Heart of Iron

By Ashley Poston

My expectations were insanely high for this book: I mean, Anastasia in Space! Robots! Rebels! Rogues! I’m a sucker for space stories and I need some good pirates in my life, so I was stoked beyond belief when I heard about this book. Instant preorder. So I would take this review with a grain of salt since I might be a little overly critical – even though I loved it to bits!


35181314Seventeen-year-old Ana is a scoundrel by nurture and an outlaw by nature. Found as a child drifting through space with a sentient android called D09, Ana was saved by a fearsome space captain and the grizzled crew she now calls family. But D09—one of the last remaining illegal Metals—has been glitching, and Ana will stop at nothing to find a way to fix him.

Ana’s desperate effort to save D09 leads her on a quest to steal the coordinates to a lost ship that could offer all the answers. But at the last moment, a spoiled Ironblood boy beats Ana to her prize. He has his own reasons for taking the coordinates, and he doesn’t care what he’ll sacrifice to keep them.

When everything goes wrong, she and the Ironblood end up as fugitives on the run. Now their entire kingdom is after them—and the coordinates—and not everyone wants them captured alive.

What they find in a lost corner of the universe will change all their lives—and unearth dangerous secrets. But when a darkness from Ana’s past returns, she must face an impossible choice: does she protect a kingdom that wants her dead or save the Metal boy she loves?


The worldbuilding in the book was phenomenal. I loved the solar system where the adventure takes place, the religion the author created, the political tension. I loved how the author took the familiar narrative of Anastasia’s story and wove it into the fabric of space. However, this worked also against the author, because some of the twists were seen miles, and I mean miles, ahead. Even in the blurb you can work some details out. It also means if you can figure out who the supporting characters represent, you can figure out the villains ahead of time, too.

Which is not to say that the author didn’t have any tricks up her sleeves! She still manages to surprise the reader throughout the book. The true strength was in the characters themselves: into Ana, the brilliant rebel, who I want more than anything to know IRL. Or Jax, my absolute favorite character, who I need to read more of right now. Everything about his race, the Solani, made my heart soar.

And the imagery used is stunning! Though perhaps a little overused – so much swearing on Iron and Stars, y’all – but it’s so gosh darn gorgeous. There are lines upon lines I want to highlight and remember forever, or even paint on my wall.

All in all, while the plot is mildly predictable, the characters are loveable and the ending will leave you gutted. I can’t wait to learn more about the metals and to see Ana fight for a cause. This is only the beginning of what’s going to be a formidable series!



Hero In a Halfling

By William Tyler Davis
Epik Fantasy #1

Gosh, I missed fantasy reading books like this one. A highly entertaining story which reads like a DnD campaign with your best friends. Like Lord of The Rings, but with hints of Terry Pratchett, with subtle humor and pop culture jokes thrown in so creatively that they don’t take the reader out of the story.


Not all halflings dream of magic…

But Epik isn’t like the rest. Adventure. Excitement. He craves those things. He would rather learn magic, not follow a wizard on some fool’s adventure…. Or so he thinks.

The problem: magic is outlawed. After setting out for the city, what Epik finds in Dune All-En isn’t at all what he’d hoped. No magic. And few wizards.

Luck, or something more sinister, is on the halfling’s side. He meets Gabby, a wizard who is kind enough to rent him a room, or rather, a closet, at his now-defunct magical supply store. And as a group of mountain trolls threatens the city, Epik sees the opportunity to do something, well, epic.

If only the halfling inside him would stop peeking out.


While most of the story is told from Epik’s perspective, we get a healthy dose of flashbacks and a few other fun characters get to tell their side of the story. The villainous hand of the king plotting his ruler’s demise; the hilarious mountain trolls who just want to feast on human flesh; the soldier who’s never seen real action before… the reader gets to see the wide scope of the action and feel invested in the plot, which has a rather quick pace that accelerates towards the end.

The real strength of this book lies in the amazing characters, who could be doing absolutely anything and I would still read them. Gabby the Wizard had such personality; Epik was so likable; Todder too relatable. I would pick up the second book in an instant just to hang out with them again!

Only Human

Themis Files #3
by Sylvain Neuvel

I can’t believe we’re already at the end of such a thunderous trilogy. The Themis Files swept me off my feet from the first page of book one, and kept me begging for more until the very end. Only Human is a fantastic finale to an already strong series, and while I’m sad to see it end, it was definitely the epic conclusion the Themis Files deserved.




