Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Jon McGoran's Sci-Fi Thriller, Splintered

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Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Jon McGoran's Sci-Fi Thriller, <i>Splintered</i>

Jon McGoran entered the world of Young Adult books last year by debuting an astonishing sci-fi novel, Spliced, in which people can pay to alter their genes and acquire animal traits. Known as chimeras, these individuals suddenly find their rights in question when the government labels them as “nonpersons.”

The result was one of our favorite YA reads of 2017, and we’re thrilled that his publisher has greenlit more books in the series. Here’s the scoop from McGoran on the sequel, Splintered:

Splintered…is set just a few months [after Spliced]. The book looks into the future of current trends and technologies to explore issues that are unfortunately very relevant today, like the horrors that can arise when some in society seek to dehumanize others—and to gain from that dehumanization.

But while there is darkness in the world of Splintered, there is plenty of joy, as well. I was excited while writing it to rejoin some of the characters I loved from Spliced, and to meet some new favorites that I can’t wait to share with readers. I also can’t wait to share this new cover. I loved the cover of Spliced and wondered if the design team at Holiday House would be able to match it. But I’m delighted to say I think it’s possible they may have even surpassed it.

Here’s a first look at the cover designed by Kerry Martin, the Director of Art and Design at Holiday House:

splintered_front_cvr_2p.jpg

Holiday House will release Splintered in May 2019, but you can check out an exclusive excerpt below while you wait. And if you want to read more of McGoran’s work, you should pick up his biotech thrillers: Drift, Dead Out and Dust Up. The series follows Doyle Carrick, a detective swept up in the drama surrounding criminals messing with the natural order to earn a profit, no matter the actual cost.

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The door to the coffeehouse burst open with a gust of icy wind and Ruth and Pell stumbled inside, a stranger propped up between them. He was a chimera, with some kind of bird splice, but different from theirs. The feathers that framed his head were bright yellow, but matted and filthy. So were his clothes. His head sagged on his neck.

Rex and I rushed over to them. Doc Guzman followed, slower.

“Who’s this?” I asked, and Rex said, “What happened?” as we helped them move him to a chair.

“We found him on the train tracks,” Ruth said, out of breath.

“The Levline?” Rex said.

“No,” Pell said, “the freight train.”

Doc was already examining him, gently lifting his head. The kid was young; our age or maybe younger. There was some sort of metal bottle hanging around his neck, with a plastic mask attached by a hose.

Doc looked at it, then up at Ruth and Pell. “What’s this?”

“No idea,” Ruth said.

Doc looked in the kid’s pupils, felt his pulse, and then put an ear to his chest and listened to him breathing. The kid looked terrible.

Jerry, the owner of the coffeeshop, came around from behind the counter, looking concerned, but exasperated, too. “Should we get him into the back?”

“No,” Doc said. “We need to get him to my clinic. Now.”

Ruth and Pell were exhausted from carrying the kid, so Rex and I carried him to Guzman’s van, out front. We put got in the back with him as Doc started the motor and took off, fast but not reckless.

The kid was totally out of it. As I held his hand, his sleeve slid back, revealing a slender, dirty wrist with a white plastic band around it. I leaned in for a closer look in the dim light coming from the windows.

“What’s that?” Rex rumbled.

“It looks like a hospital bracelet,” I said. The interior of the van lit up as we passed under a street light.

“A hospital bracelet?”

“It says ‘Patient name: Cornelius.’ No last name. It doesn’t say what hospital, either, just some numbers.”

Cornelius had a soft brow and a mouth that looked like it smiled a lot. The splice suited him: the bright feathers nicely offset his bronze skin, and his strong, beak-like nose was perfectly proportioned to the angles of his chin and his cheekbones. Maybe it was the fact that now he had a name, but I felt a pang of intense sadness. His breathing was shallow and fast and his face was speckled with nicks and cuts and what looked like burns. His clothes were torn and singed. I had a lot of faith in Doc Guzman’s abilities, but I didn’t think Cornelius was going to make it.

“He doesn’t look good,” Rex said softly. Then the back of the van was plunged into total darkness, meaning we had left the city and crossed into the zurbs. No municipal electricity, so no streetlights.

“No, he doesn’t,” I said. “Do you think he needs this?” I held up the grimy metal canister around his neck.

“We’ll be there any minute. We should let Doc decide.”

