quotes Elisquared likes


"Saying 'I notice you're a nerd' is like saying, 'Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?' In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even 'lame' is kind of lame. Saying 'You're lame' is like saying 'You walk with a limp.' Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he's done all right for himself."— John Green

1.27.2023

BLOG TOUR - BONDING BY MATTHEW ERMAN AND EMILY PEARSON - GRAPHIC NOVEL [REVIEW + GIVEAWAY]

 

I am very excited to be a part of the blog tour from Rockstar Book Tours for BONDING, a sci-fi/romance that asks questions about love and existence.  Check out my review below, and don't forget to enter the giveaway! 

Book Information



Title: Bonding: A Love Story About People and Their Parasites
Authors(s): Matthew Erman and Emily Pearson 
Publication Date: January 31, 2023
Edition: Hardcover, eBook; 208 pgs
Publisher: Vault Comics
SourceRockstar Book Tours
Find ItMajor Retailers
Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher as part of a blog tour in exchange for an honest review.  My thoughts and opinions are my own.  Please note the purchase links above are affiliate links.

Tour Schedule

Week One
1/16/2023 - Sadie's Spotlight - Excerpt/IG Post
1/17/2023 - Bookish Trisha - Excerpt/IG Post
1/18/2023 - Writer of Wrongs - Excerpt
1/19/2023 - The Clever Reader - Excerpt/IG Post
1/20/2023 - A Dream Within A Dream - Excerpt
1/21/2023 - Two Chicks on Books - Excerpt/IG Post

Week Two
1/22/2023 - Nagma | TakeALookAtMyBookshelf - IG Review
1/23/2023 - Jeff_of_allmedia - IG Review
1/24/2023 - GryffindorBookishNerd - IG Review
1/25/2023 - @bubbles_books09 - IG Review/TikTok Post
1/26/2023 - travelersguidetobooks - IG Review
1/27/2023 - Eli to the nth - Review/IG Post
1/28/2023 - Nerdophiles - Review

Week Three
1/29/2023 - @coffeesipsandreads - IG Review/TikTok Post
1/30/2023 - Brandi Danielle Davis - IG Review/TikTok Post
1/31/2023 - brittreadsalattebooks - IG Post
2/1/2023 - Jenguerdy - IG Post
2/2/2023 - Rajiv's Reviews - Review/IG Post
2/3/2023 - A Blue Box Full of Books - IG Review/LFL Drop Pic
2/4/2023 - Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers - Review/IG Post

Week Four
2/5/2023 - See Sadie Read - Review/IG Post
2/6/2023 - Mallory Books - Review/IG Post
2/7/2023 - @just_another_mother_with_books - IG Review
2/8/2023 - Nonbinary Knight Reads - Review/IG Post
2/9/2023 - Novel Novice - IG post
2/10/2023 - Two Points of Interest - Review 
2/11/2023 - The Momma Spot - Review/IG Post

Week Five
2/12/2023 - onemused - IG Post
2/13/2023 - @jacleomik33 - IG Review
2/14/2023 - @thebookishfoxwitch - IG Review


The Summary

“Wear your heart on your sleeve.”  That’s the saying. But in BONDING, people wear their anxiety on their chests – in the form of a  parasite that shows everyone just what you’re feeling on the inside …

WEAR YOUR LOVE ON YOUR CHEST

A man, a woman—and their parasites. Marcus has been alone since the loss of his closest friend and has just recently entered into the dating scene, while Laura has drifted in and out of relationships since high school. They meet, they have a great first date, and Marcus almost dies—because the slug-like parasite that everybody carries in this world nearly rejects him, its host. BONDING is a funny, quirky, and honest look at love, in a world where everyone wears their anxiety, not on their sleeves, but on their chest like big ol' leeches.

Fans of Matthew Erman's work on Vault Comics' WITCHBLOOD and Archaia's JIM HENSON'S THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE will find lots to love in BONDING. Fans of Image Comics' ICE CREAM MAN VOL. 1, DC Comics' COLLAPSER and even books like THE HOST by Stephenie Meyer and THE PARASITOLOGY TRILOGY by Mira Grant will enjoy this foray into all the stressors of dating...where a parasite is the least of your worries (unless it kills you, that is.)

Review
“Erman and Pearson skewer genre norms in this sweet and casually unsettling comics romance-dramedy…”- Publishers Weekly


My Review

What I think makes reviewing graphic novels a bit harder than books is the fact that the visual aspect is just as important as the story.  A graphic novel can have an amazing plotline, but if I don't like the art, I can't read it.  Conversely, if the art is gorgeous, but the plot is horrible, I can't read it.  Luckily, Bonding: A Love Story About People and Their Parasites by Matthew Erman and Emily Pearson has both beautiful art and an engaging plotline.

Erman and Pearson come together to write one weird book, but it is weird in the absolute best possible way.  The Earth has been taken over by aliens, little slug-like parasites that have to use human plasma to survive.  So every person has a slug, and if the slug dies, you die.  Can you imagine your whole survival is reliant on this alien AND you have to move through the anxiety that is being a human being?  That is exactly what is explored in Bonding.

The storyline is generational, so we start off two generations after the invasion, where we meet our couple Marcus and Laura.  Both are young enough not to remember a time before the slugs, but old enough to know the changes within culture (such as chlorine now being completely illegal due to its' harmful effects on the slugs).  We follow their love story, trying to navigate the regular trials of dating/relationships, but within this sci-fi world of slug reliance.  We then fast-forward to their son, Ira's, story.  He, too, is in the first stages of a relationship when a catastrophe involving the slugs starts to occur.  I liked to see where Marcus and Laura end up, as well as the further development of this Earth living with slugs.  

The mix of sci-fi/romance/body horror gives you such creepy vibes.  One minute it will be a traditional "does he/she like me?" and then the next will be a race to stop one's slug from killing their host.  With each page, you don't quite know what to expect, which kept me glued.  I think that this isn't the story for everyone, especially straight romance readers.  But if you're a sci-fi reader who likes a little romance, then Bonding: A Love Story About People and Their Parasites will be right up your alley.
  

Final Rating




Excerpt








About the Author(s)



About Matthew Erman:
Matthew Erman is a comics writer from Columbus, Ohio. Alongside Lisa Sterle, he co-created the critically acclaimed comic horror series, Long Lost, which was optioned for Film/TV by Producer Jenny Klein (The Witcher, Daisy Jones and The Six). Erman has since worked on the comic book series Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and graphic novel Power Rangers: Sins of the Future with BOOM! Studios, series Care Bears: Unlock the Magic with IDW, the upcoming science fiction/horror/humorous romance original graphic novel Bonding, with artist and co-creator Emily Pearson for Vault Comics, and the smash supernatural action adventure comics series (with artist/co-creator Lisa Sterle) from Vault Comics, Witchblood. His short work can be found in anthologies such  as Corpus (2018), Dead Beats (2019) and Everything is Going Wrong (2019).





About Emily Pearson:
Emily Pearson is a freelance comic book artist from Davis, California.
She has previously worked for Black Mask Studios; “The Wilds”(2018) and “Snap Flash Hustle”(2018-19), Oni Press’s “The Vain”(2020), and the upcoming “Bonding” coming to Vault Comics in 2022.

In addition to comics series, she drew a short story for the Ringo Award Winning “Mine!” an anthology for Planned Parenthood, Vault Comic’s “Cult Classic Zero Short”, “CORPUS” curated by Nadia Shammas, and “Everything is Going Wrong: Comics on Punk & Mental Illness”.  She has illustrated various covers for comic books including: “Stranger Things: SIX” from Dark Horse Comics, “Calexit: Emmie X”, “The Devil Within”, “Sweet/Vicious”, “The Wilds”, “Snap Flash Hustle” from Black Mask Studios, “Going to the Chapel” from Action Lab, “Atlantis Wasn’t Built For Tourists” from Scout Comics and many more.



Giveaway
2 winners will receive a finished copy of BONDING, US Only.

Ends February 18th, midnight EST.

CLICK THE GRAPHIC


1.25.2023

BLOG TOUR - A RUINOUS FATE BY KAYLIE SMITH - YOUNG ADULT FICTION [REVIEW + GIVEAWAY]

 I am excited to be a part of the blog tour from Rockstar Book Tours for the start of this awesome series from Disney-Hyperion, A Ruinous Fate by Kaylie Smith.  Check out my review below, and don't forget to enter the giveaway! 

Book Information


Title: A Ruinous Fate
Authors(s): Kaylie Smith
Publication Date: January 3, 2023
Edition: Hardcover, eBook; 432 pgs
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
SourceRockstar Book Tours
Find It: Major Retailers
Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher as part of a blog tour in exchange for an honest review.  My thoughts and opinions are my own.  Please note the purchase links above are affiliate links.

Tour Schedule

Week One
1/2/2022 - Kait Plus Books - Excerpt/IG Post
1/3/2022 - YA Books Central - Excerpt/IG Post
1/4/2022 - Books and Zebras - Review/IG Post
1/5/2022 - Library of Becca - Review/IG Post
1/6/2022 - pluvioreads - Review/IG Post
1/7/2022 - travelersguidetobooks - IG Review

Week Two
1/8/2022 - @more.books.yes.please - IG Review/TikTok Post
1/9/2022 - Wanderingwitchreads - TikTok Review/IG Post
1/10/2022 - NeverKnotReading - IG Review
1/11/2022 - Review Thick And Thin - Review/IG Post
1/12/2022 - Ohyouread - IG Post
1/13/2022 - onemused - IG Review
1/14/2022 - Book Reviews by Alison - IG Review

Week Three
1/15/2022 - Book Briefs - Review/IG Post
1/16/2022 - The Momma Spot - Review/IG Post
1/17/2022 - Thindbooks Blog - Review/IG Post
1/18/2022 - @brittyoreads - IG Review
1/19/2022 - A Blue Box Full of Books - IG Review/LFL Drop Pic
1/20/2022 - A Dream Within A Dream - Review/IG Post
1/21/2022 - A Bookish Dream - Review/IG Post

Week Four
1/22/2022 - popthebutterfly - Review/IG Post
1/23/2022 - OneMoreExclamation - Review/IG Post
1/24/2022 - @froggyreadteach - IG Review
1/25/2022 - Eli to the nth - Review/IG Post
1/26/2022 - Nerdophiles - Review 
1/27/2022 - Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers - Review/IG Post
1/28/2022 - The Book View - Review/IG Post

Week Five
1/29/2022 - @drew_ambitious_reading - IG Review/TikTok Post
1/30/2022 - Momfluenster - IG Review/FB Post
1/31/2022 - Eye-Rolling Demigod's Book Blog - Review/IG Post


The Summary

Fate does not choose the weak. Fate chooses the ready.

Illustros is a cursed realm ruled by the ruthless Gods of Fate, and no one understands the Fates’ wrath more than Calliope Rosewood. Blessed with unspeakable powers that terrify even the most dangerous witches and fae, Calla hides her forbidden magic in shame and fear that one wrong touch could send her to her death. With only her two best friends in tow, Calla deserted her coven and has been on the run ever since.

Worse, Calla is concealing an even darker secret: fate has chosen her as the final prophesied Blood Warrior, the being destined to start the Fates’ War, which will decimate her people and eradicate their magic.

After a betrayal from her infuriating ex Ezra leads her one step closer to fulfilling that age-old prophecy, Calla is desperate to do whatever it takes to reset her fate. So when a mysterious and charming witch offers to help Calla do just that, she immediately agrees to his plan. Only catch? That plan includes journeying into the deadly Neverending Forest with Ezra and said witch, who just so happens to be Ezra’s tempting older brother. Torn between her past desires and alluring new possibilities, Calla brings along her best friends to fight what lies ahead.

As the group ventures into the enchanted woods together, they’ll all soon learn that choosing your destiny comes with dire consequences . . . and the Fates are not to be tested. Calla believes the Fates have it out for her, while others believe they have chosen her for a reason. But in the end, Calla will have to fight to forge her own destiny and decide if the risk of choosing herself is worth the possibility of damning everyone else.

My Review

A Ruinous Fate by Kaylie Smith is a fun YA-fantasy with an interesting premise that doesn't quite deliver.  The world-building and magic system is grand but not as fleshed out as needed, and readers get thrown in the deep end starting with Chapter 1.  It takes a while for one to get to stable ground.  But the promise is there, and it is very unique.  So much, that I would definitely read the next book.

The Fates decide every witches destiny through the use of Witch's Dice, whether the witch is powerful or to be used as a pawn.  The Fates are relaying on 6 unlucky witches to roll a 6 count, 6 times, marking them as Blood Warriors.  Blood Warriors who will start a massive war. Our main character Calla is one such possible Blood Warrior, already on her fourth roll of 6.  And so starts the race against fate and Calla's freedom.

Like I said, the magic system is unique, if a bit clunky.  It takes a while for the reader to understand how everything works, but the different facets of magic, not just within the Witchlands, but all of Illustros, is interesting.  There are three types of witches: Rogue, Terra, and Onyx.  Each of the covens have their own type of magic which grants then particular abilities.  Then there are Fae, Valkyries and Sirens just to name a few of the multitude of fantasy creatures within this world, each with their own type of magic.  Of course, none of these groups like each other, so the outskirts is a dangerous place to be.

While the world-building is shaky, the plot does move fast.  It is action-packed and places our characters in dangerous situations over and over.  This really ramps the reader up, making you want to keep flipping the page to find out what happens next.  With this being the first book in a series, you are left wanting more, but not disappointed in the ending to this installment.

Character development is a pivotal point, speaking a lot about fate vs. self-determination with each of the characters, not just Calla.  Her two best friends, along with the four male witches they join, all go through some sort of discovery, whether big or small.  Speaking of characters though, there are multiple love triangles within the book, which sometimes creates more chaos than is really needed in an already packed story.

This was a very ambitious first book, and while it didn't hit all of my must-haves for a favorite, it was enjoyable and kept me engaged until the end.  I'm excited to see what else lies in store for this crew, and to learn more about this war brewing on the horizon.  If you're a YA-fantasy lover, you'll want to check out A Ruinous Fate by Kaylie Smith.


Final Rating



Excerpt

Prologue 

The midnight constellations grinned down on the forest with polished teeth. The Fates were in good spirits tonight. 

The girl’s captor, however, was not. 

She leaned back from the cottage’s open window and watched from  the corner of the cluttered room as her liege frantically wove threads  across the entire expanse of the ancient map hanging on the wall. The  usual dark, inky color of the thread used to track the Fates and their  bargains was gone. Instead, tonight the thread was the color of blood. 

The energy in the room was odd in a way that was abnormal even  for this cottage, and she moved toward the large dining table in curiosity, peering at the delicate parchment that her captor ripped open only  moments before. The letter had suddenly appeared on the table, unannounced—as things often were within the demonic forest—and sealed  with gilded wax. Whatever the note contained shifted the entire mood  in the air around them. 

She looked down at the messy black ink scrawled over the page. As she reached out to run her fingertips over the paper, her blood began  to pulse through the midnight veins that spiderwebbed beneath her  translucent skin as it sensed the heavy magic that lingered there. She  squinted to try and decipher the words and quickly realized it was not  a letter at all—it was a contract. 

Across from her, her captor continued working the thread with their  long gray fingers. It was as if they were trying to outrun a ticking clock  she could not see. Over and over, they ran the thread across the map  with increasing fervor. From the far corner of Estrella, to deep within  the Northern Fae Courts, the bloodred thread rapidly pursued across  all of Illustros, turning the once clear map into a jumble of crisscrossing  lines. Until finally, everything went still. Not even the monstrous forest  around them dared to breathe or shed a leaf. 

Her liege turned away from their weaving as movement from the  table caught their eye and it took only a moment for her to realize what  had captured their attention. The contract. 

There at the bottom, where it had been blank only moments before,  four names were now signed in blood.


About the Author

About Kaylie Smith:
Kaylie Smith is a writer and lover of all things magical and fantasy. She grew up in Louisiana where she frequently haunted bookstores and practiced her writing craft. After getting her degree in graphic design, she decided to fully pursue her dream of being an author, and the first book in her YA fantasy series, A RUINOUS FATE, debuts in January 2023 from Disney Hyperion. When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found at home with her menagerie of animals, fussing over her houseplants, or annoying people about astrology.



Giveaway
1 winner will receive a finished copy of A RUINOUS FATE, US Only.

Ends February 4th, midnight EST.

CLICK THE GRAPHIC


10.17.2022

BLOG TOUR - PRINCE OF SONG & SEA BY LINSEY MILLER - YOUNG ADULT FICTION [REVIEW + GIVEAWAY]

 

I am very excited to be a part of the blog tour from Rockstar Book Tours for the start of this awesome series focusing on Disney Princes, Prince of Song & Sea by Linsey Miller.  Check out the excerpt below, and don't forget to enter the giveaway! 

Book Information



Title: Prince of Song & Sea (Princes #1)
Authors(s): Linsey Miller
Publication Date: October 4,
 2022
Edition: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook; 352 pgs
Publisher: Disney Press
SourceRockstar Book Tours
PurchaseAmazon-Kindle-Audible-B&N-iBooks-BAM!-Kobo-
TBD-Bookshop.org
Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher as part of a blog tour in exchange for an honest review.  My thoughts and opinions are my own.  Please note the purchase links above are affiliate links.

Tour Schedule

Week One
10/1/2022 - The Reading Devil - Excerpt/IG Post

Week Two
10/2/2022 - Celia's Reads - Review/IG Post
10/3/2022 - a GREAT read - Review/IG Post
10/4/2022 - Kait Plus Books - Review/IG Post
10/5/2022 - @ReadsReaders - YouTube Review/IG Post/TikTok Post
10/6/2022 - Wanderingwitchreads - TikTok Review/IG Post
10/7/2022 - OddandBookish - Review/IG Post
10/8/2022 - @simplybeccamee - IG Review

Week Three
10/9/2022 - Nerdophiles - Review
10/10/2022 - YA Books Central - Excerpt/IG Post
10/11/2022 - A Bookish Dream - Review/IG Post
10/12/2022 - bookbriefs - Review/IG Post
10/13/2022 - onemused - IG Review
10/14/2022 - One More Exclamation - Review/IG Post
10/15/2022 - Ohyouread - IG Review

Week Four
10/16/2022 - pluvioreads - Review/TikTok Post
10/17/2022 - Eli to the nth - Review/IG Post
10/18/2022 - Eye-Rolling Demigod's Book Blog - Review/IG Post
10/19/2022 - @ReaderOfTheWrittenWord - IG Review
10/20/2022 - A Backwards Story - Review/IG Post
10/21/2022 - A Dream Within A Dream - Review/IG Post
10/22/2022 - booksaremagictoo - Review/IG Post

Week Five
10/23/2022 Novel Novice - IG Spotlight
10/24/2022 - Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers - Review/IG Post
10/25/2022 - @bookishreviews_byalison - IG Review
10/26/2022 - @jacleomik33 - IG Review
10/27/2022 - Nonbinary Knight Reads - Review/IG Post
10/28/2022 - @thebookishfoxwitch - IG Review
10/29/2022 - @drew_ambitious_reading - IG Review/TikTiok Review

Week Six
10/30/2022 - PopTheButterfly Reads - Review/IG Post
10/31/2022 - Books with Brandie Shanae - YouTube Review/IG Post


The Summary

For fans of Twisted Tales and Villains is a brand new YA series that retells the classic Disney stories you thought you knew from the Disney Princes' perspectives.