In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other.


Once again, nine years have passed between this book and the last. While I found this temporal jump unsettling when reading Waking Gods, it was even more shocking when reading Only Human because of just how much had changed: humanity has lost its mind. The robot our motley crew defeated at the end of the last book has been taken over by the US, who have been using to, well, take over the world. Just as Rose and Vincent predicted, with an unbeatable robot in the hands of a single government, the world is falling to its knees. To top it all off, the discovery of alien DNA in the population has led to widespread segregation across the planet, including work camps and executions. Countries are using the genetic code to crack down on their undesirables – a thinly veiled allegory to what could happen to us if we allowed our genetic differences to divide us. Sound familiar?

And while the Earth has been growing more insane, Rose, Vincent, Eva and General Govender have been trying to adapt to life on the Alien world of Esat Ekt. Here the author demonstrates a fantastic job of worldbuilding, as he creates a massive society so different from ours. It reads almost like a thought experiment, seeing what would happen to a society so afraid of stepping on its own toes that it never accomplishes anything. It was also an interesting change having two different time periods running concurrently through the book: life on Esat Ekt alternating with life back on earth, after the team returns.

I absolutely loved the character building. Eva and Vincent’s relationship grew perfectly in this last installment. It was fantastic seeing them try to learn to live as a family, see them butt heads, see them end up on opposing sides. Eva has to be my favorite character here: while I miss Kara, she makes up for her departure with a familiar snark. Seeing Vincent wanting nothing more than to go home, while Eva put down roots, made me relate to Eva even more: third culture kids, children of expats, we recognize each other everywhere.

If I did have some qualms, it would be with how certain parts felt a little rushed. I realize the author was trying to show how slowly things moved on Esat Ekt, but at times it felt too slow: they lived on that planet for almost a decade, but it read like the course of a year. And the ending was a little… I don’t think Deus Ex Machina has ever been such an accurate term. It was a little too perfect, to the point I could easily imagine that Vincent or Rose died and imagined the entire thing. But maybe it’s because I’m not used to happy endings!

Rose’s growth was incredible; Vincent’s mental anguish was palpable; Eva’s determination and will made her a force to be reconned with. Other characters grew a lot over the past 18 years of this series, as well, and I was happy to see them almost redeemed at the end. All in all, a fitting conclusion to a fantastic series. Not to mention it was impossible to put down. I sure hope Neuvel has more planned for us in the future, despite the trilogy ending!

Expected publication: May 1st, 2018 by Del Rey Books

The No Ordinary Star book trailer is here, and it’s everything

For those of you who have followed this blog since the beginning, you have seen the evolution of my obsession with the No Ordinary Star series. From my first review to my eager anticipation of the last release, you’ve seen my excitement, my pain, my sadness, as I fell in love with Astra and Felix and grew terrified of the year 2525.

Today something extraordinary has happened. The author, M.C. Frank, has released the book trailer for the series, and it’s… out of this world. I am stunned!

See for yourself:

What did you think? Wasn’t it beautiful? Wasn’t it epic? Let’s take a closer look at some of the stills together (because I can’t handle it on my own)!

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First the snowy expanse of the north pole, where the heart of the story takes place. Up north, you wouldn’t be able to tell if we were in the 21st century or the 26th. Is that the clockmaker’s cabin in the distance?

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The matches being lit – for the Match Girl, Astra’s nickname in the series. The flame that starts a revolution.

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The match girl herself, Astra, hair blowing in the wind. She’s gorgeous, she’s brilliant. It’s amazing how much she looks like how I had always imagined her.

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The city on fire, wracked with explosions and struck by lightning. The terrifying end our world could meet. I was on the edge of my seat the entirety of No Vain Loss, it was so thrilling!

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The three books of the trilogy: don’t they look beautiful together? Look closely at the cover of NVL, and you can see my own cry of excitement about this series.

have you read the books? If so, what did you think? Does the trailer look like how you imagined the series? And if you haven’t read it yet, then you sorely need to.

A soldier is summoned to the North Pole, days before the year changes, told to fix the great Clock for a celebration. He has no idea what to do. A girl, hunted for the crime of being born, almost dies out on the ice. She is rescued by the last polar bear left alive. A library waits for them both, a library built over a span of a hundred years, forgotten in the basement of an ice shack. The world hasn’t known hunger or sickness in hundreds of years. It has also forgotten love and beauty. The year is 2525.

