Welcome to my stop on Rena Barron’s Kingdom of Souls tour! This highly anticipated fantasy has been recommended as a must read for the end of the year. So, for my stop I’m bringing you an excerpt of the prologue from Kingdom of Souls. I’m just doing this to convince you to pick up the book, or you could try your luck by joining our giveaway!
KINGDOM OF SOULS BY RENA BARRON
THERE’S MAGIC IN HER BLOOD.
Arrah is a young woman from a long line of the most powerful witch doctors in the land. But she fails at magic, fails to call upon the ancestors and can’t even cast the simplest curse.
Shame and disappointment dog her.
When strange premonitions befall her family and children in the kingdom begin to disappear, Arrah undergoes the dangerous and scorned process of selling years of her life for magic. This borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal and a danger beyond what she could have imagined. Now Arrah must find a way to master magic, or at least buy it, in order to save herself and everything she holds dear.
An explosive fantasy set in a world of magic and legend with a twist you will never see coming.
Be still, Little Priestess.
My father kneels before me with a string of teeth threaded between his fingers. They shine like polished pearls, and I square my shoulders and stand a little taller to make him proud. The dis- tant echo of the djembe drums drowns out his words, but it doesn’t tame the twinkle in his eyes as he drapes the teeth around my neck. Tonight I become a true daughter of Tribe Aatiri.
Magic of all colors flutters in the air as gentle as wingbeats. I can’t be still when it dances on my father’s dark skin like lightning bugs. It flits along his jaw and leaps onto his nose. My hand shoots out to catch an ember of gold, but it slips through my fingers. I giggle, and he laughs too.
Girls gossip as their mothers fix their kaftans and bone charms. For everyone the magic touches, it skips two, like the rest of us are invisible. My chest tightens, watching it go to others when it’s never come to me—not even once.
The few girls who speak Tamaran ask me what it’s like living so far away in the Almighty Kingdom. They say that I am not a true Aatiri because my mother is not of the tribe. Something twinges in my belly, for there is truth in their words.
I hold my head high as my father straightens my collar. He’s the only man in the tent, and the other girls whisper about that too. I don’t care what they say; I’m glad he’s here. “Why doesn’t magic come to me, Father?”
The question comes out too loud, and silence falls upon the tent. The other girls and their mothers stare at me as if I’ve said something bad. “Don’t worry, daughter,” he says, folding the sleeves of my orange-and-blue kaftan, which matches his own. “It will come in due time.”
“But when?” I stomp.
It isn’t fair that many of the Aatiri children younger than me have magic already. In Tamar, I’m the only one among my friends who can see magic at all, but here, it flocks to the other children and they can make it do things. I can’t.
“Maybe never, little ewaya,” says the oldest girl in accented Tamaran. She glares at me and I wrinkle my nose at her. I’m not a baby, and she’s wrong. It will come.
The girl’s mother clucks her tongue and fusses at her in Aatiri. Her words slide over my ears without meaning, like all the strange and beautiful languages in the markets back home.
“Even if the magic never comes,” my father says, “you’ll still be my Little Priestess.”
I poke my tongue out at the girl. That’ll teach her not to be so mean.
Another girl asks why my mother isn’t here. “She has more important things to do,” I answer, remembering how my father had begged her to come.
“Why the sad face?” my father asks, squeezing my cheeks. “Ime- byé is a time of celebration. Tonight, you begin the long journey into adulthood.”
The djembe drums stop. I bite my lip, and the other girls startle. It’s time to go stand in front of the whole tribe so the chieftain can bless us. But for once, my legs still as the other girls hurry from the tent with their mothers.
“I want to go home, Father,” I whisper as the last girl leaves. Some of the light fades from his eyes. “We’ll go home soon, okay?”
“I want to go home now,” I say, a little stronger.
He frowns. “Don’t you want to take part in Imebyé?”
I shake my head hard enough to make my bone charms rattle. My father comes to his feet. “How about we just watch the ceremony together?”
The chieftain walks into the tent and I tuck myself against my father’s side. Her silver kaftan sweeps about her ankles and stands out against her midnight skin. Salt-and-pepper locs coil on top of her head. “Do my son and granddaughter plan to take part in a ceremony they traveled fourteen days to attend?” she asks, her deep voice ringing in the tent.
My father wraps his arm around my shoulders. “Not this year.” The chieftain nods as if satisfied. “May I speak to my granddaughter alone, Oshhe?”
My father exchanges a look with her that I don’t understand. “If it’s okay with Arrah.”
I swallow. “Okay.”
He squeezes my shoulder before leaving the tent. “I’ll save you a spot up front.”
The chieftain flashes me a gap-toothed grin as she squats on the floor. “Sit with me.”
