THE DARK FEATHER by Anna Stephens (COVER REVEAL & EXCERPT)
Today, I’m super excited to share with you the cover of and an excerpt from the conclusion of one of my all-time favourite trilogies!
The Dark Feather by Anna Stephens is the third and final instalment in her Songs of the Drowned trilogy, and it’s one of my most anticipated books of next year. Let’s check out the official blurb:
Ixachipan is in flames.
Rebellion rages in every land and across every hill as the Empire of Songs battles to maintain control, but nowhere more fiercely than in the Singing City itself. In the great pyramid at its heart, Shadow Tayan faces the awful consequences of his actions, and their seductive possibilities.
In the city streets, Xessa and Lilla lead their warriors in increasingly desperate battles, their unity riven by betrayal and deception, while far to the north, Whisper Ilandeh discovers the freedom – and obligation – in making her own choices.
But war is fickle, and so are people. Sometimes, the only peace possible is that bought with blood and lies.
And when vengeance sings, the choices made will determine whether the flames of war are fanned – or drowned.
And now, let’s check out the cover!
Cover designer: Stephen Mulcahey
I love they went with orange for this last one, the feathers are reminiscent of flames and really gives the impression that this will be a fiery finale! Let’s hear from Anna herself:
I was so delighted with the cover options that HarperVoyager’s art department put together for The Dark Feather. I loved how, for the third and final book of the Songs of the Drowned trilogy, they kept the spirit of the background but gave it a special twist – instead of lush foliage, we have feathers.
Of course, the title is a reference to the dark feathers tattooed on the throat of the Singer’s heir and successor, so the image of them flooding – and falling – through the backdrop here is loaded with significance.
I think it complements both the tenor of the book and the first two volumes, and I can’t wait to see them all lined up together come March next year!
The Dark Feather is due for release 28th March 2024.
And you can it to your Goodreads
Extract from The Dark Feather
Lilla looked down at the triangular pattern he’d painted onto the hem of his kilt. Tokob colours; Tokob patterns. His hair was bound in Tokob fashion, too, unshaven but braided at the temples. Was that the reason for the eagles’ relentless pursuit of him; they’d recognised him as Tokob, which would only matter if they’d found the corpses of the Drowned Xessa had killed. So it wasn’t just Xini’s attack on the pyramid and Ekon and Lilla’s victory over the pods in the city that had ignited such a furious city-wide response. They’d found the dead Drowned.
And they were coming for Tokob.
Despite the vastness of the sky above him, Lilla’s breathing roughened, spots of light dancing at the edges of his vision and panic clawing at his throat, tightening it until it felt as if he was being strangled. Or collared. The whine in his head grew louder, pain blossoming behind his right eye. He shuffled back from the edge of the roof and lay on his back, looking up at the clouds. Open. Empty. Free. Concentrating on his breathing and the fragments of pottery crumbling beneath his fingertips and the back of his head. Deep breaths, a steady count. As Ekon had taught him.
Slowly, the constriction of his throat eased and the panic retreated to lap uneasily at the back of his mind. The pain in his head settled to a dull, warning throb.
They’d wanted to break the Melody, to sow religious fear and despair among them. Maybe they’d done so; or maybe they’d just made them reckless with hate. Good, reckless is good. Desperate to reach those of us they see as their god-killers. If they’re here for Tokob and for vengeance, we can use that against them.
They’ll have more warriors patrolling the river and the streams and ponds, too, trying to get between Xessa and the Drowned. Maybe they’ll start being eaten by their so-called gods. Malel, let them be eaten.
He swallowed a manic laugh. If they were at the river they couldn’t be at the great pyramid. They might be so consumed with horror for the safety of the Drowned that the freedom fighters could take the pyramid, destroy the songstone, free Tayan, and end the song.
Win the war.
It was both more and less than what they’d hoped and planned for. A distraction, yes. Despair and anger and perhaps a lessening of discipline, yes. The hunting down of any and all Tokob, no. Unless . . . unless Weaver, Xini, and even Ekon had known that such a thing was likely and had kept it from him. As they’d all kept so many secrets for so very long.
Would they betray their own allies? Would Ekon betray him? Yes and yes. For the cause, for victory, they’d do and say anything. Lilla’s breathing steadied and a cold, clear focus swept over him. They were on the same side, but right now that meant nothing.
Methodically, he untied his kilt, turned it inside out, and retied it. Some of the colours were still visible, but the outlines – the pattern – was even more smeared on this side. It might be enough.
Enough to get him to Weaver and get some fucking answers.
Watchers confronted him two sticks further on and Lilla gave that week’s password and then identified himself, adding that he’d seen eagles scouting the streets nearby. He didn’t mention their apparent interest in Tokob; it was possible he was wrong.
I’m not wrong.
He tried not to let the anger simmer up between his ribs. Two sentries hurried him under cover while the rest stayed to check no one had trailed him. It was well done and Lilla found himself curious, once again, about Weaver’s background. Either she’d led warriors in battle herself or she was a wise enough leader to relinquish control of that aspect of their defence to others more knowledgeable than she. And yet it seems she’s also willing to sacrifice an entire tribe to gain victory.
He was handed off to a warrior with orders to be taken to Weaver and Lilla’s determination to find the truth solidified. Nothing would stop him. They stepped into the long, low administration building and the Toko gasped and clapped one hand over his nose. It stank, not just with the combined odours of sweat and injury common to all the war parties’ hideouts, but with the sweet, pungent scent of sickness and rot.
