Thursday, December 9, 2021

Mara of the League Excerpts and Giveaway


The Witches of Crannock Dale

Mara of the League Book 1

by Thomas M. Kane

Genre: Fantasy 

When an enemy army threatens eleven-year old Mara’s home, she makes up her mind to save her family, one way or another. But when the knights protecting her village arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft, she discovers that the difference between friend and foe may not be as obvious as she once thought.

This is a story of war and espionage, set in a low fantasy world. It is also about a child getting to know her mother and father in a new way.

Chapter One: Metasmart

A week and two days before my twelfth birthday, the church bell rang.

Up until then, it had seemed like a normal day. Mamma had told me to practice my arithmetic. At first, I shook my head so hard that my braids flew, but Mamma sighed at me the way she sighs at Pappy.

“Mara Elspeth Bennet, just yesterday your Grampy asked me whether you could divide, and I had to tell him no.” After that, I felt really small, so I let her write out some problems on my slate. 

I took the slate and two pieces of chalk down Crannock Hill to Grampy’s mill pond and tried to make a start, but I hated division, so what I really did was sit on a big rock and smell the grass and watch the water turn golden in the late afternoon sun. Division doesn’t make sense to me. You have to figure out how many times one number goes into another, and there seems to come a time where you just have to guess. So, I dug the side of my slate with a fingernail and thought about other things. I thought mainly about justice. Most of the girls in Crannock Dale learned their letters and maybe sums

and that was enough. I was the only one who had to keep on with numbers, and I didn’t think it was fair.

Just because Pappy went to school in Caer City is no reason. Once, I remembered, I said that to Mamma.

Mamma told me I had a choice—if I didn’t learn arithmetic, I could grow up to be a farmhand’s wife. When Mamma says you have a choice, she means you don’t.

Another time, I complained about numbers to Pappy. He told me that the reason why I had to study things other children didn’t was that I was smart. I said I wished I was smart enough to get out of studying arithmetic. He said that would be metasmart. I think that’s a word he made up, but I like it.

Anyway, while I was thinking about those things, the bell donged. And it was Nurnsday. My first thought was to be glad because it wasn’t division, and maybe there would be some excitement. The bell was supposed to ring on Yisday. First, the people in Minton Pass were supposed to ring their bell, and when we heard it, we were supposed to ring ours. Then the people in Merryhock and Glenet Bridge were supposed to hear us, and they were supposed to ring their bells to warn the villages farther down the valley. That was how we practiced spreading the alarm, so we would know how to call for help

if the Pure Men of Waan attacked.

Once, when Pappy and Mamma and I were having dinner with Grampy, I said that if I was Queen of Waan, I would invade on a Yisday, so that when the bells rang, people would think it was just for practice. Everyone laughed, even my grandfather, as if it was a joke. I laughed too, because I was pleased to have the grown-ups listening to me, but I thought I really would.

Now I wouldn’t, because now I knew that queens aren’t important in Waan. No one told me that. I found out for myself. My uncle Tate bought a broadsheet pamphlet about Waanish depravities. It was full of words which I’m not supposed to say, but he forgot and left it on a chair when my mamma took me to his house for a visit.

While the grown-ups were talking, I read the parts of the broadsheet that were facing up. That’s how I learned that kings in Waan have lots of wives, and that they keep them locked up. They also have concubines and catamites, who count for even less. So, now I would never be on their side.

After the bell rang, there were a few minutes in which nothing seemed to have changed. The paddlewheel was still splashing around in the stream, and the same growling noise was still coming from inside the mill. Then I heard another faint chime. This one came from the hills behind me. That meant the Minton bell was ringing after ours, and that the alarm was spreading from south to north. And we never practiced like that, because Waan was north of us.

That was when I realized that something real was happening. And that was when I got scared.

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The Rebels of Caer City

Mara of the League Book 2

Throughout five years at a strict boarding school, Mara has turned to her friend Annie-Rose for comfort. Now Annie has disappeared. Mara teams up with two other students – bold Gretchen and soft-spoken Ginny -- to find her missing friend. Together, Mara, Gretchen and Ginny take on a conspiracy involving some of the most dangerous people in their world.


