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A Season of Sinister Dreams
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Furyborn meets A Curse So Dark and Lonely in this thrilling fantasy about two powerful girls coming together to protect their beloved kingdom—from the author of Grace and Fury.
Annalise may be cousin to the prince, but her past isn’t what she claims, and she possesses a magic so powerful it takes all her strength to control it. Evra is a country girl, and has watched as each friend and family member came into their own magic, while hers remains dormant. But everything changes after Annalise loses control of herself and Evra begins experiencing the debilitating visions of a once-in-a-generation clairvoyant meant to serve the crown.
Thrown together at court, Evra and Annalise find that they have the same goal: to protect their kingdom from the powerful men who are slowly destroying it. But neither is quick to trust the other—Evra’s visions suggest a threat to royal rule, and Annalise worries that her darkest secrets will be revealed. Their magic at odds, the young women circle each other, until the truth must come out.
Full of intrigue, romance, and shocking twists, this gorgeously immersive fantasy will keep readers spellbound until the very last page.
I should not be able to do what I can do.
Every day I try to tame it, ignore it. But it bubbles up inside, always there, humming in my fingertips, my chest, my throat, building up friction. Building. Building.
Thirsting for a spark.
My magic is a wild thing, a wave, a way to stay alive.
Tonight, I twirl in a gown with a skirt like a big golden bell, and I smile and allow my hand to be squeezed too tightly and pressed against moist lips. Every ball is a swirl of color and sound, too glittering, too made up. But I dance anyway, at every one. Because each clasped hand, each brush of bare skin, each kiss is a conduit. A thread in my web. A way to control.
I must weave my schemes as beautifully, as invisibly, as a poisonous spider.
My dance partner spins me out a few feet from the throne just as the music ends. Normally I would smile as I filed away the courtier’s name and face, mentally take note of how he could be of use to me one day. But I’m distracted. King Alder has been joined on the royal dais by a man I’ve never seen before. He’s tall, with a pointed beard to match the pointed look in his eyes.
King Alder’s advisors fill the shadows behind the throne. None of them look particularly happy to be here. The four men and one woman are stiff and frowning. Even the king’s grandson, Prince Kendrik, off to the side and slightly more relaxed, glances toward the arched doorway longingly.
King Alder pushes to his feet, his back hunched. The thick blue brocade of his jacket hangs from his painfully thin frame. He stretches a hand toward the stranger. “Count Orlaith, of Maadenwelk, may I present Lady Annalise.”
From Maadenwelk, the kingdom to our south. No wonder I didn’t recognize him. He bows more deeply than my rank as the king’s grandniece deserves. A sycophant, then.
I curtsy again and raise my hand to be kissed. The tips of the count’s gloved fingers tighten on mine as he bends over my hand. My magic-tinged suggestions rise to meet him: Her chin is too sharp, her hair too dull. Her eyes not bright enough. It only takes a moment of contact, and most men are easily influenced. But his lips never quite brush my skin, and he remains unpersuaded. A pity.
King Alder sinks back onto the velvet cushion of his twisted golden throne. Behind him, Advisor Halliday shifts closer. I can’t see the advisor’s hand, but I know he’s snaked it through the gaps in the gold to touch King Alder’s neck. Every day, he and the finest healers in the kingdom sink their magic deep into the king’s bones.
But they cannot stop time.
“Is she acceptable?” King Alder asks, gesturing to me with a single palsied hand. He does this every ball. Parades me before countless magic workers turned noblemen and courtiers, discusses me as if I cannot hear. I know the gallantry, the compliments these questions elicit are for him, not me. Usually, I am eager to use the introductions and dances for my own designs. But I have no use for foreigners with no sway in this kingdom.
I smooth my hands down my golden skirt. Its round shape is meant to soften my sharp angles. My chin is too pointed and my hair is too dull, my shoulders bony and my elbows like knives. But I am grateful for my deficiencies. They are my protection from the machinations of these men.
Count Orlaith’s eyes narrow. He’s twenty years my senior, at least, and stands as if his spine were a spear.
