Today we're excited to chat with Heather Hansen, author
of The Breaking Light!
Below you'll find more about Heather,
her book, plus a giveaway!
What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
While on a trip to Seattle, I took the Underground City Tour.
Seattle was built on a mud flat and when it rained, the water and mud would flood the streets and kill children and animals. After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, which destroyed 25 square blocks, it was decided that they would raise the city and build on top of the existing one. Retaining walls were constructed, and the streets paved over making the city today one story higher than the original.
You can visit the underground city. The buildings and street signs are still there.
Light filters into the underground through sections of small purple glass embedded into the city’s sidewalks.
The Seattle underground fascinated me. I knew I wanted to write a book about people who lived in a leveled city.
Who is your favorite character in the book?
I love Dade. He was the most difficult for me to write. I struggled with his voice for a long time. Who was this boy who seemed to have everything—what did he want?
Sticking him in a tower with a bodyguard, sheltered, kept under strict rules—and then forcing him to hold his own alongside Arden, who is a force of nature, I was proud of the way he became a deep but flawed character.
There's a huge gap between knowing you can do something, and taking the steps to make it a reality. That's what I admire most about him, that even with the setbacks, he persisted in moving forward.
Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel always comes first for me. My novels originate as thoughts and impressions of things that happen in my life. They grow until I can see the story clearly enough to write. And then, when the book is finished, I usually ask other people to name them for me (in this case it was my agent). Until that point they’re called something like "Awesome Book of Awesome" or "Suck Book of Can This Please Be Done"—usually with acronyms to make the files shorter.
What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
I'm particularly proud of the friendship scenes in the novel, especially the friendships between opposite genders. To me, friendships are formed on the understanding that each person has an equal footing in a relationship. But that is not always the case in books or in real life between men and women. It's perfectly acceptable to love someone, to have affection for them, without romantic feelings.
Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
I knew going into the novel that in order to tell the story I wanted to tell, I had to break my characters (in this particularly instance, Arden). I knew how I was going to do that before I began to write the story. What I didn't expect is the regret and sadness that followed that breaking. Her emotional scene at the end—I felt every moment of that when I wrote it.
Thinking way back to the beginning, what's the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
The most important thing I’ve learned is to make my writing life a priority. I don't need to write every day (though I do), and I don't need to write a book a year (even if this is the goal). If I put my time into what I consider valuable, it's okay if things don't work out because the journey can be a reward.
Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Revising! My manuscripts aren't readable until the second draft. It's where I get to play and grow the emotional connections between the characters. It's the first time I can say to myself: this may be something worth reading.
What was your favorite book in 2016?
I have two standouts in 2016. The first is A COURT OF MIST AND FURY by Sarah J. Maas. And by that I mean: Rhysand. [Any time I say his name, even if it's in my head, it's with a breathy exhale where I draw out the vowels: Rhyyyyyysaaaaand.]
The second was CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo for much the same reason: Kaz. He's delicious—hard mostly, except when he's squishy for Inej. [Deep sigh.]
I love a heavily plotted fantasy book, add to that a broken man who may or may not be redeemable? Fangirl status.
What's up next for you?
I'm working on a second book in the Split City series continuing the adventure, and introducing more cutthroat characters and questionable decisions. It will be released in 2018.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
Thank you for featuring my book. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
There she meets Dade, one of the few lucky enough to be born into the sun-kissed families who reside in the Towers soaring above the rest of the city. But life isn’t perfect in the sky. Dade, desperate to escape his upcoming arranged marriage, has a secret of his own, and he’s willing to risk everything for it.
An unlikely romance develops between the two teens—but their love faces opposition from above and below. When her gang pressures Arden to help break the grip of the elite and end Dade’s interference with their drug trade, she is forced to make a deadly choice between love and family loyalty. But will the brewing class war destroy the world around them first?
Arden ignored the knife pressed to the fragile skin of her neck. She could feel its bite and the wet slickness of blood pooling in the hollow of her throat. Whenever she shifted, the cool metal tightened with the promise of death. Yet she also felt hesitation from the boy holding it, and that more than anything made her curious enough to remain still. He faced her. His right hand grasped the knife, while his left gripped her hair. He exhaled in fast pants, gulps of air pitting his lungs. He acted like he knew how to use the knife, yet the stress lines grooved in his forehead made her question whether he’d ever taken a life. The
boy was missing the hardness that came with life-altering decisions. She made these observations in a detached way, while uncon- sciously focusing on his lips. Not that she would ever admit that to her closest friends; the embarrassment would be too much. Yet his mouth enthralled her. How his lips moved slightly with each breath he took. How he tried to catch himself from showing indecision and when he did, his lips pressed shut, only to fall open a second later. Now they were molded into a frown, but they’d transfixed her when they’d
been relaxed and achingly kissable.
