“…at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted…”*
Thank you to everyone who took a guess at the characters in our Masked Ball! We were delighted to see so many intrepid masqueraders sending in entries. We hope you had as much fun with the contest as we did in putting it together. And now, without further ado, the great unmasking…followed by the name of the lucky winner of all 15 signed novels!
The First Masque:
Mask 1: Mal Catlyn, The Alchemist of Souls (Anne Lyle)
Mandritta, reversa, fendente, tonda… His fencing master’s voice echoed in his memory as he adopted the terzia guardia stance, blade dipping towards the grass.
He moved through the familiar drills, emptying his mind, becoming the blade. Stepping back and forth along the garden path, the tip of his rapier wove a pattern of glittering arcs above the rows of dew-spangled cabbages, sending butterflies spiralling up like scraps of torn paper.”
Mask 2: Nikandr Khalakovo, The Winds of Khalakovo (Bradley P. Beaulieu)
“The Gorovna was not complete and had been readied with only five muskets. They were removed from their locker by the master and four of them were passed out to the crewmen known to be good with the weapon. The fifth was handed to him.
He immediately pulled one of the walrus tusk cartridges filled with gunpowder from the bandolier across his chest and began loading the weapon. He finished well before the others and began scanning the ground below. It took him a moment to find it among the mottled patches of stone and snow—a skiff, nestled in a copse of scrub pine. Once he had found the ship, he found the men. Twenty paces away four of them kneeled at the edge of a tall cliff that ended hundreds of feet below in a forest of spruce. They appeared to be inspecting the ground, though for what reason he couldn’t guess.”
Mask 3: Mary Kate, Of Blood and Honey (Stina Leicht)
“A gust caught at her long brown hair, pulling it into her pretty oval face. When the sun was bright it brought out golden highlights in her curls. In the approaching storm she resembled a graveyard angel. One graceful hand captured the flying tresses and trapped them behind her ear. Her coat flapped open, and he saw she was wearing a new green dress.”
The Second Masque:
Mask 1: Kiran, The Tainted City (Courtney Schafer)
“Unlike Ruslan, [X] wore clothes as inky black as his hair, the warning crimson sigils standing out in sharp relief on his shirt. I recognized the largest of the sigils; I’d seen it etched into the skin over his heart. He’d told me it was Ruslan’s personal mark.
I dragged my gaze up from the sigils, dreading what I’d see in his face.
My surprise deepened into shock. He looked…relaxed. His blue eyes were clear, his head held high, and though his skin remained startlingly pale, his face showed no hint of strain. I’d never realized just how much stress and unhappiness had always been visible in his demeanor, all the way from the first time I’d met him. Until now, when for the first time I saw him without it.”
Mask 2: Catarina, Miserere: An Autumn Tale (Teresa Frohock)
She unlaced his tunic, trailing first her fingers then her lips down his chest. “Give me your love.”
“Please.” He tried to resist her, but he had looked into her eyes. He belonged to her, and in the end he had no choice but to obey.
She kissed his lips and sucked his love from his soul as Cerberus had taken her compassion. Her flesh warmed, yet the relief she derived from this child was a weak mimicry of the respite she took from Lucian.”
Mask 3: Fowler Jess, Among Thieves (Douglas Hulick)
“When she came up behind him, she didn’t waste time or effort. No tackling; nor forcing him into a wall; no trying to trip him—[X] simply drew her long knife and hamstrung the scribe with one smooth slash.
He went down on the pavement, hard and screaming.”
The Third Masque:
Mask 1: Asantir, The Heir of Night (Helen Lowe)
“In another room, at a later hour, [she] stared down at the play of black and white pieces on a chess board. “Blood feud,” she said softly. She turned her head and looked long and hard at the war chest against one wall. “Death my song,” she murmured at last—and took down the two swords from their stand on top of the chest. Her mouth set in a grim line as she studied the patterns on the black scabbards, and then she thrust them both into the loops on her belt.”
Mask 2: Isa Eotan, Blood’s Pride (Evie Manieri)
“She shut her eyes. Sweat sheeted down underneath the stiff new leather of her fighting clothes. She could feel the heat pulling her back toward the darkness of her room, the softness of her bed, the filminess of the gown she’d left lying in a heap on the floor, pulling her back toward sleep and the greedy way it devoured the long, pointless hours of her life.
But no, not this time. Now she was made of ice. No amount of heat could thaw her. She was frozen as solid as the statues in the emperor’s palace at Ravindal. Her fingers were icicles. Her breast was a snowdrift. Her heart was a glacier.”
