Thursday 29 April 2021


 Set in a world where a virus stalks our male population, The End of Men is an electrifying and unforgettable debut from a remarkable new talent that asks: what would our world truly look like without men?

Title: The End Of Men
Author: Christina Sweeney-Baird
Publisher: The Borough Press, HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Literary Fiction, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Release Date: 29th April 2021

BLURB from Goodreads
Only men are affected by the virus; only women have the power to save us all.

The year is 2025, and a mysterious virus has broken out in Scotland--a lethal illness that seems to affect only men. When Dr. Amanda MacLean reports this phenomenon, she is dismissed as hysterical. By the time her warning is heeded, it is too late. The virus becomes a global pandemic--and a political one. The victims are all men. The world becomes alien--a women's world.

What follows is the immersive account of the women who have been left to deal with the virus's consequences, told through first-person narratives. Dr. MacLean; Catherine, a social historian determined to document the human stories behind the "male plague;" intelligence analyst Dawn, tasked with helping the government forge a new society; and Elizabeth, one of many scientists desperately working to develop a vaccine. Through these women and others, we see the uncountable ways the absence of men has changed society, from the personal--the loss of husbands and sons--to the political--the changes in the workforce, fertility and the meaning of family.

In The End of Men, Christina Sweeney-Baird creates an unforgettable tale of loss, resilience and hope.


As soon as I read the blurb for this book, I knew I had to read it! The blurb immediately made me think of VOX, and Q both by Christina Dalcher and I totally admit to loving those dystopian, futuristic sometimes almost prophetic books. I find the cover quite stark and striking which fits the books content very well. I think it will certainly stick out on a book store shelf. The byline of “Only Men Carry The Virus. Only Women Can Save Us All.” on the book has given me mixed feelings as if being 100% nit-picky here (but I find I am more nit-picky with books I really enjoy). The part of the byline that says Only Men Carry The Virus . . Mmm …after reading the book my understanding is that women can “carry the virus” whilst showing no symptoms and therefore spread the virus. However, it is only men that die from the virus. However, when you search the definition of “virus carrier” it explains the terminologies meaning, A carrier is an individual who carries and is capable of passing on a genetic mutation associated with a disease and may or may not display disease symptoms. Carriers are associated with diseases inherited as recessive traits. I guess what I am trying to say/explain is that once you have really read the book you understand that the byline is technically correct. Basically, all you need to know is only men get the virus and die! Women Can “carry” the virus and pass it to men but cannot die from it themselves.

This book is going to be so difficult to review as I don’t want to give away spoiler-esque aspects of the individual characters. I think sometimes the more you enjoy a book the harder it is to review it! This is one of those books! As soon as I started reading, I felt hooked and hated having to put it down. I couldn’t wait to find out how the different characters lives changed, who had happy endings or had to rebuild their lives as best they could.

The virus begins in the year 2025 in Scotland with Dr Amanda Maclean an experienced Doctor realising something is really very, very wrong. Dr Amanda does a little research to learn what all her male patients have in common. Then she really does try to warn those higher up in power as soon as she can, unfortunately for her and the rest of the world they ignore her, even labelling her as a “hysterical woman”, words that come back to haunt those who used them!

The virus is both simple, yet complicated. It kills only men, but women can be carriers. For the first couple of days of having the virus, the male does not seem ill, meaning they continue as normal, kissing their family & friends which in turn passes the virus to them. Every time the man coughs, sneezes, simply wipes his nose he is leaving the virus on surfaces for others to touch and pick up spreading the virus far and wide. The actual symptoms begin on the third day, and death occurs usually by the fifth day. Though women do not die from this virus, quickly named “the plague” in the book they are carriers.

The thing that seriously disrupts the world and how it works is that the virus kills men…..I guess the first people will think about is How will the population go on? Then you have to think, what about all the jobs done pre-dominantly by males? Those in power in the governments in this book do refer back to the War quite a few times to find and come up with solutions to the gaps left in the workforce. Of course, the answer (like during the war) is that women will do these jobs! But the problem there, is the women either may not want to do some of those jobs or may need to study to be able to do the jobs.

Many men just decide to isolate themselves, meaning they stay home with the children and the women rapidly become the providers, the ones that have to go out into the world to source food and anything else they may need for their families. Some families simply pack up and move to isolated holiday homes to try and wait out the virus. Hopeful a cure, a vaccine, or something will be found to stop the virus.