Inspired by the short stories of Ray Bradbury, this futuristic novel is set in a world where Christmas -among other things- is obsolete and a Clock is what keeps the fragile balance of peace. Written in three installments, this is the breathtaking and sensual story of how two unlikely people change the world, and each other, one book at a time.

Immerse yourself into the icy cold world of this scorching hot new novel. Read it now: http://amzn.to/2nLHfld

Find all of M.C. Frank’s books on her website: mcfrankauthor.com
Twitter: @mcfrank_author
Instagram: mcfrank_author
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Facebook: M.C. Frank
Goodreads: M.C. Frank

The Toymakers

By Robert Dinsdale

It has been a very long time since I’ve finished a book that has left me feeling so emotionally gutted. The Toymakers broke my heart many times over, in the best possible way. It’s rather hard to put this review into words because my heart is actually still alternating between being clenched and then fluttering like a host of butterflies. Just like the magic the author describes, this book is bigger on the inside, evoking feelings inside that I rarely feel with a book. I’m going to have a hard time pulling myself out of this enchantment, and I’m not sure I want to.


34846987The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! 

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs, and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical… 


The story revolves around Cathy, a young girl who finds herself pregnant at 16 and runs away to find a place she can live with the child and not have to give it up. The Emporium welcomes her with open arms, and there she meets Papa Jack and his two sons, men from the East who make toys so magical they could almost be real. Or, perhaps, they are – that is the magic of toys after all.

From there, the book sweeps across a life: we start in 1907 and finish in 1953, the Emporium surviving two world wars… and a war of its own. The Long War has been fought between the two brothers ever since they became toymakers themselves, pitting toy soldiers against each other, while they also try to take control of the store itself. By following Cathy, we see the lives that are changed in this place, and the magic toys can bring.

There is so much in this book. Patchwork dogs that seem alive; paper trees that put down roots; Wendy houses that are the size of a real house inside. Even toy soldiers who can wind each other up. We follow Marth, Cathy’s daughter, as she grows. Kaspar, the eldest son of Papa Jack, as he returns from war a changed man. Every time I thought I was settling into a story, it turned into something else, so I could not anticipate where the story was going.

The magic of the Emporium is reminiscent of books such as the Night Circus and captures that feeling you remember of toystores at Christmas when you were a child. The magic in this book comes from how the author winds real magic into the pages: he says Papa Jack can make the toys so realistic because he uses the perspective of a child, and so the author has done the same, weaving perspective to make the pages come alive. I was fully immersed in Cathy’s story, in her relationship with Kaspar. During the last chapters, I felt so empty, imagining myself in her shoes.

While the pacing is slow, it’s still impossible to put down. Again, I’m going to blame it on magic. Towards the end when we begin to skip years at a time, I felt as if I myself was watching my life flash before my eyes, my own story coming to an end. I can’t believe I let myself get so engrossed by a book. Like one of Kaspar’s massive toy chests, I’ve fallen in, and I can’t get back out.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’ve reread the last chapter twice. It’s a real masterpiece.


Our Dark Stars

By Audrey Grey

This book is everything I need in a sci-fi: brilliant conflict, strong characters, love, betrayal, and of course the immensity of outer space. And in a fangirly voice – this book was SO COOL.


37459966While she sleeps, the whole universe changes.

Princess Talia Starchaser has it all. Wealth. Status. Adoring citizens. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she’s forced to publicly betray her best friend, a companion mock she’s had since birth, setting events into motion that lead to the destruction of the humans, and the princess floating through space, a remnant of a time when humans ruled over droids.

One hundred years later, half-mock captain Will Perrault and his ragtag crew discover a device floating in space. When a very human Talia emerges from its depths, Will suspects she’s the key to buying his way back into the regiment he once commanded against the last remaining rebel humans—and the ruling mock queen’s good graces.

Both Talia and Will would rather get space-tossed than trust one another, but with the queen’s forces chasing them across the galaxy and the fate of both worlds hanging in the balance, they’ll forge the unlikeliest of alliances to survive.


Talia Starchaser is now of age to accept the responsibilities of her role as princess, and she does so with dignity despite knowing the limitations imposed on her. She’s being married off to a stranger in the name of politics, and forced to abandon the life she loves, piloting starfighters with her best friend. The latter is a Mock: an android so close to being human, the only thing stopping her are the imposed limitations in her program. The two are inseparable, until the moment when Talia is forced to chose between their friendship and her hold on the kingdom.

