The first novel in a lyrical, endlessly inventive urban fantasy trilogy from debut author Holly Race
Fern King is about to uncover a place that she could not have imagined in all her wildest dreams. Annwn is the dream mirror of our world, a place where Dreamers walk in their slumber, their dreams playing out all around them. An enchanted, mysterious place that feeds our own world – as without dreams, without a place where our imaginations and minds can be nourished, what kind of humans would we be?
But Annwn is a place as full of dangers as it is wonders: it is a place where dreams can kill you. Annwn and its Dreamers are protected by an ancient order known as the Knights – and when Fern’s hated twin Ollie is chosen to join their ranks, Fern will have to do whatever she can to prove she is one of them too.
But the world Fern discovers in Annwn, in this dream mirror of her London, is a fragile one, threatened by vicious nightmares. Nightmares that are harder and harder for the Knights to defeat. Something dark is jeopardising the peace and stability of Annwn, something that must be rooted out at all costs. And gradually, Fern realises that the danger lurking inside our sleep is more insidious and terrifying than any nightmare. Because if you can influence someone’s dreams, you can control their thoughts …
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The book is released on 11th June 2020!
EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK!!
The street was full of dreams and some of them were dangerous. Trolls stepped forth from the concrete undercuts of the Southbank and did battle with packs of wildcats. Cockroaches and rats swarmed towards squeamish dreamers. The flourish of a whale’s spout arched up out of the Thames and over the balustrade, spraying Una in lukewarm river water.
What Una feared, though, was not a dream at all. The treitre had tracked her from Trafalgar Square, down to the river and across the flotsam‑topped water. She thought she had lost it when she went underground, but now she could feel it nearby. Awareness crawled along her arms and up the back of her neck. Somewhere, it was watching her.
She had been stupid going underground, where she didn’t have a clear idea of direction. Now she’d made the final leg of her journey even harder. She had to get back to Tower Hill, which meant that she’d need to cross the river once more and approach her portal from the south instead of the north, as she had planned. Well, there was no point in beating herself up about it now. She had panicked when she spotted the treitre, it was as simple as that, and not one knight would have blamed her.
Una peered around the corner. Above her, a flock of vultures circled a pair of dreamers. Vultures in this world didn’t tend to wait for carrion – they made their own.
No, she couldn’t help them. She mustn’t. She wasn’t a knight any more. Her obligation was to her family now. No. Absolutely not. Don’t even think about it, Una.
Snatching a heavy stone from the ground, she broke cover, running in superhuman strides towards the dreamers. Was that a flash of gold beneath the archway to her left, or was her mind playing tricks on her? The scar on her arm – barely visible in Ithr but still a fault line of skin and flesh in Annwn – prickled with the memory of its making. If it was the treitre she had better make this stupid charge worthwhile. She measured her leaps as she drew closer to the dreamers. The vultures were hovering in the gathered lull that precedes an attack. She adjusted her grip on the stone, drew back her arm . . .
Tap tap, tap tap.
Shit. It was behind her. Bile seeped into her mouth but she did not falter. The stone hit one of the vultures squarely in the chest, and with a firework boom the vulture exploded back into inspyre. Una didn’t wait to watch – she was already sprinting down the riverbank, away from the clattering gait of the treitre. A raking screech told her that the other vultures had diverted their attention to her as well. Their shadows made whirlwinds on the pavement around her, growing darker and thicker as they descended. One dived, its claws ripping at her hair. She knocked it off and built up speed. Past bicycles, leaping over dreamers and moving cars – faster, faster, away from the golden treitre and the nightmares that accompanied it.
A human screamed behind her. She glanced back. The treitre was gaining on her, but though she kept moving she couldn’t help but see the bundle of clothes and hair heaped on the ground behind it. One of the dreamers she’d saved from the vultures only seconds ago, cut down just for being in the treitre’s path. A rivulet of blood was already winding its way from the dying body to the churning life of the Thames.
Una’s terror expelled itself as a throaty cry. She turned and ran, faster than she had ever run before, in this world or the other, leaving the vultures behind but unable to shake that relentless tap tap of the treitre’s claws.
Dawn was already breaking, autumnal fingers turning the river to flame and the skyline to shadow. An Arctic wind blowing upstream numbed Una’s face. With a crack, part of the river iced over. Dreams formed there: skaters in mufflers; polar bears and penguins. Una seized her chance. Sliding out onto the ice she aimed for the middle of the water. If the treitre followed her surely the ice would break beneath its weight. Beyond the frost, a sailing boat was making good time. With a great effort, Una leaped for the ship’s side and swung herself on board. Dreamers and dreams alike craned over the sides and hung from the poles, but Una ignored them all. She shimmied up the tallest mast and looked back towards the shore. The treitre was there; its head, smooth and featureless except for two black pinpricks for eyes, followed her. Woman and monster stared at each other. Then the boat turned a corner and the treitre fell out of view.
