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We’re moving back into familiar territory with today’s Fantastic Fable from debut author M. J. Scott. Mel’s heroine, Lily, is here to give us her version of the classic tale of Cinderella. Welcome to the Half-Light City, the gritty setting from first book in Mel’s dark urban fantasy series, SHADOW KIN (available on September 6th). Imagine a city divided. A city held together by nothing more than a treaty-and even then, just barely. Want to know more? Be sure to read the excerpt below to get a taste of this addictive story. Thanks to the always awesome team over at Penguin/Roc, two of you who comment on this post will win a copy of the book! See details below
My heroine wouldn’t have a lot of time for faerie tales. Sold into servitude as a baby, raised by a ruthless Blood Lord, she’s clear on her place in the world and the practicalities of doing what you need to do to survive. Happy endings aren’t for her. Unsentimental, yet, I like to think, before what happens to her in the course of her own story, if she had the chance to help someone like herself, she might just risk taking it….
Not Quite A Fairy Godmother
It was the voices that caught my attention. High pitched, nasal with a nasty whine of privilege and command. A familiar tone, brimming with certainty that the world should shape around the speaker to their satisfaction. Pecking at someone like a flock of crows around a downed lamb.
I turned towards those voices–three of them–snapping and snarling and spotted the women they belonged to.
Three polished to within an inch of their lives human women stood on the front stairs of the townhouse opposite, obviously waiting for a carriage that hadn’t arrived. Their gowns and jewels sparkled but their eyes and faces were sharp with petulance. Three identical too-yellow blonde heads tilted downwards, taking turns to berate their quarry. In the lamplight, their hair glittered strangely, revealing dun shades beneath. Apparently they’d used a cheap charm rather than bleach to achieve that poisonous shade. Why anyone would want to was beyond me.
Move on. Humans were none of my concern this night. But then the trio parted enough and I caught a glimpse of the girl. Younger, unpainted and dressed in an ugly brown dress nothing like the over frilled rainbows of the three crows. An ugly brown dress not warm enough for the chill of this early winter evening. The crows had furs around their arms and hands. The girl just looked too pale, standing hunched a little against the cold.
For a moment, something flashed on her face. A look of utter longing and helplessness. Something that spoke of her being trapped and trussed and bound inescapably to the crows.
In an instant it was gone, her face pulled back to a careful blankness as she ducked her head and let them caw their displeasure.
Turn away. But I stayed still, stomach twisted with a stab of recognition. I knew what it was to be bound and trapped and chained. Knew how to pull yourself inwards to nothingness to try and avoid provocation.
No hope of escape.
Turn away. There’s work to be done. Or I would be the one pecked and punished on my return.
But instead I stayed and watched until the carriage arrived and the crows clambered into it. And when the girl sighed and watched them go with envy on her face, then turned and walked back into he house, closing the door behind her, I couldn’t help myself. I stepped into the shadow, walked across the road and into the house.
It was quieter than I’d expected. Three women dressed like that should have a house full of servants but there were none to be seen and the only sound I could hear was someone humming a quiet sad tune. The house was not large, and though the furnishings were expensive, they were worn and there were fewer of them than there should be. The crows were keeping up appearances, it seemed. They didn’t have the money for dresses and jewels. Nor servants. Which made me wonder who exactly the brown girl was.
The humming led me to the kitchen and the brown girl, who sat in front of a range, hands outstretched, tears falling as she hummed. The tears made me pause. Who knew how to deal with tears? But when she sighed once more, swiped a hand over her eyes and straightened her shoulders, curiosity got the better of me. I stepped out of the shadow.
The girl jumped almost a foot, and shrieked, though she cut it off quickly. “Who are you?” She backed away and her hand reached for the large knife lying on the table.
Sensible girl. Know where your weapons are.
“A friend,” I said softly. “You don’t need the knife.” I had several of my own and if I chose to use them, she’d never be quick enough to stop me.
Her eyes — large and green if somewhat reddened by tears — narrowed. “How did you get in?” She didn’t let go of the knife.
“You left the door unlocked,” I lied.
“Why were you crying?”
She frowned. “Why do you care?”
“Maybe I can help. Who were those women? Did they hurt you?”
The reply was a little too fast. Perhaps under that brown dress there might well be fading bruises. I knew those too.
“No,” she repeated. “It’s just…”
She sighed and put the knife down. “It’s just that I wanted to go to the ball too. If Father were still here, I would have gone.”
It was my turn to be startled. Not a servant then. Family? Not blood perhaps. Though blood doesn’t guarantee good treatment, the brown girl didn’t look like the crows. She was prettier for a start. Her hair was a deep brown, not the tortured blonde of the crows, her skin pale and smooth and even in the ugly dress she had a certain elegance. A spark that drew the eye.
