If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I enjoy a good retelling. While I love reading a reimagining of a familiar story, it's also fun to learn about other cultures, so I'm excited to be a part of the blog tour for These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy. Big thanks to Inkyard Press for having me!
|Pub Date: 4-20-21|
YA - Fantasy
This is a retelling of the Russian folklore, The Firebird, and it follows two sisters who are heir to their lands and whose fates have been decided since they were very young. One is kept at court and trained to learn all the skills needed to become the future Queen, while the other is taken away to learn magic from her mysterious aunt knows as the Firebird. Each girl will have to come into her own power and navigate court politics and decide who to trust, who they can love, and most importantly, who killed their mother.
The prey wasn’t meant to be a child.
When Asya had smelled the sharp tang of magic—strong even before she emerged from the tree line—that possibility hadn’t so much as fluttered across her mind. It was never meant to be a child.
But the scent of magic was undeniable. That indistinguishable combination of damp overturned earth and the metallic copper of blood, cut through with the acrid burn of power. It was overlaid with the cloying sweetness of waterose, as if someone had tried to mask it.
A futile attempt.
And Asya was sure this time. The person they were looking for had to be here.
The comfort of the forest stood at her back, the dark canopy of trees stretching behind her in every direction. The fading sunlight could not break through the writhing tangle of branches, so in the shadow of the trunks, it was dark as twilight.
Most people feared the forest. Stories of monsters that lurked in its depths, witches who lured unsuspecting children in and tore out their hearts. But to Asya it had always felt safe, the gnarled trunks and rustling leaves were like old friends.
“This is it,” Asya said, inclining her head toward the clearing in front of them.
A slight smile tugged at her lips. Two years ago, when her great-aunt had first deemed her ready to try tracking herself—to follow the magic with only her mortal senses once they were close enough to the source—she’d found it impossible. More often than not, she just led them in circles until Tarya gave up on her. But today, Asya had managed it.
She might not be as unwavering as her aunt, as strong or as dutiful, but at least Asya had succeeded in this.
She glanced over at Tarya, waiting for her reaction. But her aunt stood stiller than the trees, an immovable presence in their midst. The shadowed light filtering through the leaves cast her face in stark relief, carving deep hollows into her snow-white cheeks and emphasizing the wrinkles at her brow. She could have been a painting—one of the old oil portraits of the gods, soft brushstrokes of light adding an ethereal glow to her stern face.
It made her look otherworldly. Inhuman.
Which she was. One of the creatures that prowled these trees.
While Asya, or any other mortal, could smell the residual magic, her aunt could feel it. No amount of waterose or burned sage—or any of the other tricks people tried—could hide magic from Tarya.
Her dark eyes flickered to Asya. “Correct,” her aunt murmured, a hint of satisfaction in her soft voice.
In front of them, the comforting trees gave way to an open paddock. It had been allowed to run wild, chamomile glinting yellow in the long grass, like sun spots on water. Purple-capped mushrooms pushed their way through the weeds, intertwining with the soft lilac of scattered crocuses.
The tinge of pride in Asya’s chest melted away, replaced by a thrumming anticipation. The paddock could have been beautiful, she supposed. But the cold apprehension burning in her stomach overshadowed it, darkening the flowers to poisonous thorns and muting the colors like fog. It was always like this. Ever since the first time Tarya had taken her on a hunt. Once she was left without a task to complete—a distraction—Asya couldn’t pretend to forget what came next. She’d hoped it would get better, but she still couldn’t shake the lingering fear.
She shifted her feet, trying to ignore the erratic rhythm of her heart. She hated waiting. Each frantic beat stretching out into an eternity.
She just wanted this to be over.
After all, her sister had always been the brave one.
But that was why Asya was here. Why she had to follow this path, no matter how she wavered. She owed it to her sister. They were the two sides of a coin, and if Asya failed, then her sister would too.
Tarya’s words—the words Asya had to live by—pounded through her. This is our duty. Not a question of right or wrong, but balance.
Her aunt stepped forward. She moved silently, slipping like a shadow untethered from its owner, from the gnarled trees and out into the overgrown paddock beyond. She didn’t speak—she rarely did when she felt a Calling—but Asya knew she was meant to follow.
Asya took a shaky breath, touching one finger to the wooden icon around her neck. An unspoken prayer. She could do this.
Far less quietly, she followed Tarya into the uneven grass, wincing at the snapping twigs beneath her boots.
The paddock led to a small cottage, surrounded by more soft crocuses. Their purple seeped out from the house like a bruise. The building’s thatched roof had clearly been recently repaired, and the gray stone was all but consumed by creeping moss. The stench of magic grew with each step Asya took. Wateroses lay scattered on the ground, interspersed with dried rosemary sprigs. The too-sweet scent, cut through with the burn of magic, made her stomach turn.
Tarya stopped by the wooden door. Marks of various saints had been daubed across it in stark black paint, uneven and still wet. Acts of desperation. They felt out of place in the idyllic scene. The sight sent a prickle of unease through Asya’s gut.
“Your weapon,” Tarya prompted, her voice as low as the rustle of grass behind them.
Asya’s fingers jumped to the curved bronze shashka at her waist. A careless mistake. She should have drawn the short blade long before. She couldn’t let the apprehension clawing at the edge of her mind overwhelm her. Not this time.
She had to be sure. Uncompromising. She had to be like Tarya.
Asya unsheathed the weapon, the bronze glinting in the fading light, and forced her hand to steady.
Her aunt gave her a long look, one that said she knew just how Asya’s heart roiled beneath the surface. But Tarya just nodded, turning back to the freshly marked door. Sparks already danced behind her eyes—deep red and burnished-gold flames swallowing her dark irises. It transformed her from ethereal into something powerful.
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335147967Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/audiobooks/details/Alexandra_Overy_These_Feathered_Flames?id=AQAAAEBcPkN-DM