Exclusive Cover Reveal and Excerpt: The Waking Land by Callie Bates

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Exclusive Cover Reveal and Excerpt: <i>The Waking Land</i> by Callie Bates

With advance praise from Terry Brooks and Tamora Pierce under her belt, debut author Callie Bates is on track to release a fantasy hit in 2017. Bates’ novel, The Waking Land, follows a girl pressured by a father she barely remembers to lead a rebellion she does not believe in against the king who raised her—all while using magic she’s repressed for years.

Paste is thrilled to reveal the cover for The Waking Land, designed by Kathleen Lynch and illustrated by Ben Perini:

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Del Rey will release The Waking Land on July 4th, 2017. In the meantime, you can read an exclusive excerpt from the novel below:

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Prologue

I felt safe that night in Laon, safer than I had any night before in the city. My nurse and I were eating dessert in the nursery. I never knew her name; I called her Nursie. Downstairs my parents were hosting a dinner party. It was the first time I had ever been in Laon, in the townhouse my family kept for state occasions, aired out only once every year or two. On the newly crowned king’s invitation, we’d come south for the Harvest Feast from our country house in the north, and every noise of the city still seemed foreign. So that must have been why we didn’t hear them at first: the screams, the clicks as the muskets caught.

I remember cradling my wooden doll, a Harvest Feast gift from my parents, made by a wood-carver in the city. I was feeding her pretend bites of the caramel pudding the servants had brought up earlier, baked in a dish until the sugar on top was crackling hot. Nursie drew the chintz curtains over the wide, sashed windows. My doll and I sat snug and certain in the glow of candlelight. Safe. We were supposed to go home the next day.

Nursie sank down into the armchair across from us and began to tell my bedtime story—our nightly routine with its well-worn words—and I chimed in on my favorite parts. “Wildegarde came, bearing a flame in her heart and her hair crowned with the pale light of stars. Where she placed her foot, the earth trembled; when she raised her hand, mountains moved.”

A burst of voices echoed from downstairs. Nursie stopped mid-word, her hands braced on the arms of the chair. Her lips were parted. I giggled, then stopped. Her fear breathed out like a living thing. Beneath us, the house shook down to its foundation. Floorboards squeaked outside the nursery door.

Nursie was on her feet before I was aware of her moving, a gilt-handled butter knife in her hand. Her cheeks went scarlet, but her lips were pressed together into a grim line. Her eyes were fixed on the door.

More footsteps squeaked in the corridor. “El,” Nursie said in a tight, contained voice, “do you remember Brigit?”

Brigit: my ancestor, who hid beneath her bed when the Ereni soldiers came to kill her. I slid out of my chair, trying to find my slippers with my bare feet. I was wearing a nightdress, a new one Mother had made for me, white, with ruffles cascading down the front.

The door flew open. Men tramped in: big men in blue coats with bayonets strapped around their backs. The royal guard.

Nursie lashed out, catching a man in the face. He staggered back. “Brigit!” Nursie shouted. I finally understood. I leapt for my bed, scrabbling at the frame so I could crawl under the embroidered cream skirt, but a hand tore into my hair from behind me until the roots screamed, and then I was flying up, my feet kicked out from under me, the breath knocked out of my body as I landed on a man’s high shoulder. My doll fell; his boots crushed it. I tried to scream but no sound came out.

Nursie was screaming—terrible, bone-shaking screams. I couldn’t lift my head around high enough to see her. My heartbeat pounded between my chest and the man’s shoulder. I had to be like Brigit, I had to do something, but I could think of nothing.

“Caerisian bitch,” another man shouted, and an enormous noise exploded through the room, leaving shards of sound ringing in my ears. The acrid smell of gunpowder tainted the air.

Nursie was no longer screaming.

I glimpsed her as the man holding me began to walk out of the room. She sagged on the flowered carpet, her face remade in blood that looked black in the dark shadows near the floor. The man with the pistol—still smoking—stepped over her legs to throw open the wardrobe door.

