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The Legacy of Androva Series

Spring will officially begin in a few days and it seems like a good time to review my writing progress for 2019. The aim, as always, is to complete two books and right now, I'm on track to do that 🙂.

First up will be the sequel to Spell Tracker. The second story in the Light Mage Series takes place partly in the earthbound dimension (Tudor England, to be precise) and partly in the magical dimensions. The surviving primary characters from Spell Tracker all return, and Devin is the narrator this time. His approach to problem-solving is a little less considered than Luca's! One of the characters is accused of committing murder and is forced to go on the run to avoid the death penalty. There's also a new guardian, a girl, who was a sixteenth century French corsair (a kind of legal pirate) in her graduating earthbound life. Here's an excerpt from the beginning:
* * * * * * * * *
My boyfriend worries. It’s kind of cute.
“We get audited every earthbound month,” I said. “What are you pacing for?”
“It’s still an audit. Carried out by a Spell Master working for the High Council. Aren’t you even slightly nervous?”
I grabbed hold of his hand and pulled him to a stop. “This is stupid. You nearly tripped over the threshold, for God’s sake. You haven’t used your magic for anything forbidden. You never do.”
He stared at me for a second. Here, in the primary dimension, he looked nothing like his earthbound form. Slender and wide-eyed, magic lending his caramel skin a slight iridescence, he was the most beautiful Light Mage I’d ever seen.
“Who says I’m worrying about me?” he asked with a faint smile.
“Hey,” I protested. “I haven’t broken any rules.”
“Devin. You practically told that guy his life path last week. If I hadn’t dedisco’d him, we’d both be in trouble.”
“I love it when you speak Latin,” I said, grinning.
“Yeah, you love not taking me seriously, too.”
I’d only been a guardian for a few months. A lot of the time I still spoke like the American teenager I used to be.
* * * * * * * * *
The second book is going to be the beginning of a new series tentatively called Beyond Androva, although that name may change as I write it. However, it won't be anything to do with Jax, Shannon, and the others. Much as I love all of those characters, I think I've told their story. Beyond Androva will begin with Serena, Galen's sixteen-year-old sister, and her adventures on a brand-new world after the events of Surviving Magic. Androva originally opened portals to seven other worlds, which means she has five to choose from. (Imbera is a no-go, for obvious reasons, and she's not interested in second-century Terra). Here's an excerpt, again from the beginning:
* * * * * * * * *
“You won’t change my mind. I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. I want to live somewhere interesting,” I said.
“What does that mean?” asked my older brother. “Here is interesting. You don’t have to leave Terra. Or if you insist on changing worlds, you could always go back home.”
I raised my eyebrows. “To what? Home doesn’t exist anymore. Everyone we ever knew on Androva is dead. And if I returned I’d have to endorse the lie about what happened there. I’m not sure I can do that.”
Galen sighed and placed his hand over mine. His magic expanded, powerful and familiar, lighting his eyes with silver and encasing our hands in a veil of energy. He wasn’t using a spell. He was just using magic to illustrate the strength of his feelings. From where I was sitting, it felt a lot like emotional blackmail.
* * * * * * * * *
I'll post updates on timing when I have them! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕

Today's Chapter Fourteen takes us to the halfway point of the book 🙂. At the end of his flashback to Ancient Rome and gladiator training, Luca shies away from remembering how he and Cass were eventually separated. Then he meets up with Devin, who explains the reason for the tension between him, Mina, and Gabe. Luca's attraction to Devin is also becoming more and more difficult to ignore.

If you'd like to catch up with the rest of Spell Tracker so far, you can follow the New series label at the top of this post. I hope you enjoy the chapter, and thank you very much for reading 💕.

