Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
 

Descendant of the Crane

Review

 
Todd Lockwood Interview – The Summer Dragon
 

Todd Lockwood

Interview – The Summer Dragon

 
Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett
 

Vigilance

Review

 

The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock – Chapter Excerpt

Today, F-F is lucky enough to be allowed to host an extract of Tom Pollock‘s latest novel in his Skyscraper Throne series, The Glass Republic. Last year, Tom’s City’s Son made numerous ‘top 10’ lists and, personally, I feel it was probably the best Young Adult releases of 2012. So, suffice to say, I’m pretty excited to get reading it.

For those who didn’t have chance to read The City’s Son, Tom’s novels are set within London and, yet, not a London that we are familiar with. It’s a Young Adult/Urban Fantasy novel that is unlike anything I’ve ever read; it challenges its reader and, importantly, refuses to condescend them (as is, sadly, so often the case in YA). The London you are introduced to features a cast of intriguing creatures and clever metaphors to current human existence that mean anyone, whether adult or child, is going to get something from this book. When you add that to the fact that the prose are sharp as a razor, you really begin to see something special here.

From what I know of the second book, it’s going to be even more ambitious: A scarred teenager will go through a mirror into a new and dangerous World to search for her sister. There, beauty is currency and criminals will kill you for your looks. This will be a missing person thriller with a bit of romance and a whole lot of weird thrown into the mix – the promise of sewer dragons made of blue fire excites me very much!

Context

– – –

Welcome to London-Under-Glass, the city behind the mirrors: a metropolis populated by living reflections where beauty is a currency, and criminals will kill you for your face. Pen Khan has made a terrible sacrifice to enter this reflected city, looking for her own, vanished, living reflection. Her search takes her to senatorial palace, housed in London-Under-Glass’s copy of the Shard, and it’s there we join her, just as a very unusual storm is about to break.

– – –

Extract

A scar of lightning flashed in the sky. With a final savage roar, the weird clouds opened.

Swollen drops began to streak past the window pane in strange colours, red and black and silvery grey. The water here must be filthy, Pen thought.

A dull reddish fragment of something thunked into the window and skittered away. Pen stared at the trail of dusty mortar it left, and then realised, it wasn’t raining water…

It was raining masonry.

Tiny chunks of brick and stone and concrete and glittering slivers of glass rattled down from the sky like a convocation of meteorites. They hammered the window relentlessly. Pen flinched, but the pane didn’t take so much as a scratch. Marvelling, she straightened from her cowering, and pressed her face to the glass, peering between the stone raindrops. The finer-ground bits of architecture clung to the roofs piling up like epic dust. Thick dunes suddenly scores of feet high, coated the gables.

Gradually, the storm slackened. The drops grew, finer, drifting on the breeze like brick snowflakes. The air cleared. The roofscape was covered in rubble. It looked like pictures she’d seen of London’s streets in the Blitz.

“Abatement!” a voice called from somewhere hidden.

“Abatement!” Another voice cried.

“Abatement.”

Across the skyline, top floor windows opened. Hatches hidden under slates popped upwards, cunningly spring-loaded to propel the mounds of rubble lying on them down into the street below.

Figures swarmed out onto the roofs. They looked like polar explorers, clawing their way across the newly settled masonry with pick-axes and barbed boots. Most were armoured, some in snug dark Kevlar and fibreglass, others in a cheap-looking hodgepodge: scuffed leather and battered metal, helmets that might have been hammered from saucepans. A few went barefoot in vests and shorts, relying only their muscles for grip. No one covered their face. There were old sinewy men and women, there were kids with dust in their hair. Some frowned and swore at handheld computer screens, or tapped the dials of the barometers they wore around their necks like oversized medallions. Only a very few tied themselves off with ropes. Shouts rose above a burble of muted conversation.

“Voleskull crew to me!”

“Shovelwights rally!”

“Clinging to a line now, Espel? When did you become such a pussy?”

Catcalls and laughter echoed from the roofs. Pen opened the window a crack, and more words became distinguishable from the background hubbub. She heard bets being made.

“Three eyelashes says we build ours taller!”

“Chickenshit!” a coarse voice hollered down from the roof above her. “Bet properly if you’re gonna, or don’t waste my time.”

“An eyebrow then!”

“Cocky eh?” a braying, raucous laugh. “Done!”

They unslung shovels and sledge hammers and trowels and went to work, shoving the rained rubble in localised avalanches to the pavements below. A boy began to sing. His voice was high enough he could barely have been into his teens. Another voice joined in, then another, then another, until the entire city thrummed to the rough and ready choir.

Oh keep the brick and clear the brack
That’s the life of a Steeplejack
Work the rains and the snows that kill
That’s the life of a Steeplejill
We spit on slate and laugh at sleet
Jacks and Jills we can’t be beat!

