Read an Excerpt From The Book That Wouldn’t Burn

The boy has lived his whole life trapped within a book-choked chamber older than empires and larger than cities.

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Book That Wouldn’t Burn, the first installment in a brand new fantasy series by Mark Lawrence, out from Ace on May 9th.

The boy has lived his whole life trapped within a book-choked chamber older than empires and larger than cities.

The girl has spent hers in a tiny settlement out on the Dust, where nightmares stalk and no one goes.

The world has never even noticed them. That’s about to change.

Their stories spiral around each other, across worlds and time. This is a tale of truth and lies and hearts, and the blurring of one into another. A journey on which knowledge erodes certainty and on which, though the pen may be mightier than the sword, blood will be spilled and cities burned.



Without guilt we would all be monsters. And memory is the ink with which we list our crimes.

Notes from the trial of Edris Dean


“What are you doing?”

Evar turned with a start to find Starval standing behind him. Nobody ever heard Starval coming. The smallest and darkest of his brothers, Starval had been lost in the Mechanism while carrying a book concerned with the arts of assassination. Strange reading material for a child, Evar thought. Many decades later, the Mechanism had spat out all five of the lost children it had inadvertently swallowed. It had vomited them up together, none of them seeming a day older than when they were taken. None of them were the same though. In Starval’s case, the contents of that book and more beyond had been printed on his soul.

“Me? Doing?” Evar swallowed. With Starval there was always that moment of terror when you were certain you were going to die. Then he’d smile and you’d remember he was your brother. “I’m building a staircase.”

Starval cast a critical eye at the ramp of books Evar had piled up. Along its side the ramp was braced against a wall, and at the end by a second wall where the two formed one of the chamber’s corners. “You’ve got a way to go…”

“I’ll get there.” Evar wiped the sweat from his brow and craned his neck to take in the scale of the task. Although the ramp reached well above his head it wasn’t yet one-twentieth of the way to the ceiling.

“Dare I ask the reason for this… staircase to heaven?” Starval frowned at the structure. “You know it’s going to collapse with you on it, right?”

“I’m going to check the ceiling.”

An uncharacteristic concern creased Starval’s brow. “Is it time for Kerrol to give you the talk again?”

“I don’t care about the talk.” Kerrol would ask what he thought he was escaping from. He would remind Evar that wherever he went he would take himself with him. “I need to find—” He stopped himself. None of the others believed in her. The books they were lost with in the Mechanism had tutored them, left them with skills honed to the sharpest possible edge. Clovis the warrior, Kerrol with access to the levers of the mind, Mayland with his histories. Evar had emerged with nothing, just the sense that something had been torn from his memory, leaving a chasm so wide he could fall into it and never be found. Someone had been torn away, not something. She was out there. He knew that. And she needed him. He’d left her in danger, and he had to get back to her before it was too late.

“Well, have fun. I’m going to the Mechanism. I’m late for my turn.” Starval set a hand to Evar’s shoulder. “Don’t die here, brother. We need you.” With that he turned away and walked off towards the distant reading room, whistling a jaunty tune to challenge the library’s overwhelming silence.

Left on his own again, Evar paused to contemplate his stairway before wiping his brow once more and bending to the work. The ceiling would offer a way out. Why else would they have built it so very far from the floor?

Evar’s brother Mayland had always said that the fact they could see the walls of their prison was a blessing afforded to very few. Their cell was larger than those enjoyed by most inmates, approximately two miles on each side with a ceiling that was more of a stone sky, too high for them to be able to hit it with anything they could find to throw. There were even four doors rather than the traditional singular exit. Each of which Evar had tried ten thousand times, even the one that lay behind a hundred yards of char and ash. But he’d never examined the ceiling. None of them had.


Since the library offered no measure of time, its light unwavering, it was exhaustion that reeled Evar back to the pool and its green halo of crops. Save for the crop circle around the pool, the entirety of the chamber’s floor space, some two and a half thousand acres, lay covered with stacks of books. A forest in which, even now, it was easy to become lost.