14 A Game

Cass and I spent every spare moment together as we prepared to enter the Colosseum for our inaugural fight. Knowing we faced the threat of imminent death, we wanted to do all we could to celebrate being alive. I believed in the gods when I was with her. Someone so extraordinary could not have come into existence by accident.
We worked hard to fool the lanista into thinking Cass knew what she was doing. Every night I gave her a horse-riding lesson in secret, and every day she had to fake her ability a little less.
“Don’t copy Julius,” I told her. “It’s not just a matter of kick to go and pull to steer and stop. The horse will feel your weight shifting and respond to a much lighter touch if you give him the chance.”
“He’s got to give me the chance to stay on first,” she complained. “Everything hurts.”
“Yes! I’m in agony here, Avi.”
“Oh. Maybe I should take a closer look,” I said, adopting a solemn expression. “Examine you. Just in case.”
She bit her lip to hide a smile. “In case of what?”
“In case I can find… um… something that doesn’t hurt. You know… to make you feel better.”
Cass stared at me for a second, then she climbed into my lap and we were kissing. It was fierce, and sweet, and I wouldn’t have noticed if the emperor himself had interrupted us.
In the training arena, whenever it looked like she was going to mess up, I deliberately pushed her off the horse and we fought on the ground with our swords instead. The horses tolerated the training sessions with remarkable patience. I often felt ashamed, knowing I would be forced to take one of them into the Colosseum with me. Very few of the animals that entered the games ever came back.
The others continued to laugh at our enmity, and the lanista suspected nothing. It was important no one knew our real feelings. They would jump at the chance to use them against us if they could.
Eventually, the time came when Cass was proficient enough to fight a moving target on horseback. We started on opposite sides of the arena before urging our horses into a fast canter in order to attack. Before I had time to properly take aim, Cass threw her blunted spear, hitting my unprotected shoulder hard and upsetting my balance. My horse skittered backward. Cass was traveling toward me so quickly that her practice sword was raining down blows on my head and my raised shield before I could right myself.
I fell off, my sword, spear, and shield landing on top of me with a clatter. She shouted triumphantly. I suppressed a grin, happy for her even through the pain of my landing, and shouted back, “Is that the best you can do?”
“My worst beats your best any day of the week,” she retorted.
After that, she could hold her own. Her confidence increased. Our fighting styles complemented each other, and we naturally began to pair up against the others. Cass learned to throw her spear with great precision, while I worked on my sword fighting, combining force with finesse in a way that had eluded me before. Once she’d unhorsed an opponent, I finished them off.
It led us to an ending we would never have chosen.
Enough. Enough remembering for now. I’m not ready to think of… I’m not ready.
It was fortunate this was a weekend. The sun had already passed across the library skylights and begun its descent by the time I stopped. I’d been lost in bittersweet memories for half the night and most of the day.
I checked my phone. Everyone was messaging about the party. Mina had posted a lot of photos so that her followers could be in no doubt about how amazing it was going to be and also how stunning Mina herself was going to look. The whole thing must have taken her ages.
High school ends this year, Mina. What happens then? You can’t cut and paste your popularity when you go to college.
There was an extended debate in the comments about whether “Cavi” would put in an appearance. Mina hinted, but didn’t promise. I scrolled up and down a couple of times to see if Gabe or Devin had said anything, but there were no comments from either of them.
It was ridiculous how easy it had been for Mina to start the rumor about me and Cass. The more times it was repeated on social media, the more people believed it. Seeing the lie on the screen of their phone somehow lent it credibility. At least I knew Cass didn’t care.
What did you decide?
Devin. And I hadn’t decided anything.
Still thinking,” I replied.
I’ll be there in an hour. Delivery gate. You’ll have to let me in.
What?” It struck me as I tapped Send that my reply was stupid. Devin’s message was pretty clear.
?” said his reply.
I don’t know if I want to see you.” I decided to go for honesty.
I need your help,” he replied.
I sighed. Some things I couldn’t say no to. Helping the earthbound was still my job. I was on a temporary transfer, not a sabbatical.
OK. An hour.”
Cool.” He added a smiley face and I found myself smiling back at the screen. Be honest, Luca. You do want to see him.
 I passed the time by working on the library computer to complete a History essay. I wasn’t attending every class, but I didn’t want to use spells to get out of the entire timetable. I’d be far more credible as a high school student if I actually spent some time being a high school student. And graduation didn’t happen by accident. Even with sixty percent attendance, I had a lot of studying to do.
When Devin arrived, I was waiting. He smelled like he’d just had a shower. It was kind of distracting.
“According to the alarm system, a couple of teachers are signed in,” I told him. “We should go to our place. I mean… the place. Backstage. You know.”
“Our place?” he repeated, smiling.
“It was a slip of the…” I trailed off. Then, like an idiot, I touched my tongue to my lower lip.
“Avi… if you don’t want me to throw myself at you right now, you should turn around and start walking,” said Devin, not taking his eyes off my mouth.
He’s been here less than a minute. Walk.
I started walking, slowly, until I heard him follow a few paces behind me. I concentrated on finding something sensible to say. It took me a while. “What did you want my help with?” I asked, looking over my shoulder.
“I’m worried about Mina.”
Not what I was expecting him to say.
“Why? Is there a problem with the party or something?”
 He shook his head. “It’s not the party. Look… I suppose you think Mina is like this super-bitch who’s more into status than anything else, right?”
“Er… isn’t she?”
