Kingdom of Ash and Soot
Publication Date: July 3rd, 2018
Genre: YA/ Historical Fiction/ Adventure
“I want to be free.” The words came rushing out of me before I could think through their implications and consequences.
“There are two things you need to know about yourself if you want to be free—what you stand for, and what you stand against.” Lady Penelope held up her hands, brandishing a pair of daggers that had been hidden in her skirts. “This world lives enslaved to its destruction, and so long as you are living, as long as you are fighting, you will be free.”
I gazed at the daggers, transfixed. Each blade was clothed in a leather scabbard, but the silver and obsidian of the daggers’ hilts winked at me, as though it was calling for me.
For the last ten years, nineteen-year-old Eleanora Svobodová has worked as a servant in her stepmother’s household. Along with her older brother, she dreams of the day they will be free to live life on their own terms.
But everything changes when their estranged grandmother comes to Prague on behalf of Queen Victoria. Throughout Bohemia, a string of murders and secret whispers hint at a larger coup. As the leader of the Order of the Crystal Daggers, an ancient order of spies and soldiers that protect kingdoms and their rulers, Lady Penelope is determined to mete out the perpetrators. Now, Eleanora must make the choice between a life of intrigue and saving the lives of others.
Can Eleanora find a way do the right thing and still find freedom?
With a fun blend of historical fiction, true love, castle intrigue, and family dysfunction, The Order of the Crystal Daggers is the latest adventure series from C. S. Johnson.
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“What is it?” I asked him, noticing that he was staring back at me. “It seems you have remembered your dancing quite well,” he said, and I shook my head at once, keeping my forced smile steady as we passed by Lady POW.
“The practice helps,” I replied neutrally. “And it did help that Karl was a good dancer last night. Some of the others I danced with were not as good, but fortunately they blamed it on their own poor performance.”
“They were likely distracted by your beauty.”
“You don’t have to talk to me like that.” I rolled my eyes. “Be- sides, you might distract me now with your false flattery.”
“Flattery is always false, mademoiselle. I was speaking truth.”
Amir smiled. “You may have that problem in the future, when other men are dancing with you.”
“I can learn to handle it later, then.”
“You can also learn it now. There is nothing efficient about wasting time, after all.”
“I’d rather not, thank you very much. There is no need for you to continue talking to me.” My tone was frosty and bitter, every part a perfect complement to the kindness in his eyes. “Unless, of course, you’d like to tell me why you stole my father’s book from me when we unfortunately met?”
“I would not say it was unfortunate.” “What would you say it was, then?”
Amir’s mustache curled around the corners of his mouth. “God’s humor at work.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, frustrated and infuriated. “Are you insulting me?”
Before I could accuse him of lying in addition to insulting me, or before I could “accidentally” begin stepping on his toes, Lady POW began calling out instructions, making me feel even more insulted and infuriated—and even worse, isolated, and unable to do anything to escape.
“Hands up, Eleanora,” she called. “Yes, take a step closer. Now, remember to smile. Watch your timing; men are supposed to lead. And show your interest. Pretend you are dancing with a prince!”
Between Amir’s dancing and Lady Penelope’s snappy judgements, I felt trapped in a world of soft tyranny. It was a world where the truth was too impolite to be spoken, and even if it had to be, it had to be dressed up in clothes as strange and as ornate as the ones I was wearing, and it was likely as unrecognizable as I was in the end.
I certainly felt nothing like my usual self.
The others did not seem to believe it was me, either.
Amir held me at a polite distance as we danced, but I was still close enough I could see the pained delight in his eyes as he watched me, and recalling Lady POW’s earlier mistake of calling me by my mother’s name, I suddenly wondered if he was thinking of her, too.
The last note of the waltz rang out, and we finally slowed to a stop.
“Why did you take my father’s book?” This time, my question
was quiet but harsh against the growing silence. Amir seemed surprised, but he did not refrain from responding.
“It was not your father’s book, mademoiselle.”
I slowly dropped my hands from his. Already, I knew what he was going to say.
“When I saw you, it was like falling into a portal to the past, twenty-six years ago. I saw the book, and I knew it could only belong to my Naděžda.”
“You knew my mother.” The words were chunky and foreign to me as they came out of my mouth. I knew I had no reason to accuse him of something I already knew to be true.
“Yes. She was my dearest friend for many years before … ” Amir said quietly. I saw his gaze lower to the scar on his right hand. “And when she … left … I was angry.”
It plagued me, knowing that Lady POW was not the only one who seemed to prefer my mother to me.
“When she left the Order, you mean?”
“She did not leave the Order,” Amir whispered. “She left me.”
It took me a long moment to process everything. Amir and I were still standing in the middle of the room. Somewhere, a thousand moments and a million miles away, Lady POW clapped and praised us, telling us I was already much better at the waltz than before. She was calling for another song, but I barely heard any of it, as I watched while Amir’s eyes swam over with memories and emotion.
There was suddenly no denying the full truth of the matter. Amir had been in love with my mother.
About the Author
C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me.
I have an amazing giveaway for you all today! The author is giving away a print copy of each book in her new Order of the Crystal Daggers series, including a brand new companion novella about some of the other characters. A prequel to this book! Just click the link below to enter!
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