Deadly Grace: Revealing Black Wings Beating

Author Alex London launches a soaring saga about the memories that haunt us, the histories that hunt us, and the bonds of blood between us. We’re excited to reveal the cover for Black Wings Beating, book one in the Skybound Saga.

Check it out below, along with an excerpt from the novel!

Black Wings Beating publishes October 2018 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. From the catalog copy:

The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their world is more revered than the birds of prey and no one more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists.

Brysen strives to be a great falconer—while his twin sister, Kylee, possesses ancient gifts for it, but wants to be free of falconry altogether. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward the Six Villages, with a rebel army leaving nothing in its wake but blood and empty sky. No bird or falconer will be safe from this invasion.

Together the twins must embark on a journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the Ghost Eagle, the greatest of the Uztari birds and a solitary killer that can be neither tamed nor caught. They each go for their own reasons: Brysen for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and to protect her brother’s future. But they both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.

Cover art by Elizabeth H. Clark

From author Alex London:

I am in love with this cover! To me, it suggests the deadly grace of a bird of prey, the whirl and wildness of a flock in flight, and the soaring scope of the fantasy I wanted to create. There’s danger in here, and longing and, aside from being beautiful on its own, it feels true to the story. There are even some hidden clues about what’s in store for our heroes. Readers who open this book on the promise this cover makes and the questions it raises, will not be disappointed.

From Grace Kendall, Editor, FSG Books for Young Readers:

When I first saw this cover, which was created and designed by the amazing Elizabeth H. Clark, my heart flipped. I felt exhilarated and joyful and dizzy all at once—the way you feel when the roller coaster twists, or a hawk slips into a murderous dive. And Alex London’s storytelling is just as intoxicating, with startling character arcs and magnificent language. Like entangled battle lines, this story spins together uncomfortable truths about our humanity, ratcheting up the tension with every turn of the heart and wing.

 


 

Her brother turned to face the Orphan Maker and gripped his knife in the fighter’s stance. The curved black blade mirrored the brutal beak of a hawk, and Shara’s eyes glanced at it unsteadily.

The knife was old, but how old, they didn’t know. It’d been inscribed with symbols their father had always said were in “the Hollow Tongue,” the ancient language of the birds. But their father was also easily deceived and might’ve just convinced himself that was true to avoid facing the fact that he’d been ripped off for a fake antique. No one could actually read the Hollow Tongue or even knew for sure what it would look like in writing.

Regardless, it was the only thing they had left of the man, and Brysen had wanted to keep it. He had scars on all his fingers from where their father missed whenever he played a drunken game of pinfinger using Brysen’s spread hand pressed against the table. Why Brysen clung to it puzzled Kylee. Strange magic bound a blade to the wounds it made.

Brysen crouched, arm across his chest, resting the base of the knife handle on the middle of his gloved forearm and forming a T with the blade as its base.

He waited.

The Orphan Maker assumed the same position, and Brysen’s eyes fixed on him.

Shara saw the other blade and the other falconer and the other hawk. It was a familiar sight, surely, but not a comfortable one. She shrank back into herself; this was a bad time to show fear.

A frightened goshawk perched with its talons tucked under its tail feathers and its head pulled back is a ridiculous sight. They’re big birds but stubby, shaped like a thumb drawn by a child, with the beak an angry V in the center of the face. And Shara, who perched with a slight tilt to the side, looked more ridiculous than most.

Her chest was striped gray and white in a herringbone pattern, and her red eyes were hooded with black. The rest of her feathers were a mixture of grays, which helped camouflage her against the rocky terrain of the foothills but stood out brightly against the lush green grasses down in the Six Villages as the melt came on.

Nyck whistled, and the opponents circled each other. The birds sat on their gloves with a stillness known only to a predator and its prey. Kylee could feel the stillness in herself.

Anyone who grows up in a home where they are prey to a parent’s rage learns to sip silence the way the rich sip wine. Silence has infinite flavors, with endless shades and notes. The sharpest of all the silences, and the most necessary to know, is the silence before an attack. Kylee took half a breath in and held it just as the other falconer thrust his arm up, launching his bird.

