Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: The Hunter’s Gambit Promises a Dark Vampire TaleCover: Ciel Pierlot & Sarah O'Flaherty Books Features Ciel Pierlot
Vampire stories have come a long way since the height of Twilight mania almost two decades ago, and these days, the darker and more thrilling the story, the better. Such is the case with The Hunter’s Gambit, the latest novel from Ciel Pierlot, whose debut—the imaginative space opera Bluebird—was shortlisted for last year’s Compton Crook Award.
Described as perfect for fans of Jay Kristoff’s Empire of the Vampire, S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood, and Jennifer L. Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash, The Hunter’s Gambit is a queer fantasy romance that mixes a take-no-prisoners heroine, bloodthirsty vampires and a dash of spice with a dark festival where the dangerous creatures fete and feed on a specially chosen human victim. Talented human blacksmith Kazan Korvic is the latest victim chosen to rule over the undead’s annual Vampire Court celebration as its chosen Queen, and she has but three days to find a way to escape her captors before she is ripped to pieces as the culmination of their lavish feast. But she’s willing to do anything to survive—whether that means fighting her way out or working with some of the very beings she despises, who seem to have dangerous agendas of their own.
Here’s how the publisher describes the story.
The city of Mavazem is plagued by creatures of the night. Geist possession is on the rise and aristocratic vampires haunt their remote manors. Humans build city walls and sharpen their pitchforks, waiting for the inevitable. Kazan Korvic refuses to cower. As an expert blacksmith with a sharp grifter’s eye, her specialty lies in crafting – and using – weapons designed to kill the creatures that plague her city.
But sword skills aren’t enough to protect her when a group of sinister, blood-sport loving vampires attack her caravan. After a bloody battle in a remote wood, Kazan is captured and forced to attend this year’s Vampire Court celebration at the inescapable Vampire Citadel. For three days she’ll serve as the puppet Vampire Queen, forced to entertain and to suffer at the hands of her vicious captors. And at the end of her reign, the party will culminate with an extravagant feast… with Kazan as the main course.
Kazan has a plan: find her sword, which was taken in the raid, and then find a way out. She has no allies. She has no friends. And while a handsome vampire lord and a flirtatious vampire noblewoman take an interest in Kazan, they won’t lift a finger to help her. With the clock ticking down the last three days she has to live, and every attempt to escape failing, Kazan can feel the walls closing in.
But she’s not just trapped in the Citadel with these bloodthirsty villains. They’re trapped with her, too. And they’re not prepared for just how far she’s willing to go to survive and exact her revenge.
The Hunter’s Gambit won’t hit shelves until June 25, 2024, but we’ve got an exclusive look at its gorgeous cover and the start of the story for you right now!
Fun fact: The Hunter’s Gambit cover is partly created by Pierlot, who illustrated the sword and crown, alongside cover designer Sarah O’Flaherty.
ONE YEAR AGO
It takes less than five minutes for the man to stop screaming. That must be a new record. Adrius De Vere breathes in the smell of blood, fresh and filled with fear. Below his place on an upper balcony, his fellows are busy consuming the last of their meal. Three days of waiting patiently to feast has stirred most in the Citadel into a voracious blood lust. What had once been a luxurious ballroom now resembles a carrion pit, fine silks, and gems obscured by glittering bloodspray and the snap of bone. The human has been literally torn apart, the head fought over with the same wild frenzy as dogs fighting over scraps.
Adrius turns away from the gruesome scene, seeking refuge in a gallery overlooking the main ballroom. The smell of the unwilling human’s rapidly cooling body is becoming cloying, nauseating, and altogether gauche.
A woman occupies the gallery with him, a glass of wine in her hand and a sour twist to her mouth.
She glances up as he approaches. “Lovely evening, is it not?”
“You needn’t pretend with me, Reya.” He leans against the wooden railing next to her, his back to the scene below. “For all your efforts coordinating this, you appear to be enjoying it about as much as I am.”
With a forced, casual attitude, she shrugs and tosses her excessively long dark hair over one shoulder. “When I was baroness, I always preferred wild boar to the suckling pigs our butchers raised. Raising something expressly to act as food does a disservice to both hunter and prey.”
“You’ll hear no arguments from me. There are numerous ways we could go about this that don’t involve ostentatious charade. It’s an unnecessary distraction from events of actual importance.”
A salacious grin spreads across her bright red lips, the shine eerily reminiscent of the blood spilt down below. “Would you like me to provide a different type of distraction?”
“Oh I would – but that can’t have been the only reason you asked me to drop by.”
She sighs, the noise one eyeroll short of an overdramatic huff. “Yes, yes, business first. It’s always nice to know someone appreciates my skills as a spy.”
“You do so adore showing off.”
She snickers. “Guilty. I ah… overheard that my Lord Dasar is sending a few patrols over the northern border tomorrow. The usual. Some silly insult riled him up and now he has an excuse to snatch more territory for himself. It’s petty, but if they die, it’ll weaken his forces.”
“Consider it taken care of. I have the strangest feeling that they’ll go missing before they can accomplish their task.” He hesitates, weighing relative troop strengths in his head and, as always, coming out with an undesirable answer. “It isn’t enough, is it?”
“I wish it were. We have to wait for him to weaken himself further before we can risk bolder strategies. Next year, maybe,” she muses.
It has been ‘next year’ for decades. It is a good thing, he reflects, that they are immortal. The passage of time scarcely touches them, though it doesn’t make him any less impatient. “I suppose we’ll wait and see,” he says. Then focusing on happier matters, “Remember, after I kill Dasar for you, I get to take my Lady Ezelind’s head as well.”
Reya drifts back from the golden lights and prying eyes of the ballroom below. A cheer rings out as someone licks the last smear of blood from a femur, devouring the final traces of that year’s unfortunate Vampire King.
All guile slides off her face like a silk shift sliding off bare shoulders. “My dear Adrius, I wouldn’t dream of robbing you of your vengeance.”
An unfortunate fly struggles in a net of silken threads, its pitiful flutterings achieving little more than briefly inconveniencing the spider tying it up. Kazan Korvic feels a touch of kinship with the fly as she picks and tugs at the laces on her bodice, tightening them until she too is snugly wrapped. She does up the final buttons, presses a thin sheet of rouge paper between her lips, and slides an additional pin into her bun for some much–needed structural support.
Over in the corner of the room, the spider has begun to gnaw on its meal. Kazan watches, morbidly entranced, as the fly dies, the faint tremblings in the web fading away.
She crushes the spider between her heel and the wall as she leaves.
The majority of her house is not a house at all, but a forge with a tiny storefront and a flat above. It’s a quaint sort of place, with floorboards that perpetually smell a bit like charcoal from the forge below and a ceiling that perpetually smells slightly damp from the frequent rainshowers of the region. She heads down the creaking stairs to the storefront where a long, slim box awaits her on the counter. Double checking that the contents are pristine, she tucks it under one arm before stepping outside into the evening air and locking the door behind her.
Her destination tonight sits in the city’s center, surrounded by the other estates of those rich enough to afford space in the heart of Upper Welshire and social enough to not want to be parted from the hub of commerce. Around the city center are the markets and the Warden outpost and more places to grab a drink than she can count. Between bloodthirsty vampires, haunting geists, and treacherous landscapes, there’s no shortage of people needing to get drunk no matter where you are in Mavazem.
The Hunter’s Gambit will be released on June 25, 2024, from Angry Robot Books, but you can pre-order it right now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB