There’s always risk in wanting to become a legend… and the price might be your very soul.
We’re thrilled to share a second exclusive excerpt from The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi, the start of a new fantasy trilogy from author Shannon Chakraborty—publishing March 7 with Harper Voyager. Read the first excerpt here!
Amina al-Sirafi should be content. After a storied and scandalous career as one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, she’s survived backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and one actual demon to retire peacefully with her family to a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural.
But when she’s tracked down by the obscenely wealthy mother of a former crewman, she’s offered a job no bandit could refuse: retrieve her comrade’s kidnapped daughter for a kingly sum. The chance to have one last adventure with her crew, do right by an old friend, and win a fortune that will secure her family’s future forever? It seems like such an obvious choice that it must be God’s will.
Yet the deeper Amina dives, the more it becomes alarmingly clear there’s more to this job, and the girl’s disappearance, than she was led to believe. For there’s always risk in wanting to become a legend, to seize one last chance at glory, to savor just a bit more power… and the price might be your very soul.
Here’s the thing about getting thrown off a battered ship in the middle of a raging storm: there tends to be a lot of debris floating around.
And should one strike such debris, yes, it will likely be hard enough to knock you senseless. But by the grace of God, you may also get snagged on a piece of bobbing rubbish instead of slipping below the waves. You may drift away unseen in the sideways rain, impenetrable mist, and roaring waves, past the arrows your enemies shoot into the water after you.
And you may wake with the worst headache of your life just in time to see the unmistakable fin of a shark slicing in your direction.
A lifetime at sea had me hauling my body out of the water and onto the broken wooden platform that had caught my cloak before I could even think straight. Pain scorched through my shoulder, the platform nearly toppling over with my weight. It was little more than a few roughly lashed planks, barely large enough to sit on and small enough to offer an excellent look at the unfathomable deep below.
Sick with fear, I watched as the shark swam directly beneath the crossed timbers, so close I could have touched it. My shoulder and knee pounded again, reminding me that if I was going to be eaten alive, I would do it hurting in a variety of exciting ways. A red cloud of blood stained the water, more soaking my clothes. Startled, I glanced down to see the leopard-headed hilt of my khanjar sticking out of my cloak.
I was stabbed.
But I didn’t feel stabbed, mostly because I was still alive and not actively bleeding to death. I touched the handle with trembling fingers, terrified to jostle the blade in case the wound was worse than I feared. But the dagger was caught in the fabric of my cloak, not buried in my body. Falco had cut deep, but it had been a glancing blow across the top of my shoulder rather than a fatal puncture wound.
However, not being stabbed to death with my own khanjar was of little relief. For a glance revealed no Marawati. No ships of any kind. No land. Nothing but ocean stretching to the horizon in every direction I looked. A few odds and ends bobbed about: broken railings, a wooden cup, a sandal.
“No,” I whispered, desperately turning here and there, praying I was wrong, praying there was something. A smudge of beach in the distance. The hint of a boat. A bird. “No. Oh, God… no.”
But there was nothing. Nothing but a sailor’s worst nightmare come to life around me. It’s one thing to drown in a sinking ship or be dashed upon rocks. But to be lost, adrift in the middle of the ocean and doomed to a long grueling death of thirst and starvation while you are baked alive by the sun?
“Oh, God,” I said again, for who else could I call upon? I choked back a sob. “What do I do?” Shock was setting in and I shivered madly. “Oh, Marjana. My little love…”
But it wasn’t only Marjana who needed me. Falco had my crew. Majed, Dalila, and Tinbu. Dunya and the men who had joined me only so recently. They were now all under the thumb of a monstrous Frankish wizard who might feed them to his marid or force them into the same foul servitude he had tried to foist upon me, Dunya’s deal be damned.
I had failed them. I had failed everyone.
In the distance, the shark turned around for another pass.
Say the shahada and slip into the water, you coward. One last prayer for mercy I didn’t deserve and an end that would be faster than dying of exposure. Hell, it wouldn’t even be a useless end—I’d feed something.
But as the shark neared, a fierce madness stole through me.
I picked up one of the broken railings drifting in the water. “We are not yet dead,” I whispered, repeating Dalila’s words. “We are not yet— AHH!” I smashed the broken railing into the shark’s face, striking it as hard and fast as I could. After the second hit, it reeled back, quickly swimming away from the crazy human.