A raucous cheer greeted the last line, and they started again. They scampered over the broken roof-terrain agile as squirrels. The burliest among them cleared rubble. The slightest and quickest figures scrambled over the moraine just before it fell, palming certain specific fragments and passing them back to the waiting chisels of their fellows who smoothed them off. Yet more stood ready with quick-setting mortar, adding them to the existing architecture. Pen began to see how the buildings here had gotten so tall and so strange.

Astonishingly quickly, the towers grew.

But even as the Steeplejacks and Steeplejills worked, the sky grew dim. Another thick band of cloud blotted out the sun. The snow of brickflakes grew denser and darker. It began to fall straight, until Pen realised it was no longer brick, but wickedly sharp shards of roof-tile, lashing down as fast as hail.

Slate!” cried a Steeplejack in dismay.

The slate shower rattled into the towers. Jacks and Jills danced as best they could between the lethal precipitation. Splinters of it shrieked over windows. Cuts opened on exposed skin, suddenly and shockingly red. Blood ran over the roofs. A lithe woman leapt from the head of a gargoyle to a balcony railing, but just as her toes touched metal a slate fragment caught her in the cheek. She flinched despite herself. Pen watched, her stomach clenching, as for a dreadful second the woman’s arms windmilled, fighting vainly for balance. Then with a single choked out “N-” she tumbled from sight between the buildings.

“Steady now!” the voice from above Pen’s head roared. “Show ‘em what it means to be Palace Crew!”

Pen stared in horrified incredulity. They were still working.

On and on they laboured, pausing only to wipe the blood and the sweat from their brows before they heaved their hammers again. There was no singing now, they needed all their concentration to dodge the most dagger-like pieces of slate as they fell. The towers rose, slower now but still climbing. There were no cheers. By a chimneystack just across the river, a man sagged under a hail of slate as though exhausted, his cheap tin helmet cut to ribbons, blood running freely from the gashes. The slate fell harder and he bled more freely, but he didn’t move again.

Get inside, Pen thought furiously. Take cover you idiots!

Something caught her eye: a billboard for the Lottery across the river, Parva’s beaming face plastered across it. An idea struck her. You’re Countess Parva Khan. They might listen to you.

She’d call out to them, order them to stop. She groped for the window latch, to open it wider, but knife-like shards rattled against the reinforced pane. She flinched, the remembered pain of metal thorns searing her skin.

“Stop!” she yelled, swallowing against thick fear. “Get inside!” but no one heard her.

Again she reached for the window latch. A shrill whistle echoed across the roofscape.

“That’s enough!” a voice boomed out. “Get in.”

The sky opened on a seam of lightning. The slate storm redoubled. The Jacks and Jills stowed their tools. Cowering behind what was left of their armour, they turned back towards their hatches. Pen pushed out a shuddering, relieved breath.

Something black smacked into the window pane. Pen shrieked and leapt backwards.
It was a girl, boxed up in cheap tin and leather armour. She hung upside down, arms splayed, her left leg tangled in a rope umbilical. Blood and wet hair streaked her face. She wasn’t moving.

She wasn’t moving. Slate fell. She wasn’t moving. For horrible long fractions of a second Pen watched fragments of wicked rain erode her skin. Then she lurched for the latch, yanked the window open and let the storm into the room.

Needles of hot pain erupted on her cheeks, the backs of her hands, her forehead. She reached for the girl with one hand, trying to shield her eyes with the other. Tiny quills of slate embedded themselves in her skin. The girl was slight, fragile as a bird.

Pen shoved her face into the shredded leather jacket, away from the weather. A hot fug of blood and sweat and dust engulfed her as she wrapped her arms around the girl, taking her weight while she fumbled with the rope.

It wouldn’t come – the snarl was too tight. There was a wide-bladed knife strapped to the girl’s belt. Pen grabbed it and sawed dementedly at the nylon, until it began to fray.

All at once, the fibres slithered apart and the girl’s weight unbalanced her. Teetering backwards, she just managed to reach out and slam the window closed before she tipped over and smacked her head into the hardwood floor.

She lay there for a moment, simply breathing, the warmth and stink of the girl sitting on her like a blanket. Then through the skin of the girl’s neck, pressed up against her cheek where they had fallen together, she felt a pulse.

“Are you okay?” she yelped, louder than she’d meant to. She scrambled out from under the girl and bent over her. “Are you – bloody hell, are you alive?”

The leather-swaddled mass flopped over sideways. The girl’s eyelids flickered in her red-smeared face and she drew in a shuddering breath. Her eyes opened, slowly focused on Pen and stretched in horrified recognition, then they went to the knife Pen still held.

Pen jumped like she was holding a live snake and dropped it onto the table. The girl’s eyes rolled back.

“Oh, splintered fragging Mago,” the girl murmured. “Not for much longer I’m not.”

Share

One Comment

  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Absolutely awesome – I honestly can’t wait to pick this up. As I say in the introduction, The City’s Son is one of the unique reading experiences I’ve ever had – truly a brave debut that few could have pulled off. Sounds like Tom has pushed the boat out even further with book 2 and I can’t wait to see where his vision will take us next 😀

Leave a Comment