This is my post during the blog tour for The Clandestine Queen by Brandon J Greer. In The Clandestine Queen a fifteen-year-old abandoned witch must find her way home to become queen while trying to escape from a demon hell-bent on destroying her.
This blog tour is organized by Lola's Blog Tours and the tour runs from 29 March till 18 April. You can see the tour schedule here.
By Brandon J Greer
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: 12 April 2022
A shard of ice hides in her chest
A raging fire burns in his.
A lost queen
A desperate assassin
Together they will change the world.
Maggie Abernathy always thought she was human, even though she could do the most peculiar things. Things no other girl in her village could do. Fifteen years after being abandoned as a baby, she begins to question who she is, where she belongs, and what she might be capable of. When a mysterious letter from the past calls her home, she embarks on a journey that will change her life forever-if she survives.
Loravain-an enslaved, ember-breathing witch hunter-is hot on her trail and gaining fast. If he can find and kill her, he will win what he has sought for twenty years: freedom from the demon he serves. But he knows he isn't supposed to be the villain, and his conscience weighs heavily even as he continues his hunt. Will the prospect of freedom overpower his desire for redemption?
As their fates intertwine, neither knows what the future truly holds.
- Cedar Fort
Read the first 5 chapters!
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Brandon J Greer is the second and third oldest in a family of eight kids. (He was second oldest until a new marriage brought a new child that bumped him to third.) To set himself apart from so many siblings, he discovered the arts. Drawing, acting, and writing pulled him in at a young age. His first book, Around the World in About a Year, was written in the sixth grade, complete with hand-drawn illustrations. The book was garbage but won him a place in an arts competition at the local university. Now living in northern Utah with his wife and daughter, he travels as much as he can. His favorite places to go are Yellowstone and Peru.
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At the base of the mountain, a narrow, winding path had become visible. At the head stood two massive statues guarding the way. The figure to the left was a large stone man cocooned in fire, his arms stretched out in front of him. Marble robes extended to the base of the pedestal he stood on. His face was hidden beneath a dark hood. The other statue was an angry bear standing on its hind legs. It was taller than the man and much broader. Instead of a natural, animal emotion, the bear wore an expression of caution, a warning to the unworthy.
"Only Loravain is to proceed from this point," Thanatos said, stopping the others' progression to the trail. "If you cross the threshold, you will most likely die."
Head down, Loravain proceeded to the guardians alone but stopped when someone touched his hand. Turning around, he stared into Sarah’s watering eyes.
"Be careful up there, okay?" she pleaded.
He squeezed her hand and whispered something into her ear that made her smile through the tears.
"I heard that," Maggie said when Sarah returned to her side. "How long has that been going on?"
Sarah shrugged her shoulders and looked away, deliberately avoiding the question.
Loravain stared up at the guardians. As he watched, the stone flames, carved so many years ago, began to flicker in the light of the dying sun. Or was it something else? Behind him, the sun was still above the horizon, but only just. He thought he could hear the faint crackling of fire as well. As he stepped closer, the flickering became more intense, the folds of the man's cloak becoming more prominent. Suddenly, the stone began to crack and fall away, chunk by chunk, revealing an actual man beneath it, wrapped in burning fire. The flames, when free from their prison, leaped to the bear. Both statues were now raging infernos. Loravain backed away.
"Glory awaits the worthy judged." A strange voice hissed through Loravain's mind. "And fire to cleanse the troubled soul. To put away the long-held grudge, the newfound hero, his story told."
The voice repeated the phrase in his head, the flames growing and falling to its rhythm. As he prepared to proceed, another voice spoke to him. A voice he knew well and longed to be with.
"Come to me. Be found worthy of this gift." It was Camila.
Loravain stepped forward, crossing into the arc of flames in front of him. Instead of heat, a cool summer breeze blew across his skin and the world behind him was silenced. More and more voices called out to him, speaking of power, glory, corruption, and death. Visions of war, blood, and carnage flashed before his eyes, followed by tranquil scenes of peace and prosperity. The voices continued, rising in volume, reciting to him his deeds. His past was played out before him, and he was ashamed of the man he had been. Yet, knowing that he had committed those sins, he took full responsibility for them.
