Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Ashley Poston's YA Space Opera, Soul of Stars

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Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Ashley Poston's YA Space Opera, <i>Soul of Stars</i>

Ashley Poston’s space opera novel, Heart of Iron, is one of Paste’s favorite Young Adult books of 2018. So we’re beyond thrilled to share details about the sequel, Soul of Stars, which makes Poston’s riveting story into a duology.

Unfamiliar with Heart of Iron? It’s a retelling of Anastasia, but it’s set in a universe in which humans and robots have long since raged a war against one another. Mankind has colonized the galaxy, banning all “metals” from society. In fact, they’re illegal and still considered wildly dangerous.

Dangerous to everyone but Ana, that is.

Ana and D09, one of the last remaining sentient androids, are members of a roving band of space pirates. And when her beloved robot starts glitching out, she’ll do whatever it takes to save him. But at the heart of her rescue attempt lies a secret that’ll threaten the entire universe, and she might just have to choose between saving her people and the metal boy she’s come to adore.

The sequel will hit bookstores everywhere in July 2019, and we have the scoop on the plot from the publisher. (But if you haven’t read the first book, you might want to scroll down to the cover reveal and then bounce. We would hate to ruin Heart of Iron for you.)

All good? Here’s the description of Soul of Stars:

Once, Ana was an orphaned space outlaw. Then she was the Empress of the Iron Kingdom. Now, thought dead by most of the galaxy after she escaped from the dark AI program called the HIVE, Ana is desperate for a way to save Di from the HIVE’s evil clutches and take back her kingdom.

Ana’s only option is to find Starbright, the one person who has hacked into the HIVE and lived to tell the tale. But when Ana’s desperation costs the crew of the Dossier a terrible price, Ana and her friends are sent spiraling through the most perilous reaches of the Iron Kingdom to stop the true arbiter of evil in her world: an ancient world-ending deity called the Great Dark.

Their journey will take the sharp-witted pilot, Jax, to the home he never wanted to return to and the dangerous fate he left behind. And when Robb finds out who Jax really is, he must contend with his own feelings for the boy he barely knows, and whether he truly belongs with this group of outcasts.

When facing the worst odds, can Ana and her crew of misfits find a way to stop the Great Dark once and for all?

We can’t wait to read it, but for now we’ll settle on revealing the gorgeous cover designed by Sarah Kaufman with art by John Dismukes.

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And if you can’t wait until Balzer + Bray releases the book in July, check out the exclusive excerpt from Chapter 1 below.

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ANA

“I should have let you burn,” a voice whispered across her ear.

Ana glanced around her for its owner, but the street was empty and dark, save for a group of people warming themselves by a thermal heater. She swallowed the fear lodged in her throat.

It’s nothing, she told herself, pulling her thick fur-lined cloak around her tightly. It was nothing even though she was hearing her best friend’s voice. It was nothing even though he had tried to kill her six months ago.

A bone-deep chill swept through the narrow streets, ruffling her short black hair, and she shivered. She hated the cold—almost as much as she hated flash-frozen fruits and corsets.

But she couldn’t bring herself to hate Neon City.

It was on Eros, but it didn’t feel like the rest of the dreamy, green landscape of Eros. Located in the southern quadrant of the planet, Neon City constantly smelled like damp cement, sewage, and fresh rain, but from a distance the city was beautiful—outlined in lights that reflected in the puddles and through the mists that drifted along the streets. Buildings jutted up into the sky like piercing daggers, slick and glittery with rain. It gave the city an eerie, haunted radiance. In the outskirts where Ana walked, the neon lights didn’t reach quite so far, and darkness clung to the streets.

It had been almost six months since Di’s ascension to the Iron Throne. Six months since he almost killed her when he drove a lightsword through her stomach—no, she couldn’t think about that. Wouldn’t. Or the scar on her stomach would throb, and she would remember the HIVE red of his eyes, and the way he hissed so softly against her ear, “You should have burned.”

