Today we're super excited to celebrate the cover reveal and excerpt for THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH by Stacey Filak, releasing May 8, 2018, from Page Street Publishing. Before we get to the cover, here's a note from Stacey:
Hello, YABC! Welcome to the exclusive cover reveal for THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH!
I am so incredibly excited to be able to share this artwork with you. I have loved the cover from the moment I laid eyes on it (and then stared at it longingly for at least the next 10 hours). I have been super fortunate to have so many dedicated partners at Page Street, and each person that touched the manuscript made it all that much better, from those that designed the gorgeous cover to the editors and copy editors who read it more times than I'd wish on anyone, to the design team that put together the inside bits -- Every one of them is a Rock Star.
But enough about the work! It's time for the fun part -- the part where I get to share a little bit of THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH with all of you. I hope that the cover gives you a taste of the dark of Yigris, the banter and bloodshed of Under, the glitter and guile of Above. And I hope it gives you an inkling of all that's hiding below the surface of this city built on lies, the bones of empty gold mines, and the last remnants of magic.
Ready to see?
Scroll, YABCers! Scroll!
Here it is!
*** If you choose to share this image elsewhere, please include a courtesy link back to this page so that others can enter the giveaway. Thank you! ***
THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH
By: Stacey Filak
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Release Date: May 8, 2018
In a city on the brink of war, it isn't a king that the people need to save them—but a thief queen from Under.
Yigris is a world divided—where aristocrats in Above rule from grand palaces, and thieves, sex workers, and assassins reign in the shadowy tunnels of Under. When the leaders of Above and Under are both murdered on the same night, the fissure between the two opposite worlds grows and suspicion threatens to break the tenuous peace.
Gemma, a former orphan-thief and new queen of Under, and Tollan, heir to the Above throne, must salvage a truce to rescue the city. But they soon discover that the conflict is far bigger than two murders, as the city falls into an enchanted sleep and a cage of deadly brambles slowly ensnares the streets, buildings, and tunnels of both districts. With the fate of Yigris at stake, only Gemma and Tollan have the power to prevent another civil war from tearing their world apart forever.
They had stumbled through eleven different tunnels and were approximately 1,839 paces from the Six-Mast, near Canticle Center, when it struck her like an iron pipe to the gut. “Stop,” Gemma said, dropping her pack, “I know what’s wrong with him.” Wince gingerly put Tollan down, and the king murmured something as if in slumber.
“What is it?” Wince said breathlessly. “Hold this.” She pressed the flickering candle into Wince’s hand. His face was a study in angles, his eyes sunken and haunted. “All right,” she said. “I remembered something.” She thrust her chin in the direction of the sleeping king. “But I need to get his shirt off of him to be sure.” Wince nodded and undid the misaligned buttons on Tollan’s shirt. The King of Above’s skin burned with fever. His pulse fluttered and his breath was coming in painful gasps. His arm and leg muscles twitched uncontrollably. Gemma slid one quaking arm and then the other out of their sleeves, and rolled the dead weight of the king over onto his stomach.
Holding the candle near the raw, freshly drawn mage mark, she looked at the strange symbol—part brand, part tattoo—and knew immediately she was right. She drew a sharp breath. “Did you ever see King Abram’s mage mark?”
Wince’s mouth turned downward in consternation when he saw the mark on Tollan’s back. “My father is the weapons master. The king would come and spar on occasion, and he usually removed his shirt. I never saw his so inflamed, though. Is that what’s wrong with him?”
“I think so,” she said, fumbling in her pack once more. She pulled out the blank book and pencil they had used to pass notes earlier and drew a mark on a blank page. “This is what I was taught to look for on the back of the King of Above.”
“Yes,” Wince nodded. “That’s the mark.”
She shook her head, brushing her finger along Tollan’s red, irritated skin. “Not exactly. Look,” she said, pointing to one of the curves. There was a difference to one of the flourishes and a slightly different curve to the bisecting line.
Wince groaned low in his throat and pushed himself backward, as if distancing himself would somehow help. “But this has to be the true mark. Doesn’t it? I mean how . . .”