We sat down in the same places we’d been before. I didn’t soften the lighting this time, in an attempt to avoid creating any kind of romantic vibe.
“Well?” I said. “Are you going to tell me that she’s secretly insecure and misunderstood, and really she’s hurting worse than all the people whose senior years she’s trying to ruin?”
Apparently my guardian’s objectivity has completely gone to shit.
“I’m sorry,” I said before he could answer. “I didn’t mean that. I don’t know her life path, do I? She might be doing this for someone else.”
“What’s a life path?”
I made a face. “Something the earthbound aren’t supposed to know about.”
He shifted closer until our hips and shoulders were touching. “Are you talking about fate? Most scientists say every decision we make is predetermined. I haven’t decided what to believe yet.”
“Exactly,” I replied. “You haven’t decided.”
“You just said life path,” he argued. “If there’s a path, it sounds predetermined to me.”
“Yeah, but there are forks in the path. Look, I’m breaking so many rules here. Can we talk about Mina instead?”
“No.” He elbowed my ribs. “You can’t keep telling me stuff, then refusing to explain.”
“Ow.” I elbowed him back. “I’m trying to do the right thing.”
I exhaled, then shifted position so I could see his face more easily. “Look, let’s just say, hypothetically, you did have a life path and… choices. What if someone told you which fork was the most difficult? Or who’d designed the path… or where it crossed with someone else’s… or what the stakes were…
“Don’t you see? Free will is so easy to undermine. And once it’s gone, you are done. So I won’t be responsible for undermining yours.”
Devin nodded. His shock filled the space between us, the ribbon of emotion spiky and dark, but he did a good job of keeping it from showing on his face. “I get it. Why didn’t you just say that before?”
“Yeah. Well. I told you. I don’t really know how to be a guardian like this. My assignments can’t usually interrogate me.”
“Assignments? You make it sound like school.”
I shrugged. “It is. Everyone’s learning. All the time.”
“So…” He pushed up his sleeves. “Is there anything you can tell me that’s not classified? You said you wanted to help me, before. I was hoping you could help Mina.”
“I can try. As long as you understand that I can’t tell her what to do.”
Devin laughed. The spiky ribbon had already begun to fade, and now it transformed into something that fizzed like the surface of a newly poured glass of soda.
“No one can tell Mina what to do,” he said, grinning.
Percipio,” I said, wanting him to know what it felt like. He blinked. Goosebumps appeared on his forearms.
“Are you doing that?” he asked. “It’s kind of nice.”
“No. You are. Rescindo,” I added. Devin looked disappointed.
“That was me?”
“That was the happy version of the snakes and fog you felt before. Thoughts and beliefs translate to emotions, which translate to mag… to energy,” I said, correcting myself. “They have more power than most of the earthbound realize.”
“How do you cope? I mean, being able to feel this stuff all the time. Doesn’t it distract you?”
“Not really. I kind of tune in to it when I need to. I only have three assignments at a time. I mean… usually. That’s not to say I don’t get distracted, though.”
He stared at me, and the fizzing slowed down, softening into something different. I had to grit my teeth to keep from leaning into it. Gods. Would it be too obvious if I used a spell to make my jeans a bit less tight?
“Well,” I said, swallowing, “w-why does Mina need help?”
“How old are you?” he asked.
“How old are you?” he repeated.
“Seventeen,” I said. “Didn’t I tell you that already?”
“But you’re Roman. Doesn’t that make you, like, ancient?”
“I was a Roman. When I was last earthbound. But… sorry to disappoint you. I’m not particularly old, or wise, or anything. My age is a blueprint I carried with me when I became a guardian.”
“You mean… you’ll be seventeen forever? Seriously?”
Time passed differently here. The average earthbound life was equivalent to a year in the magical dimensions. I wouldn’t live forever, but it would seem like a long time from Devin’s point of view. And I’d be seventeen for the duration of it. He was right about that.
“Not quite forever, but… yeah. Sometimes it sucks, but I’ve got used to it.”
“Thank God,” he said, relaxing.
“I thought I was crushing on some really old dude or something.”
I laughed. “Thanks. I think?”
He scooted a little way back from me, and the buzz of attraction between us diminished. “Sorry,” he said. “You’ll probably think I’m stupid, but I can’t seem to think clearly when I’m too close to you.”
I don’t think you’re stupid.
He looked down at his hands. “I’m going to tell you something about me, and Gabe, and Mina, and you have to promise you won’t repeat it.”
“I promise.”
“I’m hoping that because of… because of what you are, you can’t break your word. Is that true, or am I being stupid again?” He looked up. His cheeks were a little red.
Promitto,” I said. “I wouldn’t have… but now I can’t.”
“OK. Cool.”
Silence. Devin opened his mouth and closed it again. “This is really difficult.”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“No, I do. Otherwise you won’t understand. We’ve been friends forever. They’ve always accepted me for who I am. I mean… that I’m gay. They made it easy for me.”
He waited for me to acknowledge it. “OK,” I said. “I know it can be a big deal. But remember I come from a time when people were pretty open about it.”
“Yeah. You don’t seem bothered one way or the other.”
“Well… it’s me. Can’t really escape it.”
He smiled. “I know, right? The thing is… not everyone feels that way.” His smile disappeared. “We played this stupid game of truth or dare one night. I didn’t find out until later, but Mina had been drinking. And once she said… what she said…. things just went from bad to worse.”
“What did she say?”
“Oh, only that she’d been in love with Gabe since we were thirteen. He looked like he was going to throw up when she tried to kiss him.”
“Then what happened?”
I can guess. I’ve seen how he looks at you.
“Then… then he blurts out that he’s gay and in love with me. Can you believe it? He gave me no warning. He just tried to kiss me and… he’s my friend. I don’t like him that way.”
He hunched his shoulders. “I probably looked like I was going to throw up, too. We all swore we’d act as if it never happened. But Mina’s changed. I’m worried about her. I’m worried about both of them.”