And he was lost forever to the HIVE—

Until, a few days ago, when the Dossier received a strange message on its personal channel, from someone who called themselves Starbright, saying they could help Ana if she came alone. Which was funny (not funny, more alarming, really) because the entire kingdom thought she was dead—she had almost thought she was dead.

Starbright promised that they knew a way to pull a Metal out of the HIVE. It seemed too good to be true, that the thing Ana was searching for would find her—a way to save Di. And all of the other Metals in the HIVE.

She barely even understood what the HIVE was—part AI, part brainwashing virus. Lord Rasovant had created it to subdue difficult Metals, but the program stripped them of their thoughts, their memories…everything. Until they were nothing more than a puppet. It wasn’t until the palace that Ana realized Lord Rasovant didn’t control the HIVE at all, but something else did.

The Great Dark.

She didn’t know what form it took—an AI, a person, a monster—but she had seen something terrible in the red of Di’s eyes just before he slid the blade into her stomach. She had seen a monster of nightmares.

Another gust of wind rushed through the street, picking up pieces of trash and dried leaves, and blew her hood off.

A man with a grizzled beard, warming his hands near a street heater, gave her a wide-eyed look. “Oy, you look like—”

“Sorry, I get that a lot,” she replied quickly, pulling her hood over her head again to hide the distinct burn scars on her cheek and her golden eyes, and hurried on down the street.

They passed an Iron Shrine, hollowed and burned out, like dozens of the others in the kingdom. No one had found the arsonist yet, but the Emperor, and his horde of brainwashed Ironbloods, blamed rogue Metals—just like they blamed rogue Metals for her assassination. So they HIVE’d so many more Metals than ever before, creating an army of drones.

In the wake of her ‘assassination’, Siege and her fleet had created sanctuaries—almost as if she knew what was about to come, and what the kingdom would need. Places where Metals, and those who supported them, could go to be safe.

Or, at least, safer.

There was one on Cerces, and on a waystation hidden between Cerces and Iliad, one on Iliad somewhere, between the craggy mountains that covered the planet, and then one in Nevaeh. Siege’s fleet protected Metals and those who supported them, brought them food and water and weapons.

The front doors of the shrine had been blown open, hanging charred on their hinges, the shrine itself a gutted corpse, blackened and ash-swept, and the holy tombs beneath it were ransacked and desecrated. The building had stood for almost a thousand years, and even after the fire it still stood. Rogue Metals wouldn’t burn a shrine for nothing—ransack a tomb without taking anything out of it.

It didn’t make sense to Ana.

The HIVE was behind it, she was sure of it. The fires started soon after the Emperor took the throne, and every shrine was desecrated in the same way—the pattern was too exact. The HIVE was searching for something.

But what it was, she couldn’t figure out.

A small group of people huddled inside, around a low-burning flame in a trash can. A lively fiddle carried across the wind, filled with voices in holy songs. It reminded her of the tunes Wick played on his fiddle, the ones Riggs sang off-key—when she would pull Di out of whatever boring nonfiction medical book he had been engrossed in and they’d dance.

Or attempt to.

Metals weren’t very good at dancing.

Her ears perked at the familiar sound of footsteps—Messiers.

“Scatter!” A girl cried, and the group split in different directions, jumping out of the burnt windows and between the crumbling walls.

She quickly pulled up the hood of her cloak and slipped into the shadowed stoop of a house, E0S ducking into her cloak. The patrol grew near, marching in unison, and she slipped her hand into her inner coat pocket, fingertips brushing against the small cubed memory core—Di’s—the size of a plum and cold to the touch.

She held her breath as the Messiers passed her.

When they were gone, she slumped against the door, her breath rushing out of her lips in a puff of frost.

She tapped the comm-link clasped to her cloak and traveled on down the street toward her destination. “There’s a Messier patrol in the slums tonight, but I’m almost at the coordinates.”

