Erenthrall—sprawling city of light and magic, whose streets are packed with traders from a dozen lands and whose buildings and towers are grown and shaped in the space of a day.
At the heart of the city is the Nexus, the hub of a magical ley line system that powers Erenthrall. This ley line also links the city and the Baronial plains to rest of the continent and the world beyond. The Prime Wielders control the Nexus with secrecy and lies, but it is the Baron who controls the Wielders. The Baron also controls the rest of the Baronies through a web of brutal intimidation enforced by his bloodthirsty guardsmen and unnatural assassins.
When the rebel Kormanley seek to destroy the ley system and the Baron’s chokehold, two people find themselves caught in the chaos that sweeps through Erenthrall and threatens the entire world: Kara Tremain, a young Wielder coming into her power, who discovers the forbidden truth behind the magic that powers the ley lines; and Alan Garrett, a recruit in the Baron’s guard, who learns that the city holds more mysteries and more danger than he could possibly have imagined . . . and who holds a secret within himself that could mean Erenthrall’s destruction -- or its salvation.
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“I SHOULDN’T BE HERE,” Kara Tremain murmured to herself, even as she turned the final street corner and came within sight of the stone walls of Halliel’s Park. She halted and bit her lower lip, her body trembling with a strange mixture of apprehension and danger and excitement. The leather belt that held her schoolbooks hung heavy on her shoulder and she twisted the strap beneath her hand. She glanced up and down the street, catching glimpses of the park’s open gate through the throng of people and wagons that passed by as the city of Erenthrall bustled around her. One of the ley-powered floating carts skimmed by, Kara’s skin prickling with ley energy, and she frowned after it, distracted—the carts weren’t typically seen in the Eld District; no one here could afford them—but her attention didn’t waver for long. A flash of power from one of the lit globes above the park’s entrance drew her gaze back to the gates.
It was midafternoon. Her morning classes had ended nearly an hour before. Her father had wanted her to come directly home to help him with one of his projects. But the park. . . .
The stone walls called to her with a low, persistent hum. They drew her, pulled at her, as if she were flotsam caught in the river’s currents. She didn’t understand what it was, but knew that it made her different—from her fellow classmates, from her friends, even Cory. She didn’t want to be different . . . but the hum thrilled her at the same time, made her catch her breath, made her feel alive.
With a huffing sigh she edged down the street until she was opposite the gates, then halted again. The globes above, hovering over the edges of the rough stone arch, brightened as she drew closer. The arch had been carved ages ago, when Erenthrall had been nothing more than a Baron’s keep at the confluence of the two rivers and a few scattered homes for the villagers, but Kara knew the area had been considered special long before that. Without asking so many questions that she’d draw attention to herself, she’d tried to find out as much as possible about the park from her instructors at school and her parents. As far as anyone she’d asked had known, the park had always been there, even before the Barons took control of the surrounding lands. It hadn’t always been walled in, hadn’t even really been a park, but it had been considered sacred.
Inside the heavy wrought-iron gates were the same paths and stone sculptures she’d seen the last hundred times she’d come to stand outside the entrance. One of the gardeners—a man with a short, trimmed, brown beard streaked with gray like his hair, wearing worn gray robes stained heavily with dirt—knelt in the earth, stones piled around him on all sides. Kara stepped back until she struck the stone of the building behind her, books gouging into her side, and watched as the man arrayed the stones before him, then straightened and stared at them with a frown before shaking his head and tearing them apart again, stacking them in a different pattern.
On his fourth try, as he turned and reached for a fist-sized stone behind him, he caught sight of Kara.
She froze, her heart thudding—once—hard in her chest as the man’s eyes caught hers. Creases appeared in his forehead as he leaned back, stone in hand, and considered her. His lips pressed together tightly. He began to raise one hand, but a shudder of apprehension ran down through Kara and she lurched to one side, back scraping against the granite of the building as she pushed away and joined those walking along the street. She didn’t know what he’d intended to do, but she knew she should be getting home, that her father would be surprised she was so late, perhaps even angry. She hurried down to the far corner, the pull of the park lessening with each step, but before she turned she glanced back, expecting to see the gardener coming after her, or at least watching her from the gate.
