About the Book
After Irvana’s grandmother dies in their remote clifftop home, Irvana must travel to Koltarn. Alone in a strange city, Irvana finds employment at the palace, home of Lord Terenz, current overlord and bearer of the StarMark. Suddenly immersed in palace life, Irvana makes a friend in fellow-servant Rosann, and there is a spark between her and the lively Mikal, Terenz’s ward. But when Terenz discovers that Irvana has something he wants, her life is suddenly in danger.
For Readers and Book Clubs:
“The dialogue is snappy and well-observed, as are the passages of description, which never detract from the immediacy of the action; the cast of antagonists are even given their own space to develop a connection with the reader, and this helps younger minds consider the grey shades of morality, not just its contrasting tones. I look forward to reading more by Hetzel, and seeing her expand this specific universe still further, taking her developing fan base with her.” — Review by Paul Taylor-McCartney, Everybody’s Reviewing
IRVANA HADN’T EXPECTED a frail old lady to weigh so much. But when she could barely walk and Irvana had to take most of her weight to get her outside, to see the stars before . . .
Irvana gritted her teeth, tightened her hold on Gramma’s waist, and took another couple of steps. She wasn’t going to think that thought. They were almost there, and Gramma would feel better for being out of the shack. She would. She had to.
“Here you go, Gramma. Sit here, against the rock. I’ll wrap the quilt ’round. Look, we’re just in time.”
She could tell from the glimmer on the horizon that it would soon be dawn, but the brightest of the stars were thankfully still visible in the darkness above their heads. Otherwise it would have been so much effort, wasted.
She looked quickly at Gramma. “What is it? Is the pain worse?”
“No worse than before.” How faint Gramma’s voice was. “Sit with me.”
Irvana sat. In the darkness, she felt for Gramma’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
“Ah, child, we’ve had such good times . . . not wanted for much . . . have we?”
It was a good job Gramma couldn’t see Irvana’s face. But just in case she could, Irvana shook her head and tried to smile. So what if her stomach rumbled sometimes and the driftwood shack that was their home wasn’t always as dry inside as it could be?
“We’ve got each other. That’s enough,” she whispered.
Gramma managed a hoarse chuckle. “I remember the day you arrived . . . how long ago? Twelve years? You were tiny . . . mewling like a kitten . . . your poor ma dead not long after you arrived in the world and your pa drowned . . . just like my Freyd . . .”
“Don’t think of that now. You know it always makes you sad.”
The stars were paling in the rose light of a new day, winking out, one by one. Soon, there would be none left. Irvana loved to watch the dawn, when colours streaked the join between sky and sea. The sky was never blue as the sun approached, but pink and orange and green and purple.
“I’ve tried not . . . to dwell . . . on what I lost.” Gramma’s murmur was loud in the pre-dawn silence. “Too painful. You . . . helped ease the grief.” From somewhere, she found the energy to squeeze Irvana’s hand. “It won’t be long . . . before I am lost too.”
“You just need to rest.” Irvana had to force the words out, past the fear which was threatening to choke her. “You’ll soon be well again.”
“We both know . . .” The old lady’s breath was coming now in shallow gasps and she pressed her free hand to her chest.
“Gramma?” Irvana tried to will her young strength into her grandmother’s body through their clasped hands.
“When I’ve gone . . . don’t stay here . . . Go to Koltarn . . .” Gramma forced the words out between laboured breaths. “To the Broken Apple . . . Ask for Matteuw . . . He’s the only one I can think of . . . who will help . . . Tell him . . . who you are . . . Take my box . . .”
“Your box, Gramma? I don’t understand.”
Even as Irvana spoke, the old lady sighed a long sigh and fell silent.
Not yet! Another breath, please! Breathe, Gramma, breathe . . .
But Gramma didn’t. There was no sound except the waves and the cry of a lonely gull. No breath.
Irvana stared at . . . at . . . at what had been a living, loving person moments before. Gramma was dead. Irvana dropped her cheek onto the hand that had relaxed so completely in her own and wept.