Welcome to the first blog post of a new month! I hope everyone is having a good weekend. I went to a bookshop yesterday and while I was browsing I got to thinking about the importance of the back cover. Book descriptions, or blurbs, can be very difficult to write. The description is a sales pitch to the reader and striking the right balance between informative and intriguing, while remaining true to the story inside the cover, is something of art. (And not an art I would claim to have mastered!).

Today's blog post contains a list of my top ten suggestions of what to consider when writing a description and also a look at some different descriptions for a popular book.

Of course, this list is subjective and based on my own experience, but these are the things I try to bear in mind. I've added examples from the excellent description for Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, a bestselling MG fantasy adventure. As you can see, it manages to convey a lot of information in a very effective way with a low word count.
  1. Make the first sentence interesting
    "Twelve-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous--and extremely high-tech--fairies."
  2. Introduce the main character/s
    See 1
  3. Provide some information about the setting
    See 1
  4. Use attention-grabbing words
    "Twelve-year-old criminal mastermind"
    "Armed and dangerous"
    "Extremely high-tech"
    "Holds her for ransom"
  5. Hint at the story
    "He (Artemis Fowl) kidnaps one of them (the fairies), Holly Short, and holds her for ransom in an effort to restore his family's fortune."
  6. Target audience
    See 1
  7. Genre
    See 1
  8. Keep it short
    The description for Artemis Fowl is <60 words.
  9. Series reference if applicable
    Not given in the description but the book's title makes it clear that it is the first book in a series.
  10. End on a cliffhanger
    "But he may have underestimated the fairies' powers. Is he about to trigger a cross-species war?"
I thought it would also be interesting to compare a description for the same book in different markets. I chose the first book in the Harry Potter series because I know the story very well but it's been a long time since I looked at its description.

Amazon UK
Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

Amazon US
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That's because he's being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he's really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

Amazon India
The story unfolds with a letter arriving for Harry Potter, a simple boy, that brings with it a dark secret. The letter reveals to Harry Potter that both his parents were wizards and were killed by a Dark Lord’s curse when he was just a baby.
Thereafter Potter's journey to the Hogwarts, a school of wizards brimming with magic, mystery and enchantment, spins out into a fascinating tale. After his journey to Hogwarts, young Harry learns of a missing stone — a stone which can be both terrifying and valuable at the same time, depending on who possesses it and how one uses it. Will Harry Potter and his friends be able to get hold of the stone?

Apart from the slight amendment to the title, the UK and US descriptions aren't too dissimilar in terms of the information they contain. However, the UK version ends on a short sentence promising adventure (with an exclamation mark!) whereas the US version ends on a longer sentence that's much more detailed. The third description, from Amazon India, is quite different to the other two. It's more considered, and reveals more about the plot. For example, it specifically mentions Harry's nemesis and also the stone in the book's title.

What do you look for in a book's description? How much does the description influence your decision to buy? I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the art of the back cover, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today!

Today's chapter has Luca remembering a time in Ancient Rome when he and Cass were both gladiators-in-training. They discover the fighting style their lanista (owner) has chosen for them, and they also discover the extent of their feelings for each other. Back then, Luca was living a real earthbound life and had not yet become a guardian. He's also trying to manage (with limited success!) the added complication of his growing attraction to Devin in the present day.

You can catch up on earlier chapters by using the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading 💕

