Witchlanders

Paperback | September 4, 2012

byLena Coakley

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Some prophecies thwart danger. Others create it. “Fans of contemplative, psychologically rich (but no less action-packed) fantasies à la Ursula Le Guin will welcome this warm, inventive debut” (BCCB, starred review).

High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future.

But it’s all fake.

At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated? But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic, and about himself will change when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned…are about him.

Laced with rich, imagined histories; miles of catacombs; and prophecies true and false, Witchlanders takes place in an evocative, tantalizingly vibrant world and raises equally evocative questions: Who gets to defines history? When does a legend become a crutch? And why does the enemy in war look a lot like the hero? Lena Coakley’s first novel is a lush, chilling story that is sure to send shivers through your finger bones.

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From the Publisher

Some prophecies thwart danger. Others create it. “Fans of contemplative, psychologically rich (but no less action-packed) fantasies à la Ursula Le Guin will welcome this warm, inventive debut” (BCCB, starred review).High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foret...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1 inPublished:September 4, 2012Publisher:Atheneum Books For Young ReadersLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1442420057

ISBN - 13:9781442420052

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Amazing Book! Needs a Sequel! So the whole time I was reading it, especially around the halfway mark, I kept thinking "There's no way this can only be ONE book long!" And I'm still irritated about it. It feels like the author could have written at least one more book! It was going so good! Note: the synopsis on the back of the book isn't really what the book is all about. It gives away absolutely nothing of the true storyline which, I guess, helps a lot with plot twists and what to expect. I honestly had no idea it was going to turn out how it did. Well written story and characters. Deeply upset there isn't a book two because I really want to read what happens next. Nothing bad in it. Language was fine and there was no romance so no sex-related stuff in it either. Plus, violence was quite minimal (though they did describe how the dogs - which I think are awesome - kill people). The storyline, magic, etc. are unlike anything I've read (mind you, I haven't read a whole lot). I have to say it's refreshing how different and original this book is. Totally wasn't disappointed. And to the author, PLEASE WRITE A SEQUEL!!! 8/10 stars or 4/5 stars.
Date published: 2015-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Witchlander A fantastic read. Couldn't put it down.
Date published: 2013-01-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great High Fantasy Novel! It’s been awhile since I’ve last read a fantasy novel, but when I heard about Canadian author Lena Coakley’s debut novel, Witchlanders, my interest was immediately piqued. I’m glad to say that Witchlanders didn’t disappoint. It was rich in details and had wonderful world-building… which then culminated into an exciting finish which left me constantly guessing the true villain! There was no romance in Witchlanders, which came as rather a surprise since the plot description seemed to hint at it. Instead, the novel focuses on friendship and family, along with the strengths and weaknesses they give us. Told in the dual voices of Ryder and Falpian, we were given perspectives on two very different ways of life. Ryder, a Witchlander, was practical and refused to believe in the prophecies the coven of witches spoke of. Meanwhile, Falpian, a Baen, doubted his abilities to use his voice to create magic that could be as beautiful as it was deadly. It was nice to see the pair overcome their prejudices as they learned more and more about each other while uncovering secrets about the history of their people... I found that the pacing of the novel could be slow-moving at times as we’re eased into the world of the Witchlanders and the Baen, two very different ethnic groups whose truce is tied by a precarious thread… Lena Coakley kept up the intrigue though as she introduced us to the Witchlands and Bitterlands, all the while not dropping too much information on us before we could let it all sink in. So while a part of me was wishing to jump right into the action, another part of me was grateful that I wasn't overloaded with too many facts at once. I was glad to see events pick up more when Ryder and Falpian finally met, especially with the tensions running high! Lena Coakley’s debut novel will be sure to satisfy fantasy fans who love to escape into new worlds so unlike our own! While the novel is a standalone, Lena Coakley has left the doors wide open for a chance to revisit in a sequel. I’m hoping one will be written one day! With adventure, magic and steady storytelling, Witchlanders will easily appeal to both boys and girls looking for a novel to pass the time. You can also read this review at: http://midnightbloomreads.blogspot.com/2011/09/witchlanders-by-lena-coakley.html
