Happy book birthday to me! Today, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the fourth book in my Steel Empires series. Steel Time is extra-special for me because time travel is one of my favorite speculative fiction motifs. Working the concept into my own expansive universe was challenging and a LOT of fun. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t just throw my characters into a certain blue box.)
I’m at FanX Salt Lake City today, giving a presentation on one of my favorite topics: alternate history! I’m sure this evening will involve lots of fun shenanigans, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a book launch day. As a treat to celebrate, I also get my picture taken with David Tennant, my favorite Doctor, tomorrow afternoon! (Look for my con report with my full write-up of the trip on the blog next week.)
Last year, when Steel Blood came out, so many people congratulated me on finishing my trilogy. Though events can stand alone after the first three books, I have so much more story to tell. I really appreciate you coming along on the adventure.
Today, I’m happy to share some basic information about the book and then give you a sneak peek at the very first chapter! And if you haven’t met my crazy world yet, I encourage you to jump in with book 1, Steel Victory.
ABOUT THE BOOK
You’re never too young or too old to experience a paradigm shift.
Toria Connor is 25 when tripping over an artifact in the ruins of Nacostina thrusts her a century into the past, before the city is destroyed during the Last War. Now, she finds herself alone. Adrift in a time where she must hide everything important to her, from her mercenary career to her true magical ability.
Victory is over eight centuries old when she follows her adopted daughter. She has seen empires rise and fall, but never anything like this. She must survive alone in a city inhospitable to vampires, dodging friends and foes from her past alike.
Both of them know the clock is ticking down to the moment when the city is wiped off the map.
Now, they’re in a race against time. To find each other. To escape the past. And to save the future.
There are many ways to get your own copy of Steel Time!
- Available in hardcopy or ebook from major retailers, Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
- Order a hardcopy direct from the publisher.
- Order a hardcopy and support my local indie bookseller, Carpe Librum.
- Or, ask your own local indie bookseller to order one!
Read on for the opening to Steel Time!
When she tripped over a jagged bone, Victory realized she’d expected to find more skeletons in what remained of the ruined city of Nacostina. Since the hydrogen bomb destroyed the lost British colonial capital almost a century prior, she’d never had reason to return. Until now.
A few yards to the side, Toria lifted her glowing quartz crystal higher. “All right over there?”
“I’m fine, just a misstep.” With the toe of her boot, Victory nudged aside the bone. No other remains lay close to it, and the tooth marks gnawed into the bone made it likely an animal dragged it here.
The dim violet rays of her crystal provided enough light for Toria to see without impeding Victory’s vampiric eyesight, though with Victory’s enhanced senses, the magical talisman still shined like a beacon in the pre-dawn hour. It painted Toria’s sun-tanned face with stark shadows, darkening her brown hair to black and reflecting silver from her gray eyes and the rapier at her hip.
Toria moved away and they settled into silence, broken by the scuff of boots over fragments of stone and asphalt choked with hardy weeds. Further off, Victory overheard snatches of quiet conversation between their other companions, Mikelos and Kane, as the two men prepared camp.
In theory, Victory and Toria scouted the area around the clearing in which they intended to camp for safety. In practice, Victory scouted, while Toria kept bending over to poke at things in the rubble.
Though the bombing had ground most of the city to dust, the occasional section of wall fought time and gravity. Gripping an outcrop of carving with her fingertips and scrabbling by her toes, Victory heaved herself onto a tenacious segment of stone construction. Once she’d doubled her standing height, she tossed her thick braid over her shoulder. With this much humidity so late at night, the upcoming summer day promised to scorch. Best they sleep through as much of it as possible, constrained to her nighttime working hours.
“This will be easier in the afternoon daylight, after you get some sleep,” Victory said.
She pretended not to hear her daughter’s aggrieved sigh. Or the muttered comment about who held this contract. They’d butted heads the entire trip, but she’d resolved to let Toria lead the way once in Nacostina. That hadn’t worked out as well as she’d hoped.
“There’s no point to searching in the daylight if we’re not searching in the right place,” Toria said, louder. She kicked another rock, sending it skittering away in the darkness. “Are we even close to where the museum was?”
From her perch, Victory surveyed the landscape. She didn’t know. The long, flat expanse of overgrown weeds retained most of the original shape of the park at the heart of Nacostina’s cultural and government center. Victory needed to find a better landmark tomorrow night, perhaps the towering monument built to honor the first governor-general of the united British colonies, to narrow down the location of the target of this contract. If she oriented herself there, she could use enough visual cues to dredge up hundred-year-old memories and figure out where Nacostina’s old natural history museum might hide.
Her progeny Jarimis often haunted the museum in the city’s heyday, whereas Victory had stopped by just long enough to drag him out of the archives. But she remembered enough to be willing to accompany Toria and Kane on this job.
Toria braced her hands on her hips, peering at Victory from the base of the stonework. Tension lined the skin between her eyes. “Anything?”
