Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Simon and Schuster's Big Book Brunch


I had an amazing time at Simon and Schuster's Big Book Brunch last weekend! It was a great opportunity to hear about their amazing upcoming books and meet up with lovely people. This is my (slightly belated) rundown of their YA titles that I'm the most excited about. Thank you to Chelley Toy and Olivia Gacka for the candid photos!


There were so many great titles that I've included covers, quick blurbs and links below so you can check them out. Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconsis is out now and the movie, starring Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson, will be released in March. It sounds like a perfectly heart-wrenching story of two teens suffering from cystic fibrosis who can't get within a few feet of each other without risking their lives.


Next up is my current, brilliant read Slayer by Kiersten White. It's set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer after season 7.


We then got to hear from Laura Bates, best known for her non-fiction and the Everyday Sexism Project, about her debut YA The Burning. It sets a devastating modern-day story of sexting against the historical story of a witch trial and I can't wait to read it!


Amy McCulloch was also there to tell us about Unleashed, the much anticipated sequel to Jinxed. I love this series so much and it was great to hear from Amy about her time as a kid participating in science fairs. We also got to hear an exclusive extract from the beginning of the book and it was fantastic! I don't know how I'll wait until it comes out in August.

Below are other amazing Simon and Schuster titles that are coming soon.

     
        Out now!                           May                              April                                


Thank you Simon and Schuster for inviting us to your gorgeous offices and for telling us all about the lovely books! I can't wait to read them.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Write Mentor 2019

I’m thrilled to be a mentor for Write Mentor 2019! I had an amazing experience as a mentee last year with Marisa Noelle as my mentor. I found a community of friends, made my manuscript so much better and got an agent a month after Write Mentor ended.

What I’m offering

I’m offering to support a mentee with a submission package of a query, three chapters and synopsis. I’ll use tracked changes and comments to give feedback, as well as providing detailed written feedback. I’m happy to reread my mentee’s manuscript and offer additional feedback after edits.  I can’t wait to get started!


via GIPHY

About me

I’m passionate about YA fiction and I would love to mentor someone who writes for this audience. I’ve just finished edits of my Gothic YA mystery novel and will soon be going on submission! I specialise in dark, twisty plots and (hopefully) characters that you want to root for.

For several years, I've been part of the online writing and book blogging community. Through editing my own writing, critiquing the work of others and reviewing books, I've gained a strong sense of what works in fiction and how writers can improve their craft. I’ve given a lot of feedback to other writers as part of Write Mentor and reading for the Children's Novel Award.

My feedback style is very detailed and honest. I'll also give plenty of praise and share things I'm really excited about! I’m happy to tailor my feedback to elements a mentee would like to focus on, and will also advise on voice, characterisation, plot and other things that come up.

What I’m looking for

Most books I read are intended for the YA audience but I enjoy just about every genre, from contemporary to horror. I'm very open-minded about what I want to see from prospective mentees. I often veer towards books with horror or fantasy elements and I would LOVE to find Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in book form.


via GIPHY

To give an idea of what else I like, some of my favourite authors include Laini Taylor, Laura Wood, Lauren James, Anna-Marie McLemore, Katherine Webber, Will Hill, Kim Curran and Alwyn Hamilton. Mainly, I'm looking for a great concept, writing that has potential and a mentee who is open to feedback.

Intensely issue-driven books, pure romance or anything that deals with grief or abuse in depth is probably not for me.

Thank you so much for reading my post! I’m excited to help someone on their journey towards publication and hope that you might like to work with me.

If you have any questions, feel free to find me on Twitter (@yaundermyskin) or comment below.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee blog tour


I'm so excited to join the blog tour for Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee with not one but two brilliant posts from Jeff Zenter. I absolutely loved this book and you can read my review here.

First, there's a Q and A and then a fun post from Jeff about why The Goonies is a terrible/ingeniously brilliant movie. This will be an interesting one, as that's my husband's favourite film (as you'll see from the photograph of his collection).

Can you tell us more about the book?

