House of Sundering Flames: chapter 2 excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 2 of my book The House of Sundering Flames, out now from Gollancz.

Come visit a Gothic devastated Paris, where the Seine runs black with debris and the monuments are ruins. When an explosion disturbs the balance of forces, old enemies and estranged friends will have to make a choice: stand together, or burn alone…

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Philippe’s apartment was in a communal building: one of the last ones to be built before the war, its entire ground floor added after the Boulevard Barbès had been leveled downwards, the former hilly street replaced by a straight avenue, the kind that had once been marked by a row of chestnut trees on either side, a testament to Paris’s wealth and power. Now all that was left were the circles where the trees had once been—the ground blackened and filled with so much chemical residue that nothing would grow there. Philippe’s room-mate Isabelle would attempt, stubbornly, to get tomato plants to flower, but they would shrivel, barely past sapling stage. He doubted they’d be edible—poisoned, like the ground. Like the city.

No patients waited for him on the rickety stairs. In the small apartment, Isabelle was waiting for him, carefully drawing on a scrap of paper with charcoal. Behind her, the one wall giving out on the boulevard was broken, the hole taped over with oiled paper by the dockers and bakers in the Annamite community when they’d moved into their new flat. Few homes in the Houseless areas of Paris were whole—that this one had four walls and three of them were intact made it of great value.

“Philippe!”

He glanced at her drawings. “You’ve been practicing again.”

“I’m getting better.” She gestured towards the stove behind her. “I made buns. They’re almost pretty.”

She smiled, then, and it illuminated her entire face. Once—in another lifetime, when she’d been a member of House Silverspires, before she died because of him, before he found the spell that brought her back to life, not as the Fallen she’d been, but as a mortal—they’d learned to bake together. He’d shown her to handle dough, holding it to the light until it was almost translucent, shown her how to fold it into banetons, waiting for it to rise until the cream-white, perfect dough looked as though it was about to burst. These days the dough was gray, flecked with dirt and grit and Ancestors knew what else; she made buns rather than bread, and they danced around the subject of Silverspires as one would dance around barbed bonfires of thorns.

“I’m sure they’re perfect.”

He glanced at her drawings. The same abstract shapes—sweeping, phantasmagorical clouds that seemed to stretch and waver as he stared at them. Other Annamites bought them as charms. Philippe was secretly glad to have them out of the flat; he was a former Immortal, and not particularly superstitious anymore, but these gave him the creeps. The one he was staring at was shaped like a bird, but as he watched it seemed to stretch and change, until it seemed a blackened plume of smoke.

“You should probably stay inside for a while,” he said.

Isabelle’s thin, black eyebrows arched. “Why?”

He was about to say, “It’s dangerous”, when he noticed the petals on the table. They were small, perfectly heart-shaped, scattered around her drawings like decorations, their color all but drained away to the grayish-white of dirty snow, their ribs traced delicately in bluish mold.

Hoang maiMai vang. The flower of New Year’s Eve in Cochin China. It only grew in the South of Indochina, and there was no way anyone here could have got hold of one.

“Isabelle, where did these come from?”

“These?” Isabelle stared at the petals. “I hadn’t even noticed they were here …”

A cold wind rose through the window, seeping in through the edges of the oiled paper, picking up the petals until they seemed to dance in the breaths of air. They swirled past Isabelle and Philippe, spun, for a split second, around the battered bamboo steamers on the stove, and then came back towards the floor, between the cracked slats of the parquet. They didn’t rest on it; they still whirled in the air, turning and twisting and rising, more and more of them, with a faint, almost transparent sheet of air wrapping itself around them, like a net curtain caught in a storm. It was almost the shape of a person now—a faint, threatening suggestion of arms and legs in a figure that only barely resembled one, a flower petal face with only depressions for the eyes, and arms that whipped and stretched in the rising wind.

“Philippe …” Isabelle said.

Her hands clenched, her brow furrowed—as if she could still access the magic that had been her birthright as a Fallen.

He laid a hand on her wrist to steady her.

“Don’t,” he said.

The air was saturated with the smell of hoang mai, a soft, fruity breeze that would have been a reminder of New Year’s Eve in his home—except that he could taste the rot underneath, the earthy, moldy smell that clung to everything in Paris. A reminder that he was there, that the city was dying, and that he was part of it, trapped in it because no boats would take a Houseless back to the country of his birth.

The face sharpened; the petals faded; and a woman stood before them.

She had dark skin, with a tinge of mingled yellow and blue, and the contours of heart-shaped petals were still visible on her cheeks. Her hair was piled in two elaborate braids that formed large arches above her head. Her sleeves billowed in the wind, but so did her arms and hands, as if she couldn’t quite tell where the wind ended and where she started.

“Pham Van Minh Kiet,” she said in a voice that was the whisper of flowers shaken by the storm, the sound of petals falling over the wet earth. And then another, older name: the one he had taken as an Immortal, in the Court of the Jade Emperor.

His body was bowing—betraying him, finding again the old obeisances of the Court. He stopped it with an effort; bowed simply, without abasing the upper part of his body to the floor.

“Lady,” he said.

Isabelle was watching her warily. He’d withdrawn his hand from her wrist, but he could still feel her—could still feel her frustration, her need for immediate information.

“You’re a hard man to find,” the woman said, gracefully. She moved. Her sleeves moved with her, disintegrating into petals as she did so.


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More info:

The great magical Houses of Paris – headed by Fallen angels and magicians – were, however temporarily, at peace with each other. Until House Harrier was levelled by a powerful explosion. Now that peace has become chaos, tearing apart old alliances and setting off a race in which each House hoards magic and resources to protect itself against another such blast.

Thuan, the Dragon head of the divided House Hawthorn, is still consolidating his power when war comes to his doorstep. Aurore – exiled from and almost beaten to death by House Harrier – sees her moment to seek power in order to protect her family, even if she must venture back to her destroyed former home to get it. And Emmanuelle finds herself alone in the middle of it all, driven to protect others, trying to piece together what has happened, and hoping – eventually – to make sense of it all.

None of them know what destroyed House Harrier, though . . . and when they do uncover that fiery, destructive magic then divided Houses, old enemies and estranged friends will all have to make a decision: stand together, or burn alone . . .

 

The Dominion of the Fallen Reading Order (Novels Only)

Book 1. The House of Shattered Wings | Book 2. The House of Binding Thorns | Book 3.The House of Sundering Flames

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Buy book 1, The House of Shattered Wings:

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Buy book 2, The House of Binding Thorns:

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