‘What is happening here?’ he asked, muffled. ‘Where are your shamans?’
‘We ran out of fresh bandages and medicine two days ago,’ Weaver herself said as she hurried over, quick despite her bloodshot eyes and lanky, sweat-dull hair. She was bloody to the wrists. ‘Don’t you know that? Isn’t that why you’re here? I sent requests for aid.’
‘No,’ he said, dropping his hand from his mouth with a grimace. He looked around again. ‘We haven’t received any messages.’
Weaver’s shoulders slumped. ‘We sent four yesterday – two to you, two to Xini.’
Lilla shook his head; no one had made it to the western tithing barns.
Weaver scrubbed a palm over her cheek and eye and then grimaced and swiped ineffectually at the sticky smears of blood left behind. ‘It’s time to move then, all the war parties. We’ve about picked this section of the city clean of supplies anyway. And the messengers were captured or killed, I suppose, like the others. Ancestors guide them to rest.’
Lilla’s dying anger burnt back to flaring life. ‘And who did you send, Tokob? Was it Tokob?’ he asked, his voice low and dangerous. It cut through the pungent space between them, the question out of his mouth before he could stop it. ‘Is that what this is, Weaver? Was this your plan? There really is no limit to what you’ll do for victory, is there.’
Weaver’s face was closed, unreadable. ‘What nonsense do you speak? I have warriors dying from lack of medicine and you speak with all the sense of a stunned capuchin fallen from a tree?’
‘Tell me which tribes the messengers came from,’ he insisted, violence breathing on the back of his neck.
‘One Axib, one Yaloh, two Tokob. All civilians. All volunteers. Now explain why you dare question me.’
There was a crack of authority in her voice that had nearby warriors looking up in alarm. It sent a bolt of learnt servility through Lilla; his knees tried to buckle so that he might prostrate himself and beg forgiveness. He stood tall against it.
‘I was chased by a half-pod of eagles who were determined to catch me.’ He gestured at his kilt, remembered it was inside out, and quickly explained his theory. ‘My question to you is whether you did this knowingly, let Xessa go to the river to direct the Melody’s rage onto Tokob alone. Make it easier for the rest of you to secure victory while we were the sacrifices.’
Regret and calculation flickered across her face. ‘We didn’t “let” your eja do anything, if you recall. Word came from your war party of her intentions and we agreed. Further word then came of the attack on your own position. I sent half our warriors to hide on the most likely routes from the pyramid to the river in case the water gods somehow called for help, and the rest to the pyramid itself along with Xini’s war party. A few hours after dawn, several exceptionally brave warriors went to the riverbank to see whether she’d been successful. They brought back five corpses, two from the river and three from further into the city. A shocking, unbelievable victory we have celebrated each day since. I had the corpses thrown into the pyramid’s compound to take the hearts and spines from the Melody, not to divert their rage onto your people specifically. It was to force the battle, to put them on the defensive so that we might breach—’
‘They’re probably taking Yaloh too,’ Lilla said, the words coming from a great distance through the buzzing in his ears. ‘I’ve seen it before: they can’t tell the difference between us. They’re snatching us and killing us. Shrinking your war parties, Weaver, reducing your fighting force. And exterminating us.’
Someone forced their way in between him and the tall woman and he realised he was shaking her by her tunic. The bark-paper rustled in Lilla’s salt-cotton as the warrior shoved him backwards with a snarled command.
‘It is unfortunate,’ Weaver said, smoothing her tunic with prim composure. ‘But it was not our intention. I shall think on the implications and speak with Xini and Ekon. I am sorry. For now, it might be best to keep your people under cover or in disguise.’
‘Under cover? So that we might all rush out at once and draw the enemy away for the rest of you to take the pyramid?’ Lilla demanded bitterly, and then barked a humourless laugh at Weaver’s approving nod. As if he’d performed a trick by guessing her thoughts for the slaughter of his tribe. ‘Was this why you waited for us to be brought under the song, so that you might use us in this way?’
‘No, Fang Lilla,’ she snapped. ‘You think we didn’t want you and the Yaloh harassing the Empire’s borders while we rose within them? We did not have the people and the plans in place at the time of your defeat. If we had, you never would have been enslaved. We would have risen across the Empire and you would have fought at its edge and together we would have won. Together, we can still win. With the right strategy.’
He didn’t believe her. He slid his hand into his salt-cotton instead and retrieved the pieces of bark-paper and fitted them together. His breath caught in his throat and his vision blurred as he read. It wasn’t, as he’d expected, an order for all Tokob to be captured and brought for justice, with payment in the form of a pardon to those who did so.
‘Fang Lilla? Fang Lilla!’ Weaver’s voice was alarmed.
Fingers tracing over glyphs written in a hand he knew as well as his own, he read it aloud in a strangled whisper: ‘“By order of the divine holy lord, the great Singer Xac, and his Shadow, Tayan called the stargazer, all Melody forces have been removed from Tokoban. That land is ceded to the control of its people in recognition of the Shadow’s former allegiances. You are offered this and no more: go home and live. Raise weapons against the children of the song and not even Malel will be able to save you.”’
He met Weaver’s eyes, the paper clutched against his wildly beating heart as hope and homesickness and fierce love seared through him. ‘It’s written by my husband. I told you, I told you, he was with us. Is with us. Tayan’s letting us go home.’