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is the story of Josie Howard and Delia Wilkes, two recent high school graduates who host a creature feature show on their local public access station in Jackson, Tennessee, under the guise of their alter egos, Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood.  They show some of the finest(?) horror movies from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. During breaks in the movie, they do corny skits, read viewer mail, sometimes get dim-witted classmates to do shirtless dance parties. Josie is doing the show to kickstart her television career. Delia is doing the show to reconnect with her father who abandoned her. The big question of the book is whether they’ll be able to take their show to a level that will allow each of them to reach their goal without going their separate ways. It’s my first attempt at a comedy.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

One night, a couple of years ago, I came home on a Saturday night and turned on the TV and started channel surfing. This is not something I generally ever do. When I hit the Nashville public access station, it was showing this grainy zombie movie from the late 60s called Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Intrigued, I kept watching. The movie cut to these two young women dressed in goth/vampiric attire, who went by the names Marlena Midnite and Robyn Graves. It was a show called Midnite Mausoleum that was syndicated from someplace in rural Iowa. It fascinated me to see this labor of love and I’ve always had a soft spot for people who put things into the world for the sheer love of it. A story began forming in my head. All of my books are about people who fascinate me.

Do you have any writing tips for aspiring authors?

Give yourself opportunities to be bored. We’re not bored enough nowadays because we have boredom-killing smart phones with us all the time. But boredom is the mother of imagination. I go on long walks to enforce boredom upon myself. I listen to meditative music  and take my puppy, so it’s hard to look at my phone. I find a lot of inspiration that way.

What are your favourite recent books?

Two books that are coming out in 2019. Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry. This is a darkly hilarious and sharply written YA Thelma and Louise about two teenage girls on the run. It’s brilliant. Then, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous  by Ocean Vuong. I love novels written by poets and he’s one of my favourite poets. This novel—a letter from a son to his Vietnamese immigrant mother—is easily one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Every sentence burns like a flame.

Which character (of yours or other authors) would you take to a midnight matinee movie showing and why? What movie would you watch?

I think I’d take Charlotte Holmes from Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte series because she’s brilliant and hilarious. And I’d love her take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, my favourite horror movie.

What are your favourite horror movies?

Besides the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Ring, Wolf Creek, Hereditary, Session 9, The Exorcist, Alien.

Thanks for the Q and A, Jeff! It's really got me in the mood for watching some horror movies. Now, it's time for Jeff's guest post about The Goonies.



The Goonies

I’m going to take some heat for this one, but The Goonies is a bad movie. It feels, in every way, like a bunch of kids were playing pretend in their unspectacular hometown and filmed themselves improvising a movie. It posits a world in which pirates from the 1600s are fixated on the coast of...Oregon? Ok, that might be historically accurate but it seems wrong. But The Goonies also posits a world in which said Oregon-fixated pirates from the 1600s are capable of stunning feats of engineering. These include an organ made of bones in a dripping wet massive underground complex that makes pieces of the floor fall away. Oh, and by the way, it does this reliably some 300 years after it was built. The door lock actuator on my 2007 Honda CR-V just went out. It’s like 400 years younger than One-Eyed Willie’s contraptions and made by Honda.

For some reason, these pirates really only want someone who is good at playing the organ and capable of reading sheet music (that has also survived for hundreds of years) to get their treasure. They can’t abide the thought of someone who sucks at the organ running around, rich off their treasure. You want our treasure? Get your non-organ-playing asses out of here. Better yet: die. If you can’t play organ, you not only don’t deserve our treasure, you deserve to die. Other feats of pirate engineering include incredible water slides, and a giant underground pirate ship garage. I know I’m forgetting a lot of stuff here.

Then we have the Fratellis. Who I guess are supposed to be organized crime of some sort? They’re certainly coded as such. In Astoria, Oregon, famously a hotbed of Mafia activity. And then there’s the scene when Mikey reverently confers upon One-Eyed Willie the title of “the first Goonie.” But why? How is that earned in any way? The Goonies are a bunch of doofuses who repeatedly luck their way out of tough situations. One-Eyed Willie was a rich sociopath who, even in death, delighted in using Rube-Golbergian contraptions to kill people who wanted to share in his fortune. He created marvels of engineering to murder. Where the Goonies were so uninterested in money they couldn’t bring themselves to steal wishing-well money (aside for their wish and they’re taking it back), One-Eyed Willie loved his money so much that the thought of someone using it to save their home from being bulldozed made him want to kill them hundreds of years after his death.

