The wind-rushing stillness of the moors, with only the buzzards for company.
‘Move along there. We don’t want our breakfasts to get cold, do we lads?’
‘It’s always bloody cold anyway.’
‘Yesterday’s bloody leftovers, I shouldn’t wonder.’
Oh, Christ, that fucking noise! Couldn’t they shut their mouths just for one morning—just once?
The sweat was trickling down his face and his back felt like l sun-heated sand under the heavy tunic and shirt. Too warm—too warm in here. Too many people, all of them fucking scum, criminals, wasters. Wouldn’t they love it if hard man Willoby cracked up in front of their eyes? They’d fucking cheer.
Here it comes again.
Mustn’t, mustn’t. Must not. All that money spent keeping them here, just so John Willoby could walk up and down this brick and iron hell in a stifling coat, with a black hat squeezing down on the bones of his skull.
He groaned aloud, the sound lost in the morning cacophony. The world blurred, and he had to grip the metal handrail that bordered the catwalk with both hands.
Sweet Christ, what’s wrong with me?
It was the voices again, the voices in his head, except that they were louder this time, more insistent. He could never understand the words. They were speaking foreign gobbledygook.
No one else heard them. They were his alone. He had carried them for months now, as some men carried a hidden cancer. Ghosts, spirits, demons—they haunted him like a conversation heard through a thin wall.
Like maggots squirming through his brain.
He lurched into motion. He had to get off the wing, back to the staff quarters. He had to get away to where he would not be seen.
A prisoner in his path was shouldered aside and left sprawling, shouting obscenities. Willoby was almost running.
He hit the bars and wire of the catwalk door with a crash, and for a second a scream was gagging in his throat, his eyes wide and white, the voices crawling across his mind; incomprehensible, alien, impossible. He scrabbled frantically at the bars, then remembered his keys. The voices were shouting now, shrieking—and underlying the unknown words was the growing thunder of hoofbeats. Galloping horses, a squadron of them coming up behind him. He heard a high, aching whine, like that of a child, but never thought of it as coming from his own, tightening throat.
His keys, his keys. He jabbed a shaking hand into his pocket, dropped them to the length of their chain, got them again, stabbed them clattering against the lock.
‘Open, open, Christ God. Open you bastard...
The hoofbeats were right at his back. They were an earth-trembling roar.
The key turned, the door opened and he fell through it, crawled forward and kicked it shut behind him with a clang. Shutting them out.
Safe now. Safe here.
His cap was off, lying beside him. His chest was easing. He felt as soaked and racked as a sprinter. The voices were a final, whispering echo that died into soothing silence. Nothing. Nothing there but the prison noises.
Oh my God, what is wrong with me?


What have you done to him?’ the Prince asked curiously. ‘What was it you put into his mind to make him act so?’
What was it I asked you to think of, sire?’
Why, the—the manhunt, the pursuit of the traitor Carberran. Is that then what he was seeing?’
Partly. The link is tenuous yet. This is a shadowed land we walk in, my Prince. Best we tread slowly, and as softly as a cat’s footfall.’
Indeed. It is a hideous land also. This man, though, he interests me. We will stay with him. He may suit our purpose.’


For the first time in fourteen years Willoby did not complete his shift, and the occasion was like a mark of shame, following him as surely as the puzzled looks of his colleagues. He had walked these corridors hung-over, bronchitic and exhausted, but hitherto had always lasted out his eight or twelve hours, even if it meant Howard covering for him whilst he groaned over a toilet rim. Not this time. His ailment was different, and no longer possible to ignore.
The prison receded. It was a cold winter’s morning, the keen air spearing in through the open car windows and watering his eyes, clearing the fug from his brain. He had a few miles of open countryside to motor through before plunging into the sprawl of the city where he had his home.
And he had time, time to play with. The thought made him pause with his lighter halfway to his mouth, the cigarette drooping and forgotten.
Why, then, was he hurrying?
To get back to Jo? She was still at work. Maria was at school. There was no one else.
The novelty of the situation fascinated him. He slowed down, lit the cigarette, dragged deeply.
Open moorland, the end heights of the western Pennines. It was all around him, a bleak, sombre bowl of vast emptiness, populated only by sheep and stone walls. He stopped the car, opened the door and laboured out.
Cold, bloody cold. The wind caressed his thinning hair, sped the glow of his cigarette into a tiny, bright hell.
This is better. This is better for the head, for everything.
The morning’s events slid to the back of his mind. There was something about this country that soothed him. The city scab was a distant blur on the horizon. Here the fells swelled from streams and rivers to green slopes, then up to tops purple-grey with heather and rock, desolate.
This feeds my soul, he thought, and tossed away the cigarette, drew in a big lungful of the sharp air.
Someone on a horse behind him.
He turned, feelingthe hoofbeats through his soles. They drew near, then faded again. The chink of harness had been audible, and the animal’s breathing.
Except that there was nothing there.
Strangely, he was not alarmed. Nothing threatened him here. The noise was not burrowing into his head in the same way it had in the prison.
Ghosts? Poltergeists? Hallucinations?
Madness?
And the calm broke. A car flew past, the passenger’s face a white blur. Willoby felt the first hard spots of rain.
Am I going mad?
No answer in the rain or the flanks of the fells. He smiled; an expression that, unknown to him, chilled prisoners and fellow warders alike.
Big Will, a basket case.
Visions of himself strait-jacketed and drooling, banging his head against a padded wall.
The smile faded.
I need a drink. Several.
And then drive Maria home from school? She’d love that, her dad smelling like a brewery. Fucking teenagers. You give them the best days of your life but nothing is ever enough.
‘My daughter hates me,’ he said aloud. The smile again. Several drinks. Several and several. Maybe Jo would be in the mood tonight.
Quite suddenly, he ached to hold his wife, be held by her. And he laughed, running his big fingers over his face. I must be mad, he thought. When had he last screwed his wife? No-
When did we last make love?
What was in his head, messing up his thoughts like this? These stupid questions.
A vision of Jo as a fresh-faced girl, dark, cropped hair and that upturned nose. The light in the brown eyes, long ago. She was blonde now, for she had hated the grey hairs. Blonde and tired, and she wore too much make-up.
He shook his head, a big mountain of a man running to seed, standing baffled by the roadside with the rain pelting down on him unheeded.
Get a grip, Willoby.
Just for an instant, he caught a glimpse of some internal desolation, his mind’s skeleton parading across a wide expanse of pallid years. The rain dripped into his eyes and he knuckled them dry.
Wasting fucking time, here. Good drinking time. He climbed back into the car, puffing slightly as he fastened his seatbelt, and slammed the door.
See a doctor?
The rain pattered tinnily on the roof, blurred the view beyond the windscreen. An odd sound came out of Willoby’s throat, a strangled sob, a whimper. He choked it into silence. His face as he started the car was that of a maniac.




