Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of their noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty—but will her heart pay the price?
Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?
We’re pleased to reveal the cover and share an exclusive excerpt from Vic James’ Gilded Cage, a darkly fantastical debut set in a modern England where magically gifted aristocrats rule—and commoners are doomed to serve. The first in a new series, Gilded Cage publishes January 26, 2017 with Tor Books UK, and February 14, 2017 with Del Rey in the US.
The woods were every bit as beautiful close up as they had appeared from a distance. By the lake was a showy miniature temple. (Follies had become fashionable among the Equals a few centuries ago, because clearly having an ancient mansion wasn’t ostentatious enough). Then the trees began, and stretched as far as the eye could see. Kyneston estate really was as vast as it had seemed the day they’d arrived.
Abi led the way in beneath the branches, her boots rustling through the deep leaf-fall. Sunlight filtered through the tree canopy, making the already colourful foliage vivid and bright, like stained glass cast by someone who liked only the first half of the rainbow.
“This one is red,” said Daisy, stooping to pick up a leaf and presenting it to Heir Gavar’s baby daughter, Libby, who promptly dropped it. “And this one is orange.”
Further ahead was a tall, triangular tree that was perfectly yellow. Abi bent to root in the deep leaf-fall for a nice specimen to show Libby.
Her hand hit something solid yet yielding. Furry.
Backing away, she grabbed Daisy and shoved her little sis and the baby behind her, toward the tree’s sturdy trunk.
What an idiot she’d been! There could be anything in these woods. So what if there weren’t supposed to be wolves or bears in England any more. There weren’t supposed to be naked men leashed like dogs, either, but one was kennelled at Kyneston.
Nothing erupted from the forest floor. No slavering fangs snapped at them; no claws knifed through the air toward them. Nothing.
Abi waited. Her hands trembled.
Why wasn’t the creature moving? She’d whacked it hard enough to wake anything – even a teenage boy.
Hardly believing what she was doing, she crept back to the leaf-heap. Holding her breath, she slowly reached one hand down and felt it.
Coarse fur. But cool to the touch. And still. You didn’t have to be a med-student to work out what that meant.
Emboldened, Abi brushed away the rest of the leaves. The creature – she soon saw it was a deer – never stirred. The eyes were wide open and filmed over. It was dead.
But how? There were no injuries or signs of sickness. The corpse looked perfect in every way. The fur was still thick and glossy. It didn’t even smell.
In fact, the odour here was pleasant: sweet and fragrant. Abi lifted her head and looked about, sniffing. She saw the source and smelled it at the same time.
A short way off, in a glade open to the sky, stood a tree. A cherry, judging from the profusion of pink blossom. Its branches bent down to the forest floor under their weight. In the crisp autumn air, the scent was unmistakable.
The sight was mesmerizing. Abi moved towards it and sensed Daisy following. She put her palms out and brushed them over the blossom, luxuriating in the dense flowers. At her side, Daisy had taken off Libby’s mittens and was encouraging her to touch them, too.
“It’s so pretty,” Daisy cooed to the baby. “Isn’t it pretty?”
Except it was also, some part of Abi’s brain belatedly told her, very wrong. It was late September. Autumn. Not spring, when these flowers usually bloomed.
She felt a sudden chill that had nothing to do with any breeze. The deer was dead, but didn’t look it. The tree was alive and blossoming when it shouldn’t be.
“Okay sweetie,” she told Libby, gently moving the branch back out of reach and shooting Daisy a trust-me-on-this-one look. “We’re going to go now. We’ll have our picnic back by the big house.”
She only saw him when she turned.
He was sitting on the ground several metres away, legs stretched out in front of him and his back propped up against a tree trunk. His hair was tangled, and he’d raked it back from his face, which looked thin and tired. But his eyes were bright with curiosity as he watched them. The Young Master.
For a moment he said nothing, and neither did she. Then he jumped to his feet, a smooth, quick motion, and strolled over to where they stood. He reached out and offered a finger to baby Libby, who seized it and started gnawing enthusiastically. Abi felt Daisy shift uneasily beside her. She plainly wanted to step away, but was unable to do so without breaking that contact.
“Do you like my tree?” said Silyen Jardine.
“Your tree?” said Abi, stupidly.
“Yes.” He smiled and it was bright and cold as the day. “Or to be more accurate: my experiment. From the noise you made just now, I’m guessing you found my other one, too. This is prettier though, isn’t it?”
He reached out his free hand and fingered the petals thoughtfully.
“The dead deer,” said Daisy, indignantly. “That was you?”
“Death. Life,” said Silyen, waggling his finger in his niece’s gummy mouth as she blew bubbles around it. “The usual party tricks. Little Libby here was my inspiration, actually. Or rather, her mother was, when my brother Gavar shot her and she died right there in front of us. There was nothing I could do, which was . . . intriguing. I don’t like problems I can’t solve. I’m sure you know what I mean, Abigail.’
It gave Abi the creeps hearing him say her name like that. But her sister was already protesting.
’Not Gavar.’ Daisy had gone alarmingly pink. ‘He wouldn’t. He loved Libby’s mummy. He’s told me so.’
Silyen barely noticed Daisy’s little outburst. He withdrew his finger from the baby’s grasp and eyed her speculatively. “Does she ever do anything … special? Unusual?”
“Skillful, you mean?” said Daisy. “No. She’s only tiny.”
“Oh, that doesn’t stop us.” He smiled. “If anything, babies’ Skill is much more noticeable, because it’s more uncontrolled. Apparently my brother used to shatter plates if our mother tried to feed him anything other than mashed banana. Twenty three years and he’s barely changed.”
“I don’t believe a word you say about Gavar,” said Daisy. “You’re just jealous because he’s the heir.”
Please, thought Abi. Please, let us just get out of these woods in one piece, away from dead animals, Silyen Jardine’s party tricks and Daisy’s lack of any self-preservation instincts whatsoever.
But Silyen merely shrugged and turned away, his gaze returning to the tree. He reached out to a branch and shook it, just as Daisy had done, and watched the petals shower to the ground. He frowned.
He removed his hand but the petals kept falling, faster and faster, whole flowers dropping off, entire and perfect, until all three of them stood ankle deep. The scent rose up from the woodland floor in an overpowering wave of sweetness. On the branches, green shoots appeared, pushed out and unfurled. Soon the tree was covered in leaves, as thick and full as the flowers had been. Despite her desire to flee just moments before, Abi was fixed to the spot as if she’d put down roots herself.
The leaves began to curl up. The tree lost its vibrancy as they shrivelled; yellowed; fell. Dead leaves piled on top of the flowers.
Soon the tree was entirely bare. Black and skeletal, it reached long fingers down to the ground to trail sadly among its fallen beauty and vigour, as if yearning to gather it all back in again.
Silyen Jardine said nothing. Daisy said nothing. Baby Libby kicked her legs and gurgled.
Silyen cocked his head, as if listening for something.
“My father and brother are back,” he said, turning to them. “Gavar’s desperate to see Libby again. He’ll come straight to you. It’d be better if he didn’t find you with me. That’s the most direct way out.”
He pointed away between two great oak trees. Abi didn’t need telling twice.
Excerpted from Gilded Cage © Vic James, 2017