“She is very beautiful, Your Majesty.”
“Then we have an agreement?” King Alder asks.
A shiver of unease slides up my spine. Agreement is a strange word for dance.
King Alder doesn’t look at me. He hasn’t, once, in this entire exchange. Prince Kendrik shifts his weight. Beside him, the king’s advisors stare stony-faced.
Count Orlaith bows to the king. “We do, Your Majesty.”
King Alder nods, his rheumy gaze fixed on the count. “Lady Annalise, your betrothed.”
Shock races through me. I make a strange sound. “Excuse me?”
“Count Orlaith has accepted your hand in marriage,” King Alder explains. He sinks further into his chair, his shoulders rounding. “You will leave for Maadenwelk in the morning.”
The morning. Maadenwelk. No. No. My heart beats hard and fast, a hammer drumming against my ribs. I cannot leave Tyne. This is my home. This kingdom, this court, is where my purpose lies.
A sudden rage licks along my bones, charging them like lightning rods. My skin starts to shiver. Thunder rumbles above the Great Hall, loud enough to be heard over the musicians’ efforts.
Count Orlaith reaches for my hand. “A dance, my lady, to celebrate our joyous union. You will love Maadenwelk. The air is warm and soft as gossamer, the ground littered with flowers. A kingdom truly worthy of a lady such as yourself.”
His voice has a slithery quality, lies lined in silk. His smile has too many teeth, like a wolf.
Again, I note his gloves. The long velvet sleeves of his jacket, the high neck. Dancing won’t help me get out of this.
I curtsy once again, hands deep in the bell of my golden gown, out of his reach. “Excuse me, Count. I am not feeling well. I fear I must retire early.”
“Annalise.” The name is a warning on King Alder’s lips. At last, he looks me in the eye. My hatred runs deep as a river, fathomless and dark. It fills me, always, rushing rushing rushing. I never let it lap into my smile where he can see it. I never disobey his orders.
But I cannot stay. If I do, the power that is building beneath my skin, that is electrifying my bones and breath, will find an outlet. There is so much, and I am a poor vessel. It will find its way out.
“My lady.” Count Orlaith’s gloved finger brushes my arm. Even through the cloth, a tiny current of energy finds him. He draws back. The smallest bite of static. I can tell he thinks little of it.
He doesn’t know that was me. That I could have killed him if I’d let myself go. I glance at his hooded eyes a second too long before I flee. Maybe I want to kill him.
I certainly don’t want to marry him.
The corridors beyond the Great Hall teem with servants. I round a corner to find two courtiers locked in an embrace. I lift my heavy golden skirt and run.
At last, I arrive at my chamber. A fire roars in the hearth. Sybil, my maid, is gone, likely bolting her supper before her evening duties. I don’t ring the bell for her.
With a snap of my fingers, the candle on the small table by the window erupts into flame, singeing the curtain. I grab for the pitcher on my washstand and put out the small fire, a frantic tremble igniting under my skin. Careful careful. I light the rest of the candles by hand.
Thunder shakes the small glass windows in their leading. It’s late afternoon, but you’d never know it with the mass of dark clouds curling above the castle. I need to calm down.
I stand before the fire, stare into its depths, and breathe.
How can I stop this betrothal? How can I stop the king? How can I stop the magic pulsing within me, desperate for release?
I will not leave Tyne. I’ll die before I leave the land that cradles my mother’s restless bones.
Someone knocks. Before I can respond, Prince Kendrik opens my door. “Lady Annalise, you must come back to the Great Hall.”
He looks nothing like his grandfather. Gangly, still growing, soft around the eyes. A little awkward in his fine velvet coat. If Count Orlaith is a wolf, Kendrik is a puppy.
“I can’t, Your Highness. I need—I need a moment.” The magic is pushing, stretching, aching. I am too distracted, too upset.
“I’m sorry, cousin. I know this news is a shock.” Kendrik closes the door and steps closer.