I enjoyed the fact we got a glimpse of the “normal”, “before” life of one of the characters too. The biggest worry that Catherine had was, should she dress up for Halloween to take her little boy Theodore trick or treating! Catherine’s parents died years before and she had no siblings. Her life is her family, her husband Anthony and their gorgeous sone Theodore. Catherine has suffered more loss in her life than some, sadly having problems conceiving too. Her husband wants them to book in for IVF now but there is something just holding Catherine back, she wants to wait a little longer and see if nature will work instead. As soon as the news starts reporting on “The Plague” it is the only thing anyone seems to be talking about. Beatrice, is a mother who is picking her child up from nursery at the same time as Catherine. Beatrice has a country home in Norfolk, she and her family are going to get out of the City of London before things get any worse. They have money they can afford to take the time off work. Beatrice continues saying she has a husband, three sons, two brothers and her only remaining parent, her father to think about too. Unfortunately for Catherine, she and her husband cannot afford to flee London. They have to do the best they can where they already live and work.

Another character Dr Amanda Maclean is trying to do her best both at work and at home. Amanda has to deal with the possibilities of the plague both in her work and home life. Amanda is married to Will and they have two sons. You can feel Amanda’s frustration that despite contacting those higher up in Public Health regarding the plague she is being ignored and is literally going into work everyday not knowing how many Dr’s will be there to work with her and how many of her colleagues will have been claimed by the virus overnight.

When Amanda decides to put her family first, she leaves work and its problems behind and goes home. Amanda takes every possible precaution she can think of! She burns the clothes she had on at work and sleeps in her garage in an effort to prevent herself somehow carrying the awful disease to her family. After a week or so of these precautions Amanda feels it should be safe for her to be around her husband and sons. However, her husband doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude and reality of the plague. Will sneaks into work whilst Amanda is asleep! Will is also a consultant and has gone to the paediatric oncology department, as the mother of a patient has called him, begging for treatment for her child. Amanda is furious, doesn’t he realise the risks he is taking with their son’s lives? Amanda makes Will stay in the garage away from her and her sons, and they wait to see if and when it may be safe to allow him into the house again. Naturally Will apologises, almost as if he made a small mistake, he attempts to explain why he felt he had to go into work for his young patient. Amanda does not accept his apology, there was no mistake. Will had to know what he was doing. In fact, Amanda admits to herself if anything happens to her boys she will never forgive Will. Will is confined to the garage, no contact with the boys or even Amanda, as he could pass the plague to her and then she could unknowingly pass it to their sons.

Amanda remains a pivotal person in the plague and news around it as she ends up writing to newspapers and even finds out the details of “patient zero” and how the virus was brought into the country.

The book has characters based all around the world, Canada, Moscow, Singapore, and China as well as the UK. It was quite fascinating reading of the different ways the different UK regions and countries in the world coped with the plague. One country strongly encourages pregnant women to go to hospital to have planned births and then removes male children from their mothers and keeps them isolated from everyone else. The mothers are allowed to see and interact with their own child but must wear a hazmat suit. A region in the UK gathers a group of teenage boys and send them to a remote hostel to be cared for their in the hope they will not catch the virus. Different countries and people really do take extra ordinary precautions and go to great lengths to try to prevent the spread of the plague and their races men from dying out.

Despite the book being quite serious it does have some moments of humour. For example, when Amanda orders Will to scream at the boys like they are about to touch a burning hob if they attempt to go near him!

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were I enjoyed the book a's difficult to describe exactly what I mean....certain parts felt too busy, flitting to different people. Perhaps the amount of characters we followed throughout the plague could have been cut back a little. At times it became hard to remember who was who, along with whereabouts we were in the timeline of the plague. On the whole I do have to say I loved it though!

To sum up, it was both weird but addictive to be reading this book during the current situation with corona virus. Prior to coronavirus you may have read this book and thought it really far- fetched, but there’s a gasp, shock, horror moment whilst reading this book that you pause and think this really could happen. I found the book both powerful and thought provoking. It’s content stays with you long after you have finished reading the last page.

Wednesday 28 April 2021


My Wishlist Wednesday this week is
The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy.
It is Lucinda Roy’s explosive first foray into speculative fiction, is a poignant blend of subjugation, resistance, and hope.

