This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking about ENVY. We’re asking if things have ever gotten weird between you and another author after publishing?
Yeah, they have. And it’s awful and heartbreaking.
You know what else is awful and heartbreaking? Feeling that envy for other authors who seem to be more successful than we are. None of us wants to be that person, and yet none of us is immune from those green crawly fingers of professional jealousy. Come on over for my advice on battling author envy from BOTH sides!
DARK WIZARD comes out in one week!!!!
You guys, I’m so revved about this book! If you missed it, an early reader said this:
O . M . G …That was amazing. I just finished Dark Wizard and I feel drunk.I have to wait a minute before I review it or the whole review is going to be “Omg, best, omg, new, omg, series … “
I’m more than satisfied with that review as is – what do you all think? LOL!
Want to read the first chapter? See it below!
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Gabriel Phel crested the last ridge of the notorious Knifeblade Mountains that guarded Elal lands on nearly three sides, and faced the final barrier. The path through the mountains had been narrow, crooked, with blind endings and unexpected pitfalls.
Not unlike his life, Gabriel thought with grimly sardonic humor.
He halted his gelding, Vale, several lengths short of the border, sensing the repulsion spell that prevented the uninvited from crossing. It was a highly refined enchantment—he’d expect nothing less of the powerful Elal wizards—one that barred only humans, but allowed animals and weather to cross freely. Gabriel dismounted so he and Vale could both rest a moment before the last leg of the journey, while the Elal border guardians confirmed his identity. Lord Elal was famously insular and fanatical about guarding what was his. And, as the most powerful wizard in the Convocation, Lord Elal had a great deal to call his.
Finding a spot with a good perspective of the serene and rolling valley below—level enough to stand on and just shy of the border spell palpable to his wizard senses—Gabriel took a stance and opened the placket of his leather pants to empty his bladder. He would honor his first visit to the hallowed soil of the Convocation’s greatest High House appropriately.
With a grim smile, he aimed his stream across the border, marking his territory as he studied the land of his enemy.
House Elal stood at the center of the valley below, a towering edifice amid winter-quiet fields and clusters of farmhouses. Some of the smaller dwellings—those with families not wealthy enough to afford fire elementals for heating—had chimneys with smoke coiling fragrantly against the late afternoon light spreading to the horizon. An enormous river, so large that it remained unfrozen, ran through the valley, and House Elal sat in a crescent bend of it that also served neatly as a moat. The house—more accurately, a castle—sprawled in all directions, wings, courtyards, and towers added over multiple generations. At least three kinds of stone had gone into its building over the centuries, judging by the different colors easily picked out from this distance, probably more.
Between the moat, the high walls, and the edifice’s sheer complexity—not to mention the guarded narrow passes through the Knifeblade Mountains—House Elal was virtually unassailable. Except via the weapon he currently held in his hand.
Take that, Gabriel thought, shaking his cock dry and tucking it away again. He did so carefully, as that member had important work to do that night. All he needed was some unlucky accident to render him unable to plant the seeds of desperate ambition.
Lowering, when a man’s future depended on that kind of performance. But then, nothing much made rational sense when it came to the Convocation’s bizarre and arcane laws regarding their precious familiars and breeding the next generation of power-mad wizards. Gabriel didn’t like it, but you can’t win the game unless you play the game. If he wanted to restore House Phel and ensure comfort, security, and peace for his own people, like that enjoyed by the people below, then he needed to win.
Once, he would have said that there would never come a day when he’d go crawling to the Convocation for anything. But then, the idealistic certainties of youth had a way of collapsing before the exigencies of the present. To be a wizard powerful enough to challenge the likes of Lord Elal, he needed the magical amplification a familiar would give him. Who better than the most powerful available familiar in the Convocation? It was just a bit of extra satisfaction for him that she was Lord Elal’s daughter.
The ancient volume on enchantments that Gabriel had found in a moldering library at what was left of House Phel had seemed to guarantee the moon-magic fertility spell would work—and that it would be undetectable. It wasn’t cheating, exactly. The extensive Betrothal Trials rules booklet provided by the Convocation only forbade House Refoel interference with fertility, not other enchantments. Gabriel had read the cursed thing enough times to be sure.
Still, his annoying conscience whispered, it seems unethical. He banished the thought with a sharp shake of his head. Lady Veronica Elal was in the Betrothal Trials for the same reason he was. As a familiar, she needed to be paired with a wizard, just as he needed a familiar if he wanted to be more than a rogue wizard from a fallen house. She was a daughter of a High House, with a Convocation education and admirable magical potential scores. He was her fourth suitor, and he imagined she’d be glad to be done with being locked up.
He knew he’d hate it.
But will she be glad to be saddled with a no-tier house like yours? Apparently he hadn’t banished his irritating conscience firmly enough. Such considerations had no place in his life. House Phel had an opportunity to rise from the ruins, to escape the cycle of poverty that had them forever scraping for the leftovers of the Convocation’s wealthier lands.
Returning to his horse, he checked Vale’s hooves, then the gelding’s tack for fit and chafing. Another hour or so’s ride wouldn’t change much, but no sense losing his bid for a kingdom because his horse went lame short of the finish line. Satisfied all was well, he extracted his flask of water, tugged off his glove, and poured some into his palm for Vale, the chill biting bright on his wet hand.
How long would these border guardians make him wait? Probably just long enough to make his role as supplicant to the mighty House Elal very clear.
Upon the heels of that thought, a cloaked and hooded figure stepped out of a cloud of fog, closely followed by a bare-headed young man in House Elal livery.
“Lord Phel,” the cloaked woman said, tipping back her hood to reveal a stern face made sharper by ruthlessly scraped-back dark hair—and the depthless black eyes of a wizard. She wore a gold pin on one shoulder, the House Elal crest of spirits intertwined in a braided circle. The young man remained a pace behind her, head bowed. “I am Tyrna, wizard to House Elal. Welcome to Elal.”
He offered her a nod of greeting. “Thank you.” I think. Remaining wary, Gabriel kept one hand near the hilt of his sword. Not that mere metal could defend him from a House Elal wizard, but the blade might offer him time to summon a defensive enchantment.
She smiled mirthlessly. “You need not be concerned, Lord Phel. You are expected and may proceed onto our lands. Do not, however, stray from the main road. It will lead you straight to House Phel. You should have no reason to diverge from that path.”
“No reason, indeed,” he agreed curtly. At least there was some comfort in discovering Elal hospitality was as forbidding as he’d been warned.
“Good luck in your efforts tonight,” Tyrna offered with a smirk, looking him up and down and making it clear she thought no amount of luck could help him win the prize. “We’re all so interested in the future of House Fell.”
Amazing how people managed to make the alternate meaning clear, even while smiling politely. It hadn’t taken him long at Convocation to clue into the insult.
Not dignifying her little joke with a reply, Gabriel waited. Perhaps she hoped he wasn’t enough of a wizard that he couldn’t detect the barrier. Another fine joke for her to get him to walk face-first into the invisible wall, thinking she’d already opened a crossing. If that was her game, she’d be disappointed. A moment later, with a hint of an annoyed scowl, the wizard yanked off her glove and held out her hand in an impatient gesture. The young man behind her stepped forward, placing his bare hand in hers.
Gabriel watched with close interest. He’d never seen a wizard work with their familiar before. There wasn’t much to see, however. No burst of transferred magic, at least to his unpracticed eye. The young man never moved while the wizard made a complicated gesture with her free hand, and an opening formed across the road, like a curtain drawing back. Taking Vale’s reins, Gabriel walked the gelding through the opening, then turned back to the wizard with a nod.
“Come, Feny,” the wizard said, turning on her heel—tugging her familiar along by the hand—and stepping into a cloud of fog that vanished again, leaving no sign of them. A nifty parlor trick. A waste of magic, though, just to look impressive.
Though, in Gabriel’s limited experience, the Convocation wizards seemed excessively interested in anything that made them look good.
“Come, Vale,” Gabriel said aloud in snooty tones to mimic the Elal wizard as he mounted again. Swiveling back his ears, Vale snorted in apparent appreciation of the humor. On this side of the border, the road opened up to a welcoming width—in stark contrast to the difficult trail through the Knifeblades, more suited to mountain goats than horses—and Vale kicked into a sprightly pace. Unsurprisingly, the prickle of unseen eyes still followed them.
Among the numerous skills in their magical arsenal, the wizards of House Elal commanded air elementals and other spirits mostly invisible to the human eye. There were tricks to making them visible. Gabriel could condense some fog or mist to reveal their movements. But, as much as he disliked being spied on, he wouldn’t. He’d do nothing to jeopardize this gambit.
Once the well-maintained road—kept dry and clear of snow and ice by more fire elementals bonded during its construction—finished winding down from the foothills, it ran arrow-straight to the gates of House Elal. Now that they were on a level with its base, the castle loomed with majestic splendor, more fortress than home from this angle.
Gabriel began to encounter other travelers, too. Farmers, merchants, and craftspeople—all bundled in wool and furs against the chilly weather—passed by, some with smaller handcarts, others with wagons propelled by air elementals. The people looked well-fed, well-clothed, and reasonably happy, though they gazed at Gabriel with suspicion, eyeing the house crest on his shoulder in puzzlement. A prosperous people, but not so complacent that they didn’t notice an armed stranger in their midst—and a foreign wizard at that.
Gabriel nodded in greeting, otherwise ignoring their scrutiny. He’d like to say he was inured to the stares, but one didn’t come to wizardry as he had—relatively late in life and with cataclysmic suddenness—without being keenly aware of how people reacted to the sight of him now.
Needing to distract himself, he pulled out the miniature of Lady Veronica Elal and studied it, for the one-millionth time, probably, since he’d received it in the Convocation packet announcing her Betrothal Trials. Her image captivated him, though she was no great beauty, despite the painter no doubt flattering her as much as possible. She had the high Elal forehead and strongly arched nose. Her brows, black as a raven’s wing and flattened with a hint of impatience, framed lushly lashed eyes the artist had no doubt intended to look soft and appealing. The green of them had been perhaps difficult to capture, for they looked far too hard—almost unnatural—with nothing inviting about them. Lady Veronica’s lips had been fashioned into a pretty bow shape, shaded a deep red. Not prim, however, her lips were lush—and also seemed to be holding back a slicing remark. Her pointed chin tilted with the arrogance he’d expect of House Elal, but the picture overall evoked something else. She struck him as both sad and angry. Frustrated, perhaps, almost to the point of despair.
That, more than anything else, appealed to him about her. He understood frustrated ambition, and the despair that followed close behind. The other available familiars had been presented as handsome and pretty and sweetly serene—obediently invisible like Tyrna’s familiar, Feny—and without any spark that interested him. Nothing that made him want to spend his life bonded to them.
Maybe he imagined what he wanted to see in Lady Veronica. After all, how much could one read into a portrait intended as an advertisement of goods? The painting served primarily to confirm the familiar being offered. As the Convocation packet made clear by highlighting Lady Veronica’s magical potential scores, her value as a familiar and for the children she could breed were the grand prizes. The miniature had been clearly labeled as assurance that the chosen wizards would indeed be bedding the woman who accompanied the scorecard. Certified and guaranteed by the Convocation.
Yes, all so very cold-blooded, but Gabriel had been assured that the Betrothal Trials were voluntary, so Lady Veronica must be hoping to find a good wizard partner and husband.
The sense that he and Lady Veronica might at least find some common ground had been the final spur that decided him to try for her. Yes, her magical potential scores were desirable, too much so, because that meant he was reaching high. That she was of House Elal, with an expensive Convocation Academy education, also meant she could help him navigate that legal, professional, and social hierarchy.
When he succeeded in impregnating her—which he would, thanks to the spell he’d found—and they married… Well, it wouldn’t be a love match like his own parents had. Perhaps, though, he and Lady Veronica had enough in common that they could find a way to being friends.
Regardless, some wizard would have Lady Veronica for their familiar. And none of them could possibly need her more than Gabriel did. It might as well be him, especially since the future of House Phel depended on it.
Pocketing the miniature, he set his sights on House Elal and firmed his resolve.
He would be the one.
Preorder via the buttons below or via my website store.
Available at these Retailers