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May 1, 2016

April Numbers/May Goals

In Real Life:
April was pretty tame in the real life department. I got new glasses, I spent a lot of time trying to remember what day of the week it was, and basically just forgetting ALL THE THINGS. 

Reading:
1 book

So, this is kind of a cheat. The only book I logged on GoodReads this month was my own. And since I don't rate my books, the average is a big fat zero.

Writing:
89,937-words in 21 days
(AVG 4,282-words/day)

This month I played with seven different projects. Most of my focus went into two main books and the others were writing to clear the cobwebs out of my head. 

I finished one draft, sent a different one off to beta readers, and made some good progress on two others.

Publishing:
Iron Heinrich dropped last week. It's the 3rd in my Clockwork Fairytales series, and was tons of fun to write. 



Reading - 10 books.
As I'm cutting back on some other things, I plan to make time specifically for reading. Frankly, I miss it.

Writing - 65,000-words
I still have deadlines to meet and books to finish, so I'll be trying to keep my normal pace again with some extra weekend work.

Publishing - Take a break.
I have nothing scheduled for release this month and that is pretty great. Going to focus on the June release and getting the things beyond that in line.

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Apr 30, 2016

SMSO: Myke Cole


Myke Cole
On Twitter: @MykeCole
Check out his website
 
Who they Are:
Author of the Shadow Ops Series.

Why you should follow them if you’re not already:
Myke is one of those rare creatures… an outgoing author. When I met him at PHX Comicon last year, I approached him the same way you might approach an unfamiliar pitbull. You know he’s probably harmless, but he’s barking a little louder than you’re used to, so best be careful. To be completely honest, one of the main reasons I follow him on twitter is that he’s constantly being harassed (all in the name of fun) by a handful of the other authors I follow. His denials are oddly funny in their straight forward replies to the ridiculous.

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Apr 29, 2016

Ten Book Reccs From Me!



The Classic that you adore: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
I think this one speaks to me because I love surrealist paintings.


Your choice of that one Desert Island Read: The Mistborn Omnibus from Brandon Sanderson
Yes, that is my way of cheating and taking three books. My reasoning is twofold. One, I like the story and think it could distract me from my predicament…. Two, I would love to have the time to fully dissect the story.

 
A book you’re looking forward to that Isn’t Out Yet: The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Her books are wonderful and startling. I am incredibly excited to get my hands on this one next January.

 
The book that Hooked You on Reading: Inca Gold by Clive Cussler
I was in middle school, it was in the grab bag of things that had been in the lost and found for too long. After years of being forced to read books I just couldn’t get into, this one sparked my imagination and had me searching for more.

 
A SF/F Title that makes you dream of enchantment or advancement: Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy
I don’t remember exactly how I found this book, but I’ve read it more times than I can count and I love the world Sara created within these pages. The story (and its sequel) are wonderful glimpses into a world I would love to explore.
 

The Latest Book you finished reading: Camelot Burning by Kathryn Rose
Steampunk, Alchemy and King Arthur’s Court! Seriously, it’s a fun read. I won the audio book of this and then bought the paperback, it’s too good of a story to not want to see the world unfold on-page.

 
A Series that you want to run forever: The Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs
Years back, a friend recommended these books to me. I said I’d get around to it… and I did, after six of them had already been published. The series is amazing. I think I finished those six books, and the 4 in its companion series in the span of five months. Devoured might be the correct term.

 
What you’re Reading Now: The Wedding Pact by Katee Robert
The sexy side of organized crime. I’d be willing to bet I’m done with this in less than two days. Her writing is just wonderful.

 
A YA/MG that spoke/speaks to a younger you: Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
A lovely fantasy that reminds me of the age when I was supposed to like boys and just wanted everyone to shut up about it. Also, Dragons!


One you’d leave on a coffee table if you Want to Impress a visitor: The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons by Matthew Meyer
I’d leave this out because I want to shove it in everyone’s faces. The illustrations are gorgeous and I want everyone to see them.
 




How do you feel about these books?
Let me know in the comments!

 
I want to make this a recurring series.
If you’d like to participate, drop me a line at: abkeuser[at]gmail[dot]com


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Apr 28, 2016

Dear April

Dear April,

We’ve had some good times, but honestly… I’m really glad you’re over.

There’s something about getting to the end of a month, getting to start my to-do list over… coming to terms with the things that can’t be done. Those things that fall into the category of “My ambition was bigger than my time available.”
 
We’ve had a good time, April. Really. I’ve gotten a crazy amount of stuff done with you, but it’s time to move on, regroup, and get May in order.

It’s not you, it’s me it’s the inevitable passage of time.

So long, April.
See you next year.

 - Amy

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Apr 27, 2016

Why Iron Heinrich Is My Favorite Fairytale


When people ask me what my favorite fairytale is, I usually tell them my second favorite. Mostly because it’s easier to simply say “Sleeping Beauty” than to explain the Iron Heinrich part of The Frog Prince.

In the version that includes Heinrich (so many leave him out), Heinrich is so distraught over his prince’s enchantment that he binds his chest with three iron bands to keep his heart from breaking. When the prince returns, his heart swells so much the bands break.

The thing that has always fascinated me about the fairytale that leaves him out is that it made little to no sense to me as a child. Why would the prince want a princess who was so selfish and violent? Then again, why would the princess kiss a frog? I get that moral of the story is that promises need to be kept and that the rewards therein can be great, but what do you really owe an amphibian?