Title: The Freedom Race
Author: Lucinda Roy
Publisher: Macmillan-Tor/Forge
Genre: Literary, Multicultural Interest, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Release Date: 13th July 2021

BLURB from Goodreads
In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred.

Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way fto escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner.

Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK 


Sunday 25 April 2021


Title: Keystone
Series: Keystone
Author: Katie Delahanty
Publisher: Entangled Teen, Entangled Publishing
Genre: Teens & YA
Release Date: 7th January 2020

BLURB from Goodreads
When Ella Karman debuts on the Social Stock Exchange, she finds out life as a high-profile "Influencer" isn't what she expected. Everyone around her is consumed by their rankings, in creating the smoke and mirrors that make them the envy of the world.

But then Ella’s best friend betrays her, her rankings tank, and she loses—everything.

Leaving her old life behind, she joins Keystone, a secret school for thieves, where students are being trained to steal everything analog and original because something—or someone—is changing history to suit their needs.

Partnered with the annoyingly hot—and utterly impossible—Garrett Alexander, who has plenty of his own secrets, Ella is forced to return to the Influencer world, while unraveling a conspiracy that began decades ago.

One wrong move and she could lose everything—again. 

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK

Title: Incognito
Series: Keystone
Author: Katie Delahanty
Publisher: Entangled Teen, Entangled Publishing
Genre: Teens & YA
Release Date: 3rd May 2021

BLURB from Goodreads
In the virtual utopia of the Simulation, everyone will live peacefully and without fear or needs—at least that’s how they’re selling it. But the government plans to use this program to take control of the entire human race. Elisha Dewitt has just been given her first mission to help prevent this, and she’s ready to prove she can go incognito just as well as any other master thief.

Breaking and entering? No sweat. She’s done worse. Stealing a cassette tape from the museum vaults will be easy—in, out, done—until he shows up...and everything gets way more complicated. Garrett Alexander just has that effect.

Nothing is as it seems, and a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse begins with Garrett, her rival and match in every way. Not knowing who she can trust, Elisha decides it’s up to her to rescue everyone—even Garrett—before the world as she knows it comes to a brutal end. In the virtual utopia of the Simulation, everyone will live peacefully and without fear or needs—at least that’s how they’re selling it. But the government plans to use this program to take control of the entire human race. Elisha Dewitt has just been given her first mission to help prevent this, and she’s ready to prove she can go incognito just as well as any other master thief.

Breaking and entering? No sweat. She’s done worse. Stealing a cassette tape from the museum vaults will be easy—in, out, done—until he shows up...and everything gets way more complicated. Garrett Alexander just has that effect.

Nothing is as it seems, and a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse begins with Garrett, her rival and match in every way. Not knowing who she can trust, Elisha decides it’s up to her to rescue everyone—even Garrett—before the world as she knows it comes to a brutal end.

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK 




Friday 23 April 2021



Title: Overdue: Birth, Burnout and a Blueprint for a better NHS
Author: Amity Reed
Publisher: Pinter & Martin
Genre: Non Fiction, Biographies, Memoirs, Health, Mind & Body,
Parenting & Families

Release Date: 1st October 2020

BLURB from Goodreads
Amity Reed became a midwife to serve women, but the reality of working in over-stretched and underfunded NHS maternity services soon shattered her illusions. She's not alone - for every 30 midwives that train, 29 will leave the profession. Overdue is both the devastating personal story behind the statistics, and a call for change in the NHS. Real-life stories capture the moments at the heart of midwifery: life, death, birth, tragedy and joy, and are embedded in a clear-sighted examination of what is working and what isn't in maternity services.

The result is a book that asks - and tries to answer - questions that are at the heart of many people's working lives: how can we follow our calling, provide for our families and keep ourselves healthy, if the workplace and its systems are working against us?

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK

I enjoy reading non-fiction and am quite interested in maternity services and how they have changed over the years. I really like the book cover, the bird cage with the door open, maybe it is symbolic and represents those midwives flying away from the NHS, which after reading this book and having witnessed how short staffed and overworked they can be at first hand I honestly can’t say I blame them!

