Bright Ruin

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In the “thrilling conclusion”* to the dystopian trilogy that began with Gilded Cage and Tarnished City, the people of Britain rise up against their magically gifted masters. They must break the system—or be broken.

MAGIC RUINS. WE RISE.

The rules are simple, the system cruel: the lower classes must give ten years in service to Britain’s powerfully gifted rulers. With one uprising crushed by the glittering elite, commoners and aristocrats alike now take sides for a final confrontation.

At the center of it all are two ordinary siblings: Abi Hadley and her brother, Luke. Each has reason to hate the ruling Jardine family. Abi, who was once their servant, now seeks revenge for a terrible wrong. Luke was imprisoned on their whim—but his only hope may be an alliance with the youngest and most powerful of the clan, the cold and inscrutable Silyen Jardine.
 
Risking everything to end a bright and shining tyranny, Abi, Luke, and Silyen find themselves bound by a single destiny. Their actions will change their fates—and change the world. But at a cost almost too terrible to contemplate.

What price would you pay for freedom?

*Library Journal (starred review, Pick of the Month)

Look for all three books in the mesmerizing Dark Gifts trilogy:
GILDED CAGE • TARNISHED CITY • BRIGHT RUIN

Praise for Bright Ruin

“Fast-paced, entertaining, and a satisfying end to an epic story [with] dramatic class division based not on mere financial wealth but on a family’s magic.”Booklist

“A triumphant conclusion to this outstanding fantasy series . . . It will keep you up at night until you finish it, and you’ll take a huge breath as you can’t believe the story is over. If you haven’t read the first two installments, please do so, and then jump into the finale. You’ll fly through them all as you see Britain as you’ve never imagined—and you’ll hope against hope for the freedom that may never come.”Bookreporter

“Rebellion comes to a deadly boil in the final chapter of James’s Dark Gifts alternate history fantasy trilogy (after Tarnished City). . . . [An] intricate tale of ruthless scheming and bloody betrayals backlit by an unquenchable glimmer of hope.”Publishers Weekly

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Bright Ruin

One



“You’re awake!” said a voice as Abi opened her eyes. Daisy leapt onto the bed and hugged her. “You’ve slept till teatime.”

Abi shifted to dislodge her sister—­then recoiled as she noticed the other people standing in the bedroom.

“I don’t usually wake up to an audience.”

“You see,” Gavar Jardine said to the woman next to him, “I told you she’d be back to her usual self.”

The old lady smiled, and her face was full of kindness, which was when everything came back to Abi in a rush: Gavar pulling her from the wreckage of Gorregan Square. The motorbike ride. This house in the countryside, lived in by Gavar’s old nanny, his little daughter, Libby—­and, just as he had promised, Daisy. The disbelieving joy of seeing her sister again.

Abi had taken a boiling hot shower and scrubbed off the filth and blood of Gorregan Square. But she hadn’t been able to scour away the bone-­deep stain of witnessing people ripping like animals at someone who was helpless to resist—­whatever his alleged crimes. Nor could she purge the breath-­stealing terror of knowing she was next.

Worst of all was the hollow ache in her chest at the memory of Jenner’s betrayal—­promising her safety, then turning her over to his father. Despite her escape from the crowd’s knives at the Blood Fair, something had been torn out of Abi after all: her heart.

She hadn’t been able to control her tears, until this old woman had appeared at her shoulder with a soft, laundered nightdress, a mug of chamomile tea, and two sleeping tablets.

Abi had taken them, gone upstairs to this small guest room, and fallen unconscious for several hours.

“Thank you,” she said, looking over her sister’s shoulder at the old woman. Mrs. Griffith was her name. “That was just what I needed. And thank you for having me in your home.”

“Don’t thank me,” said Griffith, her lined face crinkling. “Thank Master Gavar.”

Abi turned to Gavar. That proud face and the size of him were as intimidating as ever, but his expression wasn’t the blank hauteur to which she was accustomed. In his arms, he held his little daughter.

“I’m not sure I’ve the words for that,” Abi said eventually. “You didn’t just rescue me. You saved all of us by putting a stop to the Blood Fair.”