For a moment, there was only static in her earpiece, and then her captain said, “Of course there is. Probably there to arrest another Metal. Be cautious, darling. Robb, Jax, check in?”

“We’re standing by,” came Robb’s distinctly Erosian accent.

There was the soft murmur of voices in the background. Robb and Jax were nearby in one of the slum’s bars, trying to gamble for some coppers.

“Jax, don’t let him bet too much,” the captain added.

Jax gave a playful gasp through the comm-link. “Robb? Never. He’s a saint with money.”

“Yeah, with spending it,” Lenda, the Dossier’s gunnery woman, groused.

Laughter filled her earpiece, and it set her nerves steady. “I’ll let you know if anything goes sideways.”

The captain added, “And be careful. If it weren’t for them expressly wanting to see you alone, I’d be down there myself.”

“With over a million coppers on your head,” Ana pointed out wryly.

“We all have her baggage,” Talle, who must’ve been in the cockpit with Siege and Lenda, chimed in through the comm-link.

“I’ll be careful—on iron and stars,” she promised them and tapped the small star-shaped comm-link on her lapel to disconnect.

Starbright’s place was somewhere near the edge of Neon City and the shore of Lake Leer. The buildings were rusted, and the electricity flickered. Ana came to a stop at the end of the street, surrounded by single-level buildings that looked like rusted boxes.

The address pointed across the street to an abandoned store. The dying neon sign above flickered, spitting colors across the vacant street in short, sporadic bursts.

Her heart sank a little.

It must have been a coat shop once, but there was only one left on display in the ransacked store. It hung tattered on a mannequin, a ghost of its former self, the red wool faded to a dull grayish pink, its lacey cuffs yellowing, brassy buttons clouded over with age. But, in better condition, it was the exact kind of coat she once dreamed about—red as blood, its shoulders chromed in gold, buttons polished and cut sleek.

And behind it, standing so very still, was a shape in the window. The neon light flickered against them. Tall and humanoid.

Starbright.

She tapped her lapel, E0S hovering at her shoulder. “Robb, Jax? I found them.”

After a moment, her captain said, “Careful, darling.”

Of course she would be—she had to be.

But after two months cooped up in the infirmary, a month rehabilitation, and three more of hiding and running and hiding some more, they still didn’t know what the HIVE wanted or how to find the AI that commanded it—commanded Di, and Mellifare, and the countless Messiers—and defeat it. She’d grown tired of running.

She couldn’t anymore. There was a restlessness inside of her that grew every day she sat still.

Tapping her comm-link off again, she told E0S, “Stay out here and keep a lookout,” and ran across the street to the storefront. She jiggled the handle, and to her surprise the door eased open. This was either the right place, or a trap.

She hoped it wasn’t the latter.

“Hello?” she called into the store. “I know you’re here.”

No one answered.

She squinted, willing her eyes to adjust to the darkness, but still she couldn’t see anything. “Hello?” She called louder, stepping deeper into the darkness, “I’m not here to hurt you. You sent for me. I’m An—”

The front door slammed shut, and static filled her earpiece.

She tapped her comm-link. “Captain?”

No response.

She took another step into the store, reaching for her pistol, when she felt it.

At first it was a gentle tug on the metal bits of her coat—the metal buckles and zippers and cufflinks and weapons on her—before an electro-magnet above her grabbed them with such force it picked her up off the ground and slammed her into the ceiling. It held tight to the daggers in her boots, the twin pistols under her arms, even the rings in her ears, leaving her suctioned against the magnetic plate on the ceiling—which hurt like mad.

A trap—this was a trap.

“Goddess’s spark,” she cursed as she tried to pry her arms off the metal plates, but she couldn’t due to the pull on her favorite heart-shaped cufflinks. She couldn’t even reach her comm-link to call for Robb and Jax.

“This was designed to catch Messiers,” the shadow said in a monotone, melodic voice, “but it seems you have a lot of metal on you as well.”

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