Hot damn I’ve been itching to get my hands on Anna Smith-Spark’s third book The House of Sacrifice since I fell in love with Marith and Thalia in The Court of Broken Knives and The Tower of Living and Dying. This swirling epic of broken characters and bloodshed, of healing and ruin, of dragons and conquest and battle told in Smith Spark’s truly unique voice just grabs you by the throat and drags you in.
The House of Sacrifice will drop in the US on the 13th of August 2019 and the 25th of July 2019 in the UK, Australia, rest of world. Use these links to get your pre-order lined up:
If you’re out at the arse-end of the world (Australia) like I am, and you’re a fan oh mushing up a good-ol paperback, then make sure you get your hands on the Aussie release of The Tower of Living and Dying which drops in bendy-cover on the 7th of March. Grab your copy here.
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A powerhouse grimdark fantasy of bloodshed, ambition, and fate, The House of Sacrifice is the thunderous conclusion to Anna Smith Spark’s Empires of Dust trilogy, which began with The Court of Broken Knives.
Marith’s power is growing. His empire stretches across half the world, and allies are flocking to his banner to share the spoils of war. With Thalia ruling at his side they are unstoppable.
But Marith is become increasingly mentally unstable and their victories cannot continue forever.
I love the red and grey against each other on the cover for The House of Sacrifice–reminds me a lot of the colour palette for Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire covers.
Now, let’s get to the meat of this post. The really fun bit.
Excerpt: The House of Sacrifice by Anna Smith Spark
Marith rode along the front of his army, Osen at his side. He drew his sword. Raised it, shining, the morning sun flashing on the blade. White metal, engraved with rune signs. The rune letters burned in the sunlight. The ruby in the sword’s hilt glowed scarlet. Blue fire flickered down the length of the blade.
Henket. Mai. Eth. Ri.
Death. Grief. Ruin. Hate.
He shouted to the men, his voice loud as the sword’s light. ‘Soldiers of Amrath! My soldiers! Twice now, this city has resisted us! Resisted us and betrayed us! Now, today, it will fall!’
An explosion shattering against the black walls of the city. White fire, silent as maggots. White fire, silent, and then screams. The wind caught his cloak and sent it billowing out behind him. Dark red, scab-coloured, tattered into a thousand shreds like fine lace. Dried blood flaked off it. Fresh blood oozed off it. It stank of blood and shit and rot and smoke. He wore his silver crown but was otherwise bareheaded, the morning sun bright on his black-red hair. His skin like new-spun silk, smooth and perfect, gleaming. His grey eyes, soft like a child’s eyes, soft pale grey like moths.
‘Destroy it!’ Marith shouted to his army. ‘Destroy it! Tear it down! Let nothing be left alive!’
‘Amrath!’ the army screamed back at him. ‘Amrath and the Altrersyr! Death and all demons! Death! Death! Death!’
Columns of soldiers began to move forwards. Siege engines hurled rocks running with banefire. Mage fire, white and silent. Dragon fire, glowing red. The beat of war drums. Clamour of trumpets. Voices chanting out the death song. Slowly slowly moving forwards. Slow and steady, the drums beating, fire washing over them, rocks and banefire loosed from war engines on the city’s walls. Falling dying, trampled by those behind them. Slowly steadily marching on. Slow long ranks marching towards the city. Destroy it! Destroy it! The only thought in all the world in all their minds. The dead zone between the city and the encircling army. Broken bones and ruin and dead men. Banefire. Mage fire. Dragon fire. War drums and war trumpets. And now, loud and urgent, the thump of battering rams against the city’s gates. Warships in the harbour, grappling. A storm rising. Towering huge dark waves.
‘Amrath! Amrath! Death!’
Waves of men breaking against the city. Waves of water. Waves of fire. Waves of death and pain.
Snow began to fall.
White flakes caught in Marith’s shining hair.
* * *
‘Break it! Break it! Down! Down!’
The ram smashed into the Tereen Gateway. Again. Again. Again. A tree trunk thicker than a man’s armspan, carved at its end into a dragon head snarl. Covered with bloody ox-hides, to keep it from catching fire. Obscene. Comic. Pumping away in out, in out, in out, steaming dripping bloody battering pounding raping iron wood meat. Three huge siege engines hurling rocks and banefire. Machines on the walls hurling rocks and banefire back at them.
Marith circled his horse, making it rear up. Gilded hooves sharp like knives.
‘Break it down! Now!’
A shower of boiling sand poured down from the battlements. Soldiers collapsed screaming, clawing at their skin. Inside their armour, burning. In their hair. In their mouths and eyes. The bloody hides on the ram hissed. Cheers from the Arunmenese defenders above.
The ram swung again. Off to the left, a blinding white flash and a dragon’s roar. The gate groaned. Splintering. Shadowbeasts gathered, a clot in the air. Shapes twisting, forming, dissolving, huge shapeless dark beating shrieking wings. They dived together, claws and wingbeats, jaws opening faceless, clawed limbs tearing down the stones of the wall.
‘Now! Now! Break it down!’ Marith’s horse reared, trampling snow. Red-hot sand showered down around him. His horse screamed in pain. Fire arrows thudding into the battering ram. His soldiers’ bodies piling on the ground.
The sky roared at him. A thousand screaming raging mouths. Another flash. The dragon howled. The men fell back shrieking in fear. White light rising up before him. Spear-shape. Cloud-shape. Shining. Grass-green eyes opening, staring; hands reaching for him, numberless beyond counting, and in every hand a sword with a blade of silver light.
God thing. Life thing. A demon conjured up to protect the city. The great high holy god of Arunmen whose temple was gold and green bronze.