After my first reading Iron Heinrich, some things fell into place for me. When it comes right down to it, I felt like something had gotten lost in translation along the many times this was retold before being written down. Honestly, it always made more sense to me that an early version of this story had the prince’s enchantment broken and then saw him return to his homeland to be with Heinrich.

In my retelling, I couldn’t exactly ditch the princess, so I kept her, tweaked the selfishness angle and wrote the three of them into a ménage that still makes more sense to me than the original tale. After all, hearts breaking and iron bursting makes more sense for someone who truly loves another person. Also note: my retelling has no froggy make outs.

Heinrich has always been a fascinating character and working with him, as well as the two more recognizable characters was pretty fascinating. Creating a reason for a metal corset and playing with the different aspects and options that arise from a fairy’s ire… that was just plain fun.

Placing these characters in my world was remarkably easy. The story already had an iron component. If you’ve read the previous books, you’ll find some familiar characters and meet a character who shows up in a later book too.


Grab your copy of Iron Heinrich now, or catch up on the rest of the series. Read the excerpt and check out the world in which my fairytales take place.

Jack & The Mechanical Beanstalks (coming June 2016)

  

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Apr 26, 2016

Out Today: Iron Heinrich, The Wedding Pact, Bring Down the Shine, etc.


 
Settle in for a long ride….

 

Iron Heinrich by A. B. Keuser –
Heinrich’s loyalty to his prince earns him an iron corset when his iron fairy queen turns her stepson into a clockwork frog. The metal around his waist is not as painful as the potential loss of his closest friend.
Maximillian’s curse traps him as an iron frog until moonlight touches him. Naked and accosted by ruffians drunk on enchantment, he plunges into a forest laced with silver magic. Sunlight drags him back under his stepmother’s spell.
Silvia finds a discarded iron frog amid the silver leaves of her mother’s forest. Iron and silver do not mix. The feud between the two fairies has stretched through eons. Curiosity outweighs caution and she hides it away in her secret tower workshop.
When the frog turns into a man who makes her knees week, a trespassing knight makes her think wicked things, and a mysterious figure tries to kill her, she finds more problems than answers. Helping both men and keeping one a secret won’t work. But will loving two men cursed to die be her true undoing?




The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater –
All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love's death. She doesn't believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore.


 

The Wedding Pact by Katee Robert –
Carrigan O'Malley has always known her arranged marriage would be more about power and prestige than passion. But after one taste of the hard-bodied, whiskey-voiced James Halloran, she's ruined for anyone else. Too bad James and his family are enemy number 1.
Hallorans vs. O'Malleys-that's how it's always been. James should be thinking more about how to expand his family's empire instead of how silky Carrigan's skin is against his and how he can next get her into his bed. Those are dangerous thoughts. But not nearly as dangerous as he'll be if he can't get what he wants: Carrigan by his side for the rest of their lives.



 
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel –
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.
 But some can never stop searching for answers.
 Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?


Changing Hands | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 

Ladivine by Marie Ndiaye –

On the first Tuesday of every month, Clarisse Rivière leaves her husband and young daughter and secretly takes the train to Bordeaux to visit her mother, Ladivine. Just as Clarisse’s husband and daughter know nothing of Ladivine, Clarisse herself has hidden nearly every aspect of her adult life from this woman, whom she dreads and despises but also pities. Long ago abandoned by Clarisse’s father, Ladivine works as a housecleaner and has no one but her daughter, whom she knows as Malinka.
After more than twenty-five years of this deception, the idyllic middle-class existence Clarisse has built from scratch can no longer survive inside the walls she’s put up to protect it. Her untold anguish leaves her cold and guarded, her loved ones forever trapped outside, looking in. When her husband, Richard, finally leaves her, Clarisse finds comfort in the embrace of a volatile local man, Freddy Moliger. With Freddy, she finally feels reconciled to, or at least at ease with, her true self. But this peace comes at a terrible price. Clarisse will be brutally murdered, and it will be left to her now-grown daughter, who also bears the name Ladivine without knowing why, to work out who her mother was and what happened to her.


 
Great Falls by Steve Watkins –
Shane has always worshiped his big brother, Jeremy. But three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken their toll, and the easy-go-lucky brother Shane knew has been replaced by a surly drunk who carries his loaded 9mm with him everywhere and lives in the basement because he can’t face life with his wife and two small children. When Jeremy shows up after Shane’s football game and offers to take him to the family cabin overnight, Shane goes along — both to get away from a humiliation on the field and to keep an eye on Jeremy, who’s AWOL from his job at Quantico and seems to have a shorter fuse than ever. But as the camping trip turns into a days-long canoe trip down the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Shane realizes he’s in way over his head — and has no idea how to persuade Jeremy to return home and get the help he needs before it’s too late. In a novel at once gripping and heartbreaking, Steve Watkins offers a stark exploration of the unseen injuries left by war.

 

Let The Wind Rise by Shannon Messenger –
Vane Weston is ready for battle. Against Raiden’s army. Against the slowly corrupting Gale Force. Even against his own peaceful nature as a Westerly. He’ll do whatever it takes, including storming Raiden’s icy fortress with the three people he trusts the least. Anything to bring Audra home safely.
But Audra won’t wait for someone to rescue her. She has Gus—the guardian she was captured with. And she has a strange “guide” left behind by the one prisoner who managed to escape Raiden. The wind is also rising to her side, rallying against their common enemy. When the forces align, Audra makes her play—but Raiden is ready.
Freedom has never held such an impossible price, and both groups know the sacrifices will be great. But Vane and Audra started this fight together. They’ll end it the same way.