Two

Cold air ripping past my face. I am on a horse, full gallop, the ground an undulating blur below the stirrups, my ears full of hoofed thunder. In my right hand is a heavy sword. I am pursuing something.
A man, stumbling among the heather ahead.
Words shouted back over my shoulder—unknown words full of exultation. I bend over in the saddle, predatory, eager.
—Swing the sword at the man’s head and feel the jar and click of impact, the blade wrenching free of the skull as I rein in, laughing.
Other riders—a crowd of tall figures on champing horses, sun glittering off metal everywhere.
They dismount, hack at the body and toss the bleeding chunks aside until there is nothing left—a slick, broken place in the heather, the shine of entrails, the white glint of bone.
And I laugh again, kiss my bloody sword blade and taste the coppery shine of man’s-blood.
Tallimon!’ the others are shouting. ‘Tallimon First Prince!’


And he was awake, open-eyed in the darkness of the conjugal bed, I0 breathing softly with her back to him.
He licked his lips, fully expecting the butcher smear to be there still, but they were dry as cotton.
Tallimon.
The click and crunch of steel in bone...
Jesus.
He sat up, pressed his fingers into his eyes and watched the spangled lights dance in the darkness.
‘Bastard dreams,’ he said softly. A solitary car whooshed past below the bedroom window. The streetlights cast an amber rectangle into the room.
He got out of bed and padded out of the door in his underpants, silent as a cat despite his size.
And paused on the dark landing, suddenly fearful.
What was out there, in the dark—what lurked I0 the lightless corners?
Damn!
The electric light banished the shadows. He screwed up his eyes against it, cursing under his breath. Another broken night—what he’d give for a blank night’s sleep: ten hours of nothingness to restore the thinning fibre of his nerves.
See a doctor?
Yes—and get a bottle of pills and a pat on the head, some medical gibberish about stress, or insomnia. Bollocks, all of it.
It’s my mind, he thought. Nothing belongs in there but me. My problem alone.
His throat rasped, parched as cardboard.
What the hell time was it? Three, four? Time to get up soon, get ready for another early shift.
And his spirits plummeted. Back to that bloody madhouse. He grinned weakly at his mind’s choice of words.
I could take the day off. Ring in sick.
See a doctor.
Like hell.


Well?’the old man asked.
Yes. He suits our purpose admirably. There is that undercurrent of desperation in him. It will see him through it. Such men do not greatly care whether they live or die, so long as they can do something different to what they have been doing.’
Such men are dangerous, unpredictable—this one at least is not easy to control. Can you be so sure you will master him?’
I am the King’s heir.’ Sneering. ‘Am I not fit for anything?’ ‘All the same, sire, he troubles me, this man. He is like a mountain cat pacing a cage.’
He is past his best. His youth is gone, but he has enough strength for what we want.’
He may yet surprise us with his strength.’
I may yet surprise you with the finity of my patience. This is the man. He is mine.’


Later in the dark morning Willoby did ring in sick, said he had caught a bug of some kind—even held his nose as he spoke to the phone, like a schoolboy intent on truancy. Howard would cover for him, he told the duty officer. Howard was a good man.
Relief washed over him in a tepid wave. A free day. It was what he needed to set him on his feet.
The winter sun had not yet risen when he reJoined his wife in bed. He was freezing, his feet numb with pacing the cold living room downstairs, and he pushed up against her until her warmth oozed into him through the nightdress. She shifted in her sleep at the cold under the duvet. A heavy sleeper, Jo—not a morning person, whereas he had always been easy to wake, bright as the sun in the mornings. In the beginning it had been a game of his, to wake her with touches, caresses. He burrowed closer, until they were lying like spoons in the big bed and her buttocks were pressing against his groin. He felt the first stirring, and edged his hand under the nightdress as furtively as an adolescent. Warm, smooth skin, the curve of her hip, the spreading bulge of her belly with the deepening navel.
She twitched like a horse with a fly on it. ‘God’s sake,’ she mumbled, and pushed his exploratory hand away, turning in on herself in the bed.
His erection faded as he drew away, still cold. He felt the familiar surge of anger and sadness, and lay flat on his back with his hard eyes fixed on the ceiling.
But she was awake now, and turned to look at him.
‘What time is it?’ Muzzily, pale hair covering her forehead.
‘Just gone seven.’
‘You’re late. You’ve slept in.’ She blinked, coming slowly to life.
‘I’m not going. I called in sick.’ And yesterday I left early.
She did not know that yet.
‘What’s wrong with you—a cold? Don’t give it to me, for God’s sake.’
‘I... just didn’t want to go in this morning; he said lamely, on the defensive. Anger, irritation at her questions.
She sat up, rubbing her eyes, and asked what was wrong with him again.
I hear things that aren’t there, he thought. I dream of killing people. I can’t ever sleep a night through. And my wife will not let me touch her.
‘Nothing. I’ll get breakfast.’