Amity talks about problems that occurred in certain hospitals years ago and how the national nursing strategy called ‘COMPASSION IN PRACTICE ’ was introduced.
The key values are: CARE, COMPASSION, COMPETENCE, COMMUNICATION , COURAGE and COMMITMENT. Amity rightfully says that when maternity/midwifery services suffer, women suffer, and babies can potentially die, meaning families are destroyed and for the midwive’s careers may be ruined or lost.

Amity tells us, the reader her own story of how she became a midwife herself. Amity already had children herself, she had also been a doula before going into midwifery herself. Though she loved being a doula, after three years she began to want more. Amity studied to become a midwife, it took 3 years of hard work, but Amity achieved a first-class degree.
I’ll be honest other than watching a TV programme a few years about Doula’s I didn’t have a clue who they were. A simple description is an independent birth partner and advocate for you when you are going through your pregnancy and the birth of your baby, and they often offer support after the birth too. I didn’t think doulas existed in the UK until I recently read a book called, Why Baby Loss Matters by Kay King who is in Yorkshire and is a doula herself.
Amity also gives an insight on what it is that keeps herself and other midwives on the daily grind of the treadmill, despite their working conditions being hard, pressure from those in charge and the pressures and sometimes the poor treatment and lack of thanks they receive from service users. We also see an American’s view of our free maternity services.
Amity reveals that though it is the hardest part of midwifery she loves the post-natal part of her job. Amity explains that she has to make sure of eating something substantial before her shift as it is a regular occurrence for it to be so busy that the midwives hardly have the chance for a drink let alone to sit down and eat. Amity also reveals how those you are working with can make a great shift or bad one. Amity also talks of understaffing. In the specific ward she talks about it can care for 21 mothers and babies, and it is considered as fully staffed with 3 midwives, 2 maternity assistants and just one infant feeding specialist on the floor for a day shift. Despite these numbers considered as “fully staffed” it is not uncommon for there to be just two midwives and one maternity assistant. This understaffing can be because of staff sicknesses or lack of budget, or that one of the midwives has been called over to the labour ward, as women in labour always take priority of those who have given birth. The labour ward is seen as where “all the action is” but the post-natal ward also has its own important needs. The post-natal ward is often called the “Cinderella” part of the Maternity services. Amity has spoken to many women about maternity services who have said that they felt alone and uncared for after they had given birth.
Amity reveals herself and many other midwives often say the job isn’t worth it, they could go get a job in a supermarket and it would mean at least the same money but a lot loss stress. So why do these midwives stay? Because they want to help the women, the new mothers, those with difficult birth, or those going through baby loss.
On TV fictional midwives either present day or in the days gone by such as Call The Midwife are portrayed as there always been enough staff, beds for mother and baby as well as having lots of time to sit and help the new mums etc. In reality the real maternity service has a heck of a lot of tests, measurements to be done repeatedly as well and reams and reams of paperwork that takes hours to be done. Which I honestly cannot blame the midwife feeling resentful to paperwork when it is stopping them from doing the caring which they originally signed up to do when they became midwives.
As with most inspectorate bodies, when the CQC turns up on a maternity ward they don’t see the shifts where there are only 2 midwives on a post-natal ward with 20 mother & babies to be cared for. They simply don’t see the stress the midwives are under, whether it’s from urgently sending for a doctor to check a baby’s heartbeat and as the Doctors are also short staffed the midwife is worried, they won’t get there in time. They do not see the midwife working way past the end of her shift to fill in her paperwork which means by the time she gets home she won’t get time with her own children as they will already be in bed. They don’t see the midwives going the extra mile trying to source clothes and baby equipment for a mum who has nothing.

So how would Amity changes things? Amity would propose a further set of “6 C’s” be brought into action, Choice, Consent, Creativity, Connection, Collaboration and most important of all and the ultimate goal, Change.

Having said the negatives about being a midwife and the current maternity services please don’t go into the book thinking it may be all negative as the author, Amity Reed does cover how bad things can be, but she also puts forward a solution to every problem she raises.
I found it interesting to read how things seem to be going full circle with less births being in hospitals and more of a push towards birth centres and/or home births. I could go on and on about this book, it’s a subject I find fascinating after two pregnancies myself, the first one in 1993 ending at 22.5 weeks in a “silent miscarriage” on 15/03/93 in a hospital side room, with me confused, scared, no explanations, uninformed, given drugs to bring on a “natural” birth. Eventually giving birth to my son on a commode that had been brought in when I asked to use the toilet. Then the next morning listening to all the other mum rightly so talking about their healthy babies. Then another pregnancy in 1996 that resulted in me giving birth a baby girl on the 29/02/96 with the help of an amazing midwife who stayed well past her shift as the labour ward was so under staffed. She even came in early for her next shift and made a point of dropping in on me to ask how myself & my daughter were.

To sum up I truly found the book interesting, informative, and enlightening. I wholeheartedly hope the changes Amity talks of in this book come sooner rather than later. I hope our NHS remains what it was set up as, a free care to all, whenever it is needed and not sold off becoming privately owned. I also understand that those in the NHS deserve fair pay and fair working conditions. Why do those in power not speak to and work with those who work the front line on the wards to create an even better service for everyone? 


Wednesday 21 April 2021


My Wishlist Wednesday this week is
We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker
From Sarah Pinsker is an award winning author. 
This novel is about one family and the technology that divides them.
Title: We Are Satellites 
Author: Sarah Pinsker 
Publisher: Berkley Publishing 
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy 
Release Date: 11th May 2021

BLURB from Goodreads
Everybody's getting one.

Val and Julie just want what's best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all.

Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it's everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot's powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK 



Monday 19 April 2021


Described as Three Dark Crowns meets Wicked Saints in this queer #ownvoices retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale, by debut author Alexandra Overy.

Title: These Feathered Flames
Author: Alexandra Overy
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Fairy Tales & Folklore
Release Date: 20th April 2021

BLURB supplied by Harlequin Trade Publishing
When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble


ALEXANDRA OVERY was born in London, England. Ever since she was little she has loved being able to escape into another world through books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, and is completing her MFA in Screenwriting at UCLA. When she's not working on a new manuscript or procrastinating on doing homework, she can be found obsessing over Netflix shows, or eating all the ice cream she can.

Chapter One

The prey wasn’t meant to be a child.

When Asya had smelled the sharp tang of magic—strong even before she emerged from the tree line—that possibil­ity hadn’t so much as fluttered across her mind. It was never meant to be a child.

But the scent of magic was undeniable. That indistinguish­able combination of damp overturned earth and the metallic copper of blood, cut through with the acrid burn of power. It was overlaid with the cloying sweetness of waterose, as if someone had tried to mask it.

A futile attempt.

And Asya was sure this time. The person they were look­ing for had to be here.

The comfort of the forest stood at her back, the dark can­opy of trees stretching behind her in every direction. The fading sunlight could not break through the writhing tan­gle of branches, so in the shadow of the trunks, it was dark as twilight.

Most people feared the forest. Stories of monsters that lurked in its depths, witches who lured unsuspecting children in and tore out their hearts. But to Asya it had always felt safe, the gnarled trunks and rustling leaves were like old friends.

“This is it,” Asya said, inclining her head toward the clear­ing in front of them.

A slight smile tugged at her lips. Two years ago, when her great-aunt had first deemed her ready to try tracking herself—to follow the magic with only her mortal senses once they were close enough to the source—she’d found it impossible. More often than not, she just led them in circles until Tarya gave up on her. But today, Asya had managed it.

She might not be as unwavering as her aunt, as strong or as dutiful, but at least Asya had succeeded in this.

She glanced over at Tarya, waiting for her reaction. But her aunt stood stiller than the trees, an immovable presence in their midst. The shadowed light filtering through the leaves cast her face in stark relief, carving deep hollows into her snow-white cheeks and emphasizing the wrinkles at her brow. She could have been a painting—one of the old oil portraits of the gods, soft brushstrokes of light adding an ethereal glow to her stern face.

It made her look otherworldly. Inhuman.

Which she was. One of the creatures that prowled these trees.

While Asya, or any other mortal, could smell the resid­ual magic, her aunt could feel it. No amount of waterose or burned sage—or any of the other tricks people tried—could hide magic from Tarya.

Her dark eyes flickered to Asya. “Correct,” her aunt mur­mured, a hint of satisfaction in her soft voice.

In front of them, the comforting trees gave way to an open paddock. It had been allowed to run wild, chamomile glint­ing yellow in the long grass, like sun spots on water. Pur­ple-capped mushrooms pushed their way through the weeds, intertwining with the soft lilac of scattered crocuses.

