This Excerpt from THE HOLLOW HEART Raises the Stakes - Nerdist
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This Excerpt from THE HOLLOW HEART Raises the Stakes

The world of Forgotten Gods awaits you. Marie Rutkoski kicked off the Forgotten Gods duology with The Midnight Lie. The epic LGBTQ romantic fantasy introduced us to Nirrim, an orphan who lives with other women who also have nowhere to go. She lives in a place where others of higher status constantly remind her of her low place. But she takes a risk with a mysterious stranger named Sid to find magic. And the much anticipated conclusion, The Hollow Heart, continues Nirrim’s story. Nerdist has an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming novel.

The Hollow Heart has an intense plot to follow and we can tell from this excerpt that it will absolutely live up to the first book. Sid has returned to her home country as a rogue princess, a new threat rises across the sea, and as for Nirrim. Well, she has revenge on her mind.

A woman's profile on the cover of The Hollow Heart book

Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

The below excerpt is about consequences. Gulp.

The High Kith come at nightfall. Weapons bristling, they enter the Ward through the wall’s gate.

Aden sets their skin aflame, roasting them inside their armor. Rinah, whose garden I once tended, its abundance surprising, the sun melons always unusually large and honeyed, steps forward. She teases indi vines, those pretty weeds that lattice the entire city, into snaking ropes that bind the invaders.

The wall the High Kith built to contain us also protects us. The High Kith and their Middling militia pour through the gate as thickly as they can, but it is a narrow entrance. They cannot enter the Ward in great enough force to overwhelm the god-blooded Half Kith. Not Aden, lighting their bodies into torches, nor Rinah, nor that little boy whose father had brought him to me, Sithin, who is gifted with making holes.

Black space appears in living flesh. He makes skin pop with empty buttons, riddling the skin like a disease.

When most of our enemies have been captured, killed, or subdued, I step through the wall’s gate into the Middling quarter to face the rest of the horde. “You were so tired.” The power of my gift curls into my lovely voice. “You wanted to fall asleep.” The trick to controlling people with my god-power is to present them with my version of the past.  A memory might not kill a man, but I can push false memories into a weak brain. The High Kith are used to nothing standing between them and their pleasure. The Middlings, who serve the High Kith, are used to obedience. What resistance can they possibly raise against me? I make them remember a sleepiness they do not feel. One by one, they drop unconscious at my feet.

All my life, the people of Ethin lived as instructed, the Half Kith behind the wall built to contain them and the gifts they didn’t even know they had. The High Kith lived diamond lives, clear and glittering, as they threw wild parties in their lavish homes and consumed whatever they wanted: wriggling rainbow fish, clouds of pink cream on airy cake, and our god-blood, watered down and served as a tasteless elixir in teacups so fine you could see lamplight through their creamy porcelain. Our blood was their delight: a little burst of magic on the tongue so that the High Kith, at least for a few hours, reveled in borrowed glory. They floated inches off the ground. Their faces shifted into more beautiful lines. Rainwater trailed from their shoulders in a veil. Lightning traced crowns above their brows.

How many of the High Kith understood what they did? How many knew that they drank the blood of the people they most despised, and how many believed the elixir was an innocent delight offered to them by the Council, a drink made from fruit or a flower, perhaps? Maybe some suspected the pink elixir had an unpleasant origin, yet did not seek its source, because to know and drink would then be wrong, and they wanted the taste of magic without the bitterness of guilt.

Their life was sweetly blessed. They had everything they wanted. Days of endless luxury. I, who had a taste of sweetness with Sid, understand why the High Kith never sought to learn whether they deserved what they had. I once feared that if I considered too closely why Sid wanted me, I might discover that her attention would never truly be mine, that I didn’t deserve it, or that it would be wrong to keep it.

Do you not love me like I love you? she asked. My perfect memory, a gift and a curse, makes me hear again the fear in her voice, and feel again my devastation to hear her ask that question at the moment of abandoning me.

The god of thieves has done me a favor. I desire Sid still, but I cannot feel my love for her. I feel love for no one, not even my people.

This is a good thing. Love is a problem. It blurs your sight, and stands in the way of what needs to be done. If I listened now to the love I once had for Morah and Annin, their kindhearted worries might trouble me. Instead, I tell my Half Kith to bind our sleeping enemies and carry them to prison. Morah and Annin might stay my hand as I reach for Rinah’s shoulder. “Tear down the wall,” I order her. “Use the indi vines.”

Rinah hesitates. The wall is too familiar, the most important element of our lives from birth. It stood the whole of our parents’ lives, and their parents’ lives, encircling the Half Kith for centuries. When I lived with Sid in the High quarter I sometimes missed the wall for its reliable, calm strength. The wall corrals us, but it also creates our home.

“Do it, Rinah, for your children. Remember how you feared they would be snatched away in the night. Remember how as they grew old enough to play in the streets, you dreaded that they might break one of the High Kith’s many rules, and be taken to prison, and come home with a missing limb, or weak from blood loss. Think of the world you want for them instead.”

Rinah’s face contorts. Indi vines thicken to the width of a burly man’s arm. Their green darkens to near black. They knot together and wedge into tiny pockmarks in the wall’s granite. Vegetal fingers dig into rock, then disappear, driving into stone like worms into earth. Rinah watches vines split the granite. The wall begins to crumble, dust sifting down. Rubble spills loudly from the cracks, hissing and thumping to the ground. With a thunderous crack, the wall breaks, pieces heaving down in chunks.

From the scattered debris, dust rises like smoke.

“Good,” I tell Rinah, who looks stricken and angry and glad.

“I suppose our days of forging and selling passports are over,” Aden says, “now that the wall is gone.”

I do not like his poor attempt at jovial familiarity, and at leaning  on our history together so that he might share—or perhaps eventually control—the authority I now possess over this city. I do not like his smug expression, as if this is his victory, when he simply obeyed my command. It was I who foresaw how this clash would go, I who knew how to use my god-soldiers to strike. Aden is convenient to me for his power and popularity, but he is sorely mistaken if he thinks I have forgotten how he wished to control me with his so-called love, how he blamed me when I wanted someone else. He shamed me for wanting Sid. What a tiny-minded man, to construe my choice as shameful, simply because I did not choose him.

Let him watch his step. He lives only because I allow it.

“I never sold passports,” I tell him. “I made them to give away. To help.” How naïve I was! How easy it was for Raven, whom I loved like a mother, to manipulate me, feeding me sugary stories about the good we were doing for others. With the passports I forged, people trapped behind the wall could pretend to be Middling and escape. And they did . . . at a cost I never suspected. Raven made them give her all they had. She enriched herself, padding a home in the Middling quarter with luxuries. I—meek, trusting—had never guessed. I needed her love so much that I made myself believe she was the good person she pretended to be.

I am finished with love.

Aden must see some of my thoughts in my face. “You have changed.”

“Good.”

“You used to be kind, Nirrim. Gentle. I liked you better before.”

“Of course. I was easier for you to use.”

Aden’s expression twitches with genuine hurt. “All I wanted was to make you happy. Tell me how, and I will do it.”

“Make plans for public trials of the High Kith,” I say, “and mass executions. We shall tithe them as they once tithed us. Ten percent of all High-Kith adults shall be culled from the prison to pay the price for their people’s sins. Sharpen an ax, Aden. That will me very happy indeed.”

The Hollow Heart will arrive on September 14, 2021. You can place a pre-order now.

Amy Ratcliffe is the Managing Editor for Nerdist and the author of A Kid’s Guide to Fandom, available now. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.