Then we were out of the room, in the corridor. The scream that had been building in my chest burst out as a shrieking gasp. The soldier shook me as if to knock me quiet and we jolted down the stairs, my head jostling. Though I knew I was supposed to fight, I didn’t dare move. What if he killed me, too?

We reached level ground, and I reared up enough to see the side tables in the lower hall swinging by. The carpet changed to neat, checkered parquet, covered in a snowfall of crushed glass.

“Elanna!”

My mother. The soldier swung me down, gripping me by the neck, and I saw her on the other side of the long polished table. In the tableau of dinner guests, frozen behind their chairs with their hands raised, she was the only person who moved. Then the guard squeezed my neck and I saw my mother stop. I saw her lower her hands, but her eyes did not leave me.

The soldier then twisted me the other way, to face the two men who stood to my left: my father, and the new king of Eren, Antoine Eyrlai. We’d come here for his coronation before the Harvest Feast—a solid month of parties I was too young to attend and ceremonies I found bewildering. And now the king, his wig askew, was pointing a pistol at my father.

I gasped again, too horrified to scream. My whole body was trembling. The day before, when the king made our carriage go last during the Harvest Feast procession even though my father was the Duke of Caeris and should have been second after the king, I knew I hated him for embarrassing my family. Now he’d sent the men who killed Nursie. And he was pointing a gun at my father.

Papa didn’t look afraid, though. He looked angry. And it gave me courage.

“Don’t you hurt my papa!” I shouted at the king.

Everyone seemed to turn at once. They were all staring at me—including the king. His rage stood out around him, an inhuman thing. In one powerful step, he crossed the room, seized me in his arms—I inhaled the sweaty, perfumed odor of him—and jammed the cold hard end of the pistol against my temple.

I gasped. A hot trickle ran down the inside of my thigh. I smelled the gunpowder from my nursery. I saw Nursie fallen on the floor, the blood black on her face.

“Well?” the king said to my father.

Papa stood there with his hands open. The anger was gone. He looked defeated. Broken. “Don’t kill my daughter.” He stammered the words. I thought he was going to fall to his knees. I thought he was going to beg.

The trickle of urine reached my toes and dripped to the carpet. A crushing shame welled up in me—for myself, for my father and mother, for my dead nurse. Into the silence, as all the adults were waiting for the king to speak, I began to cry.

The pistol jabbed into my temple. “Stop that,” the king commanded. His wig swung against me as he looked at my father. “You’re lucky, Ruadan. Your pretender king hasn’t yet landed on Eren’s shore, so I don’t have the evidence to condemn you. I could still have you executed without trial—it would be nothing more than you deserve—but I’m going to be merciful.”

He pressed the gun harder into my skin, the lace on his cuff tickling my cheek. I squirmed against him. I didn’t want to die like Nursie, crumpled like my doll on the floor.

“Get out of this house,” the king ordered. “Get out of Laon. Go back to Cerid Aven and your Caerisian backwater. And if I ever hear you’ve set foot outside its property, I’ll have the child eliminated, and you will be put on trial.” He paused, then added, “And you won’t be acquitted.”

He shoved me off into the soldier’s arms. “In the meantime, she’ll be well treated, provided you don’t make any further attempts to ruin my country. Take her outside.” As I was marched off, I looked back for my mother, but the soldier’s head blocked my view.

The courtyard was wet and blustery and dark. Horses stamped and snorted. The soldier set me on the ground while he talked to another man holding the horses—“The girl’s to be a hostage”—and I looked back at the light spilling from the house, waiting for my mother to come after me, to crush me in her arms and sing our song into my ear, to tell me Nursie wasn’t dead and we were going home tomorrow.

She didn’t come. Nor did my father. Instead the king came, with the rest of his guards. I was made to walk across the streets to the palace, a barefoot girl in a soiled nightdress, the cold cobblestones burning my feet.

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