TALONSISTER by Jen Williams (COVER REVEAL and EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT)
I am beyond excited today to share with you the cover reveal and an exclusive excerpt from Jen Williams’ upcoming fantasy novel TALONSISTER!
Jen is a firm favourite of mine, and although I’ve enjoyed her forays into crime thriller, I love that she’s brought us back to the fantasy genre. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to receive an advanced copy, and already there’s bickering griffins, chopsy warriors with forgotten and unknown pasts, and government secrets!
Talonsister will be book one of a duology being published by Titan Books. Lets find out more about it from the official blurb:
Leven has no memory of her life before she was a soldier. The process of turning her into a Herald – a magical killing machine – was traumatic enough that it wiped her mind clean. Now, with the war won and the Imperium satisfied, she finds herself unemployed and facing a bleak future. Her fellow Heralds are disappearing, and her own mind seems to be coming apart at the seams. Strange visions, memories she shouldn’t have, are resurfacing, and none of them make any sense. They show her Brittletain, the ancient and mysterious island that the Imperium was never able to tame. Leven resolves to go to this place of magic and warring queens, with the hope of finding who she really is.
Envoy Kaeto has done a number of important little jobs for the Imperium, most of them nasty, all of them in the shadows. His newest assignment is to escort the bone-crafter Gynid Tyleigh as she travels across the Imperium – as the woman responsible for creating the Heralds, his employers owe her a great deal. But Tyleigh’s ambition alarms even Kaeto, and her conviction that she has found a new source of Titan bones, buried deep in the earth, could lead to another, even bloodier war.
Ynis was raised by the griffins, and has never seen another human face. She lives wild, as they do, eating her meat raw and flying with her talon-sister, T’rook. The griffins fiercely protect their isolation – the piles of skulls that litter the mountains of Brittletain are testament to that – but the magic they guard will always make them a target for the greed of men. By choosing not to kill Ynis when she was just a baby, the griffins may have doomed themselves – because the girl’s past is coming for her, and it carries a lethal blade.
Sounds epic, doesn’t it! What’s also super exciting is that this will be Jen’s first novel to feature a map! You’re going to have to wait to check that out, but what we can share with you today, at last, is the cover…
Isn’t it beautiful?? I love the embroidery detail, it looks so wonderfully tactile, I just want to be able to run my fingers over it!
We were grateful to Jen for sharing her thoughts about the cover with us:
‘It’s so exciting to have a fantasy book to talk about again! Talonsister takes place in an ancient, mythical past, but it’s not the past that you and I know – it’s a world inspired by a dream of Briton perhaps, dreamt by a Druid after eating one too many dubious mushrooms. It’s also a story about identity, responsibility, found family and the ties that bind us – especially the ties we cannot see yet. For the cover, the brilliant Julia Lloyd has created this beautiful tapestry image which I’m completely in love with. It captures such a glorious sense of history and strangeness – it could be that this roll of embroidered fabric once protected the scrolls that contained The True History of the Griffins, or maybe it was crafted to amuse the reclusive Empress of the Starlight Imperium… It’s a cover that sparks a lot of exciting questions, and I think Julia and the team at Titan have done a spectacular job. Thank you Fantasy Hive for displaying Talonsister in all her glory!’ – Jen Williams
Thank you so much for letting us host the reveal!
Talonsister is expected for release 12th September 2023 from Titan Books.
In our beginning there is yenlin, the slow forming within the shell. Those who are yenlin are the responsibility of all. At the time of yenlin, the unhatched is neither talon clan nor claw, and cannot be held on bond-oath or attached to a feud.
The Griffin Creed, as written
on the Silver Death Peak by
Fionovar the Red
The scent of blood was threaded through the sky like a red ribbon; slippery and quick, but unmistakable.
Flayn tossed his head towards T’vor to see if his partner had noticed it, but T’vor was already folding his wings, his long sleek head bent toward the ground. They were on the very edge of official griffin territory here; the mountains had become foothills, and the human territory of Brittletain lay to the south, although most griffins preferred not to acknowledge that name at all. Directly below was a clear patch of ground, bare save for grass, snow, a handful of trees. T’vor landed with a shuddering thump, scattering dirt and snow, and Flayn dropped down neatly next to him.
‘Blood,’ said T’vor, unnecessarily.
Flayn let his beak hang open for a minute, tasting the air on his tongue. It was an unusually warm day in the deep winter, and he could smell many things at once: pine needles, snow melt, lichen, the sharp scent of T’vor himself. And over and under it all, blood, and also violence. He snapped his beak shut.
