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First Look: A Fire Endless

Monday, November 28, 2022

This excerpt is part of our First Look column, where you’ll find exclusive sneak peeks of new and forthcoming books across all genres!

Rebecca Ross is the author of many YA fantasy novels and the adult fantasy novel, A River Enchanted, that debuted in February 2022. A Fire Endless is book two of the Elements of Cadence duology, publishing on December 6th.

Listen to her curated Spotify playlist that inspired the story here!

A boy had drowned in the sea.

Sidra Tamerlaine knelt next to his body on the damp sand, searching for a pulse. His skin was cold and tinged in blue, his eyes open and glazed as if he were looking into an- other world. Golden algae clung to his brown hair like a misshapen crown, and water trickled from the corners of his mouth, gleaming with broken shells and streams of blood.

She had tried to bring him back, leaping into the water and pulling him from the tides. She had dragged him to the coast and pumped his chest, breathing into his mouth. Again and again, as if she could draw his spirit and then his lungs and heart. But she had soon tasted the endless sea within him—brine and cold depths and iridescent foam—and Sidra had acknowledged the truth then. It didn’t matter how skilled she was at healing, how many wounds she had stitched or how many broken bones she had set, how many fevers and illnesses she had chased away. It didn’t mat- ter how many years she had dedicated to her craft, walking the line between life and death. She had been too late to save this one, and as she closed the boy’s milky eyes Sidra was reminded of the danger of the sea.

“We were fishing on the shore,” said one of the boy’s compan- ions. The cadence of his words was hopeful as he stood beside Sidra. Hopeful that she could bring his friend back to life. “One moment, Hamish was upright, on that rock over there. And the next thing I knew, he slipped and went under. I told him not to swim in his boots, but he refused to take them off!”

Sidra was quiet, listening to the ebb and flow of the tides. The foamy roar of the sea, sounding both angry and perhaps apolo- getic, seemed to say it was not the water spirits’ fault this boy had drowned.

Her gaze shifted to Hamish’s feet. His tanned-hide boots were tethered up to his knees while his friends were barefooted, as all isle children who swam in the sea were supposed to be. Her nan had once told her that most healers hold the gift of premonition, that she should always follow those feelings, no matter their oddity, and now she couldn’t explain the gooseflesh that suddenly rippled over her arms. She nearly reached for the boot tethers, but then stilled her hand and turned instead to the three boys who stood around her.

“Lady Sidra?”

If I had only been here a few moments sooner, she thought.

The wind was blowing that afternoon, bearing hard from the east. Sidra had been walking on the northern road, which skirted the coast, carrying a basket of warm oatcakes and several bottles of herbal tonics, squinting into that keen wind. The boys’ frantic shouts had drawn her attention, and she had rushed to aid them, but in the end she had been too late.

“He can’t be dead,” one of the lads said, over and over until Sidra reached out and took hold of his arm. “He can’t be! You’re a healer, Lady. You can save him!”

Sidra’s throat had constricted, too narrow to allow her to speak, but her expression must have conveyed enough to the boys gath- ered around her, shivering in the wind. The air turned somber.

“Go and fetch Hamish’s father, his mum,” she finally said.

Sand had gathered under her nails and between her fingers. She could feel it coating her teeth. “I’ll wait here with him.”

She watched as the three boys dashed along the shoreline to the path that snaked up a grassy knoll, abandoning their boots, packed lunch, and fishing nets in their haste. It was midday, and the sun was at its zenith, shortening the shadows on the coast. The sky was cloudless and scathingly bright, and Sidra closed her eyes for a mo- ment to listen.

It was high summer on the isle. The nights were warm and star-soaked, the afternoons storm-swept, and the gardens full of soft, dark loam, their harvest imminent. Berries grew sweet on wild vines, winkles gathered in rock eddies when the tide was low, and fawns could often be seen on the hills, trailing their mothers through bracken and knee-high wildflowers. This was the season in Eastern Cadence known for its generosity and peace. A season of both labor and repose, and yet Sidra had never felt so hollow, so weary and uncertain.

This summer was different, like a new interlude had slipped between solstice and autumn. But perhaps it felt this way only be- cause things had shifted ever so slightly to the sinister side and Sidra was still trying to adjust to how her days should be now.

She could hardly believe four weeks had come and gone since Adaira departed for the west. Some mornings it felt like yesterday that Sidra had last embraced her, and others like years had passed. The tide surged and took hold of Sidra’s ankles like a pair of cold, long-nailed hands. Tugging her back into the moment. Star- tled, she opened her eyes and squinted against the sun. Her black hair had come unbound from its braid and was dripping seawater down her arms as she listened to her intuition. She began to unlace Hamish’s damp boots.

The left one peeled away to reveal a pale leg and a huge foot that the boy was still growing into. Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps Sidra was mistaken. She almost stopped her investigation, but then the tide came again, as if urging her along. Foam and broken conches and the hook of a shark’s tooth swirled around her.

She removed the right boot, the tanned hide falling away with a splash into the shallow water.

Sidra froze.

Hamish’s entire lower leg was mottled purple and blue, similar to the appearance of a fresh bruise. His veins were prominent and shimmered with gold. The discoloration seemed to be creeping up his leg and was on the cusp of claiming his knee. He had obviously hidden the ailment from his friends beneath his boot, and he must have been concealing it for a while, since it had spread so far.

Sidra had never seen an ailment so unearthly, and she thought about the magical afflictions she had healed in the past. There were two kinds: wounds made by enchanted blades, and illnesses that came as a consequence of wielding magic. Weavers who wove secrets into plaids and smiths who hammered spells into steel. Fishermen who knotted nets with charms and cobblers who made shoes from leather and dreams. In the east, casting magic through one’s craft exacted a painful, physical cost, and Sidra had an array of tonics to ease the symptoms.

But Hamish’s leg? She was at a loss as to what had caused it. There was no wound, so the discoloration couldn’t have come from a blade. And she had never seen this symptom before in other magic wielders. Not even in Jack, when he had sung for the spirits.

Why didn’t you come to me? she wanted to weep at the boy. Why were you hiding this?

Sidra could hear shouts in the distance. Hamish’s father was coming. She wasn’t sure if Hamish had told his parents about his mysterious condition, but chances were that he had not. They would have brought him to Sidra for treatment if they had known. She quickly tethered his boots back to his feet, hiding the mot- tled skin. This was a conversation for later, because grief was about to grip the heart of Hamish’s parents and shatter this warm summer day.

The tide receded with a whisper. Clouds began to build in the northern sky. The winds shifted, and the air suddenly felt cooler as a raven cawed overhead.

Sidra remained at Hamish’s side. She wasn’t sure what had afflicted the boy. What had possibly crept beneath his skin and stained his blood, weighing him down in the water, causing him to drown.

All she knew was that she had never seen anything like this.

From A Fire Endless © 2022 by Rebecca Ross. Reprinted by permission of Harper Voyager.


Rebecca Ross writes fantasy novels for teens and adults. She lives in the Appalachian foothills of Northeast Georgia with her husband, their lively Australian Shepherd, and an endless pile of books. The Queen’s Rising, The Queen’s Resistance, Sisters of Sword & Song, and Dreams Lie Beneath are her titles for young adult readers. A River Enchanted is her adult fantasy debut, publishing February 15, 2022 with its sequel, A Fire Endless, to follow. When not writing, she can be found reading or in her garden, where she grows wildflowers and story ideas.