The House of shadows sits on bones. All of the sacrifices, all of the magicians who died in Shadows, they’re buried beneath the foundations. Bones hold magic…
We’re thrilled to preview an excerpt from Kat Howard’s A Sleight of Shadows, a return to the Unseen World series that began in An Unkindness of Magicians—available now from Gallery / Saga Press.
After taking down the source of the corruption of the Unseen World, Sydney is left with almost no magical ability. Feeling estranged from herself, she is determined to find a way back to her status as one of the world’s most dangerous magicians. Unfortunately, she needs to do this quickly: the House of Shadows, the hell on earth that shaped her into who she was, the place she sacrificed everything to destroy, is rebuilding itself.
The magic of the Unseen World is acting strangely, faltering, bleeding out from the edges. Determined to keep the House of Shadows from returning to power and to defeat the magicians who want nothing more than to have it back, Sydney turns to extremes in a desperate attempt to regain her sacrificed magic. She is forced to decide what she will give up and what she will lose and whether what must be destroyed is not only the House of Shadows, but the Unseen World itself.
World Fantasy Award finalist Kat Howard has written a sequel that asks how you have a happily ever in a world that doesn’t want it, where the cost of that happiness may be too much to bear.
The woman sitting at the table cast no shadow.
She should have. The light in the apartment drew grey veils from the coffee cup, empty, on the counter, the chair in which the woman sat, the small white candle in front of her.
It had been just over seven weeks—fifty-three days, exactly—since Sydney had given up her shadow in the final challenge of the Turning. Since she had asked Verenice Tenebrae to cut it from her body so she could sacrifice it to keep magic in the world.
In that time, she had grown accustomed to the lack of her shadow. It had been strange, at first, the absence. The first few days there had been a constant sense that some.thing was missing. The half breath before she put a name, again, to what wasn’t there had felt—each time—stretched and strained.
But her shadow wasn’t her only loss. It wasn’t even the most important one, merely the symbol of what had been given up. When Sydney sacrificed her shadow, she sacrificed her magic. And even now, even now when she no lon.ger reached for a spell in the same way that she used to—the automatic way that blood moved through her veins and breath moved in her lungs—she didn’t need to be reminded that ability was gone. That absence was a constant ache. It lingered in her scars and in her bones, in the places where magic had been cut out of her. The loss was a reminder of what she had been.
Magic had been her entire life. It was her earliest memory, her first, her primary purpose. It was what she had been shaped for. It became the edge against which she honed herself, the means to all her ends. It had been hers—solely hers, not a weapon for the House of Shadows to use as it pleased—for so little time before it was gone.
She wanted it back.
She had a starting point. One remaining scrap. Not enough to do anything that she couldn’t more easily accomplish by flipping a switch. Not enough to distinguish her from a mundane person who’d been lucky enough to wander into one of the kinder corners of the Unseen World, and who had enough determination to remain there.
She could still light a candle. She had just enough magic to give her hope.
It was a cruel hope, one as sharp as the knife that had cut away her shadow and her magic. An ache to match the absence. But leaning into the sharp edge of the impossible was what she knew.
Sydney shook off her thoughts and focused on the candle in front of her. A small white tea light in a battered tin, the kind that was sold in bags of one hundred and smelled vaguely of vanilla and plastic. Simple. Basic.
Her first bag was nearly empty. She had others.
Sydney spoke the word that kindled the spell, and the candle lit, just as it always did. Even the first time after the loss of her shadow, and her magic with it. In that flickering moment, she had burned, too. Burned with the hope that she had been wrong, that her magic wasn’t gone, that everything would go back to normal. It hadn’t. Not that day, and not any of the days since.
An ache throbbed behind her eyes, and the taste of smoke coated her throat—the aftereffects of using magic making themselves known. They came on quicker now, one more reminder that things had changed.
Sydney focused again. Magic required preparation now in a way that it never used to. Breathing in, she twisted her left hand, bent two fingers sharply. This was the second spell she tried every day. The spell that would extinguish the candle she had just lit.
Pain like fire licked along the frayed edges where her shadow had been cut away from her body. A phantom blade sliced its way across her bones, tracing over the places where her magic had once been carved out of her.
The candle flickered, dimmed.
Sydney gritted her teeth against the pain and waited, watched. Held her focus. Blood dripped from her nose. The candle guttered.
And went out.
Excerpted from A Sleight of Shadows, copyright © 2023 by Kat Howard