Abi felt her sister’s arms tighten around her. The heir of Kyneston ducked his head.

“It was what anyone would have done.”

“But no one else did. Only you.”

“Well.” Gavar cleared his throat. “Griff has found some clothes for you. Then come downstairs for some food and we can talk about what’s next.”

When they’d all trooped out, Abi washed and pulled on the skirt and frumpy cardigan Griff had laid out. She looked in the mirror and saw the mass of hair extensions with which she’d disguised herself.

Some people, though, concealed their true self inwardly, not outwardly. How had she got Jenner so wrong? How?

She knew how. She had fed herself with fairy tales. All those novels about handsome Equal boys—­Jenner had walked straight out of their pages, his Skillessness a tragic flaw that only made him more vulnerable. More lovable. What a fool she’d been.

She wasn’t “back to her usual self” after finding refuge and having a few hours of sleep. She never would be again. That Abi had died in Gorregan Square, betrayed by her own romantic illusions.

Abi forgave her past self for her naivety, but wouldn’t mourn her.

The kitchen downstairs contained a surreally domestic scene. The foursome could have been a family: a young father with his two daughters, a grandmother at the stove scrambling eggs. Abi went to join her.

“Can I help?”

“Bless you. Sit down and eat.”

So she did. The eggs were just how Mum did them, with lots of butter. Abi used to fuss about the cholesterol and saturated fat, but she’d learned there were worse ways to die, so she piled her toast high.

Mum wouldn’t be cooking like this in Millmoor, judging by what Luke had told them of life inside the slavetown. Were she and Dad even housed together? Married couples usually were, but there was no underestimating the sheer vindictiveness of the people who’d sent them there.

Wherever her parents were, together or apart, Abi devoutly hoped they hadn’t been watching the television recently. For Mum and Dad to know that Luke was Condemned and detained by Crovan had been terrible enough. She didn’t want to think what learning of her own intended fate would do to them—­because she doubted very much that the Jardines were broadcasting her escape.

“What are they saying about it?” she asked. “Everything that happened this morning. Because I bet no one’s talking about how Midsummer Zelston brought bronze lions to life and we all got away.”

Gavar scowled. “My brother read the official statement a few hours ago. He’s getting good at making my family’s excuses.”

Jenner, Abi thought. He means Jenner.

She pressed her thumb against the sharp tines of her fork and waited for her racing heart to slow, while Gavar sent the two girls into the garden to play.

“He called my intervention ‘a doting father’s mistake,’ ” Gavar continued. “Apparently, I erroneously thought I’d seen my daughter in the crowd, and merely wanted to pause proceedings while she was removed. Terrorists seized that opportunity to firebomb the platform and the crowd. And my wife saved the day by Skillfully cracking open the fountain to douse the flames and trap the suspects, who were promptly recaptured. There were lots of pictures of that wall of water, of course. The cameras love Bouda.”

“And people believe it?”

“The media is repeating it, which is what counts. Anyone who was there can say otherwise, but they won’t get the airtime. And those contradicting it too loudly will be hauled off to Astrid Halfdan and Silenced. Or worse.”

As cover stories went, it was paper-­thin. But backed by Jardine control of the media and the rapid shutting down of alternative versions? Well, it’d probably do the job.

“We need to talk about you,” Gavar said. “Here’s what I think. I can get you over the water to one of the Irish provinces. You could enroll at university in Dubhlinn, under a false name. People are going to be looking for you, Abi. My father and Bouda don’t like loose ends. They’ll hunt you, and all the others who escaped. Midsummer Zelston will have a price on her head bigger than the amount I owe my wine merchant.”

“That much, huh?”

They exchanged glances, but the jokes weren’t enough to raise one smile between them.

“I don’t think I can,” said Abi. “My brother is still imprisoned by Crovan for a crime he didn’t commit. How can I abandon him?”

“But what can you do for him, Abigail? Nothing. That castle is under ancient Crovan family enchantments. No one in their right mind would even think of a rescue.”

“Meilyr Tresco did. And he died there for it.”

There. Abi had said it. Meilyr was gone now. Dina, too. Neither of them could be hurt any more by someone knowing the truth about how Meilyr died.

“You mean it wasn’t suicide? I thought he couldn’t go on because of what was done to his Skill. . . .”

Gavar listened in silence as Abi told the story of the botched rescue and its terrible, needless ending. When she was done, the heir of Kyneston ran a hand through that famous copper hair. It was a gesture momentarily like Jenner’s, and she winced.

“Abi, I’m sorry, but your brother’s not getting out of that castle. I can’t save him, but I can save you. And maybe in a few years, when all this has died down, I can get your parents out of Millmoor early and send them over to join you. Daisy, too, when Libby’s a bit older. That’s the least I can do after what your family’s suffered thanks to mine. But Luke . . .”

And Abi’s heart must still be beneath her ribs after all, because a corner of it iced over at Gavar’s words. Yes, he wasn’t as bad as she’d thought. Yes, he had shreds and tatters of decency. But he wouldn’t make an effort for a boy he knew was innocent. And any future in which Gavar had influence to release her parents from Millmoor was a future in which the Jardines still ruled.

She’d imagined, as they’d sped away from Gorregan on his motorbike, that Gavar might have it in him to make a stand against his family. But it looked like she was wrong.

“Think it over,” Gavar said. “You can stay while you do. You’re safe here—­let me show you.”

He led her outside into the late-­afternoon light. Daisy and Libby were playing a noisy game of tag, and Gavar reached down to scoop up his daughter as she ran. The little girl screamed with delight as he tossed her in the air.

“Time to show Abigail the sparkly fence thing,” he told Libby, bumping their noses together. “Will you help me?”

The little girl nodded, her curls flying, and Gavar led her to the fence around the house. The fence itself was a standard-­issue picket-­post, neatly painted. Gavar crouched alongside it, folding Libby’s tiny hand in his.

“It’s so cool,” Daisy breathed into Abi’s ear. “Just watch.”

“It’s not exactly Kyneston’s wall,” Gavar said, “but it serves its purpose. It hides this place. People walk straight past. I based it on something Sil­yen did for my London apartment one time, when I had a few too many ex-­girlfriends turning up at awkward moments.”

He placed his daughter’s hand against the fence and covered it with his own. A moment later, flickers of Skill-­light wreathed his fingers, and a glow like sunset outlined the fence posts.

“Griff, Libby, and your sister can come and go freely,” Gavar explained, straightening up. “But you should keep a low profile for the couple of days you’re here.”

Couple of days.

He expected her to make up her mind quickly, then. He expected her to accept his offer.

She should. It was the most sensible thing to do. And she should press him to let Daisy come with her now, not at some vague point in the future. Gavar might think his precautions kept Abi’s sister and Libby safe, but the Jardines were a dangerous family to be around.

Could she do that—­buy Daisy’s safety at the expense of abandoning Luke?

“Help me pick some vegetables,” said Griffith, as the heir of Kyneston launched into some kind of energetic rugby-­for-­toddlers with the two girls.

Small talk would be a welcome distraction from her circling thoughts, Abi decided. She followed the old lady around the side of the old timber-­framed house toward a kitchen garden, where climbing sweet peas wound around raspberry canes, and the soil smelled thick and wholesome. This was a tranquil place, set apart from the cruel, corrupt world just beyond its fence.

“Your house is beautiful. Have you always lived here?”

“Heir Gavar bought it for me when my days were done. He’d visit occasionally, and since little Libby was born he’s brought her, too, whenever his father is in a rage about baseborns and blood purity. Bless his heart, he even gives me a pension.”

- About the author -

Vic James is a current-affairs TV director who loves stories in all their forms. Her programs for BBC1 have covered the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Britain’s EU referendum. She has twice judged The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize. Gilded Cage is her first novel, and an early draft of it won a major online award from Wattpad for most-talked-about-fantasy. She has lived in Rome and Tokyo, and currently lives in London.

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Bright Ruin

— Published by Del Rey —