I was alone… at least for now.
First I looked to my injury. It was a nasty gash and in an ideal world, could have used stitching, but at least the wound was well washed due to me being in the fucking sea all night. Cutting a strip from my cloak, I bound the injury best I could, praying the blood would cease leading a trail for any curious maritime predator.
Next I turned my attention to the sky. Directions were easy enough to pick out with the sun’s position. They were also useless. God only knew where the storm had taken us. I might be in the middle of the Indian Ocean or a few days from the coast. Unless I saw birds or fishing boats, I would have no clue which way to head. But I needed to go somewhere.
Northwest, I decided. I was likely still closer to the familiar shores of Africa and Arabia. To the east, but weeks away, was India; and to the south nothing but water. I snagged the cup and the lost sandal and then, positioning myself awkwardly upon the wooden planks, I set my course.
“God, please have mercy on me once more,” I begged, using the broken railing as an oar. The sun scorched overhead, the white glare off the ocean blinding. “Get me out of this and I am done with these adventures. I shall repent and never again venture upon the sea.”
It did not take long for time to blur; thirst and the sweltering heat pushing me toward madness. To distract myself, I counted to one thousand in all the languages I knew and made dua for everyone I had ever held a passing fondness. I recited Quran, sang bedtime rhymes from Marjana’s childhood, chanted dhikr to the beat of my paddle, and invented increasingly elaborate fantasies of revenge and murder toward Falco and Raksh (and yes, I am aware some of these methods clashed most ardently in spirit). When my mouth dried up, I did this all silently in my head. I set out the cup each night to catch condensation, and on the third day, caught and killed a turtle; imploring forgiveness as I drank its blood.
With my cup, I was able to gather a bit of water from two achingly brief rain showers. With the cord of the sandal and a couple bites of turtle meat, I caught a few fish. But there was nothing to ease the blisters erupting across my sunburnt skin and the pounding feeling of nails being driven into my skull. My strength faded, my bouts of confusion increasing. I paddled less and less as days slipped into dreamless nights.
And then, as though creatures out of a mirage, the birds began to arrive.
Loud squawking gulls and tiny pipers. Elegant, long-necked cranes and sharp-taloned raptors. They came in pairs and alone, in great flocks and bobbing parties that swiftly learned to keep their distance after I killed and ate a bright-beaked booby.
I do not recall if I remember finding strange their bizarre colors. Purple and orange feathers in hues I had never seen, glittering ruby eyes and fringed heads. I may have chalked up any oddities to my own sunbaked head. All were headed firmly east and so with some hesitation I changed direction to follow them.
On the fifth day after sighting the birds, a green-brown smear of land appeared on the hazy horizon.
My remaining wits vanished the moment I spotted it, so desperate I was to get ashore before the sun vanished and I lost sight of land forever. I paddled myself to exhaustion, my arms going numb and the platform breaking apart. I did not care, I kept pulling my makeshift oar through the water, my eyes pinned on the sliver of distant beach. I swam, I kicked, the sea closed more and more frequently over my head…
Please, God, don’t let me die. Not now, not like this. In a cruel goad to myself, I conjured Marjana’s voice, heard my daughter urging me forward. Begging me to come home as the sun splashed into the mighty ocean and its last vestiges of light faded away.
Mama, please. Please! Her earnest, little face and trusting eyes. Her small fingers winding through my hair and the warmth of her breath as she slept in my arms.
Then, finally—finally—there was sand beneath my toes. Sand beneath my knees and hands. Waves crashed around my shoulders, and I burst into dry sobs of relief as I crawled forward onto a midnight shore and collapsed in a pile of seaweed, my body completely spent.
“God be praised,” I croaked and promptly passed out.
I woke under the light of a silver sun.
The tide was lapping at my lips. I sputtered and groaned, every muscle, joint, and bone in my starved, sore body protesting as I spat a mouthful of blood and salt water. Attempting to peel myself off the wet sand, I succeeded only in throwing up black bile.
My head was pounding and the world was spinning in shattered fragments of teal water, amber shores, and indigo forest. The colors were wrong, overly vibrant and mismatched. I took a couple deep breaths and then sat up more slowly, the sand that clung to my fingers dripping like honey.