He wasn’t. He stood at the entrance of the gate, but his gaze was locked on the white ley globes floating up above.
They’d dimmed again.
Before he could turn and catch her watching, Kara slid around the corner and headed toward the marketplace. People jostled her from all sides, the streets of Eld District narrower than nearly all of the rest of Erenthrall except for East Forks, Tallow, West Forks across the rivers, and Confluence where the two rivers met. Kara brushed up against one of the brown-skinned women from the Demesnes to the west, the tassels of her finely embroidered shawl catching in Kara’s hair as she passed. The woman glared, tugging her shawl back into place, but her expression softened as she realized Kara wasn’t a thief. Then she was lost to the crowd as Kara skirted a group of black-clothed Temerite men. The scent of their cologne hit her like a brick and Kara dodged farther away, nose wrinkled.
Then she reached the market.
Hawkers shouted into the afternoon sunlight, holding up beaded necklaces, swaths of cloth, or skewers of meat as the buildings fell away into an open square. Patrons—mostly people from Erenthrall and the Baronies, but also from the western Demesnes, the mustachioed Gorrani men from the south, and more of the eastern Temerites—touched the wares with doubtful grimaces, questioning the quality of the cloth or the origins of the pottery before beginning to haggle. The peddlers had tents or carts and were generally respectable, so only a few of the Dogs—the Baron’s guardsmen—patrolled the square. Near its center, a lone man in the white robes of a follower of the Kormanley railed against the Baron’s continued desecration of the ley, begun over fifty years ago with the creation of the Nexus. Everyone cut a wide path around him, leaving him isolated near the remains of the old stone fountain. Even as Kara passed, ignoring his tirade, she caught sight of three Dogs converging on the man, their dark brown-and-black uniforms standing out in the crowd. She ducked her head as one of them brushed past her, scarred face set in a scowl. She didn’t look back as the Kormanley priest’s shouts escalated and were cut off. Everyone around her averted their eyes as the sounds of the Dogs beating him filled the plaza.
An old woman, mouth pressed into a thin line of distaste, murmured bitterly under her breath, “The priests know the Dogs will find them. Why do they continue to defy the Baron?” She shook her head and made a clicking noise with her tongue, but kept her back turned from where the Dogs had pulled the priest to his feet and were hauling him off.
“It’s the sowing of the new tower tonight,” the produce monger before her said gruffly. “That’s what’s brought them out. They’ve been riled up for weeks now.”
“The Baron won’t stand for it,” the old woman said. “He’d kill them all if he could find them.”
Kara paused, the muttered words sinking into her gut with a cold shiver of uneasiness. She glanced back toward the man in white, hanging slackly between the arms of the two guards as they dragged his limp body through the throng. His black hair obscured his face, but she could see a string of drool and blood hanging down from his mouth. Blood stained his white robe in strange splatters, bright in the sunlight. The Dogs hauled the priest into a side street and they vanished.
Everyone on the square went back to haggling, errens and wares exchanging hands.
Kara turned to find the old woman watching her through squinted eyes. “Oh, don’t let it worry you, poppet. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
But Kara could hear the lie in her voice. When she reached out as if to stroke Kara’s hair, Kara ducked and pushed past a Gorrani, the hilt of his ceremonial sword gouging into her side. He shouted at her in his own guttural language, angry and harsh, Kara catching only a few words, but she didn’t stop. Her chest ached and she didn’t know why. She’d never thought much about where the Dogs took those that they grabbed. Her father had told her they were taken to the Amber Tower, to the Baron’s court where they were judged and held accountable for their crimes. But that wasn’t what Kara had heard in the old woman’s voice. She’d spoken as if the priest were already dead.