A moment later, the van lurched up a ramp and came to an abrupt stop. Rex opened the back door, and together we carried Cornelius out.

Doc was already unlocking the front door to the clinic, which sat in the middle of an abandoned strip mall in the zurbs, a half mile outside the city. The only light came from the van’s headlights, but they were bright enough to light up the entire row of stores.

As Doc opened the door, a figure stepped out from around the farthest store. I could barely make him out in the darkness, but he looked like trouble.

“We have company,” I said to Rex.

He nodded. “Hey Doc,” he called out, just loud enough to be heard. “Is this your friend from earlier?”

Doc turned to look. His shoulders slumped and he nodded. “Brian Kurtz.”

Kurtz stepped into the light, looking drunk and disheveled, with manic eyes set deep in a pale freckled face, under a blond buzz cut. He looked belligerent, but he also looked scared and confused. Like a little boy only slightly hidden under a thin veneer of whatever he thought a man was supposed to be.

“Look, kid,” Doc told him. “Like I said before, I don’t know where your friend is. But even if I did, I couldn’t tell you.”

“Right. Patient-doctor confidentiality,” Kurtz replied with a sneer. His voice sounded even younger than he looked. “Like a real doctor would be set up in a crappy place like this out in the zurbs.”

Rex met my eyes and whispered, “Put him down.”

I lowered Cornelius’s feet to the ground and Rex moved him upright, handing him off to me so that I could lean him against the van. With his head closer to mine, Cornelius’s wheezing sounded even worse. Rex stepped closer to Doc.

Kurtz froze for a second as he took in Rex’s size.. Kurtz’s sneer returned, but the fear didn’t leave his eyes. “Oh, so you brought your mixie bodyguard to protect you, is that it?”

As I readjusted my grip, Kurtz looked over at me and laughed. “If your friend’s sick, I’d be careful bringing him to this guy. You might not be happy with the result.”

Rex took a step closer and Kurtz whirled on him, pulling a gun from his waistband. The tension in the air skyrocketed and my stomach clenched.

“Okay, now, let’s calm down,” Doc said, showing his open hands in a soothing gesture. “That’s serious business right there. Deadly business.”

Kurtz swung the gun in Doc’s direction.

“Doc, look out!” I yelled.

Rex whipped out his arm and snatched the weapon, leaving Kurtz stunned, staring at his empty hand for several seconds before realizing Rex now held the gun.

“I told you before, son,” Doc said gently. “I don’t want any trouble.”

Kurtz turned to Rex. “You . . . you need to give that back.”

Rex opened the gun’s cylinder, shook the bullets into his palm, and flung them into the air. A moment later they pitter-pattered back to Earth in the overgrown, trash-strewn lot across the street.

As he was handing the gun back, a smug, malevolent smile flickered across Kurtz’s face.

“He’s got more bullets,” I called out.

Kurtz flashed me a murderous glare as his hand moved to his pants pocket. I might have heard a faint clink as he did.

Rex heaved the gun into the dark sky.

Kurtz tried to track the arc, but it disappeared. “Hey . . .,” he said, pausing as a distant, muffled crash emerged from somewhere in the night, “that was my dad’s gun.”

Rex took a step closer and loomed over him. “Get out of here.”

Kurtz stepped back. “You’ll be sorry you did that,” he said, his voice jagged with emotion. Then he turned and ran, disappearing around the corner.

A car door slammed and tires squealed, then Rex and I lifted Cornelius again, and Doc opened the door.

“Does that happen a lot?” I asked as we carried Cornelius inside.

“It happens,” Doc replied, slapping a switch to turn on the battery-powered lights.

“You shouldn’t be out here on your own,” Rex said.

“Just take him straight back and put him in the chair,” Doc said.

We carried Cornelius through the small waiting area and into the large treatment room in the back, where we laid him into one of Doc’s barbershop examination chairs.

It felt strange to be at Doc’s clinic again. I’d only been there a couple of times, several months earlier.

A lot had gone down after that.

Rex pulled me close as Doc bustled around Cornelius.

“You okay?” Rex said.

I nodded.

Doc’s expression seemed to support my grim prognosis. He picked up the canister and looked at it, confused.

“I was wondering if maybe he needed to use that,” I said. “To breathe.”

