Thea Guanzon’s debut novel, The Hurricane Wars, takes inspiration from the myths and culture of her native Philippines—but it also draws on elements universal across fantasy fiction, including secret magic and forbidden romance. io9 has an exclusive excerpt to share today from this new author.
Here’s a summary of Hurricane Wars, followed by the full cover and the excerpt!
All Talasyn has ever known is the Hurricane Wars. Growing up an orphan in a nation under siege by the ruthless Night Emperor, she found her family among the soldiers who fight for freedom. But she is hiding a deadly secret: light magic courses through her veins, a blazing power believed to have been wiped out years ago that can cut through the Night Empire’s shadows.
Prince Alaric, the emperor’s only son and heir, has been tasked with obliterating any threats to the Night Empire’s rule with the strength of his armies and mighty shadow magic. He discovers the greatest threat yet in Talasyn: a girl burning brightly on the battlefield with the magic that killed his grandfather, turned his father into a monster, and ignited the Hurricane Wars. He tries to kill her, but in a clash of light and dark, their powers merge and create a force the likes of which has never been seen.
This war can only end with them. But an even greater danger is coming, and the strange magic they can create together could be the only way to overcome it. Talasyn and Alaric must decide… are they fated to join hands, or destroy each other?
In her dream she was fourteen years old again and the city of Hornbill’s Head was all rammed earth and wooden lattice and animal skin, rising up from the straw-colored grass of the Great Steppe like a precariously layered cake nestled within soaring walls of mudbrick and salt. She was running from the watchmen, the pockets of her tattered clothes stuffed with flatbread and dried berries, cursing the shopkeeper’s alertness with her every labored breath.
Hornbill’s Head was—had been—taller than it was wide. Its inhabitants learned from an early age how to go vertical, higher and higher, and Talasyn was no exception. She scrambled up ladders and ledges and sped over rooftops and crossed the rickety bridges that connected one building to the next, all while the watchmen chased after her, puffing on their bird-bone whistles. She ran and ran, climbing ever higher, feeling the familiar ache the city left in her limbs and the rush of fear as the watchmen snapped at her feet. Yet on she went, up and up and air and sky, until she reached the battlements of the west wall. The frigid wind dug hard fingers into her hair and stabbed at her chapped lips as she hoisted herself onto the battlement, the whistles shrill and insistent behind her.
She had planned to skirt around the city walls and then drop back down into the lower slums, where she lived with the other bottom-dwellers, and where it was too much trouble for the watch to continue tracking an orphaned street rat who had stolen a few loaves and some fruit. However, as she straightened, balancing on the mudbrick ledge, the Great Steppe spread out miles below her feet in a vast expanse of tallgrass and rabbitbrush, she saw it.
It loomed on the flat horizon, arthropodous and elliptic, lightning cannons dangling from bow to stern like an array of jointed legs. In Talasyn’s memory it was five hundred meters in length. In her dream, it was as big as worlds.
Fueled by scores of aether hearts that had been imbued with rain and wind and lightning magic by Emperor Gaheris’s cunning Enchanters, pulsating sapphire and emerald and white through the metalglass sheets comprising the translucent hull, the stormship approached Hornbill’s Head with all the grim finality of a tidal wave, dragging black thunderclouds in its wake: the endless sea of burnished grass bowed beneath it, bent by the gales from the Squallfast that its enormous turbines spun under a steadily darkening sky.
Talasyn stood frozen in terror. In her memory she’d run away, heading low, diving into the first shelter she could find, but in this dream her body refused to obey. The stormship drew nearer and nearer and the wind blew through her heart like iron bolts and suddenly—
She woke up.
Her eyes flew open, a gasp escaping her parted lips. Thick smoke rushed into her lungs and she coughed, her throat spasming as it was seared through. The world was lit red, sparkling with shattered metalglass. Her gloved hands fumbled with the buckle at her waist until the harness gave way and she fell onto a bed of snow, shards of her wasp’s sidescuttle raining down all around her.
There was a moment of disorientation as the fog of unconsciousness lifted, the veil between dreams and reality disintegrating into splinters of fire and winter, her heart beating faster than she could count. She wasn’t in Hornbill’s Head, and she wasn’t staring up at a Night Empire stormship as it eclipsed the heavens. Instead, she was somewhere outside Frostplum, glancing over her shoulder at her wasp, which had crashed on its side, its slender foils bent at odd angles, its striped sails consumed by bright flames from the cracked Firewarren-infused aether heart that powered the lamps, slowly licking their way toward the rest of the vessel.
