Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the Steampunk Revelry. Buckle up your boots and pack your steamer trunk, because it’s time to join the circus! Today we celebrate Abra SW’s A Circus of Brass and Bone.
Don’t forget the fabulous prize giveaway!
What others say:
“Read if: You would love to read about circus freaks, espionage, war elephant golems, intrepid female ship captains, monkeys finding true love, and the authentic smells of large cities. ” – Heidi W., Goodreads
“The story itself is a layered mystery set back a bit on an alternate timeline, when the Industrial Revolution was as much about magic as it was steam. It’s a dark, supernatural and altogether bizarre examination of the human condition and it remains true to form for a post-apocalyptic novel: it’s also a class commentary that asks how we’d adapt to a world in which society, with all its benefits and ills, suddenly and violently imploded.” – Rob Callahan, Vita.mn
It’s the end of civilization, but the show must go on.
The Loyale Traveling Circus and Menagerie is in turmoil. During their ocean voyage from British India to Boston, someone murdered their ringmaster. The killer must be one of their own. Unfortunately, that is the least of their problems.
While they were at sea, an aetheric calamity sent a wave of death rolling across the world. In post-Civil War America, a third of the population died outright, and many of the survivors suffer strange nervous symptoms that are steadily increasing in severity. Basic technology is also rendered dangerously unstable by the disaster. The circus members find themselves traveling through the collapse of civilization. In such desperate times, what use is a circus?
If they can defend themselves against the starving populace, if they can outwit and outperform the political factions that have seized power, if they can fight off the ravening monstrosities born of the aether storm … they just might find the answer.
Win a prize!
Read the excerpt of A Circus of Brass and Bone, play the TwoChops crossword puzzle game, and enter the Rafflecopter for the following prize: a golden fastener with iridescent brown beads that can be used as a hair decoration or a scarf holder.
Lacey Miller, the Fabulous Lady Equestrienne Who Defies the Fiery Rings of Death!
On the Ship, Aether’s Bounty, the Atlantic Ocean
“If anyone sees Mr. Loyale,” Lacey Miller said to the group playing poker by the rail, “please inform him that I’m rehearsing.” She walked away, her polished riding boots clicking across the deck.
The ringmaster had said they’d meet at sixth bell. She’d warmed her horses up before she went through the ship asking about the absent ringmaster. She wouldn’t let them suffer, waiting with their saddles on, simply because he wasn’t going to show.
Mr. Loyale didn’t appreciate her skills; it would surprise nobody that he disrespected her by showing up late. Why, when she wished to buy a new pair of matched Arabian yearlings to train, he’d as good as said that her style of equestrian show had lost its novelty and the future of the circus lay elsewhere. A hot ball of anger flared up inside her. A lady never loses her temper, she heard her mother say, in memory. Lacey kept her back straight and her walk smooth. The heavy skirts of her riding habit swirled around her ankles. She raised her chin slightly, balancing the weight of the heavy chignon she’d swept her blonde hair up in. She brushed her fingers across her riding hat, checking that it tipped forward to precisely the right angle and that the hatpin still anchored it securely. Always check your appearance before a show.
Behind her, she heard the flutter of cards being shuffled back into the pack. A low whistle alerted other performers that something was going on. The whistle repeated along the length of the ship. The monkeys out for their daily promenade chattered excitedly when their handler changed their routine, heading after her. The shuffle of feet on the deck told her that others followed. Let them. She didn’t mind an audience, she told herself, though her stomach knotted.
She’d been raised to be a proper lady, but that didn’t mean she would back down to a bully.
Lacey climbed down into the hold, where the poor animals huddled in their cages. The monkeys were among the lucky ones: small and nimble enough to be taken out, tame enough to be trusted on deck. And when the aerialists allowed the monkeys to play among their ropes, the creatures made a delightful spectacle.
The lion snarled half-heartedly at Lacey as she passed, more a complaint about his circumstances than anything personal, and then rested his chin back on his paws.
The camels felt well enough to be mean about it, smelly, ill-tempered beasts that they were. One worked his jaw preparatory to spitting; Lacey darted past. By a muffled curse behind her, she guessed the camel had found another target among those who’d followed her down. She smothered a grin.
The new aether-powered elephant they’d acquired in India loomed in the darkness of the hold. Brass capped the ends of the monstrous elephant bones and linked to shining ball-and-socket joints. In place of muscle and tendon, it had rod and piston. Metal pipes drilled into bone and conducted the aether to glass storage tubes. The elephant golem fueled itself. Lacey had to admire the efficiency, though the use of bone aether to golem dead creatures caused her to shudder.
Bad enough that the living might be strapped into golem harnesses and forced to labor with strength granted from the consumption of their vital energies. That even death was no escape …
Lacey hastened past the elephant golem to her horses, stabled together near the edge of the makeshift ring. She expected the tardy ringmaster to be waiting for her there, but she kept her eyes on her horses, caressing their heads and feeding them a couple of sugar cubes, strengthening herself for what was to come.
She heard discontented whispers from the people who had followed her down into the hold. Time for the show.
Lacey paced forward to the darkened ring. Brass piping connected aether lamps spaced around the perimeter of the ring. Lacey bent and flipped a toggle to release fire aether into the pipe, and then struck a match to light the source lamp. The aether conducted the fire from the source, dividing its heat and lumina among the outer lamps. Around the ring, they flared to pale light.
The ring was empty. The crowd behind Lacey grumbled with dissatisfaction. Maybe they’d also been anticipating Mr. Loyale—expecting him to be waiting to admonish her for being late, when she’d been looking for him. After a moment of readjusting her expectations, Lacey squared her shoulders and went to the side of the hold. Ropes snaked down from the shadows above and looped around a heavy iron ring that served as an anchor, keeping aerial props and equipment high in the shadows above until needed. Mr. Loyale had booked passage on a steamship with a hold nearly as deep as the circus’ main tent was high, to allow for practice inside.
Lacey unwound the jeff to lower the Fiery Rings of Death! They wouldn’t be fiery until her actual performance. None of them were so foolish as to have uncontained fire in the hold of a ship.
The loop of rope slithered up and snapped taut against its new limit. Behind Lacey, the hoops plummeted down. Somebody screamed. Lacey whirled to look at the group of onlookers. One of the albino twins pressed his hand to his mouth as if to call back the scream, his pink eyes wide. The aerialists tensed, rising to their toes. The Indian mahout cast a quick glance around the hold and returned to staring at her—no, past her—along with the rest. The acrobats looked ready to flip backward. The snake charmer stood statue-still, the only motion the slow movement of Samson, the baby boa draped across her shoulders.
The fortune teller slowly raised one ring-heavy finger to point at the hoops. A prickling sensation ran along Lacey’s spine, and she pivoted to look.
A dark figure swayed between the shining hoops. Their ropes crisscrossed around his neck, suspending Mr. Loyale above the rink he’d ruled in life. A macabre boutonniere of blood flowered from his chest, and liquid of uncertain provenance oozed drop by drop from the tips of his boots.
“I suppose Mr. Loyale will not be joining me for my rehearsal after all,” Lacey said faintly, stunned by the gruesome puppet dangling above the ring.
~ * ~
The Mountains of East Tennessee
It began with an imperfection in a handblown glass tube. The join of the stopcock made the small air bubble nigh-invisible. The new assistant assigned to maintain the lab didn’t notice a thing. Likely, he was regretting having agreed to take a position in the remote mountains of East Tennessee. The town nearby wasn’t what anyone would call lively. Most of the young girls had moved to the cities for paying jobs in factories. The ones who remained weren’t the brightest or the most beautiful, and they all had relatives with shotguns.
The imperfection hardly mattered, but it had gone unnoticed for a month, allowing the slow leak of fire aether to form an invisible bubble that floated and danced in the assistant’s wake, now behind him, now ahead.
The assistant opened the exterior door to the aether enrichment chamber, and then hesitated. Beyond the interior door, the enriched aether was stored. He could not resist the urge to peek.
And even that would not have caused serious harm, except to any potential progeny of the assistant, if he had not squinted at the interior, decided it needed a closer look, and struck a match to light his lamp—too close to the invisible bubble of fire aether.
End of Excerpt
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