A novel about a bomb squad that defuses magical weapons? Yes, please!
Mirah Bolender’s debut novel, City of Broken Magic, utilized this fascinating premise to deliver a gripping adventure last year. And now she’s back with the second book in the Chronicles of Amicae series, which Tor Books will release on November 5th. Titled The Monstrous Citadel, the novel follows Laura Sinclair, a member of the elite Sweeper squad, as she continues to protect her city from sinister threats.
Intrigued? Here’s the book description from the publisher (spoilers for book one ahead):
Amicae, City of Sweepers, survived the Falling Infestation which nearly destroyed it thanks to the efforts of Laura and Okane. While the ancient monsters have been beaten back for the moment, new and more monstrous dangers face them in the form of belligerent bureaucracy, dangerous gangs, grasping Sweepers bent on personal glory…
And Rex, the City of Kings, who breed their own kind of monstrosity.
Laura and Okane must go to Rex to reclaim the secret weaponry that keeps Amicae safe and come face to face with a horrifying truth about the Rex and their designs on all of Orien’s cities.
We’re excited to exclusively reveal the cover for The Monstrous Citadel, featuring art by Tony Mauro.
While you have to wait until November to read the novel, you can read an excerpt from Chapter 2 today! Check it out below, and click here if you’d like to pre-order Bolender’s book.
Laura rolled her eyes and pushed the door open. Chill morning air blew against her face, but she barely felt it. She was too focused on the woman standing directly in front of her. Laura didn’t recognize her, but the woman certainly knew her. She pushed herself up from her previous recline against the banister and smiled.
“Good morning,” said Laura. “Sorry, are you here for Morgan? I can get her, it’d be just a moment—”
“I’m here for you, Miss Sinclair.”
The tone rang sweet, but the words felt loaded. God, could this be one of her critics, come to badger her in person since they couldn’t get her on the telephone?
Laura’s trepidation shattered at the new voice. Charlie had stepped out of his apartment—presumably leaving for university—and now looked at them both with a sullen expression.
“I’m a Sinclair Sweeper,” Laura said icily. “If you expect me to remember every boring detail of your life, you could at least try to do the same for me.” She turned on her heel, bared her teeth at the woman. “Why don’t we talk as we walk? I’ll buy you coffee.”
She’d rather deal with someone screaming half-truths than an outright backstabber. Luckily the woman followed without further prompting.
“This isn’t about titles and you know it,” said Charlie.
“Why not? Titles are all you care about, you buzzard.”
His face went red in anger and embarrassment, but it kept him quiet long enough for Laura to escape.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Laura fretted, one floor down. “I’m not usually so—” On second thought that was a lie. She backtracked. “I have a personal problem with him.”
“Enough to call him a buzzard,” the woman laughed. “Oh, that’s such a pity. I came here to hate you and you’ve made yourself personable.”
Laura raised a brow. “I didn’t think that went over as a pleasant appearance.”
“I never said pleasant. You’ve just revealed your humanity is all.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Laura said slowly. “You seem very positive for someone who hates me.”
“I’m a wonderful actress.”
That answered nothing.
“So, why’d you come calling so early? It would’ve been easier to catch me at the Sweeper shop, and probably more appropriate if this is about the job.”
“It’s about Sweeping, but on the other hand it’s not. Follow me?”
Baffled, Laura did so.
Upon leaving the Cynder Block, the woman led her down one of the nearby roads. It was a route Laura knew well, even if she no longer frequented it. She’d taken this path for three years of high school. She knew where other children came in off the branching streets, knew which stores opened earliest to entice students who’d skipped breakfast, knew which canal-spanning bridges were steepest. School was in session today, so they were soon crowded by high schoolers and book bags. A pair of girls walked in front of them, whispering the same ghost story about the Sylph canal that Laura had gossiped over in her time on this path. Between this and the discarded brochures, she was in a bittersweet, nostalgic stupor and almost missed it when the woman spoke again.
“Have you been following the Dead Ringer?”
The familiarity of this place no longer comforted her.
“Of course,” said Laura. “It would be stupid to ignore what people are saying about me.”
“And does it please you to see what they write?”
“Not really. I never agreed to any sort of mob alliance, so if they come knocking for favors, they’ll be disappointed.” The woman hummed, thoughtful. Laura sucked in a breath, gathered her courage, and continued, “That being said, I don’t think anything they’ve printed is wrong. Petulant maybe, but still. The Council is making weird decisions for Sweepers, and citizens are focusing on the wrong things. I don’t care whose authority steers the Sinclairs, if it’s me or Juliana or even someone else, but I do care about it all functioning well and being sure we can protect against infestations. As far as I can see, the Dead Ringer and Mad Dogs have the same priorities.”
She’d meant to make a critic think deeper. She clearly made the wrong decision. The woman’s expression plunged into something entirely chilling.
“So you do ally with them.”
She said nothing more but kept walking. It wasn’t enough of a dismissal for Laura to feel comfortable leaving, so she kept walking too. Before them loomed the Naia Canal bridge. The canal and accompanying Naia Street were an industrial thoroughfare. Small boats chugged up and down the waterway, and the bridge rose high to accommodate them; its height gave a good view over the cars of Naia, and it was this that made Laura pause. Students complained and circled past her on the bridge, but she didn’t pay attention. One of the buildings on Naia was a tall, unassuming office complex, but she’d seen its façade printed in a newspaper: the Dead Ringer’s headquarters. Police surrounded it, but they weren’t raiding it. Their backs faced the building and they looked out into the crowds as if searching for something.
The woman stopped. The chill hadn’t left her, but a smile returned to her face. “Is something wrong, Miss Sinclair?”
“Are you a mobster?” said Laura. “Because if you’re a Mad Dog, I just said—“
“A Mad Dog? Don’t insult me.” The woman turned entirely and stepped back toward her. It was a slow movement, deliberate and slinky and very much predatory. “But you’re decently fast on the uptake. No, I’m not a Mad Dog, and neither are you. We’d like it to stay that way.”
We. Laura’s eyes jumped about, trying to pick out any kind of mobster tag, and alighted on a metallic gray hairclip. It could easily be nothing, easily be coincidence, but—
“Good guess,” said the woman. “Now, you’re familiar with the MARU? Of course you are.”
Anyone who’d lived in Amicae knew about the Mob Action Resolution Unit. The roughest members of the police force, they’d been turned loose on the lower Quarters with the sole mission of breaking up the mobs. They’d attacked anyone remotely connected, and used any tactic—coercion, torture, outright murder—to take someone off the scene. They ruled with an iron fist until the Silver Kings rallied all the mobs under their banner. The MARU could fight scattered mobsters, but the united front overwhelmed them. Mobsters made the MARU’s actions look like child’s play. They hunted down every last member, picked them off one by one with increasingly gruesome tactics, and everywhere they went they left circles. A circle like a target. A circle like a noose. They drew it on victims splashed by acid, slapped it on cars and along the MARU’s frequent routes, hung it over baby cradles and gifted wreaths to unwitting wives. For months Amicae had been tormented by circles on every street, and the MARU broke under it. Most died by the mobs’ hands; some took their own lives; the few who survived were either too injured or too afraid to return to the force. The mobs dispersed quickly afterward, but the point was made. Amicae knew who held true power.
For a long time the Council had spread the rumor that Sweepers were the current incarnation of the MARU, but as far as Laura knew, the mobs knew better. She and Clae had never been drawn into their fights, and circles never appeared at their door.
“We’re not the MARU,” Laura said anyway. “We’re not involved with your politics.”
“So you say, but the Mad Dogs have you in their pocket,” said the woman. “I don’t know what kind of agenda the Mad Dogs are pushing, but there’s a delicate balance to this city. We’ve lost too much protecting that balance to let it be broken now.”
“I’m not allied with them!” Laura snapped.
“But you will be, and that can’t be allowed.”
Fire and glass burst from the upper floor of the Dead Ringer office, with force enough that the very air trembled. Students screamed and ducked.
Back, whispered something far away in Laura’s mind.
Back, she thought in reply.
The amulet on her belt activated. She was thrown back so fast she felt as if she’d been shoved. Her rear hit the low railing, and her head reeled to keep up. She’d dodged something. A knife. The woman pivoted, slashed her little blade upward now. Laura canted sharply back. The knife missed her chin by an inch. She tried to catch the rail and heave herself back up, but it was too smooth. Her hands slipped. With nothing else to catch her, she fell over the side. Partway through the tumble she snapped her arms to her sides and cried, “Straighten!”
The amulets in her shoes answered this time, catching gravity so she hit the water in a pencil dive. The canal closed over her head, muffling the shouts and the crackling of the bombed building. She didn’t have time to do more than thrash before something caught her under the arm and towed her upward. She broke the surface, coughing and spitting out canal water. She’d been caught with a curved metal pole, something used to hook fallen cargo from the little boats. The man wielding it didn’t look used to reeling in fallen humans, but reached out a hand and called, “Here, missy!”
She reached the boat’s side and clung there. She looked back up at the bridge; would the woman have a gun, too?
The woman stood at the rail, knife still in one hand. The students fled, tripping in their haste to get away from her, but she remained totally calm.
“You should work on your escapes. That lacked any sort of grace,” she called.
“You’re the one who just tried to stab me!” Laura retorted. “What kind of grace is that?”
“The best kind.” She put the knife away and rummaged in her purse. “Remember what I said about balance. A single floundering Sweeper I can let go, but if it gets more than that, you won’t be the only one suffering. Remember the MARU.”
She pulled an object out of her purse and threw it. It spun and fell with a clunk at Laura’s feet. It was a wreath of flowers woven tight against a painted backing, like the ones used at graduation ceremonies or funerals. As pretty as the flowers were, Laura could only see the circle now. She glowered at the woman, snatched up the wreath and snapped it in half. The woman threw back her head and laughed. Another bomb went off on the Dead Ringer’s second floor. Laura flinched on instinct. When she opened her eyes again, the woman was gone.