Kara fled the square, slowing only when the raucous noise of bartering faded and she found herself on the streets near her home. The crowd thinned as the storefronts of the market area succumbed to residential buildings, the granite facades of the shops becoming the smaller brick houses of the laborers and servants that dwelled in Eld. Kara turned the corner and headed down her own street. She could see the myriad buildings of the University from here, surrounded by high stone walls, nestled on the top of the hill in Confluence. The slate expanse of the Tiana and Urate Rivers cut toward it from the northwest and northeast. Beyond, East Forks and Tallow were a dark cluster of docks and cramped buildings covered over with a fine gray haze, the Butcher’s Block filled with smoke farther south. West Forks and Tannery Row hung with a similar haze, all of the districts beyond hidden from sight by the smoke and the rises in the land. Only a few steeples and the ley towers that marked the nodes of the ley network broke through the layers.
She hesitated on the steps of her apartment building, gazing out over the lower end of Erenthrall. She knew her father was waiting for her, but even now, the park pulled at her, faintly. A mere whisper. And there was the disturbing image of the priest, blood trailing from his mouth, the words of the old woman. . . .
What did happen to the priests after the Dogs captured them?
Sighing, she pulled her schoolbooks off her shoulder and stepped up to the door of the building, shoved it open, and trudged up the stairs beyond the small foyer inside to the third floor, pausing only momentarily on the second floor where Cory lived. The door to her own flat was open and she could hear her father humming to himself as he worked. He sat at his desk, two small ley globes—all they could afford—hovering over him. One of them flickered fitfully, but he didn’t seem to notice, his attention caught by the gutted clock, its gears and intricate metal workings spread out on the black cloth that covered his workspace. The main housing of the clock—a darkly-stained cherry piece that gleamed beneath the lights, its face white, surrounded by a band of gold—sat to one side. Its hands had been removed and its face looked barren, even though it was decorated with silver clouds.
Tables and chairs filled in the rest of the main room of the flat, with an open arch leading to the kitchen area and another door to one side where Kara and her parents slept. A few battered and misused clocks stood on the tables or were mounted on the wall, although nothing like the quality of the one her father was currently working on. Kara listened a moment, but the rest of the flat was silent; her mother hadn’t returned yet from her position as a servant at the Baron’s personal estate in Grass. Her father must have started cooking already, for the heady scent of roasting meat drifted out from the kitchen.
Kara tossed her books on the table inside the door, removed her shoes, and turned to find her father watching her, his face stern. The humming had stopped.
“I thought I told you to come home immediately after classes today. Your friend Cory’s been home for almost an hour already.”
Kara shuffled in place. “I came home through the marketplace.”
Her father frowned, creases appearing in his forehead beneath the patch of gray hair that had cropped up over the last few years. His hazel eyes caught her own, held them for a long moment, searching, and then he grunted.
Kara heaved a mental sigh of relief. He wasn’t truly angry.
“So,” he said, half turning back to his table. “I’d wanted you to help me with this clock. Some of the pieces are so small I thought your nimble fingers would be helpful, and then I thought you and I could take a special trip, but now. . . .”
Kara took an involuntary step toward her father, then caught herself. “Where?” she asked, trying to sound casual, even though she could feel her blood pulsing in her arms, tingling in her fingers. She almost asked if he would take her to Halliel’s Park. She knew people could visit, that’s why the gates had been open, but she’d never dared to enter on her own, not with the gardeners constantly watching. If her father went with her, maybe she could see what was inside that pulled at her.
But her father shook his head. “I don’t think we’ll have time now. I need to get this clock finished.” He turned back toward her, put on his narrow working glasses, and looked at her over their thin metal rims.
“I’ll help,” Kara said, and grabbed one of the chairs from the table in the kitchen. Her father made room for her at his side, muttering, “Careful!” as she bumped the table. Then she leaned forward and stared down at what seemed like hundreds of pieces, most gleaming in the ley light. They’d been arranged in a clear pattern and had already been polished, gears and arms of all sizes and shapes. In the center sat the metal case that would slide into the back of the wooden house. Numerous gears had already been set in the case, which rested on its face, and after a quick glance at what remained, Kara could see what needed to be done next. This one was fairly basic, completely mechanical, without relying on any use of the ley at all.
