Author: Amy Bai
Release Date: February 10th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young AdultSummary:
Sword shall guide the hands of men . . .
For over a thousand years the kingdom of Lardan has been at peace: isolated from the world, safe from the wars of its neighbors, slowly forgetting the wild and deadly magic of its origins. Now the deepest truths of the past and the darkest predictions for the future survive only in the verses of nursery rhymes.
For over a thousand years, some of Lardan’s fractious provinces have been biding their time.
Kyali Corwynall is the daughter of the Lord General, a child of one of the royal Houses, and the court’s only sword-wielding girl. She has known for all of her sixteen years what the future holds for her–politics and duty, the management of a House, and protecting her best friend, the princess and presumed heir to the throne. But one day an old nursery rhyme begins to come true, an ancient magic wakes, and the future changes for everyone. In the space of a single night her entire life unravels into violence and chaos. Now Kyali must find a way to master the magic her people have left behind, or watch her world–and her closest friends–fall to a war older than the kingdom itself.
An arm reached out of the dark and wrapped around her neck.
She saw it coming from the corner of her eye, but only had time to twitch uselessly sideways. Another arm immediately followed the first one, muffling her startled cry and stealing her breath.
Too shocked to be afraid, she bit down. The hand over her face jerked away. Her elbow drove backwards and her heel went up into a knee. The awful crack of bone that followed drew a pained groan from behind her, and brought her panic in a thundering flood. Her attacker staggered, pulling her with him. The dropped candle sputtered on the floor beside them, throwing huge shadows everywhere. Spurred on by the thought that she might have to finish this struggle in the dark, she shouted. It was a much softer sound than she'd intended, but the floorboards above them creaked ominously, the arms around her fell away, and he screamed, as though she had burned him.
Leaving this mystery for later consideration, Kyali flung herself at the steps and scrambled up, leaving the back panel of her skirts in his fist. Her sword clattered on the floor as she snatched at it. He came hard on her heels and, as she turned, drove himself obligingly onto it for her. Stunned, she froze again.
Her blood sang in her ears. By the look on his face—a fair face, some much colder part of her noted, with the Western short-beard—he was at least as surprised as she was. He drew a bubbling breath. A dagger dropped from his hand and hit the floor between them.
They stared at one another.
He made an odd face then, and coughed a gout of blood all over her. She blinked through the drops. She knew she had to move—not dead till they stop bleeding, Father would say—but she couldn't. For all her years of study, all the secrecy and swordplay, she had never killed a man. She supposed, watching his face in a perversely distant way, that she still hadn't quite managed it. But he fell forward onto her then, going limp, and after the instinctive terror of having him land on her subsided the sight of his glassy gaze, of her old practice sword sticking out of his ribs, made it clear that she had done it now.
She watched his face closely while his blood dripped down her cheek. He didn't move. He seemed not to be bleeding anymore, though with all the blood on him already how could one tell? She didn’t intend to get closer to check. She couldn't hear anyone else in the house. Through the haze of shock, she was grateful the soldiers weren't here to witness this bizarrely personal moment.
"Well," Kyali said, beginning to be pleased at how well she was taking this—and then threw up on him.
There was someone following them.
Devin shifted in the saddle, twisting to look behind him for the third time in the last hour. He turned back when his guard Hewet, a man who looked like he had been carved whole from dark oak but who moved with unnerving grace, hissed through his teeth. Amazing how much irritation such a small sound could hold. He scowled and faced the road ahead, which stretched on endlessly under patches of treeshadow and the blistering blue arch of the sky.
"They're closer," he said sullenly, earning himself another hiss.
Orin's briny, moody winds were far behind them now, and the rich fields of Syndimn province lay all around, shimmering under a heat haze. He missed the salt air and the fogs. He missed fish for breakfast, fish for lunch, and fish for dinner. He even missed Duchess Armelle, who had done what not one of the doddering theorists who claimed to be her court wizards had managed, and terrified him into taming his wayward Gift.
She was a frightening lady, Armelle Orin. He understood the magic no more than he did when he'd arrived, but he could at least play a tune without a flicker of magic now. He was going to miss her.
He was going to miss her heir Ysmena more, though.
Devin sighed, stopped himself from casting another glance backwards just to see if the dust cloud in their wake had grown any larger, and brought out the bone flute in his pocket.
"Put it away, my lord," Hewet said, mournful as a foghorn and utterly unamused. "Now, please."
"Surely even you prefer a little music to lighten a long journey, Hewet."
That got him an actual glower. Hewet went back to contemplating the shadows ahead of them, or the sound of the Deepwash running in the distance, or the utter lack of birds in this part of Syndimn, or whatever it was that interested a man who could probably lift a whole horse by himself but instead chose to follow around irritable sons of generals, keeping them from trouble. For his part, Devin went back to contemplating the desultory flick of his horse's ears, but he kept the flute in his hand as a silent, petty protest.