He wasn’t the original Goonie, he was the original country-club-guy who wants to bulldoze the Goonies’ houses. If he was the original Goonie, then the Goonies really suck and they’re going to grow up to be serial killers.

In conclusion, this is one of my favorite movies of all time. Five stars.

Thanks so much to Jeff for the brilliant posts and to Andersen Press for inviting me to join this blog tour. You can follow the rest of the tour using the banner below.



Sunday, 10 March 2019

Rayne & Delilah's Midnight Matinee – review


Every Friday night, best friends Delia and Josie become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, hosts of the campy creature feature show Midnite Matinee on the local cable station TV Six.


But with the end of senior year quickly approaching, the girls face tough decisions about their futures. Josie has been dreading graduation, as she tries to decide whether to leave for a big university and chase her dream career in mainstream TV. And Lawson, one of the show’s guest performers, a talented MMA fighter with weaknesses for pancakes, fantasy novels, and Josie, is making her tough decision even harder. 

Scary movies are the last connection Delia has to her dad, who abandoned the family years ago. If Midnite Matinee becomes a hit, maybe he’ll see it and want to be a part of her life again. And maybe Josie will stay with the show instead of leaving her behind, too.

As the tug-of-war between growing up and growing apart tests the bonds of their friendship, Josie and Delia start to realize that an uncertain future can be both monstrous…and momentous.

The premise of the book really intrigued me, as I loved the idea of a contemporary novel with Gothic references. It lived up to all of my expectations and evoked so many emotions!

My favourite things about this book were the characters and voice. It's really hard to make two viewpoints distinct and Rayne and Delilah does this really well. I liked both characters a lot and appreciated how they develop both as individuals and together.

Another brilliant thing about this book is the emotive quality. It captures an important moment in Rayne and Delilah's lives and exactly what it's like to be a teenager. I read this on the plane and managed to laugh and cry aloud, which doesn't happen to me very often when I'm reading!

This book also made excellent use of pop cultural and Gothic elements. I enjoyed picking them out! The horror convention was a great setting too.

Thank you to Andersen Press for the brilliant book and goodie pack. I have an excellent Q and A and guest post from Jeff Zentner coming tomorrow for the blog tour, so look out for those!



Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Everlasting Rose blog tour review



In this sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller, Camille, her sister Edel, and her guard and new love Remy must race against time to find Princess Charlotte. Sophia’s Imperial forces will stop at nothing to keep the rebels from returning Charlotte to the castle and her rightful place as queen. With the help of an underground resistance movement called The Iron Ladies – a society that rejects beauty treatments entirely – and the backing of alternative newspaper The Spider’s Web, Camille must use her powers, her connections and her cunning to outwit her greatest nemesis, Sophia, and restore peace to Orleans.

I loved The Belles so I was really excited to join the blog tour for The Everlasting Rose. This is a really unique series and I enjoyed this second instalment just as much.

One of my favourite things about this book is the descriptions. The writing is so gorgeous and sensory that every setting is brought to life. I feel like the descriptions are even more striking for being set against such a dark, unsettling world.

The world of this book is a distinctive fantastical setting and yet is frighteningly believable, drawing attention to modern standards of beauty as well as how people treat each other now (and did in the past).

That brings me to the plot. The pace of The Everlasting Rose is a perfect balance of tense action, romance and quieter moments of character development. I wanted to make this book last but I ended up racing to the end, because I had to know what happened.

This is a brilliantly written, gripping and thought-provoking series. I can't wait to see where it goes next!





Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Lauren James Q&A – The Quiet at the End of the World


Lauren James is one of my favourite YA authors and I'm so happy to host a Q and A with her to celebrate her new book. The Quiet at the End of the World comes out on Thursday and is the thrilling story of the last two teens on Earth. You can check out my review here.

