Ready for an excerpt break? We have an exclusive scene from Aliette de Bodard‘s fantasy House of Shattered Wings, set in a magical late 20th century Paris, plus a chance to win one of five ARC copies of the book. Enter by using the widget at the bottom of this post. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian readers only. Good luck!
In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.
Lost in her thoughts, Madeleine almost bumped into Philippe—who had come to a dead stop at an intersection on the edge of the market, mere meters from the ruined entrance of Notre-Dame. “What—” she asked; and then saw the procession.
It was coming up Pont-au-Double, the small cast-iron bridge that stopped at the edge of the parvis. There were a good twenty people with the gray-and-silver uniform of House Hawthorn, the same one Madeleine had once worn. They walked slowly, leisurely, as though they had all the time in the world, as though they weren’t standing close to the river, close enough for a spinning arm of water to snatch them over the parapet, or for a toothy creature to rise and attack them. Few people in Paris were mad enough to linger near the Seine, nowadays; only God knew what kind of power the accretion of war magic had released in the blackened waters.
Madeleine’s gaze, sweeping over the procession, caught a glimpse of familiar faces: Sare the alchemist; Samariel, ever as achingly young and innocent; Pierre-François, older and grayer but still every bit the consummate bodyguard—she remembered that night, when the noise had erupted, and he had simply reached for a knife and a gun, and rushed out of the room without any further words.
And, at their head . . .
He hadn’t changed, not one bit; but of course Fallen seldom did. He was tall and thin, with horned-rimmed, rectangular glasses—his particular affectation, since all Fallen had perfect eyesight—his hair dark, save for a touch of gray at the temples; his hands with the thin, long fingers of a pianist, even though the instruments he played on did not make music—unless one counted cries of pain and ecstasy as music, as Madeleine knew he did.
“Who is he?” Isabelle asked in a whisper, and it was Oris who answered her, with the barest hint of pity in his voice.
“Asmodeus. Head of House Hawthorn.”
He hadn’t changed. He still leaned on the same ivory cane with the ease of a gentleman who had no need for it; still had the same sharp, pointed smile of predators, the one he’d worn in the House—how could Uphir not see it, not feel the naked ambition burning that would one day depose him? How could Elphon not have seen it—not suspected anything, until the thugs’ swords slid home into his chest and blood spouted over her—a split second before they sent Madeleine to her knees, struggling to breathe through the pain of shattered ribs?
Asmodeus’s entourage had almost cleared the bridge: they had finished negotiating with the guards at the booth that guarded Pont-au-Double. He saw her then, bowed gravely, without a trace of irony, and turned right into the heart of the food market. Madeleine was surprised to realize her fingers had clenched into fists.
Breathe. She had to breathe. He had seen her, and turned away. She had nothing to fear from him: it was just her memories of that time that wouldn’t be banished. He had no interest in her, no grudge: she had been among the lowliest of the low in Hawthorn, and he must have been barely aware that she existed. And then, with a feeling of dread that pulled her bowels into knots, she remembered that he did know who she was. Else why would he have bowed to her?
Her gaze, roaming through the market—somewhere, anywhere she wouldn’t have to look at him again—fell on the rear of the procession, where three of the escort had stopped for a moment while one of them readjusted the straps on a large basket; which, judging from the movements from inside, probably contained some large, live animal. The first two were the kind of pale, faded women Asmodeus enjoyed having around; the third one, head bent over the basket, was a brown-haired man. . . .
There was something—something in the tilt of his head, something in the bearing of his body . . .
And, having finished with his work, he raised his head, and she saw.
He, too, hadn’t changed much: he was perhaps younger, less hardened, with the particular mix of innocence and agelessness of newly manifested Fallen. But the face—she would have known that anywhere.
Elphon. Oh God, Elphon.
