Elijah Kinch Spector’s sequel to debut fantasy adventure Kalyna the Soothsayer is on the way, and from the title alone—Kalyna the Cutthroat—you can tell things have shifted a bit for the central character. The book’s not out until late 2024, but io9 has the cover reveal and an exclusive excerpt from Kalyna the Cutthroat to share today.
Here’s a bit more about the story:
Radiant Basket of Rainbow Shells is on sabbatical when his homeland of Loasht abruptly revokes his citizenship and strands him in his host country, the Tetrarchia, which views his people with barely concealed suspicion. Suddenly, Radiant needs someone with cunning and guile to help him escape. The perfect candidate? Kalyna Aljosanova, a crafty, mysterious mercenary with a larger-than-life reputation and secrets by the dozen.
But Loasht has become volatile, and as a member of a persecuted minority, Radiant may not be able to return to his family. Instead, Kalyna uses her signature wit and intellect to find Radiant asylum in a utopian border community, whose charismatic leader soon grows resentful of the refugees flocking to his village—and suspicious of Kalyna’s aptitude for his, ah, cult leadership tactics. Before long, he’s threatening to expel them all into a dangerous world where no one, much less Radiant, will be safe.
Kalyna the Cutthroat deftly imagines how the pressures of heroism can warp even the most unshakeable of survivors, asking what responsibilities human beings have to one another, and whether one good deed—of any magnitude—can absolve you of your past for the sake of a future.
Here’s the full cover; the design is by Samira Iravani and the art is by Bose Collins.
And here’s the excerpt! It finds Radiant scrambling to leave the Tetrarchia with haste—and realizing his “friends” in the Tetrarchia have wasted no time turning on him.
How I Left Abathçodu, with the Help of Farbex the Good Donkey
“Get moving where?” I asked breathlessly as Dagmar began to push me down the street, away from my pursuers. My pursuers who had been my neighbors for nearly a year.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Away. You’re the smart boy.” Her Cöllüknit was halting, but did the job.
“Why—?” I took a deep breath and tried again. “Why are you here? I’m glad to see you, of course, but it’s been three seasons.”
She moved into the next intersection, looked down every street, and then seemed to pick a left turn at random.
“Thought you could use some help,” she said. Then, suddenly, she stopped so abruptly that I bumped into her. She rounded on me. “You can pay?”
I blinked. “I… What will you do if I can’t? Un-save me? Throw me back to them?”
“No. No. But we will go our separate ways.”
My mouth went dry. I must have looked very strange, standing in the middle of the street, slowly licking my lips as I stared fervently at nothing.
“I can pay,” I said. “If we can get my things.”
Dagmar looked thoughtful for a moment, tapping a long finger against the side of her nose.
“Do you… erm,” she began. “Do you speak Rotfelsenisch?”
I shook my head, and then offered, “I can read it decently.”
Dagmar groaned and stared off into space, as though she would read the words she needed there. She said something that was certainly a Rotfelsenisch oath or insult. There was still shouting in the distance, and it sounded as though the chorus was growing.
“Do you have,” she began again, “anywhere safe you can wait? A friend or, ah, ally?”
I thought about this, as the voices clamoring for me got louder. Dagmar did not seem particularly worried, which I took as proof that we were, for now, safe. I felt like a child relieved that an adult was now here to fix everything, though she was younger than me.
My one-time friend, Manti Dumpling Akram, was of course right out. He may have truly thought that bringing me to the local authorities would have helped me, but his thoughts and intentions did not matter to me anymore. Certainly, I could hope that my terrified flight had shaken his resolve—perhaps even shaken his trust in the fairness of authority—but I was not about to turn right around and ask for his kind of “help.”
I wondered whether Crybaby Vüqar, a fellow scholar, would protect me out of professional courtesy, but of course he’d been Akram’s friend long before he’d been mine. Besides, the Tetrarchic citizens I’d met, even when they were being friendly, were quicker to see the differences between themselves and outsiders than any similarities.
“Think faster, smart boy,” said Dagmar, as she grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and dragged me around a few corners, into an empty yurt. We were at the base of a hill covered in yurts like friendly little mushrooms, right where the wooden buildings ended in this part of town. Dagmar deposited me onto a stranger’s bedroll.
“What would you have done if someone were home?” I asked, feeling surprisingly mild about everything.
“No one is,” she replied, standing by the entrance. “Lucky them.”
Would the librarians help me? I had become familiar with a number of them, and perhaps those who spent all day buried in old texts would better understand the historical context of my current situation. Or, as the guardians of the Library of Abathçodu’s system, integrity, and order, they would prefer that things go back to the way they had always been. Either way, I had never discussed much with any of them outside of searching for books. That was the way of the Library.
“Find the Loashti!” came from outside. It sounded like the person yelling was running right past us and up the hill.
Dagmar grumbled something at me in Rotfelsenisch, which I assumed meant “hurry up” or similar. At some point she had silently drawn her sword.
I remembered the temporary, and clandestinely placed, statue I had seen some months ago, “Alimjun the Feckless Grocer Ejecting Me from Her Store, as Rendered in Twigs and Curtains,” and wished I’d known the name of its sculptor. Perhaps that person would have hidden me, purely out of spite for that grocer, my landlady.
“Maybe Doctor Eldor?” I finally asked.
“Sure,” Dagmar hissed.
“Do doctors in the Tetrarchia have any… code about how they help people? Perhaps that supersedes the government’s wishes?”
Dagmar’s passable Cöllüknit broke down at that question, so she stared at me as though I had babbled curses and mysterious Words of the Gods. Backwards.
“Let’s try Eldor,” I sighed.
“Sure,” she repeated. Then she peered out of the yurt and beckoned to me.
The bottom of the hill was quiet now, and I did not even hear yelling in the distance. Had they given up? Had the whole city been roused against me, or just a small, angry aberration? Perhaps there were even competing groups, and Akram and Vüqar were leading the faction who wanted to keep me “safe” in official custody.
Whatever the case, I felt safest with Dagmar and her sword. She was not bothered by my being Loashti, because she hardly ever seemed bothered at all.
I managed to get my bearings and lead us to Doctor Eldor’s without incident. The streets were mostly quiet now, which, given the bustling school and its merry students, was worrying. It was dark, but not that late yet.
When we arrived at the same small wooden building where Akram and my “friends” had, the previous summer, attempted to trick the learned doctor into “reading” my many tattoos, Dagmar flattened against the wall next to the door. I knocked.
Eldor opened the door slowly, cautiously. She was a stout, gray woman who always looked inquisitive, and warm candlelight radiated from behind her. When she saw me, she stopped opening the door, and left it halfway.
“Is it an emergency?” she asked. “Did they hurt you?”
This moment of seemingly genuine worry, even if it was purely professional, made tears come to my for the second time that night. I very pathetically wiped them away on my sleeve.
“Not yet,” I whimpered. “Will you let me hide here?” My voice cracked. “Just—just for a little while?”
Eldor only hesitated a moment, but in that time I fancied I saw a thousand calculations and emotions cross her eyes. Then she opened the door.
“Come in. It isn’t illegal to harbor you, yet. Just frowned upon.”
I rushed in, and Dagmar appeared behind me, like a looming Death Spirit with her sword a pale glint angling out of her cloak. She followed me in before Eldor could fully react.
“Who is that?” she asked, as Dagmar kicked the door closed.
“My protector,” I said.
Eldor nodded at the bare blade. “And that is for…?”
“You, had you turned him down,” said Dagmar, as she sheathed her sword. It did not sound like a threat, just a fact of life.
Eldor, in most classic Quru fashion, asked no further probing questions. She led us through the small front room of her home, which was where she treated patients, complete with a small couch and a number of strange instruments. I had been here, not long ago, when my throat had swollen up at the advent of spring. Eldor had given me some concoctions for drainage that had me feeling human again in a few days, which was lovely, but a bit slow compared to many Loashti medicines.
Off to the side of Eldor’s office, there was an open door into her husband, Big Rüstem’s, workshop, where we could see piles of hay and cane, plaster heads for temporary statues that had not yet been constructed, and small models no more than a foot high. Dagmar craned her neck for a closer look at the artist’s domain.
Meanwhile, Doctor Eldor took us into a different, smaller back room, which contained a low table, with sitting pillows on the floor, a multicolored lamp hanging from the ceiling, and wall shelving stacked high with jars. She closed the door and sat on a pillow; I joined her nearby. Dagmar put her left boot on the face of the table, leaning forward, resting her left elbow on her knee and dangling her hand idly. That this was extremely uncouth could be read in the slight curl of Eldor’s lip.
I could now see Dagmar’s face fully in the light from above, refracted through red, green, blue, and yellow glass. The sellsword looked just as I remembered from the previous summer: a lean, pale face, with brown eyes searching suspiciously even while she seemed unbelievably calm. She was less sun-burnt than she had been, and I think she had a new scar: a nick below her jaw.
“Only one exit,” she said.
“Either you trust me, or you do not,” said Eldor, looking up at her. “In here, if anyone comes to the door, they will not see you. If Rüstem’s workshop door was closed, it would make them suspicious.”
“Just saying,” replied Dagmar, shrugging. She leaned down further and shoved at my shoulder in what was meant to be a friendly fashion.
I nearly screamed in fear and imagined pain. Shaking, I gripped my own knees tightly and attempted to will myself into stillness. Dagmar gingerly removed her hand.
“So, smart boy,” she said, “where is your… um…”
“Things?” I offered.
“… money,” she finished, at the same time.
I stared down at my knees, took a deep breath, and tried again to be still.
“No…” I gulped, then tried again, closing my eyes. “No money if you don’t get my books.” It was not courage—only the thought that going through all of this and losing my Commonplace volumes would be too great a calamity.
“Yes, yes, I’ll get your things. I just forgot the—” another Rotfelsenisch curse, “—Quru word for ‘things.’ Why must such a simple word have six syllables?’
Eldor opened her mouth to answer, but I shook my head at her and she decided against it.
I, with Eldor’s assistance, spent some time trying to give Dagmar directions to my rented yurt behind Alimjun’s shop. Eventually, we laid it out on the table in a makeshift map fashioned from piles of some powdered root from a nearby jar. Once it was clearly visible to Dagmar, she understood the way immediately.
“And when you smell fermented peppers,” added Eldor, “head toward the scent.”
“Why didn’t you start with that?” sighed Dagmar.
She finally removed her foot from the table, and then shook herself out of her cloak. Underneath, Dagmar was wearing thick leather trousers and a blue blouse, billowy with a number of small red feathers sown into it. The specks of red rippled as she rolled up her sleeves. Dagmar’s arms were long, wiry, muscular, and absolutely etched with scars: they were nearly as covered as mine were with tattoos. Some of those scars were still red, and Eldor widened her eyes at them.
“It gets cold up here at night,” I said. It was a stupid thing to say.
“Cute,” replied Dagmar. Then she was gone.
Excerpt from Elijah Kinch Spector’s Kalyna the Cutthroat reprinted by permission of Erewhon Books.
Elijah Kinch Spector’s Kalyna the Cutthroat will be released November 26, 2024.
Update, August 21, 12:40 p.m.: io9 was initially provided with an out-of-date press release summarizing Kalyna the Cutthroat’s plot; the headline, description, and intro to the excerpt have been adjusted for accuracy.
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