In A River of Royal Blood's Queendom of Myre, only the strongest queens can rule. And 16-year-old Princess Eva is certainly strong — but the magic that courses through her veins is dark and terrible and all but outlawed. Its last known practitioner was the vicious Queen Raina, known for perpetrating massacres and killing her own sister.
Eight generations later comes Eva, who also wields the magick of blood and marrow. In order for Eva to ascend the Ivory Throne, she’ll have to battle her own sister to the death, a tradition established since the days of Queen Raina. Does she love her sister, or does she love the future she could have as queen? Or, will Eva find a way out of a society that pits the most powerful women against one another?
Joy has shared an exclusive preview of her book with Refinery29. A River of Royal Blood publishes October 29 — pre-order it here.
The passage beneath my bedchamber was silent as a crypt until my feet touched the floor, and the Empress scorpions began hissing disapproval at my sudden arrival.
I crouched and checked the circle of cinnamon sticks and dried lavender I’d laid to deter the wicked beasts, and then knotted the hem of my skirt. If left hanging, the chime and rattle of its beading would echo through the passages, and though I’d never crossed paths with anyone here, I couldn’t risk discovery.
I adjusted the belt knife in its soft leather holster at the small of my back. Whenever I shifted, nicks in the wooden handle scratched my skin, but it couldn’t be helped. This knife was my only weapon plain enough to suit my disguise. In a floor-sweeping skirt and a top that bared my midriff but covered my arms and their tattoos, I could pass as a common human girl out for a night of revelry.
Flint struck stone inches from my face, sparks dancing through inky darkness. I jumped, a curse on my lips, but my hand fell from my knife. “I’d appreciate some warning next time.”
“Just keeping you sharp,” said the young man standing mere feet away.
Falun, second-in-command of my guard and my closest friend, towered over me in the cramped passage. He was long-limbed and graceful, though still not quite grown into his wide shoulders. Even in the scant torchlight, his skin gleamed like mother-of-pearl. All the fey had a certain sameness—luminous skin, oversize eyes, pointed ears, and vibrant coloring—but Falun was among the most beautiful. His hair was streaked with apple red and dark gold, and the sharp line of his jaw emphasized his full-lipped smile. “I’ll regret this, won’t I?”
“You won’t, and you know it, why else would have you come?”
He leaned forward as if sharing a secret. “Actually I came to keep you out of trouble.”
“And that works just as well.” I grinned, even though I could protect myself. I snatched his torch and snuffed out the flames beneath my boot. “Follow me.”
We ran through darkness so thick the only sign of Falun beside me was his hand in mine. After months of sneaking out through these passages, finding my escape route—and avoiding the scorpion nests—had become second nature.
The floors of the passages changed now from stone to tile to packed earth, a sure sign that we were close. After about a mile, we stopped at a steel ladder. Night air blew through an opening overhead.
I climbed to the top and emerged in a garden with rows of flowering trees, though they didn’t bloom during the scorching weeks of high summer, as it was now. Fresh air kissed my skin, heavy with damp heat. I breathed it in, my pulse a driving beat beneath my skin.
Almost, it hummed.
Falun joined me, following my gaze to a carved expanse of white stone.
The wall that marked my freedom.
I wasn’t allowed outside it without a guard of at least twenty, per my mother’s stipulations. Compared to my home for the previous three years—an army base in the highlands called Asrodei, where my father still lived—the palace was cramped and held little of interest. Every room crawled with courtiers, the very last people I wanted encounter. Aside from training at the sparring grounds and attending Court every morning, I rarely left my rooms. These nightly excursions were my only escape.
We scaled the wall and dropped down into a vacant alley in the bloodkin sector.
Four races dwelled in Myre—human, fey, bloodkin, and khimaer. Of the four, only bloodkin, fey, and humans were allowed to live freely in the capital, and the city was divided evenly among them. Humans lived in the southern sector, fey in the east, and bloodkin in the north.
We left the alley and emerged in a narrow avenue lined with abandoned flats and blood brothels. The men and women strolling beside us could’ve passed for human—the darkness hid the telling red tinge to their skin—but for the bloodletting knives at their belts, the scabbards marked with patterns to signify the wearer’s trade. When bloodkin reached maturity at seventeen, they sustained themselves by drinking the blood of the living. The narrow blades weren’t worn out of necessity—bloodkin largely used their fangs to feed—but were mandated by a law hundreds of years old. The law’s only purpose was to make bloodkin easily identifiable, because humans feared them.
Ahead of us, drums rolled like thunder. We’d finally reached the Patch, where bloodred tiles had been used to mend the broken paving stones of the sector’s main thoroughfare. They’d taken on a different purpose soon after—dancing.
Gripping Falun’s hand, I took off running toward the sound, coming to an abrupt stop as we reached the press of bodies around the Patch.
Throngs of young fey glided through the street, flowers woven through long shining hair and brass bells hanging from their wrists. Human girls in large groups held hands, swirls of silver paint on their tattooed arms glittering as they passed around tiny cups of ouitza, dark liquor made from the sugarcane that grew along the river.