He followed the chamber wall for a mile before passing the short corridor to the north door. A half mile after that he reached the corridor to the north-east reading room. The chamber boasted one more reading room, west of the south door, but this one held the Mechanism and it was to this one that Starval had gone many hours earlier.

Before striking out among the book stacks, aiming for the pool, Evar took a long look at the Mechanism. A hundred yards of corridor led to the reading room, and down it, across a sea of reading desks in tumbled disarray, Evar had a clear if distant view of the Mechanism, a grey lump large enough for all the siblings to fit inside together with room to spare, though the rules allowed only one person and one book at a time.

The Mechanism’s pull was that while a reader’s imagination could animate a book inside their head, the Mechanism would build that world around you. It offered the contents of each book as something to be physically experienced, walked through, partaken in, interrogated, shared. You could immerse yourself in the book in whatever way you might desire.

Over the centuries that Evar’s people had been trapped within the chamber the Mechanism had been their escape. Every generation or so someone who went in didn’t come out again. And even though on each of the five occasions on which such a tragedy had occurred, the victim had been a child of maybe eight or nine years, it seemed that the draw of the Mechanism was such that this was considered a price worth paying.

Evar had been the second child lost, Clovis the last. Evar had been the only one of them not to return to it after their eventual release.

He stood for a while, resting his eyes on the grey structure, wondering what adventures Starval might be experiencing within it. Typically, he spent his time honing his skills with blade, poison, or one of a score of other ways to take a life. It must be hard, Evar thought, to see real people as having value after taking the lives of so many pretend ones.


Evar found only Kerrol, lounging on his preferred book pile while reading a more favoured volume.

Evar had three brothers: Mayland, the historian; Starval, the murderer; and Kerrol, whose speciality they all had their own unflattering names for. Kerrol chose to refer to his calling as psychology. Kerrol said that it was in people’s nature to feel trapped, and that being unable to see what had hold of them was what led so many into dark places within their own minds. Evar, at least, knew what was holding him back. But knowing had never felt as if it helped.

Evar went to his own pile, ready for sleep, glad that his brother had nothing to say to him. He was still yawning and searching for his dreams when Clovis came through the gate in the book-built wall that served as a perimeter for their settlement. She rounded the corner sharply, all the angles of her body pointing towards trouble. Evar got to his feet with a groan, braced for the storm. Kerrol, lounging nearby, looked up from his book.

“Defend yourself, little brother.” Clovis came on without pause.

Evar was taller than Clovis and technically older since he’d been lost in the Mechanism decades before she was. Clovis, however, had been a year or two older when the Mechanism took her. When it spat them all out together, none of them had aged, so he was the little brother. Now twenty years old, he was still the little brother, apparently.

Evar took the first blow on his shoulder, blocked the second, and found himself falling, legs swept from under him. He hit the ground hard and rolled away from the heel descending towards his face. The kick he aimed at his sister’s ankle somehow missed but gave him space to get back up. Or so he thought. Clovis closed the distance with remarkable speed, slamming her knee into his stomach.

“Get up!”

Evar lay gasping.

“Get up!” Clovis raged.

“Could you kill him a little more quietly?” Kerrol got to his feet, yawning, and stretched to his full height.

Clovis spun away from Evar to round on Kerrol. Their oldest brother was a good head taller than either of them, and wouldn’t last five heartbeats in a fight against Evar. Clovis would fell him with her first punch. Neither of them had ever laid a finger on him though. Words were Kerrol’s weapons, and he wielded them to devastating effect even in gentle conversation.

After a long moment of eye contact, Clovis looked away and spat to the side. “I’ve got an Escape to hunt down. We’ll train again tomorrow, Evar. Try not to be so pathetic next time.” She stalked away.

“I wouldn’t follow her,” Kerrol advised. “Starval says this Escape’s a big one. Particularly sneaky too.”


Excerpted from The Book That Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence Copyright © 2023 by Mark Lawrence. Excerpted by permission of Ace. All rights reserved.


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