Joanna Hathaway’s Dark of the West, is a breathtaking YA fantasy debut–first in the Glass Alliance series.
A pilot raised in revolution. A princess raised in a palace. A world on the brink of war.
Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.
Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.
The Commander learned this long ago, that it’s the youngest and most in love—with life, with the world—who splinter quickest beneath its weight. Yet here he stands at the door of a crumbling sandstone building, its once elegant pillars destroyed by mortar fire, a feral dog panting on its steps, and he’s wondering if he might still be in love.
Behind him, three dusty trucks idle, leaking petrol. White flags hang adrift in the sun. It’s a ceasefire, the long-awaited truce, but it feels hollow and anticlimactic somehow. He knows, now, he could just as easily be fighting for the other side. Enemies to allies. Friends to foe. He’s seen it all, and his soldiers keep their weapons drawn and ready, their eyes skittering across the rooftops of this battle-scarred town. The world—North and South—has been torn apart and left weeping. An entire generation of wasted courage.
He might still be in love.
The local children emerge from hiding, eyeing his uniform, the fox and crossed swords symbol on his cap. The Commander looks too young for his rank. He is too young for it, but this war has bled his family dry and here he stands. The little faces watch, waiting—blue eyes, brown eyes, a garden of curiosity. They can’t see the long-ago mountains behind his gaze, the ache of her smile in his heart. The girl who once promised to love him for a thousand days.
The girl who brought them this ceasefire.
Alone and uncertain, he imagines what his brother would do, then strides through the shell-strafed entrance to meet his fate. A deserted foyer greets his leather boots. Its ruined walls sag in defeat, a fractured chandelier wobbling above and winking near a hole of blue sky. There are ghosts of another life everywhere. Mangled photographs. Abandoned trunks. Ceramic vases like floral tombs. Everything is withered in the heat, forgotten and left behind beneath the whistling panic of mortar shells.
He walks, following the ghosts, his steps as those of one to a grave.
Seath of the Nahir waits for him in the parlour. The aging revolutionary sits at a table covered in silt and debris, a rifle resting across his lap, his lean body lounging in one of the only usable chairs remaining. He has a greying black beard, a steady hand on his open map. Weary triumph on his sun-worn face. The girl seated beside him is much, much younger. She has her own gun, her own expression, but the Commander only allows himself to see her as a phantasm to the right of his vision—in his mind she is exactly as she once was: raven hair long, breaths gentle, posture straight and formal, a princess.
He doesn’t dare behold her fully now.
Aeroplane propellers growl in the sky above, rattling the damaged roof. They belong to the young Commander, a memory of strength and a reminder of the power he once held in a time long past. The thrill of the engines that once gloried in his veins. And yet here, today, the sky can’t save him from the earth.
Not from this negotiation that belongs to Seath.
With no proper chair, the Commander is left standing before the table, sweat along his pale neck, weighed down by illustrious badges that shouldn’t be his, listening as Seath discusses the Nahir’s terms and speaks about lines on the map he wants for his people, the helpful things he will do in exchange. The ways he will help the Commander defeat their new, shared enemy.
The Commander eyes the map, wondering what exactly he’s to keep and what he can surrender. They were never that clear on this part.
“We do acknowledge your concerns,” he says to Seath, since his own nation once fought for the same right Seath now demands—the right to be known. “But I’ll offer nothing until the permanent ceasefire is signed. Our alliance must be certain this time.”
“And what does that guarantee me?” Seath responds, tapping the barrel of his rifle. “I’ve heard Northern promises before, as my grandfather did, and my father. And I’ve seen the way they turn out for us.” He gestures at the mutilated room, at the young Commander. “You think you’re different? That you won’t betray me for a chance at more? No, I won’t sign away my loyalty so easily. I’m a valuable card in this game.”
“We are different. We’ve fought the same battle as you,” the Commander tries. “We fought to be equal. We wanted something better.”
And they had. The Commander believes this, clings to this truth, even as he knows this same honourable intention was swiftly buried beneath the tracks of armoured carriers, squandered before a valuable lie, used to gain a new kind of power that, while never as vain as that of the kings, was still enough to leave endless bodies bleeding out before a wretched cause.
Seath tilts his head. “And I’ve heard those same words from your father, too.”
The Commander waits, perspiring.
He’s realizing this game might actually have no end. Honour can’t be purchased with blood or sold for lines on a map. His father has tried. Seath has tried.