Three-story flats painted in bright jewel tones filled the street, bougainvillea climbing up terraces filled with candles as tall as my waist. Food carts were set up beneath the eaves, selling liquor and paper sheaths full of roasted nuts and boiled shellfish.
I collided with a bloodkin boy with flawless umber skin. He smiled, hands falling to my hips to steady me. He opened his mouth, but Falun’s hand dropped onto my shoulder.
The boy frowned, but when he looked at Falun, his gaze warmed. “Are you new to the Patch?”
Falun’s cheeks reddened, mouth hanging open as he sought an answer.
“We aren’t new,” I said, removing both of their hands.
“See you on the tiles,” the boy called as I pushed farther into the crowd. Falun followed, glancing over his shoulder as the boy disappeared behind a group of human girls.
We’d made it just in time for the next dance. The drumming was the call to the dance, a prelude of sorts. Already boys and girls were lined up across the tiles, arms held aloft, sweat coating their faces.
Musicians sat across from them. There were five young men beating on makeshift drums, a willowy man with a fiddle, and the singer, a tall, imposing bloodkin woman with a hawkish nose and beaded braids hanging down her back.
I let go of Falun’s hand and stepped onto the tiles. “Watch first, and then join me.”
There was only one dance done on these tiles at night: chatara, the dance of new lovers.
It started in your feet and it started alone.
The drummers began with a simple beat, building it gradually. Our hips rocked side to side, keeping pace with the rhythm. We twirled, hips winding in figure eights until the singer began to howl.
Gooseflesh prickled my arms as I swept them down and raised them back up to the night sky. I tossed my head, watching the moon as I moved through the steps—switching my hips and kicking my feet into the air.
The singer’s magick swept through the crowd, carried by the sound of her voice. Bloodkin called it the thrawl, because with it, they could ensnare the mind until they controlled every emotion and sensation a person felt. This was partly the cause for the laws mandating bloodletting knives, so that no one could be enthralled unaware, so that people could guard their minds against attack. Even among bloodkin, the singer’s was a rare gift. Most believed bloodkin used the thrall with their eyes, but some could also use their voices.
I felt the magick heightening my emotions as I danced. Longing swelled in my chest as I swayed. As we danced, we became one in our wanting, and the awareness of our bodies sharpened until it was dizzying. I felt sweat slide down our spines and the scrape and glide of fabrics I wasn’t wearing.
The smell of salty blood, orange blossoms, and incense filled the air—the scent of her magick. It pulsed through the air, pushing every movement farther. Curls clung to sweat-dampened cheeks as I arched back, twining my arms above my head. Each movement carried echo and premonition, of the girl just a beat ahead of me, of the boy just behind.
And when the singer’s voice broke, the sharp edge was like nails dragged slowly across my skin. We all crowed with her, as partners joined us on the tiles.
I didn’t expect Falun yet, so I jumped when warm hands came around my waist, soft and dry and hot against my skin.
It was the bloodkin boy from earlier, smiling sweetly, springy coils of hair falling into dark brown eyes. “Your friend won’t join us?” He looked to where Falun stood at the edge of the tiles. His eyes were wide but unreadable.
“Not yet.” Our limbs twined together as we moved in sync. He caught my wrist and spun me around. I fell flush against him, warm from the ouitza and his touch. “Though I think he will join sooner with your convincing.”
“You think so?” His warm breath touched my cheek.
“I know so.” I smiled, beckoning Falun forward. After a long moment he stepped onto the tile and gave my hand a squeeze.
I left him with the bloodkin boy and found another partner. One who didn’t seem to see me at all, and only wanted to dance.
Even out here, there were things I couldn’t allow myself. Princesses bound for death couldn’t have romantic entanglements. It would be too cruel, for them and for me.
We danced, stopping to drink and eat, and trade partners. Falun and I danced together; I coaxed his stiff limbs into rhythm and showed him how the deadly grace inside him was useful for more than swinging a sword. The bloodkin boy stuck fast to Falun and I tried to ignore the twinge of longing in my chest when they kissed.
They disappeared into the throng together and another’s arms wound about my waist. I turned to find a young human man, his skin a soft warm brown. He was tall, with muscle-bound arms tattooed in white. Something about him nagged at me. I had to crane my neck to get a good look at his face. His nose was at least twice broken, the end jutting to the left, and his eyes were hazel. A warm, inviting color, and yet when they caught mine, unease swept through me.
I stepped out of his embrace. He was wearing a City Guard’s blue uniform and his eyes were cold. He spoke in a ragged voice: “Pretty little thing, aren’t you?”
I bared my teeth at him, spitting out a curse as I backed away. I could have my knife out and pressed against his throat in the time it would take for him to draw his next breath. I would have, if not for the crowd still dancing blithely around us.
Keeping the City Guard within my sight, I searched for Falun, but saw no sign of him, no flash of red hair, no fine-boned face. I caught a glimpse the Guard’s cruel smile before the singer screamed out one word: “Raid!”