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New Release Review

 
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The Moonsteel Crown by Stephen Deas – Cover Reveal & Excerpt

Stephen DeasThis week we are ending on a high note with a cover reveal and excerpt from author extraordinaire: Stephen Deas! His newest book, The Moonsteel Crown, is due out next year from Angry Robot. You may know Stephen from his dragon filled series, Memory of Flames. This book, however, is the first in a new epic fantasy series set in the Empire of Aria, perfect for fans of Scott Lynch and Jen Williams.

Summary

The vast Empire of Aria is in crisis. The Emperor is dead, murdered. The heir is a nine-year-old boy whose older sister, a potent sorceress, is maneuvering to act as regent. Factions are forming within the Imperial family, the Southern lords are edging towards open rebellion, and on the far-flung borders an ancient darkness stirs.

Myla, Fingers and Seth couldn’t care less. All members of Fat Al’s Teahouse gang, they’ve found themselves in somewhat of a pickle, caught at the scene of a crime stealing to order, what they only just now realize might well be linked to the Emperor’s untimely demise. Stuck in a city on lockdown they’re forced to lay low, but the wolves are circling, and rival gangs are smelling blood.

Cover Reveal

Sounds cool right? Intrigue, politics, an ancient darkness. What more could you want? Well, how about an awesome cover?

The Moonsteel Crown (cover)

The font is the star of this cover. The unique lettering adds a sense of mystery to the title. Where is this new world with its pearly gray moon? And what storm is being stirred up by the story inside its pages. I love the coloring of Moonsteel. It gives the central word a cold yet strong presence and makes it blend ever so slightly with the clouds surrounding the title. There is a mystery here, and I can’t wait to see how it’s solved!

We would like to thank Angry Robot for giving us the chance to share this cool new work with you! The Moonsteel Crown is due out in February of 2021 and is available for preorder now! You can learn more about it and Stephen’s many other books on his website, and you can follow him on Twitter.

But don’t go yet! You can check out the first chapter of The Moonsteel Crown below! Happy Reading!

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The Moonsteel Crown

Chapter One – Seth

“Pastries! Pastries! Lovely fresh pastries!” The Sulk had the city of Varr in its grasp like a butcher about to throttle a chicken, the air a crisp murderous cold that made Seth’s lungs ache. It was the middle of the afternoon and already the shadows from the brooding walls of the Kaveneth reached across the tournament fields, the crowd thinned to knots and clusters huddled around bonfires where they bought roasted nuts and cups of hot spiced wine as an excuse to stay near the warmth. It was the same every winter, the long silent smothering of cold, the three or four months spent desperately trying not to freeze. The rich and titled fled to Tarantor for the winter, where everyone could get on with their intrigues, plots and occasional stabbings without the added inconvenience of frostbite. Anyone too poor to get away was hiding stashes of firewood and bracing to fight to the death to defend them.

If you were poor, frankly, winter in Varr was a bit shit. How shit, Seth realised, was something he’d almost forgotten. Unfortunately, he looked set to be reminded.

“Pastries! Pastries! Lovely fresh pastries!” Seth watched, envious of the fires. For the sake of appearances, one of the Imperial family usually held out until after Midwinter before they ran for warmer climes, but this year? Midwinter was still a month away and none of the bastards had stayed, not a single one. True, there had been more stabbings than usual — Seth had it on good authority, for example, that the emperor’s own brother had been murdered, possibly by a demon thing that walked through walls but more likely by his cousin.

He’d make up a story, he decided. Spread around and see if he could trade it for a few bits, how the Emperor’s cousin had disguised himself as a minstrel and the garrotted the prince with an enchanted string, one laced with wyvern’s blood to keep the Moon Priestesses from divining the truth. Something like that only better, because frankly, the lords and ladies of the Empire could do as much plotting and stabbing as they liked, what Seth cared about was that with none of them were being stabbed here, which meant not as many people showing up to complain about how cold it was while they bought stale pastries left over from last night’s kitchen in the Unruly Pig.