 Our school dresses were slate gray, at least there was that. No one walking by on the clifftops was likely to look down and spot us in the gloom. The sun was going down behind the cliffs, and shadows were reaching for the sea. A breaker swept toward us, crested, and fell back with a growl. My friends and I were, I noted with relief, the only people on the beach. 
Despite the darkness, I felt exposed, hemmed in between the surf and the cliffsides. The path up the cliffs was at least a quarter of a mile behind us. Ahead, the stony shoreline stretched on for perhaps three more miles. And if we continued to the end of the beach, I thought, and rounded Turnbow Head, we would come to the Caer City docks. That was hardly the place for three seventeen-year-old St. Alexander’s girls to be after dark. 
Gretchen led the way, splashing through a tidepool. Ginny hesitated. Then she lifted her skirts to her knees and followed. I took the rear, pausing occasionally to glance at the clifftops, and at our route back to the path. 
“Here we are, people.” Gretchen stepped up on a seaworn boulder and faced us. Masses of seaweed clung to the stone beneath her feet. My father had been a sailor, and he once told me that the kind of seaweed grasping at our feet is called knotted wrack. I thought of knots, and of the rack. I was in that kind of mood. 
Gretchen looked at me. “Well, Mara, you said you wanted to see the place for yourself. What do you think?” 
All of us turned and gazed at the limestone precipice to our west. The cliffs rose to a peak a good two hundred feet above our heads. A lone tree stood at the top of the cliff, its leafless branches sloping back from the sea. The smell of knotted wrack hung in the air. 
Ginny shuddered. “I don’t like it.” 
“If Annie jumped here, that was the end of her.” Gretchen shook her head. “Holy, heavenly Belthor.” 
“If she jumped here, it would have killed her.” I felt a horrible lump in my throat. “But . . . but look at that.” I turned my head to glance at the sea. “The water is a good twenty yards from the cliffside. And the tide was full when we got to the beach. Mistress Franklin said she jumped at dawn. The tide was out then—there’s an almanac in the school library—I checked.” 
“So, what are you saying, girl? 
“I’m saying there’s no way she would have ended up in the ocean. She would have hit the rocks, and the city watch would have found her body.” 
“You say that girl—” Gretchen gazed at me for a moment. “Maybe she lay there for a while and the tide came in?” 
“No. I mean, not if Headmistress Franklin told us the truth. The headmistress said the clamdiggers saw her while she was still alive. It was dawn then, and the watch started looking for her right afterward.” 
“So . . . what do you think happened?” To my ears, Gretchen’s voice had taken on a needling tone. 
“I have no idea.” I felt as if Gretchen had been trying to force me to confess that, and I was cross about having to gratify her. “But I think the headmistress lied to us. I think Pastor Avery lied to us. Everyone is lying to us—" 

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The Hideous Garden

Mara of the League Book 3

After surviving a fiery assassination attempt, the League’s honorable new ruler resolves to end a twenty-five-year war. Mara, now director of the League’s spy service, warns that he is walking into a trap. As Mara argues for increasingly ruthless policies, she must ask herself whether she likes the person she has become.

This is a story of intrigue and military strategy, set in a low fantasy world. It is also a story of a political marriage which could be more.

“If I may, Your Righteousness . . .” Mara adjusted her glasses. “Permit me to say your plan appears promising. The Vale of Skells looks like an ideal place for a raid. More than two hundred of the Claimant’s men are wintering in a fortified manor house belonging to the Laird of Skellrig. For once, we know where to find them. They’re on low ground, and their walls won’t stand up to modern gunnery. They’re vulnerable.”

Orlando let out his breath, relieved that Mara was not going to argue with his decision.

“My greatest concern is that this raid is only that, a raid. Losing Skellrig Manor is not going to hurt the Claimant very much—”

“I’m sorry, I thought you understood.” Orlando raised a hand. “We are attacking Skellrig Manor for political purposes, not military ones.”

