Excerpt: Guns of the Dawn - chapter 2
Excerpt: Guns of the Dawn - chapter 2
Guns of the Dawn is Adrian Tchaikovksy's latest book, after his success with The Shadows of the Apt series, this will surely be another winner. Below you can read the synopsis of the book and read the second chapter of it.
A standalone, action-packed pseudo-Napoleonic historical fantasy adventure from the esteemed author of the Shadows of the Apt series.
Denland and Lascanne have been allies for generations, but now the Denlanders have assassinated their king, overthrown the monarchy and marched on their northern neighbour. At the border, the war rages; Lascanne's brave redcoats against the revolutionaries of Denland.
Emily Marshwic has watched the war take her brother-in-law and now her young brother. Then comes the call for more soldiers, to a land already drained of husbands, fathers and sons. Every household must give up one woman to the army and Emily has no choice but to join the ranks of young women marching to the front.
In the midst of warfare, with just enough training to hold a musket, Emily comes face to face with the reality: the senseless slaughter; the weary cynicism of the Survivor's Club; the swamp's own natives hiding from the conflict.
As the war worsens, and Emily begins to have doubts about the justice of Lascanne's cause, she finds herself in a position where her choices will make or destroy both her own future and that of her nation.
She was very young in her dream: barely more than a child. It was a false-waking dream, as it always was. She had started from sleep and looked around the bedroom she had shared with Alice back then. A noise had woken her, but only her.
Memories banished from everyday life were keen and clear in this dream. She remembered the hard, bitter feel around the house that centred on their father. He had spent a long time struggling with the world – born a gentle man with a grand old family name to support, and eaten away at by a succession of gnawing failures. Lost opportunities, lost respect, lost reputation, and the family money dwindling, each doomed venture swallowing it like the sea, and giving nothing in return. He had gone
from a kind and loving man to a source only of harsh words and silences. He was desperate. Even so young, Emily had known that. She had understood that her father’s rivalry with just one man had brought him to a pass where he became almost a stranger to his own family.
And now she crept from her bed, because there had been a noise, a strange noise, like a knock at the door at an hour too late for visitors. And she stole downstairs, bare feet on the chill steps, listening for a repetition of the sound she had only heard as it startled her out of sleep. In all the house she was the only soul awake.
And there was a strange new smell, as she reached the foot of the stairs. It had been faint there, but her nose wrinkled at it. She followed it through the silent, cavernous rooms of the house – so much grander in dreams than in reality – until she encountered the closed door of her
And by then, her adult mind had caught up with where this dream was taking her, and some part of her was trying to hold her back. Once was enough, but the child in the dream did not know what was about to come. Even though the weight of horror attached to that door was palpable, still her hand reached for the handle.
‘Father?’ she heard her own voice, and when the door swung open, that scent flooded her nostrils. It was a harsh, almost sweet smell, a burning smell, but nothing akin to woodsmoke or tobacco. It branded itself in her mind even as it drifted in grey curls from the muzzle of the pistol still
clutched in her father’s hand.
Seeing his face, she woke, and it was not the hole in his temple that jackknifed her up, sweating and shivering, but the final expression he had turned towards her and all the world. Fixed on his face was an unutterable look of betrayal that he was at last brought to bay like this.
The dream had come upon her as the capstone to a confused
turmoil of a night full of wild imaginings. She had been lying awake since long before Poldry ever knocked at the door of her chamber, which came two hours before dawn.
‘Ma’am,’ he murmured. ‘It’s time, ma’am.’
‘I know.’ Her voice came out just as a croak, and she forced the words out louder before the old man had to repeat himself.
‘Shall I send Jenna in to dress you, ma’am?’ came the respectful voice from the other side of the door.
‘I’m sure she’ll be busy with Alice. I’ll manage, Poldry.’
As she heard him retreat down the corridor, she forced herself muscle by muscle to get out of bed. A year ago she would have had a girl dress her as a matter of course, but the war had no patience with such excess. Most of the maidservants were working in the factories or the fields now, keeping warm the places of those absent men until they could come back. It was no great hardship that Emily must dress herself.
She chose a sombre, plain outfit that seemed to suit the occasion, and contorted herself like a fairground acrobat to do up at least some of the hooks at the back. Sloppy, perhaps, but she would have her cloak to wear against the pre-dawn chill, and it hid a multitude of sins.
Around and below her, Grammaine was coming alive. The old house – the Marshwic house for five generations – creaked as the fires began to warm it. She heard the feet of servants, the clatter of the kitchen. It all seemed so normal.
She went to her window and stared at the shutters a long time before she threw them back. That cured her of any idea of normality. The moon was down by now but the sun had not even begun to touch on the east, and the world outside her window was as dark as she had ever seen it. Across hills invisible in the blackness, she saw the sparkle of Chalcaster – the lamps and torches of a scatter of early risers and late-nighters, nightwatchmen and thieves. In the unrelieved dark that surrounded it, she could have plucked it from its setting and worn it as a tiara.
Distantly, echoing from hill to hill, she heard the sound of the locomotive as it pulled away from the Chalcaster platform and began its long progress to Allsmere, thirty miles away. An owl took up the call and carried it on soundless wings over the house. There were lamps being lit in the rooms below now, and shutters being thrown back. The fire’s heat spilled out into a leaching fog that stole its warmth and light away at once.
Emily was abruptly aware of the chill seeping into her room, touching her skin through the dress.