Ah, the Puzzle Box trilogy. It was supposed to be published, all three books, in one year. And then I got pregnant. Here we are, two years later, with the final book almost ready to launch. I’m aiming for November, since I’m still deep in revisions before I hand it off to my poor editor.
It’s a YA paranormal romance trilogy that I wrote after reading way too many paranormal romances. I was tired of the girl never having any inkling that vampires or werewolves existed until her new, alluring boyfriend flashed a fang. I mean, really? How can a girl exist in this world without ever having seen a vampire on TV?
So Libby, my heroine, is what they call genre-savvy. She plays videogames and reads fantasy books. She pegs Mal as a vampire straight off, even though he’s a different kind of monster. (White skin – check. Super speed – check. Unusual strength – check. Never seems to eat food – check.) Later on, when she finds out that he’s a lich, she knows what that is because of videogame knowledge. Same for other monsters like revenants, ghouls, zombies, and so on. Mal is always astonished at her knowledge. And all she does is play videogames.
Mal is a lich. That means that he’s only sort of undead. His soul has been removed and stored in a container called a phylactery. He still has his mind and spirit, but the human part, with all positive emotions, are in his soul. Without it, he’s a creature of negative emotions: anger, hate, loathing, all that jazz. It also gives him massive death magic powers. But Mal never wanted to be a lich, and is desperately seeking a way to return his soul. So he keeps specially-bred bees that collect life magic from flowers and store it in their honey. By eating their honey, he can simulate human life, which keeps his death magic in check.
And then there’s the Necromancer, who is intent on turning Mal into a proper evil monster who can follow in his footsteps.
Book 1 is on sale right now at all retailers. If you’ve already read the first two books, here’s a sneak peek at the beginning of book 3, after the devastation that was the ending of book 2.
“Super powers really do exist,” I said.
Mal looked up from where he was painting over the occult symbols on his rescued beehive. His dark hair tumbled over his pointed face. His eyes held an extra depth of sadness–usually hazel, right now they looked more of a faded green. But his voice was amused. “Do tell.”
I sat on the ground near the beehives. The bees whirled around us, busy and content. They didn’t seem to mind Mal and his brush.
“I was reading about powers online,” I went on. “There’s this guy who’s impervious to electricity. He can touch bare wires and the current doesn’t do a thing.”
Mal shrugged and traced white paint over a pentagram. “Strange, but not a power, as such.”
“There’s this other guy,” I went on, “who makes himself immune to cold through meditation. He hiked up Mount Everest in shorts!”
The sad expression on Mal’s face lightened as he smiled. “Meditation can be used to manage the flow of life and death motes within the body.”
Motes–the vehicle for what everyone else called magic. Life in particular was full of them–plants, animals, people, anything occupied with the business of living and dying. Mal and I had run afoul of them lately. It was why I was trying to cheer him up–and also why I sat ten feet away, where his death motes couldn’t suck the life out of me.
“Also,” I said, “there’s this guy who’s a marathon runner. His body is so efficient, doctors think he could run forever if he could just eat and drink enough.”
Mal arched an eyebrow. “Your point is?”
“None of these people could have discovered their power without pushing themselves.” I doodled a pattern in the dust with a fingertip. “I mean, what if instead of running marathons, he sat at a desk all day? He’d never have discovered his power.”
“And what if I had remained in hiding and never crossed paths with the Marchers? Or the Necromancer?” Mal’s voice was bitter. “I would have remained a lich. Logical. Powerful. Immortal.”
“Cold. Mean. Undead,” I retorted. “You’ve got your soul now.”
“Yes, so it can become corrupted and die.” Mal shifted to the back of the beehive, which was painted with swastika-looking things. “I bear the power of the Necromancer now, whatever it may be. A demon lurks within me, ready to use me as a vessel for its wickedness.”
I had seen the darkness surround him when it happened. His pupils still glowed red whenever he stepped into shadow. Despite the warmth of the August evening, goosebumps rose on my arms. I fidgeted with my long, brunette ponytail. “See, you have super powers. You just have to use them for good.”
“Libby, there is nothing good about this.” Mal sat back on his knees, brush in hand. His outlines blurred a little, like heat distortion–the ferocious draw of his death motes. “I have become the One Ring. Any good I attempt will turn to evil.”
I wanted to give him a hug, but I stayed put. Inside me was a huge empty space where his soul had recently been. No longer could I feel every nuance of his emotions. Now we had to communicate our feelings like regular people–by misunderstanding each other in conversation.
“You’ve been a lich for so long,” I said after a moment, “can’t you use your mad skills to control your death motes?”
“I’ve been trying,” he replied in a low voice. “The trouble is that I have a soul again. Without a soul, I could pull the death motes into the hole it left. Now that it has returned, I have no room in my being. There is a reason that necromancers become liches.”
I sighed. “Aren’t you killing your bees by sitting there?”
“Eventually.” He leaned around the far side of the hive to paint over the last symbols. “Queen Anne and subjects, how do you fare?”
The hive made a musical humming. I had trained myself to understand the bees’ speech, as Mal had–or maybe it was the prodigious amounts of life magic inside me.
The bees said, “We are afraid. We cannot touch the light. Our brood is heavy with dark motes.”
Mal and I shared a startled glance.
“Dark motes?” I said. “Does that mean they’re dead?”
Mal stood and screwed the lid back into his paint can. “I shall retrieve my tools.” He hurried away to his orange camper, which was parked beside the fence that marked the back border of Blossom Ranch. It was shaded by a row of cypress trees that my dad had planted as a windbreak years ago. Their shade was the only reason I could bear to sit out here–August in California’s San Joaquin valley is dusty, humid, and nastily hot.
Mal returned with a chisel and a couple of tools for handling beehive frames. He pried off the hive’s lid without smoking the bees and slid out a frame. The bees were so tame that they sat on the comb inside, a brown, seething mass.
“The young bees look healthy,” Mal said. “I feared they had developed foul brood.” He returned the frame to its place and replaced the hive lid. A frown creased his forehead. “The Necromancer took this hive and used them in his resurrection ritual. I don’t understand how he changed them.”
“Death bees,” I muttered. “Or are they zom-bees?”
Mal actually grinned, as if my quip had startled his sense of humor awake. “That was painful. And unnecessary.”
Book 3: Malicious (coming November 2017!)