A hundred years later, the results of this choice are being found by Will, a Mock who lives in a world where the roles are now reversed, and humans are subjugated. The reign of the Starchasers, once the first to have colonized the realm, is all but forgotten. Together, Talia, Will, and his crew must find their way in this dangerous universe – and right wrongs that cannot be left in the past.

I loved the intricate play between the two perspectives – and time periods. The author meshed them together so perfectly that it felt natural when the two lives collided. And there’s something I just adore about ‘stasis’ tropes; when a character awakens to find the world they knew completely upside down. How the author builds a universe populated by Mocks that makes sense, with new rules and limitations.

Exploring this world was a blast. Seeing how much had changed, seeing how much needed to change, it really dragged the reader in. I could not put the book down at this point. I loved Talia, with her cute naive side and her well trained, educated royal side; and Will, the mock with his humanity partially intact. The supporting characters were lovable and engaging as well, especially Jane whose character arc was powerful.

The ending happens incredibly fast. Once you find the twist, which was mildly predictable, from there the book races to an ending. I was surprised it wasn’t more drawn out, but it worked. I finished the book both wishing for more and glad it was self-contained, because I could imagine the characters having their happy ending.

All in all, this book is an engrossing work of YA science fiction, perfect for fans of the Starbound series. An irresistible read!

Expected publication: March 6th 2018 by Blaze Publishing, LLC
Preorder here

P.S. Back in December, I published a short story called DARK STAR, also about a princess in stasis found by a scavenger. It was published in the FROM THE STARS anthology by Torment Publishing. After I started reading this book and realized the similarities, I raced to the author’s Facebook page to discover we must have been writing our stories simultaneously. This is like an episode of the Twilight Zone! 

A Dangerous Game BLOG TOUR


Have you read the outstanding UNTAMED series by Madeline Dyer? I discovered the first book back in summer 2016 and instantly fell in love. It was followed quickly by FRAGMENTED and DIVIDED, both even better than the last. The author’s most recent release is set in the same world, but takes place before the first book: and follows a different POV character, Keelie.

Today, as part of the blog tour, I’m sharing the prologue with you! Enjoy!



All her life, Keelie Lin-Sykes has known what she wants: to protect her brother and sisters by killing as many of the soulless Enhanced Ones as she can. Oh, and to have fun while she’s doing it. After all, hiding in a secret Untamed community, while the group’s Seer warns them of danger, shouldn’t mean that life can only be serious, right?

But, when a face from her past suddenly–and secretly–shows up, Keelie’s catapulted back into the very world she’s been trying to escape from for the last ten years: a world full of guilt, lies, and…love. And the deeper Keelie gets into this world, the bigger the risks become.

Now, Keelie must deceive those she values most in order to protect them, even though her actions will destroy everything she knows and haunt her family forever. But she can’t ignore her feelings–not again. And Keelie will do anything to be with the man she loves.



First, I hear them in my dreams.

Long, drawn-out screams. Screams that grab and burn, like fire; sounds that never let go. Sounds that—


I open my eyes, heart pounding, and see a figure looming over me. My father—short, red-faced, worried. He grabs my arm, pulls me up. The screams continue, still scorching me.

For a moment, I think it’s the Turning. That it’s the spirits screaming, that they’re reverting to their most dangerous of temperaments, and it’s a good job we’re inside, else they’ll kill us. But then I realize. The screams are human. They’re us.

“Keelie! Come on—we’ve got to go, got to leave. Now.” My father hands me several layers of clothes. “Pack everything quickly. Like we practiced.”

Behind him, my mother’s shoving everything she can get her hands on into the only suitcase we have. Her hands move so fast. “Owen, get the weapons!” she yells.

Nearby, there’s sharp movement—hands and arms reaching for things. Heavy, quick breathing. Bea, my older sister, scoops the baby out of the cot, holds Mila close to her chest just as the infant starts crying. I see the look on Bea’s face—how she’s trying to stay in control and not panic.

My body jolts; it’s happening. Actually happening.

They’re out there.

They’re coming for us.

Outside, someone shouts. I think it’s Red’s voice, but I’m not sure—it’s distorted by the heavy clog of the engines, the shouts, the screams.