Doc glanced at me, then sniffed at the mask. He fiddled with a knob on the valve, then sniffed it again and jerked his head away. “I don’t think so,” he said, giving it a shake. “It’s pretty much empty, but it doesn’t seem like it was good air to start with. Maybe that’s what made him sick.”

As he checked Cornelius’s pulse again, I said, “He’s got a bracelet on the other wrist. Like a hospital bracelet. Says his name is Cornelius.”

Doc lifted Cornelius’s other wrist and studied the bracelet. He nodded to himself, then began cutting off Cornelius’s filthy shirt. The skin underneath seemed unaffected by his splice, but it was scratched and bruised. Doc listened with a stethoscope to his heart and lungs, poked his midsection, and thumped it with two fingers, listening to the sound.

“His condition is deteriorating,” he said, as he attached an oxygen monitor to Cornelius’s finger, a glowing plastic clip connected to a machine the size of a toaster on a tall metal stand. Then he drew blood, four vials, and put them into four slots on top of an ancient-looking white plastic apparatus that said DIAGNOSTICOMP. He keyed in some numbers on a keypad, and then stood back as it began to whir and hum.

Turning back to the oxygen monitor, he frowned and readjusted the clip on Cornelius’s finger, then smacked the monitor itself. His frown deepened. “Either this thing is broken or his blood oxygen level is totally out of whack.”

Rex gestured with his thumb toward the corner of the room and said, “What about the hyperbaric thingy?”

Doc and I both followed his gaze to the hyperbaric bed, a rectangular platform covered with a plastic bubble that was supposed to help people heal using super-oxygenated air.

“I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” Doc said. He opened the lid and Rex lifted Cornelius’s limp body out of the chair and laid him down in the bed.

Doc closed the lid and hit a few switches. Cornelius disappeared behind a fog of condensation.

For a moment the only sound was the hiss of oxygen hoses, then the blood analyzer dinged. Doc read the display and shook his head. “Must not be working,” he mumbled.

Then he lifted the plastic bubble and let out a deep sigh of sorrow and frustration.

Cornelius was dead.

We stood there for a moment, quietly looking down at him. Then the silence was shattered by a sharp bang against the front door. A voice barked out, “Open up! Police!”

A second bang shook the building, and the door exploded into a thousand shards of glass.

Doc closed the lid as two cops entered, guns drawn.

“Freeze! Right there!” said the first officer, holding his gun in front of him with two hands. His name tag said RETZLAFF. He was the younger of the two, and judging from the red flush on his ruddy face and his wild eyes, the more excitable.

His partner was older, heavier, and calmer, his eyes half closed. The faint wrinkles on his olive skin made him seem almost grandfatherly—but not quite. His tag said TERASOVIC and his gun was pointed at the floor. He put out a hand and gently pushed Retzlaff’s weapon down as well. The younger cop looked annoyed, but he went along with it.

Terasovic looked at Doc. “Is this your place? You’re Guzman?”

Retzlaff kept his eyes on Rex. His entire body seemed tense.

Doc took off his glasses and polished them with his shirt. “Yes, that’s right.”

Terasovic turned toward the front door. “All right,” he called. “Come on in here.”

We heard footsteps on the broken glass, then Kurtz walked in, looking as messed-up, as scared, and as defiant as ever.

Terasovic pointed at Doc. “This is the guy you said, right?”

Kurtz glanced around the room, then down at his feet. “That’s him, yeah.”

“Mr. Guzman, Mr. Kurtz here says that you kidnaped his fiancée, a Ms. Bembry. Is that right, Mr. Kurtz?”

This time Kurtz didn’t even look up. “Yes.”

Terasovic looked around the lab, then looked at Doc. “Is it okay with you if we search the place?”

Before Doc could answer, Kurtz said, “She’s not here.”

“What’s that?” Terasovic sounded vaguely perplexed. “I thought you told my partner here that this man abducted your fiancée.” He glanced at Retzlaff with a hint of a scowl on his face. Retzlaff looked confused. His hands squirmed around the grip of his gun, like they were sweaty.

“Well, yeah,” said Kurtz. “She disappeared without a trace, and this guy,” he said, pointing, “so-called Doctor Guzman over here, was the last person to see her.”

Terasovic took a deep breath. “And when was this?”

“Well, I just found out about that part,” Kurtz said.

“When did she disappear?”

“October fifteenth.”

Terasovic rolled his eyes, then paused. “The day of the riots?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“And this girlfriend of yours—”

“Fiancée.”

“This fiancée of yours, did she belong to Humans for Humanity or any related groups?”

“No way,” Kurtz snapped. “She was a mixie.”

Rex stiffened at the slur and Retzlaff tightened his grip on his gun.

Terasovic turned to Rex and said, “Sorry about that.” Then he turned back to Kurtz. “Watch your tone, son. So you’re saying your girlfriend was a chimera, and she went missing the day of the riots, and you think her disappearance has something to do with Mr. Guzman here?”

“Well, yeah, she just got spliced the night before and she went to see him to get it fixed, because it was stupid. I never saw her again, and he won’t tell me what happened to her.”

Terasovic’s face was darkening. “Well, that’s not exactly what you told my partner before we came in here breaking down doors.” He turned to Doc with a forced smile. “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, Mr. Guzman. I just have to ask, do you have any information on the whereabouts of Ms. Claudia Bembry?”

Doc squinted and tilted his head, like he was trying to remember.

I don’t know if it was an act or not, but I sure remembered her. I felt myself staring daggers at Kurtz. I had met Claudia when we were both looking for Doc Guzman. The reason she was trying to get her splice fixed was that her boyfriend—Kurtz, I now realized—had been supposed to get spliced alongside her, but once she got her splice, he backed out and ran away, leaving her alone to deal with the huge life change they’d been supposed to go through together, and right as all hell was breaking loose.

“Maybe she just doesn’t like you anymore,” I said. “Maybe she came to her senses and realized what an asshole you are.”

“That’s not true!” Kurtz yelled. “She loves me! We were supposed to get married!”

I rolled my eyes. “What are you, like, fifteen?”

Terasovic turned to me and said, “Miss, please. Unless you have information to share, please don’t escalate the situation.” He turned to Doc. “Mr. Guzman, does the name ring a bell? Do you have any information about Ms. Bembry’s whereabouts?”

“No. I met her. I tried to help her but couldn’t. As far as I know, she’s with her parents.”

“Okay, that’s all I needed to know. Thanks for your cooperation. And I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

“That’s it?” Kurtz practically shrieked. “That’s all you’re going to do?”

“Mr. Kurtz,” Terasovic snapped, “have you even spoken to Ms. Bembry’s parents?”

Kurtz tried to scowl, but it looked more like a pout. “They don’t return my calls.”

“Because you’re an asshole,” I muttered.

Kurtz and Terasovic both glared at me. Terasovic took out a business card and approached Doc. “Like I said, Mr. Guzman, we’re sorry for the inconvenience. You can file a claim with the county to get that door fixed. Just call the number right here, and make sure you have your deed and your property tax ID number.”

He gave Doc a fake smile. It was obvious to all of us that no one was paying taxes on the place. Doc took the card anyway and slipped it into his shirt pocket. “Thank you.”

Terasovic turned toward the door, motioning for Retzlaff and Kurtz to precede him, but as he did he stopped.

There was an odd expression on his face. He glanced back at Doc, and it took me a second to realize he was actually looking past him. At the hyperbaric bed. To my horror, I saw that the condensation on the bubble had begun to clear. Through the plastic, plainly visible now, was Cornelius’s foot.

“What’s that?” Terasovic asked.

Doc didn’t answer. Terasovic stepped around him, then let out a loud sigh, part sad, part victorious, part weary.

“Hands,” he said to Doc, as he pulled out his cuffs.

“Wait, what’s going on?” I said, but I knew what was going on. Cornelius was dead, and Doc was about to be blamed.

“Were these two involved?” Terasovic asked Doc as he put the cuffs on him.

“You can’t arrest him,” Rex said, moving toward them. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”

Retzlaff pointed his gun in Rex’s direction, his hands shaking. Kurtz smiled—a smug, infuriating little smile.

“No, they weren’t,” Doc said. He looked up at Rex and shook his head, telling him not to interfere.

“Sorry, folks,” Terasovic said. “I know you fixers think you’re doing the right thing, and maybe sometimes you are. But performing unlicensed medical procedures is unlawful. I generally don’t give a crap about that, but if someone dies because of it, well . . .” He put one hand on Doc’s shoulder, the other on his cuffed hands. “Mr. Guzman, you’re under arrest. For murder.”

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