If there was a thing he liked about early shifts, it was the solitary breakfasts he made himself—breakfast in his case being coffee strong enough to walk on and at least two cigarettes. He loved the peace and silence of the early hours, though it was better in summer when he could watch the sun come up. At such times the city would be almost as quiet as a country village.
But he had barely finished his first cup when Jo came down in a pink dressing gown, yawning and looking frowsty, sleepy. She shouted back up the stairs for Maria to get up for school, and Willoby’s morning quiet died instantly. The television was switched on and began its meaningless noise in a corner. No one looked at it in the mornings; it was just a necessary noise. Jo needed noise, voices, activity around her all the time. She could not stay in a silent room without switching something on. Now she was clattering with the teapot and the toaster, still yawning.
Maria came down. Willoby’s daughter was a slim, pale girl with dark, straight hair she had cropped short. She reminded Willoby of the wife he had married . Fourteen—the worst age in life—she spoke to him rarely, and then mostly in a mixture of wariness and defiance. Willoby was not sure if it was entirely their fault, but there was a wall between his family and himself. It had been growing silently for years, a little at a time, and the little things that would have helped break it down had been too much trouble. Now it was a high, massive, thing. He was no longer sure there was a way through it. Worse, he was no longer sure he cared.
‘Home sweet home,’ he said quietly, draining his cup. No one heard him.
‘Maybe you should see a doctor. You’ve not been sleeping lately,’ Jo said over her shoulder.
‘You noticed, then.’
‘Of course I noticed. You need a pill or something, something to knock you out at nights.’
His face darkened. ‘I don’t need any fucking pills.’
‘You watch your language in front of the child!’
Willoby looked at his daughter. Maria was smiling into her cornflakes—the same smile, had he known it, that he used himself. It was unpleasant on her young mouth.
‘I don’t need a doctor, just a—a rest for a while, that’s all.’
‘You’ll not get much of that without a line from the GP.’
‘I know, I know.’ He stared at her as she buttered her toast. His wife’s face was small, oval. Without make-up the deep lines at the corners of her mouth were more visible and her lips were thinner. She plucked her eyebrows, which he hated. When they had met she had possessed thick, dark brows, wonderfully expressive. She had looked like a cross between a pixie and a witch.
‘What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing.’ He poured himself more coffee. No one else in the house drank it. Jo preferred tea and Maria drank only milk and water—and cider, he suspected.
‘What are you going to do all day?’
He looked up, surprised. ‘I don’t know. I never thought—‘
‘You can take Maria to school, then. It’ll save me a journey, and you know I’ve never liked that road in the mornings.’
He nodded. By God, if the prisoners could only see him now. Big hard Willoby bobbing his head to this shrill woman as though he was a schoolboy. His fingers tightened round the coffee cup.
Wind in my hair, cold and fresh as spring—thundered hoofbeats—the sound of a cavalry squadron at the canter; and a guidon cracking in the air. What is the device upon it? A mountain?
‘John—John; are you listening to me?’
He shook his head, baffled. ‘What was that?’
‘I said Maria’s got something to tell you. Go on, love.’
‘It doesn’t matter—he doesn’t care.’
‘Of course he does, love.’
Willoby collected his unravelling wits with an effort. ‘What? Tell me, for God’s sake.’
His daughter looked at him sullenly. ‘I’ve been picked for the netball team, so I’m staying on this evening for the training.’
‘There you are,’ Jo said triumphantly, but Willoby stared closely at his daughter and she dropped her eyes.
‘Netball is it? Mind if I watch the game?’
Her eyes were huge, outraged. ‘No you can’t—no one else’s parents will be there. It’s only a try-out.’
Willoby smiled at her. She lied well, like himself. To his surprise he found that he did not care about this, either. He leaned forward into his daughter’s face.
‘I hope he’s nice.’
Maria flushed crimson, and her glare turned into an icy smile.
‘I’ll be late for school.’ She swept out of the kitchen like a princess.
‘I don’t know why you do it to the girl,’ Jo complained, eating toast.
Willoby looked at her, full of sardonic amusement. ‘Maria can take care of herself, I think.’
‘She’s only fourteen! And I don’t like the crowd she hangs about with.’
What parent ever did?
‘When I was her age all I wanted was to be a soldier,’ Willoby said. Jo rolled her eyes with a here-he-goes-again look.
Maybe it would have been easier if he had had a son. Maybe not. Knowing Willoby’s luck his son would have been a mincing little faggot. He laughed at the thought, and the laugh turned into a churning cough. He swore.
‘They’ll kill you yet, those things,’ Jo told him, nodding at the cigarette.
‘Probably.’ He paused, and asked, genuinely curious, ‘Would that make you happy?’
She blinked. ‘What?’
‘Me turning up my toes.’
‘My God, John! What a thing to ask.’
‘Just wondered, dear.’ He leaned over the table and kissed her crumb-grained lips. She wiped her mouth, staring at him. He grinned. There was an odd sense of carelessness in him this morning. He truly didn’t give a monkey’s, and he had a day of his own stretching out before him like a jewel in the dark of a mine.
‘Don’t forget to take Maria to school.’
See a doctor.
‘I won’t.’
‘What are you going to do all day?’ This time she was genuinely curious.
‘Frankly my dear, I have no idea.’ Thank Christ, he thought.


3-4pm, 11th October at Forbidden Planet London.

Find out more here

Roll the bones this December with the latest anthology from multi-award winning editor Jonathan Oliver (The End of the LineHouse of Fear, Magic, End of the Road). 

Introducing: Dangerous Games


In a world ruled by chance, one rash decision could bring down the house, one roll of the dice could bring untold wealth, or the end of everything. 

The players have gathered around the table, each to tell their story - often dark, always compelling. Within you will find tales of the players and the played, lives governed by games deadly, weird, or downright bizarre.

Bringing together tales of the weird and the macabre, Dangerous Games is a diverse collection of voices, featuring incredible new fiction by Chuck Wendig, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Lavie Tidhar, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Paul Kearney, Libby McGugan, Yoon Ha Lee, Gary Northfield, Melanie Tem, Hillary Monahan, Tade Thompson, Rebecca Levene, Ivo Stourton, Gary McMahon, Robert Shearman, Nik Vincent, Helen Marshall, and Pat Cadigan.

Dangerous Games is out December 2014. 
Pre-order it today: UK | US

Solaris Books are delighted to reveal the debut novel from the wonderfully talented Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise, will be out Spring 2015.



Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape.

Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends – Sebastian and Daniela – and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. The three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love…

 Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns alone for her estranged father’s funeral.

 It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, reviving memories from a childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? Is there any magic left?

