A band of aging warriors have a second chance to defeat dark magic and avenge a haunting loss…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Bone Maker, a standalone epic fantasy from author Sarah Beth Durst—available now from Harper Voyager.
Twenty-five years ago, five heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. But victory came at a tragic price. Only four of the heroes survived.
Since then, Kreya, the group’s leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower and devoted herself to one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But such a task requires both a cache of human bones and a sacrifice—for each day he lives, she will live one less.
She’d rather live one year with her husband than a hundred without him, but using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. The dead are burned—as are any bone workers who violate the law. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs: the battlefield where her husband and countless others lost their lives.
But defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility. Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.
Five warriors—one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one stuck in the past, and one who should dead. Their story should have been finished. But evil doesn’t stop just because someone once said, “the end.”
A flock of mountain sheep barely budged from their grazing as she passed them. Ahead she heard murmured voices, like a soft breath of wind beneath the music of the pipes. As she rounded the corner of a bright red barn, she saw the Cliff of the Dead before her: an exposed rock face stained by decades of smoke and ash, with the names of the dead carved into the rock. As she’d suspected, all the villagers were gathered at the base of the cliff, pressed tightly together. Kreya identified the relatives of the dead girl by their white scarves—the color of winter, the color of death.
Seeing the white, Kreya wanted to flee. I shouldn’t be here.
These people had lost a loved one. A child. And she was about to intrude on their grief. Granted, if the stealth talisman worked as it should, they’d never even know. But that didn’t change the fact that what she was about to do was morally reprehensible.
And illegal. Don’t forget that.
There was a reason that the dead were always burned: so that no bone worker would ever be able to desecrate their legacy by using their bones for magic, as she planned to do.
I can’t do this.
Flattening against the barn, Kreya tried to calm her racing heart. She breathed in. Out. Methodically, she seized each of her thoughts:
Yes, it was. Both by the laws of Vos and by basic decency.
It’s unfair. A child died! So much life unlived, dreams unfulfilled!
Yes, it was unfair. But so was what had happened to her and Jentt.
It’s not what Jentt would want.
That stopped her for a moment. “The child’s already dead,” Kreya whispered, as if Jentt could hear her. “I didn’t cause it, and I can’t change it.” All she could change was whether the child’s end was merely an end, or whether it led to someone else’s beginning.
It was an undeniable tragedy. But if she could create good from it, wrestle joy out of sorrow, then that was forgivable, wasn’t it? Or at least understandable? Kreya pulled on her fire-resistant gloves, and then, reaching into two of her pockets, she with- drew the talismans for stealth and strength. She held one in each gloved hand.
She felt calmer now. Ready.
The pipe music stopped. A murmured voice, loud enough for the mourners to hear, but not loud enough to carry to where she hid, began to speak.
She peeked around the corner of the barn. They were unwrapping the linen sheets from the body—it would be burned without the wrappings so all would see that the body was whole and intact. Until this moment, it would have stayed wrapped tightly and been guarded as if it were a treasure, which meant that this was her only opportunity.
Smoke curled through the air. She tasted it as she inhaled, and she swallowed back a cough. Through the gaps between the villagers, she glimpsed the fire, growing at the base of the cliff.
She’d have to time it right: strike after the body had begun to burn, when it was dry to the point of being fragile, but before the bones had time to succumb to the heat. She’d use stealth to slip through the crowd and then use strength to re- move the limbs.
If all went well, the family would never even know what she’d done. They’d see a blur that they’d mistake for smoke, and then it would be over. She’d steal as much as she could, and the flames would devour what remained, eliminating all evidence that she was ever there.
Her death will give life, Kreya thought, trying to convince herself.
One pipe began to play again, a mournful melody.
She saw the flames leap higher and sparks fly up against the rock face as the body was placed on the pyre. The mourners embraced one another, and Kreya counted silently. One minute, two, three . . .
She kept counting, the pipes kept playing, the mourners cried, and the body burned.
Breathing a word onto the stealth talisman, Kreya shot out of her hiding place, no more visible than a shadow. Her coat flapped around her, but she weaved through the crowd, moving with them as they spoke softly, words of sympathy and words of comfort—all words that Kreya had heard before, the kind of words that didn’t help anyone but had to be said because the silence was worse. A few mourners startled, feeling an unexpected breeze as she passed them, but their eyes darted all around, unable to see her.
Zera always did make the best talismans, Kreya thought. She wished she could thank her old friend, but that would have required explaining what she’d been doing with the power. Also, it meant actually speaking with Zera, which she hadn’t done in twenty-five years.
At the pyre, Kreya didn’t look at the girl’s face. She tried not to think of the corpse as a person at all. Just a collection of ingredients she needed to obtain. Whispering to the strength talisman to activate it as well, she shoved both into her pockets and then grasped the limbs she needed.
The strength of a bear flooded through her, allowing her to yank.
One arm bone broke, and she pulled a knife from one of her pockets—
And the magic failed.
She felt it sap out of her, the strength and the stealth simultaneously abandoning her. Around her, she heard the cries of the villagers:
She hacked at the shoulder, but without the bear strength, she didn’t have the force to slice through the burnt flesh. A hand grabbed her arm, and she pulled away, kicking behind her. She felt her foot make impact.
She thought she heard Jentt shouting at her, inside her head: “Run, Kreya! Run!”
Not without you! she cried back.
Abandoning the shoulder, she hacked at the fingers. One snapped off under her blade. She shoved it in a pocket, and then she ran—not into the crowd, but instead around the pyre toward the Cliff of the Dead. As she ran, she yanked out the talisman for steadiness.
She whispered its word.
Kreya didn’t slow as she ran straight toward the rock face.
Fueled by the talisman, her feet stuck into the crags and nooks. She climbed as fast as she could. Glancing down, she saw the villagers below her. It was sacrilege to climb a Cliff of the Dead—none would risk angering their beloved lost ones.
But that did not stop them from throwing rocks.
The first hit the stone beside her and shattered. She felt her grip slip. Don’t fail me! Continuing to climb, she pushed herself up higher and higher. Her arms began to shake, and her palms were sweating within the gloves. She didn’t know how long the talisman would last. It had been weak to begin with, and she was draining it fast.
Another rock hit. Even closer.
She kept climbing. She could see the top—
The third rock hit between her shoulder blades. She cried out, but she made herself keep climbing. Another rock hit beside her. One grazed her ankle.
Her fingers reached up and touched grass. Clawing at the soil, she kept pushing until she heaved herself over the edge. Panting, she lay there. Her arm muscles were screaming.
Cheek pressed into the dirt and grass, she felt the ground vibrate. Quake? Or people—running up a path, toward the top of the cliff, toward her. She scrambled shakily to her feet. Reaching into her pockets, she felt for another talisman. Strength. Speed. Anything.
Her fingers closed over the carved bear knuckle and claw, and she activated it with a whispered word. She felt cool relief flood through her body, and she had the strength to run.
From The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Beth Durst. Reprinted by permission of Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.