‘Human,’ he said. ‘And…’
He stopped as a shriek rent the air around them. T’vor took an indignant step back, while Flayn felt all the feathers on his neck stand on end. The noise was piercing and shrill, awful. Belatedly, he realised that something was moving on the very edge of the clearing. He had missed it initially because it was so close to the ground – only the smallest prey or inedible things were so close to the dirt – and now he padded over to it, T’vor close at his shoulder.
‘What is it?’
At first he took it to be a bundle of something, perhaps of the clothes that humans liked to press around themselves, but looking closer he saw that it had a small, round face, soft and bare, and tiny clasping hands. The hole in the middle of the face was wide, the eyes scrunched up with the power of its call.
‘It’s a cub,’ he said. He lifted his head and looked around. Humans didn’t usually let their cubs out alone, especially not ones this small, but he could see nothing else moving in the dripping forest. ‘The smallest human.’
‘It is yenlin?’ T’vor dipped his head down to the snow and quickly wiped his beak across it, first one side and then the other, cleaning it and making it shine, black like old river ice. ‘We’ll take it back for T’rook. She is long enough out of yenlin to eat hot meat.’ Seeing Flayn hesitate, he snorted with impatience. ‘Hurry up, it is noisy. I tire of it. Pull it in half and we shall each take back a piece. Then you shall not be the favourite with her, as you usually are. Or eat it now, if you must. Just make it quiet.’
The shrieking seemed to double in volume, as if the cub knew what they were talking about. Flayn settled his paw on the thing’s chest, easing out his claws slowly, and to his surprise the cub took hold of his claw with one fist, almost as though it were trying to push him away, or greet him. It would be a good treat on a winter’s day like this, a quick hot beakful of blood and flesh, a few rubbery organs. The bones wouldn’t be up to much, not in a thing this small, but they would add to the texture. Instead, Flayn leaned down to look more closely at its furious face, and then addressed it carefully in the dialect of Brittletain.
‘Are you lost?’
T’vor squawked with amusement. ‘As well ask the cow if it enjoys the sun before you eat it.’
‘It’s strange, though.’ Flayn looked around again, at the dark trees and the dirt. Where T’vor hadn’t scuffed it with his talons, he could see that the snow was marked with prints – the footprints of humans larger than the yenlin cub on the ground. ‘Human cubs are not normally left alone in the cold. And the smell of blood does not come from it. Where are the humans that laid it? Are they dead nearby?’
This had T’vor’s attention. A human cub might make a good meal for their hatchling, but a pair of humans would represent a significant amount of meat for all of them. The big black griffin lowered his head and opened his beak, scenting the area around them, and after a moment he stepped into the line of trees, beyond the screaming yenlin cub. Flayn watched as T’vor stamped around for a time, his partner’s blue scaly legs quickly becoming flecked with mud and pine needles, until he came to a halt and began scratching at a particular patch of earth.
‘Something half buried here,’ T’vor said shortly.
By the time Flayn reached him, he had dragged something out of the mud and was preening at his long flight feathers, oily black under the dappled forest light. It was the head of an adult human, a male, the skin on its face a yellowish-green. There were clods of mud in the black hair that sprouted from the top of its head and the bottom half of its face.
T’vor snapped his beak together derisively. ‘Humans usually keep their heads attached, Flayn. Here, look, is the rest of the body.’
Flayn came closer until he too was standing over the dead thing. Blood had turned the earth around it a deeper, meatier black. It certainly smelt dead, but it also smelt wrong.
‘One of us did this?’ asked Flayn.
This time, T’vor did not snort. Instead he seemed troubled by the question. ‘From the wounds, yes. Talon or claw, human bodies fall apart before both. But from the smell…’
‘From the smell, not us. And why leave it intact? We would have eaten it.’ Flayn dipped his head and tore open the dead human’s lower half; he buried his beak in the guts, letting the smell overwhelm him. Behind them, the yenlin had grown quieter, making small hiccupping noises of weariness. There was the good, rich scent of human blood, awakening his hunger as it always did, but underneath and over that was another, colder scent, something that smelled deeply wrong. He pulled his head away and snapped his beak a few times, trying to place what it was, but clarity danced just out of reach. Oddly, it made him think of the Bone Fall, the high and lonely place that griffins went to when they felt the ache of their last days. It made him afraid.
‘I don’t like it,’ he said eventually. ‘I cannot smell a poison, but even so, I don’t think we should eat it.’
T’vor shook out his coat and feathers in irritation, sending a brilliant cascade of water droplets to patter against the foliage.
‘Fine. I will trust your word, forvyn.’
