Today I am incredibly thrilled to share an exclusive excerpt from Perilous Prophecy, a gaslamp fantasy novel by Leanna Renee Hieber. Leanna’s already been a featured guest on my personal blog, The Dabbler, and I am a huge fan of her work. So without further ado, let’s dig into Perilous Prophecy!
A Strangely Beautiful Novel
Leanna Renee Hieber
“This prequel to Hieber’s Strangely Beautiful series will appeal to fans who like their Victorian-era romance with a heavy helping of the supernatural. … Hieber is undeniably good at making individual scenes grab the reader”
This enchanting prequel to Leanna Renee Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy, Strangely Beautiful, returns to print after more than a decade, edited and revised for Tor’s publication. Founded in antiquity by the goddess Persephone and the Muses, there have always been six of the Guard, born and reborn in each generation to stand between humanity and the forces of darkness for centuries. Now, in the late 1860s in Cairo, Egypt, Beatrice Smith and five other young people are summoned to become the Guard.
“The autumn-dark, ocean-rich fiction of Leanna Renee Hieber is saturated with passion and thought, excitement and reflective meditation. Her stories carry the lucky reader from one unpredictable yet ultimately fated moment to another, in a colorful, action-packed cascade.”
—Paul Di Filippo, author of A Princess of the Linear Jungle
Beatrice last, the six members of the Guard were fully detached from the watchful eyes of their families. Now, as the sun dipped behind Cairo’s minaret-spiked skyline, Beatrice felt an odd rustling in her blood, a burning sensation that had her itching to move.
There was no time to question, to run; there was only time to think what must be done. The new sensation felt like a sandstorm under her skin, a gathering of disparate elements into a whirling vortex. A pin on an inner map.
“What is this?” George exclaimed, clutching at his heart. “Tell me you all feel something, else I’m dying before you at the tender age of eighteen.”
Belle laughed nervously.
Ibrahim shook his head and spoke with a quiet confidence Beatrice admired. “The Balance between worlds is like a tapestry. When a thread pulls, we feel it. When a member of the restless dead tears free from that fabric, we must smooth it down once more. West,” he instructed. “We move west. The Work begins.”
They followed their Intuition past a bustling market square teeming with people, glittering with wares and fabrics, reeking of scents, and at last they found a young man in loose pants and tunic floating in an alley, entirely supine but airborne. The hem of his beige tunic gaped down from his back like a fluttering flag. His body was luminous.
Belle shrieked. Beatrice moved in front of her, placing herself in the specter’s line of sight, and thus was the first to enter the alley. It wasn’t that she wanted to see this abomination any more than Belle, but her instinct told her that this was her proving ground, and she must rise to its challenge.
Ahmed held out his hand to Belle, a gesture urging her not to worry, and smiled. The French girl’s shoulders immediately eased, as did everyone else’s. Ahmed’s joy was potent magic.
“You each have a gift,” Beatrice instructed, trying to use the sort of voice that made people turn and listen. Surprisingly, her companions did. “And we each have an instinct. Use it. Now.”
She whirled toward the floating boy and flung out her hands, phoenix fire instantly ready, even eager, to be wielded. It flowed from her hands, seemingly knowing what to do, enveloping the youngster’s hovering form like a bubble of water, and the boy’s possessor became visible.
Reaching up and out from the innocent light brown face of the boy, like peeling up a layer of foreign skin, yawned a transparent, silver-white skeletal face, a terrible maw unhinging as deep-set sockets with no eyes were superimposed over the terrified open eyes of the child in the air. The boy’s thin body was shaking as he floated.
Ibrahim reached into the new, vast library in his mind. He chose scripture from the Quran and spoke it bravely, directing his words at the demon above. Displeased, the offending spirit strained and thrashed inside the youth, tearing at the dusty linen of his long tunic and frayed vest, turning the boy’s honey brown skin a pallid gray, threatening to transform him into a ghost before their very eyes.
Verena gasped. From the look on her face, the entwined beings horrified her, yet the living victim’s obvious pain drew her forward. She reached out to touch him; his racked body went limp at the contact. Her hand was bathed in soft light, and its application was mercy.
George reacted next. Taking charcoal from his pocket, he took to the nearby stone wall of the adjacent building, and in a few swift strokes he etched the outline of a great dove. Beatrice squinted before realizing that the dove was not only a picture but a word. The body of the bird curved down and continued into Arabic script that read Peace.
“That is brilliant,” Ahmed breathed. George beamed, his fair skin pinking, his cheeks dimpled, making him somewhat the cherub.
None of them knew precisely what they were doing. Nonethe- less, instinct proved true, and Beatrice was proud in a way she had never felt: of herself, and of these strangers who were suddenly family.
The possessed boy’s gaze snapped to the dove, to Peace, and the sight kept his eyes from rolling and his mouth from foaming. She could tell they were making progress. As well, Beatrice noticed that if she moved her hands closer together, her binding blue fire constricted the creature within him, and she could more clearly see the spirit’s form around and within the boy’s body. The spirit hated its shackles.
Belle came close and touched the boy’s ankle, then hissed in pain at what she felt. Ahmed was swift at her side, bestowing joy, reminding them all to breathe deeply. He gave a soft laugh to buffer their hearts. Possession infected the air and the mind with heavy negativity.
“What did you learn, Belle?” Beatrice asked.
“It cried out from the towers and saw dumb sheep below. A muezzin, he was, once. But at some point he turned and sang for evil. Sang not to lure men to prayer but to depravity. Humanity, dumb sheep . . . He wanted to scare them, to turn them all. It wants. It hungers for so much more than this life can give . . .” She shuddered and Ahmed’s attention was again needed.
“He sang from the towers calling others to prayer,” Ibrahim murmured. “And yet the creature never learned how to pray for himself. How sad.” After a moment he cleared his throat and re- cited:
I desire fire from
Your burning sorrow,
and I want to take cover under the dust of
I am in a death struggle with my ailments and from
I ask a moment of happiness.
About the Author
LEANNA RENEE HIEBER is the author of The Eterna Files and Eterna and Omega. The Perilous Prophecy is a standalone prequel to Strangely Beautiful. Rarely seen out of Victorian garb, Hieber has won several Prism Awards and was a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award. A talented actor and singer, Hieber has appeared on stage and screen, including episodes of Boardwalk Empire, and regularly leads ghost tours in New York City. Visit her online at Leannareneehieber.com.
Perilous Prophecy is out June 20th, but you can pre-order your copy NOW!