13 A Memory

I had coped with the overnight and weekend solitude reasonably well so far. The quiet and the darkness of the library, my favorite place, were welcome and necessary after the sensory overload of a day spent in high school. It was relentless. Mina’s politics and plotting gave me a headache, and the new-student spotlight showed no signs of dimming yet. I had to concentrate every second just to blend in.
Such a peculiar objective: to be one of the crowd. As a guardian I strived to be noticed, hoping that my assignments would sense the light and the magic I offered. I was permitted to show them the opportunities built into their life paths as long as I didn’t compromise their free will.
The difficulty didn’t just lie in the fine line between the showing and the telling. It took years of training before Light Mages could navigate the earthbound dimension without a physical covering. There was no chance of making a connection by accident, and certainly not as easily as the one I’d made with Devin. Everything was dark and heavy here.
It was necessary. Deliberate. The struggle of being earthbound became real when there was no guarantee of salvation, and no certain reward for choosing well over choosing badly. Life lessons didn’t count if they were learned with a visible safety net.
Cass had to find a way through her darkness alone. The stakes were so high, yet I couldn’t tell her anything. As far as she was concerned, I was just Avi, a new student with questionable social skills and a fear of physical contact.
Allowing her to think that I was also a time-traveling magician of some kind did bend the rules a little, but it didn’t break them. I remained hopeful I could make this work and leave him empty-handed. His earlier text message had spurred me into taking a risk. It seemed to have paid off. Please. Please let me succeed.
After Cass left, I stayed where I was, not willing to venture into the corridor until it was dark outside. I knew the janitor’s routine and how to avoid him. While I was waiting, I exchanged messages with Devin, congratulating him on making the team. He asked if we could meet up over the weekend.
I’ll skip Mina’s party and come see you instead,” he wrote.
And what would we do?
I flushed as soon as I’d tapped Send. It had been an honest question but reading it back on the screen it looked more like an invitation.
Whatever. You choose.
My mind immediately provided one or two unhelpful but appealing suggestions. I wanted to see him even though I was afraid of the insane chemistry between us. I also felt ashamed at the thought that I’d nearly kissed his sister. I would end up helping neither of them at this rate. I was behaving more like one of my assignments than the guardian I was supposed to be.
I’ll think about it,” I typed.
No. Not about what to choose. I mean I’ll think about whether you should come,” I added.
Gods, that sounds even worse.
I mean, whether we should meet.
It felt like the flush of embarrassment had spread to my entire body. Devin replied with a single smiley face. The winking one. I stared at my phone. Shit. I need a cold shower.
I got up and left the room. If I kept exchanging messages with Devin I was in danger of inviting him here right now and to hell with the consequences. I wandered the empty school for a while, dispersing any echoes of negative energy I encountered. It was basic guardian housekeeping, and a good distraction.
I inevitably ended up back in the library, where I settled in for the night. There, amongst the books, the separation between the earthbound and magical dimensions was thinnest and magical energy was easy to obtain. It was the only sustenance I needed.
I chose a biography of a nineteenth-century author whose publisher had once been an assignment of mine. Henry Austen, with some help from me, had persuaded Thomas, my assignment, to publish a novel written by Henry’s sister. The legacy of that simple decision was still alive more than two hundred years later. Surely no one reading her story could be in any doubt. Every life path matters. The potential is infinite.
I knew he disagreed with me. Although he was happy to exploit the opportunity of our arrangement, he thought I was mad to risk so much for what he saw as so little. Maybe I am mad. Given the scarcity of qualified guardians, the High Council would be outraged if they had any idea what I’ve done.
When I was about halfway through the book, I put it down on the carpet. This was the time of night I looked forward to and dreaded in equal measure, when I would deliberately revisit another memory of Cass. I had the vain hope that if I desensitized myself to everything that had happened between us, then I would be more able to focus on her current manifestation when we were together. Admit it, Luca. You just like torturing yourself.
Once I’d started, the memories took on a life of their own, becoming irresistible in their intensity. There were times I was afraid I wouldn’t return from the Ludus Magnus in time. I imagined the librarians unlocking the doors in the morning to find their pale-green carpet and veneered shelves replaced with stone walls, dust, and the oppressive heat of Rome in summer. If they were really unlucky, they’d walk straight into a sparring match and get a rudis in the face.
We trained a lot. I was always hungry. Unfortunately, gladiators were vegetarians, and our meals were modest. Meat was too good for the likes of us. It was the worst food I’d ever had, even though I’d been a slave all my life.
Citizens called us the hordearii—the barley men. Sometimes the more well-known gladiators would be given gifts of food by their fans. It was small comfort compared to the dangers we faced, but it’s surprising how important small comforts become when you have nothing else.
Cass started out as my small comfort. She ended up becoming my everything.
I thought back to the day we’d been assigned. Our group stood in three rows of six, squinting into the early evening sun. “The first part of your training is over,” said the lanista, surveying his property impassively. We’d learned the hard way to keep our expressions as deadpan as his.
“You will now complete your training in the style I have chosen for you. An honorable death awaits, but only if you master these skills. The mob does not applaud incompetence. It will jeer you on your way to the afterlife if you fight badly.”
He paused, making sure we understood. “Those in front, step forward. Retiarius.” There was a murmur of discontent, and the lanista raised an eyebrow. “Problem?” He tapped the knife attached to his belt with impatient fingers and everyone immediately fell silent. He gestured for the first row to step aside.
The retiarius gladiator fought with a net and a trident, wearing no body armor. Death was usually messy and painful, though the agile fighter had a fair chance of survival if his aim was good.
“Those now in front. Secutor.”
Unlike the retiarius, the secutor, his customary opponent, was armored up to the hilt and carried a large rectangular shield and a gladius sword. The superior weaponry and the protection it gave was balanced by its weight and lack of maneuverability.
There was one row left. The row containing me and Cass. Which type would we be assigned to? I didn’t know which to wish for. I could succeed at either. Then I brightened. At least if we were in the same row, we wouldn’t be fighting each other. That was something to be grateful for.
“Final row. Eques.”
We stared at him blankly. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been expecting that.
Eques?” repeated Julius, the boy next to me.
“Yes.” The lanista scowled. “Isn’t that what I said?” We all nodded, keen to avoid being on the receiving end of his temper.
“If your hearing is damaged, you are of no use to me. Well… is it?” He leaned closer, pulling out his knife, and Julius, who was still nodding, froze in place.
“N-no,” he whispered.
“Good. Eques it is, then. You will begin tomorrow. Do not embarrass me.”
When he’d stalked off, his cloak flowing, the six of us looked at each other. Cass seemed really mad. “I didn’t even know he’d bought some new horses,” said Julius. “I hope I haven’t forgotten how to ride.”
“Don’t be stupid,” said one of the others. “We’ve only been here eight weeks. You don’t forget that fast.” He offered a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Although… if you have forgotten, that will make you easier to kill.”
He’s right. Eques fights eques. It’s a better spectacle that way.
My stomach churned. I went to stand next to Cass and brushed the back of her hand with my fingers. She returned the pressure for a second before giving me a violent shove. I fell against Julius, who swore loudly when we both landed in the dirt.
“Gods, you two. Always at each other’s throats. I’ll be glad when one of you kills the other.”
After the Ludus had settled into the quiet of the evening, I crept out of my cell and along the edge of the training arena until I reached the farthest corner. The shadows were empty. Cass wasn’t there yet. Maybe she wouldn’t meet me at all. I knew her pretty well by now, and she hadn’t just been angry before. She’d been scared.
I leaned against the wall, drawing up my knees. Eques. It made sense, on reflection. The eques gladiator entered the arena on horseback, and I was a good rider. He used a sword and a spear. I was skilled at both. He was like a combination of retiarius and secutor. It would suit me. Except… Cass would be eques too.
After she’d sliced into my face with her sword, she had stepped up the animosity toward me. Day after day with no respite. I barely held onto my temper. It was only the determination that it would be my choice if and when I lost it, not hers, that stopped me from exploding.
Then, one day, I’d caught her staring at me. The longing on her face was enough of a shock to make me drop the bowl I was holding, and I gasped with pain when hot stew landed on my legs.
By the time I’d turned back, she’d gone, but I’d already decided to confront her. I asked her to meet me when everyone was asleep, overcoming her initial refusal by threatening to tell the lanista she’d been stealing.
We hadn’t talked much. I’d said, “What the hell is going on between us?”
She’d replied, “If you don’t know, you’re even stupider than I thought you were.”
We’d stared at each other. I’d taken a step closer. She’d taken a step. Then another. Suddenly we were kissing. Neither of us was very good at it that first time, but it didn’t seem to matter. It was like the first sip of water when you’re desperately thirsty. At first your brain can’t process how amazing it feels, but then you go slightly crazy and try to drink the entire well.
More stolen meetings had followed. Although we kept up our fighting in front of the others, in private we became close. We only talked about the present. The past was too painful and the future was too uncertain. We had no time and no reason to take it slowly. She was smart, and funny, and beautiful, and I already knew I’d fallen in love with her.
I waited. It was hard to stay awake. The air was warm and I was exhausted from a long day’s training. My head fell forward and I dreamed of horses.
“Avi. Avi! Wake up.”
Her urgent whisper blended with my dream for a few seconds before my eyes opened. “Hey. Where have you been?” I said, and yawned.
“Julius would not go to sleep. He kept the whole cell awake talking about what might happen tomorrow.”
She pushed her fist against my jaw in a pretend punch and scowled. “Nice to see you were so worried about me you couldn’t even remain conscious.”
I leaned into her hand and she uncurled her fingers, pushing them into my hair and stroking the back of my neck.
“Sorry,” I murmured. “How can I make it up to you?”
I was about to kiss her when she moved away. “You can teach me how to ride a horse,” she said. “That lying bastard who sold me told the lanista I was an expert.”

Today's blog post is my top three in terms of defining cover appeal. Covers are very subjective, as any book-lover can tell you. What appeals to one reader won't necessarily appeal to another. However, the experience of browsing for a new book, whether it be online or in a physical bookstore, is very much influenced by the covers we see. Unless I already know the author, it's rare for me to click on/pick up a book when I don't like the cover.

But what makes a good cover? (Disclaimer: I'm not an expert! I just thought it would be an interesting subject). As I've already said, covers are a personal thing. Therefore it makes sense to approach the subject from my own perspective. There are three main things I want from a cover if I'm going to fall in love with it:

1. The wow factor. That indefinable something. An eye-catching cover might be beautiful, or intriguing, or startling, or a combination of all three, but it has to stand out amongst its neighbours.

2. Scene-setting. A sense of what to expect from the book. It's helpful if the cover can point to the genre and the intended age-group.

3. The promise. A good book cover understands the words inside. Its images will translate something important from the story/content. Perhaps another way to describe it might be as a hook. It takes the wow factor to another level of interest, making the reader want to figure out what the cover means, and read the words behind the images.

Everyone knows the saying, “You can't judge a book by its cover.” I searched to find the first use of this phrase, and there are two suggestions: one from as far back as 1867, and the other more recently in 1944. And of course, you can't judge a book by its cover. The cover is only a snapshot. However, what else is a reader supposed to do? There isn't time to read everything! We have to narrow down our choices somehow 😏.

Here are three covers I love, selected at random. They each have the wow factor, they each set the scene, and they also make a promise that's honoured by the stories inside. I've tried to explain what I love about them as if I hadn't already read and enjoyed the actual books.

The Trials of Apollo, The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan.
What I love:

  • The colours, especially the way the blue frames the orange
  • The substitution of the O in the title for a sun
  • The contrast between the golden god-like image with the bow and arrow and the ordinary boy on the street

Lockwood & Co., The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud.
What I love:

  • The old-fashioned font. It's quirky but still legible
  • The image. What is it? Is it something dangerous, or is it the object that will eventually save the day?
  • The contrast between the magic glow/smoke and the looping chains

The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis.
What I love:

  • The way the different colours blend together
  • The cover manages to include a lot of detail without being too cluttered
  • The combination of apparently disconnected items: a lion's face, pools of water (or something water-like), three rings, some trees, and a boy. How do they all come together in one story?

What do you look for in a cover? Do you like the examples I've chosen ? Thank you very much for visiting my blog today!

This was one of my favorite chapters to write because I got to imagine visiting Shakespeare's Globe Theater in 1600, a few months after it was first built. Luca is pulling out all the stops to get Cass's attention—using time travel to take her somewhere he thinks she will love. As a Light Mage, he has the ability to travel within the earthbound dimension to anywhere he knows by name and sight. He's been a guardian for nearly two thousand earthbound years, which means he knows a lot of places!