Date published: 2011-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A refreshing read Review first posted at http://unautrehistoire.blogspot.com/ Simon and Schuster Canada sent this book to me a couple months ago. It was another one that I knew nothing about, but am glad that I got to read it. I found the synopsis of this novel is VERY misleading. But don't let that deter you from checking it out. It is WAY better then what the synopsis tells you. A fast past read, that is full of laugh out loud moments, and times where you'll feel annoyed with yourself for not reading faster. The story is actually about two boys. Ryder; a Witchlander boy who has spent his life away from the coven and the witches that have been ruling his life for as long as he can remember. There is also Falpian, a Baen boy who is mourning the death of his twin brother. These two boys have a connection, and it's discovering what the connection is that makes Witchlanders such a fantastic read. Falpian and Ryder are sworn enemies. Years before there was a war that took place between the Withclanders and The Baens. Now there is a very distinct boarder that separates the Bitterlands (Baen land) and that of the Witchlanders. And very strict rules that the two peoples are never to meet. Lena Coakley's debut novel is one of the best books I have read this year. Witchlanders is pretty high fantasy- which is not a genre that I enjoy reading. Although Withlanders is high fantasy it's not so fantastical that it is unrealistic. It is ultimately a tale about brotherhood and learning to trust yourself. It's totally a coming of age novel, that takes place in a fictional world. It is an amazing adventure. Ryder and Falpian get to know one another, they learn to like each other, but do they learn to trust each other? One thing that always truly amazes me, is when a person has enough imagination and ability to create a whole new world. A world that has societies, and rules, and a hierarchy. There are so many details involved in creating a such a place, and I find that incredibly fascinating. I have read novels where this is done so poorly you wonder how the book was even published. However, what Coakley created was so intricate and complex you would think it would be impossible to do well. But, she did it. She didn't miss one single thing. There were no holes in her details, and you didn't need to stretch your imagination to much to believe what she was tell you, I was so impressed by this. The world she created wasn't trivial or clichéd, it was majestic and beautiful. I cannot explain how magical it was. My favourite thing about this novel was the male point of view. Coakley wasn't writing just one male POV, but two. I loved the male perspective. I have sometimes read what was supposed to be a male POV, but found it to be very feminine. This was not something that I experienced with Ryder or Falpian. They were boys, and I never forgot that. I also was never confused when she would switch perspectives. It was always very clear who's mind I was in. Although the synopsis alludes to a romance, Witchlanders contains none. I had no idea that I was getting sick of paranormal/contemporary romance, until I read this novel. I think that those who NEED a little romance in their books will enjoy this one, because of the way that Ryder and Falpian's relationship (which is TOTALLY platonic) develops. It is so endearing that you won't mind that lack of "sexual tension" that happens between the boy and the girl. There are a lot more great things I could touch on when it comes to Witchlanders. But I think you need to experience it yourself
Date published: 2011-08-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An enchanting and refreshing YA novel Ryder is a witchlander. After his father's sudden death he is forced to grow up too fast; he takes care of the family's hicca harvest, raises his two sisters and tries to keep his mother – an outcast witch – from going off the deep end. It's not much of a life for a young man, and he dreams of something more. Little does he know, that with his mother's latest prophecie,s his hopes of something more may come true in a way he would have never expected. It turns out that Ryder IS meant for something more. He's meant to fulfil his mother's latest prophecy, which will bring him head to head with the witchlanders' greatest enemy – The Baen – and reveal secrets that have been buried for centuries. Leana Coakley's debut novel takes you right into an absolutely beautiful, well crafted setting. The world of the witchlanders and the baen is full of snow, waterfalls and deep forsets that help bring together the enchanting nature of the story. I found it easy to picture that I was hiking up mountains with Ryder or feeling the cold when the frost came in. The story itself is a fairly typical one. A young character fulfilling a prophecy