Flayn lifted his head, surprised. T’vor usually only called him ‘beloved wise one’ in jest, but there was no trace of his usual affectionate teasing this time. The strangeness of the human corpse had clearly gotten to him, too.
‘We’ll find other game, T’vor.’
‘And we can at least eat the yenlin. Or save it for T’rook.’ He turned away and moved back to the edge of the clearing, lowering his powerful beak to the tiny wriggling shape on the ground.
‘I don’t think we should eat that, either.’ Flayn went and stood over the cub, already feeling foolish. ‘I think we should take it back, let it grow a little, see if we can learn more. Whatever killed that human, I feel like it is a danger to us.’
For a long moment T’vor said nothing, his great yellow eyes narrowed in confusion. ‘You want us to… look after it? In our own nest?’
‘T’vor, many times we’ve listened to my instincts, and it has kept us flying, hasn’t it? We need to know more about what happened here. And besides, it’s yenlin.’ He looked away, too aware this particular argument was nonsense. ‘Yenlin is the responsibility of all.’
‘Listen to yourself! This is a human cub, some featherless, ground- stuck meat bag. It is not worthy of dirtying our nest, unless our daughter is eating it. Too soon I called you forvyn – you know as well as I do that we remember very little from the time of yenlin, and I doubt that humans, with their tiny soft brains, are any different. This thing can grow and it can become more troublesome, but it will never teach us anything.’
‘I don’t believe that’s true.’ When T’vor began to turn away in disgust, Flayn butted his shoulder with his head. ‘We can stand here arguing about it while we lose the light, or we can skip to the part where you let me have my way, as you always do.’
‘I have a feeling about this, T’vor. A strong one. I swear it on my bones.’
‘Hmm.’ T’vor shook out his feathers again. Bones were a serious matter, not to be sworn on lightly, and Flayn could see him weakening. ‘Well, you can feed it. And you’ll have to explain to Queen Fellvyn why we are keeping food alive in our nest. It is not hygienic.’
* * *
They flew back with the wailing bundle clutched carefully between T’vor’s powerful talons. On the way Flayn spotted a small herd of mountain goats creeping cautiously up the sheer side of Silver Death Peak, and without slowing them down he snapped up a couple of the rangy animals, breaking their necks quickly and efficiently, so that they would have something to eat that night at least. The Silver Death was one of several peaks that punctuated the hazy border between griffin territory – known to them as Yelvynia – and the many scattered settlements of the ground-stuck humans. These lands were strictly forbidden to those prey animals; any foolish enough to venture near the mountains and get caught were killed without trial or discourse, and their stripped, severed heads were left on the southernmost foothills as a warning. Humans, it seemed, did not learn lessons quickly or well, since the southern foothills were awash with ancient skulls, turned white and yellow with the freezing winters and bleaching sun.
A griffin bringing one over the mountains personally was unheard of, and Flayn had no real idea of how the clans would react. Most likely there would be demands the thing be killed immediately, yenlin or no, or if they were really unlucky, someone would decide it were a grievous insult to Great T’vyn the Trickster himself, and they would be driven out of their nest to avoiding bringing a curse on them – all three of them, including T’rook, who was too small yet even to fly.
‘The queen may not even bother with exile,’ said T’vor, as if he knew exactly what Flayn were thinking. ‘She could simply tear our throats out for this.’
‘I do not think she will,’ said Flayn. In truth, he wasn’t sure at all, but Queen Fellvyn was claw clan too, like him, and he thought there was a chance she would listen. ‘T’vor, this creature is fate-tied to us, and perhaps to all griffin.’
‘Nonsense. What are you, a witch-seer now?’
‘I feel it in my bones.’
T’vor made a growling noise in the back of his throat, and they flew back the rest of the way in silence, the bundle still clutched carefully in T’vor’s talons. When they reached their own nest-pit, T’rook lifted her head and squawked at them, her feathers still a sticky downy fluff, her eyes not quite fully open.
‘She is too small to understand yet,’ said T’vor. His harsh voice was softer than it normally was. ‘Flayn, she may eat this thing anyway, regardless of your supposed fate-ties.’
‘She might,’ conceded Flayn. ‘And then you can tell me I was wrong about everything.’
Yet when T’vor placed the human cub into the nest-pit with T’rook, the hatchling sniffed at it, then tugged at the material it was wrapped in, as though trying to understand what it was. After a moment, she folded her wings away – bony crumpled things as yet – and curled up next to the wriggling bundle. The human yenlin, which had freed one of its own smooth limbs during the flight, reached out and touched T’rook’s downy head. For the first time it seemed calm, its small eyes closing.
‘Well,’ said Flayn. ‘Would you look at that?’