Tell us about The Quiet at the End of the World.

It’s about the future of humanity, and the fragility of life and existence. It’s about the power of humanity to fix any problem through love and determination. And it’s about the last boy and girl born in a world without children.

What does it have in common with your previous books?

It has the multimedia format of The Next Together series, with a plotline set eighty-five years before Lowrie and Shen’s time, told in social media posts. That was my absolute favourite part of the book to write.

Which characters would you want to have with you at the end of the world, from your books or otherwise?

Artemis Fowl. Ada Lovelace. P G Wodehouse. Ella from The Last Beginning. My type: funny and clever.

Your plots often deal with social media and science. What draws you to these subject matters?

Honestly, I write books for myself. I just write what I want to read, and I love science – the enthusiasm and joy you can get from problem-solving in science – and I love social media. Specifically, I love the new opportunities for storytelling innovation that social media and the internet gives us. There is the potential to write stories we’ve never told before using the internet as a plot device, and I don’t think I’m ever going to get bored of exploring that.

Can you recommend any fiction or non-fiction books for readers who are interested in science?

Absolutely! Here’s some of the books that inspired The Quiet at the End of the World:

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness 
 A fascinating look at how evolution makes our brains think.

Aliens: Science Asks: Is There Anyone Out There? 
 What's going to happen in the future? Will there be aliens there? Mind blowing and easy to read.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Cleverer than any other book you'll read in 2019.

Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind 
 If you're at all interested in art, then you need to see where it all started.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes 
 One of the ways scientists have worked out some of the bold claims you'll read about in these other books

The World Without Us 
 The future of Earth, good and bad, if humans disappeared right now.

Which recent YA books have you been the most excited about?

The Dark Days Club series by Alison Goodman 
 High octane demon-fighting, Regency social politics, angst-ridden romance and the best heroine of all time  I could read about Lady Helen forever.

A Sky Painted Gold
by Laura Wood 
– This YA novel is set in 1920s Cornwall, where a local girl gets caught up in the lives of the rich lords and ladies visiting for the summer from high society London. She becomes part of their group, partying with them at their indulgent, expensive Gatsby-style events, and bickering with the handsome but enigmatic older brother (who is, tragically, already engaged). This is the most perfectly indulgent guilty pleasure read. I described it as The Camomile Lawn meets Dodie Smith meets The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (all of which you should also read).

Fence Vol. 1 by C.S. Pacat - The easiest way to describe this YA graphic novel series is: fencing arch-nemeses turned roommates at an upper class boarding school. It's Yuri on Ice in the fencing world, and it's so. damn. good.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer those questions Lauren! It's fascinating to gain an insight into your writing and to see your passion for science. 


You can find Lauren on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, Tumblr at @laurenjames or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Master of Sorrows blog tour – review


You have heard the story before - of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world.

But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same? What if the boy slowly came to realise he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it?


I'm thrilled to join the blog tour for Master of Sorrows because I was so intrigued by the premise. I loved the idea of a fantasy hero who has the potential to be the villain...

The world building in this book is brilliant! It's rich and detailed, but not overwhelming as in some adult fantasy. I was able to follow the intricacies of the world and felt that the world-building elements enhanced the plot. 

This book definitely has cross-over appeal for YA readers. A lot of this is to do with the gripping plot and cliff-hangers at the ends of chapters. Although the book is quite long, I read it really quickly because the plot drove me forwards.

I also really liked the characterisation. Even the minor characters are revealed through their actions and it's interesting that the reader can perceive things about them sometimes that Annev can't. His story arc is very interesting and believable. I can't wait to see how his character develops in this sequels!

This is an extremely promising start to a series and I'm excited to see what Justin Call writes next.



You can follow the other stops on the blog tour using the banner below.