“Surely you can talk to your grandfather on my behalf.” I didn’t spend all these years weaving my web—ingratiating myself to the prince, gaining his trust, getting close to King Alder—to be shuttled away before dawn.
I am not a political marriage, or a foreign boon. I am a weapon, I am vengeance.
I am meant for the king.
“Please, Kendrik. I can’t leave,” I plead.
“I wish Grandfather would listen to me.” His frown has a twist of anguish to it. “But I do believe he’s doing what is best for Tyne. Count Orlaith is a powerful man.”
I roll my eyes heavenward. “Of course he is. You are all powerful men, and my life is in your hands. But what if I don’t want to live in Maadenwelk? What if I don’t want to marry a stranger?”
Kendrik bows his head. “It’s not fair,” he says softly. “And I will miss you. No one understands… listens to me the way you do. You’re the only family I have aside from Grandfather. But we all have our roles to play. Our duties. It’s what makes our kingdom strong.”
“Our kingdom isn’t strong,” I growl, no longer careful with my words. The magic is too consuming, too distracting. I am too desperate. “The king has drawn all of the strongest magic workers to the city, and what happens to the farmers and tradesmen, the mothers screaming their babies into life on dirt floors? Where’s the magic to help and heal them? The king only uses his power for himself. The sacrifices he demands do not strengthen Tyne.” I step back, toward the fire. My hands clasp at my stomach, trying to hold it all in. The anger and the magic weave together and grow, like vines. But there aren’t enough empty spaces inside me. I’m full. I’m bursting.
Kendrik needs to leave. Now. He has no idea the danger he’s in.
“You know the reason he does that,” Kendrik says, his voice tight with pain.
“That doesn’t make it right,” I snap back. I’m giving too much away, saying too clearly how I really feel. I’ve no patience, no strength left for subterfuge. The king’s pain—Kendrik’s pain—does not take precedence over the rest of us. Their grief does not absolve them from causing mine. “It’s been ten years, Kendrik, and still he orders them here.”
“Please come back to the ball,” he says. “Count Orlaith expects to dance with you. Come, cousin. I’ll escort you. We’ll—we’ll get through this together.”
“Leave me alone.” The words grind from my chest. “Please. I will not dance with that wolf. I will not leave with him in the morning. I can’t, Kendrik.”
He can tell I’m deadly serious. But he doesn’t truly know, he doesn’t understand.
“I’m sorry. Please, Annalise—”
“No, no…” I try to remember that he is the puppy, not the wolf. This is not his doing.
But he doesn’t listen, damn him. Instead, he grabs my hands.
A bolt of yellow light arcs between us, the power leaving me in a clap of thunder. I want to hold back but I don’t I love the force of it the strength. I am not myself I am will and the wave and the light and the wild.
I am safe.
Kendrik flies across the room and slams into the wall. The light consumes him, its jaws opening wide.
The storm rages outside and within.
I let it all out.
I let go.
I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be doing this. I should have stayed home.
My body begins to go quiet. My steps slow.
“Oh no you don’t. Keep moving.” Tamsin pulls me forward by the arm. “Don’t you lose your nerve now.”
“But what if it’s a trick?” I’ve argued this point to her before.
“Ronan fancies you, Evra, I know it.” Tamsin strolls me down the middle of the street, ignoring the grumblings from behind us. We’re blocking Bastian and his cart of bread deliveries.
“We should move out of the way,” I murmur, veering toward the edge of the road. We should turn around and forget this whole thing.
She doesn’t let go of me as she slows us down even more. “After what Bastian said about you last week, he can wait.”
My cheeks flush. “That’s exactly why meeting Ronan is a mistake. I don’t know what I was thinking agreeing to this. Tam, I don’t need—” I break off, but the thought continues in my mind. I don’t need another reminder that I’ve become an object of suspicion and scorn.
Tamsin flicks a derisive glance back at Bastian before answering. “Ronan looks at you like you’re the sweetest berry on the vine. He’s always staring. And anyway—” She steers me out of the road and onto the curving track to the churchyard. Behind us, I hear a relieved grunt. “He knows what Hagan and I’ll do to him if he’s cruel to you. Evra, he wants to court you.” She makes such a revolting kiss face, I have to laugh. But I’m not as convinced as she is.