You can catch up on earlier chapters by using the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading 💕

12 A Glimpse

The theater rose up around us, three stories high, its twenty even sides giving the impression that it was circular. Like a globe. It was open to the London sky, and the smell of new wood combined with early summer rain was fresh after the stale air of the geography classroom.
I adjusted my focus while our surroundings were still flickering, until I reached the exact location and time I was searching for. I’d deliberately chosen a rehearsal day. We settled in the top row of seating, directly facing the stage. I gently tugged at Cass’s hand until we were both sitting down on the narrow bench behind us. The shadows were enough to keep us hidden as long as we kept still.
The actors on the stage were conferring, speaking in voices too low for us to hear them. Cass looked left and right, up and down, with quick glances, her hand holding tightly onto mine.
“This can’t be what I think it is,” she said.
I squeezed her hand. “Yes it can. This time it’s exactly what you’re thinking.”
“We are not in the Globe Theater. That’s impossible!”
The murmuring of voices from below came to an abrupt halt. I shifted position to conceal her from view. “Vestis aequalis,” I whispered, and our clothes transformed into something more appropriate for the early seventeenth century.
I dressed her as a man. Not that she wouldn’t have made a beautiful Elizabethan lady, but the shock of lead-and-vinegar makeup and no underwear might have been a little much.
“OK?” I asked, giving her a reassuring smile.
She lifted her free hand and ran it inside the high collar with its starched white ruff. The black and white set off her skin perfectly. She looks stunning. Oh, stop it, Luca. Focus.
We were both wearing jackets made from dark, richly embroidered cloth, with close-fitting breeches and stockings. Our cloaks were pinned over one shoulder, as was the fashion.
“You, sir! No person hath the right to claim an audience here. Performances begin next week, at which time you may pay your pennies like everyone else.”
I stood up and made a bow over the low rail. “Apologies, gentlemen all. We meant no offense. My father is one of your investors. Me credite.”
 It was doubtful my “Believe me” spell would work on the entire company of players, which was why I had changed our clothes and focused only on the man speaking to me. I knew he was in charge of this particular production. When I’d been here before, my assignment had been one of the secondary actors.
Cass and I could have hidden backstage. We could have visited the theater when it was empty, but I wanted her to see a scene from Much Ado About Nothing for real. I couldn’t take the risk of attending a performance—the Globe had space for three thousand spectators and it was usually full. My chances of being noticed by another guardian would be too high. A rehearsal was the next best thing.
He’d promised to keep them away from the school, and I trusted him, simply because he had as much to lose as I did. Although our motivations for doing this were very different, we were both breaking the rules.
On the stage below us, the man’s expression relaxed. “Ah, I see. Young sir, forgive me. You may remain.”
One of the actors behind him muttered a complaint. The man frowned. “Yes. Yes, I understand your argument.” He looked at me again. “Your complexion, and that of your companion… you’ll forgive me for saying… you are both rather Spanish in appearance. One cannot be too careful in these troubled times.”
I kept my face expressionless by sheer force of will. The earthbound are so obsessed by skin color. As if physical appearance is what defines an enemy.
“We are recently arrived from the Netherlands and spent much time on deck during our voyage. That’s all.”
I sat down again to indicate that as far as I was concerned, the conversation was over. I was relieved to see those on stage take the hint and return to their rehearsal.
“Is this…? Is this…? When is this?” Cass whispered so quietly I could barely hear her.
“It’s the date I said. June 18, 1600.”
“Look, they’re going to rehearse a scene. It’s Much Ado About Nothing, in case you hadn’t guessed. That’s what they’ll be performing next week. I was here on opening night, too. It was awesome.”
She looked at me without speaking. My eyes, my mouth, my scar, my hair, my neck, my chest. She looked at it all. I didn’t know what to do with my expression, feeling self-conscious in the face of her scrutiny.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Er… I brought you here to see the play. I thought you might like—”
“No,” she said, interrupting. “What are you doing here? With me?”
I didn’t know how to answer. “I came to help you,” I said eventually.
She considered this. I wished so much that I knew what she was thinking. I could force her to tell me with a spell, but only if I was prepared to sacrifice the new and fragile trust between us. I’m not.
“Are you being forced to do this?” she asked.
“No!” I gave the stage a nervous glance and repeated it more quietly. “No. Definitely not.”
She sighed and lowered her shoulders. “I can’t rationalize this. There’s just no way to explain it. None. It’s not a blackout, though. I suppose that’s a good thing. What should I do?”
“Are you asking me?”
“What would you say if I did?”
 “I would say you should watch the rehearsal. They’re pretty good.”
She laughed and held up her hand to muffle the sound. “OK. I’ll watch the rehearsal. How does the saying go? When in Rome… what is it? What did I say?”
“Nothing.” My heart pounded. Some reactions I couldn’t act my way out of. When in Rome, do as the Romans do… and fight in the Colosseum. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and nudged her arm. Good timing, Bill. “Look. Down there. It’s Shakespeare.”
Cass gasped. “The Shakespeare? Do you mean it?”
“Sure. This is his play, and he’s part owner of the Globe, too.”
“Oh my God. Shakespeare.” She leaned forward. “He’s shorter than I expected. How old would he be now?”
“He doesn’t look very happy.”
“Well… he recently started working on Hamlet, so I guess that’s his tragedy face.”
“Wow. Really?”
I grinned. “No. He always looked like that. He invested his life savings into this theater. He’s probably worried about whether he can still afford to go to the pub.”
She smacked me on the arm. “Not funny. He was a genius.”
“Yes, he was.”
“My mom loved Shakespeare’s sonnets. My dad used to quote them to her.”
Her expression became sad and I waited, hardly daring to breathe in case I distracted her from the memory.