Reaching out, she said, “This one goes in next.”
It hadn’t been a question, but her father nodded. “If you can get the next few gears and the arm into the casing, I’ll screw it into place.”
Kara reached out and picked up one of the many-sized tweezers lying off to one side, then carefully plucked the gear from the smooth black silk and slid it into the casing. Her hands shook slightly, but when she let go with the tweezers, the gear slipped into place on the small metal post. She had to nudge it to get the teeth to mesh correctly before it dropped down. Her breath fogged the bright metal of the already assembled clock as she reached for the next gear and she realized she’d been holding it unconsciously. Behind, her father grunted once in approval, then moved into the kitchen. She heard pots clattering, the scent of cooked meat and vegetables growing strong enough to make her stomach growl, and then she became absorbed in the inner workings of the clock. Her father came by once in a while to check on her, but she barely noticed.
She was vaguely aware of her mother returning, standing over her as she worked. Then her mother kissed her on the side of the head and joined her father in the kitchen. Kara listened to the soft background murmur of their conversation without really listening. The ley globe above her flickered again and, frowning in irritation, she reached out and touched it, the pale light steadying and strengthening. Leaning over the casing again, she began twisting a screw into place but realized that her parents had fallen abruptly silent.
She glanced up to find them standing in the door to the kitchen, watching her intently. Her mother’s mouth hung slightly open, eyes widened, but it was her father’s troubled frown that sent a sliver of fear into her gut. “What did I do wrong?” She glanced down at the gears of the nearly finished clock, then back at her parents. If she’d ruined the clock, the patron who’d hired her father to fix it would make him pay for it and they couldn’t afford that.
Her father grabbed her mother’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly before smiling and stepping forward. “Nothing, Kara, nothing. Everything’s fine. Are you almost finished?”
Kara glanced back at her mother—mouth now closed, but worry lines still surrounding her pale gray eyes—and then her father put his hand on the top of her head and drew her attention back to the clock.
“Ah, only a few more pieces left to go,” he said. “It looks like we’ll be able to go on that little trip after all. Let’s get this finished up, and then we can all have some dinner.”
At the thought of the mysterious excursion, Kara dismissed her mother’s concern—she was always exhausted after returning from work—and with her father’s help, placed the last of the inner workings of the clock inside the casing. They slid the casing into the wooden housing, attached the hands and spun them to the appropriate positions, then set the clock in motion before screwing the flat metal plate into place on back. Her father mussed her hair, then retreated to the kitchen with her mother and a final, “We can’t leave until your homework is done.”
Kara rolled her eyes, sat for a long moment listening to the clock’s motion, imagining the hidden gears inside ticking in precise, rhythmic steps. But finally she sighed, slid off her chair, and grabbed her books.
What People are Saying About This
"Shattering the Ley, the terrific new fantasy from Joshua Palmatier, is built of equal parts innocence, politics, and treachery. It features a highly original magic system, and may well be the only fantasy ever written where some of the most exciting scenes take place in a power plant. I couldn’t put it down."
—S.C. Butler (for Shattering the Ley)
“Intricate worldbuilding, engaging and complex characters, and a fresh sharp take on magic and politics, Shattering The Ley proves that Joshua Palmatier is definitely a key new voice in original fantasy.”
— Kari Sperring (for Shattering the Ley)
"A vivid, passionate story about a tough-minded heroine fighting for survival. What makes her especially compelling is her own struggle to understand right and wrong, and to confront what necessity can force you to do."
— Kate Elliott (for The Throne of Amenkor series)
"Grips the reader with a swift-moving tale of political intrigue and economic survival in a world where the most dangerous secrets are never forgotten."
— Publishers Weekly (for The Throne of Amenkor series)
“The strength of Palmatier's book lies in Varis. Varis is a bitter girl, hardened by years of living in the Dredge, but she retains a core of humanity.... If you enjoy grittier fantasy, I would recommend picking up The Skewed Throne.”
— Jim Hines (for The Throne of the Amenkor series)