The tinge of pride in Asya’s chest melted away, replaced by a thrumming anticipation. The paddock could have been beautiful, she supposed. But the cold apprehension burning in her stomach overshadowed it, darkening the flowers to poisonous thorns and muting the colors like fog. It was al­ways like this. Ever since the first time Tarya had taken her on a hunt. Once she was left without a task to complete—a distraction—Asya couldn’t pretend to forget what came next. She’d hoped it would get better, but she still couldn’t shake the lingering fear.

She shifted her feet, trying to ignore the erratic rhythm of her heart. She hated waiting. Each frantic beat stretching out into an eternity.

She just wanted this to be over.

After all, her sister had always been the brave one.

But that was why Asya was here. Why she had to follow this path, no matter how she wavered. She owed it to her sister. They were the two sides of a coin, and if Asya failed, then her sister would too.

Tarya’s words—the words Asya had to live by—pounded through her. This is our duty. Not a question of right or wrong, but balance.

Her aunt stepped forward. She moved silently, slipping like a shadow untethered from its owner, from the gnarled trees and out into the overgrown paddock beyond. She didn’t speak—she rarely did when she felt a Calling—but Asya knew she was meant to follow.

Asya took a shaky breath, touching one finger to the wooden icon around her neck. An unspoken prayer. She could do this.

Far less quietly, she followed Tarya into the uneven grass, wincing at the snapping twigs beneath her boots.

The paddock led to a small cottage, surrounded by more soft crocuses. Their purple seeped out from the house like a bruise. The building’s thatched roof had clearly been recently repaired, and the gray stone was all but consumed by creeping moss. The stench of magic grew with each step Asya took. Wateroses lay scattered on the ground, interspersed with dried rosemary sprigs. The too-sweet scent, cut through with the burn of magic, made her stomach turn.

Tarya stopped by the wooden door. Marks of various saints had been daubed across it in stark black paint, uneven and still wet. Acts of desperation. They felt out of place in the idyllic scene. The sight sent a prickle of unease through Asya’s gut.

“Your weapon,” Tarya prompted, her voice as low as the rustle of grass behind them.

Asya’s fingers jumped to the curved bronze shashka at her waist. A careless mistake. She should have drawn the short blade long before. She couldn’t let the apprehension clawing at the edge of her mind overwhelm her. Not this time.

She had to be sure. Uncompromising. She had to be like Tarya.

Asya unsheathed the weapon, the bronze glinting in the fading light, and forced her hand to steady.

Her aunt gave her a long look, one that said she knew just how Asya’s heart roiled beneath the surface. But Tarya just nodded, turning back to the freshly marked door. Sparks al­ready danced behind her eyes—deep red and burnished-gold flames swallowing her dark irises. It transformed her from ethereal into something powerful.


Asya swallowed, pushing that thought away. Her aunt wasn’t a monster.

Tarya reached out and pressed her palm to the wood. Heat rolled from her in a great wave, making Asya’s eyes water. A low splintering noise fractured the air, followed by the snap of the metal bolt. The door swung open. All that was left of the painted sigils was a scorched handprint. Asya’s mouth went dry. She couldn’t help but feel that breaking the saints’ signs was violating some ancient covenant.

But Tarya just stepped inside. Asya tightened her grip on the blade, trying to shake off the sense of foreboding nipping at her heels, and followed.

The cottage was comprised of a single small room. Heavy fabric hung over the windows, leaving them half in shadow. As Asya’s vision adjusted, she took in the shapes of furniture—all overturned or smashed against the cracked walls. Clothes were strewn across the floor in a whirl, along with a few shat­tered plates and even a broken viila, its strings snapped and useless. A statue of Saint Meshnik lay on its side, their head several paces from their armored body. The room looked like it had been ransacked, perhaps set upon by thieves.

Or like someone wanted it to seem that way.

Tarya turned slowly, her sparking eyes taking in the room. Then her gaze fixed on a spot to her left, and flames reared across her irises again. Asya couldn’t see anything. But she knew her aunt was not really looking at the wall, she was feeling—reaching for those intangible threads that bound the world and using them to narrow in on her prey.

Asya waited, her breath caught in her chest.

Tarya moved in a flash, as though Vetviya herself had looked down and granted her secret passage through the In-Between. One moment beside Asya, the next in front of the wall. Flames, as golden and bright as sunlight, sputtered from her wrists, licking along her forearms. She put her hands on the wall, and the flames eagerly reached out to devour.

They burned away what must have been a false panel, re­vealing a tight crevice behind. Three faces stared out, eyes wide and afraid. Two children, a boy and a girl, clutching onto a man with ash-white hair, now covered in a faint sheen of soot.

“Oryaze,” he breathed, terror rising on his face like waves over a hapless ship. Firebird.

Bile burned in Asya’s throat. She took a halting step back, staring at the huddled family. It’s the man, she told herself. It had to be. The thought murmured through her, a desperate prayer to any god or saint who might be listening.

The man leaped forward, spreading his arms as though hid­ing the children from view might protect them. As though anything he did would make a difference. “I won’t let you touch her!” he cried, grabbing one of the broken chair legs and brandishing it like a sword.

Asya clenched her teeth, a sharp jab of pity shooting through her. It would be no use. Nothing would.

The flames coiled lazily around Tarya’s wrists as she watched the man with a detached curiosity. “The price must be paid.”

He let out a low sob, the chair leg clattering uselessly to the ground as he clasped his hands together as if in prayer. “Please, take it from me. She didn’t know what she was doing.”

The room was too hot, the flames scorching the very air in Asya’s lungs. This is what has to be done, she intoned. This is our duty. The same words her aunt had hammered into her. Asya’s knuckles shone white on the hilt of her shashka, the cool metal tethering her to the ground, to this moment, and not the rising guilt in the back of her mind. A panic that threatened to crush her.

“I cannot,” Tarya said, her voice hollow. “The price must be taken from the one who cast the spell.” With a casual flick of her wrist, a burst of fire sprang at the man. He dived aside, toppling into an overturned table.

The little boy was crying now, soft whimpers barely louder than the spitting flames. But the girl did not cry, even as Tarya wrapped an elegant hand around her arm and dragged her forward.

Asya saw the stratsviye clearly against the milk-white skin of the girl’s wrist. A mass of black lines that coalesced to form a burning feather, seared into her flesh like a brand. The mark of the Firebird. The mark that meant a debt had to be paid.

“Please,” the man said again, pulling himself from the col­lapsed table. “Please, she didn’t mean to—”

“Asya,” her aunt said, without looking up from the mark.

Asya knew what she was meant to do, but her legs took a moment to obey. Muscles protesting though her mind could not. But she moved forward anyway, placing herself between the man and the little girl, shashka raised in warning.

No one could interfere with the price.

The man scrambled for the chair leg again, leveling it at Asya with trembling hands. “She only did it to save her brother,” he pleaded, emotion cracking through his voice like summer ice. “He was sick. She didn’t know the conse­quences.”

Asya’s gaze slid to the little girl. To the determined set of her jaw, her defiantly dry eyes. That look wrenched something in Asya’s chest. The resolve she’d so carefully built crumbled around her. She knew what is was like to have a sibling you would do anything—risk anything—for.

But Tarya was unmoved. “Now she will know—magic always comes with a price.”

He lunged. He was clumsy, fueled by fear and desperation. Asya should have been able to stop him easily, but she hesi­tated. A single thought caught in her mind: Is it so wrong of him to want to protect his daughter?

That one, faltering breath cost her. The man swung the chair leg at her, catching the side of her head. Bright lights danced in front of her eyes. She stumbled into the wall as the man let out a fractured cry and threw himself toward Tarya.

Tarya did not hesitate.

Another tongue of flame reared from her, forcing the man back. This one was more than a warning. The acrid smell of burnt flesh sliced through the scent of magic. A low, broken sob trembled in the air as the man clutched his now-scorched left side.

Tarya’s head snapped to Asya, flames flashing bloodred.

Ignoring the throbbing pain in her head, Asya darted for­ward. She grabbed the man’s arm and twisted, sending the chair leg tumbling to the ground again. It was painfully easy. The injury made his attempt to swing back at her fly wide, and her hands fastened on him again. She spun him, one arm wrapping around him, the other holding the shashka to his throat. Her chest heaved, and her head reeled. But she didn’t move.

