A Violent Meeting Will Change Everything For Two Young Women In This Excerpt From Daughter of the Bone ForestBooks Features fantasy
Daughter of the Bone Forest is the debut fantasy novel from Jasmine Skye, a dark, queernormative story about love and magic that features characters who represent the full breadth of the gender spectrum, a wildly unique magical system, and a central romance that is both achingly romantic and incredibly emotionally fraught.
The book follows seventeen-year-old Rosy Hoult, a bone familiar who has the magical ability to shift into a bone wolf and who wants nothing to do with the prophesied war looming in her kingdom’s future. But when she saves the life of the Cursed Kingdom’s heir, the powerful Princess Shaw, the two become reluctantly bound by fate. Sent to the prestigious and elite magic school known as Witch Hall, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to Shaw and the courtship that ensues will leave them both questioning their past, present, and future.
Here’s how the publisher describes the story.
Rosy is a bone familiar, gifted with the power to shift into animals marked with exposed bone. She spends most of her days in the magical Bone Forest, caring for her feral grandmother and hiding her powers to avoid conscription by the Witch King’s army. Until the day that Princess Shaw, a witch known as Death’s Heir, visits the Forest. When Rosy saves Shaw’s life, the princess offers her the chance to attend the prestigious school, Witch Hall, as payment. Though Rosy is wary of Shaw’s intentions, she cannot pass up the opportunity to find the cure for her grandmother’s affliction.
But at Witch Hall, Rosy finds herself embroiled in political games she doesn’t understand. Shaw wants Rosy for her entourage, a partner to help lead the coming war. All Rosy wants is to stay out of trouble until she can graduate and save her grandmother, but she can’t deny her attraction to Shaw or the comfort Shaw’s magic gives her. Will Rosy give in to her destiny, or will the Bone Forest call her home once and for all?
Daughter of the Bone Forest won’t hit shelves until February 27, but we’ve got an early look at the story right now.
A soldier on horseback trotted to the front of the procession. He wore the bright red sash of a thane—an officer—and he lifted his chin imperiously before bellowing, “All bow for Princess Shaw Colchuck, daughter of the Witch King, heir to the Cursed Throne!”
It was easy to tell which of the four witches was the princess. She was the only one who rode a bone horse, a beautiful black-and-white piebald mare with exposed bone that peeked out from underneath her mane and ran down until it disappeared below the princess’s glossy saddle.
Shaw was nearly as striking as her horse. Her hair was dark brown and moved like silk, the ends just barely meeting her shoulders. She had pale sepia skin and high cheekbones that accentuated an otherwise squarish face. She sat upright in the saddle, regal in the way she kept her shoulders back, reins clutched in slender fingers. She looked pristine, like something pure and untouchable—but I knew that was an illusion.
I bowed, if only so I wouldn’t stand out from the crowd. Princess Shaw was the future of the Cursed Kingdom, the only living descendant of the witch who cursed this land and made this kingdom a safe haven for magic. But the future Shaw promised was a bleak one.
I didn’t want to be here, fawning over the girl people called Death’s Heir.
Tempest tried to pull his reins out of my hand as I bowed. I held tight, until the leather bit into my palm, and shook hard at his reins to chide him. Bone horses were more aggressive than their nonmagical cousins and, as a stallion, Tempest was particularly stubborn. It didn’t matter that I’d trained him since he was a colt, he would seize any chance to take advantage of my distraction.
The procession began to circle around the square, prancing about like a few dozen villagers shopping in the morning market were worthy of a full royal parade. The whole thing was an ostentatious show and I didn’t understand why Toketie had been so excited to see it.
According to my cousin, the princess had spent every break this last year touring different areas of the kingdom to drum up support for the military. As if the Cursed Kingdom’s army needed more support. The Witch King had dangled the threat of the prophesied war over everyone’s heads long enough that I figured half the adults in the kingdom were either actively serving or registered military reserve.
I hated it. The army gave false promises and discarded the ones those promises snared when they weren’t useful anymore. It was all I could do to keep my disgust from showing on my face. Military recruiters preached shared responsibility and squads becoming like family, but that hadn’t saved Pops six years ago. Hadn’t saved Gran when they’d stripped her rank and imprisoned her for her grief over Pops’s death. Just seeing those mud-brown uniforms was enough to make me want to run back to the Forest, back to Gran, and hold her tight.
The first of the soldiers marched past me and I pulled Tempest back. He pinned his ears and curled his top lip to expose his teeth.
