About Iron Heart:
For too long the cruel, beautiful Automae have lorded over the kingdom of Rabu, oppressing the humans who live there. But the human revolution is on the rise, and at its heart is Ayla. Once handmaiden, now fugitive, Ayla escaped the palace of Lady Crier, the girl Ayla had planned to kill . . . but instead fell in love with. Now Ayla has pledged her allegiance to Queen Junn, whom she believes can accomplish the ultimate goal of the human rebellion: destroy the Iron Heart. Without it, the Automae will be weakened to the point of extinction.
But playing at Ayla’s memory are the powerful feelings she developed for Crier. And unbeknownst to her, Crier has also fled the palace, taking up among traveling rebels, determined to find and protect Ayla.
As their paths collide, neither are prepared for the dark secret underlying the Iron Heart.
In this stunning sequel to acclaimed author Nina Varela’s Crier’s War, the love that launched a revolution must now pave the way for a whole new era . . . and the ultimate change of heart.
YEAR 47 AE
It was barely midmorning and Ayla had already cheated death twice.
Maybe that was dramatic. More accurately, she’d already been this close to getting caught by two different members of the royal guard—but then again, it was the same result in the end, wasn’t it? Ayla was a stowaway and a human. Either crime was often punishable by death.
Thalen, the capital of Varn, was a glittering white city surrounded by high white walls. Like Sovereign Hesod’s palace in Rabu, Ayla’s home country, it was seated on the coast, on the shores of the Steorran Sea. But Thalen was a good hundred leagues south of the palace, and here the sea wasn’t an icy black expanse; there were no cliffs of sharp black rock, slick with ice, just waiting for someone to take a wrong step, slip off the edge, and be swallowed by the freezing water below. Here, the sea was jewel green and almost warm. Instead of cliffs, there was a beach of coarse yellow sand heaped with piles of washed-up seaweed, and further up, short, sloping bluffs of gray rock spotted with green moss and beach grass. The bluffs formed a crescent-moon curve around the port that Ayla and her best friend, Benjy, had managed to smuggle themselves into. After they’d fled the sovereign’s palace. Fled Rabu, the only home they had ever known, curled up like children in the hold of a cargo ship, hidden amongst casks of grain. The journey had been brutal: Benjy seasick the whole time, Ayla fine at first and then, after the grain was switched out for barrels of rotting sardines, violently ill. She remembered that week and a half at sea in sweaty, nauseous flashes, head spinnning, stomach lurching.
But they’d made it.
This port was the largest on Varn’s coastline. Massive docks jutted out into the sea, bustling with sailors and fishermen and traders and seamen of all kinds. All human, as this was dirty work, hard labor, and therefore beneath Automakind. Hundreds of ships docked here, some of them floating inns and waterboat taverns, many of them flying the royal colors, green and white. Queen Junn’s emblem was everywhere: a brilliant green phoenix clutching a sword in one clawed foot and a pickaxe in the other. Varn was a mining country. A nation of rolling hills and deep quarries, iron, coal, precious metals, gemstones buried deep beneath the earth.
The air smelled like salt and fish and human sweat. The sun shone brighter than it ever did in the frozen north. Ayla hadn’t been this warm in a long time. She hadn’t been this warm since—
Midnight. Moonlight. Soft bed, softer blankets. Dark hair spilled across the pillow. A body beside her own, breathing too slow to be human.
But Ayla wasn’t thinking about that, or her, now.
She ducked out of the narrow alleyway she’d been hiding in and headed back toward the center of the port town, satisfied she’d thrown the second guard off her track. She’d given them no reason to chase her—the meat pies in her knapsack were paid for, thank you very much. But in a town of burly dockworkers, a small shifty-eyed girl stood out, drawing suspicion from humans and Automae alike.
The port town was little more than a collection of inns and pubs clinging like barnacles to the shore, every third building marked with the crest of a shipping company or major merchant. Bobbing just offshore were a cluster of houseboats—and houses on stilts, floating like long-legged insects on the surface of the water—where the stevedores lived. That was pretty much it. All the important business happened in the capital. Wherever you stood in the town, or in the port beyond, you could see the monolith of the white walls of Thalen, rising up from the shore like strange, too-perfect cliffs. They must have been a hundred feet tall. Ayla didn’t like looking at them for too long. It made her nervous, a capital city so deliberately hidden away. Walls that high, you had to wonder: were they keeping something out, or in?
Benjy was waiting for her outside the Black Gull, a tavern that seemed busy at all hours of the day, even first thing in the morning. It was a good place to meet if you didn’t want to be noticed. Ayla sidled up next to him, sticking to the shadows below the sloping roof. They kept a careful distance between them, looking ahead, speaking only in whispers. Benjy was smoking a pipe, presumably to look like he had a good reason for hanging around outside the tavern instead of going in, which Ayla found hilarious: he grimaced with every inhale, clearly hating the entire experience.
“You’re late,” he murmured, exhaling blue smoke.
About the Author:
Nina Varela was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.