Before Prince Eric’s mother, the Queen of Vellona, went missing two years ago, she reminded him about the details of the deadly curse that has plagued his entire life. The curse? If he were to kiss someone other than his true love, he would die. With a neighboring kingdom looking for any excuse to invade their shores, and rumors of ghost pirates lurking the seas, Eric is desperate for any information that may help him break his enchantment and bring stability to Vellona. The answers he has been searching for come to him in the form of a letter left from his mother that reveals Eric must find his true love, the one with a voice pure of heart, or kill the sea witch responsible for cursing him in the first place.

Now Eric is on a quest to find the Isle of Serein, the witch's legendary home. But after he is rescued by a mysterious young woman with a mesmerizing singing voice, Eric’s heart becomes torn. Does he enter a battle he is almost certain he cannot win or chase a love that might not even exist? And when a shipwrecked young woman with flaming red hair and a smile that could calm the seven seas enters his life, Eric may discover that true love isn’t something that can be decided by magic.
My Review

Let's first start off by scrolling back to that cover.  God, it is beautiful.  Also, disclaimer time: Eric is my favorite Disney Prince, so I might have been a bit biased going into this book.  But luckily, Prince of Song & Sea by Linsey Miller hit the hype; a great expansion on the original The Little Mermaid, but from the point-of-view of Prince Eric.

Taking the original storyline, but expanding it, and showing the story from Eric's side of things brought a freshness to the series of events in the original.  Linsey Miller did an amazing job placing her mark on the work, and really fleshing out Eric's personality.  He isn't just a handsome hero, he has fears and dreams, and really gets to be his own person in this book.  I loved the addition of his friends, which Linsey used to highlight some diversity of the cast.  The push and pull that Eric faces being the Crowned Prince of his country while wanting to be free on the sea was really well-crafted.

There are some slight tweaks to the original story, such as how Eric was shipwrecked, but all the major plot points are there.  What I really loved is the time we also got to spend seeing him and Ariel get to know each other.  Linsey Miller did a great job making Eric a rounded and dynamic character.  He always, I felt, had a bigger role than many other Disney Princes, but still, we don't truly know him.  Prince of Song & Sea really allows layers to develop, which was great.

I am very happy with the first book in the Princes series; Linsey Miller is also writing another of the books in the series, this one about Prince Phillip.  That will definitely be an interesting one to read.  I adored Eric in The Little Mermaid, and this book made me fall even more in love.  Staying true to the original story, but creating its very own place, Prince of Song & Sea is a must-read for Disney, and non-Disney fans alike!

Final Rating



Excerpt

Overture

PAIN washed over Eric in waves, salt sticking to every scratch. Water lapped at his legs, and a  bone-deep cold shuddered down his spine. He tried to turn  his head and groaned. He couldn’t move. Why couldn’t  he move? 

The ship! He had been on the ship. A storm, worse  than any he had ever weathered, had swept over them  faster than lightning. They’d caught fire and crashed,  the powder kegs exploding, and he had been thrown into  the sea. Eric tried to call out and choked. Each breath  stung, the acrid taste of ash prickling across his tongue.  His chest ached. 

But all of it meant he was alive. He had survived. A soft hum broke through the pain. It started low  and sad, like far-off whale calls. Fingers stroked his face,  brushing salt and sand from his sore skin. The melody,  the tender touch, became a pinpoint of light in the dark,  and he struggled to hold on to it. The gentle voice grew  louder and stronger. Sunlight burned through his eye lids. Eric forced his eyes open and gasped. 

She was breathtaking, a backlit shadow glittering  with seawater. Her features were as distorted as her  words, but the hand against his cheek was so tender that  he knew she meant no harm. He reached for her, and she  eased him back into the sand. A warm, fluttering feeling  flowed over him. 

Safety, he thought. This was safety. 

She must have been strong to drag him from the  wreckage and kind, too, to risk her life for his. The sweet  lilt of her song filled his head. 

She and her voice were the only things between him  and death at sea. 

And they slipped through his fingers like sand.


1

Fathoms Above

THE SUN hung high and hot above the whitewashed, red-roofed homes nestled in the kingdom  of Vellona’s Cloud Break Bay. Warm winds whipped  through the cobblestone streets and canals, and voices  called out across the rippling waves. The soft notes of a  song, as cheerful as it was distant, drifted through the  piers. Eric turned his ear toward the tune and shuffled  his feet back in time with it. A sword sliced through the  air where he’d stood. 