A thousand emotions drive through my body, clash with each other, start to do battle. I know I should be afraid—the fear should be palpable—but I’m not. My body hums with energy. This is it.

I fight to stop a smile erupting across my face. There are times and places when smiling is appropriate. This is not one of them.

An engine rumbles outside, and then my father’s crossing the hut. Clanking sounds follow, and I know he’s getting the knives.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Bea whispers to Mila. But the baby can’t understand, and we all know Bea’s saying it to herself. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

I pull on clothes—a shirt, a hoody, an outer coat, and dark jeans—straight over my pajamas, then find my shoes, put them on. Then I grab my rucksack, start stuffing things inside. My blanket, spare shoes, a book. A second passes, then I grab my teddy bear—even though I know I’m too old for him now.

I fold Bea’s blanket hastily and stuff it into the top of my bag.

“Keelie, take these.” My mother thrusts several items into my arms: a compass, a pack of energy bars, water purification tablets, a tub of Vaseline, a bottle of insect repellent, and some antiseptic cream. “Put them in your bag; we’ve got no room in ours. And be quick. Bea, Mila’s food is in Gwen’s hut. Grab what you can, and then go—we’ll meet you in the woods, by Eighth Branch. Get Mila away before she starts crying. And where’s Elf?” She turns away, her face red with the heat, and flaps her hands around her head for a moment.

“Here.” The curtain to my right moves, and then my brother’s in front of me, reaching for the bottles of water, just as our father hands them to him.

Bea heads out of the hut, her arms wrapped tightly around our baby sister. An empty tote bag hangs from her shoulder.

“Be careful!” I call after her, but I don’t know if my words are loud enough, and I wonder if that’s the last time I’ll see my sisters. My heart clenches.

No, stop it.

I need to stay calm. Gwen’s hut isn’t far. It’s the nearest one to ours, and a lot of Mila’s things are in there because Gwen looks after the baby when my mother’s hunting and Bea’s gathering.

Heart thudding, I squash the new items into the rucksack, realize they won’t all fit, and pull the teddy bear back out, place him on my bed.

“Hurry up,” Caia-Lu whispers. I look up, see her old, gaunt face. “We have to go now. They’re getting closer to this hut.”

“Keelie—keep packing!” my mother shouts at me, her words fraught. And then she’s yelling more and more stuff, but her words are too loud, and I can’t make them out. I stare at her hands, the way they move next to her head. She spins around a couple of times, like she doesn’t know where to go next.

“We haven’t got time!” Caia-Lu grabs the Watcher Doll from the table and squeezes it hard between her palms as if the red paint on it will imprint onto her skin if she holds it tightly enough.

She’s calling upon the spirits to help us, even though she’s not an active Seer right now—she doesn’t get called to the Dream Land or given Seeing dreams put together by good spirits and the Gods and Goddesses. I pray that the spirits will still help, because we’re Untamed, but I know that’s no guarantee. They’re mostly on our side, but they still ripped my uncle to shreds and then altered time so that the scene played over and over for hours and hours. Some of them just want to torment everyone—whether they’re Enhanced or not.

The cries outside get louder. The screams.

“We have to go now!” Caia-Lu yells, and then she’s gone, and the Watcher Doll’s gone too.

I start to go, to follow her. Wisps of early morning light peak through the window, and I freeze as I see the shapes and—

“Keelie! Pack that stuff, grab the other bag—the one under there, yes. Elf, give me a hand with this.”

I shake as I reach for the next bag—as I realize this is real. Very real. Outside, I hear voices, close to our hut. Caia-Lu’s and Gregory’s.

“Where’s the torch?” Elf barges past me, then grabs it from the side counter, spilling a bowl of dried leaves.

“No—don’t turn it on,” my mother hisses. “They could be right out there. Keelie, look from the doorway. See if Ramna and Sara are ready to go. Be careful. Don’t go outside, not without me.”

I follow my mother’s words, and, a second later, I stand in the doorway, holding back the heavy curtain with my arm. It’s lighter outside than in our hut—there’s a full moon along with the dawn light, but it mainly illuminates the mist—and it takes my eyes several seconds to adjust.

Caia-Lu stands by Gwen’s hut, ten yards from me, her head in her hands. She turns slowly, lifting her face, and, despite the haze, I see the haunted look in her eyes.

“Run, child. Running is the only way out,” she shouts.

My chest tightens. I scan the rest of the area, but I can’t see far because of the early morning fog billowing out of the semi-darkness. There’s another hut behind Gwen’s—Nina’s—but I can’t even see its shape. Nor can I see my aunts, Ramna and Sara. But I wouldn’t from here. Their hut is on the other side of the village and—

A scream sends chills through my body.


“Keelie! No!”

My mother tries to grab hold of me, but I’m too quick. I move into the half-darkness—toward the Enhanced, are they here now?—and I run, run toward the scream, toward Bea.

Footsteps pound behind me, and energy resounds through my whole body.

“That way!” Red yells, emerging from the dark, the mist, and he grabs my hand tightly, pulls me to the left.

I skid and slam into him, my best friend. We nearly lose our balance, but somehow we slip on the mud, and our weight propels us to the side. I grip his hand tighter, run faster, my eyes blinking furiously, trying to see ahead.

The trees are there; I can make out their outline. And—

And I see them.

Bea and—and the woman.

Red and I falter, stop. I feel his body jolt, and then he squeezes my hand, hard. He’s shaking.

They’re here. The Enhanced are here.

We’re too late.

Caia-Lu told you to run!

Bea’s crying, trying to cover her ears and hold the baby at the same time, while she rocks on the balls of her feet. She shakes her head over and over again. Mila starts wailing, and Bea trembles, then tries to make herself smaller, crouches down. I see her eyes shut as she nestles the baby into her lap, then she moves one hand up, covers her left ear.

“It’s all right, dear,” the woman says, reaching down to Bea with a long-fingered hand.

“No! Don’t touch her,” I yell. She doesn’t like being touched by strangers.

The woman turns to me—mirror eyes taunting—and I gulp. She takes a step toward me. And I’m sure she’s going to kill one of us. Me? Bea? Red?

But no, everything I know about them tells me that’s wrong. The Enhanced Ones don’t kill us. They’re not violent people, not murderers—that’s what they say. Any deaths in conversion attacks are accidents because the Enhanced Ones are programmed to want to save us all.

Yet, whether intentionally violent or not, they are still armed. And I don’t believe Dad when he says their guns are only for sport. They’re going to use them on us, sooner or later.

“It’s all right, children,” the woman says. “Don’t be scared. I’ve come to save you, my dears. We Chosen Ones will save you all.” She smiles brightly and looks toward Bea. “There, there. Don’t cry, my darlings. You too can live your lives free from negativities.”

Red lets go of my hand and steps toward Bea and the woman. “Bea! Come over here, now.”

But Bea isn’t looking at Red, and I don’t think she hears his words. She’s overstimulated; everything will be an overwhelming blur to her.

I dart forward. Mud splatters over my legs, cold and thick and clammy on my jeans, like it’s trying to draw me back, stop me going.

“Good girl,” the Enhanced woman whispers as I run at them. I don’t know how I hear her words—I just do—and she reaches for me.

I duck under her arm as I enter her thick cloud of perfume, nearly gagging. My eyes water.

“Bea!” I hesitate, know that I need to grab her. But she doesn’t like being touched a lot of the time, even if she knows the person. “Bea! Come on!”

I look around, and then the woman’s reaching toward me, and I ignore the voice in my head and pull Bea up. My sister’s arms are locked around Mila, and Bea stares at me for a moment. I push her to my left as hard as I can, and we’re moving, my two sisters in front of me.

“Red—” I turn, but I can’t see him. “Bea, run!” I shout, but my voice is strained, and it’s suddenly got darker—clouds over the moon and—

Warm fingers close around my wrist.

I twist, see myself reflected in the Enhanced One’s eyes, see myself captured.

For a second, I freeze. Then I spring into action. I slam my fist into the woman’s face, kick out at the same time, turning so I can throw off her center of gravity. But she’s strong—too strong—and her grip doesn’t weaken. If anything it gets stronger. She pulls me closer, and I turn again, kicking out, adrenaline pumping through me.

Her arm snaps around my body, like a lock. And—

“Let us save you!”

Suddenly, there are more. More people, more mirror eyes. I scream at them, try to frighten them, even though I know it’s impossible—they only feel what they want to.

I twist against her body, manage to unlatch her arm from me, and duck as a flash of something gold flies toward me in the half-light. An augmenter? My mouth dries.




