Calling Andrea Robertson a prolific author is an understatement. You likely know her from her various bestselling books, including the Nightshade series, Invisibility (co-written with David Levithan) and The Inventor’s Secret trilogy. And now she’s back with a new series kicking off next year.
An epic saga that promises intense action and a fascinating cast of characters, Forged in Fire and Stars is the first book in Roberson’s latest fantasy series. The book description from her publisher has us intrigued:
Ara has always known about the legend of the Loresmith: the blacksmith who served alongside the kings and queens of every generation to protect the kingdom. It was her fate to inherit the title—though she never truly believed it would come to pass since the monarchy’s downfall years before.
But when the lost Princess Nimhea and Prince Eamon steal Ara from her quiet life with a mission to retake the throne—and take her place as the Loresmith—her whole world turns upside down. Their journey will take Ara on a dangerous adventure to discover new truths about her family’s legacy and even to face the gods themselves.
And with a mysterious thief as an unexpected companion, Ara must use all her skills to figure out just who she can trust and forge the right path forward—for herself, her kingdom and her heart.
Philomel Books will release Forged in Fire and Stars on May 12th, 2020. But you don’t have to wait to start reading; we’re excited to share an exclusive excerpt from the novel and reveal the cover today!
Cover design by Jessica Jensen with art by Katt Phatt.
Enjoy reading the chapter below, and click here if you’d like to pre-order the book.
Steady murmuring roused Ara from a swampy sleep. Perhaps a creek bubbling over sticks and pebbles. As her mind began to clear, Ara could pick out variations in the noise—breaks, hesitations. A rise and fall of pitch. Not running water.
Ara went rigid, but not with fear. Fear took time, demanded awareness. Ara hadn’t gotten past disbelief.
Has it happened? she thought. Has it actually happened?
She remembered that first warning from her grandmother. It had come on the eve of Ara’s fifth birthday.
“Ara.” Her grandmother had given Ara a wooden mug of warm milk, sweetened with honey and spiced with cinnamon and pepper. “You’ve reached an age where there are things your grandfather and I must tell you. Some are very nice things. Others are unpleasant. There are too many things to say all at once, so tonight I’m going to tell you one nice thing and one not so nice thing.”
Ara still remembered the warmth of the milk in her belly, the way the spices tingled on her tongue and throat.
“What’s the nice thing?” she asked her grandmother.
The older woman smiled. “Your father left you a gift.”
With glances searching the room, Ara asked, “Where is it? Do you have it?”
“It isn’t something you can hold.” Her grandmother laughed gently. “It’s already inside you, waiting for you to learn how to use it.”
Little Ara looked down at her belly, giving it a curious poke. “Inside?”
“Your father’s gift is part of you,” her grandmother answered. “And will always be with you.”
Then the older woman’s face creased with regret. “Your father was meant to teach you about this gift, but your grandfather and I will begin teaching you in his place. You have much to learn.”
While Ara puzzled over how a gift could be something learned instead of an object, the lines in her grandmother’s face grew even deeper. “It is now time for what is unpleasant,” she said with a sigh.
To Ara, it appeared her grandmother’s gray eyes suddenly turned a darker shade, like clouds heavy with rain.
“There are people who are jealous of your gift,” she told Ara. “Who want it for themselves. Your father died to keep them from taking it.”
A rock-hard lump lodged in Ara’s throat, and the milk in her stomach no longer felt so comforting.
“Did they kill my father because he wouldn’t give it to them?” Ara knew her father died fighting in the Vokkan conquest, but nothing beyond that fact.
Her grandmother’s lips pressed together. “In a way.”
“Do they want to kill me?” Tears pricked at Ara’s eyes, and she was ashamed that fear could so easily make her cry.
“No,” her grandmother said firmly, and she placed her hands on Ara’s shoulders. Ara was comforted until her grandmother added, “They want to take you.”
The memory hung in Ara’s mind, glaring and insistent, but she couldn’t accept that it was real. That everything her grandparents had told her was true.
It can’t be, she argued with the past. There’s another explanation.
If you are ever taken, her grandmother had instructed, learn all you can before you act.
Perhaps that advice could get Ara out of this mess and back to the world she understood. After all, they could be bandits taking advantage of the storm—though outlaws in the highlands were rare. Almost unheard of in winter.
She’d have no answers until she discovered where she was and who her captors were.
As far as Ara could tell, she wasn’t hurt aside from a dull ache at the back of her skull. Keeping still, Ara used her gaze to search the space. The air was hazy and irritated her eyes. A familiar scent told her woodsmoke was the culprit.
Above her, Ara could make out a rock ceiling. To her right, pale light barely reached her eyes, and a trickle of cool air touched her cheek. From her left side came a warm, flickering glow.
Outside to the right, fire to the left—Ara knew she was in a cave. But what cave?
In this storm, Ara doubted it could be far from Rill’s Pass. There were several caves to the north and west of the village.