“Too slow!” Eric shouted, sweeping one leg back and  bowing. 

The crowd hollered. The dock above them rattled,  salt peppering down like snow. Eric dunked his stinging hands into the low tide. Across from him, Gabriella,  his childhood friend and the only person who regularly  outmatched him, paced along the edges of the fighting  ring, and her gaze flicked from his hands to his face. She grinned, brown skin gleaming with sweat and seawater.  Seaweed clung to her sword. 

These weekly bouts had been small at first, an easy  way to help train folks who might otherwise never see a  sword. They had only started using live blades this week.  Eric had gathered his friends into the little nook on the  beach beneath the last dock and strung up an old canvas  sheet between the posts to hide them away from curious eyes. It hadn’t worked, and these last three months  had seen their numbers swell. This little fighting ring  beneath the docks was all Eric could do to make up for  the ever-present fear of pirates that infused Vellona these  days with more towns being raided and razed every week. 

“You’re too cocky,” Gabriella said and shoved her  damp sleeves up to her elbows. “If I were a pirate, you’d  be dead.” 

Gabriella was the only one here who’d lived through  a pirate raid. The sparring had been fun at first, but now  there was too sharp an edge to it.  

“If you were a pirate, we’d have bigger problems  than—” 

She struck out and nicked his arm. He reared back. “You always give in to the urge to chat,” said  Gabriella, lunging for him. “Real fights aren’t fairy tales.  No one will stop so you can monologue.”

“Then stop me.” He met her in the middle, both of  his knives blocking the thrust, and locked them together  at the center of the ring. “And don’t worry about my  breaking.” 

“Never.” She grinned. “Princeling.” 

Eric laughed. This was why he liked the morning  fights. These bouts were a good way to relax and find  out what people needed help with before heading to work.  Would these spars fix all of Vellona’s problems? Never.  Would they help a few survive? Maybe. Did they make  Eric feel like part of the crowd, just another soul living in  the bay instead of a prince always held at arm’s length?  Absolutely. 

“Every time you call me that,” he said, “I’ll hit  harder.” 

“I’m quivering,” she said, and fluttered her off hand  over her heart. “Come prove it.” 

Eric reversed his grip on his knives. He feinted  for her left, her sword scraping down his blades with a  teeth-shuddering grind. She kicked him back, and they  circled each other. He slashed at her, but she angled  away. The frantic rush of blood in Eric’s ears drowned  out their sloshing steps. 

“You going to hit me?” she asked. 

Eric thrust one blade at Gabriella, herding her right, and aimed a backhanded slash to where she’d have  to step. She pivoted and ducked, the knife catching only  her sleeve. The crowd roared. 

Someone behind Gabriella shouted, “Trounce him!” “His right side’s weaker!” yelled Vanni, Eric’s best  friend and, in this moment, worst enemy. 

Gabriella shifted to attack his right. Eric pretended  to stumble, windmilling his right arm back. She lunged,  and he swept his knife up. Their blades collided. 

His riposte sent her sword flying. It splashed behind  her, sinking beneath the murky tide. Eric rushed toward  her, expecting Gabriella to chase after her sword, but  she crouched down and met his charge. Her shoulder  slammed into his stomach and knocked the wind out of  him. His arms went limp, the edge of his knife bouncing uselessly off her collar. Gabriella’s hands grasped his  ankles. 

She tugged at his boots. Eric pressed his shaking  knife to her neck. She froze. 

“Well,” said Gabriella, her odd crouch muffling her  words against his wet shirt, “I’ve lost in more embarrassing ways.” 

Eric couldn’t recall any. The raid that had driven  Gabriella to move to the bay as a child had killed her  sister, Mila, and now Gabriella trained with her aunt almost every day. Once she’d gotten over Eric’s being  the prince, she had always had the decency to leave Eric  with far more bruises than his tutors did when sparring. No part of this loss was embarrassing. 

“If you insist,” he said, and cleared his throat, moving his knives away from her. 

“Princeling!” A pair of arms looped around Eric’s  neck and pulled him into a tight hug. “You lost me  supper, so I expect some compensation.” 

Vanni—far more interested in swords and sailing  than his baker of a father would have liked—clapped Eric  on the shoulder and spun him around. 

“Stop betting against me, then.” Eric bowed to him,  glaring the whole way down. “Keeping you and your ego  fed is my only goal in life.” 

“Obviously,” Vanni said, tossing his flaxen hair from  his face. He didn’t sweat in the stifling heat beneath the  docks so much as gleam, looking far more princely than  Eric ever did. “Who’s up next?” 

“You,” Gabriella said, and dragged him to the center of the crowd. “I want a real fight.” 

Vanni laughed, and Eric let out an uncomfortable chuckle. 

“Rude of you to say it wasn’t a real fight,” he  muttered, and Gabriella flinched.