She drew in one slow breath after another, until time returned to her. Until she was nineteen years old, and all trace of civilization on Sardovia’s Great Steppe was long gone. Eradicated by Kesath’s forces as a punishment for refusing to bow to the Night Emperor.
If Sardovia lost tonight’s battle, the same fate would befall its Highlands—to which Frostplum was the gateway.
Coughing out the last of the smoke, Talasyn crawled away from the wreckage. The wolves had sent her damaged wasp spinning over the longleaf-pine forest that bordered Frostplum and all the way to the other side of the glacial mountain lake. Over a distance marked by ice floes and dark water, through the gaps between stout trunks, she could glimpse the ruined buildings, the rushing silhouettes, the burning. There was no sign of the coracles, the Kesathese ironclad, or the Sardovian frigates, which meant that both sides had switched to ground warfare; she must have been unconscious for a while. Eventually her head stopped spinning and her legs remembered how they worked and she was hauling herself up, she was standing, she was scrambling over the lake, navigating a treacherous path from one large chunk of ice to the next.
By the World-Father’s untrimmed beard, it was colder than the Night Emperor’s heart out here. Mists of silvery vapor curled into the air with her every exhalation. Through them, she glimpsed a panicked crowd spilling from the forest on the far shore: Sardovian soldiers and cityfolk alike. Some headed for the caves while others took their chances on the ice. The light of Lir’s seven moons bore down upon them all, casting the surrounding white mountains into harsh relief.
I have to make it across the lake, she thought. I have to make it back to Frostplum. I have to rejoin the fight.
Talasyn had almost reached the forested bank when fumes of darkness unfurled from the trees and drifted over the snow, consuming the ice floes in a creeping wash of inky black.
She skidded to a halt and the darkness encircled her, rippling with aether. It wasn’t the darkness of the night or the smoke from the fighting that had already broken out on the mountain. It was deeper and heavier, more alive. It moved, curling over the frozen lake like tendrils.
She had encountered these shadows before, on many a battlefield. When they formed rings like this, it effectively trapped all those who were caught within. Sardovian regiments had learned the hard way that trying to pass through these barriers resulted in grievous injuries, if not outright dismemberment. It was a favorite tactic of the Shadowforged warriors that made up the Night Empire’s fearsome Legion. If Emperor Gaheris had let them out to play, suddenly the chances of Frostplum fending off this siege seemed considerably slimmer.
As were her own chances of survival.
She stood statue-still, listening to the creak of footsteps on the ice and the cries from people she couldn’t see through the murky black wreathing the air.
“Pick off the stragglers,” a masculine voice, greasy and guttural like an oil slick, instructed from not so far away. Talasyn bit back a curse. If the Legion was sweeping the lake, that meant there was no further need for them in the city and the Sardovian regiment had scattered. Frostplum was lost. The rest of the Highlands would follow, with its most strategically located settlement now in the clutches of the Night Empire.
Horror and panic tore through her in equal measure, and then ceded ground to a boiling rage. She hadn’t asked for this; the people of Frostplum hadn’t asked for this. No one in Sardovia had. A few hours ago her regiment was celebrating Khaede and Sol’s future and now they were being mowed down like voles across pack ice. Snuffed out one by one. There was only herself, the night, the black water, and the lurking Shadowforged encircling her like a cage. She would not let it end like this.
With Talasyn’s rage came the spark of an ember in her core. She felt it burn the way it had earlier, but more intensely this time. Sharp, radiant, and demanding justice.
And it hurt. It felt as though her entire being was aflame. She had to let it out before it consumed her.
Don’t let anyone see, the Amirante had warned. You’re not ready yet. They can’t know.
You will be hunted.
Talasyn closed her eyes in an attempt to center herself, swallowing her emotions as if they were bile. No sooner had she succeeded in doing that than the ice shifted beneath her feet and she heard frost crystals crackling under heavy armor. Her nape prickled with the weight of a stare that must be surveying the Sardovian Allfold’s crest—a phoenix, the same one emblazoned on the regiments’ sails—stitched on the back of her coat.
“You lost, little bird?”
It was that oil-slick voice again. Measured steps drew near and the telltale growl of static could be heard as the Shadowgate was opened. The fire in Talasyn rose up as if a dam had finally given way.
There was nowhere left to run.
I’m not going to die. Not here. Not now.
Talasyn whirled around to meet her attacker head-on.
The legionnaire had to be at least seven feet in height, every inch of him covered in obsidian plate, and his gauntleted fists clutched an enormous greatsword crafted from pure darkness, shot through with streaks of silver aether. The edge of the blade crackled as he raised it above her head.
It was the same now as it had been the day Hornbill’s Head was destroyed. It was instinct. It was the body fighting tooth and nail to survive.
The magic spread through her like wings.
Talasyn met the Shadowforged sword with a wave of radi- ance. The tapestry of aether that bound the dimensions and held all elements appeared in her mind’s eye and she yanked at its strings, opening the way to the Lightweave. It shot out from her splayed fingertips, raw and shapeless and uncontrolled in her alarm, painting the immediate vicinity in hues of brilliant gold.
The last time this happened—when Kesathese troops crept through the ruins of Hornbill’s Head after the stormship had flattened it, searching for survivors to make an example out of—the soldier aiming his crossbow at Talasyn’s fourteen- year-old self had died instantly, flesh and bone devoured by the Lightweave. This giant legionnaire managed to block, his greatsword transmuting into a dark oblong shield with which the radiance collided in a fiery flash. However, Talasyn was desperate and he’d been taken by surprise, and he screeched as light consumed shadow and he was blasted to the ground in a heap of singed armor.
Sardovian forces had arrived too late to save Hornbill’s Head but in just enough time to rescue those who had withstood the stormship’s wrath. Coxswain Darius had been the one to witness her kill the Kesathese soldier and he’d ushered her away, taking her straight to the Amirante.
Tonight on the Highlands ice, though, no one was going to come for her. She was on her own until she made it back to her regiment in Frostplum.
And she wasn’t going to let anyone stand in her way.
Focus, the Amirante would say over and over during their training sessions. Words to meditate on. Aether is the prime element, the one that binds all the others together and connects each dimension to the next. Every once in a while, an aethermancer is brought into this world—someone who can traverse the aether’s path in specific ways. Rainsingers. Firedancers. Shadowforged. Windcallers. Thunderstruck. Enchanters. And you.
The Lightweave is the thread and you are the spinner. It will do as you command.
So, tell it what you want.
The giant legionnaire was flailing on the ice like a turtle on its back, his bulky armor cracked in several places, blood seeping through. Talasyn narrowed her eyes at him and stretched an arm out to the side, her spread fingers tugging back the veil between this world and others, opening the Lightweave once more. The weapon that appeared in her open palm, summoned from one of several realms of magical energy that existed within aetherspace, resembled the long, wide- bladed daggers that had saved many Sardovian infantrymen’s lives in melee, except that it was fashioned solely from golden light and silver aether. Its serrated edges blazed in the gloom like wisps of sun.
The Shadowforged’s panic was almost tangible, despite his mask. He scrambled backward on his elbows as Talasyn advanced. It looked as though his legs weren’t working, and perhaps, in the time before, a part of her would have quailed at the thought of killing someone so obviously incapacitated and defenseless. But he was one of the Legion and the Hurricane Wars had hardened her, loss after loss whittling away at the child she’d once been until there was nothing left but fury.
Talasyn plunged the dagger into his chest—or she tried to. In that scant sliver of a second before the tip of the blade met the plate mail encasing his torso, something—
—loomed up from out of the darkness—
—and her dagger slid against the crescent’s edge of a war scythe conjured from the Shadowgate.
With her concentration disrupted, the light-woven dagger fizzled out of existence and Talasyn was left clutching at empty air. It was instinct, too, the thing that made her leap back, narrowly avoiding her new assailant’s next, sweeping strike.
The coin-bright rays of the seven moons sketched in mottled hues another legionnaire that, while not as statuesque as the giant that Talasyn had just felled, was tall and broad and imposing nonetheless. Over a long-sleeved chainmail tunic, he wore a belted cuirass of black and crimson leather, with spiked pauldrons and scaled crimson armguards connected to black gauntlets, their tips pointed like claws. The fur-trimmed hood of a winter cloak the color of midnight framed his pale face, the lower portion of which was shrouded by an obsidian half- mask embossed with a design of two rows of wickedly sharp, wolfish teeth, captured in an eternal snarl.
The effect was nightmarish. And, while Talasyn had never encountered this Shadowforged before, she knew who he was. She knew what the silver chimera on the brooch atop his collarbone meant. A lion’s roaring head affixed to the serpen- tine body of a brocaded eel, rearing up on the hooves of the spindlehorn antelope—Kesath’s imperial seal.
Fear stole the breath from her lungs, as razor-edged as the winter on this mountain.
People always said that Alaric of House Ossinast, Master of the Shadowforged Legion and Gaheris’s only son and heir, had the most piercing gray eyes. Those eyes shone a bright and chilling silver with the glow of his magic under the seven moons, looking directly into hers.