It would be easier not to get my hopes up if Tamsin weren’t my friend.
She pauses before Windhaven’s tiny chapel and turns me to face her. I wince under her gaze, but she smiles. “You look perfect. Well, almost.” She places the tip of one slender finger against my chin and closes her eyes. A sudden prickle edges into pain beneath my skin.
I yelp, bringing my hand up to rub the sore place. “What was that for?”
“You had a bruise, no doubt from your dagger lessons with Hagan. Now it’s fixed!” She squeezes my shoulders encouragingly.
The bruise is actually from a log kicking up when I was chopping wood for Old Marnie this morning. Normally the activity is good for settling my mind—but I suppose, for once, I was too distracted even for that.
“Stay with me, Tam,” I plead.
“Can’t.” She smirks and shrugs. “I’ve got things to do. Besides, I don’t think Ronan would appreciate a chaperone.”
My mouth goes a little dry.
She glances back down the road as a faint whistled trill reaches us. “Come see me tomorrow morning. Tell me everything.” And, with a wink, she abandons me.
Sighing, I enter the cold quiet of the church. Squares of red and blue light fall from the chapel’s single stained-glass window to pattern the floor. Along the wall, a bank of candles flickers.
I pick a spot near the altar and plant my feet, my hands on the throwing knives at my waist. My knife belt looks a little strange cinched around the ivory dress I borrowed from Tamsin, but I couldn’t bear to leave it at home. And my usual clothing—hand-me-down trousers and soft, baggy shirts from my brothers—didn’t seem appropriate for a courting session.
The wooden benches that line the aisle are empty. Father Camden is always gone this time of day, administering what comfort he can to his flock. In his absence, the magic of his prayers keeps the candles burning, the floor free of dust, and the altar hangings unattractive to mice.
I wish there were a spell to tell me what to expect, but magic doesn’t work that way in Tyne. Here it’s a small, useful sort of thing—a way to cool water or calm a horse, a prayer to keep a crop thriving. It is a wish: a wish the people give to the land.
A wish I can’t make.
Most people in Tyne come to their magic by fourteen, some as late as sixteen. I’m seventeen now, with nary a whisper. And Windhaven has begun to notice. Which is why it was foolish to come here, I remind myself.
A thud echoes through the chapel. I whirl, a knife fitted to my hand.
Ronan’s silhouette fills the doorway, and then, with a creaking of hinges, the door closes behind him. Slowly, I lower my arm.
For years, I’ve admired his sleek dark hair and sparkling eyes, his little tricks and pleasantries. But always from a distance. Aside from an occasional glance my way, he’s never paid me any attention before. Until yesterday, when he sidled up beside me and asked me to meet him.
The dim light of the chapel hides his expression.
“Well, I’m here. You wanted to meet?” My voice is too loud, too belligerent, and it wobbles a bit at the end. For some reason I can’t bring myself to sheathe my knife. The cold metal steadies my hand.
Ronan murmurs a few words. Suddenly, a butterfly flutters up from the darkness near him, shimmering and golden, and lights a path toward me. When it alights on my shoulder, I can’t mask my delight. The illusion is beautiful, the filigree finer than any hand could make.
“You’ve the look of a fairy when you smile,” Ronan says, his rough-quiet voice echoing in the small chapel.
I laugh a little. “Perhaps. If fairies were not dainty, nor fair, nor beautiful.”
He approaches, his lanky frame barely eclipsing mine. As he nears, the butterfly bursts into a patina of sparkles that disappear as they fall.
“Evra, you are beautiful.”
No. I’m too tall, too strong. Too farm girl. And my hair is too wild.
But Ronan doesn’t stop until he stands close enough that I can feel his heat. He says it again, very softly, “You are so beautiful.”
This can’t be real. My heart jumps wildly. Was Tam right about the way he looks at me?
