Authors: Steven Harper
“Turning common tropes on their heads, Harper portrays orcs as valiant warriors and elves as despicable slavers. His reinterpretations of trolls, giants, and Fae folk give this series opener a fresh feeling, while his nods to Norse mythology and folklore root it strongly in fantasy tradition.”
“Brought back fond memories of a classic fantasy book while still offering a wonderfully unique take on the genre.Â .Â .Â . Steven Harper created a world that I never got tired of exploring.”
“The story holds all of the adventure, magic, and mystery I have come to expect from the genre.Â .Â .Â . [It] follows a hero's journeyÂ .Â .Â . with energy and artfulness.”
âWicked Little Pixie
PRAISE FOR STEVEN HARPER AND THE CLOCKWORK EMPIRE SERIES
“If you love your Victorian adventure filled with zombies, amazing automatons, steampunk flare, and an impeccable eye for detail, you'll love the fascinating (and fantastical)
âMy Bookish Ways
“Inventive and funÂ .Â .Â . a fantastic amount of action.Â .Â .Â . If you are looking to jump into steampunk for the first time, I would recommend these books.”
“Harper seemed to have this magical way of taking this crazy, awesome, complex idea and describing it in a way that anyone could follow.”
âA Book Obsession
The Doomsday Vault
The Impossible Cube
The Dragon Men
The Havoc Machine
Published by New American Library,
an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
This book is an original publication of New American Library.
Copyright Â© Steven Piziks, 2016
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eBook ISBN 9780698146310
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To the memory of my grandmother,
Ella B. Karow (1917â
Thanks go my editor, Anne Sowards, and to my agent, Lucienne Diver, a pair of powerful women, for their help on not only this book but on the entire
The people of Erda tend to sound out all the letters in their names. Aisa's name therefore has three syllables and rhymes with “Theresa.” Most vowels have a European flavor, so the
in “Danr” is more like the one in “wander” than in
elcome back! I know it was cruel of me to leave you with a cliff-hanger last time, folks, but what kind of tale-teller would I be if I gave away everything at once? Besides, from the looks of it, you brought friends. I'm flattered! You know that new people have to put two coins in my assistant's hat, right? Just a joke! But you know the saying: “A coin in the hat keeps the story on the stage.”
You've never heard that? Well, now you have.
Yes, I'll get to the story. But for the benefit of the new people, perhaps I should explain where we are and how we got there, yes? It won't take long. For those who already know all this, feel free to pop down to that refreshment wagon over there. It's fully stocked with sausage rolls and beer.
What difference does it make if my brother-in-law owns the cart? You won't regret your purchase. Truly!
At any rate, for tonight we're hearing how it all came outâmore history of Danr of Balsia, the second hero of Erda; and Aisa the slave, who became the first shape mage; and of Talfi, the boy who forgot to die; and of Ranadar the elven traitor to the Fae; and of Kalessa the warrior princess. It all ends with the War of the Four Queens, a story
you should have learned in history class, though I daresay your history teacher's version wasn't quite as riveting as this one.
Rest assured, folks, that this story, called
, stands alone all by itself, and you can follow it just fine without hearing
, the stories I told on previous nights. I will be retelling those later, for anyone who wants to hear them, or hear them again. Meanwhile, that refreshment cart is calling your name.
No, my financial relationship with my brother-in-law has nothing to do with this story. Nothing!
All rightâgetting you caught up. You already know that thousands of years ago, we were split into the Nine People. The downtrodden Fae (fairies, elves, and sprites) lived under the boot of the Stane (giants, trolls, and dwarfs) while the Kin (merfolk, humans, and orcs) tried to live between the two extremes. Eventually, the Stane decided to exterminate what they saw as Fae vermin, and they created the Iron Axe, a weapon powerful enough to destroy the Fae forever. But the crafty Fae stole the Axe and turned its power against the Stane.
This caused some lively debate among the Stane as to what they should do. In the end, they decided to destroy the Iron Axe, though it would require cooperation between trollwives and humans. They slaughtered a young human named Talfi on a stone table and gathered enough power to crack the Axe into pieces. Unfortunately, the spell broke both the Axe and part of the continent itself. The land dropped straight down, creating the Iron Ocean, with the Nine Isles poking up like dead fingers.
The Sundering drove the tyrannous Stane under the mountains, and the meek, helpful Fae took rule. At first, the Fae were benign dictators, working diligently to restore the shattered world, but over time, they reveled in their power. They enslaved humans and kept the Stane in their underground caverns. They grew in their power and their arrogance and threatened to drain the world dry.
A thousand years after the Sundering, a young man with a trollish father and human mother met a slave woman in Balsia. His name was Danr and hers was Aisa. They were both outcasts, and this bond brought them together. They eventually met Talfi, the human boy who was sacrificed to destroy the Iron Axe. Talfi, it turned out, always came back from being killed, but had few memories of his past. Together with the orcish princess Kalessa and the elven prince Ranadar, they managed to reforge the Iron Axe and stop a second destruction of the world. In the process, they killed Ranadar's father, King Vamath, which greatly angered Ranadar's mother, Queen Gwylph.
Later, they returned to Balsia, where Danr, Aisa, and Talfi were tricked into traveling to the Nine Isles to retrieve the long-lost power of the shape from Grandfather Wyrm. Talfi learned a great deal about his past, while Danr and Aisa learned shape magic. Danr discovered he could take human form and Aisa learned to change into animals.
Yes, just like you, little one! Though changing into a wyrm and roaring in the middle of a story is usually considered somewhat rude, don't you think? The rest of us can't hear, sweetie. If you could just return to your own shape, we'llâ Thank you.
Danr and Aisa also learned they could pass the power on to other Kin through their blood, though not all Kin survived the process. Aisa learned this last part the hard way when she accidentally killed a mermaid and angered the mermaid's family, including her mother, Imeld.
Meanwhile, Danr became more and more unhappy about Ashkame, the Great Tree. Nu, Tan, and Pendra, the three Gardeners who plant, weed, and harvest the Garden that grows in the shade of Ashkame, told him that every thousand years, the Tree tips, causing chaos and destruction in the world, especially among the Kin. Danr wanted to find a way to stop it. Nu, Tan, and Pendra, however, had other concerns. The reason the Tree tips is that one of the Gardeners realizes the time has come for her to step away, and she
feeds Ashkame her blood until she dies. The surviving two Fates always choose a mortal woman to take her place, and the cycle begins again.
Pendra was slowly bleeding her life away to make the Tree tip, and her sisters Nu and Tan had decided Aisa was the perfect candidate to take her place once she died. Aisa had mixed feelings about this, to say the least.
When Danr and Aisa brought the power of the shape to Balsia, it ignited a civil war between Prince Karsten and the Temple of Bosha, headed by Harbormaster Willem. Willem seized control of a giant golem and nearly destroyed the city, but Aisa and Danr used their newfound power of the shape to stop him. The battle took place during a terrible gale that became known as the Blood Storm.
After the Blood Storm ended, Nu and Tan came to Danr and Aisa to warn them that Pendra had been kidnapped.