Sunday, 10 February 2019

Proud review



A stirring, bold and moving anthology of stories and poetry by top LGBTQ+ YA authors and new talent, giving their unique responses to the broad theme of pride. Each story has an illustration by an artist identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Compiled by Juno Dawson, author of This Book is Gay and Clean. A celebration of LGBTQ+ talent, PROUD is a thought-provoking, funny, emotional read.

Contributors: Steve Antony, Dean Atta, Kate Alizadeh, Fox Benwell, Alex Bertie, Caroline Bird, Fatti Burke, Tanya Byrne, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Frank Duffy, Simon James Green, Leo Greenfield, Saffa Khan, Karen Lawler, David Levithan, Priyanka Meenakshi, Alice Oseman, Michael Lee Richardson, David Roberts, Cynthia So, Kay Staples, Jessica Vallance, Kristen Van Dam and Kameron White
.

This book was every bit as amazing as I expected it to be. After the success of Change, Proud had a lot to live up to. It's ended up being one of my favourite books of short stories that I've ever read.


I enjoyed reading every single story and poem and thought the book was brilliantly illustrated. Each contribution gave me different emotions: I laughed, cried and thought about the stories long after I finished reading them. They also covered a wide range of subject matters, genres and experiences. It's rare to find a book of short stories where every single one had me gripped. 

Some of my favourite stories were written by the (as yet) unpublished authors that were included. I loved Karen Lawler's Pride and Prejudice retelling, entitled I Hate Darcy Pemberley. It's witty, the characters are brilliant and I wish it was a whole novel! I also really enjoyed The Phonix's Fault by Cynthia So, a beautiful fantasy story with a fairytale quality. 

Another favourite story was Penguins by Simon James Green, illustrated by Alice Oseman –what a perfect combination! This story was absolutely adorable and the gay penguins made me cry happy tears.

Absolutely everyone should read this book. I'll certainly be reading it again! Thanks so much to Stripes for the review copy.


Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Quiet at the End of the World review



How far would you go to save those you love? Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people on the planet after a virus caused global infertility. Closeted in a pocket of London and doted upon by a small, ageing community, the pair spend their days mudlarking and looking for treasure – until a secret is uncovered that threatens not only their family but humanity’s entire existence. Now Lowrie and Shen face an impossible choice: in the quiet at the end of the world, they must decide what to sacrifice to save the whole human race...

Lauren James has become one of my favourite YA authors. I thought it’d be hard to enjoy a book as much as The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and I think I liked The Quiet at the End of the World even more.

The world in this book is richly described and frighteningly believable. I love how Lauren’s books are realistic and grounded in science, at the same time as being completely unique and unpredictable.

I also thought the characters in this book were great. Lowrie and Shen came across as so real and I adored Mitch the robot. The main characters’ relationships and interactions with their families also felt very authentic.

Another reason why I enjoy Lauren’s books so much is the plotting. It’s refreshing to find a book with such a creative, surprising plot and I had no idea what was going to happen! The use of social media also gave an interesting insight into the history of this world and it was woven really effectively into the plot.

The Quiet at the End of the World is a smart, beautifully written book and one that left me thinking about it long after I finished. I can’t wait for whatever Lauren writes next!




Thank you so much to Walker Books for the review copy!

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Vote for Effie by Laura Wood – review


A wacky comedy for switched-on kids. Cute boys, chocolate cake and a fight for rights! Effie Kostas is on a mission. She wants to – no, she will – become Student Council President at her new school. She’s got her campaign team all lined up: a squad of loveable misfits who feel as strongly as she does about the big issues that really matter. You know, like gender imbalance, outdated school conventions – and good-looking boys who steal the last bits of chocolate cake at lunchtime. It’s time for change, and Effie is going to make change happen. So don’t hang around. Vote for Effie!

Laura Wood is amazing at writing books that leave you feeling uplifted. A Sky Painted Gold was one of my favourite books of last year (you can read my review here). Not only did Vote for Effie make me laugh and feel very happy, but it also had a really important message that left me feeling really motivated.

A real strength of this book is the characters. I adored Effie and how much she cares about things that matters. Every character felt well developed and I particularly liked the relationship Effie has with her family. The dialogue is also witty and utterly believable.