“Where is your father?”
“Dead,” she said. The green eyes went flat for a bit. “And Mama Marla,” she said the name with a venomous twist that made me think my guess of a second marriage might just be right. “Says there’s no money for all of us to go the ball. That Gloria and Amber are older and need to marry. She thinks one of them is going to catch the eye of the Wilberforce heir.”
I didn’t know every in and out of the highest levels of human society–it wasn’t my world—and there were no princes in the City but Eric Wilberforce was close to such a thing. Mama Mabel had an overambitious eye if she thought the younger crows could catch such a prize. And obviously she didn’t want brown girl spoiling their chances. I glanced at the clock over the range. It was early yet, not quite half an hour beyond eight o’clock. The ball would barely be starting.
You have work to do, shadow. I had deadlines of my own this evening. But hours yet before I had to meet them.
I studied the girl before me. My own chains were permanent. Unbreakable, I had learned over many years. No prince for me. But here was somebody who could, perhaps, escape. The one who held my leash would never know, if I was careful.
I made up my mind. “What’s your name?” I asked the brown girl.
“Well Ella, how would you like to go to a ball?”
It went quickly enough after I convinced Ella I was serious. I left her doing her hair, warning her against using a glamour as she reached for a tin box on Mama Mabel’s dressing table. There were charms against glamours, after all, and the humans had mages who could see through Fae work. I left the house and hailed a hackney, travelling to Gillygate where I knew there was a modiste’s shop. I’d past it earlier in my evening’s travels. I was hardly the girl to be picking anyone’s clothing – I refused to wear dresses myself – but there was one pale shimmering green gown – so pale a green to be near silver – that I thought might do. And, above it on a rack sat a pair of shoes that were beaded in silver and the same pale green, so that from a distant, they sparkled in the light as though they were made of glass.
I bundled them into a box and set off to a nearby livery. One look at me and the owner produced his finest carriage and a driver. My chains had some side benefits. Fear of my displeasure–and my master’s–being chief amongst them.
The driver smelled of fear as he drove me back to the house. Good. He would follow my orders and stay silent about this night.
“You must leave by midnight,” I told Ella when stood before me transformed into someone far different from the hunched brown girl. A glittering silver beauty who could definitely catch the eye of a prince.
“Why midnight? Who are you?”
She’d asked me that before. I shook my head.
“Just be back.”
Midnight would give me time to put everything back as it should be and still fulfill my other tasks of the evening before I had to return to my own cage. Midnight would give her enough hours to maybe change her life. At worst, give her a taste of freedom, which was more than I could give myself. I stepped back and surveyed her one more time. I had done all I could do. There was no magic here that could let me set her free. Now it was up to her.
M.J. Scott was born in Melbourne, Australia but grew up in the green and rolling hills of South Gippsland, Victoria. Raised by two teachers, her love of reading was always encouraged and books willingly provided to feed her reading habit. She moved back to Melbourne to attend university, where she did an honours degree in a subject completely unrelated to writing fiction. She still works in that field and gets to write a lot of documents that do not involve assassins, mages, vampires and romance.
Her two great fiction loves have always been fantasy and romance, having grown up reading Tolkien alongside L.M. Montgomery and Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones and David Eddings mixed with Heyer, Austen and all the romance books she could find. Therefore, it was somewhat inevitable that when she finally decided to start writing down the stories in her head, those stories incorporated both genres.
Her unpublished novels have won a number of awards including the Romance Writers of Australia’s Emerald Award and Valerie Parv Award and the Romance Writers of New Zealand’s Clendon Award. She was also a two time finalist in the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® Award.
Shadow Kin is her debut novel and has won praise from three New York Times bestselling authors. Her urban fantasy-like stories in an historical alternate world setting are a fresh twist on the genre.
Her life, apart from the day job, revolves around books, writing, the odd sewing, knitting, spinning or quilting binge, resisting the lure of dark chocolate and taking orders from her cat. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Want to read more from M. J. Scott?
This giveaway is provided by Penguin/Roc
Two winners will each receive a copy of Shadow Kin by M. J. Scott
Available on September 6, 2011 from Penguin/Roc
About the Book:
On one side, the Night World, rules by the Blood Lords and the Beast Kind. On the other, the elusive Fae and the humans, protected by their steadfast mages…
Born a wraith, Lily is a shadow who slips between worlds. Brought up by a Blood Lord and raised to be his assassin, she is little more than a slave. But when Lily meets her match in target Simon DuCaine, the unlikely bond that develops between them threatens to disrupt an already stretched peace in a city on the verge of being torn apart…
Click HERE to read an excerpt
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