“Pastries! Pastries!” He was wasting his time. Anyone with sense had already fled to shiver in the comfort of their own home.

The Emperor’s daughter would have been a crowd-pleaser.

He’d heard rumours rumbling out of the Kaveneth that there might be a war coming. He had no idea whom the empire was planning to fight, exactly, since there really wasn’t anywhere left for it to go except across the sea and the Empire didn’t have much by way of ships. Itself, probably. It had been two decades since the last one, after all, when Khrozus the Liberator—or Khrozus the Butcher, epithet dependent on your point of view—had seized the throne.

“Pastries! Get your…” Oh, give up and go home.

Trouble was, he didn’t really have one, which meant either squeezing in with Fings’ family and dealing with unwanted advances from probably at least two of Fings’ sisters, or else begging a scrap of floor at the Unruly Pig, where Blackhand would inevitably want something in return. It would be the Pig, though, because the Pig had Myla, which at least meant a chance of some intelligent conversation. Myla’s opinion was that everyone with a title in front of their name could stab each other until they were all dead and that the world would be a better place for it. He had time for Myla, partly because of that, but mostly because she was every bit as lost as he was.

“Pastries! Get your pastries!”

They’d been stale before he started. Now they were either soggy and tooth-jarringly cold or actually frozen solid, he wasn’t sure which and wasn’t keen to find out. His feet and his fingers weren’t much better, either. His tattered boots were soaked through and starting to freeze. Just to add insult to injury, tantalising smells wafted from the Provisoners’ Guild tent. Fresh bread and hot sausage grease and spiced wine and stewed pears. They had a fire in there too, and canvas to keep in the warmth…

“Pastries! Lovely fresh pastries…!” No one was even listening.

Wasting my time.

He looked around and spotted Fings slipping through the dwindling crowds. Put Fings in a crowd and all you had to do was stand back and watch while other people’s money made its way into his pockets with a will all of its own. When Fings saw him looking, he waved and started to head over, and Seth was half tempted to turn and run. Fings would inevitably leave him with a handful of bits, enough to buy a hot meal, and Seth knew he ought to be grateful, except while he did it, Fings would say something trite and facile and cheery and stupid, and Seth would have to bite his own tongue not to punch him in the face, which was probably as well, because he’d only end up doing himself an injury.

He was truly pathetic, and he knew it.

“Pastries! Pastries! Shit in a bun! Crap with ice on it!” The light was fading, the air already freezing to his face. Anyone still here was desperate, broke and trying to sell something. And he didn’t turn and run, because Fings would give him money, and right now he had nothing, and the Sulk was barely starting.

“Any of that worth eating? I’m starving.” Fings sidled up and gave him a nod.

“Fresh as the day they were baked. Filled with exotic Southern spices,” said Seth absently. They stood side by side, looking over the archery field, still as white and pristine as it had been in the morning.

“It wasn’t Sara in the kitchen last night, was it?” Fings frowned. “Last time I had anything of hers, it was a week before I was right again.”

“Don’t think so.”

Fings eyed the sad remains on Seth’s tray and helped himself. “Nice girl, but…” he shook his head.

“I should have sold horse shit today.” Seth let Fings see the miserable handful of clipped bits that were his entire worldly wealth. “At least you can burn horse shit, if you let it dry. People pay for that, you know.”

“If it was Sara in the kitchen last night, you probably were selling horse shit.” Fings offered his purse to Seth. “Help yourself.”

Seth took the purse. Mostly it was clipped bits but there were a few crowns and… He reached in and pulled out a coin. Silver. Proper real silver. Somehow Fings, jammy bastard that he was, had landed a precious silver moon. Not an eighth or a quarter but a whole full-moon. Food for a month, that was, if you were careful.

“Yeah.” Fings looked at the silver moon dubiously and wrinkled his nose. “Need to get rid of that.”

“Where did you… How…?”