The voices came from the direction of the fire. Ara risked turning her head, very carefully, to the right. Two cloaked figures: one hunched and huddled close to the flames, the second kneeling close by.
“We should have waited.” The kneeling person had a low female voice.
A reedy male voice replied. “I-i-i-it was ou-o-our b-best ch-chance.” His teeth chattered so violently that Ara could barely make out his words.
Both sounded young—girl and boy rather than woman and man.
A low noise of disapproval came out of the girl’s throat. “You can’t be exposed like that. You’re too weak.”
“I-I I’m fine,” he argued. “I j-just need t-t-tea.”
“It’s almost ready.” She sounded apologetic.
After wrapping her hand in cloth, the girl lifted a small kettle from the fire; then she uncorked a jar and tapped some of its contents into the kettle.
“P-pour me a cup,” the boy begged.
The girl didn’t look at him. “It has to steep.”
“P-please.” The desperation in his voice made Ara wince.
“This wasn’t worth the risk,” the girl said. “I don’t think she can be the one.”
Ara heard the sound of tea pouring into a cup.
“Th-thank you,” the boy said. There was a pause as he blew on the hot tea then took several sips. “It has to be her. There’s no one else.”
Maybe the cave was farther from Rill’s Pass than she thought. The boy’s pleas seemed evidence of the north’s cruelest punishments: purple-black toes that couldn’t be saved, clipped ears, and blunted noses. To thaw what could be saved, the sufferer had to endure a warm bath that felt like being boiled alive, so Ara had been told. Those were the warnings children received lest they underestimate the dangers of the dark season.
Despite her predicament, Ara found herself wishing she could help them. They spoke with an accent unfamiliar to her. Their fire had been poorly constructed and placed, so it lost heat quickly and smoked too much.
Ara’s brow crinkled as she watched the girl lift a wooden cup to the boy’s lips.
Why these two?
They didn’t look like bandits. Nor did they resemble any of the nightmares that had plagued Ara’s childhood. Her dreams had conjured hordes of Vokkan soldiers. Or worse, a wizard of Vokk, murmuring spells over her bed.
Ara had never imagined the evil coming to take her would be a girl and a boy, shivering from the cold.
She considered running. Having the advantage of surprise, Ara could get a strong head start on the girl. The boy was in no condition to give chase.
The storm quashed Ara’s hope of escape. She might evade her captors, but she’d be as good as dead without a clear path home. She had no way of knowing when the blizzard would end. Spring squalls brought storms that came and went in the space of an hour, but also those that lingered for days. Ara hoped that this bout of weather would quiet before dusk. If she didn’t return home by dark, her grandmother would call a search. The whole of the village would risk their lives looking for Ara. She couldn’t bear the thought that anyone might be hurt on her behalf.
Ara eased onto her left side. The girl’s attention remained focused on the boy. Slowly, Ara pushed herself up to sitting and felt no twinges of pain nor the burn of frostbite. She was still wearing her leather apron, but had none of her tools. Searching around the space in her immediate reach, Ara found nothing that would serve as a weapon.
The nape of her neck tingled, the hairs there standing at sudden attention.
Ara looked back at the fire.
The girl was staring at her.
Ara moved into a crouch, muscles taut. Running might be futile, but it might also be her only choice.
The girl stood up. She was very tall. Something glinted in the firelight. Ara saw the sword hilt. The girl’s hand on it.
About to bolt, Ara was stopped by the boy’s abrupt lurching to his feet.
The girl abandoned her aggressive stance to steady the boy.
“Please,” he called again to Ara. “We need your help.”
When Ara didn’t move, the boy straightened. At full height, he was still a few inches shorter than the girl. His hair was a pile of soft brown curls that would not take kindly to a comb. He had wide, dark eyes.
“Take off your sword,” he said to the tall girl.
She gave him an incredulous look.
“Do it.” The boy’s voice could be very firm when he wanted it to be.
Grumbling, the girl unbuckled her sword then tossed the belt and scabbard aside.
Ara stood up, perplexed by the unfolding situation. “Who are you?”
Now that she faced them, Ara saw that both had umber skin and bore a strong resemblance to each other. Brother and sister?
They could not be bandits. Now that they stood in front of her, Ara could see their clothing beneath their cloaks. Instead of patched trousers and spotted shirts, this boy and girl wore belted tunics of fine wool, his dyed deep blue and hers a delicate shade of green. Their legs were clad in soft leather breeches, and the cut of their boots showed impeccable craftsmanship. No one in Ara’s life boasted such a luxurious wardrobe.
“My name is Eamon,” the boy said.
His voice was steady now. The tea had done its work. He looked at the girl with adoring eyes.
Her hands clasped opposite elbows and her body tightened. “Please don’t say it.”
