Title: THE NINE
Category/Genre: Adult Steampunk Fantasy
Word count: 122,000
My main character is most uncomfortable with:
A straw bed in a warehouse loft en’t much for coziness, but Rowena’ll take its wintry nights a damn sight sooner than its summer heat. When the cold creeps down, the coal furnaces light up, and any folk with half a head for the Creator’s science can tell you warm air rises.
It’s heat that promises trouble. A million sweaty souls clogging the cobbled streets, full of bad temper. Bump into some cove, even innocent-like, and you’ll earn an earful. And if you lighten his pockets? Well. Takes a fool to strike a man’s tinder on a day like that.
After seven years as a black-market courier, thirteen-year-old Rowena Downshire has carried danger under her tattered coat dozens of times. But when her next burden is a book that writes itself, Rowena’s filthy hands hazard more than a constable’s cuffs.
They carry the fate of humanity.
Corma is a city of iron and steam, its sooty streets a maze Rowena runs for a smuggler who pays her in beatings as often as sovereigns. For years, she’s struggled to settle the debt that condemned her mother to Oldtemple prison, praying against Reason for a bit of clink, and a lot of luck.
A different fortune finds Rowena when a harried scholar thrusts his research text into her hands, desperate to evade the killers pursuing its secrets. This book records the lives of the Nine: the true subjects of the Creator’s Grand Experiment, the unsuspecting souls whose actions will determine humanity’s deliverance or doom. Access to such a valuable asset entangles Rowena in a ruthless nobleman’s scheme to derail divine judgment. Now a witness to a dangerous conspiracy, her final wage may be the sharpened steel slipped in her back.
To survive, Rowena must find allies. Cracking the courage to put herself in another’s hands proves harder than jimmying the locks of Oldtemple – yet suspicion is a luxury she can no longer afford.
Not when the noose readied for Rowena will do more than tie up a loose end.
First 250 words:
Rowena fixed the lanyani with her best glare, ignoring the stack of coin it had placed in her palm. She knew by weight it was three sovereigns shy, difference enough in clink to earn a solid whack of Ivor’s hawthorn. The lanyani, its wooden face as rutted as old oak, blinked at her with white, irisless eyes.
“You’re short,” Rowena said, loudly and slowly, translating to half-wit. “The deal was sixteen. I en’t come two miles getting chewed to bits to leave with less than what’s due.”
She hadn’t let go of the monkey-rat’s cage yet, either, though she wished the little beast would stop worrying at her hand under the shearling cover. The lanyani leaned for the cage, willow-whip hands sweeping wide.
Rowena danced backward, away from the gypsy’s fringed tent and its reach. She trod the foot of a costermonger behind her and ignored his curse, though she did look up at him just to be sure he wasn’t a constable. He spat on her boot before lifting his barrow of soft, waxy apples and wheeling off to some other corner of the Shipman’s Bazaar.
Rowena turned back to the lanyani.
“Three more clink, or no little rat,” she said. Slowly, she edged back under the tent, the little rectangular cage clutched against her chest.
The lanyani stared its reply. The long drought of the summer and the cold air of autumn had left it brittle and slow, the curled remnants of a once-leafy pate drifting to the ground with every movement.