It was like no beach I’d ever seen. The tide line was marked by stringy bubbles of bloodred waterweeds and needle-sharp blue sea stars. Ahead was a jungle so dense its interior was black, soft, and dangerously inviting. There were palm trees at the edge, their cinnamon-colored trunks gleaming as though the bark was jeweled, the razor-edged fronds shaking in the windless air with the crash of clashing sabers. Birds in unnatural hues dove and careened overhead, emitting grumbly roars.
Where in God’s name am I?
But then—a gleam of wetness that banished all other thoughts.
I lurched to my feet. I was dimly aware of odd blurs in my vision, objects that refused to resolve themselves. Floating in the bizarrely frothy shallows were the broken remnants of the platform that had carried me. The wooden planks were being roughly tossed about as though an unseen figure was poking through them. I barely noticed, staggering with single-minded focus toward the shining beacon of liquid I had spotted.
It was coming from a tree. Though none of the surrounding plants showed even a drop of dew, this tree was so soaked with moisture that the dark wood had grown spongy, orange moss covering it in thick patches. Large ivory blossoms and broad cup-shaped leaves curled toward the sky, perfectly positioned to capture rain and all brimming with water.
I did not hesitate. Weeping in gratitude, I whispered the name of my Lord and drank my fill. The water was deliciously cool; sweet and restorative, racing through my body with the ease and happy delight wine had once done. Indeed, the relief was so immediate that it made me dizzy. I reached out to steady myself against the tree trunk, inhaling deeply and closing my eyes.
When I opened them again, the world had changed.
It was as though the sun had broken through the clouds, though of course it had not—the sky was already clear. All the vibrant colors were even more vivid and yet now they didn’t seem so strange. It felt like they fit, like I fit as though I’d previously been witnessing the island through the wrong eyes.
“Lack of water has made you a deranged poet,” I muttered, drinking from a second leaf. I plucked up a third and turned back toward the beach. It really would be foolish not to salvage what I could of the broken platform before the tide went…
I froze. Rooting through the wooden planks was a purple cow-like creature. I say cow-like because it was twice the size of a cow, covered in cheerful yellow spots, and had spiny, webbed fins protruding from its humped back and broad sides. And the mysterious beach cow was not the only oddity—oh, no. The bright blue sea stars I had spotted earlier were now… marching? They cartwheeled across the sand in neat lines, shrieking as they raised miniscule spears of driftwood at a seagull in their midst—no, not a seagull. What I had earlier thought was merely an odd-colored gull was now a flying lizard, squawking and diving at the warring starfish.
I rubbed my eyes, but the bizarre scene did not change. Was I dreaming? Hallucinating? Dead?
I jumped at the cry coming from somewhere deep in the jungle. It sounded like a child’s hiccupping sob and was followed by a loud thud, as though something heavy had fallen to the earth.
A bead of cold sweat—or possibly blood, considering my state—rolled down my spine. The sea cow was still rummaging through the wreckage as though searching for treats. It let out a doleful moo and glanced up, gazing at me morosely. The water lapping around its feet had turned choppy and opaque, a pink film floating on the surface.
I was still staring at the sea cow when the water attacked it.
The pink film surged upward, teeth and claws erupting from the surf to rip into the sea cow. The beast screamed, buckling to its knees as blood and skin went flying. In seconds, the creature was nothing but guts and bits of bone, the watery pink film still hanging in the air. It shifted, turning in my direction…
It mooed, exactly like the creature it had turned to bloody mist.
Heedless of whatever was waqwaq-ing in the jungle, I bolted into its depths, desperate to put distance between myself and the horror on the beach. I ran fast, faster than I ever had before; faster than I should have been capable, the forest floor zipping beneath my feet. Branches and vines lashed at my face. I swung out an arm to knock one away, sending a sapling flying.
The jungle was so dense that in moments, every sign of the beach was gone. The sky as well, obscured by a leafy green canopy. I stumbled into a dark glen and clutched my thighs, fighting for breath.
“Ahhh!” Recalling I had a weapon, I grabbed my khanjar and dropped into a fighting stance.
But there was no one there. A massive tree towered over me, its distant branches melting into an emerald gloom so dark it looked like the night sky, its fruit twinkling as if they were stars. The tree was taller than any I had ever seen. Taller than the mightiest minaret, taller than the mysterious pyramids outside Cairo. Its enormous trunk would have taken a hundred men to encircle, a single one of its broad leaves providing cover for a human house.
Its size and magnificence were not what drew the eye and held it, however. What held it were the hundreds, nay thousands of humanoid creatures hanging from its leafy confines. They grew like blossoms, their heads tapered to sprout from unfurling buds.
No sooner had the cry come a third time then one of the tree people fell, like overripe fruit giving away to gravity’s pull. I cried out as it hurtled toward the ground, a distance surely nothing could survive. The undergrowth exploded in a burst of dead leaves.
I froze, uncertain. But after some rustling, the tree person emerged unscathed. It was half my height and bald, its skin that of moss-shrouded bark. It shook itself and seemed to catch sight of me. A mouth opened in what might have been a small, surprised smile, revealing knobby teeth. It toddled forth, waving merrily.
Before I could decide whether to bolt again, the canopy broke open. A shaft of bright sunlight fell upon the newly fallen tree creature, illuminating it just in time for an enormous crimson bird to dive through and snatch up the little bark person in glittering talons.
I did not scream. I think I was too shocked to make a sound. You see one magical creature devoured by another, that is dreadful enough. Two of them in a row and one must be in a nightmare. Yes, that was right. A nightmare. I had passed out while drifting in the sea and none of this was real.
But nightmare or not, you better believe that when that bird shrieked again, I ran the fuck away.
Through the trees, leaping over broken logs spilling with maggots that sang like doves. Butterflies the size of platters and hissing winged snakes lit as though fire flushed beneath their scales. A rush of wind briefly seized me, carding through my hair with murmured sighs before flinging me into a bush with berries that burst and stung my skin. I picked myself up and ran faster. Splinters of blue and amber were visible through the trees. Another section of beach just ahead, hopefully free of monstrous tidal creatures.
I burst out of the jungle and could have wept with gratitude. Not just a beach—a boat was drifting in the shallows, anchored by a golden filament. It was unlike any vessel I was familiar with, perfectly round and constructed with shimmering reeds, bound like a basket. Fine silk pillows and woven rugs draped the interior and a great sail of muslin floated like a cloud from a carved rosewood mast.
And people. Oh, God be praised! Two sailors reclined in the boat’s shade; one leaning over the side to chat with a maiden swimming in the water. I staggered toward them.
The trio did not seem to notice. Judging from the smiles and tittering laughs, I was interrupting some sort of flirtation. All three were well-formed and uncommonly beautiful. One man might have been East African, dark-skinned and elegantly dressed in voluminous teal robes, fanning himself with the edge of his turban as he drank from a large silver seashell. The second man was the same brown as myself… although his exposed skin seemed to gleam as though gilded, and his hair, pulled into a top-knot, was a fiery orange-streaked black. The maiden was even stranger. Beautiful, if pale. She moved with a willowy grace in the water, seaweed-green hair streaming around delicate shoulders.
But they were people—with a ship!—and that was all that mattered.
“Please,” I implored as I stumbled forward. “Help me!”
The trio started, the maiden leaping back with a splash, the sailor whirling around, and his fellow dropping his shell cup.
My mouth fell open. They were not people.
At least not as I knew people. The men’s eyes were bright gold and copper, their ears twisting away into points. The splashing girl had a tail, mirror bright and shaped like a whale’s.
I dropped to my knees, which in retrospect should have hurt like hell yet didn’t.
“What are you?” I cried in despair. “WHERE AM I?”
With a dolphin yelp, the mermaiden vanished beneath the glittering waves. The fire-haired man yelled after her in an incomprehensible, musical language before turning back on me, aggravation clear in his metal-toned eyes.
But if I feared being punished for interrupting the amorous activities of magical beings, I need not have worried. The sailor had no sooner sparked a flame in his hands (yes, in his very hands!) then he halted. He and his fellow’s otherworldly gazes widened with fear at something beyond my shoulder. In a flash, they too were gone, their boat catching not a wave, but the very wind, sailing into the air.
Excerpted from The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty. Copyright © 2023 by Shannon Chakraborty. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.