Vote for Effie also felt very topical. It really got me thinking about how if we want to make positive changes, we all have a part to play. It makes me really happy that children will read this book (and adults too). I already passed my copy on to an eleven-year-old girl who I'm sure will love it.

I really hope that there are more Effie books. I need more stories with her in them, but I think the world needs them too!





Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Stripes YA Afternoon Equali-Tea

I had a brilliant time at the Stripes blogger event on Saturday, a YA Afternoon Equali-Tea that raised money for the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall. It was a great opportunity to catch up with lovely people and find out about all the amazing books that Stripes have coming out this year. Special thanks to the wonderful Chelley Toy for letting me use her photographs.

 
Whiteout, the latest Red Eye title, is out now and is one of my favourite yet. A group of teenagers are trapped on a ski resort in a snowstorm while an ancient evil watches from the surrounding forests. When night falls, they have to face the monsters...

Author Gabriel Dylan read a particularly creepy extract and talked about his writing journey. It turns out that a real ski trip inspired the book, although fortunately without the horrifying events that unfold in Whiteout!




We also heard about the upcoming Proud anthology (7th March 2019). This is my current read and I'm already convinced that it's the best book of short stories I've ever read. It's a collection of stories, poetry and illustrations by LGBTQ+ authors and illustrators, each giving their response to the theme of 'Pride'. We got to hear from three of the previously unpublished authors: Cynthia So, Kay Staples and Karen Lawler. I've read all of their stories and they're some of my favourites in the book so far.



Another book I'm exceptionally excited about is Music and Malice in Hurricane Town by Alex Bell. Out on 4th April 2019, it's set in a world inspired by New Orleans and is about a young jazz player who is possessed by the ghost of a murdered woman. She's pulled into a world of intrigue, including secret vampire jazz clubs... 





We also watched a video of author Randy Ribay talking about his exciting new book, Patron Saints of Nothing. It comes out on 27th June 2019 and is a coming-of-age story about a Filipino-American teenager trying to find the truth about his cousin's murder. 







We also heard from Editor-At-Large, Sarah Shaffi, about her first acquisition, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. This book sounds like so much fun, and is the story of a Bollywood film fanatic who is trying to 'find her happily ever after'. It comes out on 2nd May 2019.





Thank you so much to Stripes for putting on such a lovely event and providing an amazing selection of proof copies! 

Monday, 21 January 2019

The Girl King blog tour – extract


It's a pleasure to join the blog tour for The Girl King. I loved this book so much, and it reinvigorated my interest in YA fantasy. The world building is fantastic and there's plenty of action in the battle for the throne. You can check my review out here.

For my stop on the blog tour, I have a brilliant extract from the beginning of the novel. Enjoy!


CHAPTER 1
The Girl King
The sword cut through the air a finger’s width from Lu’s face. She suppressed the instinct to flinch. The thrust was meant to throw her off balance so her opponent could knock her to the ground. Once that happened, she would be done for.
She wasn’t so easy. Sorry to disappoint, Shin Yuri.
Lu leaped back lightly, swinging her own blade in a hard, upward parry just as the sword master sent his crashing down upon her. She was ready for it. Their weapons met with a flat thwack. Wood on wood.
“Good!” her shin barked, dancing back from the blow. “Now, fix your stance!”
Lu darted a look down at her feet. Shin Yuri took advantage of her distraction. She barely had time to raise her sword before he fell upon her.
“Don’t use your eyes to fix your feet!” he scolded between thrusts. “The body knows the body. Eyes are for the opponent!”
Idiot! A beginner’s mistake. Hardly befitting a princess who had picked up a practice blade at the age of seven and spent the past nine years training daily. A princess who in a few short hours would be named her father’s successor . . .
Yuri came at her hard, raining fresh blows on her. She shuffled back, taking him with her. His movements were violent, almost wild, but she wasn’t fooled. His control was ironclad. Still, a man his age could not keep up this pace for long.
“Keep me moving!” Shin Yuri snapped. “Let me use up my energy.”
I know that!
The shadow of Kangmun Hall’s massive red walls fell over them as they danced along the perimeter of the Ring. The hall was named for the first ethnic Hu emperor— her own great- grandsire— who had led his army of nomad warriors south to conquer the failing last Hana dynasty. They had had the Gift of the tiger back then, allowing them to rend their enemies with tooth and claw. But that was long ago.
Yuri pushed her back another step. Lu imagined herself in the bronze- laced red wooden armour and orange tiger pelt of the old Hu kings, like those she had seen hung in reverent display in the Hall of the Ancestors.
She leaped forward and swung hard. The blood pounding in her ears became the thundering hooves of a thousand Hu warriors astride massive black war elk. The warriors screamed for victory— for her— their magnificent mounts foaming at the mouth in their toil.
“Reckless!” she heard Shin Yuri shout. “Control your strokes! Fewer swings, more knowing.”
His words meant nothing to her. She was what thousands of years of warriors had wrought. She had the blood of the tiger in her veins. Who was he to tell her how to swing a sword?
She drove him back another step. As Shin Yuri raised his blade, she spun away from him, then reversed the motion, circling back toward him, raising her sword high above her head. She brought it down, hard, just as he completed his own stroke. The force of her unexpected blow knocked the sword clean from his hands.
Shin Yuri dove after the blade, but Lu kicked it out of reach. He hit the sandy ground, rolling away from her. He bounded back to his feet, poised to dash, only to find her wooden blade at his throat.
Lu kept the sword steady in one hand and used the other to pull off her leather practice helmet, the heavy black rope of her plait tumbling down her back.
“I believe there is a saying for this situation, is there not?” She grinned, wiping away the sweat brimming on her upper lip with her sleeve. “Something about the student becoming the shin?”
Pride and annoyance tugged at the old man’s features, but before he could speak, applause broke out, sharp and unexpected as the ringing of a glass wind- chime.
Lu turned and saw three girls gathered just outside the chalked perimeter of the sparring ring. Against the sandy practice yard, the trio’s pastel- hued robes gave them the misplaced look of flowers scattered in the dirt: Lu’s younger sister, Princess Minyi, and two of her nunas, Butterfly and Snowdrop. Seeing the surprise on her face, they burst into pleased giggles.
Minyi’s sallow face was sun warmed and flushed. She was dressed as their empress mother preferred her to be, in the old Hana way, her layered robes of pale pink cinched high at the waist. The empress had never tried to dress Lu this way, even when she was a young child. But then, between the two of them Min had always been the more malleable.
Butterfly and Snowdrop wore the yellow batik robes customary of palace nunas, topped with a hooded cape— a symbol of modesty. But Butterfly and Snowdrop had uncovered their heads to enjoy the late summer sun.
“Ay!” Lu hollered, striding over to them. “What are you doing here?”
“We overheard you sparring,” Min said. Her voice was ever tentative, like the tip of a toe testing hot bathwater. “It sounded so exciting that they— we— wanted to watch. Just for a moment.”
Lu blinked in pleasant surprise. It had been some time since Min had watched her spar— years, truly. She’d assumed Min wasn’t interested. Her sister had always been a sensitive creature, flinching at even the clashing of practice swords.
“Don’t be cross, Princess,” Butterfly interjected, pulling Lu’s gaze away. “We just wanted to see if the rumours were true, that you’re as deft as a man with a blade.” Snowdrop let loose a fresh peal of laughter.