She looked up, meeting his gaze. “I was forced to draw this mark a hundred times a day for four straight months when I was fifteen. It has always been one of the Daghan family’s greatest concerns, that someone would try to impersonate the king, and this was their way of ensuring that it didn’t happen. You can always identify the true king by his mage mark. If I’d have made this mistake in my drawing, Melnora would have had me scrubbing chamber pots for a month. Which means . . .”
“No mage woman could have drawn that mark by accident. Prick me! They did this to him? Are you sure?”
“I’m not sure of anything, but it makes a lot of sense. Who in all of Yigris is powerful enough to take out both the King of Above and the Queen of Under simultaneously? Yesterday, I’d have said no one. But seeing this . . . the King of Above keeps four mage women as servants to the crown—insurance that the Vagans would never start another war. They are the only people who have done mage work in Yigris since the end of the Mage War.” She met Wince’s gaze. “Do you know how the king’s mage mark is supposed to work? Do you know what it does?”
“It marks him as Aegos’s chosen ruler.”
“Well, sure, but Melnora taught me that the mage mark is triggered when it’s looked upon. It’s supposed to infuse its bearer with confidence in himself, in his divine right to lead the people of Yigris. As if their view of and belief in the mark actually makes a stronger, better-equipped king. That’s why Abram would take his shirt off to spar—it made him more self-assured.”
“What does this have to do with Toll?” “He was fine until I looked at the mark.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” “I think a mage woman took the opportunity of Abram’s death to try to kill Tollan, too.” She rolled her neck, staring upward at the tunnel’s ceiling for a moment. “Is it a crime of opportunity or something else? Why would they want to attack Tollan?” She remembered the strange, emotionless mage woman who had hovered behind Tollan when the’d first met. A sliver of fear stabbed at her spine.
“Really, Aegos? It’s my first prickling day as queen.”
They were silent for a long moment as she pondered what to do.
“If what you say is true about the mage mark, can we just—I don’t know—can we break it?” Wince said.
“Yeah. Can we just make it so that it won’t work?” His gaze was on the raw brand on the king’s back.
Gemma stared at it, too, looking at the way the blackened skin almost seemed to pulse. She could feel the mage work. “It’s carved and burned into his skin, Wince. I don’t know. Maybe cutting a piece of it out might do it, but it’s going to hurt a lot, and might not work.”
Wince stared at Tollan for a few moments as Gemma grew antsy. They shouldn’t be standing still, and she was nearing the point when she would have to get them moving again when he said, “Look, Gemma. I’m a little out of my depth, at the moment, but I can’t just sit here and let those scorpions dig their claws into my king any deeper.” He looked away from her, then mumbled below his breath, “Twisted prick or not.”
She nodded. “All right.” She reached for her dagger, but he stopped her.
“Does it have to be a blade?” he asked. “Do you have a needle? Maybe we could just drag a needle through the outline, mar the edges a bit . . .”
It was Gemma’s turn to burst into laughter. “Oh, sure . . . let me just dig through my sewing basket, here . . .” She withdrew a stiletto blade, a garrote and a vial of near-toxic sleeping powder from her waist pouch. “Hmm.” She grinned broadly. “I’m afraid I left all my good embroidery at home.” She shoved the tools of her trade back into her pouch. “There’s not much I know how to do that isn’t at the back end of a weapon. But I’d be happy to do the cutting, if you’d rather not.”
He shook his head. Gemma was impressed that he hadn’t balked at her little display.
“If it’s going to cause him pain, then let it be me.” He drew a dagger from his waist and tested the blade along his thumb. “Thank you, though.”
When his eyes met hers, she ignored his tears. She’d let him have his silly Above masculinity.
She put her knees atop Tollan’s shoulders in an awkward position, the king’s head cupped between her thighs. But by putting her weight on his shoulders she could keep his upper body mostly immobile, despite the muscle tremors that continued to rack his frame.
Wince sat astride Tollan’s ass, holding his lower half still. “How deep, do you think?” he asked.
“I don’t know. A quarter of an inch, maybe? Not so deep that you cut through muscle but all the way through the mark.”
He nodded, holding his blade over the center of Tollan’s back. “I’m going to cut through the middle of this line, here,” he said, gesturing with the tip of his blade, “and then maybe cut through the outside circle, just in case.”
She nodded, trying to reassure him.
His breath gushed out of him, and then, not wasting any more time, he sliced through the center of the mark.
