Armored Titans Face Off In This Excerpt From Sara Wolf’s Heavenbreaker

Books Features Sara Wolf
Armored Titans Face Off In This Excerpt From Sara Wolf’s Heavenbreaker

Sara Wolf has already proven herself a capable fantasy writer. But where her (excellent) Bring Me Their Hearts trilogy was grounded in folklore references and fairy tale themes, Heavenbreaker sees her dipping her toe into the world of science fiction, crafting an intricate and fully realized world set in a far-flung future. There, elites battle in giant Kaiju-esque human armor, complex political machinations rule the day, and one furious young woman is desperate for revenge.

Heavenbreaker follows the story of Synali von Hauteclare, the bastard daughter of a noble and a commoner who wants nothing more than to avenge her mother’s death and punish those responsible for her murder, no matter what it might cost her. After killing her father, she plots to destroy the rest of his noble House—even if bringing Hauteclare down means competing in the deadly tournament that could cost her own life. 

Here’s how the publisher describes the story. 

Bravery isn’t what you do. It’s what you endure.

The duke of the powerful House Hauteclare is the first to die. With my dagger in his back.

He didn’t see it coming. Didn’t anticipate the bastard daughter who was supposed to die with her mother—on his order. He should have left us with the rest of the Station’s starving, commoner rubbish.

Now there’s nothing left. Just icy-white rage and a need to make House Hauteclare pay. Every damn one of them.

Even if it means riding Heavenbreaker—one of the few enormous machines left over from the War—and jousting against the fiercest nobles in the system.

Each win means another one of my enemies dies. And here, in the cold terror of space, the machine and I move as one, intent on destroying each adversary—even if it’s someone I care about. Even if it’s someone I’m falling for.

Only I’m not alone. Not anymore.

Because there’s something in the machine with me. Something horrifying. Something…more.

And it won’t be stopped.

Heavenbreaker won’t hit shelves until May 21, but we’re thrilled to be able to bring you a first look at the story to help tide you over until then!

​​I am riding.

Well, floating, at least. I look down to see sleek, pure-white metal limbs below me—legs—and hands the same color tipped with gold on the fingers. It’s like looking at my own body but made huge and too shiny.

They say God made man in his image, but so, too, did man make the steeds in theirs.

A steed is a gigantic artificial human, armored. It stands upright on thick legs and feet, with a waspish torso flaring out to a broad chest and arms and finally a helmeted head, usually with no visible eye, ear, or mouth holes—holes are structural weaknesses in space. Plasma vents dot the feet, the ankles, the torso, and the back. Every metal edge of a steed is sanded smooth, stylishly yet uselessly, considering aerodynamics are nigh pointless in a vacuum; when nobles want something beautiful, they make it so at all costs.

I slowly move farther into space as a holographic screen springs to life in front of me and hangs there among the stars in high definition, displaying two men in decadent breast coats and headsets. They sit before stands filled to bursting with a seething audience. I recognize them: the court-appointed tourney commentators.

“Welcome, one and all, to the 148th annual Cassiopeia Cup Semifinals!”

The thunderous roar of the crowd nearly drowns them out completely, but it all goes dull in my ears when my eyes find the Station. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen my home from the outside. I know the shape of it—a metal ring lined with honeycomb projection shields the hue of rainbow oil-slick, a spire running through it like a pierced halo, and the many hard-light highways connecting the two like bright-orange spokes in a wheel, trams zipping to and fro on their underbellies.

The gas giant the Station orbits—Esther—hangs swollen and green behind it. Dozens of substations circle her massive bulk—some attached to her many moons, some free-floating, but all of them smaller, all of them slowly terraforming her surface, as they have been since the War’s end four hundred years ago, when the seven Stations were flung from Earth’s orbit and into distant solar systems by the enemy’s final attack.

He’s out there somewhere. Father.

My eyes dart around the Station, the spindle where the nobles live in its center, the thousands of solar panels facing both into Esther—terrene—and out toward the stars—sidereal. There’s no sign of his corpse, no graying hair, no ruffled cuffs, no white cape. I can’t see Father’s body at all, but I slammed the airlock button, watched the evidence of my murder drift into nothing…so where is he? Esther’s gravity wouldn’t pull him down that fast.

Another holoscreen interrupts my view—the commentator’s face is too happy.

“We have a fantastic clash for you today, folks! The storied House Hauteclare gears up at last against the indomitable House Velrayd—two families known for their pride and prowess on the tilt! Who will overcome? Who will fall? Only heaven knows!”

