Claire Legrand is a best-selling YA author—her works include the Empirium Trilogy and Sawkill Girls—but next year, she’ll be releasing her first adult fantasy saga. The first book is titled A Crown of Ivy and Glass, and io9 is thrilled to be revealing the cover and an excerpt today.
Here’s more about the saga, which is called the Middlemist Trilogy: “Bridgerton meets A Court of Thorns and Roses in this new fantasy-romance series. The story centers around Gemma, Farrin, and Mara Ashbourne, three sisters in a noble magic family who must fight hidden dark forces trying to destroy the Middlemist—an ancient barrier that protects their world from the dangerous realm of the old gods—and uncover long-buried secrets that will change their lives forever.”
And here’s the full cover of A Crown and Ivy and Glass, featuring a custom illustration by digital fantasy artist Nekro:
And here’s the excerpt from A Crown of Ivy and Glass; it showcases a heated moment between magical sisters Gemma and Mara, and offers an introduction to the eerie Middlemist.
“I have to tell you something, Gemma,” my sister began slowly, “something you can’t tell Father. Not yet. But do tell Farrin. Ask her to summon Gareth from the university. Sit down and tell them both at once—I don’t trust the post, nor even a wilder’s messenger, not with this—and make certain that no one is around to hear. Maybe the three of you together can do something before it’s too late.”
Mara laughed a little, quietly, like a hitched breath. “At the very least, the secrets I keep will weigh less on me, once you and Farrin share the burden.” Then she frowned, her gaze drifting away. “All the weapons at my fingertips, and yet my hands have long been tied…”
The expression on her face was so distant and strange, shifting between fear and sadness and anger, that my blood turned cold with dismay.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Before it’s too late? Too late for what?”
She fell silent, staring at the floor. I touched her chin and turned her back to me.
“Mara?” I set my jaw. “Tell me, right this instant, what you need to say.”
But before she could, a clangor of bells exploded from the priory, so sudden and cacophonous that I nearly jumped out of my skin.
Mara was on her feet at once, her tiredness gone. She loomed over me, tense and coiled, palm hovering over the dagger at her waist. A hawk’s cry pierced the air, and Mara whispered, “Freyda.” Then, without looking at me, she barked, “Get inside the priory, Gemma. Now.”
With that, she ran out of the temple and down the mountain, her strides liquid and long, her footfalls nearly silent, and I should have obeyed—oh, I should have obeyed—but I couldn’t forget that awful look on her face, nor the haunted quality of her voice. And I knew what those bells meant.
An intruder, as the Warden deemed them. A creature or being from the Old Country had slipped through the Middlemist somewhere along its thousand-mile length, breaching the rift between that realm and ours either by accident or design.
To the Order of the Rose, the reason mattered not. Intruders would either be wrangled back to where they belonged or killed. No exceptions. No delays. When the bells rang, the Roses attacked.
And if I didn’t act immediately, I might never hear what Mara had to say. The moment would be lost, she would feign ignorance and never speak of it again—or something terrible would happen to her, and she would lose the opportunity altogether.
Before it’s too late, she had said. Words I knew I must take seriously, no matter what it cost me.
I ran down the mountain after my sister, clumsy in my boots and gown, pumping my thin legs as fast as I could. “Mara! Wait! What did you need to tell me?”
Mara whipped her head over her shoulder and roared, “Go inside, Gemma!”
Other women were flooding out of the priory—some younger than Mara, some older, all of them impossibly graceful as they bounded through the trees toward the thick silver ring that encircled the grounds.
My blood chilled as I watched them—faces flinty, hands clutching quivers and arrows, sabers, crossbows. I knew I should stop, that I wasn’t meant to see what would happen next, but I had to know what Mara needed to tell me. I couldn’t go back to that day twelve years ago and stop the Warden from taking her, but I could do this.
The Mist was not far now. My body seized up with fear as I approached its shimmering veil, but I pushed onward, ignoring the shouts of Farrin and Father some ways behind me. Their frantic voices ordered me to stop, begged me to stop.
Dozens of Roses launched themselves into the air or leapt through the trees, their bodies changing as I watched them—elongating, sharpening, swelling. Bare feet grew talons. The hands clutching weapons hardened to scaly claws. Lean arms sprouted wings of black, gray, speckled brown. Their changing bodies shredded whatever garments they wore, the scraps of fabric fluttering to the ground like molted feathers, and it occurred to me then, startling a gasping laugh out of me, why all the Roses wore such plain, threadbare garments.
What was the point of wearing fine clothes if they would be destroyed every time the bells rang?