The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian –
Vane Weston is ready for battle. Against Raiden’s army. Against the slowly corrupting Gale Force. Even against his own peaceful nature as a Westerly. He’ll do whatever it takes, including storming Raiden’s icy fortress with the three people he trusts the least. Anything to bring Audra home safely.
But Audra won’t wait for someone to rescue her. She has Gus—the guardian she was captured with. And she has a strange “guide” left behind by the one prisoner who managed to escape Raiden. The wind is also rising to her side, rallying against their common enemy. When the forces align, Audra makes her play—but Raiden is ready.
Freedom has never held such an impossible price, and both groups know the sacrifices will be great. But Vane and Audra started this fight together. They’ll end it the same way.


 

Drag Teen by Jeffery Self –
A fantastic, fabulous, funny YA debut from Jeffery Self, one of the gay icons of the YouTube generation, that follows one high school student on a drag race to his future.

 

Keep Me In Mind by Jamie Reed –
Ellia Dawson doesn't recognize the handsome boy who sits in tears by her hospital bed. He claims he's her boyfriend, Liam. But to Ellia, he's a stranger. She remembers her name. Her parents. Her best friend, Stacey. But Liam is a total blank in her life.
Liam McPherson is devastated. His girlfriend, Ellia, suffered a terrible accident--maybe because of him--and now she's lost her memory. But the harder Liam tries to reach Ellia, and remind her of what they had, the more she pulls away. As Ellia begins on the slow road to recovery, Liam begins work on a secret project that he hopes will bring back the girl he loved.
But can there ever be a future when the past is in pieces?




Rescued by Eliot Shrefer –
Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone's pet. Now he's grown up . . . and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.
John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother -- never his pet. But when John's parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is suffering.
There's one last chance to save Raja -- a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he's imposed on himself all of these years




The Last Full Measure by Trent Reedy –
The Second Civil War has come to an end in Idaho. The Feds have taken the fight to other fronts, and Danny and his friends are free of U.S. dominance. But that freedom comes with considerable costs, from Danny's disturbing flashbacks to the war, to the Brotherhood of the White Eagle, whose "security" for Freedom Lake looks more like outright thuggery. After Danny makes a shocking discovery about the Brotherhood's final aims, he and his friends lead a group of townspeople on a dangerous journey across a ravaged Idaho, hoping to build a better society of their own, and fulfill the dreams they had in what once was the United.


 
Two Summers by Aimee Friedman –
ONE SUMMER in the French countryside, among sun-kissed fields of lavender . . .
ANOTHER SUMMER in upstate New York, along familiar roads that lead to surprises . . .
When Summer Everett makes a split-second decision, her summer divides into two parallel worlds. In one, she travels to France, where she’s dreamed of going: a land of chocolate croissants, handsome boys, and art museums. In the other, she remains home, in her ordinary suburb, where she expects her ordinary life to continue — but nothing is as it seems.
In both summers, she will fall in love and discover new sides of herself. What may break her, though, is a terrible family secret, one she can't hide from anywhere. In the end, it might just be the truth she needs the most.




Down With The Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn –
When Lennie brings a few jars of her uncles’ moonshine to Michaela Gordon’s house party, she has everyone who drinks it make a wish. It’s tradition. So is the toast her uncles taught her: “May all your wishes come true, or at least just this one.”
The thing is, those words aren’t just a tradition. The next morning, every wish—no matter how crazy—comes true. And most of them turn out bad. But once granted, a wish can’t be unmade .


 
Love Bomb by Jenny McLachlan –
Betty Plum has never been in love. She's never even kissed a boy. But when Toby starts school it's like Betty has been hit with a thousand of Cupid's arrows. A bomb has exploded-a love bomb.

More than ever Betty wishes her mom didn't die when Betty was a baby. She really needs her mom here to ask her advice. And just when she misses her most, that's when she finds hidden letters for just these moments. Letters about what your first kiss should feel like and what real love truly is. Although her mom isn't really there, Betty feels closer to her more than ever.


 
The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander –
Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.



The Incident On The Bridge by Laura McNeal –
When Thisbe Locke is last seen standing on the edge of the Coronado Bridge, it looks like there is only one thing to call it. But her sister Ted is not convinced. Despite the witnesses and the police reports and the divers and the fact that she was heartbroken about the way things ended with Clay and how she humiliated herself at that party, Thisbe isn't the type of person to end up just an "incident."
 While everyone in town prepares to mourn the loss (some more than others), Ted and Fen, the new kid in town, set out to put the pieces together and find her sister.
 But if Thisbe didn't jump, what happened up on that bridge?




The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh –
I am surrounded on all sides by a desert. A guest, in a prison of sand and sun. My family is here. And I do not know whom I can trust.
In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid's empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.
While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn't yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.



 
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Choski –
Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you're only seventeen?
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father's kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran's queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar's wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire...
But Akaran has its own secrets -- thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.



Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun –
As heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits: by her duties as a member of the royal family, by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman, and by the edge of the only world she's ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what's left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.
When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks and other terrifying creatures. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself.



Soldier by Julie Kagawa –
When forced to choose between safety with the dragon organization Talon and being hunted forever as an outcast, Ember Hill chose to stand with Riley and his band of rogue dragons rather than become an assassin for Talon. She's lost any contact with her twin brother, Dante, a Talon devotee, as well as Garret, the former-enemy soldier who challenged her beliefs about her human side.
As Ember and Riley hide and regroup to fight another day, Garret journeys alone to the United Kingdom, birthplace of the ancient and secret Order of St. George, to spy on his former brothers and uncover deadly and shocking secrets that will shake the foundations of dragons and dragon-slayers alike and place them all in imminent danger as Talon's new order rises.


 

 

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Iron Heinrich

Iron Heinrich

Buy Now
Kindle | Print

 

The Clockwork Fairytales Series
(This series does not have to be read in order. Though characters may appear in more than one book, each is its own story.)

Hazel & Gretel
Iron Heinrich
Jack & The Mechanical Beanstalk (June 2016)

Books 5-8 in 2017
 





Melding magic and ménage in this retelling of the classic tale, The Frog Prince, Keuser has created a story that pays homage to the original while offering a story that changes the paradigm.

Heinrich’s loyalty to his prince earns him an iron corset when his iron fairy queen turns her stepson into a clockwork frog. The metal around his waist is not as painful as the potential loss of his closest friend.

Maximillian’s curse traps him as an iron frog until moonlight touches him. Naked and accosted by ruffians drunk on enchantment, he plunges into a forest laced with silver magic. Sunlight drags him back under his stepmother’s spell.

Silvia finds a discarded iron frog amid the silver leaves of her mother’s forest. Iron and silver do not mix. The feud between the two fairies has stretched through eons. Curiosity outweighs caution and she hides it away in her secret tower workshop.

When the frog turns into a man who makes her knees week, a trespassing knight makes her think wicked things, and a mysterious figure tries to kill her, she finds more problems than answers. Helping both men and keeping one a secret won’t work. But will loving two men cursed to die be her true undoing?




 
Fun Stuff


Updated version coming soon




 
Stats
Word Count - 44,268
Publication Date – 4/24/2016


ONE


Once Upon a Time…


Heinrich could remember the first time Prince Maximillian had grabbed him by the wrist and ran with him through the palace. He’d been fourteen, the prince fifteen, and they’d been scolded by any number of staff before Max pulled him into a dark alcove and kissed him.

This time, Max’s grip was lighter, his pace less excited. Unlike their first journey through the palace halls—and so many others after it—today would not end with as pleasant a result.

Max towed him through the doors to the queen’s audience chamber. Lined with clockwork minions, the room danced in the long shadows of candlelight. They walked to the center of the room as king and queen looked up at them. The queen’s iron-painted lips were turned down in a scowl as though she hadn’t demanded their presence. The king looked away, nervous as a dog who had peed on the carpet.

“I see you brought your pet,” Hagnesofia said, her dark, clawed fingers trailing over the too-white skin of her arm. The lines of magic traced like veins, disappearing moments after they’d been drawn.

She sat on her throne of ever moving gears, as unnaturally rigid as the iron cogs that ticked behind her head. It shifted like a caged animal, ready to strike. She needed no crown to display her stature, power rolled off her with the sickly stench of magic.

Flat, gray eyes turned from him to Max. “That’s fine.”

Max stopped in the middle of the room. Hesitant, Heinrich stood to his right, a step behind.

The prince glanced back at him once before asking the queen, “What do you want, Hagne?”

Hagnesophia studied him as though he was a rat. “You will not be king.”

Dark power filled the room with her statement and Heinrich tensed.

Max had no particular designs on the throne, but telling him he couldn’t do something was the fastest way to make him push back—to prove that he could. This wouldn’t end well.

Jaw twitching, Max crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t plan to abdicate for your spawn simply because you say so.”

Heinrich hissed a warning behind him. Pride was expected from royalty, but challenging a fairy—one pregnant with the king’s child and tied to the world by a bond that could only be broken by the king himself—was insanity.

Glancing sideways over his shoulder, Max shook his head. Heinrich could have argued with him, but the result would be the same as if he stayed silent. Chewing on his tongue, he waited. Dread sank in his stomach like a stone.

The smile that parted the queen’s lips sent an evil shiver through Heinrich—it wasn’t from the sight of her needle-like teeth. Whatever the queen intended from this meeting, it appeared Max had given it to her.

“Maximillian Defreaux, you defy your queen’s orders. That is treason and will be met with a just punishment.”

“Don’t be like this,” the King said in a hushed tone that echoed through the room. “I told you, he’ll marry a girl from another kingdom and go there. We agreed.”

Heinrich’s jaw tensed. The thought of Max marrying a woman from a far off country didn’t bother him. They both liked women, and there were three kingdoms where no one would bat an eye if they found one who loved them both. But the dismissive tone in the king’s voice, the way he seemed to have already sold off his son in his mind… that made Heinrich want to march up the steps and slap some sense into the man.

The king’s seal read “Blood and Honor.” Clearly he cared for neither.

Max, for his part, didn’t say a word.

He stood perfectly still, his face impassive. It was an expression he’d worn every time he’d been in his stepmother’s company. It was his “you can’t tell me what to do” face.

“No, Trenton, if your son will not bend to me, no one will. I could put down an uprising… this way, others will know they cannot stand against me.”

Heinrich stepped forward in spite of himself. Neither the king nor the queen noticed. “We should leave, now. Swords can’t protect you from fairy magic.”

“She won’t hurt me, not if she wants to keep my father in line.”

“I don’t know if you noticed, but she’s got him wrapped around her clawed finger. I’m pretty sure he’d let her get away with a lot more than murder.”

Max shook his head again and before Heinrich could say anything else, the queen spoke. “Treason should be met by death, but you deserve something quieter.”

With a twist of her hand, dark magic slicked the air with an oily taste. Time stopped.

The scream that ripped from Max’s mouth made Heinrich stumble backward. Then it was gone. From one moment to the next the prince that stood beside him vanished, replaced by an iron, clockwork frog.

Rational thought—everything he’d said to Max a moment earlier—left him as his vision turned red. His sword was in his hand without a thought and he rushed the throne. Two steps and he was caught by hard metal pincers.

The queen’s clockwork minion dragged him back, its grip compressing his wrist until he dropped his sword. It clattered to the ground and the sound echoed the queen’s laughter.

“A treasonous prince and his devoted lapdog lover.” She stepped down from the dais and sauntered to him. She seemed to shrink with each step, until she stood in front of him, only an inch taller than he was. “I should have you killed. But what fun would that be?”

“Love,” the king said in a warning tone as she picked up the frog that was Maximillian and dropped him into a dark gray velvet bag.

“Your prince is going to leave this castle along with the rest of the cursed metal that filled this palace between my last rule and now. He’ll travel with a band of thieves who will sell him at Shisaido’s markets.

“What use will Cyprean sailors have for an iron frog? He’ll be melted down, turned into something else, and in the fires of the kiln, he’ll suffer in agony. And you?” She smiled cruelly, her inhuman eyes narrowing at him. “You’ll die slowly, knowing you’ve lost him.”

She pressed her clawed fingers into his stomach and tightness spread over him. Hard, cold metal wrapped around his waist, squeezing his ribs.

“Find a way to enjoy what little of your life you have left… I know I’ll enjoy your death.” She pushed him back, and the only reason he did not hit the ground was that her automaton still held him. “Take him to a tower cell. I want him to have a clear view of the cart rolling away with his lover.”

The automatons dragged him away. He couldn’t fight. He could barely breathe.

By the time he learned how to inhale without tearing at the skin that had been soldered to iron, he was locked away in the dank round room. The pink sunlight of dusk bled through the barred window.

Raucous noises from below echoed up and he dragged himself across the dirty floor.

From this height, Heinrich could see the procession of renegades loading their cart with all of the non-iron metal objects from the castle. The cost of the items therein could have fed the whole kingdom for a year.

His grip on the bars tightened as the Druan Kimmler brought out the deep gray bag Hagnesophia had scooped the prince into. The queen’s lackey looked up at him and smiled as he handed over the bag.

It did not move as one ruffian took it away. And as the full dark of night descended on them, the cart and its keepers trundled out of the palace gates, their hoard covered in a black canvas.

Heinrich slid down the wall, sitting rigidly against the stone and watched the moon slowly arch overhead until it disappeared.

In the darkness, he considered escape. The men guarding him were only following orders. If he could get past them without hurting them….

Blowing out an irritated breath, he knew that was impossible. He’d trained half of them, and while he might be able to beat them when sparring, he wouldn’t be able to do so without harm if the blades were iron and their queen’s orders demanded his imprisonment. He had no idea what they’d been told his crimes were.

He couldn’t get out the window. Even if he could get through, or remove the iron bars, there was no way he would survive the six story drop. There was even less of a chance he could cobble together a rope from the minuscule amounts of straw surrounding him. It would take too long anyway.

The pain in his chest slowly eased and he was able to sit without the white heat stabbing through him. It was a small consolation; moonlight bled into the cell, taunting him. 

He flinched when the cell door screeched open. Too early for food, too late for visitors. Maybe the queen had decided to kill him outright.

He touched the iron corset around his chest and shook his head. If she wanted him dead, she didn’t have to come for a visit to accomplish it. Her magic permeated the very walls

Watching the door, he waited. For a moment, he wondered if it was a trick. Would they convince him to flee so they could justify his death?

Hushed voices in the corridor outside put an end to that theory.

When a man with a lantern stepped in, all Heinrich could see of him was his shoes. It was enough to know who his visitor was.

The king had come to call.

Clenching his teeth, Heinrich glared at the man. If his chest didn’t burn…. Well, then he’d truly be guilty of treason and the king would be dead.

“You’re leaving,” he said, throwing a pair of bags at Heinrich’s feet. “I want my son back.”

Heinrich didn’t move. “Your new wife won’t like that.”

“I don’t need him here, I just need him alive.” The king raised his lantern and lines of worry etched shadows across his face.

“If I can’t find him, you’ll have already let it happen.” Heinrich stood, pain shooting through his hips and chest. “Why did you let her enslave you?” He didn’t bother to hide his disgust.

The king shook his head, but wouldn’t meet Heinrich’s eyes. “I love her, I can’t force her from this realm… but I can’t allow Max….”

“For your sake, I hope he’s not. I will come back here and kill you myself if it comes to that.” Heinrich stared the man down, heedless of the fact he’d just spewed treason at his sovereign.

The king didn’t argue.

Snatching up the bags, Heinrich pushed out of the cell and clutched his stomach as he hurried down to the stables. His horse was already saddled. The king might want his son back, he might be doing his best to atone… but his opportunity to catch the wagon and retrieve his prince was lessening by the minute.

Kicking his horse to a trot, he made his way out of the castle walls and into the dark of the forest with moonlight as his only guide.

*

Maximillian hadn’t given much thought to the way he would die.

Being studied by a man who smelled like sewage and magic gave him time to ponder it, before he was almost returned to the bag that blocked his awareness. But when the moon rose, filtering through the trees, he had another chance at life.

As the silvery rays touched him, he burst back into human form, startling the pair of bandits on the back of the wagon. They tried to finish him off with a swipe of unsteady swords.

 Surprise slowed them.

He sprang to his feet—suddenly thankful for all the times Heinrich had forced him to spar without a sword—and kicked one off the wagon. The man hit the ground with a sickening thud and the other lunged before Max could regain his balance.

When the second man knocked him over, he caught hold of the stinking thief’s wrists and managed to keep the blade away. Max’s throat wasn’t the only part of his body he needed to worry about: the change had left him naked.

The other man was stronger. The blade inched down.

Glaring at him with glazed eyes, the ruffian smiled. The movement was lazy. Enchanted.

“Of course,” Maximillian spat out the words as he struggled to get his knee up between them to lever the man off.

“What’s going on back there?” Another man called from the front, blocked from view by a high wooden seatback.

The cart stopped abruptly, and Max tumbled to the ground. His opponent hit the hard dirt road beside him with a grunt.

Max pushed to his feet as soon as he had firm ground to stand on and the other man slashed at his ankles, rolling as he tried to take advantage from his position in the dirt.

The back boards of the wagon broke under the strain and a pile of metal trinkets, dishes and weapons slid to the dirt road. Max grabbed an ornamental sword from the glittering mess.

It was gold, gaudy, and wouldn’t last long against a real blade, but it was the only option among the plates and snuff boxes that littered the ground. As soon as he snatched it from the pile, he drew the blade up to block the advancing blow from the thief who had scrambled off the ground.

Crashing against the man’s blade, the sword dented with the first strike. Max clenched his teeth and met the next swing, cursing as the blade broke with the impact. He threw the sword aside and backed away. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember the exact way Heinrich had said to disarm a foe in a situation like this. He should have sparred with someone less distracting.

For all that he had the advantage, the thief stalked forward in measured, mechanical movements. He lashed out before he was truly in striking distance and Max twisted, catching his wrist again.

He kicked the man backward.

Stumbling, the smelly thief crashed into the side of the cart. His weight broke the wheel and the entire cart sagged as though the axle had gone with it.

Grunting, Stinky pushed himself away and glanced at the driver who walked warily toward them, his hands held out, a blade in each.

Max stepped away from them, but had to pivot again. The man he’d kicked from the cart was back.

Three against one. His luck was improving by the minute. Cursing under his breath, he looked for any advantage.

He looked at each of the men—bigger than him, enchanted in gods knew what way, fully dressed, and holding five blades between them—and decided there was only one course of action.

Stepping slowly backward, he waited until he felt the cold brush of tall grass against his bare legs. With one final glance toward the road they’d come from, he turned and ran.

The forest around him changed quickly from wooden trees to metal—silver bark and leaves glinting in the moonlight.

Metal branches scraped at him as he ducked through the denser bushes, his feet pounding on dirt covered with soft, silver-edged grass.

They had passed from his father’s kingdom into Argentelle.

He would find few friends here, but the chances he would be killed outright were smaller with their citizens than they were with the bandits chasing after him.

The forest seemed to shiver around him, leaves curling away. He glanced to his side and would have sworn the trees moved.

Each turn and bend he took seemed to double back on itself, the forest was a maze and he tripped twice before paying attention to the fact a path had been carved for him. It could have been there all along and he had managed to stumble onto it. But it was more likely the path was enchanted. He’d have to take the risk.

Argentelle’s queen was a fairy like his stepmother, whether she was a vicious dark fairy like the one who had ensnared his father, he couldn’t remember.  He only knew they hated each other and had been locked in a feud that spanned centuries.

Dodging a low branch, he paused to catch his breath. He doubled over, hands on his knees and shivered as cold metal touched his bare legs. The forest curled around him, and leaves writhed as if mocking him.

His blood might have been so diluted as to only protect him from the most minor of metal spells, but he knew the forest sensed the darkness in him—sensed the iron that flowed through his veins stronger than that of a fully human man.

He heard the men who chased him. Their voices were faint and echoed around him in a confusing melody. A moment’s shouting and their voices faded into the background.

He’d escaped.

Still, he ran further into the forest.

The dead of night wrapped around him, and his legs burned as strongly as his lungs. When he finally slowed, his head swam.

Breath tight in his chest, Max dropped to the cold forest floor. His whole body felt like one, raw nerve. Covered in dirt and scraped up by the foliage through which he’d run, he couldn’t bear to move.

The sound of trickling water broke through his stupor, nudging him to survey his surroundings. The small break in the trees curved around a pool. The clear water was fed by a tiny, trickling waterfall at the far side. It wove through lichen covered, glittering rock. He crawled to the side of the pond and gulped down handfuls of water.

Rolling onto his back, he stared up at the stars through the trees high above and felt as though the world had spun off its axis.

Breathing heavily, he conceded to his need to rest, promising himself he would rise as soon as he was able and find his way back to the castle. He wanted nothing to do with his father, the crown or the fairy queen, but Heinrich…

He vaguely remembered her spelling Heinrich. Closing his eyes, he fought with the scattered memories. They filled his mouth with the taste of metal and blood.

Hagnesofia had grabbed Heinrich’s chest. Told him of his slow death. But the time his sluggish mind remembered the corset, the early songbirds of morning echoed in the trees.

He barely registered the sunlight filtering through the leaves when his body broke apart, imploding again.

TWO


Silvia was almost certain that being a princess was supposed to come with more perks than problems. As it was, the latter were threatening to collapse her mental health and the former were few and far between.

She’d escaped to the forest to gain some peace, but not even the quiet around her could distract her from the knowledge that she was not truly alone here.  Her mother’s spies were everywhere. And as soon as the queen realized she’d skipped the breakfast planning committee set up weeks ago, those spies would descend on her in full force.

Pretty little spies in the form of clockwork sparrows and lace-winged metal butterflies.

It would be to ensure her wellbeing at first, and then it would be little more than meddling.

Tossing her silver ball into the air, she caught it in both hands and turned it around in her grasp. The smaller orbs inside it rolled with each twist, following an intricate maze she’d made three days earlier. It was a distraction.

It wasn’t working.

She threw it into the air again and when it went higher than expected, she had to dive to catch it.

She missed.

The ball hit the tip of her fingers and was propelled forward… right into the reflecting pool she thought of as her private sanctuary.

Cursing, she dropped to her knees, searching the clear water for her shiny, ineffective distraction.

Clear though it might be, the bottom of the pond was full of undulating weeds where little silverfish lived. They sparkled beneath the surface, making finding her ball even harder.

Her eyes searched the part of the pool close to her. If it had gone in too far, she would either have to leave it be, or she’d need to go for a swim.

“There you are.”

She removed her cloak and dropped to her stomach. Reaching into the pool, Silvia thanked her luck that the unseasonably warm weather meant her dress had no sleeves to soak as she fished for the lost orb.

Her fingers clasped its filigree curves and she pulled it free, plucking the remains of the algae and a long piece of waterweed from its lacy outer shell.  She set it on her discarded cloak to dry. Letting out a long sigh, she considered sitting up. There was no point. Tucking her hands under her chin, she watched the pond as water skimmers flickered across its surface, the little silver bugs left oily slicks in their wake that quickly evaporated into the air, leaving glimmering vapor trails before they disappeared.

Someone else might have smiled wistfully and enjoyed the beauty of the magic her mother’s presence wove through their kingdom. Silvia knew she ought to too. There were kingdoms that had lost their fairy queens generations ago. Kingdoms that were slowly stagnating in the decay of their magic.

A bird chirped loudly overhead and she looked up—silver feathers and mechanical heart—rolling her eyes at the thing before turning back to the pool.

“Caught,” she mumbled to her reflection

A beetle landed on a nearby leaf only to take to the air again, flying about with extended carapace and glowing body.

She’d have to go home soon. And after that, she’d have to find a new place to disappear to the next time she needed an escape. Her mother found her too quickly anymore.

Sitting up beside the reflecting pool, the trees around her whispered in the gentle morning wind. Pulling on her cloak once more, she fingered the blue fabric and wondered if she shouldn’t have a green one made to better blend in with the forest. She could always steal one of Ivy’s.

She kept her hood down and her eyes on the water. Picking up the ball, drying it off again and shaking out more droplets of water, she slipped it into her cloak pocket and pulled it more tightly around her shoulders. When she stood, a flash of light glinting off something metal caught her eye.

It shouldn’t have. The forest around her was mostly metal. One more piece wasn’t worth noticing.

But this one was different — wrong.

She stepped cautiously around the edge of the pool, stooping down to look at the metal creature that did not belong.

Iron clockwork and fitted with a jaunty little crown, a frog sat among a pile of discarded leaves, its dark metal a shadow amid her mother’s brightness.

“You,” she said, scooping it up and keeping it hidden from sight, “Are not my mother’s spy, are you?”

She slipped the frog into the interior pocket of her cloak that did not hold the ball and forced herself to trudge back to the palace. Her new metal friend had changed her mood, but if she ran back excited to examine it, her mother would be curious. She’d seek her out faster, and she wanted a little more time alone with her discovery.

Halfway back to the palace, a twig snapped to her right. She stopped, glancing in the direction of the sound. The morning sunlight filtered through the trees leaving long shadows, and for half a moment, she thought she saw a darkly cloaked figure.

Then it was gone.

Shaking away what was likely nothing more than a fanciful trick of her imagination, she continued on through the forest and broke out into the wide meadow surrounding her home.

The palace grounds were empty this time of morning. The gardeners had come and gone, the staff was busy dealing with breakfast, tidying rooms and the enormous amount of preparations her mother had set out for the party to end all parties. Silvia’s best friend had come to lovingly call it “the impending apocalypse.”

Silvia had to agree, it was beginning to feel like the end of the world.

She snuck up the back steps and followed her familiar path past the bedroom that was officially hers and into a part of the castle the staff avoided. Ghosts and specters roamed the halls in the stories that were whispered among the maids. Silvia was the only ghost who haunted this alcove, and the secret stairwell to which it led.

She cast a final glance back at the hallway and opened the hidden door to her secret tower retreat.

Slipping inside, her cloak fluttered around her—a reminder she’d left her window open in the early hour she’d left. Cool wind swept down the passage to her and she skipped up the steps, finally able to move as quickly as she’d wanted to previously. She and her mother had come to an agreement. Within this tower, her movements were not visible to any of her mother’s spies. In exchange, she agreed not to throw herself out the tower window in frustration.

Her mother was slowly learning that privacy was important. It had only taken twenty-eight years.

Skipping into her cluttered room, she pulled both her ball and the frog from her pockets and slung her cloak over a chair in the corner. The ball went onto the small stand she’d made for it, sitting like a metal sun over the kingdom that was her cluttered work table.

She glanced at the chaos of her projects with a smile before sitting down on the bed that had magically made itself after she’d slipped away in the morning. One of the few magical intrusions she ignored.

She held up her new toy and studied it.

The frog was beautiful.

Iron was used inside their kingdom, but no one would make a frog like this. Its tiny pieces were so intricate, she was certain they were magic. She recalled her mother speaking of the iron fairy returning to Ferrian, but she hadn’t thought she would get to see the queen’s handiwork. Nothing the iron fairy touched would be allowed by her mother.

“We’ll just have to keep you a secret, won’t we.” Setting it on her pillow, she frowned. “Why would she make a frog… and then, how did you get into the middle of our forest?”

The frog’s metal eyes stared at her, unmoving. She hadn’t expected it to answer.

Turning it around, she saw a small hole set into its back. Inside teeth waited for some sort of key… a key that she doubted she would find. If it had been in the forest, there was no chance now.

She could work around that.

Snatching the frog up again, she cleared off a space amid the clutter and set him on her work table. Snatching out a pad of paper and a pen from its place near the inkwell, she set to work.

Lost in her task, she created the drawings and started to sort through her scrap metal, heedless of the time.

A floral scent wrapped around her and pulled her from her thoughts. Her gaze darted to the clock… two hours had passed. No wonder her stomach growled.

“What brings you to my lair, Mina?” she asked.

Her best friend always smelled of jasmine, honeysuckle, and some other flower she wouldn’t  name. The three made up the incense she burned in her room at all times. The smoke made Silvia lightheaded in the best sort of way.

Golden brown skin, lips painted the color of blood, and a dark lace pattern tattooed around her throat and down her décolletage, Mina would never have been mistaken for a citizen of Argentelle. Her insistence on bundling up in the middle of a too-warm spring that had the rest of them sweating would have given her away if her coloring had not. Aurona was arid and too hot for Silvia’s tastes.

 “Your mother is pissed.”

Wincing, Silvia grabbed another piece of metal and marked out her plans. “I shouldn’t be surprised. How was the meeting?”

“A complete nightmare. Did you know she’s inviting everyone? And I don’t just mean everyone in this kingdom. I mean everyone. Even your half-sister.”

Silvia froze. “Isabelle? I thought she was still a danger.”

Silvia didn’t know why, but her sister had been kept secret from all but the most loyal of her mother’s inner circle. Miranichelle existed in this realm again, able to protect her seemingly lost daughter, but had not interfered.

Shrugging, Mina said, “Something changed now that she married the Cyprean prince.”

“And what do you think my sister is going to do if she finds out what happened to her father?” The last time her mother had lived on the mortal plane, the iron fairy had killed the previous king and tried to kill Isabelle, too. Only quick thought and a full human child’s unfortunate death had saved her sister’s life.

Silence prevailed a moment longer than was comfortable.

“That’s new,” Mina said, ignoring her question.

Mina ran her finger over the back of the frog. “What a funny little creature. Your mother will hate it.”

“That is why my mother won’t know about it.” Silvia cast a warning glance at Mina and snatched the frog away. “What are you doing up here? You hate my room.”

“I don’t hate it, I hate the mess. You could have a servant come in and clean it up.”

“Firstly, you know the rule: no one touches my inventions but me. Secondly, that would require disclosing the existence of the room in the first place. Not going to happen.”

Shrugging, Mina played with the silver ball.  “Your mother wants to see you. I think it’s about the party.”

Silvia let out a groan and turned back to her work. “Do you think if we ignore it we can make it go away?”

“Going away is the point of the party.” Mina said as she walked around the table to sit on the opposite side.

“That and trotting out the proverbial meat market. Oh how I wish my father was more like yours. It would be divine to have no pressure to marry.”

Mina smiled ruefully. “Having a harem at my beck and call is fun on occasion, but for the most part, it’s exhausting. “

“Yes, but you’ll never be forced to marry if you don’t wish it.”

Mina shrugged, nodding her head in a silent agreement. “Let’s go see your mother. If we don’t, she’ll come looking for you, and even though no one else knows how to find you here… your mother does.”

“Of course she does, she’s the one who managed to get all this furniture in here.”

Laughing, Mina stood and grabbed her by the hand, pulling her upright too. “Let’s go. If we keep her out of here, you won’t have to explain why there’s an iron frog in your possession.”

Rolling her eyes, Silvia followed her down the stairs.

Mina hummed a dissonant trio of notes and said, “Can a princess be executed for metal treason?”

“You brought gold with you, I don’t see you headed for the gallows.”

Mina laughed as she pushed open the door and led Silvia out into the palace halls to what felt like her doom.