"Yes," he shouted. "I did those things, but I am no longer that person. I have changed."
Falling to his knees, he wept for his sins, for those he had killed, and the families he had left fatherless, sonless, and parentless. When his sorrows peaked, a soft hand reached out from the bright light of the flames and caressed his tear-streaked face.
"Don't cry, my love. Your heart is noble. Your future is also being judged, not only your past."
The hunter looked up into the eyes of his beautiful bride. Her hair was brilliant, burning with fire, but her face was just as he remembered.
"Forgive me, Camila," he pleaded. "I should have done more. I could have saved you."
"You could have done nothing. You were meant to play a much greater role in life. My death has served a purpose. You are the one destined to help this witch. This is what your life has been leading you to. Had we been allowed to stay together; the world would have been plunged into darkness."
"But I have created much of that darkness," Loravain said.
"We must come to understand the darkness before we can fully appreciate the light," Camila answered.
"Will I ever see you again?"
"I am waiting for you in a place that has been prepared for us, but you still have much to do here."
"What must I do?"
"You have been found worthy. As you proceed up the mountain, you will face three challenges. They will teach you about the power you are seeking. Open your mind as you climb for enlightenment cannot be obtained if the book is closed."
Camila stepped back into the flames and disappeared, along with the voices, the visions, and the fire. The trail appeared before him again, leading up the barren, rocky landscape of the mountain. Looking back, he saw Sarah and Maggie huddled together in conversation. Thanatos sat near the sleds. They were not watching him. They didn't appear to be able to see him. He was on this quest alone. Drawing in a deep breath of air, he held it for a moment, warming it with his fire, then slowly released it as he took his first steps to becoming a true Fire Mage.
Laughter rang out through the small room. Knowing Maggie was leaving in the morning pushed her parents to be more lively, upbeat, and happy. Maggie knew they were doing it to support her, and she thanked them for it, but she could see the sadness in their eyes. But no amount of sorrow could prevent them from celebrating.
"... and when we came outside," her father reminisced, snorting so loud through his laughter he began to choke. He only continued once he'd composed himself. "You were sitting on the house and that little friend of yours was limping away, holding her rear end."
Maggie couldn't contain the sip of milk in her mouth as she tried to hold in the laughter. Failing, she spat milk out all over the table. She remembered that day as clearly as if it had been yesterday
"I can still see the look on her face," Maggie said.
"Her father came running up the hill about an hour later yelling about how his daughter had been attacked by wild demons. When he saw us, all working in the garden as if nothing had happened, he just scratched his head."
Maggie tried to keep a straight face while she cleaned up her mess. The rag was sodden and dripped with milk as she carried it to an empty bucket in the kitchen.
The wind outside was still howling and she could hear rain splashing in puddles as it fell. She worried about the beginning of her journey. If the rain kept up, she might be in worse shape than the milk-laden rag. Nevertheless, she couldn't help but be uplifted by the stories her parents were sharing.
"Do you remember the time you froze up the well?" her father asked with a chortle.
"That wasn't my fault," Maggie complained but still looked forward to the story. Her father was a wizard with words.
"We'd just finished gathering the leaves covering the garden. It was early spring and the sun was giving us a hint of summer. I was so upset when it happened. Little Mags decided to dump the whole lot of wet, stinky leaves on the fire. It had taken me all morning to find kindling dry enough to start it and there you'd gone and nearly smothered it. But then the smoke turned thick and dark."
Her mother failed to control the fit of laughter that had taken over her. It was so contagious that it spread through the room like wildfire. When she could breathe again, her mother continued the tale.
"When the leaves burst into flames, sending that fireball into the sky, you almost jumped out of your pants and fell head over heels straight into the dung pile."
That earned another round of howling laughter.
"You were so scared," her dad said, wiping a tear from his eye. "You ran to the well and dropped the bucket. You wanted to douse the flames."
"All we heard," Mother said, interrupting her husband. "Was a hollow thump when the bucked bounced off the ice."
"That's not fair," Maggie said. "How do you know it was my fault? It was early spring. It could have still been frozen."
"It wasn't," her father said. "I'd already drawn out at least five buckets that morning."