He wet was Armelle's man, not one of his father's soldiers, who would have put up with his humors. He hadn't given his father time to send one of his own guards for an escort. He'd woken three days ago with an inexplicable need to be home, and only Armelle's ferocious scowls had stopped him from leaping ahorse that very moment, his boots half-laced and all his belongings trailing behind him like lost children.
"There are six of them, they carry horse bows, and they appeared on our trail after we passed Savvys village, which is a known crossing point on the Western border," Hewet said, without sparing his charge another glance or even altering his tone to better match the grave nature of that statement. "They may be bandits, but they are more likely border guards from the other side, and here because you look like an opportunity, my lord. We can only hope they don't know what sort of opportunity."
Devin stared at him, gone loose and clumsy in the saddle. After a long, frozen moment, he put the flute away. "What do we do?" he asked in a small voice, when it was clear Hewet would volunteer no more information.
"Why, we keep riding, my lord. I am a hired guard and you a wealthy merchant's son, should we be asked, and we know nothing of Western affairs or border troubles."
That seemed wildly optimistic. "And if we did?"
"We'd still be outnumbered three to one, not counting the pair out by the bannerstone in the field, who are clearly prepared to drive us back to the road should we leave it."
He was going to think only good thoughts about Hewet from now on.
The sound of hoofbeats came to him faintly, a leisurely, insolent pace, and Devin swallowed in a throat gone dry. "Will they... I mean, they wouldn't break the king's peace. Would they?"
When he looked over, Hewet's expression was not reassuring.
The next branch took her unawares and caught her full in the face. It stung, and she stopped. A hand to her nose came back bloodied. The realization that she was being a fool came to her somehow out of the sight of her own blood. Here she was, running from nothing, in the middle of—
In her preoccupation, she had been a very great fool indeed.
The trees parted just in front of her. Two men were gaping at her from where they sat on the ground near a smothered firepit.
Outlaws. And she was completely alone here.
For a brief instant, not even a whisper of wind marred the perfect silence, and then one man gave a wild shout, leaping to his feet. The other lunged at her from where he knelt, a flash of metal in his hands. She felt the shock of whatever it was as it grated off her vest.
Her sword came free of its sheath and cut his feet out from under him. His scream was terrible. The rest seemed to happen as if at some distance—the arc of blood following the sweep of steel, the bewildered agony on the man’s face as she drove her sword through him. It was far too easy.
Her own ragged panting brought her back to herself.
Kyali backed up a step and then another, and moaned in what she first thought was horror and then realized was pain. At her side, her blood leaked out. A great deal of it was already soaking the leather armor.
A very great deal of it.
Not so easy after all, it seemed.
The second man held an old dagger. The pain, when she let fall her sword and tried to release the side buckle of her vest, loosened her knees. She dropped to the ground. The locket around her neck leapt up and swung. She stared fixedly at the Corwynall dragon engraved on it as she worked at the armor’s catches, hissing through clenched teeth, trying to ignore the pain, which was rising rapidly past endurance.
The buckle came undone. Her fingers found the wound at once, and she drew in a ragged gasp and shrieked at the feel of her hand against it. Unable to do anything else, Kyali pressed both hands against the outpouring of blood, rolling onto her back.
The peaceful trees grew shadowed, then faded altogether into a strangely gold-flecked dark.
11 Random Things About Me
Because 10 is just too even a number for my rebellious soul.
1.) I occasionally take 3-hour baths. Yes, really. I have started and finished books in there, and I am not ashamed, except possibly of my heating bill.
2.) I lose every social grace I can (tentatively) lay claim to when I get behind the wheel of a car. I think it is perfectly fine to tailgate people driving too slow for my taste, and just as acceptable to bait fellow drivers tailgating me. I unconsciously speed up when somebody passes me. I gently encourage people driving in front of me to pull over with flashing headlights, honking horn, and occasional hand gestures. And yet, though my grill may be locked to your bumper the whole way in, I’m nonetheless likely to hold the door for you when we’re walking into the building together, even if you’re in the process of telling me what a dangerous bitch I am on the road. Don’t ask me to explain this. It’s a pathology.
3.) I think meat is totally gross. And I have since I was about 7 years old. When we had our family visits to McDonald’s (hey, backwoods town in Maine; it really was the big hangout) I used to eat only cheeseburgers because I believed the cheese negated the beef. This logic only worked for me until I was about 8, and then I moved on to about a pint of A-1 sauce, which certainly had the effect of negating the taste, if not the existence, of meat. And when I was 9 I gave up the red stuff altogether, and I think I was 13 or 14 when poultry went. I’d love to claim some great moral objection, but while I think the methods of raising and slaughtering are more than reason to give meat up, I stopped because it was dead flesh, and well, ew.