Foolish girl that I was, I had never before considered the practicality of their garb, only the dreariness of it.
Just before I plunged into the Mist, I held my breath, bracing myself.
I was not disappointed.
Right as the Mist hit me, washing over me with a strange supple coolness, agony ripped through me like nothing I had ever felt before. Our greenway’s hungry pull was nothing in comparison. The Mist had a thousand relentless teeth, and all of them were digging into my skin, my muscle, my bone.
I staggered, vomited, caught myself against a tree. Looking up, squinting through tears of pain and shock, I frantically searched for Mara, desperate to find her before the tingling blackness encroaching on my vision swallowed me whole.
But as I stood there, a horrible chorus of shrieks assailed my ears—first only a few, then dozens. Vicious and clearly not of our world. The sound made my pain worse. I blacked out for an instant and came to in the dirt, on my hand and knees. I gasped for breath, not understanding what I was hearing. I had thought Mara and the others would travel through one of the priory’s greenways to whatever distant expanse of the Mist had been breached—but these bestial cries were close, and growing closer. Intruders, so close to Rosewarren? Impossible. Unheard of. When the gods created the Middlemist just before their deaths, on the day of the Unmaking, they ensured that the Mist nearest the priory was doubly strong. A final pitying gift for those who would be doomed to serve there.
Intruders had never managed to reach the grounds of Rosewarren, not even the nearby town of Fenwood or any settlement within ten square miles—but they were here now, and that could mean only one thing:
The Middlemist, crafted and fortified by the gods themselves, was weakening.
But was it losing strength only here, near the priory? I hoped so, despite the danger to Mara. The alternative was too horrific to imagine.
All around me, the Roses called to each other in their strange language—a hybrid of the common tongue and whatever coded words the Warden taught them. I only recognized a few: They want the girl! Get her out of here!
My stomach plummeted to my toes. I knew, without doubt, my instincts screaming at me to run, that the girl they spoke of was me.
I tried to rise but couldn’t, my legs useless. I scrambled for something—anything, a tree or rock to hide behind, some dropped weapon I could pretend I knew how to fire—but I was lost in the Mist, the world around me opaque with slithering gray.
And then I heard a cry of fury, both human and not, shattering in its despair, and distorted, multiplied, as if the sound had been run through with claws and each bleeding strip had its own voice.
Even so, I knew to whom the cry belonged, and my chest seized hard around my heart.
A great weight crashed out of the trees and threw itself before me, protecting me from whatever approaching enemy was issuing those piercing shrieks.
My breath caught in my throat.
I had never seen her transform; none of us had. She had made sure of it. But now I was in the Mist, a trespasser, and she could not hide herself from me—her lambent golden eyes, the wild fall of dark hair and feathers cascading down her back, the enormous brown wings sprouting from naked, knotted muscles she had not possessed only moments earlier in the temple. Her skin was no longer entirely human, a mosaic of pale flesh, scales, and sleek feathers. Her face was her own, but sharper, feral, wreathed in gleaming velvet fur.
“Leave, now!” She roared the words, her changed voice breaking in half with sorrow and shame, and I wanted to—gods help me, I wanted to flee as I would a monster in a nightmare—but I no longer had control over my limbs. The pain was too great, my sickness too complete. I tried to apologize, but my voice croaked in vain.
A strong hand gripped my arm, pulled me up, helped me run. I let it take me, trusting it, glad for it, because it was leading me away from this creature that was both my sister and not. The air cleared; the hand was taking me out of the Mist, thank all the gods, and as my vision righted itself, I saw that the hand belonged to my father. His countenance was utterly changed—no longer a proud, preening father but instead a ferocious hunter. A sentinel, his Anointed power giving him heightened strength and agility, unfailing precision with any weapon he might grab.
But there was no need for weapons. Father’s speed was enough to save us. We burst through the iron gate and into the thicket where Farrin waited, looking pale and small, and then plunged into the greenway’s mouth. Its magic swirled around me, confused but eager to scent the Mist on my skin, but I didn’t care about its confusion, nor the tingling fresh pain spreading fast through my body.
I could think only of Mara, the howl of her despair, the tears streaking her face—female and avian, both stunning and repugnant.
It was only the second time I could remember seeing my sister cry. The first was the day the Warden took her from us, and in both instances, Mara’s tears—her fear and sorrow, the horrible loss radiating from her like churning waves—were all because of me.
Excerpt from Claire Legrand’s A Crown of Ivy and Glass reprinted by permission of Sourcebooks Casablanca.
Claire Legrand’s A Crown of Ivy and Glass will be released in May 2023; you can pre-order a copy here.
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