She could see his features well enough in the dreary light that fil-
tered through the static cloud as it mixed with the glare of the city. It created a diffused glow that made the boy appear even more mysterious. And she liked that, the hint of delicious danger.
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Something shadowed the boy’s expression, his chocolate- brown eyes full of unanswered questions. She looked straight into them, want- ing to understand why she found him so fascinating. He was certainly handsome. Long blond hair dipped over his forehead. His face still held a bit of youth, though hardened angles had taken prominence. He was striking in a way she might have feared if she were a different sort of girl.
The boy swallowed.
She watched his throat work, finding herself drawn to his sun- kissed skin, dusted brown from real sun, not from regulated time in a sun booth. She wanted to press her hand against it to see whether it felt as warm as it looked. Very few people could claim to have seen the sun, for there wasn’t direct sunlight to be had, unless you lived in the sky.
She felt as if she were alone with him in this moment even though they stood at the edge of a busy street. Enclosed in a private cocoon of interest and curiosity, and a little bit of lust. Because who wouldn’t look at this boy and wonder who he was?
Arden had waited until he moved to the edge of the street before she’d made her move. Beyond them, the city rattled with people, bus- tling as it always was. But she let the chaos fall away as she focused on him. It wasn’t difficult; he held her attention simply by being so different.
“You tried to rob me,” the boy said. His voice was measured, yet confident. It sent warmth coiling through her.
She had, in fact, been at that very task, when for some reason he’d felt his pocket being picked. She must be slipping. She hadn’t been after his money, though. It had started off as a mercy mission: to help a lone sky boy who was wandering the streets without protection. It was laughable. She’d meant to scare him enough that he’d take better care next time.
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Her duty meant she should have murdered him, to honor the blood feud between their families. He was lucky she didn’t care for taking lives. But that didn’t mean she could let it go if she were placed in a situation where she couldn’t ignore him. If she’d been with companions today, she would have been forced to kill him.
Arden frowned, feeling a twinge of sadness. Taking his life seemed wasteful.
Not wanting to tip him off and make the situation into something worse, she blanked her expression and softened her body to appear nonthreatening. His body was larger than hers by two spans. It was not often she felt tiny, as she was tall for a girl. Arden found she liked the illusion of being delicate far more than she should. The image of an innocent girl who conveyed a graceful feminine charm was wholly unrealistic to that of any girl she’d ever known.
“I didn’t try to rob you,” she said while maintaining eye contact to cement the lie.
His brow arched. “I imagined your hand in my pocket?” “Perhaps.”
The boy made a face as though he’d eaten something sour.
She wanted to laugh at his offended expression. It was adorable.
Arden lowered her face to hide her eyes behind half-raised lids.
His fingers subtly relaxed against her head, perhaps due to con- fusion, or maybe lapsed concentration. Either way, it meant that it would be easy enough to break his hold when she wanted to leave. But right now, she settled in to dig for information. He could know something useful. Though truthfully, she was having a lot of fun teas-
As she spoke with him, she made mental notes of each of his fea-
tures. Of anything that would set him apart and could be later refer- enced, especially the black tattoo on the left side of his neck just behind his ear. A design she knew without close inspection: a simple black sun, its center a perfect dark circle. Eight spokes surrounded the nucleus at
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equal intervals, the four points of the compass longer than the others. These spokes did not touch the center, leaving a rim of tanned flesh to break up the design.
It was a label that said he was off limits. That he was set apart from those not rich enough to flaunt the laws. People like her still broke them, but with consequences. The tattoo was a visible sign that the Solizen wore to warn others not to mess with them. Though often, especially to her gang, it did the opposite. What it did now was help to remind her that this boy was not for her and to focus her wandering thoughts.
His gaze dropped away from hers. His lip pulled up at one corner as his eyes narrowed. “You have a blackout band?”
Even as she was caught up in studying him, apparently he had been doing the same. His attention now focused on the two-inch-wide dull black metal band circling her left wrist. He looked intrigued, his lips now moving into a full smile that flashed straight, even teeth.
Arden’s eyes widened with surprise as she flicked the cuff of her cloak over the item in question. The band was designed to cover the implanted data sensor the govies said they used for identification and banking. In reality, they used it to track every citizen’s movement, logging the collected information into a database. Breaking the signal was necessary to remain undetected and, needless to say, completely illegal.