Now even he has tried.
And he no longer knows why he is here, this place he never wanted to be. He’d give anything to do what’s right—but what is right? Feeling so suddenly on his own, at a loss for the next step, he ignores Seath and lifts his gaze to hers.
The lines disappear as he looks into her familiar face at last. Tawny skin, sable eyes, the picture of her Southern mother. She’s the one who has known his true heart. The one who begged him to stay alive only long enough so that they could enjoy a new world together—the world that never came.
She’s the sky.
She always has been, and something long dead struggles to life in his chest.
He can’t know it, not completely, but here at this table, new war hovering on the horizon, it’s his eyes that she needs, too. She’s been staring since the moment he stepped through the door. Staring, lost, while her fingers grip her rifle, her lips moving over a memory, his name. The cautious glance from him pulls her back to herself.
It keeps her from running.
From simply firing her gun into the broken chandelier above and letting the bullets be wasted in a moment of defiance of everyone who has brought them to this place. The people of the North and the South. From the east and the west. He’s too much as she remembers—fair hair stirred by light, grey eyes veiled. But he’s also different—wearied, thin, empty—and there’s nothing warm left, only a tired shadow of what came before. It breaks her heart. She remembers when his smile burned like the beautiful sun, bright as light on water. No steel in his blood.
She loved him then.
“I’m not my father,” the Commander says at last, “and I don’t wish to fight you any longer. You’ve already decimated our ranks. Be our ally and soon you’ll have your land back, forever.”
“Soon?” Seath repeats.
“You have my word. If you cease targeting us.”
“I’ll do my best, Commander. But I can promise nothing certain until the last of your guns have disappeared across the sea once and for all.”
She’s so tired of listening to words—words upon words upon words—and never a single promise with meaning. Never the truth. It’s the disease of war, on every side. She has lived two lifetimes in her short years, as a princess, as a sniper, and she’s beginning to think there is no place left for hope. Only victory will write the words that matter.
“Then we are at an impasse,” the Commander says, “as always.”
She brings her fist down on the table, silt sent flying. “Children are suffering, Commander! There’s no running water, no electricity. Your rotten shells land on the innocent along with the guilty, can’t you see? Fight your war against the North. Do what you will. But if you refuse our terms, then we make no assurances about your army’s safety anywhere in the South.”
“Are you threatening me?” the Commander asks her, his shock evident.
But she doesn’t back down. Not this time. Dark eyes on faded grey, the night sky and the sea. Opposites who loved, adored.
Seath conceals amusement, fiddling with the safety on his rifle.
“If I agree to your terms,” the Commander says carefully, “then you must promise me you’ll put down your gun.”
Seath of the Nahir nods. “For now, I do promise.”
“I wasn’t asking you.”
He looks at her, waiting, but she can’t agree to this, not in good conscience. The ones who valiantly resist the North are her blood, her family. She’s been brought to life among these Southern steppes. The suffering, the laughter, the love. An intricate world of a thousand stories, and it’s her home. She will not surrender it to another while there’s still breath left in her bones.
She replies in a local tongue, instead. One he won’t understand. The Commander looks to the older man for explanation. Seath pauses. Hesitates. “She says she’ll make no promises to you.”
The roof rattles again overhead, propellers snarling in a second pass, and she can see the ruin of her betrayal across the Commander’s face. The way he’s too young again, overwhelmed by the reality that it’s as if they never loved at all.
Strangers and enemies, like everyone else.
She wants to add something to soften this blow, to explain that war is no good for the ones like them, the ones who have held love between their own trembling hands. It’s only good for the steel-souled who scrub blood from boots. It’s for those who burn unflinchingly with a loyalty forced into their veins from their first breath, a dangerous allegiance that can’t be ended or surrendered, not even for all the world, not even for peace.
It’s not for them, and yet they’ve chosen it.
Her lips begin to form the words, but he’s already heading for the door, and she’s left desperate. She longs to remember him as he once was. With river water on his skin, young and beautiful, the boy she’d have given her whole world to.
She longs for her words to mean something.
She stands. “I was sorry to hear about your brother, Athan!” It’s the only thing she can think of.
He stops, staring at the door. “Which one?”
A breath of wind blows through the tattered silk curtains, and Seath frowns.
No one has ever apologized in this war. It takes too much love.
Copyright © 2019 by Joanna Hathaway