Mask 3: Captain Braylar Killcoin, Scourge of the Betrayer (Jeff Salyards)
“They all drank silently, when [he] suddenly said, “I command men to fight. Command men to die. That’s what I do. That’s what they do. We’re soldiers. We do what must be done. That’s our sole consolation, our brief balm. What must be done. For a cause larger than ourselves. We engage our numerous enemies, on the battlements, in frozen fields, in alleys reeking of piss, in the bellies of mildewed theaters, in the weeds and dust of forsaken temples. We’re the glorious ghostmakers. Or when it suits our master’s purpose, manipulate our enemies instead, twist circumstance to our advantage, twist the long knife when we have to, assassinate. March on them in colorful columns, thunder down at them on the plains, unleash doom from afar or so close you can watch their hearts’ last push as the bleeding stops. We ensnare them in plots and schemes beyond our reckoning, because we’ve been ordered to. We’ve broken the seals and deciphered the codes and made sense of Imperial commands, though we can’t fathom the greater agenda that underpins them, and we loot and steal and befriend and betray, breathing death in and out like heavy pollen on the wind. We are soldiers. We kill. We fall. Again. And again.” He lifted his head and stared at the beamed ceiling. Very quietly, “And again . . .”
The Fourth Masque:
Mask 1: Tymon, Tymon’s Flight (Mary Victoria)
“She was hardly older than a Green Year novice. [He] caught sight of her delicate profile in the dim, filtered radiance from the skylight, as she fumbled with the tie on her chest binding. He must have made an involuntary noise, then, allowed a hiss of breath to escape his lips as he stood in the doorway, for she suddenly dropped what she was doing and spun round. She gathered up the half-undone cloth to her chest, and they glared at each other through the vapors of the bathhouse. Neither said a word.
After a while, [he] felt he must speak or burst. She simply looked at him, an indecipherable expression on her face, water droplets forming on her forehead and upper lip. The moisture in the air stuck strands of hair to her cheek. Her body had a sharp scent, even from where he stood – the pilgrims could not have been allowed many baths – but the odor was not entirely unpleasant. She smelled of dust and spice and sweat. She was beautiful, he thought, in her own way.”
Mask 2: Brother Grumlow, King of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)
“In the long ago, in the gentle days, Brother [X] carved wood, worked with saw and chisel. When hard times come carpenters are apt to get nailed to crosses. [X] took up the knife and learned to carve men. He looks soft, my brother of the blade, slight in build, light in colour, weak chin, sad eyes, all of him drooping like the moustache that hangs off his lip. Yet he has fast hands and no fear of a sharp edge. Come against him with just a dagger for company and he will cut you a new opinion.”
Mask 3: Vedas, No Return (Zachary Jernigan)
“As he had expected, _________ was to most appearances a typical Knosi, broad nosed and black skinned. Unlike many of his countrymen, however, he did not wear his hair in long matted cords or as a halo around his head. Instead, he chose to shave his scalp and face bald. He had not adorned his elder-cloth suit with artistic designs or caused it to form thick armor. Overall, Berun considered the effect somewhat unimpressive, as if the man were only half-finished. Even his posture was unnaturally stiff. He looked like a man who had never become comfortable in his skin.”
The Fifth Masque:
Mask 1: Banreh, The Emperor’s Knife (Mazarkis Williams)
“[He] ran up behind her – she knew it was him from the sound of the sand under his boot where [he] dragged his right foot. [He] grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back, away from the hidden ways. She was surprised by the strength of his arms. [He] had pulled her well away from the edge of the pattern, almost to the camp, before she’d even had a chance to put up much of a protest. ‘What are you doing?’ [he] said, tightening his grip and pressing her back against his chest. ‘Are you mad?’ Mesema kept close to him, feeling his warmth, smelling the ink on his hands.”
Mask 2: Gair, Songs of the Earth (Elspeth Cooper)
“Hunkered down in the lee of the wall [Anon] pulled his cloak tightly around him. Pellets of ice laced the wind and stung bare skin like horseflies. As a boy, he had gone out onto the fells with his pony on days like this, when he couldn’t settle. Sometimes he’d take one of the wolfhounds for company, and they’d roam the heathery slopes of the Long Glen until he’d walked off the restlessness. At the Motherhouse there had been the top row of the bleachers in the exhibition lists, or the grassy summit of Templemount on a free day. Whenever he felt that itch in his soul he craved high places, open to the wind and sky, as if by soaking in it he could bring a little space inside himself.”
Mask 3: Draken, Exile (Betsy Dornbusch)
“Death lingers in hesitation. His father had taught him that, early and well with the strap. Without a second thought, he threw the ladle at them, rounded the well, and raced into the cover of the woods, hearing noises of pursuit on his heels. The soldiers spat curses as they had to slow to find a path through the close trees. He didn’t look back. He simply ran.
His bare feet protested, toes pierced by twigs and small rocks, but the compacted soil made a reliable surface. All the branches were too high to reach, the brambles too thin to hide in. Running hard, he had no warning when the ground gave way beneath some waxy creepers on the ground. He tripped headlong into a deep gully. The impact smacked the air from his chest.”
The clock has struck midnight, all masks are off…and so, we reveal the winner of signed copies of all 15 of the above novels:
Congratulations, Vojislav! (We’ll contact you by email to obtain your shipping address.) To everyone else, thank you again for participating, and we hope you’ll keep on visiting us at here at BookSworn! We’ll have more giveaways throughout the year, along with plenty of genre discussion, sneak peeks of upcoming novels, cover art reveals, and other delights to please our readers.
*Quote from The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe