Laura E. Reeve's Science Fiction and Fantasy

A Charm for Draius (The Broken Kaskea #1)

eBook
    
Paperback
 
Front Cover, A Charm for Draius, Novel #1 of Broken Kaskea Series   Back Cover, A Charm for Draius, Novel #1 of Broken Kaskea Series
 Kindle    Paperback
 Barnes & Noble Nook    Barnes & Noble
 Kobo ePub   Books-A-Million
     
eBook: 978-0989135849   Pprbk: 978-0989135832

"A child's life hangs in balance… In this we are certain."

In the age of science and gunpowder, what place does magic hold? When a high-profile murder is dumped in her lap, Draius isn't worried about magic. City Guard politics are brutal and the captain makes it clear her job is on the line; there are plenty of rivals waiting for her to fail, including her estranged husband.

More killings follow. Draius endures threats and attacks as she uncovers a treasonous conspiracy, one that hopes to revive necromantic magic. But when they graduate to murder by magic and her own son is threatened, she has to get magical help. She must step into the minds of the Phrenii, the five elementals who protect Tyrra's children and departed souls, risking her sanity to fight magic with magic.

Even the Phrenii cannot foresee the coming catastrophe.

The Ideas Behind A Charm for Draius

My first genre love, as a child, was fantasy. The Broken Kaskea Series is set in a world I started creating in college. It's a strange meld of European mythos and cultures. The Tyrrans are consummate horsemen and their society reflects, in a small part, my Finnish heritage (sort of The Kalevala merged with the horse tribes of the Huns). Not that there are any references to The Kalevala, but the world reflects the pictures I had in my head as I read that epic poem.

Draius came along in the mid-90s, when I decided to write a smaller, more personal story set in this world. I began to fill in her background and complicate her life. I had a system of government balanced between a King, an elected mixed-gender King's Council, and a matriarchy that selected the King and also had the power to depose him. This was a society of arranged marriages where the matriarchy also provided education for lineage children, created jobs, kept the lineal businesses and trade going, etc. Perhaps Draius's arranged marriage had become unbearable. Perhaps she and her husband were in the same organization, even competitors for command jobs. Worse, I gave them a seven-year-old son. A matriarch's primary goal is to ensure the continuation of her lineage, which has been jeopardized due to lowered birth rates after the Fevers; would a matriarch break a marriage contract that had already produced a child? Not under most circumstances. Then I built a mystery with puzzling murders for Draius to solve…

 Entire Series

 

Draius turned her attention to the group of mixed guard members across the room. Sitting next to Jan, Erik put away another dark ale and slapped her husband on the back. A life of excessive drinking was taking a toll; Erik's puffy face displayed a spider web of red veins spreading outward from his nose, and he was only starting his fifties. He'd been promoted from deputy commander to OIC of Investigation a year ago, and so began her own slide into professional darkness.

“Draius, what do you think?” Berin asked.

She jerked her attention back to her own table as Wendell repeated the latest news: the Horn & Herald was extorting loyal Tyrrans to boycott Groygan silk to protest their privateering and piracy.

“Only a fool believes the H&H. There's no proof the Groygans are financing privateers, or that they're connected to Rhobar.” She raised her voice to be heard above the din.

“Groygans can't be trusted. Those skirmishes near the Saamarin—”

Berin's deep voice was sliced apart by the shriek from above, a high shrill sound that went on and on. Babble in the common room died down, overwhelmed. Wendell's face went white and he glanced at Berin, who looked up at the gallery, trying to pinpoint the source of the noise.

Draius sat closest to the foot of the stairs. She grabbed her sheathed sword, took the stairs two at a time and ran toward the barmaid standing at the last door on the gallery. She stopped so suddenly at the door-jamb that Lornis bumped into her. The lieutenant gagged, and Draius gritted her teeth at the smell of blood.

"I know Groygan eyes when I see them," Skuva said, his voice sullen and defensive.

Haversar watched the boy silently. He didn't like Skuva's tone, but he had to make allowances. Even his gut twisted at the bruises on Skuva's head, neck, arms, and legs. The left side of Skuva's face had swelled to black, purple, and barely recognizable. This evening, he'd been beaten until unconscious, then left like a bundle of trash in an alley in Betarr Serin, the upper city. Haversar's men had found Skuva, and brought him "home" to the bolthole near the Betarr Serasa docks, where Haversar ran his organization.

He flicked his fingers, and someone hurried to put a wet cloth on the boy's face and tend his wounds. Everyone relaxed. Skuva's knees gave way as he was helped into a chair. He was a rarity: a true nunetton, a child who had slipped through the grasp of the matriarchs and their records, to be raised anonymously on the streets by Haversar.

"Why did you choose this mark?" Haversar asked Skuva.

"Dapper enough to carry gold, and walking like a gentleman who'd tipped back too much drink." Late on Fairday evening, Skuva made the most obvious conclusion. He'd earned the elite position of working the streets of Betarr Serin with his light touch and quick fingers.

"What happened then?"

"I followed him a couple blocks, then got close enough to cut the strings on his purse." Skuva gulped. "He was quick as a cat. Grabbed me by the collar and arm, so I couldn't twist away."

"Did he say anything? Did he have an accent?" Haversar asked.

"He said, 'What ho, boy,' and he sounded Tyrran as you or me. Then his hood fell back. He might have been Tyrran, 'cept his eyes. They shone bright in the gaslight." Skuva tried to shake his head, and winced.

Haversar believed Skuva, even though there weren't more than ten Groygans inside the sister cities. Skuva was only twelve, and looked even younger because of his size—a Tyrran couldn't hurt a child like that. An outraged Tyrran gentleman would have done no more than drag Skuva to the nearest watch post or give the boy a lecture; the offended adult thought their words could change the wayward child. Haversar had taught Skuva to listen respectfully and promise to set his ways straight. The boy took his training seriously because he couldn't get afternoon lessons or apprenticeships; only Haversar could provide him with a future.

To adults, the ringing stood as warning. Stand back. Draius and Lornis hastily drew their horses to the side and backed against the wall.

One of the Phrenii turned onto the street toward them, dancing on cloven feet. Its spiral horn sparkled in the clear spring sunlight. Children ranging from three to twelve years of age surrounded the creature. They skipped beside the mottled and translucent being, twining their fingers in its mane and petting its coat. A small girl, no more than four years old, ran out from a gate across the street and skittered in front of the creature. She squealed and held her arms up, stopping the Phrenii. A head larger than half the size of her body, with jaws that could snap her bones, lowered to her level. She threw her arms around the creature’s neck, avoiding the razor-sharp spirals of the horn.

Draius smiled at the girl's enraptured expression. She was safer than any child could be at the moment. No Tyrran adult would break her fan-tasy and delight; it would be broken soon enough when she reached adulthood and left her innocence behind.

If Draius reached toward the creature, she knew that guilt, from her smallest transgression to her largest trespass, would crash down upon her. She'd relive her worst moments, her hand would drip with blood, and Groygan eyes would fade and become dull with dust. It didn't matter that she'd been ambushed and had protected herself—her actions were not compatible with the Phrenii.

Adults never talked about the shameful moments they experienced, over and over again, when the creatures came near. Along the path to adulthood, everyone gave up the joyous feeling of touching the crea-tures, but she didn't know the exact moment it happened. By the time she was arguing with her father about the merits of a boy with whom she was enamored, she'd drifted into puberty and the Phrenii were making her uncomfortable.

Of course, anyone foolish enough to raise a weapon against the Phrenii would become a gibbering maniac. The “phrenic madness” protected these creatures from adults—or vice versa.

Staring at the creature’s translucent body, she saw whirling clouds that seemed to pull at her. Suddenly dizzy, she averted her gaze before the Phrenii's attention could fall on her. The scent of a sea breeze wafted past. The sound of hooves stopped. She looked up to see faceted blue eyes directed toward Lornis while children circled and skipped about.

“Welcome to the sister cities, Lornis, where you belong.” The words from the creature hung in the air accompanied by a tone. Draius caught her breath. This element of the Phrenii, named Jhari, represented air and prescience.

Lornis coughed and bowed. Jhari appeared to take this as a response; it turned away and led the children right at the next intersection. The voices and ringing faded. Lornis avoided making eye contact with Draius as they continued up the slow incline of the main street.

“This is the second time I've encountered Jhari.” His voice seemed bitter. His shoulders slumped, a tiny movement that only she might have noticed. “Sounds like you have a phrenic prophecy hanging over your head.”

Lornis shrugged and opened his mouth.

“No.” She stopped him. “Don't tell me anything. I'd rather stay oblivious, if you don't mind.”

“That was my opinion, too. No one but my grandmother knows.”

She said nothing more. Poor soul—a reading from the Phrenii placed some sort of destiny upon him. Most Tyrrans resisted asking the Phrenii for a reading, only resorting to phrenic prescience when absolutely necessary. Their readings rarely satisfied the questioner and caused a life-time of fear.

She tumbled down again. Sharp pain shot about her shoulder, but luckily, not on her sword arm. The man who hit her turned back toward Lornis, while she rolled and regained her feet. Her saber was now free and she lunged, slashing at the back of his legs. The man grunted and turned as she propelled herself toward him. With all her weight, she drove the blunted, but not impotent, point of the saber deep into the soft area of his side. He screamed and dropped his sword as they both slammed into the alley wall.

The man was big and he thrashed, hitting her face with his elbow. She stumbled backward as he crumpled. He rolled against the wall as he went down and she yanked at the saber, which was not designed for thrusting.

She felt her saber break. She was left holding the hilt with a handspan of blade.

"Watch!" she yelled, her lungs now working. "Ho! Watch! Help!"

They were only blocks away from almost every watchman in the sister cities, but where were the ones on duty tonight? She heard only sounds of moans, grunts, and scuffling, but no beat of running feet.

She and her attacker ended up just inside the alley. Beside the groaning man, she saw an H&H soaking in a gray puddle as her mind continued to record meaningless details. In the street, Lornis's saber flew from his hand and skittered along the cobblestones. He jumped forward under a raised sword to grapple with an assailant. The other attacker moved around to the side, then melted away into the darkness.

Were they withdrawing? She took a step toward the mouth of the alley where Lornis struggled with his remaining foe. From the corner of her eye, she caught a spark of light. A match? A covered lantern down the alley? She turned.

The flare of a matchlock touching a powder pan was followed immediately by the flash from a muzzle. The shot deafened her, the alley walls focusing the sound. She was a great target, outlined against the dim light of the street, but she felt nothing. She turned to see Lornis fall, taking the man he was grappling with down onto the stones with him. The man squirmed to the side as Lornis fell on top of him. The assailant got to his feet, apparently unharmed from the shot. Draius now faced Lornis's opponent, her sight hampered by bright powder flash. The man circled, only a shadow, and she moved to keep him in front of her. He held a sword designed for thrusting and his arm was moving—she balanced on the tips of her feet—

"No! Not the woman!"

The command came from behind Draius, barely discernible through the ringing in her ears. The man's thrust stopped. He turned and quickly ran down the empty street to the south, dodging into another alley.

She looked back over her shoulder. The alley was empty and the body of the man she'd gored was gone. Lornis lay at her feet, moaning softly. She knelt beside him. He had a gash down his face that was bleeding heavily, and a deep cut down his leg. More serious, however, was the bullet wound entering his back and opening his abdomen in his left front side. She heard gurgling sounds, perhaps his breath, perhaps the wound.

Reeve (Pathfinder, 2010, etc.) begins a new fantasy series in which the defenders of magic must flush out a sect of necromancers.

In the kingdom of Tyrra, Draius is a member of the City Guard. She and her career-obsessed husband, Jan, have a 7-year-old son named Peri. Like all marriages in Tyrra, theirs was arranged by careful matriarchal planning and exists within the confines of a contract. Also unique to Tyrran culture are the Phrenii, translucent elementals that resemble unicorns and roam the streets of Betarr Serasa. One night, in the Sea Serpent tavern, a member of the King’s Council named Meran-Nelja Reggis is found nailed to the floor of an upstairs room and eviscerated. Missing organs and fingers, as well as symbols painted in blood, point to the illegal teachings of Nherissa—or necromancy. The crime scene is spoiled when Cmdr. Erik is too drunk to contain the tavern’s crowds. Draius takes the case, aided by the handsome but inexperienced Lt. Lornis. Complicating matters are the shards of a magical artifact called the Kaskea, which create a bond with the Phrenii and which only the King may wield. Despite Tyrra’s reliance on science and procedure, anyone abusing pieces of the Kaskea has the power to upend their society. Reeve seamlessly combines disparate motifs to create an evocative new urban fantasy realm. Fascinating is the idea that Tyrra considers the word “unicorn” vulgar, and only children may touch the ethereal Phrenii without suffering ill effects (like shame and guilt). Tyrra is a place with a living history, the details of which (including a recent plague that affected birthrates) only enrich the story. Several first-person chapters from the killer’s perspective add tension as Reeve leads readers toward an otherworldly finale.

A lavish blend of urban crime and high fantasy.

Kirkus Reviews on A Charm for Draius