Angry Robot are producing some amazing science fiction and fantasy books, and when they reached out to our team to host the cover release of a book called The Last Blade Priest, you know my interest was immediately piqued. Paying the price for your sire’s decisions, internal wars in a fantasy religion, and any mention of flipping old tropes on their heads, all of these themes are what we love here at Grimdark Magazine and I cannot wait to get my hands on the advanced reader copy.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait to get a little taste of this book and world. Angry Robot have dropped an excerpt on us to go with the cover release, which I hope you’ll enjoy.
Read on to find out more about the book, some notes from cover designer Alice Coleman on the cover, see the cool cover Alice designed, and to check out an excerpt.
About The Last Blade Priest by W.P. Wiles
Inar is Master Builder for the Kingdom of Mishig-Tenh. Life is hard after the Kingdom lost the war against the League of Free Cities. Doubly so since his father betrayed the King and paid the ultimate price. And now the King’s terrifying chancellor and torturer in chief has arrived and instructed Inar to go and work for the League. And to spy for him. And any builder knows you don’t put yourself between a rock and a hard place.
Far away Anton, Blade Priest for Craithe, the God Mountain, is about to be caught up in a vicious internal war that will tear his religion apart. Chosen from infancy to conduct human sacrifice, he is secretly relieved that the practice has been abruptly stopped. But an ancient enemy has returned, an occult conspiracy is unfolding, and he will struggle to keep his hands clean in a world engulfed by bloodshed.
In a series of constantly surprising twists and turns that take the reader through a vividly imagined and original world full of familiar tensions and surprising perspectives on old tropes, Inar and Anton find that others in their story may have more influence on their lives, on the future of the League and on their whole world than they, or the reader imagined.
Designers notes for the cover by Alice Coleman
Designing The Last Blade Priest has been an absolute pleasure! From intriguing anatomical references to incredibly striking environments, W. P. Wiles has created a vivid world which provided plenty of inspiration for this cover. With an arcane aesthetic finished in vibrant red and shimmering gold to reflect the richness of the setting and characters, I hope this book stands out on shelves and does justice to a very compelling story.
Cover reveal for The Last Blade Priest
As much as I love and champion the artwork and artists behind most covers, I’m also a big fan of covers built by designers top to bottom. They see the world in a different light to artists, and often come up with some very eye-catching works–Shawn T. King’s covers for the old Ragnarok Publications verison of the Amra Thetys series by Michael McClung, comes to mind–that really jump off the page. Alice Coleman has come up with something eye-catching and just damned cool for The Last Blade Priest.
Exclusive excerpt: The Last Blade Priest by W.P. Wiles
Around them, the interior of the temple was a rainbow of fabric. Normally this vast space would be open to the sky, but prayer-printed banners in multiple colours had been draped across the peristyle, giving shelter from the winds that whipped across the plateau and trapping the thick clouds of incense that poured from burners in niches. Standards were hung between the columns, sighing and snapping against their cords. And behind the altar was a single vast sheet of crimson, painted with a human heart, superimposed on a stylised outline of the Mountain. All around was colourful movement, as if the ancient, massive masonry was the living breathing thing, and the priests within the stone statues. The heart that dominated them all appeared to beat, caught like a sail by the mistral across the lake.
Why hide the lake, and the Mountain, like that, Anton wondered? The whole high temple had been built to align with Craithe, so that pilgrims would see the object of their journey rising above the azure waters of Hleng, directly behind the altar of the Gift. It was strange – impious, even – to see that it had been hidden behind a curtain.
Perhaps it was this puzzle that distracted him, and caused him to do what he did. He simply forgot himself, forgot where he was, what he was doing, who he was supposed to be. As he and Elecy approached the altar, he had spotted an imperfection in its surface. He reached out a hand and ran his fingertips along the smooth, hard stone, and found it: a mark made by the point of a knife.
The temple held its breath. Even the canvas heart behind him missed a beat. Every eye was on his unrobed hand, its fingers trailing along the altar like a man brushing dust from a bookshelf. On the killing slab.
Trying to avoid unseemly hurry, Anton withdrew his hand and wrapped it once again in the robe.
Not everyone had seen – fortunately, Ramnie, Ving and the others stood with their backs to Anton and Elecy, and while they undoubtedly detected the change in atmosphere, decorum forbade them from turning to see the cause. The moment passed, and eased. The great heart beat again.
A mark made by the point of a knife. It would not be the only one, but it was more recent than most. Anton wondered if it had been made the first time he had stood in this space, the day he had seen a man killed here. Then, he had been standing on the other side of the altar, but only a yard away, no distance. Their eyes had met, wide with terror. What had the man thought, in those final moments? He was frightened, of course – but did he believe himself to be important? To be useful? Did he think his death was in the service of a greater purpose? Or was it just another futile, violent incident in a life filled with futility and violence? Which was better?
Or – he had seen Anton and Elecy – had he died thinking, Why are there children here?
Elecy had seen him touch the altar. She stood impossibly still, and he wondered what she was thinking. Memories of that first time? It was all so clear – the falling blade, the harsh movements of vertzan and Giftmeat, the gouts of red against pure white, the stink of slaughter, the beating of wings – he could not turn away, because he was held, and they would know if he closed his eyes, so he raised them instead and tried to look at the Mountain itself, thinking this might appear suitably pious. And he asked the Mountain, is this truly what you want?
It did not say no.
Censers had been lit in concealed niches, and the air was hazed with scented smoke; the harsh sun of the plateau, filtered through crimson and purple fabric, was stained a bruised pink. All the altzans in the audience had travelled long distances, some extremely long, by ship and trail, through war-crossed and uncertain lands. It had been sixty years since the last such gathering. Anton hoped that the scene that greeted them was sufficient reward for their hardships, that it lent proper gravity to the gathering. Again, he wondered why God had been blocked from sight.
The altzan-al was speaking, illuminating the rarity of a full Conclave and the crucial importance of the next few days. He spelled out a few facts of schoolboy theology – the impossibility of error and schism within the Tzanate, which served a single, visible God. He smiled and praised and even ventured into wry humour; it was a marvellous performance, a reminder of the skills and qualities that had helped Ramnie to his supreme rank and maintained him within it for decades. But even in its fullest flow, Anton saw the glances that came towards him and Elecy, the last two blade-priests.
How did they appear, Anton wondered? The imposing, inscrutable bearers of a ghastly sacrament? Or young and disappointing, nothing special, an anticlimax after weeks on the road?
A novelty, anyway. A sign that this was indeed the place – the epicentre of the faith. At the last meeting of the Conclave, this ceremony would have included the giving of the Gift. Today, it would not. After much discussion, it had been decided that Anton and Elecy should not carry blades. They would be blade-priests in name only – and, depending on the events of the next few days, they would be the last. Elecy had been furious at the decision, and Anton joined her in a few protests for the sake of appearances, but he was profoundly glad that he did not have a weapon as well as a mask. By Augardine’s Tomb, the strap at the back of his skull was a trial. He should have taken more time in replacing the mask, to make sure it was comfortable, but Dreyff’s glance had put the fear into him. Never mind the blade, the hard leather was going to take the top of his head right off. Thankfully, the bulk of the altzans were in their elder years, which placed certain constraints on the ceremonials. They had rehearsed four times. Ramnie would make his remarks, conduct a short blessing, and they would retire while altzan Yisho emptied the temple and began the immense job of ferrying everyone to the Brink.
That had been the plan, but Anton sensed deviation. Yisho, the Tzanate’s strategos, was nowhere to be seen, when she should have been on the stage with the rest of the leadership. An emergency? Anton rarely left the Brink, and he had to admit that being outside the walls of the vast fortress made him uneasy, even though they were well inside a natural fortress of far vaster proportions. Nevertheless, there it was, a sparkle of concern. The Tzanate, so magnificently lonely for so long, played host to many strangers this day, and in front of him was the top echelon of the whole religion. Thousands of Zealots ringed the alshiel Hleng, and beyond them, thousands more. Gathering and protecting the Conclave had been the largest military endeavour conducted by the Tzanate in decades. But such efforts only reflected how high the stakes were, and the risks.
Deviation. Ramnie was ending his remarks. “The age of Augardine has passed,” the altzan-al said. “He is gone, his successors are gone. We can wish for another age of greatness to emerge from Miroline, but we cannot wait for it. We must remember that Augardine did not found our faith, he refounded it; we can be reborn again. We must remember what endures and will always endure, and place our trust in it.”
The Mountain, Anton thought, apt words. And they might have made a fine introduction to the blessing that would conclude proceedings. But no blessing came. Instead, altzan Ving rose stiffly to his feet, leaning on his cane, and took the few steps towards the altzan-al. Anton held his breath, unable to imagine what Ving was doing, interrupting such an important moment. But Ramnie was not dismayed, or even surprised.
“Altzan Ving, my friend,” he said. “My brother.” He held out his hand to his ancient doctrinal enemy, and the two men, who had dissolved decades in mutual hate, embraced.
No one spoke, or applauded. The leaders of the Tzanate’s two factions, men who had not shared a civil word in many years, now stood hand in hand on the stage. Their heads were held high, and they smiled warmly on the hundreds of faces turned to them. Slippered feet shuffled against the flagstones, a tzan tried to stifle a cough. The banners sagged against their lines, suddenly slack, abandoned by the wind.
A chill entered the air – not a chill felt on the skin, but in the soul. A winter in the part of a person that is warmed by the presence of other people.
Anton knew what approached. He knew why the banner had been hung between them and the Mountain. He need not have worried about making the delegations afraid, fear was coming. They never approached in sight, always hidden. Predator instincts. He briefly wondered if he should say something to Elecy, but if he had detected the change, surely she would as well. Anyway, there was no time.
Behind them, the crimson heart billowed, and sprouted talons. In a blur of movement, the canvas was slashed left and right, up and down, its tatters blown into the temple by the thumping of wings. On that blast of air came the scent of death.
With the utmost effort of mind and body, Anton prevented himself from crying out or falling to the ground. He had learned that much at least, he was not the child that screamed in terror, not any more. Very few others held their composure. The assembly swayed like a field of grass under a strong wind, and emitted a collective howl of astonishment and fear. A few voices proclaimed praise to the Mountain, although it was not clear if they were giving thanks for what they saw, or pleading to be protected from it.
Claws scraped onto the altar, pushing aside remnants of the banner entangled in them, and Anton saw that not all the marks in the stone had been made by the point of a knife.
A Custodian had arrived.
Read The Last Blade Priest by W.P. Wiles