“You know I have to,” he replied before rolling his shoulders back and addressing Ara. “This is my sister Nimhea, eldest child of Dentroth crowned by flame, son of Emrisa, daughter of Rea, daughter of Polit, son of Trin, son of Vinnea, daughter of Hessa, daughter of Imlo, son of Gright, son of Penla, daughter of Terr, son of Olnea—first of the Flamecrowned dynasty. Princess Nimhea, daughter of fire, heir to the River Throne of Saetlund. The—”
“There is no River Throne.” Ara’s voice was flat. Her bones felt hollow, as if they sensed Ara was about to be flooded with knowledge she didn’t want.
Nimhea’s expression shifted from hostile to curious, while a flustered Eamon groped for a response.
“Of course, after the conquest the Vokkans declared the end of Dentroth’s line,” Eamon said. “But that was—”
Ara cut him off again. “Why should I believe anything you’re saying?”
Eamon elbowed Nimhea.
“Really?” She gave him a sidelong glance that hinted of disdain.
When he gestured for her to act, she sighed then reached up and pushed back the hood of her cloak.
Ara had to stop herself from gasping.
Thick curls were caught back from Nimhea’s face, held by a gold cuff at the base of her skull. Its length fell to the small of her back in a sectioned twist held by three additional golden cuffs. The style was like nothing Ara had seen, but it was the color that held her gaze. Nimhea’s hair glowed in the firelight; her locks had living flames within each strand. Red, gold, copper. Its hue was ever-changing. Mesmerizing. Made even more so by its contrast to her thundercloud eyes. Fire and storm.
Ara stared at the Nimhea’s long twist of flame-red hair. Something about it nagged her, like a word on the tip of her tongue that she couldn’t recall.
Eldest child of Dentroth.
Ara’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “Crowned by flame.”
Eamon beamed at her, but Nimhea pressed her lips together and averted her eyes.
Crowned by flame. It was a phrase that made Old Imgar snort with disgust or, if he was particularly irritable, spit.
“When folks decided only a special head o’ hair and a certain name made a king, that’s when Saetlund was doomed.”
Inevitably, the soured blacksmith would launch into a history lecture Ara had heard dozens of times before.
“Saetlund didn’t always have a hereditary monarch, you know. Did fine for centuries, with a king and queen chosen by the people,” Imgar would grumble, and return to work. That hadn’t meant he’d stop talking. “Then there was the provincial council. Also chosen by the people. Their job to make sure the king and queen kept the good of all the provinces at the fore.”
At that point Old Imgar would stop and jab whatever tool was in his had at Ara to get her attention. “You know why it all fell apart?”
He never let her answer.
“Because people are greedy bastards.” He continued to jab the air in front of Ara. “Had to ruin a perfectly good kingdom. Nava’s wrath upon them, I say. She knows they deserve it. Now where are those nails I asked for, girl?”
Ara had heard Imgar’s rant so many times she could recite it word for word. Those greedy bastards he hated so much. They were Nimhea’s bloodline. Eamon’s too.
The thought of Imgar getting the chance to jab tools and lecture at them filled Ara with a mad desire to laugh. But the stark reality of the situation quelled her glee before it could make any sound.
Ara didn’t know if the Flamecrowned Dynasty had always been corrupt. Or if the seed of deceit planted at its origin had simply sprouted through generations, roots going deeper and deeper. By the time of Ara’s birth, most of Saetlund accepted it had always been that way. Only curmudgeons like Imgar railed against the system. And curmudgeons tended to be cursed at, then ignored.
How the first king and queen of that line had ensured that their child would be the next to take the throne, Ara wasn’t sure. Nor did she know the details of how, over time, all key positions in the government—including the Provincial Council—became royal appointments. She’d heard court at the Five Rivers palace consisted almost exclusively of citizens from Sola and Ofrit.
Ara did recall reading that the name Flamecrowned wasn’t coined until five generations into their rule; a result of that striking shade of red appearing with regular frequency in the royal nursery. It was widely acknowledged—to the point of being mentioned in history books—that in subsequent generations a few Dentroth monarchs had used crushed beetle shells and ochre to coax their tresses toward the royal hue.
What stood out the most clearly in Ara’s mind was the reason Imgar had such vitriol for Dentroth and his ancestors. They’d let their kingdom bloat, allowed its bones to become weak and brittle. When the enemy arrived, Saetlund could do nothing but collapse.
There was no restoration. No revolt against the Vokkan Empire.
How could there be when the heir to the throne had been lost? But here she was.
More importantly, the Loresmith was gone. Would never return—so most of Saetlund believed.
But the truth coursed through Ara’s veins. The blood of her father, who had been slain by the empire. She had the potential to become the next Loresmith.
I have the chance to know my father, she thought, and trembled when sorrow and anticipation mingled within her. The only way to know who he was and what he died for.
There was only one reason the children of Dentroth would come to a village this small and remote.
Ara hadn’t wanted to accept she’d been taken. But something more astounding had happened. She’d been found.
© 2020, Andrea Robertson. Used with permission from Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House.