“Utch!” Brysen shouted and thrust his own hawk arm up. For a heartbeat, Kylee feared Shara wouldn’t let go, would foot her brother so hard that not even the glove would protect him. But just as his arm reached the apex of its rise, offering her to the air, the air accepted. Her wings stretched, her head pulled out of her shoulders, and she took flight. His arm jolted.

The bright white underside of Shara’s wings glowed like snow on mountain peaks. Her tail feathers opened, her flight feathers spread, and her talons tucked up beneath her. She flapped furiously in the opposite direction of the brown kestrel and screeched. Brass bells tied to her anklet, meant to keep track of her during a hunt, jingled as she flew, and the battle rope unfurled behind her.

When she reached the rope’s full extension, Brysen planted his feet and turned his torso, steering her back toward the other hawk, which had caught an air current and spread her wings to glide, swooping beneath.

Shara looked down, her eyes following the line back to him. His muscles strained against her power and the wind’s pull. He circled to keep his distance from the other man and whistled, more a warning than a command. Shara tucked her wings against her body and dove.

She was a sleek streak of gray across the sky. Head forward, eyes fixed, tail feathers wavering to steer her straight for the brown kestrel. The air rushing through Shara’s anklet bells shrieked. Brysen’s hawk, so gawky and afraid on the fist, had become grace and perfect form, never more beautiful than when doing what she was born to do: kill.

Shara’s strafing dive was aimed at the smaller bird. The kestrel saw her coming and reacted instantly, turning her body so their talons clashed and tangled in a midair collision that sent them rolling, tumbling in imitation of the cliffside mural behind them. Just as quickly, they parted and swooped away from each other in opposite directions.

A few feathers whorled to the dirt.

On the ground, Brysen and his opponent tried to control their hawks with their gloved hands while closing the distance between them.

Brysen shuffled his feet around the perimeter of the pit toward the long-hauler. The long-hauler’s arms were thicker than Brysen’s thighs and his bird smaller than Brysen’s, so he moved with far more ease, cutting the distance between them straight across instead of along the edge. His blade came up, and he swiped it fast, straight for the rope that connected Shara to Brysen’s glove.

If the tether between hawk and human was severed, the match was lost. The match was also lost if bird or man or both were killed. Every fight in the pits could be a fight to the death.

Brysen twisted away from the Orphan Maker’s blade, using Shara’s tether and his light weight to swing sideways. As he moved, he slashed with his own knife, blocking the attack. There was a clang of metal on metal. Kylee winced as the power of the blow shook her brother’s hand. His opponent was far too strong for him, but he was faster.

The second and third knife attacks went wide while Brysen dodged the blade with a dancer’s grace. Even his slight weight pulled Shara low as he regained his footing, but he timed the last pull so that her drop put her just below the circling kestrel.

When he released the line again, Shara was able to shoot straight up, her wings beating mightily, and she slammed into the underside of the other bird, slashing at its belly.

There was a tangle of wing in the sky, a drizzle of blood. The two fighters on the ground were pulled toward each other by their entwined battle lines.

The birds broke apart, circled, clashed again, shrieking, talons tearing for each other but unable to hold on. With every turn and attack, the battle lines below became more twisted and Brysen was drawn closer to the Orphan Maker.

“I’d rather cut your pretty face than your rope, little bird,” he taunted, and slashed his blade at Brysen with blinding speed.

Brysen’s parry connected and he protected his face, but the force of the attack was so strong, it snatched the curved blade from his hand, sent it scuttling away in the dirt. He moved for it, but the long-hauler tugged the tangled lines and pulled Brysen back. He could’ve cut Brysen’s battle rope right then, but instead he yanked Brysen closer, spun him like a dried grass doll and gripped him from behind with his gloved forearm. The battle lines whipped and twirled while the falcons fought, but the long-hauler’s thick arm locked Brysen in place against his chest.

The air turned to stone in Kylee’s lungs when the Orphan Maker put his knife to Brysen’s throat.

Excerpted from Black Wings Beating, copyright © 2017 by Alex London.

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