She considered how to deny what he had obviously seen, or even whether she should bother doing so. Her response was cut off when he twisted his own wrist, exposing the edge of a matching band.
Shock hit her a second time. Why would he make a point of show- ing her his band when he could have easily kept it hidden? Exposing vulnerable secrets was not a negotiation tactic she was familiar with. Perhaps he was more devious than she’d given him credit for. This wasn’t typical Solizen behavior.
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This was yet another reason she allowed herself to remain pressed against the wall. Puzzles were difficult for her to walk away from. Unfortunately, it had gotten rather late, and she had another appoint- ment, one she couldn’t miss. She swallowed back irrational disappoint- ment that they’d have to part ways.
“Where’s your nursemaid?” she taunted, knowing that the question would cause him to react.
The boy frowned.
“He’s my guard, not nursemaid.”
“Call it whatever you want, love,” Arden said.
His brows scrunched. Then he had the audacity to remain calm, her
words seeming to slide over him like a cool breeze. Worse, he chuckled as if he found her particularly amusing. “What’s your name?”
“What’s yours?” she countered, annoyed.
“My name is Dade,” he said. His eye contact never wavered. Arden swallowed.
Dade. Why did his name sound familiar?
“Which family do you belong to?” she asked. Identifying which of the three Solizen families he was from would go a long way toward choosing how to finish this conversation. It would also help her figure out the reason for the warning that itched in the back of her mind.
His body tensed. “It doesn’t matter.”
Right. As if that didn’t speak volumes. She pushed. “You know you want to tell me, or you wouldn’t have asked my name.”
“You have a point, but I still want to know who you are.” The grin, the constant shining smile, never wavered. Was he always this happy? What an odd thing to be.
“What makes you think I won’t lie?”
His eyes widened. “Because I’ll be able to tell.”
“I doubt that.” And for some inexplicable reason, she gave him
her real name. “Arden.”
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“Arden,” he repeated, his eyes sliding shut as if he wanted to savor the word on his tongue. When they opened, he looked at her with a new intensity. “Your name is as pretty as you are.”
She rolled her eyes, letting out a half huff, half laugh. She wouldn’t allow herself to be taken in by his charm.
Then it clicked: the reason he looked familiar. He was a fixture on the visicast. The gossip cams loved him. He was not just a random member of the powerful families, a cousin or kinsman, someone with little power and a big name. He was the prize, the only son of Hernim Croix, the head of the most powerful Solizen family.
She felt a flood of anger, mostly toward herself, at how she’d stepped into this position without foresight. Decisions like this led to disap- pointment and death. Because in the few minutes she’d spoken to him, she found herself more charmed than she’d ever been. Yet she knew she could never have another intimate moment with him. The realization came with a sadness that was silly,really.
And she’d told him her name. Arden let out a soft exhale, beating herself up with self-recrimination. She looked behind him to strategize her exit. The time had come to go, whether she wanted to or not.
They stood at the edge of the market on Level One, Above. There were no skywalks—open-air pedestrian walkways—on this Level; the ground stretched from one side to the other. She’d made sure when she confronted him to do so in an area where she could minimize atten- tion. That turned out to be a good thing when he’d managed to gain the upper hand.
Flashing lights from neon signs were bright in the fog, beckoning customers to peruse carnal delights, and the sounds of the streets were a familiar riot of calls. It was a busy day as usual. The streets rushed with people. The sky above was perpetually dark with static smog, making anything below it freeze from the constant chill.
It seemed much colder here than where she lived because of the stiff wind that rattled through the empty space of the skyway, where
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the hovercars and speeders zoomed past. The city soared upward. He was from the highest of the high above the clouds where he could see the purple sky and blood-orange sun; she was from the dregs far below. They couldn’t have been farther apart if they had tried.
“As much as I want to continue this, I’m afraid I have to go,” Arden said.
“You’re not leaving.” He pressed the knife closer to her throat as if to emphasize his point. “I may not ever let you go.”
In spite of her heart lurching at the possessive heat in his voice, she replied dryly, “You think you can stop me?”
She didn’t consider using her weapons on him. There was no need. She wanted to prove a point, not escalate the confrontation. With a fluid movement, she shoved the butt of her hand into his sternum, and then slipped her foot between his parted legs, catching the back side of his heel with a quick turn. At the same time, she pulled forward, shift- ing him off balance.
Dade gasped for breath, stepping back to right himself before tum- bling to the street, while Arden easily stepped out of his hold. People stopped to stare, forming circles around them to give Arden and Dade a wide berth. They didn’t have enough self-preservation to scatter. Instead, the pointing started.