Movement caught Victory’s attention, and she jerked to one side.
Nothing, other than shadows caught in shadows. Cracked cement and ruined stone reflected the meager starlight. Desolation surrounded them for miles, as weeds and insects reclaimed this once-thriving city.
“Mom?” Toria squinted into the darkness.
Victory dropped to the ground, absorbing the impact with bent knees. “I’m not sure we’re close. Maybe tomorrow night, with more time.”
They picked their way toward the cold camp as a meager breeze did little to shift the heavy moisture in the air. Victory got the better end of the meal situation this trip, since no sane traveler risked eating anything—flora or fauna—within miles of Nacostina, much less in the heart of the ruins. Toria, Kane, and Mikelos were stuck with surplus British military rations, heated via chemical reaction rather than over an open fire. Victory dined on bottled blood from her own private stock.
As Victory approached, Toria dimmed the light from her crystal. “I doubt anything is going to come eat us in our sleep. Unless you’re seeing something I’m not?”
“You’re the boss.” Victory veered enough in her path to bump shoulders with Toria. “I’m the hired muscle.” She didn’t mention the shadows. She hadn’t seen them in months, and they’d picked a hell of a time to play tricks on her now.
“That got old before we left Limani.” Before Toria could launch into yet another rant about how she and Kane had subcontracted Victory based on her memories of Nacostina, not her more extensive combat knowledge, her boot landed with a sharp crack. Both women froze as it echoed into the night. Toria reignited her crystal. “Holy—”
Victory crouched and ran a hand over the nearest bone. It curved in an arc that stretched longer than her arm width, finger to finger. It wasn’t alone—more bones surrounded it, along with shards of metal. Perhaps remnants of metal casings that held together displayed skeletons. Could they be this lucky? “Huh. I think we found the museum.”
“You never said they had dragon skeletons.” Toria knelt next to Victory and touched a cautious fingertip to another bone. “That’s horrific.”
“No, not dragons.” Given the size of the bones, Victory saw how her daughter had jumped to the logical conclusion. “I remember an exhibit dedicated to the dinosaur skeletons found out west before the war started.” The burgeoning British field of paleontology had fizzled when most of the lands where scientists discovered remains fell into Qin hands. On the off chance the dinosaurs shared any genetic heritage with the weredragons who ruled Qin society, the newcomers declared the areas sacred sites and halted all further exploration.
Now, of course, most people had better things to do than brave the Wasteland for piles of old bones.
“Perfect. Remember more. Where were the dinosaur skeletons in relation to the geological exhibits?” Toria’s businesslike tone couldn’t hide her excitement.
Before Victory could respond, Kane’s voice echoed across the ruined landscape. “Food o’clock!”
“Damn it.” Toria brushed off the knees of her jeans as she straightened.
“It’s okay. What a stroke of luck.” Victory hid her amusement as frustration wrinkled Toria’s nose. “You three start searching once you’re fresh this afternoon. I’ll join when I’m able, if you haven’t found it yet.”
“We could take the long way back to camp.” Toria’s stomach gurgled, but something as low-priority as hunger would not deter her curiosity.
“Yeah, okay.” Victory followed Toria, trailing the bones in the rubble.
These skeletal remains of prehistoric creatures would be worth a fortune if they could be returned to civilization. The party should also retrieve any of the more portable precious gems left in the geological exhibit. But Toria and Kane had accepted a contract by their mysterious sponsor for something specific: a particular piece of stone.
Taking blind contracts never appealed to Victory, but the kids were still building their reputation and hadn’t hesitated at the job offer orchestrated through the head of Limani’s Mercenary Guild. Since Victory needed to work off penalties acquired for breaking contract in Jiang Yi Yue a few years ago, she’d accepted the subcontract to guide them through the Nacostina ruins.
She waved her way through a cloud of midges as she followed Toria around another pile of masonry. If the kids wanted to spend the hottest part of summer treasure-hunting in what used to be swampland, well, Victory had accepted stranger contracts before.
The light of Toria’s crystal reflected on a glint within the rubble, too bright to be another random metal casing. They both paused, and Toria knelt to shove away gravel. “Oh, cool—”
Toria’s voice cut off as she blinked out of existence. The purple crystal fell to the rubble and darkened.
Victory froze mid-step as the area plunged into near-pitch darkness. She prayed her eyes were playing tricks on her. Perhaps the shadows—
At the campsite, a deep voice cried out in pain and shock. Dropped items clattered. Mikelos shouted, panicked.
Not a trick of the light. Toria was gone, and Kane was reacting through their magical bond.
Everything seized in Victory’s chest. She scrabbled for the darkened crystal.
Pressure squeezed her torso, yanking her up and out and away. The night blackened as she hurtled through a void with enough speed to strip the skin from her bones.
Instead, she felt nothing at all as the shadows embraced her.
Oh no! What happens next?