“I am not sure one can make a sharp distinction between politics and war.” Mara’s expression darkened. “The raid on Skellrig Manor would make more sense if we followed it up with additional attacks on a larger scale, and if we left garrisons to hold the territory we recaptured. We need to stop letting the Claimant’s men use western Brynmaer as a sanctuary. Otherwise, whenever they’re in danger, all they need do is fall back a few miles and shout ‘olly-olly-oxenfree!’”

“There are broader considerations.” Orlando cultivated the same reasonable tone he occasionally used with Deborah. “We’re trying to prod Ganbataar to negotiate. If we push too hard near his borders, he may turn stubborn. Besides, we have our own people to think about.  One foray will be controversial enough. If we launched a whole series, can you imagine the protests there’d be?”

“The protesters make everything harder.” Mara paused for a moment. “Which is, of course, their job. But strange as this may sound, I share the genuine protesters’ concerns. At the moment, we’re not really fighting the Claimant’s men at all. We are but playing a cruel game of tag with them in our allies’ country, and games of this sort can go on forever. All of us are taking losses, and the worst suffering is falling upon Brynish farmers caught in the middle. I would like to change this, and although I do not expect antiwar activists to agree with my methods, I am, like them, trying to save lives.”

“I might have known. I choose the most aggressive strategy my most generals dare propose, and your response is that I haven’t gone far enough.” Orlando smiled at the irony.

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The Rending of the World

Mara of the League Book 4

Give me the summer and I will give you the continent.”
--Un-Jargal Boyan, Supreme Commander of the Waanling Host

Chief spy Mara Bennet's worst fears come true when the Commonwealth of Waan invades her homeland. To complicate matters, Mara and her country's ruler are stranded in a remote northern realm. The two of them must outrun enemy warships on a perilous sea voyage home. Meanwhile fourteen-year-old Princess Deborah finds herself unexpectedly on the throne.

Can Deborah learn to rule in the midst of treachery? Can Mara use her strategic skills to turn back the Waanling onslaught? Will pillaging armies reduce the land to famine? Find out in The Rending of the World.

Rending features seven maps detailing battle plans and troop movements. Its author has eighteen years experience teaching strategic studies at university level. He has published eight non-fiction books on international relations and war.

Horseshoes rang against rocks. Jason saw his lead rider, Coulson, on the far side of the summit. Coulson was turning his horse, as if to canter back to the main group. Horsemen in the felt caps and brown coats of Waanling light cavalry emerged from the trees on the distant side of the hill. The Waanlings had m-shaped bows, and one put an arrow through Coulson’s breastplate. 

Coulson listed in his saddle. Another of the Waanlings fired an arrow skyward. The second arrow screeched as it rose. Jason’s eyes focused, not on the noisy missile, or on the dying man, or even upon the oncoming attackers, but on the hills beyond. 
Jason saw the silvery ribbon of Whit Brook as it flowed through the craggy landscape below. He followed it with his gaze for perhaps five or six miles to the northeast, where it issued from the gap between a pair of dark mountains. Those mountains, Jason knew, marked the southern end of Minton Pass. Beyond them lay Waan. The town of Minton, he presumed, was hidden behind the pine-topped ridge to his left. 

Woods covered the hillsides, but the low ground was in pasture. When Jason dropped his eyes to the grassy lowlands, he saw movement. It was as if ivory-colored gnats were swarming southward. Jason perceived that the gnats were distant sheep. The sheep ran in ragged mobs, but their numbers dwindled as the rearmost vanished into a flood of advancing cavalry. Riders surged down Minton Pass from Waan, spreading out through the valleys like meltwater in spring. 

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Thomas M. Kane is a fantasy author living high on a wooded hilltop. He taught international relations at a British university for close to twenty years and brings his insights concerning real-life war and politics into his fiction. He takes a character-based approach to writing, paying attention to his protagonists' personal relationships and inner lives.

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1 comment:

  1. Huge thanks for supporting the Complete Mara of the League series blog tour!


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