4.) I once dressed in poplar leaves stitched together with twigs and tree sap. I wasn’t alone, either.
5.) My first real story was an action-romance about two of my classmates in second grade. Poor Brian and Charity were drowned, mugged, shot from a cannon, chased by lions across the Sahara, and Charity herself died at least once before they shared their first sloppy, painfully-depicted kiss. Their real-life counterparts were horrified when I was picked to read the installments out loud in front of the class. The teacher, who probably wasn’t the best choice for the classroom, was extremely amused. And I, of course, was hooked.
6.) I own The Secret of Nimh. And I do on occasion watch it. So should you. Because it’s awesome.
7.) I loved writing essays in college. Even dreadfully hungover, scratchy-eyed and exhausted, I still loved writing essays. I know this makes me a freak, and I don’t care.
8.) I am a conflicted cynic: I don’t believe in happy endings, but I still want one.
9.) I count sounds. I don’t mean to; it just happens. I turn on the blinker, sit there in traffic waiting for someone who appears to be moving slowly enough that I can cut across their path, and by the time I get into the parking lot the little ticky noise has happened 128 times, 64 if you’re counting the high and low tics as one unit.
10.) I cringe when I write big angsty melodrama, and yet somehow both the emotional and the plot arcs of all my books head inevitably toward climactic scenes of great angst and melodrama.
11.) When I am stressed for too hard and too long, or in constant physical pain or ill health, I tend to write backward. And I don’t mean switching letters: I mean whole sentences, spelled (mostly) correctly, and completely backward except for the capitalization and punctuation.
Sword is a coming of age high fantasy about a girl pretty much at odds with everything, including and especially herself. It's set in a fictional kingdom called Lardan, one with a long history of magic and war, and a population so complacent they've forgotten that either one ever applied to them. They learn differently when history begins to repeat itself: there's an uprising, the kingdom is thrown into civil war, and the royal family, of which my main character Kyali is a satellite member, is murdered. Kyali, her brother, and the princess are forced into exile with a small army of refugees. Kyali was badly hurt during the uprising, and comes out of that a changed person; unfortunately for her she's now the only person with the training to command what is left of the army, and her friends need her.
Sword is her story, how she learns to deal with what happened to her without shutting out the people she loves, and with the responsibilities she has to shoulder now that the older generation is dead and the kingdom is overrun. It's about loyalty and love, fate and family and politics. It's also violent, occasionally sarcastic, and unabashedly sappy.
2) What inspired you to write the story?
I had a very sullen young woman with a battered old sword and no patience kicking my frontal lobe. As motivators go, it was a pretty good one.
--Ok, so that's a little dramatic, but really not too far from the truth (except the part about the frontal lobe, of course). Kyali Corwynall started out as a patchwork of some of my favorite characters from books like Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, and Patricia McKillip's Cygnet, going all the way back to Barbara Helen Berger's Gwinna, which I read when I was seven. My brain is like cosmic flypaper: the stuff I like (or hate) sticks, accumulates, eventually acquires a gravitational field, and before I know it light's bending around it and I'm up at 3 am mainlining coffee and my keyboard's broken. Sword was like that. One day I had scattered pieces, and the next I had a character with layers, flaws, goals, scars, and a complicated history. Stories always start that way for me, no matter how cool my premise may be (or how cool I may think it is, anyway) --my characters inspire and drive it, start to finish.
3) Since your novel is medieval-influenced, can you tell us a bit about your researching journey?
Wow. How I'd love to give you a list of planned, organized steps I took. It would make me feel so much smarter!
But no. I stumbled into the research for Sword much like I did the story itself. I think my research began the moment I realized I had no idea how heavy a sword really was, or how hard it might be to wear armor and, you know, walk at the same time. I remember thinking writing fantasy would be easy (yes, feel free to laugh at me). It didn't take long before I realized it was very, very obvious when I didn't know what I was talking about. So I went from looking up Irish baby names online to running to the library after work to find the Focloir Scoile or The Book of the Sword. I eventually learned to restrain myself, because research can be a wonderful excuse for not writing when you're stuck-- but overall, it was great fun.
4) What's your best revision tip?
Remember basic dramatic structure when you're reading your draft(s). It definitely doesn't always apply, and definitely shouldn't always apply, but I've found it can be a great lens: I can look at the whole story, each subplot and character arc, each chapter, and each scene with that structure in mind, and I'll always find something to tweak. Or mangle. Or outright kill.
...Revision is a slightly violent process for me.
Amy Bai has been, by order of neither chronology nor preference, a barista, a numbers-cruncher, a paper-pusher, and a farmhand. She likes thunderstorms, the enthusiasm of dogs, tall boots and long jackets, cinnamon basil, margaritas, and being surprised by the weirdness of her fellow humans. She lives in New England with her guitar-playing Russian husband and two very goofy sheepdogs.
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