A Mother’s Mysterious Gift Hints Dragons Are Real In This Excerpt From The Night Ends with Fire

Books Features K.X. Song
A Mother’s Mysterious Gift Hints Dragons Are Real In This Excerpt From The Night Ends with Fire

“Romantasy” is one of the hottest trends in publishing right now. Stories that mix the intense worldbuilding and adventure-filled plot of high fantasy with a swoonworthy love story give readers a thrilling blend of the best of both genres. But The Night Ends with Fire is a romantasy that adds on an even more compelling twist—a retelling of a popular legend that will be familiar to anyone who grew up watching Disney animated films.

The debut adult fantasy novel from K.X. Song, author of YA novel Echo in the City, The Night Ends with Fire is inspired by the traditional Chinese legend of Mulan and embraces popular tropes from wuxia drama even as it asks timely questions about female ambition, agency, and power. It follows Meilin who seizes control of her fate when she joins the army disguised as a man, taking her father’s place after her tries to marry her off to a violent, dangerous man. 

Here’s how the publisher describes the story. 

The Three Kingdoms are at war, but Meilin’s father refuses to answer the imperial draft. Trapped by his opium addiction, he plans to sell Meilin for her dowry. But when Meilin discovers her husband-to-be is another violent, ill-tempered man, she realizes that nothing will change for her unless she takes matters into her own hands.

The very next day, she disguises herself as a boy and enlists in her father’s place.

In the army, Meilin’s relentless hard work brings her recognition, friendship—and a growing closeness with Sky, a prince turned training partner. But has she simply exchanged one prison for another? As her kingdom barrels toward destruction, Meilin begins to have visions of a sea dragon spirit that offers her true power and freedom, but with a deadly price.

With the future of the Three Kingdoms hanging in the balance, Meilin will need to decide whom to trust—Sky, who inspires her loyalty and love; the sea dragon spirit, who has his own murky agenda; or an infuriating enemy prince who makes her question everything she once knew—about her kingdom and about her own heart.

The Night Ends with Fire will hit shelves on July 2, but we’ve got an exclusive look at the story for you right now, in which Meilin receives an important—and perhaps powerful—gift from her late mother. 

 

 “There’s something else,” Xiuying said abruptly, and by the way she spoke, I could tell she already regretted what she was about to say. “I don’t know if I should be giving this to you, but it’s your choice to make. It’s your choice what you do with it.”

“Do with what?”

With trembling hands, Xiuying withdrew a delicate necklace from her pocket. The cord was simple, nearly invisible in the dim light, but the pendant was not. The jade was unlike anything I had ever seen. Emerald green, dark, light, it seemed to change color every second, flickering like sunlight upon water. Engraved in the base of the stone, in tiny lettering no larger than a single grain of rice, were two characters: 青龍. Qinglong. Azure Dragon.

As if drawn by a magnetic force, I reached out to touch it, my fingers closing around the necklace before I realized what I was doing. It is greed, I realized. I was covetous for it.

“Your mother gave it to Uncle Zhou before she passed,” Xiuying explained. “She wasn’t in her right mind at the time. You know how she was . . . different then.”

Xiuying had never met my mother, but she had heard the stories. How my mother had once claimed to hear voices. How she had told my father that a powerful spirit lived in her ear. How in her final days, no one could enter her rooms. No one but me.

One serving girl had tried. Against instruction, she had tried to bring my mother tea and mung bean cakes. I was not present when it happened, but I’d seen the girl in the aftermath: collapsed on the ground, writhing like a snake in heat, her eyes white, her words nonsensical.

After that, no one else dared enter my mother’s rooms.

When my mother passed, we locked the door to her chamber. When the debt collectors came, we dismissed the remaining servants. Gradually, the memories became stories, stories like fiction. We moved on. We forgot. But still, there were times when I passed my mother’s locked door and felt the glittering dark of the space beyond, the weight of that air. Like an inhaled breath, waiting.

“Your mother gave Uncle Zhou strange instructions.” Xiuying swallowed, her expression pained; yet she was determined to go on. “She told him, ‘Give this to Meilin when she is ready to die.’”

Despite myself, I shivered.

“That’s why we didn’t want to give it to you,” Xiuying hurried on. “But it’s presumptuous of me to make the decision for you. It should be your choice what you do with it. Throw it into the sea for all I care. Or sell it in the market. By the quality of the jade, it could be worth several taels of gold.”

Xiuying wasn’t remotely superstitious. Most in Anlai were like her, believing that dragons and other spirits were nothing more than tall tales, meant to scare children into behaving. As for me, I did not know what to believe, but I’d known my mother; I’d seen how far she’d fallen into madness. I’d seen the way she’d convulsed with fear at the sight of the lily pond in our garden, which was barely deep enough to swim in. The way she’d refused drink in her last hours, though her lips cracked and her voice thinned to a sliver of a whisper. And then—how they’d found her drowned body in the Wen River, so bloated and decayed she’d become unrecognizable. Uncle Zhou had not let me look at her, but I’d seen the funeral shroud slip off one bare foot before the burial, revealing a swollen, rotted blue.

We never did find out why she’d gone for a swim.

Now my hand tightened around the necklace. The wise choice, undeniably, was to listen to Xiuying and throw it into the sea. And yet, looking at its flickering, iridescent beauty, its subtle sweet fragrance like my mother’s, I knew I would not—I could not—give it up. Instead, I tied it around my neck, tucking it beneath my bindings so that the pendant hung between my breasts. I could feel its strange sentient warmth thrumming against my sternum, its gentle pulse as rhythmic as the lapping of tides. In the dark, I imagined it was my mother’s heartbeat.

Excerpted from The Night Ends with Fire by K.X. Song Copyright © 2024 by K. X. Song. Excerpted by permission of Ace. All rights reserved.

The Night Ends with Fire will be released on July 2, 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

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