He let out a low whimper, still trying to struggle free. Asya pressed the blade deeper, almost wincing as a trickle of blood ran down his throat. “Don’t,” she said, half command, half plea. “You’ll just make it worse.”

Tarya had already turned back to her prey. Her gleaming eyes, still threaded with flame, stared down at the girl. There was no malice on her face, just a cold emptiness. Asya wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse.

“You must understand, child,” Tarya said. “The price has to be paid.”

And in a breath, she transformed.

Flames devoured her eyes, spreading from the pupils until they were no more than luminous orbs. Twin suns, captured in a face. But the fire did not end there. It rose up out of her like a living thing. Glinting golds and burnt oranges twisted with deepest crimson to form hooked wings, spread behind her like a blazing cape. Another head loomed above her own, a vicious, living mask. It formed a sharp beak, feathered flames rising from it to forge the great bird’s plumage. They arched up into an expression of cruel indifference, mirroring the human features below. The very walls of the cottage trembled.

The Firebird.

Asya felt her hand go slack. A deep, instinctual fear sank into her bones. She had seen her aunt transform before, more times than she could count. But that primal fear never went away. The mortal instinct that she should run from this crea­ture.

She was eleven when she’d first seen her aunt exact a price. Asya had been naive and desperate to shirk her new respon­sibility, to run back to her sister. Tarya had brought her on a hunt to see—to truly understand—the weight of this re­sponsibility.

It had terrified Asya then. It still terrified her now, six years later.

Everything about the flaming creature exuded power. Not the simple spells mortals toyed with, but the kind of power drawn from the depths of the earth, ancient and deadly.

The girl could not hide her fear now. It shone in her dark eyes like a beacon as she tried to back away, but Tarya’s curled fingers held her tight. The boy was screaming. The sound rose in Asya’s ears to a high keening, writhing through her insides.

The creature—Tarya—looked down at the girl, head cocked to one side. Considering.

Asya wanted to close her eyes. To pretend she was some­where far away, safe beneath a canopy of trees. But she couldn’t.

She had to do this. This was the duty the gods had chosen her for. The burden she had accepted.

And looking away would feel like abandoning the little girl.

Asya tried to take a breath to steady her whirling thoughts, but the very air was bitter and scorched. Please be something small, she thought. Not her heart.

She couldn’t stand back and watch that. Or, perhaps, she didn’t want to believe that she would just stand aside as this monster tore the girl’s heart from her body.

Because Asya knew she would. Knew she had to. That was her price.

The flames spread down Tarya’s left arm, coiling like a great serpent as they bridged across her fingers to the girl. A cry tore through the air, raw and achingly human. The greedy, blazing tendrils wrapped around the girl’s arm, as un­moved by the screams as their master. They consumed the flesh as if it were nothing more than parchment.

In only a few frantic beats of Asya’s heart, the girl’s left arm was gone. Not just burned, but gone. No trace of it remained. No charred bone, not even a scattering of ashes.

The price had been paid.

The flames receded, the creature folding back in on itself until it was no more than a spark in Tarya’s eyes. All that was left was a heavy smoke in the air, thick and choking.

Asya let her hand holding the shashka fall. The man threw himself forward—though Asya had a feeling he would have moved even if her blade had still been at his throat—and clutched the little girl, who was still half-frozen in shock. The boy flung himself at his sister too, his screams reduced to gasping cries.

Asya’s stomach curled as she stared down at the huddled family, enclosed in a grief she had helped cause.

She backed away. It was suddenly all too much. The suf­focating smoke. The man’s ragged sobs. The blistered stump that had been the girl’s arm. Her aunt’s impassive face, as empty as the carved saint’s head on the ground.

Asya whirled around, pushing back through the broken door. She doubled over as she stumbled across the threshold, leaning a hand against the moss-eaten stone to keep upright. Bile rose in her throat.

It had never been a child before. Despite all the hunts Tarya had taken her on, all the training lessons, Asya hadn’t thought of that possibility—that it could be a little girl desperate to save her brother.

Something wet trickled from the wound on Asya’s head, but she barely felt it. Her insides had been hollowed out.

All she could see were the little girl’s eyes. The ghastly re­flection of the Firebird in them, looming and monstrous. A creature of legend.

A creature that, one day, Asya would become. 

Excerpted from These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy © 2021, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.