Rule by Ellen Goodlett comes out tomorrow! Fans of Three Dark Crowns and Pretty Little Liars, this is the book for you. In Kolonya, the king is dying, his heir has just been murdered, and rebellion is brewing in the east. But before the kingdom descends into leaderless chaos, there are three unexpected options. Enter Zofi, Akeylah, and Ren: the king's three illegitimate daughters who are uprooted from their different backgrounds and find out that one of them must become the heir. But each has their own secrets, and someone in Kolonya is out to get them.
I screamed (and slammed my fist on the counter) when I got to the end of Rule. It's a striking fantasy and I'm so excited to introduce Rise, which is fulfilling all my needs for dark pasts and forbidden romances. But before I show you the cover, let me give you a little teaser to each sister in Rule...
Zofi woke to the sound of her mother’s voice, louder than usual. She squinted at the tent interior. She’d been sharing it with her mother for the last two months, unable to sleep on her own. She saw blood every time she shut her eyes.
“Can you tell me why you’re looking for her?” Mother said.
Something rustled. Parchment? “All this says is we’re to bring Deena’s only daughter back with us to the capital,” a man replied. He had an accent. Something almost…Kolonyan. “You’re Deena. Can you tell us where she is?”
Zofi bolted upright, shredding any last cobwebs of sleep. Sands. That had to be a Talon.
Mother ignored the question. “This is highly unusual,” she said, just outside the tent.
“It’s the king’s request.” His voice grew quieter. Mother was leading him away. Buying time.
Zofi shouldered her rucksack, an escape bag Mother had packed two months ago. The night Zofi brought this death sentence down on her head. Stall them, Zofi prayed as she drew her longknife and cut a slit in the rear of the tent. The Talons would be watching the front.
Outside, the frigid night air of the Glass Desert stung her lungs. She breathed in deep anyway to clear her head. If she could make it over the dunes, she could hole up in the crags, scavenge lizards for food, and gouge cacti for water. The desert would keep her safe for a few days, so long as she could reach it.
For that, she needed speed.
Zofi pressed the longknife to her forearm. The moment the blade broke skin, Zofi’s eyes closed, her senses turning inward. Every vein in her body lit up like a map in her mind’s eye. She watched her heart contract to drive blood through those veins, carrying air and nutrients throughout her body.
Air, nutrients, and something else. An extra spark, drawn into her body via the cut she just made in her arm.
The Blood Arts.
Describing the Arts to someone who had never tithed was as impossible as explaining an extra sense. The Arts tasted green, smelled like adrenaline, sounded cold. They first appeared in the Reaches four centuries ago, and no one outside this continent could tap into them. But for natives of the Reaches like Zofi—and, unfortunately, the Talons hunting her—the Arts made superhuman feats possible.
Tonight Zofi harnessed that cold green adrenaline like threading a mental needle. It took concentration, willpower—some people whispered incantations as they did it, but that wasn’t necessary, just a trick to assist your brain. All you really needed to know to tithe was the anatomy of your body and the lengths to which you could push it. What your blood, your heart, your lungs, and your veins looked like when you strained them to the max.
Zofi had done this often enough not to need any words. She held all the potential of the Arts in her mind and channeled it into one purpose, one command. Watched her blood vessels expand the way they had so many times before, absorbing more air, flooding more power to her limbs.
She opened her eyes. The world looked different. Sand hovered around her ankles. Mother’s and the Talon’s voices, still audible on the far side of the tent, sounded impossibly slow, as though they spoke through mouthfuls of molasses. A fly hung suspended at her elbow, wings moving a fraction of their normal speed.
Of course, it only looked that way to Zofi. Because in reality, the world hadn’t slowed.
She’d gotten faster.
Zofi sprinted toward the dunes, feet barely grazing the sand. In seconds, she crossed a hundred yards of desert to reach the base of the first dune. She leaped onto it, hands and feet darting from one handhold to another while the sand melted away beneath her. Halfway up, she checked over her shoulder for signs of pursuit.
Three moons illuminated the landscape. Nox and Essex, the first two moons, hung overhead. Syx dangled at the horizon like a globe fruit. Glacie, the little oasis town they’d camped outside of, loomed in the background—a perfect circle of palm trees and thatch-roofed buildings. And in front of the town was the Travelers’ camp—several dozen tents around twin bonfires. A few members of her band still huddled beside the glowing coals, even though dinner ended hours ago. Up late swapping stories, a favorite Traveler pastime.
For a moment, Zofi’s heart ached. She grew up in this band, moving every few weeks, drifting around the outer Reaches. Her band was her family—more than family, they were home. The only home she’d ever known. She didn’t want to leave.
Yet if she stayed, she risked bringing the Talons’ wrath down on everyone, not just herself.
She scanned the camp. Two Traveler watchmen pretended to doze alongside the road. Another was positioned to watch the oasis itself—because even here, in a town that told Mother they didn’t mind Travelers, they still needed to be careful. It took only one superstitious idiot raving about how Travelers ate babies to turn a whole village hateful.
They’d learned that the hard way.
Next to the roadside watchmen, the Talons’ wagon was parked. Two draft horses were yoked to the wagon, with three more grazing around its wheels. But only one Talon sprawled on top of it, smoking. Where were the others?
Her veins itched. She only had a minute or two before this tithe wore off. Mother will handle the Talons. Zofi’s job now was to get as far from camp as possible. She spun around to continue climbing.
How did they find her?
More important, if they’d come for her, what happened to Elex? He’d never give her up. Not willingly. They’d have to torture a confession from him.
Stop thinking. Emotions would slow her down.
Ten feet to the peak of the dune. Her fingertips tingled—the tithe was fading. The Arts could make a person stronger, faster, immune to harm, but only for a time. Once a tithe wore off, your blood needed time to rebuild before you could tithe again.
Unless you knew the Travelers’ secret.
Akeylah’s knees throbbed as she leaned into the horsehair brush, but press as she might, the stain refused to budge from the slate tile. How in Mother Ocean’s name did her siblings create such a mess in only one meal? She wondered if she’d need to resort to another dousing of lye, when stumbling footsteps broke her concentration. On instinct she froze, breath held. She recognized that gait.
Perhaps he was already deep enough in the bottle to pass by without noticing her. Akeylah shut her eyes. She wished she could be like the sea. Water, flooding away between the cracks, unnoticed and unremarkable.
No such luck.
“What’s all this?” Father swayed in place above her.
“I’ve almost finished—”
“Almost finished,” he sneered in a high-pitched tone. “Did I bloody ask what this almost is?” He kicked her bucket and sent dirty mop water splashing across the dining room. “It’s midday, girl. I have guests coming shortly. Do you expect us to watch you crawl about the floor the whole meal? Or was that your plan, to sour our appetites with the sight of your face?”
Akeylah ducked her head. She knew better than to provoke him. Her left wrist throbbed with the memory of the last time she defended herself. The bone never set right, and now it served as a constant reminder of the depths to which her father was capable of sinking. “I apologize, Father. It is my mistake.”
“Damn right it is.” He stumbled, then leaned against the table to uncork a bottle with his teeth. “Incompetent. A waste of your mother’s sacrifice.”
Akeylah gritted her teeth and scrubbed harder. She was used to the insults. Worthless. You’re the one who should have died. Who knew? He was probably right. Akeylah had never met her mother, who died giving birth to her, but by all accounts she was the perfect wife. The perfect mother. Perfect in a way Akeylah would never be.
You look just like her, her older sister, Polla, would murmur at night as they huddled on opposite ends of the bedroom they were forced to share. It’s not fair that you’re here and she isn’t.
The town mender talked her mother through every known healing tithe. In the end, the tithes probably wore her out faster, the Arts burning through her blood along with the wasting sickness. Now here Akeylah was following in her mother’s footsteps—using the Arts in a desperate attempt to save herself—and seas only knew whether it would work.
She flinched as the empty bottle shattered, coating her skirt in glass.
“Did you hear me?” Father leaned down, and Akeylah forced herself to meet his gaze, trembling. “I said you’re a waste.”
What’s taking so long? There should be an effect by now, some noticeable change. But he looked as hale as ever, aside from the telltale ruddy alcohol bloom across his olive-brown cheeks.
“I heard you, Father,” she whispered.
Perhaps she’d done it wrong. Or perhaps she’d been taken for a shell-headed fool.
She’d spent months searching. Attending every market and trade fair in town, even obscure ones like the Ananses Festival, a traditional celebration from the Southern Reach where women dressed like great cats sold bundles of ripening herbs to help in childbirth.
Finally, she stumbled across a hint. A rumor that led her to an even stranger fair, one that only opened once every three months, on the full triple moons, down a fishmonger’s alley. From there, a whisper led her to a black-draped stall run by a surprisingly pretty curseworker. A curseworker with a scar that split her cheek, all the way from her dark eyes to her narrow lips.
Finally, Akeylah thought she’d paid her penance. She’d suffered enough. Mother Ocean had sent her a savior.
The curseworker could’ve been anyone. A poor drifter or a madwoman. There was no guarantee anything she taught Akeylah was real. But when that woman cupped Akeylah’s cheek in her calloused hand and murmured, “He will kill you within the fortnight unless you act,” Akeylah believed it.
Maybe the curseworker was wrong. Maybe the tithe didn’t take. Maybe all this would be for naught.
“You killed your mother.” Father’s spittle flecked her cheeks. “And for what? So we could be stuck with a lazy, empty-headed idiot girl, looking like her, reminding us…” His voice cracked.
“I’m sorry,” she said. Again. But it never mattered what she said. It only mattered what he heard, and that was entirely up to him.
“You aren’t. You enjoy this. You thrive off our pain.” He grasped her neck with meaty fingers. Squeezed. Stars glittered at the edges of her vision. Her tongue felt swollen in her mouth, and her eyes widened as if they would burst. “I’d be doing the world a favor. No one would miss you.”
She was going to die. The same way she’d lived. Alone in a family of vultures on a cliff at the edge of the world. She shut her eyes. Blood roared in her ears, reminding her of the sea. Waves on the beach.
Mother Ocean, accept my spirit, she prayed. Bear me from this world…
She couldn’t remember the rest. Her head hurt. Everything hurt.
And then, air.
Despite the predawn stars peeking through the windows, Lord D’Vangeline Rueno’s suite in Ilian Keep bustled with life. His daughter, Lexana, presided over the dance floor, her shrill laugh echoing against the elaborate gold-plated ceiling frescoes.
He’d gone all out for this party, Lexana’s official coming-of-age ball. The chocolate fountain filled its own cups, and large gauzy silver decorations drifted overhead, shaped like the symbols of the Five Reaches. The sailfish of the Eastern Reach danced along the ceiling, chased by the great cat of the Southern, the sand-stepper of the Northern, the heron of the Western, and, of course, larger than all the rest, Kolonya’s stormwing. The bird’s vast wings nearly touched both sides of the vaulted ceiling at once—and that was only a slight exaggeration of its size in real life.
Florencia watched from her place among the ladies’ maids. She stood in the shadows beneath the loft balcony, out of sight and out of mind until her charge required her aid. Then she’d be expected to appear at the noblewoman’s elbow immediately, as if reading her mind.
Normally, Florencia was very good at this. Tonight, she had other concerns.
Last month, a serving girl was caught in a lesser nobleman’s bed. Usually she’d be dismissed for impropriety, but she was a favorite of Lord Rueno’s. He gave his blessing on the match. After a man like Rueno stated public approval, the nobleman’s parents had little choice but to allow him to wed the commoner. The girl even dined at court now, albeit at the fringes of the Great Hall.