“What’s so amusing? You don’t think I’m as good as a man?” Lu demanded good- naturedly.
“Oh no, it’s not that!” Butterfly smirked. “Snowdrop was just commenting that in your practice robes and helmet, Her Highness cuts as handsome a figure as any crown prince could hope to— ”
“You truly are the Girl King, just as they say!” Snowdrop interrupted, dissolving into fresh laughter.
Lu caught herself before she reacted, but from the corner of her eye she saw Minyi stiffen.
“Girl King” was the derisive nickname Lu had earned among both court officials and commoners contemptuous of her ambitions— as Snowdrop well would have known, had she the sense of a child half her age. She understood the language of awkward silences at least; she went quiet, sensing her error.
“The Girl King?” Lu said with a deliberate smile. The tension eased just slightly from Min’s shoulders. “Perhaps I will be! We’ll see soon enough.”
Very soon. By the end of the day, she would have her new title, and finally put to bed all the rumours: that she was too weak to rule, that the Hu dynasty was on its last legs, that her father was planning to marry her off to her stupid, drug- addled Hana cousin, Lord Set of Bei Province.
“Yes,” agreed Min. Her voice was rushed in eagerness, grateful to move past the discomfort Snowdrop had initiated. “We should probably head over to court soon.”
“Court?” Lu repeated. She cursed, looking toward the sun. “Is it that late already? Why didn’t you say so sooner?”
Min flushed as she always did when sensing the slightest displeasure directed her way. “Well, it’s not so late yet— ” she amended quickly.
“Snowdrop, take Princess Minyi to her apartments and get her dressed for court,” Lu interrupted, her thoughts racing. It wouldn’t do to be late today of all days. “Butterfly, run ahead to my apartments and tell my nunas to prepare a hot bath and lay out my clothes. The formal teal robes, and the plum underskirt with gold trim. Make sure to speak to Hyacinth directly. She knows the clothes and how best to prepare my bath.”
“Yes, Princess.”
Lu turned toward her sister. “I’ll see you at court.”
“Should we meet beforehand so we can walk to Kangmun Hall together . . . ?” Minyi ventured hopefully. Lu tamped down a sigh; Min hated making an entrance on her own. Most days Lu didn’t mind playing the chaperone . . .
“Not today,” she said brusquely. “I can’t afford to be late.” “I won’t be . . .”
“Best hurry now!” Lu flashed her an encouraging smile before turning away.
She hurried back to Shin Yuri, who had removed his sword belt and was now worrying the shoulder buckles on his sparring jerkin.
“I apologize for the interruption, Shin Yuri.”
“Interruption?” he said blandly. “What interruption?” A smile quirked at the corners of Lu’s mouth.
Shin Yuri spat in the dirt, then turned to fix her with a tight frown. “Time for court, is it?” He didn’t wait for her answer. “Well, before you go, allow me to do my duties as a shin and give you some notes on your performance today.”
Lu sighed, hands on her hips, but Yuri was immune to her impatience by now. “I’m an old man, Princess. Half a century on this earth wears on the body,” he told her, extracting a handkerchief from his tunic. He wiped his face, soiling the fine silk. “You did well today, used your speed to your advantage. But
you would not have succeeded against a man— an opponent— the same age as you.”
Lu bristled. Her arms rose to fold over her chest— a defensive gesture. She willed them back down. “You can’t know that.”
“You have talent and strength on your side. Good instincts. But that will take you only so far. If you’re going to survive in a battle, you need to develop your mind as well as your body. Efficiency of movement comes from experience, keen observation, and observation can only be done with— ”
“Patience!” she snapped. “Yes, I know. You’ve told me a thousand times before.”
“And I’ll tell you a thousand times more if I think it will help you survive.” His eyes locked with hers, and Lu was struck with the uneasy sense that he was speaking of more than just sparring.
He is just being condescending, she told herself fiercely. Her father was about to name her his successor; what did she have to fear? One day she would be Yuri’s empress, and yet he persisted in trying to put her in her place like she was a child. Why were old men so tiresome?
As though hearing her thoughts, he said, “If you do not trust my words as your elder, then trust my experience as a warrior.”
A warrior who abruptly resigned from his post in the North for the comforts of the capital, a nasty voice in her head hissed. This was the undercurrent of gossip that had been following Yuri around since he had returned to court some five years ago. An odd tension— to be labelled both the best and a coward.
“I trust you,” she told him, scuffing the sand with the toe of her boot.
Yuri resumed the task of loosening his jerkin. “I should hope so,” he said. “If you don’t, I’d have no business being your shin.”
He dismissed her with a wave. “Best get prepared for court. You have a long day ahead of you.”
“Yes,” she said firmly. “I do.”

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