“You ever get the feeling there’s a set of chains up there with your name on them?” Fings was looking up to the black bulk of the Kaveneth. “Some mage in the darkness, searching around, picking you out? Some guardsman on the ramparts, looking for you?” He took another pastry,

“Not really, and that’s my livelihood you’re eating there.”

Fings snatched back his purse and tossed a couple of bits to Seth. “How’s the Murdering Bastard doing?”

Seth shook his head. “Badly.”

“Pity.”

“Really?” Murdering Bustard’s actual name was Sulfane. He’d shown up at the Unruly Pig a month ago and somehow had Blackhand wrapped around his little finger. He was, as they’d all found out, really quite good at shooting people with his bow.

Fings peered across the snow. “You keep banging on how there’s a war coming. Much better chance he’ll get killed if he’s off fighting rather than sitting around in the Pig making our lives miserable.” Wars were things that happened to other people, as far as Fings was concerned.

“Your wish may be granted. Blackhand wants me to forge a letter from some obscure lord no one’s ever heard of that’ll get your Murdering Bastard into the Emperor’s Guard.”

“You can do that?”

“Of course I can!”

“You going to?”

Seth caught Fings’ eye. When he was quite sure he had it, he dragged it to his tray of sodden pastries and then gave Fings a baleful look. “Blackhand asked nicely. What do you think?”

What he could have been doing—what he should have been doing if his life hadn’t abruptly turned into an ash-heap six months ago—was sitting in the nice warm undercroft of a nice cosy temple in front of a nice hot fire. What he should have been doing was putting his feet up, toasting his toes, sipping warm spiced wine and chewing the fat with other senior novices and junior priests, discussing politics, theology and which of the fat old Lightbringers who lorded it over them was most likely to drop dead before winter ended. He missed that. Truth be told, he missed that a lot.

Don’t read the forbidden books. What do you do? Read the forbidden books. Don’t sneak into the forbidden crypt. What do you do? Fuck about in the forbidden crypt. Definitely don’t go into the forbidden catacombs. What do you do? Not that they’d caught him on the last one.

Of course, no one had said that all these things were forbidden, exactly. That was the galling part. A novice was simply supposed to know by some trick of divine telepathy, and then be a good little cleric and not do them.

But you did know. You knew perfectly well.

All he’d ever wanted was to serve the Sun. To understand the four Divinities.

Yes, and if you’d managed to do as you were bloody well told for five minutes, maybe that’s exactly what would have happened, eh? What you wanted, you cretin, was a little patience.

The end of a lifetime of dreams. There wasn’t really even a shred of injustice to it. Warning after warning and he hasn’t stopped. Didn’t even know why, not really. He just… couldn’t.

“I hope you’re fleecing him,” said Fings.

Across the archery field, Sulfane was running from the stump of a tree. Seth watched as he vaulted onto a low platform and fired at one of the targets. He looked very determined. Dynamic. Intense. All good qualities a soldier was supposed to have, Seth supposed. He wasn’t sure where being as mad as a bag of spiders fitted, whether that was good or bad or whether it simply didn’t matter when you were standing in front of a thousand armoured horses bearing down on you at a gallop. Probably helped really, didn’t it?

“I said I hope you’re fleecing him.”

“Blackhand? You must be joking.”

“Not Blackhand you idiot. The Murdering Bastard.”

Seth shrugged. “You want him gone, I want him gone, Blackhand wants him in the guard, that’s how we get rid of him.” He took a deep breath and let it out in a long weary sigh. “You know Blackhand—like a pig rooting for truffles when he thinks there’s money about. Start of a new and profitable partnership he says, not that the likes of you or I will see our lives any sweeter.” He pulled the tray of pastries away as Fings snaffled another one. “You and I, brother, we have the same problem. We’re cowards, Fings. That’s what we are.”

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Stephen Deas says:

    Please shout if you see any typos – the copy edits are literally waiting for me to hit send!

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