Vanni and Gabriella didn’t bow to each other. Vanni  fought with a single sword, and Gabriella switched to a  dagger. He was limber enough to dodge her strikes, and  Eric had assumed she would be too exhausted to match  Vanni’s intensity given how she had lost. But each of her  strikes was as strong as the last, though, and Vanni was  gasping in the humid air after only three minutes. He  swung wide, and she dropped to one knee.  

Vanni smiled like he’d already won, but an uneasy  revelation wormed its way through Eric’s chest. Gabriella  wasn’t shaking or out of breath, and when Vanni lunged,  she plunged her off hand into the water. Quick as lightning, she yanked his foot out from under him. Vanni  collapsed with a splash. 

“You’ve got the balance of a fish on land,” said  Gabriella, holding up his leg like a trophy. 

The crowd applauded, and she dropped him. Vanni  coughed up mouthfuls of water and peeled seaweed  from his face. Gabriella handed Eric Vanni’s sword, and  Eric mumbled in response. All the joy of finally doing  something useful and fun with friends condensed onto a  single memory. 

Gabriella’s hands had been on Eric’s boots, and she  could have taken him down. Or up, as it was.

“Eric?” Vanni called, shaking out his sopping shirt  with a smile. “Your head’s in the clouds.” 
Eric forced himself to smile. 

“Bit overcast,” muttered Eric, “but I’m fine.” Vanni snorted and patted his shoulder. “Least you  won and won’t be wearing sand all day.” 

He shook some from his hair and onto Eric and  Gabriella. Eric jerked away. Gabriella shrugged. “I work outside,” she said, and checked the knot of  the kerchief covering her black curls. “You needed a bath  anyway.” 

“Gabriella,” Eric said, and leaned down slightly so  that Vanni wouldn’t hear. “You let me win.” Gabriella stilled. “I did.” 

“Why?” he asked. “Why let me win now?” 

“We’ve been using training swords for months, and  the sharp edges drew a crowd. It’s better if they don’t  see their prince flipped head over heels,” said Gabriella.  “Isn’t that what Grimsby is always going on about—the  crown is an idea, not only a person? Seeing you getting  dunked would be bad for morale.” 

“If Grim keeps giving you ideas like that, I’ll dunk  him,” Eric said. Of course, Eric’s status was seeping into  his one escape from the castle. 

The crowd milled around them, people kissing  cheeks and comparing bruises while they said goodbye.  Sparring was a fine way to pass the morning, but now  the day had begun and there was plenty of work to be  done in the bay. Vanni wrung out his shirt, muttering  under his breath. Eric slapped his shoulder. 

“You’re getting better,” said Eric. 

“Damper, more like.” Vanni shook out his hair. “I’m  going to be squishing about all day.” 

“You’re improving, though. You both are.” Gabriella  glanced up at Eric and grinned. “Do you know why I  always beat you?” 

“Because you’re better than me?” Eric asked, and  Vanni laughed. 

“You lean on your training too much. You never go  for a hit or kick when you start the fight with blades,”  she said and punched his arm. “You’ve got better form  with a sword and stick, and you can disarm me a dozen  times. If we were dueling, you’d beat me—I can’t fence  to save my life—but we’re not dueling. You fight in the  same order you run drills, and one day you’re going to  have to make the choice of what to do on your own. Get  dirty.” 

Eric bit back a grimace. He couldn’t choose anything.  That was the problem. Politics and circumstance within the last ten years had made sure that he had no choices  that wouldn’t lead either to a battle with the neighboring kingdom Sait, destruction at the sword points of the  pirates, or a civil war over his throne. One wrong move,  whether it was an impolite look or a strike back at the  wrong pirate ship, could get Vellona destroyed. 

Once most of the crowd had scattered, the trio  emerged from their makeshift meeting place, squinting in the bright morning light as they walked along  the beach. Cloud Break Bay was the largest city in the  small kingdom of Vellona, and the pale green waters  were as much a home to Eric as the castle tucked into the  cliffs. Masts listed across the harbor, their ships rolling  unevenly as cargo shifted. Summer rose in humid spirals  of steam from the decks, and voices called out across the  waves as people basked beneath the first warm, clear sky  in weeks. Vanni squinted up at the sun. 

“We went long today,” he said, and turned to Gabriella. “Won’t get you in trouble with your aunt, will it?” “No, we’re doing repairs this week before taking  off,” she said. “She doesn’t even really need me for those.” Carpentry was one of the few things she didn’t excel  at. Still a touch too young to take over her grandfather’s  fishing ship and too needed at home to take off and join  her aunt’s crew, she had spent more time at sea than Eric and dreamed of captaining her own merchant ship like her aunt. 

“I could help with repairs,” said Eric, eager to  stay with his friends. That way, he could be Eric, just  Eric, for a little while longer. “Does your aunt need the  extra hands?” 