About the author:
Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination, Silvia Moreno-Garcia lives in beautiful British Columbia with her family and two cats. Her speculative fiction has been collected in This Strange Way of Dying. 
Signal to Noise will be her debut novel.
Pre-order: UK | US

Author photo credit C.G. Cameron
We are delighted to announce that End of the Road, edited by Solaris Books’ Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Oliver, has won the British Fantasy Award 2014 for Best Anthology!



An incredible anthology of original short stories by an exciting list of writers including the bestselling author Philip Reeve and the World Fantasy award-winning Lavie Tidhar.

Each step will lead you closer to your destination, but who, or what, can you expect to meet at journey’s end? Here are stories of misfits, spectral hitch-hikers, nightmare travel tales and the rogues, freaks and monsters to be found on the road. the critically acclaimed editor of Magic, End of The Line and House of Fear has brought together the contemporary masters and mistresses of the weird from around the globe in an anthology of travel tales like no other. Strap on your seatbelt, shoulder your backpack, or wait for that next ride... into darkness.

Praise for End of the Road:

“Jonathan Oliver has turned to the road story: a genre, as he explains in his insightful introduction, widely mined in film and literature alike… though the fifteen short fictions which follow show that the form has much more to offer… the road, and the road story, goes ever on. Would that we could go with it, for though it has its horrors, it’s replete with untold wonders as well.” – Tor.com

“An enriching and enjoyable example of the diversity and inventiveness that a themed anthology can offer. This is one book not to be missed” – This is Horror

“A rich tapestry of mythology and landscape to the stories. If you like weird stories or stories about change and discovery, then I’d definitely recommend picking up End of the Road.” – Fantastical Librarian

“The collection also has the superb factor of being from authors from across the globe. The variety and complexity is great, and I highly recommend this to anyone who has never got into the idea of short stories, as it would make an engrossing introduction.” – Nerds Feather

“The road indeed "goes on forever"… which is fine, because sometimes it's the remarkable journey that make the the End of the Road worthwhile.” – Bob Milne, Beauty in Ruins

“All of the stories are excellent in their various ways, and taken together, they cover a wide range of time and a great diversity of culture” – David Harris via Goodreads

“I was not prepared for how much this anthology would break my heart so utterly.” - feux d'artifice

Featured guest posts by Jonathan Oliver:





Awards:
British Fantasy Awards: Best Anthology 2014 (winner)
Shirley Jackson Awards: Best Anthology 2014 (shortlisted)
World Fantasy Awards: best Anthology 2014 (nominated – winners announced November 2014)

End of the Road, edited by Jonathan Oliver, is available online and from all good bookstores:

UK: book | kindle
US: book | kindle



Ladies, gentlemen and primates gather round for we have the most joyous of joyful news: Ack Ack Macaque is back!


Coming to a bookshelf near you January 2015: 

Macaque Attack

Ack-Ack’s back - and this time he’s brought an army!

He’s saved the world twice. Now, in the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning Macaque Trilogy, the dangerous but charismatic Ack-Ack Macaque finds himself leading a dimension-hopping troupe of angry monkeys, facing an invading horde of implacable killer androids, and confronting the one challenge for which he was never prepared: impending fatherhood!


Meanwhile, former journalist Victoria Valois finds herself facing old enemies as she fights to save the electronic ghost of her dead husband, and Merovech, King of the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and France, receives a troubling message from the dead sands of Mars...

“Ack-Ack is an inspired creation, a monkey with attitude, issues and a hole where his heart should be, and his latest deftly plotted adventure is riotous fun.” - The Guardian

"Ridiculously readable, thoroughly entertaining, and packed full of ideas.” - SFFWorld

“if you like William Gibson or Philip K. Dick, then Ack-Ack Macaque is a sometimes surreal, yet very worthy read.” - Fantasy Faction


“More fun than a barrel of steampunk monkeys … It’s an over-the-top, verbally caffeinated adventure story with smart, nasty ideas and plenty of pulp.” - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Macaque Attack is the concluding title in the Ack Ack trilogy.

Available January 2015
Pre-order now: UK | US


Gareth L Powell will be on a UK tour, check back for more details to follow.
The Fire Prince
By Emily Gee

CHAPTER ONE

Jaumé rode a tough little pony with short legs and a bony spine. He used his folded blanket as a saddle. The one thing he knew he mustn’t do was complain. These men watched him, even Bennick watched, with a scant glance now and then, and they had ears for everything, without seeming to listen. 


Bennick gave a grin of approval when he saw the use Jaumé put his blanket to. 
The other men didn’t grin, or wink at him the way Bennick sometimes did. They were neither friendly nor hostile. Jaumé knew they’d all been what he was—orphaned—but it was Bennick who’d found him. Bennick whose charge he was. 

Before dusk, Nolt led his band away from the road. They followed a stream across the fields to a small copse.
Jaumé let his pony drink, then rubbed her down, copying the actions of the men. He helped Bennick dig a firepit and ring it with stones, watching the other men unload the packhorses, seeing the way they worked together with the ease of long familiarity, hardly needing to speak. This was his second night on the road with them and he knew all their names now. Nolt. Old Maati and young Kimbel. Odil. Black-skinned Gant. Steadfast, called Stead by the others, and Ashandel, called Ash. 

And Bennick.

The men were Brothers, and Bennick had said he could be one too, if he was quick and tough and brave enough.
When the firepit was finished, Jaumé sat back on his heels and looked at Bennick.
“Now what do we need?” Bennick asked.
“Firewood,” Jaumé said promptly.
Bennick laughed and ruffled Jaumé’s hair, the way Da used to do. “Good lad.” He crossed to the pile of unloaded equipment and fished out an axe. “Come on. Help me find some wood.”
Jaumé hurried after him.

Not far into the copse they found a fallen tree. The wood was as pale and dry as bone. 
Jaumé gathered the firewood Bennick chopped, stacking it in piles. After several minutes, Bennick stripped off his shirt. His chest was tanned, furred with red-blond hair. On his right bicep was a small mark, blue-black.
“What’s that?”
“A tattoo. You never seen one?”
Jaumé shook his head. “Is it a picture?”
“It’s a picture of this.” Bennick reached down to his waist, where a round pouch of dark leather was fastened. One moment his hand was empty, the next, he held a metal disk. No, not a disk, a knife with five blades.
“What is it?”
“We call it a Star.” Bennick flicked it in the air with a flashing twirl of blades and caught it again. He held it out to Jaumé.
Jaumé took the Star reverently. The metal was polished to a gleaming brightness, the blades as sharp as razors. 
“The tattoo marks me for a Brother,” Bennick said. “We all have them. If you join us, you’ll have one too.”
“Will I have one of these?” Jaumé didn’t dare throw the Star as Bennick had done. Those blades would slice off his fingers.
His imagination took flight, showing him his fingers spinning in the air, like thick pink worms, and scattering across the grass at their feet.
“You can have as many Stars as you want.” Bennick’s blue eyes smiled the way Da’s had used to. “Do you want that, lad?”
“Yes.” 
Bennick held out his hand for the Star.
Jaumé gave it back reluctantly. “Will you teach me to spin it, the way you did?”
Bennick laughed as he slipped the Star into the pouch again, showing a flash of white teeth. “You need to learn how to throw a knife first, lad. Once you’ve done that you can think about Stars.”
“Will you teach me how to throw a knife?”
“I have the one I made when I was your age. If I let you use it, you’ll have to look after it. Sharpen it. Oil the blade. You can only throw a knife when you know it well enough. But now, let’s shift this wood.”

That night, after they’d eaten, Bennick went to his pack and took out a small bundle wrapped in soft leather. He sat down by Jaumé and folded the leather back. Inside was a plain cowhide sheath, with a white bone handle poking out the top.
Jaumé’s fingers went out, almost as if the bone handle pulled them towards it. “Can I...?”
Bennick nodded. 
Jaumé wrapped his hand round the handle. It was cold, but the shape seemed welcoming. He felt his fingers fit in the shallow grooves Bennick had cut for his own fingers long ago. He didn’t ask if he could pull the blade out; already, the knife was shifting from Bennick to him. He felt it. The bone seemed to take warmth from his skin and return it. He drew out the blade. It shone in the firelight.
“You made this?” he said with awe.
“Made the handle, chose the blade, put the two together,” Bennick said. “That’ll be one of your first lessons when you reach Fith.”
“How old were you?”
“Same as you. Eight.”
Jaumé felt a thrill of excitement. He wanted to make a knife like this.
“How does it feel?” Bennick asked.
“Good. Is it...?” Mine? He glanced at Bennick, asked the question silently.
“You can use it. If it lets you.”
“How?”
“Practice. Touch the blade. Careful, now.”
Jaumé put his finger on the sharp edge. At once he felt a sting of pain. He drew his finger back and saw a drop of blood form.
“It cut me.”
“No, you cut yourself. You went too fast. There’s no easy way. There’s only hard work. Can you do that?”
“Yes.” Jaumé turned the knife over in his hand. “Can I give it a name?”
“No,” Bennick said. “It’s a knife.” He patted the pouch at his waist. “And these are Stars. They’re not for games. They’re tools. You learn what they can do, then you make them do it.” 
Jaumé nodded. A knife is a tool.
Carefully, he wiped the faint mark of his blood from the blade and fitted it back in the sheath. I’ll work hard. I want to be a Brother. 

They crossed into Sault on the ninth day out of Cornas, moving through throngs of refugees. The soldiers manning the border post made no attempt to control the press of dusty, ragged people and carts piled high with household goods. Here was the same smell Jaumé had smelled in Cornas—sweat, with a sour undertone of fear. The curse seemed suddenly real again. He heard howling laughter, heard the crackle of flames. Rosa’s scream echoed in his head. The smell of Mam’s blood was in his nose.
Terror wrapped its fingers around his heart, squeezing.
And then he looked at Bennick, sitting easily on his horse, and the terror vanished. While he was with Bennick and the Brothers, he was safe.

CHAPTER TWO


Mid-afternoon they rode over the pass into Ankeny. Harkeld halted and looked back. Dry, rocky hills hid the Masse desert. The red sand and the ruined city, the catacombs, were ten days behind them. “Do you see something?” his armsman, Justen, asked. “Someone following?”
Harkeld shook his head. The only people behind them were dead. Lundegaard’s soldiers in their fresh graves. The Fithian assassins lying where they’d fallen. The ancient desert dwellers crumbling in their tombs.
The long string of packhorses passed them. Ebril rode last, whistling, his red hair glinting in the sun. “All right?” he called.
Harkeld nodded. He unstoppered his waterskin and swallowed a mouthful of lukewarm water.
Justen wiped dust from his face. “Prince Tomas should be at the escarpment by now.”
Harkeld grunted. In another week, Tomas would be at King Magnas’s castle. Telling the king I’m a witch.

Memory swept over him: fire igniting in his chest, flames bursting from his skin, an inferno roaring in his ears. With memory came a surge of panic. He’d not been able to control the fire, had been on the point of bursting into flames—
Harkeld shoved the memory aside. He rammed the stopper into the waterskin.
“We’d best not get too far behind,” Justen said. “Those cursed assassins...”
The back of Harkeld’s neck tightened at the words. He nudged his horse forward. It picked its way between the rocks. Far to the north the sea glittered. Somewhere in that glitter was a port town called Stanic, and more witches sent to strengthen their numbers. The most powerful of the shapeshifters, Innis, had gone in search of them two days ago. 
To the southeast were mountains, the long range called the Palisades that cut Ankeny off from the sea. The mountains marched into the distance, snowcapped. Ahead were forested highlands, a tufted green carpet that stretched east as far as he could see. Tomorrow they’d be down there, in among the trees. How long since he’d last stood beneath a tree? Three weeks? Four? 
He yearned for green leaves and damp earth and cool shade, but that dense forest also made him uneasy. How many assassins did it hide? 

They camped beside a riverbed. No water flowed, but in a deep hollow was a stagnant pool. They unloaded the packhorses, let them drink, fed them the grain carried from Lundegaard. Harkeld helped Justen pitch the tents, then fashioned a rough firepit and piled the last of their wood into it.
Cora, the most senior of the witches, crouched alongside him and snapped her fingers. Harkeld flinched as the branches flared alight. The memory of flames stung his skin.
He shook his head sharply, angry with himself, and glanced around. Had anyone noticed him flinch? 
No. Justen was laying out bedrolls and blankets in the tents and Ebril was rubbing down the horses. Of the other shapeshifters, there was no sign. They’d be somewhere in the gathering dusk, keeping watch for danger.
Harkeld looked back at Cora, with her plain, weary face and thick plait of graying sandy hair. “Cora?” 
“Yes?” She didn’t look up from unpacking the cooking pots.
“Dareus said that Sentinels can strip witches of their magic.”
Cora stopped what she was doing. She looked at him. “If a mage misuses his magic, then yes, Sentinels will strip him of it.”
“Can you strip me of my mine?” Please.
Cora surveyed him for several seconds. Had she heard the desperation in his voice? “Myself? No. Only healers can do it. Innis could do it.”
Innis? He felt his face stiffen. Memory swooped back: the catacombs, a smoking torch, skeletal corpses jostling each other as they guarded the anchor stone. He heard Innis’s voice clearly in his head: I thought you were braver than this.
“Not someone else?” Harkeld said. “Not Petrus?”
Cora shook her head and went back to unpacking the pots. “He’s not a strong enough healer. Some of the Sentinels who’re joining us should be. We asked for more healers.” 
Harkeld watched her sort through the bundles of dried food. Her hands were brisk, competent, short-fingered. If no new healers come... 

He clenched his teeth together. If it had to be Innis, he’d do it. He’d get down on his knees and beg her. Anything to be rid of the fire inside him. “How is it done? Will I still be able to travel?” 
Cora laid down the bundles and met his gaze squarely. “Prince Harkeld, you’re an extremely strong fire mage. Stronger than I am, at a guess—”
“I don’t want to be a witch.”
“Whether you want to or not is irrelevant. You are one.”
He shook his head. 
She looked at him for a long moment, as if weighing options. He saw a decision firm her mouth. “Once the third anchor stone is destroyed, we’ll strip you of your magic. But until then, you must use it.”
“What?” He shook his head, pushed to his feet. “No!” 
 “Your magic saved your life in the canyon. And from what Innis tells me, it saved you both in the catacombs.”
He didn’t look at her, didn’t acknowledge her words. He stared at the sun sinking behind the horizon.
“We need every advantage we can get, sire. Surely you see that? If you die...”
If I die, so could everyone on this continent. 
“Fire magic is frightening,” Cora said matter-of-factly. “And the more magic one has, the more frightening it is. Until one learns to control it.”
He turned his head to look down at her.
“Only a fool wouldn’t be afraid.” Cora held out a large iron pot. “Can you fill this with water, please?”

Harkeld walked down to the stagnant pool, filled the pot, brought it back to the fire. Cora looked at the scum floating in it and wrinkled her nose. “We’ll strain it.” She took another pot and laid a strip of cloth over it. “You pour.”
Harkeld hefted the heavy pot.
“I’ll teach you to use your fire magic,” Cora said, as the dirty water splashed onto the cloth. “So you can use it to protect yourself. And once the curse is broken, one of the healers will strip you of it. If that’s what you wish.”
Use it again? 
He remembered the canyon, red cliffs towering over him, the assassin screaming as he burned. He remembered the catacombs, the ocean of fire, the deafening roar of flame.
“Innis told me what happened in the catacombs,” Cora said as he lowered the empty pot. “She was right; fire was the only way through, but the risk... You’re lucky the two of you are still alive.”
“What do you mean?”
“If my guess is correct, you’re strong enough to set stone on fire. You could have burned everything. Not just the corpses, but the entire catacombs. There would have been nothing left. You and Innis...” She made a sharp gesture with one hand. “Incinerated. And then what would have happened? We wouldn’t even have had your body.”

And the curse would never be broken. And everyone in the Seven Kingdoms would die.
Cora hung the pot on an iron tripod over the fire. Harkeld’s eyes followed the movement of her hands, but his mind was back in Masse. He saw a gray dawn, a smoky battlefield, Dareus lying broken-necked. If you’d used your magic, you sniveling coward, he’d still be alive! The voice was Gerit’s, hoarse with rage and exhaustion. He’s dead because of you!
He’d felt the truth of the words then, and he felt them still. Dareus would be alive if he’d dared to use his magic.

“If... if I agree to learn...” The words were astonishingly difficult to utter; they clogged in his throat and stuck on his tongue. Harkeld swallowed. “If I agree—”
“If you agree, you have my word that one of our healers will strip your magic from you once the curse is destroyed.”
The word of a witch. What was that worth?
He stared at Cora. She wasn’t Dareus, whom he’d grudgingly trusted, but Dareus was dead, buried beneath the desert sand, and Cora led them now. She was... perhaps not completely human, but not the monster he’d once thought witches were. 
Harkeld took a deep breath, ignored the panic churning in his stomach, and nodded. “I agree.” 
“Good. Can you fill that pot again, please? We need to boil some water to drink.”
They strained a second pot of water and set it on the fire. Cora opened bundles of dried meat. “We’ll start small. Can you fetch a candle?”
“What? Now?” Harkeld rocked back on his heels, alarmed.
“Why not?” She looked at him, her eyes reflecting the firelight. “You want to be able to control it, don’t you?”
“Uh... I should really help with the packhorses.” He gestured to where Ebril and Justen worked.
“Prince Harkeld.”

Her voice wasn’t scornful, as Innis’s had been. She sounded sympathetic, motherly. As if I’m a child, not a man of twenty-four.
Harkeld flushed. He pushed to his feet and went to fetch a candle. Fear built in his chest as he brought it back to the fire. The first pot was simmering. He watched Cora put in handfuls of dried meat, dried vegetables, a scattering of dried herbs; nearly the last of the supplies they’d brought from Lundegaard. She dusted her palms one against the other. “Sit down beside me.”
He did, his legs stiff with reluctance.
“We’ll start with this.” Cora snapped her fingers. A single flame flared on one fingertip, and then went out. “Fire magic is inside me, in my blood, and I choose to release it. I could have it come out my nose if I wanted to, but this...”—she snapped her fingers again—“is simple and safe. My magic is focused on one point that I can see. I’m not going to accidentally burn myself or anyone else.”  
She looked at him as if expecting a response. Harkeld nodded.
“When I was learning, I found it easiest to visualize a tinderbox. Flint strikes steel and you have a spark.” Cora snapped her fingers, the flame flared again for an instant. “You try. Concentrate on your hand. Try to feel the magic in your blood. Imagine that it’s warm and stings a little.”
Harkeld took a deep breath. He looked at his right hand. His mind gave him images of what might happen: his hand engulfed in flames, becoming a blackened claw. “What if my hand catches fire?”
“I’ll put it out.”
His gaze jerked to her face. “It can happen?”
“It’s extremely rare for fire mages to burn themselves. It’s... how can I put it? The magic is in your blood, and your blood is in your body, and it’s as if the magic knows it shouldn’t burn itself. Does that make sense?”
He nodded. 
“I saw someone make fire come out of his ears once,” Cora said. “A student fooling around. His hair caught alight. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen a mage hurt himself with his own fire.” 
His mind shied away from the image her words conjured.
“I doubt you’ll burn yourself, Prince Harkeld, but if you do, I’ll put it out.”
Harkeld tried to swallow his fear, but it stuck in his throat, a choking lump. Stop being such a baby, he told himself. He gritted his teeth and stared at his right hand, trying to feel the magic in his blood. Warm and stinging, Cora had said.
The magic hadn’t been warm and stinging in the catacombs. It had been hot, a searing pain that had roared through him.
In a rush, he felt it again: fire sizzling along his veins. 
“Can you feel it?”
Harkeld nodded, his jaw clenched. His hand felt so hot the skin should be blistering, smoking. 
“Now imagine your hand is a tinderbox and snap your fingers.”
He was sweating, afraid. It was stupidly difficult to breathe. “You’ll put it out if...”
“I’ll put it out.” 
Harkeld gulped a breath, visualized a tinderbox—flint striking against steel—and snapped his fingers.

Flame roared high, white-hot, lighting up the campsite like a flash of lightning.
Panic burst in his chest. He rocked backwards, thrusting his hand away from himself. His mouth opened in a shout, but before it was uttered, Cora laid her hand over his, quenching the flame.
Harkeld stared at her, his mouth still open, his heart beating wildly. Behind Cora he saw Justen and Ebril turn their heads, startled. The horses moved uneasily, one half-rearing.
Cora’s lips twitched in a smile. “I see I shall have to teach you how to dampen your magic.”
He closed his mouth, found his voice. “Dampen?”
“You don’t need that much magic to light a candle. Just a tiny amount.” She released his hand. “Now, try again. Feel the magic in your blood.”
I don’t want to. Harkeld took a deep breath. He looked at his hand again and tried to sense magic there. This time it came quickly, a painful flood of heat.
“Is it hot?”
He nodded, gritting his teeth.
“Dampen it.”
“How?” His voice was tight with pain.
“Tell it.”

Harkeld snarled at the uselessness of this advice. Not so hot, he said in his head. Not so hot. But it didn’t make any difference. His skin felt like it was sizzling, his blood boiling. Panic rose in him. Any moment now his hand would burst into flames and—
“Not working?” Cora reached out and took his wrist. “Come with me.”
Harkeld stumbled to his feet and followed her, down into the riverbed. Her fingers pinched his wrist, pinched back his panic. Curse it, but his hand burned—
Cora crouched, pulling him to his knees, and plunged his hand into the stagnant pool. 
Harkeld hissed. He half expected to see steam rise.
“Keep telling your magic that you don’t need all of it,” Cora said. “You only need enough to light a candle.”
He did, over and over in his head. Not so hot. I only need a little. Just enough for a candle. The water helped. His hand began to cool. His panic trickled away, leaving him feeling foolish.
“Better?”
Harkeld nodded. 
Cora released his wrist. He could barely see her in the dusk. “Now, try snapping your fingers again.”
Harkeld lifted his hand from the water. He felt the magic in his blood, warm, pulsing in time to his heartbeat. 
He shook off the drops and took a deep breath. Just enough for a candle. He imagined his hand was a tinderbox and snapped his fingers. 
A flame appeared, steady and orange, dancing on the end of his forefinger. The light it cast showed him Cora’s face. She smiled. “See? You control your magic, Prince Harkeld. It doesn’t control you.”
He nodded, too relieved to be able to speak.
“You have the candle?”
He fished in his pocket with his left hand. 
“Light it.”
He did. It became even easier to see Cora’s face. “Well done,” she said.
He felt no sense of accomplishment. The flame burning quietly at the end of his finger, the lit candle—they weren’t things to be proud of; they were the first steps to becoming what he’d reviled all his life: a witch.
No. It was the first step to having the magic stripped from his blood. The first step to not being a witch.
Cora stood. “Let’s get back to the fire. I think the stew’s about to boil over.”
The flame still burned on the end of Harkeld’s forefinger. “How do I put his out? Douse it in water?” 
“Pinch your thumb and finger together and imagine you’re snuffing a candle.”
He did. The flame vanished. 
“You won’t always need to use imagery like that,” Cora said, as he followed her back to the fire. “But for now it’s easiest. Like the tinderbox.” She crouched and stirred the stew. “Put out that candle and try lighting it again.”
“But the pool—“
“You shouldn’t need water to dampen your magic, now that you know you can do it. That’s a lot of what magic’s about. Knowing what you can and can’t do. If you doubt yourself, if you’re afraid, it becomes a lot harder. Magic is in the blood, but our ability to use it comes from up here.” Cora tapped her forehead.

A black owl glided low over the camp and landed beside the tents.
“Ah, Innis is back. She’ll need her clothes.” Cora gave him the wooden spoon. “Keep stirring. And once that drinking water’s boiled for five minutes, take it off.”
Harkeld had just removed the water pot from the fire when Cora returned with Innis. The girl’s face was pale and tired beneath her tangled black curls. 
“You must be starving, Innis.” Cora rummaged among the bundles of food. “Here, have these nuts.”
His own stomach gave a quiet rumble, but Innis would be hungrier than he was; witches were forbidden to eat when they were in another shape, and she’d flown more than a hundred miles today. 
“The water’s too hot to drink. Wait, I’ll fetch my waterskin.” Cora hurried off into the darkness.
Which left just him and Innis at the fire. Harkeld put all his concentration into stirring the stew, ignoring Innis sitting on the other side of the orange flames.
“Sire?”
He kept his eyes on the pot for a moment, then glanced at her. It was the first time they’d been alone together since the anchor stone, when she’d shoved his cowardice in his face. She’d been fierce then, her gray eyes blazing at him. Now she looked fragile and exhausted. 
“I want to apologize for what I said to you in the catacombs.”
He frowned. “What?”
“I apologize,” Innis said. “I was trying to make you angry enough to use your magic.”
Harkeld looked back at the stew. It was bubbling. Lumps of meat jostled one another, pieces of carrot, peas. “It worked,” he said flatly. 
He tried not to remember, but it was impossible not to. Her words had been like slaps across his face: I thought you were braver than this, sire. 
Harkeld stabbed the stew with the wooden spoon. She’d been right to call him a coward.
“What I said wasn’t true. I shouldn’t have said it.”
He lifted his head and glared at her. “It was true.”
“What? No! How can you think that? I was there when your father said he’d cut out your tongue if you disobeyed him. Even when he said he’d take your hands and your head, you stood up to him! You did what was right.”
Harkeld looked back at the pot. 
“And in the Graytooth Mountains, at the pass, you came back to fight, even though Dareus told you not to.”
Harkeld stirred the stew slowly.
“What I said in the catacombs—it was to make you angry, sire. And I apologize. It was badly done of me.”
Innis meant what she said. He could hear it in her voice. 
Harkeld looked up, met her eyes and nodded. 
The apology shouldn’t matter—she was only a witch after all; what did he care about her opinion of him? But somehow it did. 
Innis held the nuts in her hand, uneaten. She seemed thinner, as if she’d lost weight in the three days she’d been gone. “Eat,” Harkeld told her brusquely, and turned his attention to the pot again.

---

Innis had two bowls of stew, trying to eat slowly and not shovel it into her mouth. She was still hungry when she’d finished, but a glance at the pot told her it had been scraped clean. 
“Tell us about Stanic,” Cora said. “Who was there?”
Innis put down her bowl. The food was a pleasant warmth in her stomach. Her eyes caught movement overhead. A russet-breasted owl glided over the campsite, its feathers shimmering with shapeshifter’s magic. Ebril, keeping watch. He drifted out of sight into the darkness. “Five Sentinels.”
“Only five?” Gerit scowled, his beard bristling. “We need more’n that.” 
“Who are they?” Cora asked.
“Susa and Katlen. Hew. Rand and Frane.” A yawn caught her on the last name. 
“Don’t know most of ’em.” Gerit’s scowl deepened. “What are they?”
“Frane’s a healer, Hew’s a shapeshifter, and Susa’s a fire mage. They’ve just finished their Journeys and taken their oaths. Rand’s a healer. He says he knows you and Cora. And Katlen’s a fire mage. She was an instructor at the Academy.”
“Only one shapeshifter.” Gerit spat into the fire. “Don’t they know we need more’n that? What with that bounty and those thrice-cursed assassins.” He scowled at Prince Harkeld, as if it was the prince’s fault he had a bounty on his head.
Prince Harkeld ignored him. Cora did too. “Two healers, two fire mages, and a shapeshifter?” she asked Innis.
Innis nodded. “Rand said the Council’s calling in all the Sentinels they can. More will join us after the second anchor stone.”
“Where?”
“At the delta, if a ship can get close enough. He said something about shallows making it dangerous. Otherwise, Krelinsk.”
“Dangerous?” Gerit snorted. “It’s not rutting shallows that are dangerous, it’s those Fithian bastards and their throwing stars.” He pushed to his feet and stamped off towards the tents. Across the fire, Justen—Petrus—rolled his eyes at her.
“So once they join us, we’ll be ten Sentinels,” Cora said, seemingly unruffled by Gerit’s bad temper. “Double what we are now. Good.”
“I gave them the list of supplies we need.” Innis tried to smother another yawn. “They’ll meet us the day after tomorrow outside Hradik. I told them you’d like to avoid the town, because of the prince.”

She glanced at Prince Harkeld. He didn’t appear to be listening. His face was half turned away, shadowed. He looked like a peasant, unshaven, dark hair chopped roughly short, clothes travel-stained, but he didn’t hold himself like a peasant, didn’t move or ride like one, and his face—the square brow and jaw, the strong nose and cheekbones—was memorable. Someone might recognize him as Osgaard’s missing prince. 

“Rand said the Council think the curse will already be in Sault when we get there. They reckon we’ll need a lot of Sentinels for that.”
“We will.” But Cora didn’t sound worried. 
“They’re trying to find us a strong water mage.”
“Good. We’ll need one of those. Now get off to bed. You must be exhausted.”
“Shall I take a shift tonight?” Innis flicked a glance in Justen’s direction, trying to convey the silent question: Or be Justen?
“No.” Cora stood. “I’ll take the second watch. You can share my tent.”
Innis rose to her feet. Her muscles had stiffened while she sat. She followed Cora across the stony ground.
“You told Rand and the others about you shapeshifters being Justen?” Cora asked in a low whisper. 
“Yes.”
“And?”
“They were shocked. Breaking a Primary Law...”
“But they understood why? The shapeshifter—Hew?—he’ll do it?”
“Yes.”
“Good.” She heard relief in Cora’s voice. 
Innis glanced back at Justen and Prince Harkeld beside the fire. “Has Petrus been Justen all day? Do you need me to swap with him?” 
“He’s all right for now. Less tired than you, at any rate.”
“And tomorrow?”
“You can go back to being Justen most of the time.” Cora held open a tent flap. “The bedroll on the left is yours.”
“Thanks.”
“It’s good to have you back, Innis. We’ve been stretched without you.” Cora turned to go, then halted. “Oh... the prince and I have made a deal. If he learns to use his magic, we’ll strip him of it once the curse is destroyed.”
“What?” Her mouth fell open. “Learn to use his magic? He agreed?”
“He did.” 
Innis shook her head. Impossible. “But he’s so afraid of it!”
“With good reason. I’ve never seen a fire mage with more raw power. Until he learns to control it, he’s dangerous.” 


The Fire Prince by Emily Gee is out August 26th US and September 11th UK
Pre order: US | UK