She took Dade’s free hand, twisting it behind his back, and with her other hand, gripped the wrist holding the knife, her fingers digging into his pressure point. She cocked his wrist until the knife slipped free. When it fell, she caught it, flipping it in the air so that it pointed forward. Then she shoved him around so that his back slammed against the wall in the same spot where she had just been.
Arden held the knife to his neck, in a perfect mirror of their former positions.
They stared at each other. The moment seemed much longer than the mere second it really was. Arden calm, hands steady. Dade, his chest moving up and down, his eyes slightly too wide, and a faint
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blush staining his cheeks. She waited to let him go until his expres- sion changed from surprise and embarrassment to wariness. It was the reaction she wanted to see; yet it felt harsh and cruel, and she hated herself for it.
Her feet danced back, separating her from the growing connec- tion between them. She hoped to sever it like she did the press of their bodies.
Dade pushed himself off the wall. He absently rubbed at his wrist as he watched her with narrowed eyes. His shoulders squared, and his body tightened aggressively.
Arden didn’t like his new attitude, even though it was one she’d purposely manipulated. It felt antithetical to his natural state. She hardened her thoughts while she flipped the knife in her hand. Up it twisted, spinning, the metal forming a whirligig as it tilted end over end, the pommel landing smoothly back in her palm. She launched it once more. “The takeaway here is that you should never underestimate your opponent.”
“I didn’t think I had.”
“There is a reason your family insists you have protection. You know you shouldn’t walk the Levels without your guard. Especially with that.” She pointed the tip of the dagger at his tattoo. She wasn’t the one walking around with a sign asking for trouble, a sign that served no other purpose whatsoever. “There are too many people who would take advantage of you. Some might kidnap you for ransom—that is, if you’re lucky. Others are far more likely to gut you.” She hardened her voice, hoping to get beyond his anger to make him feel fear, or at least get him to consider making better choices. “I should kill you and leave your body on the streets for the animals to eat. That is what happens to Solizen who don’t stay in their ivory towers.”
Unfortunately, he didn’t seem cowed. If anything, he grinned with delight, and his eyes sparkled with mirth. Any hardness he’d
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momentarily displayed slipped away as if it had never been. This day and this boy were very odd, indeed.
Plus, how could she criticize him when she doubted her own threat even as the words left her mouth? Could she really kill him now that she’d spoken with him? Found out that he was more? Made him real in her mind? Her stomach clenched, but she swallowed back the sour taste, pointedly keeping her aggressive stance.
“I can take care of myself,” he said, showing none of the weak- ness she’d expected now that their situation had reversed. He looked as comfortable as she’d been.
Arden acknowledged that he was probably right. He did have skill, though it was evident he’d never fought anyone outside of a training room. The way he hesitated showed he really didn’t want to hit her. Yet that wasn’t the point. She did not want to see him in this position again. Did not want to be forced to kill him. He needed to promise to stay off her streets.
“The real world is a lot different than your Tower,” she said. “People on the streets don’t play by gentlemen’s rules.”
His eyes blazed as his fire came back, and his hands tightened into fists at his side. “I’m not a siskin,” he said, using the derogatory slang for a Solizen. His voice lowered to a growl. “Next time you won’t be able to get away from me so easily.”
Arden sighed. Fine then, if he wouldn’t listen, there was nothing more she could do. This boy was of no consequence, she reminded herself sternly. He was a cog in a family whose members crushed others beneath their feet. Dade could not be separated from them, just as she could not be separated from her family.
That truth resonated deep inside her, letting her know she was doing the right thing.
With a swift series of moves, Arden kicked out, catching Dade in the stomach. She was careful not to kick hard enough to cause inter- nal damage, merely enough to double him over. Strength could be
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demonstrated in how much she held back, not only in how thoroughly she could beat people to a bloody pulp. Overt aggression was unneces- sary for instilling fear.
Before she left, she slipped his knife back into the sheath at his side. She wanted to add a warning that he should never draw a blade unless he meant to kill. Instead, she leaned in close and said into his ear, “Lead with the phaser instead of the knife next time. Never allow your opponent close contact. Don’t hesitate to shoot, and for sun’s sake, keep your pretty head on your shoulders.”
Then she straightened, turned, and walked away.
Each step felt agonizing. No matter what she did, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was leaving something important behind. Arden drew her hood over her face, blending in with the crowd as she turned her thoughts to her upcoming meeting, the one where she would be planning to crush Dade’s family.
By: Heather Hansen
Release Date: April 1, 2017