Ever since, Florencia had trained a sharp eye on Lord Rueno’s family. She had no intentions of skulking through the servants’ corridors forever. If she became Rueno’s new favorite, perhaps one day he could improve her situation as well.
Ren watched Lady Lexana chat with Lord Gavin. There would be a good match for Lexana. Gavin’s family could trace their lineage back to the kings of Oonkip, when the Western Reach was still known as such. Here in Kolonya, they’d done well for themselves in the timber trade. Wartime meant Kolonya purchased a lot of hardwood. Need to build ships somehow.
A stab of regret struck her. Seven ships, 1,854 soldiers.
She couldn’t think about it. Not now. She’d learned her lesson and she would never repeat it. Now, she must look forward. To the future she’d carve herself.
Lexana leaned on Gavin’s arm, a sparkle in her eye. Gavin’s stories, Ren knew from experience, were of the endless-and-rambling variety. For once, though, he had found a willing audience. Lexana’s laughter made his whole countenance light up.
But her laughter drew more stares than just Ren’s. Including the worst one possible.
Ren slid out from the servants’ alcove as the most poisonous viper in this whole pit sidled up to Lexana and Gavin.
Ren’s charge, Lady D’Garrida Sarella, had a reputation for leaving shattered hearts and ruined reputations in her wake. Judging by the edged smile she turned on Lord Gavin, she aimed for a little bit of both tonight.
As Ren approached, Sarella batted emerald-tinged lashes. Sarella was beautiful in an almost surreal way, her cheekbones knife-sharp, her nose broad and elegant, skin a perfect Sun-blessed brown. Every inch the ideal Kolonyan woman, Sarella wielded her beauty the way a soldier would a sword.
“Gavin.” His name melted like cacao on her tongue. “I haven’t seen you all evening. You haven’t abandoned me to this dull a crowd, have you?” She offered a hand.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Gavin lifted her fingers to his lips, Lexana all but forgotten.
Sarella curled her fingers around his elbow, where Lexana’s had been only a moment earlier. “Sun be thanked. Last time we met, you’d only just begun telling me about your part in the Seventh War, and I’ve been waiting on tenterhooks ever since.…”
“My lady.” Ren barred their path. She served as Sarella’s lady’s maid and would normally be forced to take her side in a situation like this. But to win Lord Rueno’s favor, Ren’s priorities would have to shift.
Besides, she had to admit, Sarella bothered her more than most of the other women at court. This could be fun.
Sarella’s gaze narrowed. “I did not summon you.”
“I know, my lady.” Ren bowed her head in faux apology. “But Lord Jadin was asking for you.” Lord Jadin, who Sarella had spent half of this Sun-forsaken party seducing away from Lady Halley already. “Something about an item you misplaced in his care earlier tonight.”
It took every ounce of self-control Ren possessed not to smirk at the fury that flared in Sarella’s eyes. Gavin glanced from Sarella to Ren, then over his shoulder at Lady Lexana. Poor fool.
“Shall I fetch it for you?” Ren continued, her voice light and innocent. “Or would you prefer to meet Lord Jadin in his suite to recover it? It is your favorite, my lady, with the lace embroidery, so I assume you don’t want to lose it.”
That did it. Gavin disentangled his arm from Sarella’s, his smile polite yet cold. “It seems you have unattended business, Lady Sarella. I’ll save my story for another time.”
Gavin and Lexana slipped away toward the dance floor. For a moment, Ren enjoyed the fruits of her labor.
Only a moment.
Then Sarella scowled. “You’ll pay for that, girl.”
Girl. Never mind that Sarella and Florencia were the same age. Raised right here in the Keep, nursed on politics and spite in equal measure. They were the same but for the accident of their births—Sarella’s to a lord and lady; Florencia’s to a maid and an unknown father.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right that girls like Sarella got a chance to rise in the world, when girls like Ren—girls who were smarter, savvier, better at this game—were forced to stand meekly in the shadows awaiting their orders.