Una wouldn’t allow herself to acknowledge that she now had one more death on her conscience. There would be time for that when she was back in Ithr, when she had left all of this behind. Instead, she drank in the unimpeded view of the city that had opened up ahead. Gulls as large as helicopters swooped around her, diving for the dolphins that played in the ship’s wake. In the distance, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf sprouted into existence like flowers bursting from the earth, before collapsing away into the old docks that some dreamers could still remember. She never tired of watching the city she loved morph and mirage before her eyes. But this would be the last time she appreciated it as anything other than a common dreamer.
Normal life. No more responsibility for millions of strangers. The only ones she would need to worry about were herself and her little family. Angus, frown lines forming already across his handsome face. Ollie and Fern, hands no bigger than cats’ paws.
She’d left them in neighbouring cots, gurgling in conversation. Sometimes the love made her want to rip open her stomach and push them back inside, where they’d be safe. She wouldn’t be able to protect them forever, but she had a feeling she wouldn’t need to. Not Fern, at least. She’d have to wait fifteen years, but then she could tell Fern everything. Maybe she could even join her. What adventures they would have together.
In the distance, a baby’s cry echoed through Annwn. Una was sure that it was one of her children calling to her, across the divide of dreams and reality. She was so close. The Tower of London emerged on the shore, and Tower Bridge just beyond. All she had to do was climb up one of the bridge’s piers as the ship passed it, skirt the Tower itself, and she’d reach the portal back to her bedroom. Angus would still be sleeping beside her, one arm crooked under her neck, the other resting on her waist.
On the bridge, inspyre morphed into a pack of wolves, mouths open in a parody of smiles. Another shape took its place beside them. Tall, slender, sharp. The rising sun turned the golden monster into one of smoke. The treitre had found her again.
As though spinning a voice from her terror, the wolves opened their mouths and howled, their song reeling in the wind and scuttling up her spine.
She couldn’t take the bridge now. She would have to go through the Tower. Una dived into the water, praying that she wouldn’t attract the attention of the sharks, or their larger companions that lurked on the riverbed. There was no splash, no watery reverberation behind her. The treitre had chosen another route.
Una aimed for the bank, wrestling the currents beneath and the waves above. The Tower’s foundations reared up through the murk sooner than she’d expected and she hit
them hard, pain wrenching up one wrist. She felt her way along until stone became wood. This was Traitor’s Gate – the old entryway to the Tower for those sentenced to die. She’d have to wait there until it opened. She counted the seconds, forcing her mind off the tortuous dance of not knowing where the treitre was and her growing desperation to surface for air.
There was a shimmer in the water: the telltale blue light of a birthing dream. The hull of an algae‑infested boat split the waves. The gate groaned open to admit the vessel. Una slipped through to the other side and broke the surface with a gasp. She was inside the Tower.
Ignoring the sobbing of the dream in the boat below, Una crawled out of the water and up a curved staircase. She tried to imagine herself dry, but she couldn’t concentrate enough. The Tower had always given her chills – twelve years on from her first patrol here, she still hated hearing the screams of the condemned. Even the jewels locked in its belly seemed cold and cursed. She couldn’t think about that now, though. She was so close.
From the bridge, the wolves’ wails distorted inside the limestone walls into a siren, into a warning.
Una took the stairs five at a time. Arrow slits circled the turret like soldiers. The views flicked, staccato, from river to bridge to courtyard and repeat. A woman in heavy brocade slid across the enclosure below, the scars at her throat glittering like rubies. Round Una went, up, up. Another glance. The woman’s chalky face was inches from hers.
Una stumbled back, slipped on a step. Wincing at the pain in her shin, she scrambled to her feet, grabbing the window ledge to pull herself forward.
Fern and Ollie, Una thought, pounding their faces into her mind. Don’t lose control.
The woman in the window broke apart like a dandelion head. Una wished she could do the same. The fear was dragging her down, like a great cloak. Her babies cried out again, through the portal just on the other side of the Tower.
One step up, then two, quicker, quicker. She looked out towards the river.
Instead of water, she saw golden hide. Before she could react, a claw slashed through the window. The skin on her face parted like a zip.
Terror made Una sharp and swift. Dashing the blood from her forehead, she raced onwards. The staircase reverberated with a cacophony of breaking bricks and lead – outside, the treitre was matching her ascent. She erupted onto the roof and flung herself off the ledge. The air shifted against her legs and she knew that the treitre had tried to seize her.
With her focus divided, she struggled to keep her height as she flew above the courtyard. She had to force her mind away from her pursuer and onto the task at hand.
Fern and Ollie called out again.
Nearly there, munchkins.
She was too panicked to clear the tower wall. She hit it instead, using her shoulder to take the brunt of the impact. Gripping the stones, ignoring the pain lancing through her
bruised arm, she pulled herself onto the escarpment.
The roof was empty. The street below was clear. Beyond it she glimpsed the portal just one good leap away. She climbed onto the edge of the battlement, measuring the distance, gathering her strength.
The voice was soft, curious, familiar. It was of someone she loved. But how could that be?
Una turned and smiled. She reached out in wonder. Then with a jolt she realised the awful truth.
Fern’s cries, weaving their way through the open portal, echoed around the Tower long after her mother had gone.