THE BITTER CROWN by Justin Lee Anderson (EXCERPT)
Today we’re excited to share an extract from THE BITTER CROWN by Justin Lee Anderson!
The Bitter Crown is the much anticipated sequel to SPFBO winner The Lost War and is out today from Orbit Books. Before we get to the excerpt (which contains spoilers for the first book), let check out the official blurb:
The second novel in Justin Lee Anderson’s sensational epic fantasy series where the war for a kingdom exits the shadows now that a terrifying secret has been revealed.
The fog of war is lifted and the conspiracy at the heart of Eidyn finally exposed.
Now they know the truth, Aranok and his allies must find a way to free a country that doesn’t know it’s held captive.
But with divided loyalties and his closest friendship shaken, can their alliance hold against overwhelming odds? The quest to retake the country begins here.
A fast-paced epic fantasy, filled with swashbuckling action and expansive worldbuilding, The Bitter Crown is the gripping sequel to The Lost War, perfect for fans of Nicholas Eames and RJ Barker.
The Bitter Crown is out today! You can order your copy on Bookshop.org
Fetid air whipped across the chasm. Only yesterday, Aranok had torn fifteen feet of the majestic, white stone Crosscauseway from its place and remade it as a wall, protecting them from the Dead during their battle with Anhel’s great lizard demon. Then it had been protection. Now it was a barrier.
Once they got to Auldun’s roofs, getting out would be straightforward. But the path to the rooftops was now across a fatal drop to the Nor Loch and through an agitated horde of Dead.
So he was going to try something he’d never done: use his wall spell to make a second bridge, connecting them directly from the north Crosscauseway to the nearest buildings on land, bypassing the Dead completely.
With his mind clear, Aranok was remembering things lost. If he focused completely on the earth, pictured what he wanted, it should run the path they needed. But if he tore too much from the depths of the loch, he’d unsettle the foundations of the Crosscauseway and dump them all in the freezing water.
A hand on his shoulder.
“Aranok, I’ve seen you do a hundred miraculous things. This is just another one.”
Mynygogg was almost unrecognisable. The king had shaved his striking black hair and beard and wore a simple set of black leathers.
In contrast, Samily appeared hewn from marble—the rock upon which Eidyn could rely. Maybe the greatest warrior he’d ever seen, but for the man who’d raised her or the woman beside her.
Allandria. His own rock. It had been awkward since they discovered Janaeus’s trick—convincing them they were lovers. Instinct said she was angry with him. But they had no time for the kind of discussion she might want—might need. Hopefully that storm would blow itself out, given time.
This was their army. The four of them carried the truth that would restore Eidyn.
Having Mynygogg with him again was comforting. He felt his friend’s confidence in him like air, buttressing his belief. Aranok looked down at the water, up to the rooftops, breathed deep and closed his eyes.
“Balla na talamh.”
The loch roiled as sodden earth broke the surface. It rose like a beast from the deep, and Aranok was reminded they’d left a demon’s carcass down there just the night before. In moments, the mound reached the edge of the causeway. Now it had to stop going up, and go out.
Another deep breath and he watched as it extended, mud and rock surfacing in a rough line toward the shore. His mind was barely clinging to the magic. At any moment, it felt as though he’d lose his fragile focus and the bridge would collapse back into the water.
The ground shifted beneath Aranok and a shock of pain stabbed as he dropped to a knee. Someone caught his arm. He couldn’t look up, couldn’t look away. The bridge crashed through the sea wall and he was no longer pulling up loch bed, but stone and cobbles of Auldun street. Almost there.
He was yanked back as his makeshift barrier against the Dead came crashing back through its old position, taking several feet of the causeway’s edge with it.
He landed against someone, confused.
Out of control.
A festering avalanche of Dead poured into the loch as the other side of the Crosscauseway crumbled.
“Fuck! Move!” Allandria pulled Aranok to his feet as their side of the causeway shifted and lurched to the East, away from the new bridge.
“Go! Go!” Aranok gestured urgently to the others. The earth bridge was only about eight feet wide, and they slowed as they reached it. The earth was slick with seaweed—move too quickly and they could fall—too slow and the bridge might collapse before they reached safety.
Allandria reached the edge just before him. She slipped, recognising what he already knew, but her balance was sound. Aranok followed, stepping off the Crosscauseway as it finally lurched away.
He was on. With a sigh of relief he turned to see the north half of the Crosscauseway groan and stretch away.
Then, horrifyingly, it slowed, stopped, and swung back.
“Run!” Aranok scrambled to keep his feet. What was left of the northern Crosscauseway battered through the earth bridge, sending debris plummeting back to the depths.
Twenty feet ahead Allandria danced along the ridge, each step finding solid ground. Aranok forced himself only to look forward. If he looked back…He had to keep running, keep moving, keep—
A sickening lurch as the dirt sank beneath his foot.
A second of panic, of terror, was all he had. In moments he would hit the freezing water and, if he survived that, be crushed by falling debris. Instinctively he pulled his hands tight into his sides and tensed his arms.
The burst of air threw him upwards, back toward the makeshift bridge. He could see the others, looking down at him hurtling toward them. It just had to be enough to reach them. He stretched out as their faces came closer and…went rushing past.
Aranok reached the zenith of his rise, slowed, and fell again. They were maybe ten feet below him. But he was going to miss the bridge. Gaoth was a blunt instrument. Another uncontrolled burst could overshoot him so far he’d never make it back. Using it to cushion his landing would blow the others off.
Aranok stretched again, willing his arms to reach the edge, hoping he might catch just enough purchase to…
He screamed as his shoulder wrenched out of its socket. Ribs crunched, battering air from his chest, and something in his back popped as he slammed against wet stone.
It took him a moment to realise he was half on the bridge, his legs dangling useless over the edge.
A second pair of hands grasped his free arm and yanked him, agonisingly, the rest of the way on.
“Are you all right?” Allandria asked.
Was he? Half of him screamed in pain, the other was numb. He coughed up a glob of bloody phlegm.
Aranok tried to move, but his back seized, forcing him still.
“No,” he wheezed.
“Where?” Samily’s voice was urgent.
Aranok tried to point with his good arm. An awful, rasping sound and a nauseating sensation in his chest suggested his lung was torn.
“Never mind.” He felt hands on him. “Air ais.” The shoulder clicked back into place, ribs snapped into shape and his back popped in way that was somehow more painful than the injury. Aranok sucked in a deep breath of damp air.
“Can you move?” the knight asked.
He could. He had to. With a grunt and support from Allandria, Aranok forced himself to his feet. It was another five hundred yards to the edge of the water. The bridge wasn’t perfect. The lurch at the end had cost him, and the wall of earth had carried on too far, carving a great gash into the stone tenements.
“Who caught me?” Aranok moved carefully along the slick surface now that it wasn’t actively collapsing.
“Samily,” Mynygogg shouted. “She’s everything you said.”
“Thank you!” Aranok called to the knight.
Samily did not turn to shout her answer.
“I am sorry I missed you the first time.”