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings, that then I scorn to change my state with kings, she recited. “When I was little, I used to wish on that one. I wished that the handsome prince would give up his kingdom in exchange for a life with me so that I wouldn’t have to become a princess.”
She gave me a faint smile. “I hated the idea of being a princess, but I didn’t see why I couldn’t still have the prince.”
There was the minutest softening in the darkness she carried. Just a whisper, but it was there. Hope rose in me so fast it was almost painful. It had been worth the risk of bringing her here, just for that moment.
The scene began and she turned to watch. It was at the end of the second act, when Benedick’s and Beatrice’s friends have hatched a plot to convince the squabbling pair that each of them is secretly loved by the other.
Benedick, the first to overhear the news of Beatrice’s hidden love for him, resolves to return her affection. Beatrice, sent to give Benedick a message, and unaware of his change of heart, responds to his friendly overtures with disbelief.
“Against my will, I am sent to bid you come in to dinner,” said the boy playing Beatrice.
“Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains,” replied Benedick, attempting to deliver a winning smile.
Beatrice looked at him as if he had two heads, saying that she hadn’t taken any pains. “If it had been painful, I would not have come,” she added, with customary scorn.
“You take pleasure, then, in the message?” persisted Benedick, all but batting his eyelashes.
“Yes, just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point,” came Beatrice’s withering reply. She left the stage soon after, leaving Benedick to analyze her words, telling himself there must be a “double meaning” in what she’d said. He reaffirmed his intention to love her before the scene ended.
Cass and I gave them a round of applause, and the two actors bowed. I decided we should probably quit while we were ahead, and with a quick, “Rescindo,” we were back in the classroom in our jeans and shirts.
“I have a lot of questions,” said Cass. “It must be really late, though.”
“No. We returned to the exact moment we left.”
“Like none of it even happened?”
“If you want,” I said carefully. The expression on her face was hard to read. Was she annoyed because she’d told me all those things? Or was that frown caused by the questions she’d just mentioned?
“It did happen,” she said, frowning harder. “You’re not going to make me forget this. I don’t believe you’d be so cruel.”
“That’s not what I meant. I was talking about not telling anyone the stuff you said about your…” My voice trailed off in the face of the glare she gave me. “That’s a great look for Beatrice,” I said, with a weak attempt at a smile.
Cass rolled her eyes. “Yes, but how the hell am I ever going to act the part where I fall in love with you?” Her eyes widened. “No, not you… I mean, the part where Beatrice falls in love with Benedick. Not you. Clearly.”
I held a hand over my chest. “You’re breaking my heart, fair Beatrice. Surely falling in love with me is the easy bit?”
“So modest. And I’m not fair,” she muttered.
“Fair, as in beautiful,” I said. “Which you are.”
“Am I?”
“I think so. For a girl,” I added, then made a face. “No, for a person. I mean… a human being. Or something. Gods.” I considered using a spell to shut myself up. “Sorry.”
“I would return the favor, but I’m not sure I can be as eloquent as you,” she said, grinning.
“Well, thanks,” I said, hanging my head. “I do my best.”
“I think I should go,” she said unexpectedly. “I need to get a few things straight in my head, and I can’t do that when I’m with you.”
“Please don’t… don’t go back to hating me,” I said. Nicely put, Luca. You’re telling her how to think, now? You’re on a roll.
“Sorry,” I said. “Again.”
“I never hated you.”
“But you told me you hate everyone.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Cass, with a sigh of irritation. “I was generalizing. And you were preaching to me at the time, if I remember correctly.”
She paused. “Did all that shit about loving and hating have something to do with this help you’re supposed to be giving me?” she asked.
“Er… maybe?”
“What does maybe mean? Did it, or didn’t it?” she asked.
I answered in an embarrassed rush of words. “Well, it kind of did, but I realized as soon as I said it that it wasn’t helping, so I’m hoping we can pretend I didn’t actually say it.”
“I don’t know what to make of you,” she said.
“I don’t know what to make of you, either.”
She put her head on one side. “Let me get this straight. You want to help me. You travel in time. You may or may not be some kind of wizard, and I feel like we’ve somehow met before. True or false?”
“Cass and Avi haven’t met before,” I said.
She raised her eyebrows. “You’re avoiding the question.”
“It’s the only answer I can give you.”
“All right. I’ll think of some better questions. I have to go now. I’ll message you.”
Without even giving me a backward glance, she unlocked the door and walked through it. I had to admire her self-possession. I was ready to throw a few more chairs to release the tension. I could hardly believe what had just happened. It was going to be a long weekend while I waited to find out what would happen next.

This is the first blog post of a new month, and the weekend turned out slightly better (understatement!) than I was expecting it to. First of all, we had some proper snow. The photo shows the woods at the end of my street on Friday morning, looking like a real-life winter wonderland ❄.

“Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.”
― Mary Oliver

Second of all, the finalists were announced on Saturday for the 2018 Wishing Shelf Awards. I learned that Connecting Magic is a finalist in the category for 9-12 year olds and that Spell Tracker is a finalist in the category for teenagers! 😲

What's unique about these awards is that each book is judged by its target audience in terms of age group. As I've said before, that's equal parts brilliant and scary when it comes to my books. You can read more about the awards on the main website here: Wishing Shelf

I've been working on the sequel to Spell Tracker this weekend. I'm getting to enjoy Devin's POV because he doesn't have much respect for the rules. He'll pretty much do whatever it takes to survive, which means I can put him into some very challenging situations! I love writing, and finding out that someone else enjoyed one of my stories is the best news I could have. Thank you very much for visiting my blog today ❣

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