The scents of woodsmoke and fresh-cut timber fill the small space between us. He leans closer, so slowly, until his lips lightly touch mine. I hold my breath. Ronan is kissing me. My first kiss.
I have absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to do. I am frozen. A shocked, nerve-shackled statue.
This doesn’t seem to bother Ronan. He moves his mouth softly over mine, teasing the corners, gently nipping at my bottom lip. His hands slip up my arms. Belatedly, I try to follow his lead, my body swaying closer. I want to put my hands on his shoulders, or maybe touch his hair, but I’m still holding one of my throwing knives. And I’m scared. Scared that if I move too quickly or too much, this moment will end.
Or maybe I’ll wake up.
Ronan works his arms around me and draws me closer, pinning my hands against my stomach. His tongue slips along my lower lip, seeking entrance. It’s suddenly a little too much, too fast. I draw back. Ronan follows, pressing even closer for an instant before he realizes I’m trying to put space between us.
“Evra,” he whispers. “You’re so sweet.”
He leans in again, but I need to catch my breath. I press my empty hand against his chest. He subsides, but he’s still so close. I move to sheathe my blade, but he brings his hands up to cup mine, knife and all. So warm—they burn against my cold fingers.
“Can you really feel nothing?” he murmurs.
I don’t know what he means. I feel everything, from the callus on the edge of his thumb to the pulse in my own fingertips to the memory of his lips against mine. Before I can respond, another golden butterfly blossoms in my palms.
“It tickles,” I say as the tiny butterfly’s wings flutter against my skin.
“Will you do something for me?” Ronan raises his gaze from his creation to look at me.
In the dimness of the chapel, the butterfly throws golden threads of light across his face, like fairy netting. His eyes remain shadowed.
“What do you want me to do?” I want to kiss him again.
His fingers tighten a tiny bit. “Make this trifle disappear. Such a tiny thing. Surely you can do such a simple trick as that? For me?”
At first, I don’t understand. “What do you mean?”
“Use your magic. Make it disappear.” There’s more challenge than sweetness in his voice now.
The chill in my fingers spreads, ice pouring up my wrists, my arms, straight to my heart.
Tamsin was wrong after all.
I crush my palms together, knife flat between them, extinguishing the butterfly’s light. “No. I won’t play that game.”
Ronan’s hands fall away. “So it’s true. You really have nothing, feel no hint of magic.”
“Why should it matter?” I shoot back, flushing. “There’s little enough these days. Perhaps that will be the way of things for everyone soon.”
Anyone with any real magic moves to Ironwald, the king’s city, at King Alder’s command, and even they cannot do all he asks. No one can turn iron into gold or topple kingdoms or reverse death. Magic here is small. My breath hitches. Though it could have been enough to save my father.
“No magic, yes, that’s the fear,” Ronan says, interrupting my thoughts. “That’s why you scare us all so much.”
No one’s ever said it to my face before. I’ve felt the discomfort, but fear? Now I wish I could erase the memory of his lips, his warm breath against my skin.
“So why are you here?” I snap. Tears burn the back of my throat. My grip tightens on my throwing knife, still liberated from my belt. “I thought—you kissed me, Ronan. You don’t seem afraid.”
He lets out a little laugh. “Maybe afraid isn’t the right word. But my family thirsts for magic, just like everyone else. I can’t attach myself to someone so… bereft.” He smooths back a bit of hair that’s come free of my braid. “But I’ve seen you watching me. I thought we could have a bit of fun.”
“A—a bit of fun?” A crushing weight presses the air from my lungs.
He takes my question as one in need of an unspoken answer, putting his mouth on my neck and pressing his body heavily against mine.
I yank myself out of his grasp and slash his throat.
Not deeply, not enough to elicit more than a few drops of blood and a squeal of pain, but he stumbles back. While he’s unbalanced, I shove him. He clatters to the floor, rage bubbling into his handsome face, turning it ugly.
I stand over him; from this vantage, with my height and my strength, he looks pathetic and small. “I may not have magic, but I have perfect aim. Do not insult me again.”