“Not really,” Gabriella said, and made a face. “That  last storm did a number on the ship, and we’d be in the  way of the good shipwrights. Hopefully we’ll be able to  pay them. We’re getting wrecked by storms every time  we leave the docks.” 

“Those hurricanes aren’t normal,” said Vanni. “That  last one came out of nowhere.” 

“It’s magic. Got to be,” Gabriella said. 

Magic was uncommon but not unheard of. It was  limited to reclusive sorcerers and old tales swapped over  pints. Small magics, like tonics and whistling up a wind,  were alive and well, and Eric knew there were stories  about witches in the old days who could call down lightning or manipulate souls like puppets. Grimsby wouldn’t  hear of it, but Eric agreed with Gabriella. Sait, the large  kingdom to the north dead set on expanding, had almost  certainly found itself a witch. 

“Even your mother, bless her, would be struggling  these days.” Gabriella nudged Eric. “Especially with Sait in the mix. Can you prove it’s them organizing the  pirates?” 

The pirate attacks, suspiciously well organized and  as regular as the storms, had started up eight years ago  once Vellona’s money was nearly drained by the near constant squalls and droughts that had plagued the kingdom  for as long as Eric could remember. It was then that Sait,  with a navy as flush as its coffers, had started poking at  Vellona’s defenses. When Eric’s mother, Queen Eleanora,  had died in a shipwreck up north two years ago, Sait had  gotten bolder and Vellona had gotten desperate. Eric  had been left with a floundering kingdom and dozens of  others eager to take his throne. 

He shook his head. “Grimsby calls it a long game,  weakening us before striking, but accusing them out right would start a war we can’t afford.” 

Eric suspected that was exactly what they wanted— justification to conquer Vellona. 

“Is there not some rich old widow with a flair for  dramatics you could wed to get us out of this mess?”  Gabriella asked. 

Vellona had exhausted every avenue that led to  money save for one, and only Eric could take it. “Sadly, no,” he said, pulling his flute from his pocket.  He always had it on him. He played a quick tune, taking the moment to calm himself. The familiar motion of his  fingers eased his worries. 

“I thought Grimsby wanted you married before your birthday?” Vanni asked. He glanced around and  lowered his voice. “You’ll have to kiss them at the wedding, but how can you when—” 

Eric froze, song dying off, and Gabriella grabbed  Vanni by the collar. 

“Shut it!” she hissed. “Sait finds out about that, it’ll be the easiest assassination in the world.” 

A shock of panic shuddered through Eric. Here, on  the docks with people working around them, no one was  paying attention, but they had never discussed his secret  in public before. He pocketed his flute. “Grimsby wants  me to marry well and figure it out after. Personal feelings  cannot trump convenience and duty, he says, but I refuse  to hand over control of Vellona to someone I don’t trust.” 

Vanni and Gabriella shared a look. 

“Is Grimsby still angry about Glowerhaven?” asked  Vanni. 

“Incandescent,” Eric said. “The only reason he  didn’t force it was because she loathed me as much as I  loathed her.” 

She hated music and dogs, and he couldn’t stand the  scent of the paints she treasured. Looking at art? Fine. 

Living in a miasma of paint fumes and odd alchemical  mixtures? Not for him. 

Gabriella laughed. “Wasn’t your fault Max didn’t appreciate her trying to glaze him. When’s your next  marriage proposal?” 

His next proposal? Never again. His next entrapment? The lunch with— 

Eric’s blood rushed in his ears, drowning out  Gabriella and Vanni’s chatter, and he wiped suddenly  sweaty palms on his trousers. He took a deep breath. 

“Grimsby’s going to kill me.” Eric looked around,  trying to figure out what time it was, and groaned. It  had been ages since he had forgotten a meeting, and he  had no excuse today. “Lord Brackenridge arrived this  morning, and I’m supposed to have lunch with him and  his daughters.” 

Gabriella’s eyes widened. “Run.” 

“How do I look?” Eric asked. “I won’t have time to  bathe.” 

“Like you were running late because you were spar ring,” said Vanni. “It’s almost like—” 

“Don’t you say it,” muttered Gabriella. 

Vanni ignored her. “You’re cursed.” 

“I’m letting that one slide,” Eric shouted over his  shoulder as he started running. “You only get one.”

“A day?” 

“A lifetime!” 

“Ignore him,” said Gabriella over the sound of  Vanni’s laughter. “Enjoy your prince-ing.” 

Eric rarely did. He was always Prince Eric first, a citizen second, and—secretly, terribly, through no fault of his own—cursed third.


About the Author


About Linsey Miller:
Once upon a time, Linsey Miller studied biology in Arkansas. These days, she holds an MFA in fiction and can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee. She is the author of the Mask of Shadows duology, Belle Révolte, The Game, What We Devour, and the upcoming Disney Princes books for Eric and Phillip. Visit her at linseymiller.com.



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