Today on the site, we’re revealing an excerpt from the upcoming Queen of All by Anya Josephs, an #ownvoices YA fantasy with a plus-size lesbian protagonist releasing from Zenith Press on June 8th. Here’s the story:
Jena lives on her family’s struggling farm and in her beautiful friend Sisi’s shadow. She’s not interested in Sisi’s plans to uncover the Kingdom’s darkest secrets: the suppression of magic, and the crown prince’s systemic murder of those who practice it.
Jena only wants to keep a secret of her own—her changing feelings for Sisi. Yet when a letter arrives summoning Sisi to the royal Midwinter Ball, Jena has no choice but to follow her into a new world of mystery and danger.
Sisi falls into a perilous romance with the very crown prince she despises. Desperate to save her, Jena searches for answers in the halls of the palace and in the ancient texts of its library.
She discovers that the chance to save her friend, and their world, lies in her own ability to bring the magic back and embrace her own power.
And here’s the excerpt!
The most beautiful girl in any of the Four Corners of the Earth kicks me awake in the middle of the night.
Through my half-open eyes and by the light of the moon, I can see her perfectly sculpted face looming over mine. Her ruby-red lips, so entrancing that a passing bard once wrote a lengthy ode in their honor, blow hot air directly up my nose. The bard, for obvious reasons, did not mention the stench of her morning breath. As she begins to wake up, I cough, try to turn over, and fumble for our shared blanket with the intention of pulling it over my head and going back to sleep. It’s gone.
As I reluctantly blink my way awake, our bedroom comes into focus: the white-washed walls, the low rafters, the ladder down into the main room, the trunk where we keep our clothes, and then Sisi, grinning triumphantly, holding the blanket over her head.
“What do you want?”
“And good morning to you too, my beloved cousin,” she says, her dark-rose cheeks dimpling in an extremely winsome fashion. Most people can’t stay mad at beautiful Sisi for long. Luckily, I’ve had plenty of practice. I was still only a baby when Sisi and her brother came to live here, so for fourteen years, she and I have been making each other, and driving each other, mad.
“No, you see, morning happens after the nighttime. Which is what we’re having now. Nighttime. Morning is later.”
“Well technically, it’s after midnight. Thus, good morning.” She smiles at me again.
“And before dawn. Thus, good night.” I make another futile grab for the blanket, but Sisi has a good six inches of height on me and is quicker than I am even when I’m not drowsy from sleep. Defeated, I slump back against the frame of our bed. “Come on, you didn’t just wake me up in the middle of the night so that we could debate the finer points of timekeeping. Are you up to something? You already know I won’t want to be a part of it.”
“Listen.” She points down at the floor of our bedroom. Because we sleep up in the attic, I can just barely hear a low rumble of voices through the floorboards, coming from the main room below. “What are they doing awake at this hour? There must be something interesting going on.” Question and answer, all in one. As usual, I seem to be altogether unnecessary in this conversation Sisi is having with herself.
“Yes. I’m sure the price of grain has gone up fifteen milar a tonne, or something.”
“You have no spirit of adventure,” Sisi accuses.
“Another of my many faults.”
“Fine, then I’ll go by myself, and I shan’t tell you what I find.”
“Have fun. Do try not to get caught,” I advise.
She turns to face me fully, batting her long, dark eyelashes at me. It’s a trick that would certainly work on any of her many admirers among the local boys, but I’m immune to that kind of flattery. “Please, Jena? Sweet cousin, my dearest friend, it’ll be ever so much better if you just come with me.”
“Come where? Down the stairs? It’s not much of a valiant quest, even if I were inclined to be your brave companion.” After a moment’s thought, I add, “And I’m reasonably sure that I’m your only friend.”
But Sisi has no trouble continuing her conversation with herself, with or without input from me. “I’m sure you saw that carriage coming up the drive today?”
“I thought that was a delivery of new cider jugs from the potter’s.” We ran out two days ago, on Fourthday.