She’d been warned about him. She had known that she would one day have to face him.
That day had come too soon.
Then he was upon her with his flickering scythe of smoke and ink, and doubtless her terror was etched all over her face and across her trembling lips. Acting on pure instinct, she resummoned the Lightweave into the shape of two daggers, one in each of her shaking hands. The scythe clashed against the dagger on the right, sending vibrations all the way up her arm as she raised it overhead. She put all her strength into shoving him away, but he was quick to recover, coming at her again.
Oh, it was on.
Talasyn often sparred with the Sardovian regiments’ Blademaster as part of her training, but no blow from a metal sword could hold a candle to the sheer, pulsating magic of the Shadowgate, and practicing with a mentor was a fair wind compared to someone actively trying to kill her. Especially when that someone was nearly twice her size and had report- edly been trained in the ways of the Shadowforged from the moment that he’d learned how to walk.
It was all Talasyn could do to dodge and to parry as Alaric drove her across the ice floes, his injured subordinate forgotten. Each dark barrier dissipated as they passed through it, as if he were banishing them—but to what end? Perhaps he took some sadistic joy in drawing this out, in playing with her as a cat would play with a mouse. She would never know and she wasn’t about to try to ask him.
Kesath’s crown prince was relentless; he moved like a thunderstorm, powerful and everywhere all at once. Shadow careened into light in a conflagration of aether sparks—once, twice, a million times. The flimsier patches in the sheets of ice cracked under the soles of her snow boots, spatters of lake water splashing at her woolen breeches, painfully cold wherever they landed. His blade easily dwarfed both of hers and on more than one occasion she tried to shape her desperate will into a shield, tried to achieve what had eluded her ever since she began aethermancing, but she still couldn’t. More than once, she left herself wide open as she failed to conjure a shield, his scythe breaking through the flimsy weapon that she hastily cobbled together at the last minute, and she received sharp and shadow-spun cuts to her arms for all her trouble.
And then there came a moment when Talasyn teetered on the very edge of the ice floe and Alaric swung the war scythe from the side and there was no time for her to turn, to block, and she didn’t know how to make a shield—
She brought her hands together. The two daggers turned into a morningstar flail and she swept the shaft in his direction. The golden chain wound around the scythe’s blade and caught, and she hauled him toward her with all her might.
He shifted his weight and dug his boots into the ice, foiling her attempt to outbalance him. They stood mere inches from each other, both of them one ill-advised movement away from falling into the lake, their weapons tangled together at their sides. Alaric’s hood had slipped off at some point, revealing a tousled halo of wavy black hair. The eyes that Talasyn could see above the fanged snarl of his half-mask were sharp and unnervingly intent. He was tall enough that she had to lift her chin to meet his gaze.
She was breathing heavily from the exertion and he seemed a bit winded as well, his broad chest rising and falling in unsteady beats. But when he spoke it was in smooth, low tones, so deep that it seemed as though the night grew darker around them.
“I was not aware that Sardovia had a new Lightweaver at their disposal.”
Talasyn’s jaw clenched.
Eighteen years ago, in what was now known as the Cataclysm, two neighboring states in the Sardovian Allfold had gone to war with each other—Sunstead, which had been home to every Lightweaver on the Continent, and the Shadow-ruled kingdom of Kesath. After Lightweavers slew Ozalus Ossinast, his son Gaheris ascended to the throne and led Kesath to victory, forcibly annexing Sunstead; in the same breath, Kesath tore away from the Sardovian Allfold and began styling itself the Night Empire. Gaheris had taken on the mantle of Night Emperor, and he and his Shadowforged Legion had killed all the Lightweavers and destroyed their shrines, leaving no trace of them on the Continent. Except …
“Your murderous tyrant of a father missed one,” Talasyn spat at Alaric, and she surged up on her toes and—
—slammed her forehead into his.
Splinters of white-hot pain exploded across her vision. Amidst them, she saw the Kesathese prince recoil, the inky scythe vanishing from his grasp, his gauntleted hand coming up to nurse what she dearly hoped was a crack in his skull.
But she didn’t stay to find out. She reshaped the morning- star flail back into a dagger and plunged it clean through his shoulder and he let out a grunt. She whirled around, the radiant blade disappearing, and she ran—through her splitting headache, over the ice floes, through the moonlight, toward the trees.
Not once did she look back, afraid of what she might see.
From The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon, published by William Morrow. Copyright © 2023 by Thea Guanzon. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.
The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon will be released October 3; you can pre-order a copy here.
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