Tor Books is thrilled to announce the acquisition of World English rights for a fantastic new modern Asian fantasy trilogy: Ebony Gate, Blood Jade, and Tiger Eye by author team Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle. The Phoenix Hoard trilogy is scheduled to kick off in 2023 with Ebony Gate.
With the blood of ancient dragons running through her veins, Emiko Soong belongs to one of the five premier magical families of the world. Too bad she’s never been able to do any magic. But Emiko never needed any magic to be useful to her clan. The reputation of the Blade of the Soong Clan is drenched in blood, wrapped in shadows and, ultimately, one that Emiko wishes desperately she could escape.
Unfortunately, that reputation has followed her halfway across the world from Tokyo to San Francisco, where she finds that some ties can be stretched but not broken. Because when Emiko’s estranged mother demands she honor an old blood debt, Emiko can’t very well refuse. A shinigami, a god of death itself, has come calling with a deal: either Emiko recover the ancient Ebony Gate and restore it to its rightful place in Golden Gate Park—or her soul is forfeit in eternal servitude. Because the Ebony Gate is the only barrier between the living and the hungry ghosts of the Yomi underworld. With it stolen and hidden away, the city she has come to love could be utterly destroyed in just a night or two… Yeah, she’s not about to let that happen.
So get ready to ride along with Emiko as she tries to unravel not only who stole the gate but why—and get it back where it belongs in what might just be the most intense 24 hours of her life. (At least until the next time something goes wrong.) Along the way she’ll meet the surfer-dude heir to a magical fortune and his twin sister who wields fashion as a weapon; a clan heir who uses his voice to lull his enemies into submission; and a whole vibrant community of magical people, nestled just around the next corner in among the hills of San Francisco.
The authors said of the book:
“We love contemporary fantasy and we wanted to read a fantasy with East Asian monsters and myths. So we wrote Ebony Gate, a love letter to San Francisco highlighting one woman’s journey to find her place in the world. This is the core of our Asian diaspora experience, only in Emiko’s case, it’s a magical diaspora. We wrote the book in our hearts and we are thrilled that it resonated with Laurie, who helped us find a home for Ebony Gate with the Tor team. We were deeply moved by Claire’s enthusiasm for this book and her championing of our work. We are delighted to work with Claire and Sanaa to bring Ebony Gate to fantasy readers everywhere.”
Agent Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary said:
“Over the 2020 holidays, at the end of that horrible intense year, I read 864 queries to get caught up. After I opened Ebony Gate, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it. I signed the authors right away and sold the book to Tor within weeks. That’s how fantastic the writing and storytelling is.”
Editorial Director Claire Eddy said:
“I am beyond the moon excited to have Ebony Gate on my list. We’ve got a female John Wick in a San Francisco Chinatown filled with dragon magic. A retired assassin wanting nothing more to do with death—who is then dragged into a deal with a death god because a gate to hell has been torn open. It’s gritty and empowering, and at its heart is a commercial freight train of action and adventure centering an amazing heroine and a unique Asian magical system.”
Julia Vee likes stories about monsters, money, and good food. Julia was born in Macao and grew up in Northern California, where she studied at UC Berkeley and majored in Asian Studies. She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop.
Ken Bebelle turned his childhood love for reading sci-fi and fantasy into a career in prosthetics. After twenty years he came back to books, writing about plucky underdogs and ancient magical artifacts with deadly secrets. He grew up in northern California and now lives in southern California with his wife, two kids, and too many tomato plants.
Ken and Julia have written together since middle school. They work collectively as Sixth Moon Press and you can find their indie-published military space series, Cold War: Alien Storm and Cold War: Alien Exile (along with the novella, The Needle) online.
Read on for an early excerpt from Ebony Gate, coming from Tor Books in 2023!
When you need to purify a magical corpse, no questions asked, the Herbalist was your best bet. I’d known her since I was a toddler and my side gig hunting monsters had brought me to the back entrance of her shop in the Inner Sunset district on more than one occasion.
I tried not to gag at the smell of the corpse in my Jeep as I drove to the Herbalist’s back entrance. Maybe it was time to start saying no to these gigs the same way I’d been saying no to my father’s endless litany of requests for the last two years. I had slowly carved out a niche in my artifacts business. I needed to stay out of the death dealing business.
The front of Grandma Chen’s homeopathic remedy spa was half lit. Even with only security lights I picked out white leather upholstered spa recliners lined up like New Age sentries against a long-mirrored wall. The interior was spotless, trendy spa meets sci-fi movie set, the decor peppered with water features and greenery. I hadn’t visited in some time, but I hoped Grandma Chen was working late, prepping her elixirs and potions for the next day. I drove the Jeep to the back of the building.
I parked in the rear, killed the engine, and leaned back, closing my eyes for a moment. As my thoughts drifted, the music of San Francisco’s burgeoning magic called out to me, lulling me into a stupor. It almost caught me this time but I bit down on my tongue, jolting myself awake. The coppery taste of blood filled my mouth. San Francisco was getting harder to ignore. Like a needy toddler, the awakening magical consciousness of the city clamored for my attention. I was trying hard to convince it to go looking elsewhere. So far, no luck.
I got out of my Jeep and gauged the distance to the door against the biting fatigue in my legs. Start dragging now, or later? Once again, perhaps my decisions for the past two years hadn’t been the greatest. On the other hand, if I hadn’t made my choices, the blood on my hands right now would be human blood. No, I’d made the right choice. The right choice still sucked.
Movement in the shadows around the back door of the spa tickled at my senses and pulled me out of my navel gazing. Instinct kicked in and brought my body to complete stillness, my eyes and ears scanning for threats.
Dark shapes moved around the door, four young men, whispering to each other, laughing, and reeking of cheap cologne and machismo. I grabbed my swords and crept towards the door, my soft soled boots quiet on the asphalt. I tied on my daisho as I moved forward, my hands going through the motions with the ease of years of practice. My katana, I tied to my back, respect for the sword I would never draw again. My wakizashi, I tied to my hip.
As I got closer my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the shadows and the shapes resolved into four guys in black nylon tracksuits, huddled around Popo’s back door. The jackets had an embroidered golden dragon clawing its way around the right bicep. The guys wore their hair long and gelled back, with no part. I knew exactly who they were. In better light, on the back of their jackets I would find the stylized character for thunder, with a large number nine wrapped around it. Clan Louie Claws. Street level enforcers, usually kids with ping level powers at best, used to run protection rackets and as cannon fodder.
And definitely outside of their usual hunting grounds. Were they hassling Popo? For some reason, that bothered me a lot. Popo didn’t have a lot of muscle around to deal with thugs like this. She ran a spa. Not exactly a place that needed a bouncer. Also, I was just trying to get a corpse processed and these thugs were making extra trouble for me on an already long night.
I came to a stop just inside the shadows and growled, the sound low and deep in my chest. The whispered conversation died and the boys whirled toward the sound of my voice. If nothing else, they’d learn a valuable lesson in situational awareness tonight.
“Siu péngyǒu, even dragons respect territory boundaries.”
With that one word, dragons, I signaled to these kids that we were all Lóng Jiārén. As Jiārén, we have a bias toward violence and magic that is best kept in the dark of night, and in quiet alleys like the one we were in.
Jiārén had infiltrated nearly every major city on the Pacific Rim. When they reached San Francisco they had settled into Lotus Lane, a hidden nook on the outskirts of Chinatown. These baby Claws belonged on Lotus Lane. Not sure what the hell these thugs were doing way out here. Anticipation at schooling these thugs sent gooseflesh down my neck and burned off my fatigue. The night was young, I could fit in some entertainment.
Of course, there were four of them to only one of me. Those odds hardly seemed fair—but I was feeling generous and wanted to give them a bit of a chance.
After a moment of hesitation, the boys spread out, facing me in a ragged semi-circle. The smallest one looked barely old enough to drive, his round face already shiny with sweat. Round Face pulled a leaf-shaped knife and held it at chest level in a trembling hand. Cute.
The husky boy on my left, the senior Claw by the sash tied around his arm, backed the smallest one down with a stern look and turned to me, his thin mustache drooping as his lip curled into a cocky sneer. “Siu jie, it’s dangerous to be out alone this late at night. Maybe we should walk you home. You never know what kind of monsters might be around.”
Ok, now he was pissing me off. I understood what was happening. A young woman of average height taking on four men in a dark alley. I’d been underestimated nearly my entire life, but it really irritated me when people referred to me as ‘little missy’. Like I was some ignorant upstart.
My palm itched, my hand drifting to my sword. I’d teach this kid a lesson. One I’d taught many times in my years as the Blade of Soong. Mustache Boy might be taller and wider than me but he was about to learn what my deceptively lean build could do. He took a few steps forward, lazily draping his hand over the curved grip of a short sword held inside his belt.
Auras flickered to life from the other two boys and the scent of ozone and cinnamon washed down the alley. The boy with the knife licked his lips, his eyes darting back and forth between me and his friends.
The boys had dim auras, but the scents told me everything I needed to know. Few could smell magic like I could. In fact I knew exactly zero people with my peculiar talent. It wasn’t something I advertised, but pretty handy in situations like this. Their magic was only ping class, nothing to write home about. No kinetics, no combat grade magics like my father or my brother. Maybe some low level influence. Typical foot soldiers. “You kids are pretty far from Lotus Lane. Do your parents know you’re out so late?”
Mustache Boy rippled his fingers on his sword hilt as if debating whether to draw it. “Claws go where they want.”
His eyes drifted back to Grandma Chen’s back door. “Lotus Lane is getting cramped, y’know? Tough for a new Claw to make his mark. A dragon needs to stretch its wings.”
He smiled, showing his very white teeth, canines filed down to sharp points. “If the old lady wanted to stay safe, she should have stayed in Tran territory. There’s no one to watch over her out here.”
I walked towards the boys, my steps measured, my hand on the wakizashi at my hip. Threatening me was one thing, threatening Grandma Chen was another. My blood heated as I considered these punks shaking down a little old lady who ran a spa for protection money. “Suo zai. You should have done your homework. You’re in another predator’s territory now.”
Mustache Boy pulled his sword from its sheath, the metal dull and nicked in the dim lighting. “This is no one’s territory! The old lady made her choice when she opened up here!”
I smiled, baring my teeth now. “Grandma Chen is family to me. She is Jiārén. My Jiārén. This is my territory!”
I side-stepped out of the shadows, into the dull light of the streetlamps. I stretched out my arms, cracked my wrists, and rolled my shoulders. All showmanship I would never do had I been on a true assignment. But tonight I wasn’t in the mood to be spilling blood and so I had to rely on something else to put this matter to bed—my reputation as the Butcher.
I turned my body into hanmi, the half stance, and let my hand rest on my wakizashi, a short and brutally efficient weapon, good for cutting in close quarters like this alley. Its tsuba was carved by a master, the round guard adorned with a red phoenix inlaid with blood jade. The blood jade was for show since I had about as much magic as a paper towel, but the value was extraordinary and an opulent display of the Soong clan’s status as a Hoard Custodian family.
If these fools didn’t recognize the blood jade phoenix on the tsuba, they’d been living under a rock. The blood jade wasn’t as flashy at night so I fed it the trace amount of qi I possessed and the feathers of the phoenix lit up, an eerie splash of crimson and gold light sparking in the dark alley.
Mustache Boy’s breath caught at the display and I stared at him coolly. The look of fear in his eyes was familiar and gratifying. This one knew who I was. He’d badly underestimated his prey and been caught flat footed. If I had to kill him, his gravestone would say, “He underestimated the Butcher.”
“Are you still sure you want to do this?” I tapped my fingers lightly on my wakizashi’s grip.
The ozone and cinnamon vanished and the three older boys began backing away from me. Good to see I hadn’t lost my touch.
Round Face stared at his friends, the shock plain on his face. “What gives? Come on, we can take her!”
“Johnny, shut up, just–”
Johnny Round Face took a step towards me, small knife held high, his eyes wild. “No! This is some trick, some test! I can do this!”
He lunged at me, knife swinging. I side-stepped and drew my wakizashi from my belt in one motion. The blade sang its high note in the evening calm. I whipped my sword across my body and struck the boy’s wrist with the flat of the blade. He cried out and his knife dropped to the ground. I pivoted and followed the boy’s motion past me, planting my boot in the small of his back and riding him down to the concrete. He slammed face down into the asphalt, his breath exploding out of him. The other boys hadn’t moved a muscle.
I rested the flat of my blade against the young boy’s cheek as he lay beneath me, gasping for breath. I leaned in close, putting my weight behind the sword. The one eye I could see bulged, the whites huge and stark.
I ran my forefinger in a quick swipe against his throat, my meaning clear. “Tonight’s your lucky night, Johnny.”
I yanked the collar of his shirt down. The broad Louie tattoo with its distinctive number 9 curled across his shoulders was still shiny and speckled with blood. This must have been his first night out. Hell of an initiation.
Suddenly the boy I was kneeling on looked very young, and very afraid. The adrenaline waned, and a wave of fatigue washed over me. I just wanted a hot shower and a good night’s sleep, but I couldn’t have these punks coming back later. I wouldn’t be around every time some punk Claw decided Grandma Chen looked like an easy target. They’d started it, but I had to finish it. One more time I’d call on my bloody reputation and try to give Grandma Chen a little coverage from these punks.
The persona was easy to slip back into. Too easy. The formal words tumbled out with no effort at all and tasted like ashes and regret. “Despite your transgression, it would be most unlucky to spill your guts on the Herbalist’s doorstep. You and your friends will remember that the Butcher is watching over the Herbalist. Run along, Johnny, and tell everyone about this night–the night the Butcher let you keep all your limbs.”
Excerpted from Ebony Gate, copyright © 2023 by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle