R. R. Virdi‘s The First Binding, book one in the author’s Tales of Tremaine epic fantasy series, generated a lot of great pre-publication buzz. It’s a hefty beast (clocking in at over 800 pages), but one that promises a deep, gripping, and immersive read. The novel is now available in the UK (Gollancz) and North America (Tor Books).
As part of the book tour celebrating the novel’s release, Gollancz has provided an excerpt for me to share with you today. Before we get to that, though, here’s the official synopsis:
All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.
I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster.
My name is Ari.
And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil.
Thus begins the tale of a storyteller and a singer on the run and hoping to find obscurity in a tavern bar. But the sins of their past aren’t forgotten, and neither are their enemies. Their old lives are catching up swiftly and it could cost them the entire world. No one can escape their pasts and all stories must have an ending.
This excerpt follows directly on from the previous stop on the blog tour, at Stephen’s Bookish Life. So, if you missed that one, go read the excerpt there before continuing below.
For those who are caught up… on with the excerpt!
The barkeeper glanced at the sheet, then blinked and stared past me to the trio of patrons in the back. Another moment of stillness slipped by before he relented and plucked the paper between a thumb and forefinger. His eyes were the color of morning fog over water, a bleak gray masking the faintest hints of washed- out blue. They hardened into cold slate as he read over my note. If he took umbrage at my odd request, he didn’t show it.
The man turned to pull a wooden mug from a brass hook hanging overhead. He took a measured step to the side and flicked the tap of a cask, waiting as a liquid the color of wet earth poured into the mug. The barkeep shut the valve and turned with a quarter step to place the drink before me. He stood and loomed like a figure of stone, wanting to know just as much as the men in the back what came next.
I kept them waiting as I pulled the mug toward me. It was one thing to order a drink. It was another matter to ask for one without a word, much less pay. It had the intended effect.
Hollow moans echoed through the tavern as chair legs scraped against the floor.
I looked toward the source of the noise without turning my head. The three men in the corner had all moved to face me now. I returned my attention to the contents of my drink. I’d asked for tea. He’d given me an ale.
I didn’t say anything. I know when I’m being pressed — tested. And I know how to play back. Most innkeepers do not want to deal with prickly per-formers, easily slighted and twice the trouble than they’re worth in coin. I shrugged my cowl free, letting it fall along my collar as I tipped the mug back.
Notes of cinnamon, cardamom, and woodruff sparked against my tongue. The faintest touch of anise made itself present through the clearness and crispness of the drink. I took care not to smack my lips or exhale a pleasurable sigh at its taste.
I continued to build it until I could almost hear the men’s hearts pumping in agitation, answering their buried questions: Who am I? Who is the stranger in the red cloak and cowl? What rests within the case at my side?
I took another sip and waited for them to break the quiet that lingered before I’d even come in.
The barkeeper hovered before me, staring with the clear intent of wanting recompense for the beverage.
He’d get it and more.
One of the men sputtered. “It moved. His cloak moved on its own.”
It did. And the silence broke.
Another of the men, old enough to be someone’s grandfather, brushed aside wisps of white hair from over his eyes. “Swore the thing was… bleeding for a moment.”
I let them gossip. And when I shift ed in my seat, resting my staff in plain view, their whispers grew all the louder.
“Man comes in silence, doesn’t spit so much as a word. Staff and cowl. Mess of books on his back,” said one of the men.
“Only heard of one man like that. Hear it that he keeps his words inside him — deep, like a burning fire. When he speaks, everyone listens like magic. Can’t no man turn away from his tales. He’s that storyteller.”
I grabbed my staff, spinning in place and slamming its base against the floorboards. A thunderous crack echoed through the tavern and my voice boomed with it. “I am.”
And stillness returned in the beat between words.
I seized it. The pauses now belonged to me. And I decided when to break them.