Tollan’s skin separated and Gemma felt the tingling that accompanied mage work, but instead of blood seeping from the broken skin, light erupted.
The last thing Gemma remembered was the floor shaking beneath her.
There was pain, somewhere distant. There was warmth and light and something was tugging at his mind, but Tollan clung to the darkness, to the freedom of dreams that kept him afloat.
Waves tipped the ship gently as a light breeze tugged at Tollan’s hair. He closed his eyes to the bright sun reflecting off the Hadriak Sea. He was alone in the place that made him happiest—on the deck of a ship. Free from the politics and pressures of home. Free to think thoughts that back home were forbidden and shameful. He stood straighter here on the boat, relieved of the usual weight on his shoulders.
Footsteps approached, and he opened his eyes. The captain was older than he remembered—wisps of silver touched her temples and made the black of her hair stand out all the more. She wore a cheaply carved talisman on a leather thong near her heart.
“Mother,” he whispered.
“Get to work on those lines, sailor,” she groused as she moved past him checking knots and shouting orders to the men and women who bustled about the ship.
The salt air turned to ash in his lungs. She’d forgotten her own son. He meant nothing to Isbit Daghan, former Queen of Above and wife of Abram, his father.
The weight of stone and water pressed upon him, and he clawed for the surface. Dream turned to memory.
The seas began to heave. A man was in the water clinging to a piece of flotsam. He wore a carved wooden talisman at his neck, like the one Isbit wore. Deep in the corners of his mind, Tollan felt the overwhelming urge to let him drown.
There was pain. A fire in his chest. The blackness pulled him back under.
Time passed and the sailor woke. Tollan steeled himself to the pounding in his chest. He was nearly a man, and he was brave enough to speak to the sailor who watched Tollan’s mother with a gaze that made Tollan’s belly twist. He stood tall and announced in a quavering voice, “I am Tollan.” He took a step forward and held out his hand in formal greeting. “Crown Prince of Yigris and heir to the throne. Son of Abram Daghan and Isbit, his wife.” His chest swelled at his official-sounding introduction. He almost wished his father could have seen him.
The sailor’s eyes darted back toward Tollan’s mother who slept in a chair, unwilling to leave the nearly drowned sailor’s side, then back to Tollan. “Are you really?” he asked. He sniffed, ran a hand over his forehead and through his greasy hair, then stuck out his hand to accept Tollan’s. “It’s good to meet you, Prince Tollan. I’m Jamis. Captain of the now defunct Siren’s Call and the luckiest man in the Four Winds.”
Tollan nodded. “I’m sorry about your ship.” Again, the sailor’s gaze flicked to Tollan’s mother, then back again.
“Well, Your Highness. That makes one of us.” Then the waves tossed and turned again, time passed and Tollan stood before his father’s desk. His hands grew clammy with fear as he clutched the letter that his mother had written. Her goodbye echoing in his ears so loudly that he couldn’t understand why the king didn’t look up.
“You’re back, then?” King Abram grumbled, his gaze never rising from the papers before him.
“Mother sent this.” Tollan pushed the envelope across the desk and fled.
Tollan could still hear the crystal shattering within his father’s rooms. He was falling. He could no longer be sure if he even had a body. Memories and dreams tangled him, the lines snapped at him, dragging him under. He gasped for air and found nothing but salt and storm.
He was back on the Hadriak. The sky was black as pitch, and the ship began to come apart on the wind. Bits of wood and crimson sail, hemp rope and tar, flaked off into the air around him. The once grand sloop disappeared, and in its place was the throne room of the Yigrisian Palace.
Tollan sat on the throne, his hands and feet manacled to it with gold chains. Beside him sat his brother, also bound. Iven looked back at him with their mother’s eyes.
Tollan opened his eyes. The ground trembled beneath him, and for an instant he prayed for death. He didn’t know where he was. The flame of a candle fluttered nearby casting eerie shadows. He rolled over and saw a large chunk of stone crash to the ground just a few feet away. The roots of some sort of plant pushed their way into the tunnel and continued to grow, winding along the ceiling and then down the wall like a vine. In the distance, Tollan could hear more stones falling. “Aegos!” he shouted, leaping to his feet.