Bastard thing. Twice now, it had beaten him off.
‘Get the gate open! Now! Now! The ram!’
His sword was shrieking in his hand. Red jewel at the hilt winking at him. Glittering. Red light like the red light of the Fire Star. The King’s Star. His star. There’s your star, Marith, and there’s mine. Look! A red jewel, the sword forged for him in the Tower of the Eagle, back before he was truly king, forged in bronze and ashes and blood, forged to look like the sword the first Amrath had once owned. He’d had a sword before, once, with a red jewel in its hilt, he had named it Sorrow, and this sword he had named Joy.
Marith charged his enemy. So tiny, a man shape on horseback, throwing himself headlong towards this towering raging maelstrom of light. Behind him the ram started. Drumming on the gateway. Break it down! Break it down! His siege engines loosed all together. The machines on the walls showering sand and rocks and banefire back at his men. Mage fire. Dragon fire. Dying.
Marith King Ruin met the light god with a crash.
All his vision was silver.
Slurred. Like being underwater. All the movements just a moment too slow. Cool and soft around him. It felt like Thalia’s skin. A hundred sword blades meeting his sword stroke. A hundred sword blades cutting at him. Grass-green eyes closed and opened. All staring. Sad sad eyes: they looked like the eyes of an old man. Marith fought it. Cut at it. A sword and a hand fell away and another grew up in their place. He cut it again, again a hand falling, again another hand growing up. Swords struck back at him. Glanced off him. Warded them off, didn’t feel them, and then a blade got down into the meat of his shoulder, and a wound opened up dry and ashy, and he hurt. He lunged deep into its body. The centre of it, white silver light swallowing him. His horse was screaming. His horse was dead. It reared and kicked at the light surrounding it. Gilded hooves coming down. The grass-green eyes closed and opened. Countless silver swords stabbed at him.
Bastard stupid thing. Twice now, it had beaten him.
The battering ram thudded against the Tereen Gateway. Trumpets rang for an assault on the walls. Voices shouting: ‘Ladders! Ladders! Up there! Get moving!’ Soldiers rushing up them. Fast with knives clutched in their teeth. A ladder falling backwards, soldiers falling from it dying. Spiralling down off the ladders screaming in a cloud of red-hot sand.
Snow, falling over everything. White snow, black ash, silver fire, red blood. Snowflakes silent and soft as feathers. Muting the sound.
Memory of snow falling, the day he killed his father. White blossom, falling like snowflakes, as they cheered him entering the cities of half the world.
Thalia would like the snow, he thought.
The light god wounded him. Hard, raw pain in his arm, making him almost drop his sword Joy. He cut off hands and swords and they grew up stronger, swords stabbing. Grass-green eyes staring at him. Twice, this damned thing had defeated him. Twice, his soldiers had been forced back. Fire hissed on the bloody ox-hides. The ram beginning to burn. Men dying. Men rushing up to replace them pounding it hard at the gate. The ladders trembling, swaying like bird-legs, another going over, soldiers falling, one soldier falling was burning, fell like a star. Soldiers stumbling blinded by red-hot sand.
Osen’s voice shouting furiously, ‘Break it! Break it! Destroy it! Now!’
‘Death! Death! Death and all demons! Death!’
White fire washing over the battering ram. The ox-hides smoking, burning, men dying, men rushing up wounded and bloody to take their place. The dead horse reared and kicked at the light god. Knife-sharp gilded hooves. Marith cut and hacked at the light god. Swords falling. Swords cutting him. Grass-green eyes opened and closed.
The gate shattered open beneath the beating of the ram. The Army of Amrath surged forward. Trampling their dead and dying. Fighting each other to be first through the gate. A trumpet rang out triumphant. Cheering. Screaming.
The light god roared in fury. Swords and hands ripping at Marith. Marith smashed back at it.
Shouts and cheering turning to screams as the machine on the walls showered down burning sand. The shadows rose up to destroy it. A bright white flash of magefire sent them burning back. The machine loosed more sand, shimmering as it came down.
The Army of Amrath surging in through the gateway. Through the shower of sand falling. Through blasts of white and silver magefire. Through shuddering falling walls. Soldiers rushing up the ladders. Up onto the battlements. Trying to get to the war engines. Magefire crashed over them. Burning. More and more rushing up behind.
Voices shouting the war song: ‘Death! Death! Death!’
Marith hacked at the light god. Grass-green eyes staring at him. Numberless hands and sword blades. Swirling silver all around him, washing him, cool and soft. He hacked like hacking at a tree trunk. Ignored the swords cutting him. Nothing could harm him. Remember that! They cut him and they hurt him but there was nothing. Dry ash wounds, blood like rust, nothing to bleed, nothing to die. Like a dried-up river. Dry dead dust. A famine. He slashed at the thing’s shining light, cut it into pieces, over and over, all the hands and the swords cutting him. Grass-green eyes staring at him. He cut them. Destroying them. Hammering down his sword blade. Over and over and over and over. The dead horse reared and kicked at it. Bit at it with yellow teeth. Cut and cut and cut.
A burst of light. White and silver. Brighter than sunlight. The snow shining with every colour of the rainbow. Light reflected in every soldier’s eyes.
Scream like glass and bells ringing. A thousand rushing shooting stars.
White light. Burning. White shining blazing sparks of fire. Cut and cut and cut and cut.
Twice, it had defeated him.
Third time lucky, indeed.
Marith drew his breath. Patted his horse to thank it.
Charged after his soldiers through the ruins of the gate.
King Ruin. King Death. Such joy and such wonder. The one true perfect thing.
Grab yourself The House of Sacrifice immediately