Ren only hoped she’d gambled correctly. She cast a glance over her shoulder, tracked Lord Rueno. He was occupied elsewhere. But surely his daughter would mention, if prompted, the maid who helped her win a dance with an eligible suitor.…
Doesn’t matter. Sarella always made her life hell. Raised petty complaints and summoned Ren in the dead of night, or drunkenly berated Ren for misplacing items Sarella herself had lost or ruined. Ren had lost count of how many times Sarella had reported her to Madam Oruna, the head of staff. One more series of complaints wouldn’t make a difference—Oruna couldn’t fire Ren even if she wanted to. Not when Ren knew whose bed Oruna warmed every night.
So Ren merely grinned when Sarella stormed off. Whatever blowback this caused, it was worth it for the look on Sarella’s face. Worth it to stand her ground as Sarella beelined toward the sidebar.
Even when Sarella decided to deal with her embarrassment by downing several flutes of amaranth nectar in quick succession, it was worth it. Worth it when Sarella drunkenly summoned Ren to carry her home.
“Wouldn’t do for a lady’s maid to leave her charge floundering, would it?” Sarella hissed, voice low, right before she stumbled so spectacularly that Ren caught her on reflex.
Sun above. Even drunk, Sarella was a formidable opponent. She knew Ren couldn’t neglect her, not at an event like this. Lord Rueno was watching, intent on ensuring his guests departed safely. So she bobbed her head in Lord Rueno’s direction, looped Sarella’s arm around her shoulders, and began the laborious task of carrying the girl to the D’Garrida suites. The halls of the rosewood tower had never felt so long as they did with Sarella sagging against Ren’s hip, breath hot and reeking of flowers.
“Home sweet home,” Ren muttered when they finally reached the massive stonewood door. It took all her remaining strength to shoulder it open. When it slid inward, they both staggered across the threshold.
The sun was already painting the gauzy curtains pink with first light. She’d have to warn the morning maid to delay breakfast.
“So why Gavin?” Sarella offered her back to Ren. Florencia began to unlace her complicated four-piece silk ensemble, which seemed to consist more of knots and strings than actual clothing. “Have you got your eye on him?” Her voice slurred, but Ren would not make the mistake of underestimating Sarella twice.
She bit her tongue and tugged at the dress stays harder than strictly necessary.
“You can have him.” Sarella tossed her head, fashionably short razor-cut skimming her cheekbones. “Me, I’ve set my sights higher. My favorite rogue returns to court next week.”
Ren’s fingers stilled. Unable to resist, she glanced at the mirror. Found Sarella grinning at her own reflection like a great cat about to pounce on a macaw.
Surely she didn’t mean…
But Ren already knew Sarella’s tastes. She remembered the way Sarella chased him last time. “The Eastern ambassador is coming back to us?” Ren’s voice did not even falter. She was getting good at this.
“Ambassador Danton wrote to me last week.” Sarella fluttered those painted lashes again. “Positively dying to reunite, he said.”
Of course. Ren should have seen this coming. First Burnt Bay, then Prince Nicolen’s assassination two months ago…Clearly the Easterners wouldn’t stop until Kolonya was dead.
Which meant Danton would need more intel soon.
Her veins ran cold.
Rise by Ellen Goodlett
Sisters Akeylah, Ren, and Zofi are all a step closer to their dying father's throne, a step closer to the crown that will allow one of them to rule over Kolonya. But the sisters' pasts continue to haunt them. Each hides a secret marked with blood and betrayal, and now their blackmailer is holding nothing back. When King Andros discovers the sisters' traitorous pasts, the consequences will shake the entire kingdom to its core.
As Kolonya's greatest threat stalks closer and closer, weaving a web of fear and deceit around Ren, Zofi, and Akeylah, even the people they love are under suspicion. If the sisters are going to survive, they'll have to learn to trust each other above all else and work together, not only to save themselves, but to protect everyone and everything they hold dear.
With shocking reveals and suspenseful storytelling, this breathtaking sequel to Rule will keep you guessing until the very last page.