I can’t take the poison that will steal my soul, fill me with artificiality, and never let me be the same again.

I turn, got to keep moving—but there are so many of them. They work in packs.


The scream comes from behind me, and I try to turn—think I see a figure and—

A gun goes off.

I gasp as something big and heavy hits me, and I fall forward, pulled down with one of them. I hit the ground hard and roll over, freeing myself from the Enhanced One’s weight. Pain flashes through me.


My head jerks up, and I taste blood on the roof of my mouth. My tongue feels too big.

Red has the gun—one of the elders’ guns. He stands there, with Bea screaming behind him. She’s cradling Mila, still trying to cover her ears. She shouts at me, tells me to get up. Red holds the weapon. At thirteen years old, he knows how to use it. We’re taught as soon as we’re responsible enough. He learned at the age of eight, and, two years later, on my own eighth birthday, I was old enough too.

I duck just in time to avoid his second shot.

My heart pounds. The ground pounds. Everything pounds, and I feel something building up within me—momentum, as if the world is suddenly going to stop, but I’ll go crashing forward. I cover my head with my arms, try to hunker down so I’m invisible. Coldness seeps into my body.

They fall around me—the Enhanced Ones. I see them, even though my left eye is pressed against the ground, blurring my vision.

Something wet splashes over me.

I stay still. Listening. Scared.

The screams are louder now. More of them. More of us?

It’s all right, I tell myself. It’ll be all right. It’ll be over soon.

And it will end in blood and tears. That’s what Caia-Lu has always said; suddenly, I see her face in front of me. Her eyes are haunted, and they’re sinking into their sockets, being drawn back, until they’re gone. Until there’s nothing there.

“Run!” a voice screams. Another voice—my father’s. “Run!”

I lift my head, move my arms slightly, try to see. But there’s—the air isn’t…it’s smoke. Smoke billows toward me. And there’s no one else, Bea and Red have gone. Disappeared. Something hisses loudly, crackles, up in the sky and—


I catapult forward, but I don’t know which way I’m going now, only that I’ve got to get out. Something’s on fire, and the vehicles are too close. The engines are running, but why haven’t people moved them, driven off? I turn to the left, look toward the hut where we store fuel, see the flames.

“Keep running!”

My legs plow into action before I consciously make the decision. I pull myself forward; gritty air scratches my throat. My eyes smart as I try to see—try to see where people are…my family… I’ve lost them. Where are Bea and Mila? And Elf—is he in the hut still?

And what about Red?

A woman ahead of me stumbles, but I can’t see whether she’s one of them or one of us. The air’s too thick. It’s hiding stuff, making it harder—trying to protect us?

Another gunshot goes off, and I duck, freeze. Every part of my body throbs.

Keep going. Don’t stop.

I run again, and then I’m at the woman’s side. I see her green shawl, recognize it—my aunt Ramna’s shawl. I reach for her hand, and she turns. Blood pours down her face. My stomach squeezes.

“Go!” she wheezes, pointing to the right. “Go!”

I stare at her. Can’t. Can’t go, can’t—

I see the Enhanced Ones looming. Two men with eyes that are too reflective.

Aunt Ramna pushes me, and my legs jump into action as if they’re not mine, as if she’s governing me with ancient magic. I dart to the nearest hut, pull myself behind it, lean against it, breathing hard. Its hide covering feels rough against the side of my face.

I hunker down, feel the fear in my body, feel it trying to take over.

No. You’ve got to stay in control.

You’ve got to run! You’ve got to go!

I nod, then I peer back out.

More smoke—black smoke. Figures are moving, but I can’t tell who they are. My people? Or not? My eyes aren’t working properly. They’re stinging, stinging too much—there’s something in them.

I rub them, but I get more dirt in them, feel my panic rising. A weapon. I need a weapon. I grope about in the dirt, mud hiking under my nails. My fingers grapple at something—a stick. I pull it toward me, but it’s flimsy. Still, it’s all I’ve got and—

I hear his scream. I turn, and I see him fall, see it like he falls in slow motion. My friend. My best friend.

His eyes roll back for a second, but, then they return, and they’re on me.

Help me, his eyes say.

I see the blood around his body, notice the way it fans out so perfectly. A beautiful circle.

My body jolts.





Nails of ice pierce my soul.

A shadow falls over me.

Your death is already written in the silk of time. You cannot escape it.

I look up and scream.

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