It was impossible. Elphon was dead. She had seen him die; had felt his heart stutter and stop, seen the radiance fade from his translucent skin until there was nothing left but dead meat. Then, weeping, she had started the long crawl that would lead her to Silverspires and Morningstar’s arms.
Surely it was another Fallen; surely . . .
He rose, precariously balancing the basket against his waist, and smiled at his two companions, in a way that was engraved into her memory.
No. That wasn’t possible. The dead did not walk the earth again; not even dead Fallen.
“Wait here,” she said to the others, and elbowed her way through the crowd of Pont-au-Double, struggling to reach the little group before they moved away from her. By the time she caught up with them in front of a fowler’s stall, her ruined lungs were protesting; and, at the worst possible moment—when she stood in front of them—a bout of coughing racked her body and left her, wrung, to stand in their path.
“Excuse me,” she said.
They looked at her, puzzled. The older woman pinched her lips as if noting the unkempt state of Madeleine’s dress, or her hoarse voice, or both. “You’re the alchemist for Silverspires?” the woman said at last. “What can we do for you?”
“Can I speak to your friend?” Madeleine asked, pointing to the Fallen who looked like Elphon.
The woman shrugged. “If you want. Elphon?”
Madeleine’s heart skipped a beat; seemed to remain suspended in her chest in an agony of stillness. But when Elphon looked up, there was nothing but mild interest in his eyes. “Good morning,” Elphon said, looking at her with puzzlement. “What can I do for you?”
By showing some hint of recognition. Something, anything that would explain why he was there—why he still bore the same name, still behaved the same, but he didn’t recognize her. “How long have you been in Hawthorn?”
Elphon shrugged; and even that gesture was heartbreakingly familiar, a dim but treasured memory from the depths of the past. “A few months,” he said. “Lord Asmodeus found me near Les Halles.”
A few months? That was impossible. “Are you sure?”
“Of course.” Elphon’s voice was mild, but it was clear he was wondering about her sanity. So was Madeleine. This conversation could in no way be described as sane. “Are you trying to recruit me to Silverspires? I assure you I’m already spoken for.”
“No, of course not,” Madeleine said, feeling the blush start somewhere in her cheeks and climb, burning, to her forehead. “I wouldn’t dare. It’s just . . . I knew someone very much like you, once.”
“Some Fallen look very much alike to mortals,” Elphon said, with a tight smile. He hefted his basket, and made to rejoin his companions. “Now, if you’ll excuse me . . . Lord Asmodeus will be expecting us, and he has little patience for tardiness.”
“I have no doubt.” Asmodeus had little patience for anything. He’d chafed enough, in what he viewed as an inferior position in Hawthorn; had waited just long enough to be certain of his coup. “I’m sorry for disturbing you,” Madeleine said. “It seems I was mistaken.”
Elphon bowed—low, old-fashioned, the same bow he’d use to make to her, all those years ago, half in mockery, half in earnest. “There’s no harm in it. Good-bye, my lady.”
She watched him retreat, the basket shifting with each movement of his body. Whatever he said, it was him. It had to be him; another Fallen, especially a young one, could have mimicked his appearance for a while, but not the gestures. Not the expressions.
But, if it was him, if he had somehow been resurrected by some mystery she could not comprehend—then why did he not remember her? Was it something Asmodeus had done? Surely he had to know that the “young” Fallen he had rescued was one of the loyalists who’d opposed his coup twenty years ago?
Lost as she was in her thoughts, it was a while before she realized that, in the place where she’d left the others, there was no trace of them whatsoever.
At first, she wasn’t unduly worried; they were adults, and the market was as safe a place as there could be in Paris. She looked for them, desultorily, amid the brightly colored stalls, sure that she would meet them at the House if she couldn’t find them.
A scream—terror and agony, rising through her mind—no, not hers, someone bound to House Silverspires was in mortal danger.
She ran, but she knew even before she started to run that she would be too late.
Huse of Shattered Wings is available August 18. For more genre coverage visit our Everything Science Fiction Fantasy page.