May 09, 2017

#FirstPage with A Shadow Bright and Burning by @JessCluess

 
I love this cover so much!

A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, #1)
Henrietta can burst into flames.

Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s named the first female sorcerer in hundreds of years and invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the prophesied one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.

But Henrietta is not the chosen one.

As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?





Jessica Cluess was born in Los Angeles, moved to Chicago, and then moved back when the weather became too weather-y. She wrote her first book, A Shadow Bright and Burning, while working at a coffee shop and selling lattes to the rich and famous. A graduate of Northwestern University, she uses her education to study the vast intricacies of the Victorian era before slapping sorcerers and monsters into the whole mess. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles.




















The sorcerer arrived on a Saturday.
Sarah, barely six years old, squeezed my hand as we walked the school corridors toward the headmaster’s parlor. I’d allowed her to wear her gray cloak indoors because the morning fires hadn’t yet been laid. Fog pressed in against the high windows, darkening the stone hall. For Sarah’s sake, I kept a smile on my face. My fear could not win today.
“Will he beat me, Henrietta? I mean, Miss Howel?” She often forgot to use my last name, but I’d only become a teacher two months before. Sometimes when I stood at the head of the classroom to give a lesson, I’d look at the empty place on the student bench where I used to sit, and feel like a fraud.
“A sorcerer would never harm children,” I said, squeezing her hand in return. Granted, I’d never met a sorcerer, but Sarah didn’t need to know that.
She smiled and sighed. How simple to reassure her. How difficult to reassure myself, for why would a royal sorcerer travel to Yorkshire for an audience with a child? Was the war against the Ancients going so poorly that he needed young girls, armed with sewing needles and a little French, for the front lines?
No. He had heard about the fires.
We entered the parlor to find two men seated before the hearth, sipping their tea. This was the only heated room in the entire school, and I rubbed my numb fingers in appreciation. Sarah raced past the men to warm her hands and, embarrassingly, her backside before the fireplace.
“Miss Howel!” our headmaster snapped, leaping up from his chair. “Control that child at once.”
I motioned Sarah back to me, and we curtsied together.
“Good day, Mr. Colegrind,” I murmured. Colegrind was a pale, hook-nosed gentleman with gray whiskers and a gray personality. When I was five, he’d terrified me. Now that I was sixteen, I found him repulsive.
He frowned. “Why does Sarah wear her cloak?”
“The fires haven’t been lit, sir,” I said, stating what should have been bloody obvious. Dreadful man. “I didn’t want her shivering before our illustrious guest.” Colegrind sniffed. I gave him my least sincere smile.
The other man, who had been surveying our scene with a cup of tea, rose to his feet.
“It’s all right,” the sorcerer said. “Little girls must keep warm.” He knelt before Sarah. “How are you, my dear?”
This man couldn’t be a sorcerer. I’d always pictured the royal Order as being filled with humorless men who wore simple robes and smelled of cabbage water. This gentleman was more like a grandfather from a storybook, with a shock of curling salt-and-pepper hair, dimpled cheeks, and warm brown eyes. He swept off his cape, trimmed with sable fur, and wrapped it around Sarah. She hugged herself.
“There, now,” he said. “Just the right fit.” He nodded to me. “You’re very good to take such care of her.”
I lowered my eyes. “Thank you, sir,” I mumbled. As he stood, I noticed something hanging in a sheath by his side. It was the length of a sword, but it had to be his sorcerer’s stave, the great instrument of his power. I’d heard of such things but never glimpsed one. I gasped without thinking.
Agrippa patted the handle. “Would you like to see it?” he asked.
Bloody fool, I was supposed to be unnoticeable today. For once, I was grateful for Colegrind’s interruption.
“Master Agrippa,” Colegrind said, “shall we proceed?”
The sorcerer guided Sarah to a chair while I remained by the wall, invisible as always. Schoolteachers don’t stand out naturally, and I was far too thin and dark-haired to make much of an impact. Granted, I didn’t want to stand out to Agrippa today, not if he’d come about the fires. I exhaled, praying that my heartbeat would slow. Please say that he had come for some other reason. The scenery, the terrible April weather, anything.
The sorcerer produced a toffee from his coat and handed it to Sarah. While she munched, Agrippa took a lit candle and held it before her. The flame flickered. Grabbing a fistful of my skirt, I squeezed to distract myself. I wouldn’t be afraid, because fear often summoned the…
I wouldn’t be afraid.
“Think of the flame,” Agrippa whispered. “Think of fire.”
No. As if responding to the sorcerer’s words, my body grew warm, desperately warm. I slipped my hands behind my back, knotted my fingers together, and prayed.
Sarah was clearly doing her best to be helpful, thinking so hard that her face turned bright red. The candle did nothing in response.
“Don’t lie,” Colegrind ordered Sarah. “If you hide anything, Master Agrippa will know. Do you want him to think you a bad girl?”
A bad girl. That was whom they hunted. Eleven years earlier, girls with magic would’ve been tolerated. Now, my God, only death awaited them. Awaited me. I curled my toes in my shoes, bit my tongue until my eyes watered. My fingers burned so badly….
“Look at the flame!” Colegrind said.
I pressed my palms against the cold stone wall. I thought of freezing things, like snow and ice. Hold on. Hold on….
Sarah burst into tears. Between Colegrind’s cruelty and my own physical pain, I snapped. “There’s no need to make her cry.”
The men turned. Agrippa raised his eyebrows in surprise. Colegrind looked as if he’d like to strike me down where I stood. With a sorcerer present, he’d have to contain himself, though after Agrippa left, I suspected I’d feel the headmaster’s birch cane. Beatings were his favorite form of exercise. But the burning eased somewhat, so my outburst had been worth it.
Agrippa said, “Miss Howel is right. There’s no need to fret, Sarah.” He shushed her crying and waved his hand above the candle. He collected the fire into his palm, where it hovered mere inches above his skin. He then took his stave—it was a plain wooden staff, quite ordinary-looking—and pointed it at the flame. Concentrating, he made the fire dance and swirl into different shapes before extinguishing it with one deft movement. Mouth open in astonishment, Sarah applauded wildly, her tears forgotten.
“You’re all done,” Agrippa said, giving her another toffee. Sarah took it and ran from the room as fast as she could. Fortunate child.
“I apologize for the inexcusable outbursts, Master Agrippa,” Colegrind said, glaring at me. “At the Brimthorn School for Girls, we try to curb female waywardness and insolence.”










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