“No, it was a horse-drawn carriage!” Now, that’s a decent bit of news, I must admit. People around here use pushcarts, or occasionally mules and donkeys. Horses are unofficially reserved for the Numbered, as anyone without noble blood is unlikely to be able to afford their feed and upkeep. I carefully arrange my expression so Sisi won’t see that she’s caught my interest, but she continues on unabated. “Anyway, Aunt Mae might have said that, but I know for a fact that wasn’t the potter’s lad.”
“So Daren’s finally got himself fired, and the potter’s found someone new. I don’t see why that’s such a big deal.” The potter’s apprentice is famous around town for his clumsiness, and it would be no surprise to anyone if someone more suited to such a delicate profession replaced him. Daren is a good-hearted lad, as Aunt Mae always says, and he does works hard, but he likely breaks more pots carrying them in from the kiln than he sells in one piece. This is especially true when he delivers jugs for the cider press on our farm, since his infatuation with Sisi makes him nervous. Of course, everyone fancies Sisi—he’s not alone in that, just a little more hopeless than most.
“It wasn’t anyone from the potter’s. Nor anyone else from Leasane. It was a man around your father’s age. Better dressed, though, in some sort of gold-and-purple uniform. He gave Uncle Prinn a sheet of paper. I couldn’t quite see what was on it, but it was stamped with a golden seal and I’m sure it’s the Sign of the Three Powers itself. So, I can only assume that your father has been given a message from the Royal Court in the Capital. How often do you think a messenger from the King’s own home rides across half the Earth to seek out an apple farmer? And what could be in such a message?” She looks about ready to faint as she finishes her speech, her cheeks flushed with the effort of having so much to say so quickly.
I have to concede that this is indeed a good point—but I have a few good points of my own to make. “Sounds too good to be true. Which means it probably is. Perhaps this messenger just wanted a cup of cider and directions back to the High Road. If it was anything more than that, we’ll hear about it soon enough. In the meantime, why not go to bed? Or at least lie here and speculate so as to spare ourselves the inevitable results of snooping into what’s none of our business: we sneak out, we get caught, we get beaten, we get sent right back where we started no better off but for sore backsides.”
“You are becoming frightfully dull lately. Ever since that incident on market day—”
“Which was all your fault, I might add, though it was me who took all the blame. Here’s an idea, Jena, let’s not do our chores today! Oh, let’s steal the apple cart and ride it into town! It’ll be fun! We’ll meet boys! We’ll buy candies at the market! We won’t get caught! And when we do get caught, I certainly won’t run away home and pretend never to have left my sewing and not say a word when Jena’s getting thrashed for it!”
“Bruises heal. Unsatisfied curiosity never does.”
“I don’t know, I’m still a little sore—” To be honest, my feelings were hurt worse than my backside. Aunt Mae is strict, but she’d never thrash us so hard that bruises dealt out a week prior would still hurt. What stings isn’t the beating, now, as Sisi points out, healed and mostly forgotten. It’s the fact that I’d gotten one, and Sisi hadn’t. As usual, I get stuck taking all of the blame and the pain with Sisi getting away scot-free, since she’s too pretty and charming for anyone but me to stay angry with.
“A half hour, that’s all. Won’t you give your poor dear cousin, near to you as a sister, your closest kin in affection if not in blood, a half-hour’s worth of your rest, when I would wake a thousand night’s watching for you…”
I roll my eyes, but I must confess, even just to myself, that I do quite want to know what’s going on down in the kitchen. As usual, Sisi is, infuriatingly, right. “Just half an hour?”
“Thirty minutes, to the instant,” she promises, smiling with all the innocence she can muster.
“Shake on it, you scoundrel. I can’t trust you.”
She spits in her hand and offers it to me, and I take it. Sometimes I think Sisi would not have made a very good Lady of a Numbered House, even if her brother had not left the Numbered for his unsuitable marriage with my cousin Merri. Sisi and I shake, and then she yanks me out of the bed by our joined hands.