given at birth, trying to bring peace to his land. However, what made Witchlander's story unique was the presence of not just one, but two male leads, both with interesting and amicable voices. There was also no central love story that took away from the basic message and story of the novel. Given some of the current trends in YA literature (i.e. Singular female leads, complicated love triangles and over the top romance) Witchlanders was a refreshing and welcome read. Overall an excellent fantasy novel that draws you into the story and setting, some fantastic characters (which you are sure to grow attached to) and a positive message of endurance, dreams and the value of diversity. Witchlanders should definitely be on your fall reading list. This review was originally posted at Christa's Hooked on Books --- http://christashookedonbooks.blogspot.com/2011/08/review-witchlanders-by-lena-coakley.html
Date published: 2011-08-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A new world to enjoy in Witchlanders Witchlanders caught my attention immediately when a catalogue featuring the title arrived in my mail box. It wasn't the cover art so much as the premise, which promised something unique, interesting, and exciting. An unforgettable adventure is what I awaited when first propping open the pages. Witches, witches, witches. I've always been one to have trouble enjoying a novel when it involves or even mentions witches. It's never been about the magic or the stereotyping. Now that I think about it, my disapproval with witches in YA has always been due to the attempt at spinning a unique take on them. I've come across severely novels that have attempted such and had unfortunately done so without much success. Witchlanders, no doubt, is a novel that uses said unique take in creating a new tale. Fortunate for me it was something I could swallow and for that I send my praises to Lena Coakley. Witchlanders proved to be a difficult novel to complete. For the most part I found myself intrigued by the unique setting and prose. Unfortunately, what made me extremely uncomfortable was the pace. The pace was beyond slow and grueling. I also wasn't much of a fan of the dual POV. Rarely do I come across a novel that can successfully pull it off while also keeping the story on a steady course throughout. With those negative points aside, I enjoyed the characters who I found to be very well developed and interesting to read. In the end I found Witchlanders to be a great read from a debut author that I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for. Readers who love witches, adore adventures and enjoy discovering new worlds will find Witchlanders by Lena Coakley intriguing and worthwhile.
Date published: 2011-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great YA for Guys and Gals The Good Stuff Cover is hauntingly beautiful, found myself just looking in awe Leads are male which is unusual in YA fiction. Wonderful conflicted and interesting characters, from the lead right on down to the secondary character, with plenty of realistic character development I'm in love with Bo the dog Lots of action, twists and turns and surprises that you won't see coming Witches but at the same time has an almost Lord of the Rings feel to it (really wish I could explain that, but trust me) Just a fantastic tale that sucks you in from the first line and doesn't let you down. Lena is a born storyteller Nice morals thrown in about the stupidity of war, prejudice and forgiveness Wasn't majorly frustrated or lost as I often am with fantasy fiction involving different worlds & races - speaks to the magic of the storyteller that Lena is Vivid descriptions of the landscape make you feel like you are there One side is almost matriarchal and the other side patriarchal and the conflict between the two is fascinating Just go buy the thing, I don't have the right works to state how much I enjoyed it or why tonight -- damn you excessive heat keeping me up at night (BTW, this review was written July 6th) The Not so Good Stuff Some readers that would probably really enjoy (read males) may be turned off by more feminine cover Hoping there is a sequel planned or the ending would be a might frustrating -- there better be a sequel Lena, I need to know what happens Favorite Quotes/Passages "Ryder threw up his hands. "Yes, the Goddess and the lucky man. They're the ones responsible for this harvest. I might as well go back to bed." "They were beautiful in their opposition: dark and light, like morning and evening, like two sides of a coin." "No," he said. "He is not on our side. But Skyla, are we only allowed to care about people who are on our side?" Who should/shouldn't read Perfect for both male and female YA readers Anyone who enjoys fantasy especially involving magic and witches - you will totally dig this Quite frankly anyone who enjoys a tale will enjoy Passing it on to Natasha -- will be interested if she enjoys as much as I did 4.75 Dewey's I received this from Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review - Thanks guys this was fantastic!
Date published: 2011-08-23

Extra Content

Read from the Book

CHAPTER 1FLOWERS AND BONES Ryder woke to the sound of clattering bones. A red curtain separated the sleeping area from the main room of the cottage, and he could see the faint flickering of candles through the fabric. “Skyla,” he whispered. Even in his sleep he’d known there was something wrong. A feeling of dread lay heavy in his stomach. Next to him in the long bed, Ryder’s two younger sisters were quiet. Pima, the little one, lay diagonally with the covers bunched up around her. Her mouth was open, and she was snoring gently. Skyla was pressed into the corner. “Sky . . . ,” he began again. “I know,” she said. There was nothing sleepy about her voice. He wondered how long she’d been awake. “Why didn’t you do something?” Ryder flung off the bit of tattered blanket that covered his legs. “Why didn’t you wake me?” The dirt floor was cold under his bare feet. He’d grown tall in the past year, too tall for the low door frame that led to the main part of the cottage, and he hunched a little as he peered around the red curtain. Mabis, his mother, was squatting on the floor, picking up bones. A goat’s femur, a horse’s rib. They were dark with age and etched with thin lines. She placed each one into a wooden bowl as large as the wheel of a donkey cart. “Tell me who it is,” she murmured. “Tell me.” Smoke from the fire hung around the room, making rings around the candles. Skyla slipped in beside Ryder, and together they watched as their mother rose from the floor. Mabis looked furtively around, squinting toward the sleeping area, but they were well hidden in the shadows. She seemed to satisfy herself that she was alone, and staggered to the lit fireplace, grabbing an iron poker. “Did you check the fireplace?” Ryder whispered. “I told you to check the fireplace.” “I did,” Skyla insisted. Mabis climbed onto a wooden chair and up onto the large table their father had made. She was wearing her reds. It was the traditional costume of the mountain witches—loose-fitting pants and a quilted tunic with embroidery along the edge. Ryder had seen his mother wear reds only a few times before. They had a dramatic effect on people that Mabis liked to keep in reserve. Usually they were packed carefully at the bottom of a wooden blanket chest; now the tunic was buttoned up wrong, and there was a greasy stain down the side of her leg. Her sleeves slid down her brown arms as she reached up with the poker. From the rafters fell a cloth bag tied with string. Ryder cursed inwardly. He’d thought he knew all her hiding places. Mabis knelt on the tabletop and set down the poker. Greedily she opened the bag. A shower of black flowers, each the size of a baby’s fist, fell to the table. “Maiden’s woe,” Skyla breathed. Ryder nodded, noticing the black stain on his mother’s lips; it wasn’t the first she’d had that night. Maiden’s woe was a river plant whose flowers bloomed in the shallows. Ryder had pulled up all he could find, but the plants grew like weeds this time of year; if he missed even the smallest bit of root, they came back twice as thick. As he watched, his mother pushed two of the black flowers into her mouth and grimaced. “She promised,” Skyla whispered. “Promised,” Ryder muttered as if the word were a curse. He started forward, but Skyla grabbed him by the arm. “Wait!” she said. “Just . . . wait.” Ryder frowned but held back. His first impulse was to confront his mother, but Skyla’s judgment was usually sound; perhaps she had some reason to suspect a second hiding place. Mabis had left the table now and was kneeling over the great bowl, shaking it with both hands. She could do this half the night, Ryder knew: stir the bones, shake them, mumble at them, then pour them out onto the floor and pretend to read like some ancient witch doing a casting. When Ryder’s father was alive, Mabis threw the bones only for customers. Telling the future was something she did for money. Of course, the villagers in the valley knew that she was not a real witch, not anymore. She didn’t live in the mountain coven, devoting her life to the Goddess and studying the teachings of Aata and Aayse; she had given that up long ago. But real witches didn’t concern themselves with the daily problems of the village, and Mabis’s prophecies were full of common sense, if vague, and so she had a tidy business. What villagers never saw was how Ryder’s father would frown when the door closed behind them, how Mabis would laugh, jingling their coins in her hand. Any fool who believed a pile of bones could tell the future didn’t deserve to keep his money—that was what she used to say. Yet here she was—holding a bowl of bones over her head. She shook it one, two, three times, then spilled its contents onto the floor with a loud clatter. The room fell silent. Mabis looked toward the sleeping area and cocked her head, listening, but Ryder and Skyla stayed quiet. Ryder glanced back at Pima, but his littlest sister was still asleep. Finally Mabis turned back to the bones, circling them like an animal stalking prey. Skyla seemed to hold her breath; she lifted herself up on her toes, craning her neck. Ryder could see his sister was trying to make out the pattern the bones made on the floor, but what did she think was there? After a while, Mabis moved back to the table and popped two more of the dark blooms into her mouth. “I’ve seen enough.” Ryder stepped forward again, and again Skyla pulled him back. “What in Aata’s name is wrong with you?” he hissed. “There’s always another hiding place, Skyla. We can’t just watch . . .” His sister looked up at him with somber eyes. Her pale eyebrows stood out against her brown face, and even in the dim light, her hair glinted like polished metal. “You can’t go now. You’re not supposed to interrupt a witch’s reading once the bones are thrown.” “What witch? What reading?” Those eyes again. His sister looked like Fa sometimes with that wise look. “Maybe . . . maybe she really can see the future. Maybe something bad is going to happen. Shouldn’t we know?” Ryder swallowed his annoyance. He knew all he needed to know: Throwing the bones was just his mother’s excuse for taking the flowers, and the mad visions she had afterward were not the future, just the inside of her own bewildered mind. “You really are getting gullible, Sky,” he said, and before she could stop him again, he strode into the main room of the cottage. Mabis’s head snapped up when he entered. In spite of himself, Ryder was taken aback. Her yellow hair was loose and tangled, and her eyes glittered strangely in the firelight. His recriminations died on his lips. “Do you see it?” she asked, gesturing to the casting. Her voice had a kind of fragile hope, as if pleading to be believed. “Someone has arrived. There’s a stranger in the mountains.” “Go to bed now,” he said. “Please.” His mother just stood there, swaying slightly. The walls of the cramped cottage seemed to lean in on him. No one had put the cheese away, he noticed—good market cheese he’d bought for a treat, not their own homemade. Dirty wooden plates were stacked by the door, waiting to be washed in the river. Mabis had sent her children to bed insisting she would clean up, and Ryder had been so tired from his other chores that he’d decided to believe her. “Mabis,” he said firmly. “Listen to me—we need you now. The hicca will freeze on the stalks if we don’t get it harvested.” He crossed toward her. “I can’t do everything. The chilling could come any day.” “Watch your feet!” Mabis took his elbow. “Watch out for the bones.” She gestured to the floor. “Try to see it, Ryder. Just try. Start with the anchor bone—the small one—that’s the key. See how it touches the shadow man? Place the pattern in your mind and the vision will come.” “Mabis, you’re talking gibberish.” She never did this, never tried to teach her children how to read, though Skyla had often asked to learn. Mabis had always said the witches made it all up, so why bother to pass it on? “Don’t you understand? If you don’t help with the harvest, we might not have enough to eat this winter.” “The stranger in the mountains is just the beginning. Terrible things are coming.” “Stop it! Stop it now. You sound like a madwoman.” She turned away from him in disgust. “Your father would have believed.” Ryder frowned, stung by the bitterness in her voice, as if he were the one disappointing her. Could it be that she really saw something? He let himself consider the idea for just a moment before shaking his head. “No,” he said firmly. “If throwing the bones were real—which it isn’t, you’ve told me a hundred times—but if it were, then there would be witches in the coven doing it right now, doing it better than you. And if there was something terrible coming, they’d tell us—they’d have told us already. Isn’t that why they’re up there? Isn’t that why we pay our tithes? So they can guard the border and keep us safe?” Mabis had stopped listening to his argument and was looking blankly into space. “Mabis?” Her eyes startled him when she looked up; they were so bright and blue and wild. “I see the future,” she whispered. “I’m seeing it right now.” “You’re not.” His voice quavered a little. “Stop it. You’re not even looking at the casting.” “A great witch doesn’t need bones. I can see the future written in the flecks of your eyes.” She touched his face with cold hands, holding him by the chin. “Stay still. I almost have it all.” Worry stabbed through him. She was like a feral creature gazing out at him from a deep wood, seeing and not seeing. It frightened him. He should have gone to the river every day and made sure every bit of that weed was gone. “An assassin is coming.” She seemed alarmed now, afraid. “An assassin in the mountains. Right across the border. He mustn’t succeed!” His mother’s gaze left his face and slid to the table by the fire. “Just one more flower and I’ll know everything.” “No,” Ryder said, stepping away from her. “No. This is nonsense.” In three long strides he crossed the room and gathered up every one of the black blooms. “What are you doing?” Mabis stumbled forward and bones scattered. Ryder looked around the small room, flowers in his hands. His eyes lighted on the fireplace. “Don’t!” she shouted. Lunging forward, she lost her balance, bones under her feet. She fell heavily onto one knee. Ryder seized the opportunity and tossed the maiden’s woe into the fire. The black trumpets hissed and popped, sending sparks up the chimney. Mabis struggled to her feet and ran toward him. “I need them!” she pleaded, sounding desperate. Just in time, Ryder grabbed her wrist and stopped her from plunging her hand into the flames. Mabis turned on him. Her face, lit by firelight, was twisted with rage. Before Ryder could do anything, she slapped him across the cheek. Hard. Silence. Skyla rushed in from behind the curtain. “Mabis, stop it!” she cried. But by then there was nothing to stop. Mabis was leaning against the fireplace, avoiding their gaze, her breath coming in shallow gasps. “Do you see?” Ryder hissed at Skyla. “This has nothing to do with the bones, with the future.” His sister’s eyes were wide with fright. From the sleeping area, Pima’s voice came loud and shrill. “Maba, I want Maba!” “Just go help Pima, will you?” Ryder told his sister. “I’ll go,” said his mother. Her voice was small, and she still didn’t meet his eyes. “No! Pima can’t see you like this.” His mother winced. Skyla took a breath and nodded, then went off to comfort the crying four-year-old. When she was gone, Ryder turned to his mother. “This has got to stop.” “I’m so sorry,” she said. She sank to the floor with her back against the wall. “Sorry,” he repeated, putting his hand to his cheek. He dropped down next to her on the floor, and for a while neither of them spoke. Outside, trees creaked in the wind. The stones of the fireplace were warm against his back. He tried to hold on to his anger, but as he sat there he felt it slipping away from him, leaving a hollowness in his chest. Skyla was singing softly to Pima in the other room—a lullaby of Fa’s—and without warning, a feeling of loss pierced him. He’d become used to it since Fa died, surprise attacks of emotions that came out of nowhere, left him breathless. But he realized it wasn’t his father that he was missing so painfully at this moment. It was his mother. His mother as she used to be. Mabis had been like iron once. She’d been like stone. Nothing could break her. And he’d felt entirely safe. Slowly Mabis got to her knees and reached for something under the table. One of her bones, the smallest one, had skittered there in the scuffle. She tossed it into his lap before sitting heavily back down. “What’s this?” he said. “You’re right. It’s got to stop.” Her eyes were already beginning to clear. Maiden’s woe gave Mabis a burst of frenzied vision, but the effect soon dissipated, leaving her moody and tired—until she took more and it all started again. Ryder picked up the fragment of black bone. Unlike the others in the set, this one had no marks scratched into it. It was a piece of vertebra most likely, but it was so worn he couldn’t tell from what animal it had come. He’d never noticed it before, had never cared enough about his mother’s bones to distinguish one from the other, though they’d sat on the high shelf above the kitchen pots all his life. His mother had always been so quick to deride them, to belittle anyone who believed they had something to reveal. “I don’t understand. Why are you giving this to me?” “It’s the anchor bone,” Mabis explained. “It’s very old. A casting wouldn’t work without it.” She pressed his hands around the small black knob. “You keep it for me. Without it, I won’t be tempted.” The meaning of his mother’s words began to dawn on him. Could it be that simple? Could hiding this little thing really keep his mother away from the maiden’s woe? He should have thought of it before. He would have tossed the whole set of bones into the river if he thought it would stop her from taking the flower. “And you were right about something else,” she said. “The witches in my coven, they must see the assassin too. I’ve got to speak to them about it. Ryder, we’ve got to build a firecall.” “What? Tonight?” “Please, I won’t be able to stop thinking about it. . . .” Ryder was about to refuse. He knew the witches wouldn’t come, wouldn’t allow themselves to be summoned by the village fortune-teller. But then, maybe being ignored by the witches was just what his mother needed to bring her back to herself. He glanced at the shuttered window for any sign of light slipping in between the cracks. As yet, dawn hadn’t reached them, but he was beginning to suspect he wouldn’t sleep again that night. “And if we build this call and the witches don’t come, will you promise to stop all this? Will you face the fact you can’t see any visions in the bones?” Mabis smiled, and Ryder could see the black stains on her teeth. “I’ll promise anything you like,” she said. She pulled herself up from the floor, brushing the dust off her dirty reds. “But the witches won’t ignore a call from me.” * * * On the other side of the border, Falpian Caraxus watched the column of greenish smoke rise up over the shoulder of the mountain. Dawn was breaking. Behind him, his father’s men hovered around cooking fires, rolling up blankets or talking softly over last cups of steaming tea, careful not to disturb his thoughts. Some had already taken their leave with a nod or a silent bow and were leading their horses down the steep path. Falpian stood in the dewy grass on the edge of the plateau. The mountains were a stunning sight. The zanthia trees had changed their color, turning every peak to crimson. “The witches are in their reds,” he said to himself. Here, so close to the border, it was easy to see how the Witchlanders could believe in Aata and Aayse, the witch prophets. Even the red trees seemed to honor their customs. Bron, his father’s kennel master, came up quietly beside him, his great shadow spilling over the lip of the plateau. “Firecall,” he grunted, frowning up at jagged peaks. Falpian hadn’t considered that. At first he’d thought the rising smoke must be a funeral pyre, but then he remembered that Witchlanders didn’t burn their dead; they buried them in the ground, or worse, preserved them in dank catacombs. “Black for war, green to gather, red when the coven is under attack,” Falpian recited. He turned to Bron. “Some witch calls for a gathering with that smoke. Do you think they know something?” Bron took a moment to answer. “What is there to know?” “I’m not a fool.” After another pause the kennel master said quietly, “It’s always best to assume the witches know every move we make. And every move we’re going to make.” He turned to Falpian now, as if to use his face to make the point. Falpian was used to the cruel scars that slashed from left to right across Bron’s features—souvenirs of war—but seeing them now made him flinch. Witchlanders were a vicious people. “Maybe I should just go home with you,” Falpian suggested hopefully. “These are dangerous times.” “Are they?” Behind them on the plateau, some of the others had noticed the smoke and were murmuring and pointing. They were young men mostly, too young to be veterans of the war like Bron, too young to remember when the fire-calls all burned black. “It’s all right!” Bron shouted, but his words were for Falpian as much as for them. “I expect a call’s a common enough thing in these parts!” In a lower voice he went on, “There’s nothing to fear. The witches won’t break the treaty.” “I don’t want to go back because I’m afraid,” Falpian snapped. Bron raised an eyebrow at Falpian’s tone. Although a servant of Falpian’s father, he demanded respect from someone so young. “I’m sorry, Bron. It’s just . . . I should be home. I should be training with the others.” “Others?” “Why do you pretend not to know what I’m talking about? There wasn’t a spare bed the day we left—there were even boys sleeping in the stables.” “Men have always sent their sons to your father to learn their battle skills.” “Never so many sons as this year.” Bron pursed his lips and stared out at the scarlet mountains as if he enjoyed the view. He must be under orders, Falpian thought. He’d tell me if he could. “We’ll await you in the gorge,” someone said to Bron, and the last of the men and horses began to make their way down the path. Falpian watched the last horse disappear and felt a weight settle over him. Soon Bron would leave as well, and Falpian would be alone, alone at Stonehouse for a hundred days with only the dog for company—and even Bo’s company couldn’t be counted on. He was off chasing rabbits now, enamored of his new freedom. Of course, Falpian would want for nothing during his stay. His father had sent crates of poetry, bags of flour, jars of honey, barrel after barrel of dried fish—everything he’d need and plenty of things he wouldn’t. Somehow the man could make even bounty seem like a slap in the face. In the old days he would have told his son to live by his wits, that hardship would make him strong; he would have scoffed at the idea of reading poetry and insisted Falpian study logic or military history. Now he didn’t seem to care. “I can’t be completely useless,” Falpian said to Bron. “Surely there’s something I can learn to do.” He pointed to the smoke over the mountain. “I hate them as much as everyone else. If there’s another attack planned. If it’s war—” “Shh!” Bron warned. The men were gone now, but he looked to the mountain’s crooked peak as if, from their high covens, red witches were listening. “You are in mourning, child. This is a time of grief for you—a time of meditation and prayer.” Falpian waved his words away. “There are a dozen retreats where I could spend my mourning season. But Father sends me as far as he can, for as long as he can. Am I being banished?” He bit his lip, remembering how cold his father had been when they parted, barely taking the time to say good-bye. “You don’t have any magic in you either, but at least my father can stand to look at you.” This was the heart of the matter, Falpian knew. His lack of magic. “All those men and boys back home, how many of them will have the gift? One or two, if any? But he doesn’t treat the others as if they’ve disappointed him just by being alive. He puts a sword in their hands and teaches them how to use it.” “I seem to recall your father giving you many lessons in swordcraft.” Falpian blushed hotly. Neither he nor his brother had ever excelled with weapons. “I thought,” he stammered, “I thought I would have other skills.” He paused, steadying his breath. The last thing he wanted was for Bron to see him cry, and report what he had seen to his father. “I shouldn’t have assumed.” The kennel master set a thick hand on his shoulder. Falpian shrugged away his touch, but at least Bron wasn’t like his mother, constantly telling him that he was a late bloomer, that his magic would come. Falpian was grateful for that. “Perhaps your father has a reason,” Bron said, still speaking in hushed tones. “Did you think of that? A reason for sending you so close to the border, in these . . . uncertain times.” “What do you mean?” Bron’s eyes were suddenly brighter, and the torn corners of his mouth turned upward to a grin. There was a leather pack at his side, and from it he pulled a metal cylinder that glinted dully in the sunlight. Falpian recognized it as a container for a scroll. “I was supposed to wait until the last moment to give this to you,” Bron said, “and I suppose that time has come.” All at once, Falpian was reminded of a day years earlier—the day he’d been given his dog, Bo. He remembered the kennel master holding the trembling ball of fur cupped in both his hands, that same glad brightness in his eyes: It was something special, this scroll. Falpian looked again at the cylinder. He’d never seen it before, but he recognized the Caraxus family mark etched over its surface: the words DUTY, HONOR, SACRIFICE coiled together in the ancient Baen script. “Is it . . . from my father?” Something like hope fluttered in his chest. “But if he had a message—” “Not a message,” Bron interrupted. “A mission.” He smiled again. “I wish you could have heard him. Your father did not confide everything in me, but he did say your presence here was very important, that you were very important.” “Very important? Me?” Try as he might, Falpian couldn’t picture his father saying the words. “Important for what?” “For what’s to come.” Later, when Bron too had gone, Falpian stood at the edge of the plateau clutching the metal cylinder tightly in one hand, delaying for a moment the pleasure of opening it. He had a mission. A reason to be here. His father had not banished him after all. The red mountains had been just a pretty picture before; now they were strangely thrilling, as if his destiny were hidden somewhere amid the rocky crags. Nearby, a stand of zanthias shook their branches, and a cloud of seedpods floated down on him like fat red snow-flakes. Without thinking, Falpian pulled one out of the air. It was soft and feathery. He’d read somewhere that Witchlanders made wishes on them. “Let me do this well,” he whispered, “whatever it is. Don’t let me disappoint him again.” Falpian blew a soft breath over his palm, and the seed-pod floated down on a current of air, disappearing into the gorge. He’d rather die than disappoint his father again. © 2011 Cathleen Coakley

Editorial Reviews

"A welcome fantasy debut."

--Booklist, October 2011