The tent flap rustles in my father’s wake. My legs ache to follow, but the sight of the great Aatiri chieftain sitting on the floor roots me in place. I sit across from her as she raises one palm to the ceiling. Sparks of yellow and purple and pink magic drift to her hand.
“How do you make the magic come to you, great chieftain?”
Her eyes go wide. “I’m your grandmother before all. Address me as such.”
I bite my lip. “How, Grandmother?”
“Some people can pull magic from the fabric of the world.” Grandmother watches the colors dancing on her fingertips. “Some can coax magic to come with rituals and spells. Many can’t call magic at all. It’s a gift from Heka to the people of the five tribes—a gift of himself—but it’s different for everyone.”
She offers me the magic, and I lean in closer. I hope this time it will come to me, but it disappears upon touching my hand. “I can see it,” I say, my shoulders dropping, “but it doesn’t answer me.”
“That is rare indeed,” she says. “Not unheard of, but rare.”
The feather strokes of Grandmother’s magic press against my forehead. It itches, and I shove my hands between my knees to keep from scratching. “It seems you have an even rarer gift.” Her eyebrows knit together as if she’s stumbled upon a puzzle. “I’ve never seen a mind I couldn’t touch.”
She’s only trying to make me feel better, but it doesn’t mean anything if I can’t call magic like real witchdoctors—like my parents, like her.
Grandmother reaches into her pocket and removes a handful of bones. “These belonged to my ancestors. I use them to draw more magic to me—more than I could ever catch on my fingertips. When I focus on what I want to see, they show me. Can you try?”
She drops the bones into my hand. They’re small and shiny in the light of the burning jars of oils set on stools beneath the canopy. “Close your eyes,” Grandmother says. “Let the bones speak to you.” Cold crawls up my arm and my heart pounds. Outside, the djembe drums start again, beating a slow, steady rhythm that snatches my breath away. The truth is written on Grandmother’s face, a truth I already know. The bones don’t speak.
The word echoes in my mind. It’s the name my mother calls the street peddlers in the market, the ones who sell worthless good luck charms because their magic is weak. What if she thinks I’m a charlatan too?
My fingers ache from squeezing the bones so hard, and Grandmother whispers, “Let go.”
The bones fly from my hand and scatter on the floor between us. They land every which way, some close to others and some far apart. My eyes burn as I stare at them, straining to hear the ancestors’ message over the djembe drums.
“Do you see or hear anything?” Grandmother asks. I blink and tears prick my eyes. “No.”
Grandmother smiles, collecting the bones. “Not everyone’s magic shows so early. For some, the magic doesn’t abide until they’re nearly grown. But when it comes so late, it’s very strong. Perhaps you will be a powerful witchdoctor one day.”
My hands tremble as the Aatiri girl’s words come back to me:
“Come, child, the celebration awaits,” Grandmother says, climbing to her feet.
Tears slip down my cheeks as I run out of the tent without waiting for Grandmother. I don’t want to be a powerful witchdoctor one day—I want magic to come now. The heat of the desert night hits me, and my bare feet slap against the hard clay. Sparks of magic drift from the sky into the other children’s outstretched arms, but some of it flits away. I dart through the crowd and follow the wayward magic, determined to catch some of my own.
It weaves through the mud-brick huts like a winged serpent, always staying two beats ahead of me. Beyond the tents, the drums become a distant murmur. I stop when the magic disappears. It’s darker here, colder, and the scent of blood medicine burns my nose. Someone’s performed a ritual in the shadows. I should turn back, run away. The wind howls a warning, but I move a little closer. Fingers like crooked tree roots latch on to my ankle.
I yank my leg back, and the hand falls away. My heart beats louder than the djembe drums as I remember all the scary stories about demons. During a lesson, a scribe once warned: Don’t get caught in the shadows, for a demon waits to steal your soul. The younger the soul, the sweeter the feast. A shiver cuts down my arms at the thought, but I remind myself that those are only tales to scare children. I’m too old to believe them.
It isn’t until the outline of a woman comes into focus that I breathe again. Magic lights on her skin, and she writhes and thrashes against the sand. Her mouth twists into an ugly scream. I don’t know what to make of her; she looks both young and old, both alive and dead, and in pain.
“Give me a hand,” says the woman, voice slurred. “I can get my father,” I offer as I help her sit up.
Her brown skin is ashen and sweaty. “Don’t bother.” She wipes dirt from her lips. “I only need to rest a spell.”
“What are you doing out here?” I ask, kneeling beside her.
“I could ask the same, but I know the answer.” A flicker of life returns to her vacant eyes. “There is only one reason a child does not take part in Imebyé.”
I glance away—she knows.
“I don’t have magic either,” she says, her words seething with bitterness. “Even so, it answers my call.”
I swallow hard to push back the chill creeping down my spine. “How?”
She smiles, revealing a mouth of rotten teeth. “Magic has a price if you’re willing to pay.”
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