“Don’t you dare make a scene,” I warned Tempest under my breath.
I empathized with his attitude, but I couldn’t let him act out. I didn’t need that kind of attention, not with the soldiers observing the crowd. I didn’t know if I could hold my temper through a recruitment pitch.
The wolf in my heart growled. I pressed my free hand to my chest, willing myself to calm down. I hadn’t shifted accidentally in years and it would be a disaster if I did so now. The army would do anything to conscript another wolf familiar into their ranks. Gran had made me promise six years ago to hide my wolf, to save myself from the same fate she’d been trapped into and then vilified for.
Princess Shaw and the witches of her entourage approached my section of the square. I knew from Toketie’s stories that they were all my age, but they held themselves like they were already ruling the kingdom. Shaw’s gaze breezed over the stalls of freshly picked produce and her nose wrinkled.
“It is quaint,” she said to her companions, as if continuing an earlier conversation.
Indignation rose in my chest and the wolf in my heart growled louder.
“I think it has a certain charm,” the witch riding next to her replied, almost airily. “Like a candle in the darkness. A streak of sunlight after a thunderstorm.”
The witch looked at me and held my gaze. He? She? This close, I could tell that they had the kind of features only nobility bred, with a wide forehead and skin like rich river clay. Their blue-black hair was done in two thick braids and their eyes were so dark they were almost black. I couldn’t tell the witch’s preferred gender— nothing on their black robes or in their hairstyle indicated boy or girl. It had to be deliberate. They it was.
“A single rose among a thousand thorns,” the witch finished, voice sharpening as if they’d just figured something out.
I spun around so my back was to the procession, blood rushing through my ears. Why had I caught the witch’s attention? Hunching over, I pretended to be interested in Iktus’s radishes.
“Was that a vision?” a deep voice murmured.
“No, that was just Aklemin’s usual horseshit,” someone else responded.
“You were the one who wanted to come here, Aklemin,” Shaw said. “What could a backwater village like this offer that’s worth adding an extra day to our tour?”
I glared down at a lumpy radish, not daring to turn around. Whatever this Aklemin had thought, it sounded like the rest of the witches were dismissing it. I should be grateful, but a part of me seethed. Forest’s Edge was small, but we deserved more than the princess’s condescension.
“I wonder,” Aklemin began, but just then Tempest yanked his reins hard enough that I had to let go or risk losing a finger.
“Tempest!” I snapped, spinning back around.
I was too late. The bone stallion reared up, glittering white hooves flashing through the air. He came crashing down into the procession. The witches scattered out of the way. One of the mounted soldiers fell off his horse with a scream.
So much for staying unnoticed. Soldiers began to draw their swords, reacting to the perceived threat. The thane shouted for Princess Shaw to get back.
“Stop, don’t hurt him!” I cried, rushing after my wayward horse. Tempest was my family’s only breeding stallion. Our whole livelihood relied upon him. “Tempest, calm!”
I knew Tempest was scary to those who weren’t used to bone horses. Like all animals born out of the magic of the Forest, he had patches of exposed bone growing on top of his skin. His were particularly visible against his dark gray coat, white bone protruding along his right shoulder, back legs, and the entire left half of his face.
Even more terrifying than that, magical animals grew significantly larger than their nonmagical counterparts. Tempest was nearly twenty-two hands at the shoulder—more than seven and a half feet tall. There were few creatures larger in the entire Cursed Kingdom. Shaw’s three companions visibly struggled as their horses tried to bolt away from the scene.b
The princess had the opposite problem. Shaw’s mare looked to be closer to nineteen hands, on the smaller side for a bone horse, but she planted her hooves and snorted at Tempest without fear. Tempest gave a high-pitched whinny in reply. He’d been the sole stallion among several dozen bone mares since his sire had retired. He wasn’t used to being challenged.
I wasn’t an ice witch, able to see the future, but I knew what would happen if I let Tempest charge at the princess’s bone horse. I leaped in front of the stallion and held my arms out wide.
“Tempest, stand down,” I said firmly. My neck prickled at putting my back to the other bone horse. I had to hope the princess could control her mount.
Tempest pawed the ground. For a second, I thought he would charge right through me. Bone horses were stronger, hardier, and more loyal than nonmagical horses, but bone rage was scary enough to deter most casual riders from owning one.
But I knew how to deal with bone rage. Bone horses had nothing on a feral bone wolf.
Daughter of the Bone Forest will hit shelves on February 27, 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