Emily A. Duncan arrived on the Young Adult lit scene this year with Wicked Saints, the first book in her Something Dark and Holy trilogy. To say we inhaled her New York Times bestselling debut is an understatement. A gothic fantasy novel that’s as romantic as it is thrilling, Wicked Saints kicks off our favorite new series in YA fiction.
So we’re thrilled to host the cover reveal for the sequel, Ruthless Gods, alongside an exclusive first look at Chapter 1! But if you haven’t read Wicked Saints yet, go check it out before risking spoilers below.
All good? Then read on for the scoop about Ruthless Gods:
Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who—and what—he’s become.
As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.
Olga Grlic designed and Mark McCoy illustrated Ruthless Gods’ chilling cover, matching the dark tone of Duncan’s series.
Enjoy the excerpt below, and join us in anxiously awaiting the novel’s release from Wednesday Books on April 7th, 2020. Ruthless Gods is available to pre-order here.
A viper, a tomb, a trick of the light, Velyos is always reaching for whatever does not belong to him. —The Letters of W?odzimierz
Serefin Meleski inhabited the sliver of night that was rife for betrayal. It was the time when knives were unsheathed, when plans were created and seen into fruition. It was a time for monsters.
He knew that span of hours intimately, but even knowledge of the inevitable wasn’t enough to make it less painful. It wasn’t like he spent his nights awake because he was expecting another tragedy.
No, he did it because it was easier to drink himself into oblivion than face the nightmares.
He was awake when Kacper slipped into his chambers. To rouse him, clearly, but he probably wasn’t particularly surprised to find Serefin lying on the chaise in his sitting room, one foot braced on the ground, the other leg kicked up against the back of the chaise. An empty glass on the floor within reach and a book hanging over the arm where Serefin had put it to mark his place as he considered the same thing he had considered every night for the last four months: dreams of moths and blood and monsters.
Horrors at the edges of his awareness and that voice. The thin, reedy voice that had needled him from a place past death. It never left. Those strange intonations hummed constantly in his veins.
“Any trouble is of your own making,” the voice snipped.
He did his best to ignore it.
“Who is it?” he asked Kacper. The hammered iron crown had long since been placed on his head, his palm cut and bled on an altar as he was named king of Tranavia—his downfall was oncoming. The nobility had never liked him, not when he was the high prince, and certainly not since his coronation. It was never a matter of what or when, only who would be the first one brave enough to strike.
He had let the tense whispers go on and put off explaining fully how his father had died. He was tempting fate. Tranavian politics were messy. So very, very messy.
“There is a collective meeting happening,” Kacper answered, voice soft.
Serefin nodded, not bothering to sit up. He’d anticipated it from the slavhki who had been supporters of his father.
“Ks?szi Ruminski is involved,” Kacper continued.
Serefin winced, finally standing. Nicking his finger, he lit a few candles with the magic sparking from his blood and wiped his hand, movements slow.
?aneta’s family had been demanding answers for months. Serefin was at a loss for what to say. “Oh, terribly sorry, she committed some light treason and the Black Vulture decided she would be better served amongst his kind. Tragically awkward situation, but, there it is! Nothing to be done.”
It was a constant, festering point of anxiety that had settled underneath his skin. Yes, ?aneta had betrayed him, and, yes, he had died for it, but did she deserve the terrifying fate Malachiasz had chosen for her?
“You’re being unusually calm about this,” Kacper noted.
“What will they do, I wonder? Hang me? Toss me in the dungeons and forget about me?”
Kacper deflated some, shoulders slumping. “I hate when you’re defeatist,” he muttered, shoving past where Serefin stood to make his way into Serefin’s bedchambers.
“Where are you going?” Serefin asked. He contemplated the bottles in his cabinet before pulling a miraculously full bottle of vodka from the shelf. “I’m not defeatist,” he murmured. “I’m pragmatic. Realistic. This was inevitable.”
“A coup is not an inevitability,” Kacper snapped from inside the room. Was he packing? “None of this would have happened if you had hanged that damned cleric instead of forcing her into the same odd limbo you’ve forced on the rest of the kingdom. But you didn’t. And here we are with a coup on our hands because we have no one to blame. Do you want to end up like your father?”
Serefin flinched. He took a long drink. Dreams of moths and blood and his father’s body at his feet. He had not landed the killing blow but it was his fault all the same.
“No,” he whispered, brushing a pale moth away from the flame of the candle.
“No. You don’t.”
But that is likely inevitable, too, Serefin thought morosely. Kacper would not take well to him saying it out loud.
“Half your clothes have been eaten by moths.” Kacper sounded despairing.
The door flew open. Serefin’s hand went to his spell book, adrenaline spiking. He shuddered, sighing. It was only Ostyia.
“Oh, you’re awake,” she said flatly.
“Lock that door.”
“I told him what was going on and he’s standing there drinking!” Kacper complained.
Serefin offered Ostyia the vodka bottle. Kacper poked his head out and groaned as she grabbed it and took a sip. She winked at Serefin—an exaggerated blink from her one eye.
“Get back in here, Kacper,” Serefin said.
Kacper huffed loudly and leaned in the doorway.
“How long have they been meeting?”
“I’m fairly certain this is their first,” Kacper replied.
“They won’t strike tonight.”
“They won’t strike tonight,” Serefin repeated firmly.
He tamped down his rising panic, taking the bottle back from Ostyia. Anxiety had been steadily dogging his steps for months, waiting for him to falter. If he paused and thought too hard about it he would be swallowed alive. He had to pretend this wasn’t happening.
Kacper slumped against the doorframe.
“Your desire to see to my safety is, of course, appreciated,” Serefin said, ignoring the dry look Kacper shot him. “You’re a good spymaster, but a tad hasty.”
Kacper slid down to the floor.
“Let’s figure out what they want, first,” he said. He set the bottle down on the table, brushing away another moth.
Ostyia frowned, moving to the chaise and perching on the arm rest. She yawned.
“We knew Ruminski would want answers eventually,” Serefin said.
“He’s been asking for months, Serefin. He simply got tired of waiting,” Kacper groaned.
Serefin lifted his shoulders in a weary shrug. “Perhaps they can be reasoned with? Surely there is something they want that I can give them.”
“Clandestine meetings by your enemies don’t suggest a list of demands that can be provided for,” Ostyia said.
“The entire court is my enemy,” Serefin muttered, throwing himself down into an upholstered chair. “That’s the problem.”
She nodded thoughtfully.
He had tried to win the court to his favor but nothing was working. There were too many rumors to combat that he couldn’t explain. He couldn’t reveal who had truly killed his father, and the whispers swirling through the underbelly of the court were starting to drift dangerously close to the truth.
A Kalyazi assassin. The Black Vulture. Treason. Disaster. A missing noble. A dead king. Titles from the common folk that Serefin could not shake: King of Moths, King of Blood. Serefin blessed by something no one could explain. What could the blood that fell from the sky that night be other than a blessing?
Serefin had nothing but questions and resistance from his nobility. The Kalyazi were pressing Tranavia’s forces back, and even if Tranavia did not know Kalyazin’s only cleric had killed the king, the Kalyazi surely did.
Renewed hope from Kalyazin was the last thing Serefin needed.
He couldn’t stop the war. He couldn’t answer his nobility’s questions unless he wanted Nadya hanged and he found he didn’t want that. She had done what he could not, and while she was still from an enemy territory and a force for something Serefin did not trust or believe in, he would not have her executed.
“What do we do?” Ostyia asked.
Serefin raked a hand through his hair. “I don’t know.”