He remembered. He was in Under—wearing pants and boots that were not his own. He picked up the candle and searched his surroundings for something familiar. “Aw, prick,” he snapped and dove toward the prone figure of Wince, who was sprawled out on the floor nearby, a knife clutched in his hand.
“Wince, wake up!” he shouted, slapping his friend’s face and shaking him. “Come on, mate.”
The cavern continued to tremble and shake, and a fist-size piece of stone fell from the ceiling and smashed to bits a foot from Wince’s head. Tendrils of thorny branches unfurled all around them.
“Come on, Wince, you mother-prickling half-wit!” He slapped his friend as hard as he could and prayed to Aegos.
Wince’s eyes flew open. “What? Oh, shit. Shit!” He scrambled to his feet. “Toll? Oh, Goddess. Tollan, is that you?”
Tollan grabbed hold of Wince’s face. “It’s me. What’s wrong with you?”
“I can’t see, Toll, I...”Another tremor shook the cavern and Wince screamed. “What is happening? What is that sound?”
“I don’t know,” he said, grabbing his friend by the arm, “but we’ve got to get out of here.”
“Right. All right.” Wince took a step and stumbled over a small pile of stones. “I’m . . . all right,” he said, trying to regain his footing. “Where’s Gemma? Gemma?” he called out.
Tollan finally spotted her twenty feet away, crumpled awkwardly against the wall.
“Gemma,” Tollan said, bending down to help her up. Her eyes were glassy and her pupils were very large. A stream of blood ran down her forehead. “We’ve got to get out of here. The tunnel’s coming down.”
He held his hand out to her, but she waved him off and in an instant she was on her feet. “I’m all right,” she said, though she wavered a little. She thrust her chin toward Wince. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He can’t see,” Tollan said, taking Wince’s arm. “I don’t know what happened.” “I do,” she said, running fingers along her scalp. She grimaced as they came away crimson. “Ugh. Head injuries bleed like a virgin.” She wiped her fingers on her breeches. “Wince, close your eyes, press the heels of your palms against your lids and count to ten. It’ll help.”
Wince followed her instructions.
“And for Goddess’ sake,” she said, reaching for her satchel, “take a deep breath. We’re going to be all right.” She groaned as she bent to pick up her pack but waved Tollan off when he tried to help her.
She took Tollan by the shoulders, turned him around and looked at his back. “Huh. Worked better than I thought it would. Nice work, Wince. You can put your shirt back on, Your Grace.” She patted Tollan’s shoulder and said, “We’ve got to get out of these tunnels before they come down around our ears.” By the time Wince removed his hands from his eyes, she was grinning.
“What’s going on, Gemma?” Tollan asked, though he followed her advice and picked up the shirt that lay discarded on the tunnel floor.
“How’s that?” She asked, taking Wince by the hand.
Irritation flared within Tollan at the way that Gemma ignored his question.
“Maybe a little better,” Wince said. “I can see some shapes, now.”
Another tremor shook the tunnel, and small bits of rubble peppered the floor around them.
“Good—it was just a flashbang. Things will be fuzzy for a while, but no permanent damage. We don’t have time to waste, though. Follow me.”
Gemma took the candle from Tollan, and he followed the bobbing, flickering flame. Wince held tightly to Tollan’s elbow. The tunnel was dusty, and occasionally, a plant root twisted and writhed through the tunnel ceiling or wall, lending a greater sense of urgency to their already fast pace. Tollan trembled as he walked, sure that the earth was going to crumble in on them and his final moments would be choked with stone and blood.
“Where are we . . .” Tollan croaked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Where are we going, Gemma? And what are those plants?”
She stopped and stared at him in exasperation. “We’re going to the Canticle Center,” she said. Somehow, her breath was not uneven despite the rapid pace they’d set. “And I have no idea what those plants are or where they’re coming from, but this whole tunnel reeks of magic. Do you have any other questions that are more important than getting out of here before there’s a cave-in?”
Stacey Filak is an unabashed Chicago Bears fan, a die-hard tabletop role player, a partially recovered Pinterest addict and a born-again Viking princess. She lives in Michigan with her husband and four children, as well as a menagerie of popculture-named pets. She can be found haunting bookstores or Twitter when she’s not busy crafting worlds, daydreaming about recipes she’ll never make or plotting her enemies’ demise. THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH is her first book.
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