"Well, I had no idea what had happened. I just thought I was going to burn down the whole village."
As the moment wore on, silence fell over them as they each remembered different memories that brought them joy. The joviality that had prevailed began to fall away as the seriousness of the situation came rushing back. No one wanted to talk about it. No one wanted to ruin the memory they had just created, but it was inevitable.
The barn was one of the oldest and most dangerous buildings in the village. As hazardous as it was, Maggie was grateful the town council had not yet decided to pull it down as it worked perfectly for her needs. It provided her with a private place to spy on Jacob, the town's apprentice blacksmith. His father was the real blacksmith, but the fever had taken his leg, so he left Jacob to manage in his stead.
Jacob's hair was usually golden blond but with all the ash in the air from working the forge, it was more gray than anything else, giving him an aged and distinguished look even though he was only a teenager. His arms were large and muscular, one of the benefits of swinging a hammer all day. He wasn't tall, but his shoulders were broad, giving him the shape of a barrel. A desirable barrel, Maggie thought. His eyes shone blue in the sun, which reminded her of the cool, deep lakes her village fished on. In short, Jacob was the man of her dreams and she loved watching him.
Maggie was the opposite. She was tall, lanky, and agile. Her hair, almost entirely black, matched her eyes and was shoulder length and ragged as if someone cut it with a pair of dull gardening sheers. She considered herself pretty but had never had a wide range of suiters to agree with her. At least no one said anything to the contrary. That was understandable though as she was just now reaching the age of marriage. In three months' time, she would turn sixteen and her parents would start preparing to marry her off. The only thought that brought her any comfort about that was that Jacob wasn't married either. Would he ever consider marrying her? The idea tickled her stomach.
Inside, she shimmied up a questionable-looking ladder to the loft above. She'd done it many times before so she had learned which rungs would send her plummeting back down to the hard floor below and avoided them. On the far wall of the loft was a small knot in one of the planks of wood with a tiny hole carved into it. When she lay down on her belly, she had a clear view of the forge. Closing one eye, she peered out the slight opening and watched Jacob take a drink of water. She was in luck. He'd been working hard and was already sweating. When he had finished drinking, he poured a ladle of water over his head. The thin fabric of his shirt stuck to his chest. It was almost more than Maggie could bear.
She rolled onto her back and stared through the gaps in the roof. She lost herself in a waking dream. Jacob stood in front of her, gently taking her hands in his, then slowly fell to one knee and proposed. Her parents were there as well, beaming with pride at the prospect that she would accept. The dream shifted to a wedding scene where she wore a beautifully tailored dress. The entire village was in attendance and all eyes were on her. The flowers that lined the crowded streets were stunning with bold and agreeable colors. The food was delicious, both sweet and savory, and lively music filled the air, encouraging everyone to dance. It was the biggest party the village had ever seen. When her lips were moving to form the words "I do", the smile faded from her face.
"Jacob Prescott. You know I can't concentrate with you pounding that hammer all morning."
It was the voice Maggie despised most of all and it pulled her harshly back to reality. It belonged to Katie Levinston, the butcher's daughter. She was wealthy, according to Lakes Hollow standards, and beautiful. Her mother had passed on a few years back from the same fever that had taken Jacob's father's leg, and since then her father had attempted to raise her all alone. With a bustling shop to manage, he let his daughter do whatever she wanted. Like Maggie, Katie was close to marrying age and her father was doing everything in his power to attract a long line of suitors for her. He was a little blind when it came to his daughter because Katie didn't need help when it came to finding suitors. Without his help, the line she could garner on her own would be even longer. No matter the disdain Maggie held for her, she thought Katie was stunning, which made her sick. Her hair alone was enough to entangle any man within a hundred miles of Lakes Hollow. It was rarer than diamonds in these parts. It was curly, long, and red. Her father had black hair and her mother’s had been light brown so no one knew where the red had come from but a few wicked rumors had floated around the village. Her eyes shone like emeralds, a brilliant breath-catching green, which was another rarity. All the boys swooned over her and all the girls hated her while secretly wishing they were her. Maggie loathed her, just like the rest, but for another reason. Jacob liked her. They were always flirting and playing around in the streets, putting on a show for the entire village. This morning was no different.