I try to wave the holoscreen away, but it doesn’t fade like a vis screen. Another voice patches into my helmet with a smoky rumble—Red Rider.

“Forgive my figure of speech, but what the flying fuck are you doing, Mirelle? This isn’t amateur hour—get to your tilt.”

A crimson dot cuts through space, coming toward me. I’ve seen steeds on the vis, on posters, and in the hands of children as figurines, but not like this: huge and framed against the cold blanket of space and the green glow of Esther and all too big, all too real, coming close all too fast. Nothing that big should move that gracefully.

Red Rider’s steed is painted like drying blood—crimson diffused by deep brown—and it’s roughly the length of an entire tram. Its helmet has a beaklike protrusion on the mouth that sweeps up the forehead and over the skull as if it’s the crest of a bird, and its heels have the same feather shape. For a second, I wonder where his saddle is: in the chest or the head? Where are we positioned as riders in these gargantuan puppets? I look down to my steed’s titanic white chest. I must be in the torso somewhere—that feels central.

Red Rider jets over to me, and I watch, momentarily mesmerized, as the crimson plasma the steed produces lingers behind it like hot twin ribbons, and then the cold of space dissolves them. Eats them. Heat is survival, but only now have I realized it’s beautiful, too.

Too late.

His gravelly voice on the comms is insistent. “Did your initial thrust screw up or something? Here, lemme help.”

I don’t need your goddamn help, noble.

No buttons in the saddle, no levers to pull—only my own body floating in gel that’s now turned clear as glass. Whatever switches Red Rider uses to move his steed, I can’t see them. My steed is unresponsive—I can’t even twitch away as he laces our metal arms together. The sensation of him touching my elbow makes me jump—skin-on-skin pressure on get the fuck away from me. The feedback is exactly like touching in real life. I mentally flip him off, and surprise sizzles through me when the golden fingers of my steed’s free hand mimic my thoughts perfectly. The same middle finger—the same exact wrist tilt.

Red Rider chuckles. “You wanna give me the silent treatment that badly? Go right ahead. It’s not gonna stop me from helping a fellow rider out. You know, chivalry? That thing you love so much?”

I only hear him faintly—too busy closing my fist experimentally. I go wide-eyed as the fist of the white-gold steed closes, too. The delay is nonexistent—like watching my reflection move in a mirror. I’m not just inside the steed—I am the steed.

Slowly, Red Rider tows me to the tilt: a span of what would look like empty space if not for the floating hexagonal plates on opposite sides bookending it. I can only estimate the distance between the two plates—fifty parses apart, maybe more. In the direct middle of the tilt is the unmistakable blue glow of a gravity generator, hanging like an azure star in the stretch of black, but this one is much brighter than the ones in the Station’s walls. It must be a short-range grav-gen, the sort used in the War to launch battleships and steeds alike with its slingshot effect.

When we reach one of the plates, Red Rider presses my floating body against it—his fingertips on my chest trigger instant venomous thoughts—don’t try to control me, you entitled piece of shit. With a vicious jolt, magnetics kick in and rivet my spine to the tilt. I glare straight ahead, refusing to look at him.

“Well,” he starts jovially, “I’m off. Best of luck and for the glory of the king and all that.”

His steed makes a little salute—red fingers to red forehead—and then he pivots, the jets on his back and feet blazing crimson as he propels past the halfway point of the grav-gen to the hexagonal plate on the other end of the tilt. He moves easily—obviously academy-trained. He chose academy. Noble children like him get to decide their own cushy fates while the rest of us scrape at dangerous, back-breaking jobs: servitude, welding, mining on the substations…things that break, kill, maim. Commoners are disposable, after all—the brothel taught me that. Father taught me that. He treated Mother like something to be used and then thrown away.

My anger simmers high, a fire that cannot be stopped, a fire I will not stop, and it burns and burns and burns, and strangely, I feel the thing in here with me start to burn, too, anger coursing molten all around me.

My mother is dead, and I killed my father. I’m alone in this life. I know that.

But for the first time in six months, there’s the barest venting of pressure, a release in knowing something else in this universe—anything else—burns the same way I do.

I will go down in fire, and the flames will scar every Hauteclare on this godforsaken Station.

Excerpted from Heavenbreaker by Sara Wolf. Reprinted with permission from Red Tower Books, an imprint of Entangled Publishing. All rights reserved.

Heavenbreaker will be released on May 21, 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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