When he doesn’t reply or try to stand, I wipe the blood from the tip of my blade and sheathe it with its sisters. Then I leave, my chin high. By God’s grace, I don’t hear what he yells as the door slams shut behind me. That he’ll never know that I weep as I flee is the greater mercy.
I pause when I reach the last line of trees before my family’s homestead. I’ve avoided the road up from town, preferring to make my own way through the forest so no one will see me or ask what’s wrong. My cheeks burn with frozen trails of tears, and my eyes are surely an angry red from rubbing them.
With trembling fingers, I try to tame my hair, the memory of Ronan’s lips and hands lingering, his words leaving a dirty residue.
The earth beneath my feet feels unstable, like sliding sand instead of the hard-packed ground I can see with my own eyes. A strange buzz sounds in my ears, and a distant rumble of thunder. Thunder? At this time of year? My heart is still beating too fast, but I’m no longer entirely sure it’s Ronan’s doing. Maybe I need to eat something. Maybe I need to sit down.
Hagan is walking up from the road as I enter the clearing. I freeze; I don’t want him to see me like this. Mama knows where I’ve been, but my brother doesn’t, and I don’t want to have to tell him. It’s too humiliating.
He swings his dagger in a thoughtful arc. Sunlight sparks white across the blade, and then a thin reflection of cobalt sky. When he notices me, he tilts his head. “Back so soon?”
“Where were you?” I ask, a deflection.
“In town,” he says, his cheeks flushing with cold. “Ready for our fighting lesson?”
I can only shake my head.
Hagan studies me more closely. “Are you well?”
“Yes,” I croak, but he doesn’t look like he believes me.
“What happened?” he asks. “Tam said you were meeting Ronan.”
I can’t tell him what Ronan did, not yet. He’ll want to talk retaliation, while I am still drowning in shame. “That—that was fine. He—wanted, ah.” Sputtering, I grasp at a rumor I heard a few days ago. “He said something about the king. It unsettled me.”
“About King Alder ordering Farin to the castle? I heard.” Hagan pounds his empty fist against his thigh. “She was our best healer. We needed her.”
I think of Father, gone these eight years. Gone because of King Alder. Bitterness coats the back of my tongue, for once a welcome distraction. “We’ve needed all of them. Ten years since the Sickness and still the king pulls the best magic workers to his side. It’s not right.”
Hagan’s dark blue eyes go hard as sapphires. “The stormseers say it will be a bitter season. It’ll take all of us to protect Windhaven from the worst of it. We need Farin here.”
Not all of us. Not me. I’m no help at all.
I have tried so hard to convince myself—convince the village—that this isn’t true. So much wood chopping and message running and helping to farm other people’s fields. So many times I’ve smiled and swallowed the betrayal of an odd look from someone who used to cheerfully ask after my mother. But it’s clear now that Ronan, perhaps all of Windhaven, sees only my void, not the space I fill.
Mama emerges from the kitchen, using the large woven basket in her arms to push the door open. The scent of roasted potatoes follows her into the yard. “Evra, there you are.”
Mama is shorter than the rest of the family, with faded blond hair she wears in a braid down her back. I share her heavy-lidded gray eyes and narrow nose, but that’s where our resemblance ends. She is dainty and pink and nonthreatening, while I am long-boned and strong, with freckles and ruddy cheeks. My thick black hair came from Father; my stubbornly well-defined jaw is mine alone.
Just the sight of her brings tears to my eyes. After Hagan and Deward are asleep tonight, I’ll creep down the ladder to her room and climb into her bed. I’ll tell her my sorrows, the hurt that lies heavy on my heart, and she’ll sing me a lullaby as she did when I was a child. She won’t ask me to be strong or expect me to plan my revenge. She’ll hold me and let me cry.
"Fans of Banghart’s Grace and Fury will appreciate this book’s strong female leads, fast-paced action, and the focus on Evra and Tam’s friendship."—SLJ
"Alternating viewpoints offer gripping conflict while gender dynamics, power plays, and unexpected romance maintain intrigue."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Jun 22, 2021
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers