Today I have the absolute pleasure to share something with you that’s been a long time coming. My friend (and fellow Montanan) Daniel Swensen’s debut fantasy novel is almost here!
I’ve been waiting to read this book for some time. One of the reasons is that Dan writes really excellent female characters. His short story BURN not only strengthened my suspicions that he is a phenomenal long form storyteller, but it left me wanting to read more of his work. This month, I finally got my chance. I was graciously given an advanced reader’s copy of his fantasy novel, ORISON.
My mission today is to introduce you to ORISON’s fantastic protagonist, Story. Additionally, I’m very excited to be able to share with you not only an awesome character sketch of Story herself, but also an exclusive excerpt of ORISON. And then you should all scurry away and buy this book, because it’s amazing and I said so.
Story is a street rat like Aladdin — if Aladdin dropped his self-pity and made an actual plan. A thief forced to tithe her spoils away to one of Calushain’s crime lords, Story knows what she wants from page one: she wants out of Calushain.
It was infinitely refreshing for me to read a protagonist who knows herself and what she wants. She has no illusions about her situation, but she makes no compromises, either. Stashing bits of wealth from her thieving exploits is dangerous, but she is willing to risk to get what she ultimately wants. As ORISON develops and Story faces a larger magnitude of trouble than she’s ever faced before, she not only rises to the occasion but continues to twist her circumstances into something else. This is not a girl to whom things simply happen. Human and determined, desperate and ambitious, Story is someone I want to follow into future pages.
Below you’ll find the exclusive excerpt from ORISON. Get to know Story, you lot!
Every Counting Day, before she presented her stolen goods to Galon Luster at Bladesbarrow, Story liked to take her sack of goods to a rooftop above the quays and watch the ships.
This was her tradition. The narrow alleys of Harrows and Fiver’s Quay formed a second road high above the city streets, and the Scarlets rarely looked up. Here, she was as safe from scrutiny as it was possible to be. On the streets, in the back alleys and dark corners where Story made her living, focusing on the next moment was the key to survival.
Down there, it was easy to forget why she stole, why she struggled, why she lived every day with secrets that could mean her death. Up here, the bright sky and salt air put her mind at ease, and she felt the person she wanted to be linger close, almost within her grasp.
Most of all, the sight of the ships fired her imagination. Story had never lived anywhere but Calushain, or even traveled beyond its walls. Even places in the city like the Manse and the Stormhelt were forbidden to the likes of her. The ships represented a vast and unknown world. As one of the biggest trade ports between the Empire and Esterlund, Calushain attracted ships from across Lastris.
She sat and drew her knees up under her chin, looking down at the distant ships and their crew. Today alone, she saw bone-oared longboats from Ivlein, fat trade galleys from Merrekan, a privateer from Karsh, and an ivory-sailed galleon from Castariel. Story would imagine their journeys, weave stories about their crews, and assess each one as a potential means of escape from the city.
The Ivlein crew looked too rough and grim for her taste, with their black cloaks and close-cropped hair and dour expressions. The Karsh sailors were nothing more than pirates — or so the other thieves at Bladesbarrow had told her. The Castari looked fastidious enough, with their shining armor and white tabards, but Story had heard that the Castari were mostly religious zealots, likely to ship her to Tyr Challerain and put her in a convent.
The Merrekani, though, looked like prosperous merchants, dressed in functional silks and fine hats. Story imagined signing on as one of the crew, seeing the serpent cities in Sethwas, the brass towers of Praxa. She could go anywhere she wanted. Be anyone she wanted.
That was fantasy, of course, and she knew it. A Merrekani ship was just as likely to take a dull route between Mudfoot and the West, carrying spices or Imperial prisoners. Choosing her destination was a luxury she could never afford.
But she could choose to leave. And anywhere was better than here.
Crux dropped his sack with a thump and sat down beside her, starting her out of her reverie.
“Drooling over the sailors again, little sister?” He grinned.
Like Story, Crux was slight, dark-haired, and nimble in dark gray pants and a battered black coat. As he sat, she spied the outline of the sheathed longknife inside his coat. Like Story, he traveled well-armed.
She nudged her brother with her shoulder in a perfunctory show of affection.
“Yes, they’re all so handsome,” she said, pointing to a cluster of black-cloaked drokai merchant marines, their hair greased into bright clan colors, stony gray skin lined with ritual scars. “I’m thinking of marrying the big one with half a jaw.”
“I heard the drokai have two or three wives apiece. Think of all the company you’d have. And the festive nights—”
Story grimaced. “You’re disgusting.”
“Just looking out for you.”
“How’d you do for Counting Day?” Crux asked.
“Not bad. A nice cup, some jewels. A couple smell-sticks.”
“Oh, that’s what that stench was. I thought you’d fallen into a privy.”
She punched him on the shoulder. His hand grabbed her wrist, so fast her eye barely followed it. He examined the deep scratches along her arm.
“You run into some trouble?”
“Nothing serious.” She pulled her arm away. “I fell through some flimsy roofing.”
The lie came easily, as did the guilt at the silently growing divide between them. Ever since she’d started holding back loot for herself, she’d tried to make every job sound as boring as possible. She didn’t want Crux knowing about the raizhi just yet. At best, he’d have questions, which made her nervous. At worst, he’d tell Galon, who’d assign her a partner, and that would be the end of her plans.
Over the past few months, their relationship had begun to change. Much of it had to do with Crux’s rise in the ranks at Bladesbarrow. Just as Galon had used Story’s small frame and unremarkable face to shape her into a good burglar, he’d used Crux’s short stature and plain demeanor to make Crux into a thief and killer. No one expected slim, mild Crux to be good with a knife. Most of them never saw it coming until too late.
Crux had always made a show of being the reluctant fighter, doing only what was necessary to keep himself and his sister alive. But Story saw the look in his eyes when he worked. He enjoyed killing. Working so closely with Galon had changed him, and as much as Story loved him, she could no longer trust him.
His eyes searched her face for a moment, all trace of good humor gone.
“You should be more careful,” he said, and let her go.
“I will,” she said, trying to sound sincere. “Thanks.”
“Sky’s turning orange,” Crux said as he stood. His coat billowed behind him in the evening breeze. “We should get to Bladesbarrow before dark.”
“I’m ready,” she said. She’d wrapped the coins and jewelry tightly in oilcloth. The sack barely made a sound as she hefted it over her shoulder.
As Crux leaped across the rooftops toward Harrows, Story took a final look at the quay, where the Merrekani merchant ship hoisted sail for more promising waters.
“I’m so ready,” she said.
I hope you all enjoyed meeting Story and getting a sneak peak at this fantastic book! Starting tomorrow, you can buy the book here.
Don’t want to wait till tomorrow for more Orison? Check out the other awesome bloggers who have more exclusive content for you below!
Ruth Long and Wrynn
Angela Goff and Dunnac
Lisa V. Tomecek-Bias and Ashen
Tracy McCusker and Camana
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