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'And I Darken' sequel, 'Now I Rise': Read an exclusive excerpt

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Courtesy Random House Children's Books

This past summer, Kiersten White released her New York Times best selling novel, And I Darken — full of gender-subverting, feminist historical fantasy. And if you can believe it, she’s already gearing up for the sequel, Now I Rise, which won’t hit shelves until next summer.

In advance of its June 27, 2017 release date, EW is thrilled to present not only your first look at the cover of Now I Rise… but also an exclusive sneak peek inside the book.

Check them both out below.

Excerpt from Now I Rise by Kiersten White

It is easier to destroy than to build, her nurse had been fond of saying when Lada would pull all the blossoms off the fruit trees, but empty fields make hungry bellies.

As a child, Lada had never understood what her nurse meant. But now she thought she might. At least the part about destroying being easier than building. All her time spent writing letters or standing in front of minor nobles attempting to forge alliances had been wasted. It had been nothing but struggle for the past year. Struggle to arrange meetings, struggle to be seen as more than a girl playing at soldier, struggle to find the right ways to work within a system that had always been foreign to her.

They were closer to the city of Sibiu than to Brasov. For efficiency’s sake, Lada decided to stop there first. It took less time to herd hundreds of Sibiu’s sheep into the icy pond to drown than it had for a servant to inform her that the governor would not be meeting with her. The Wallachian shepherds, who would no doubt be killed for their failure to save the sheep, were quietly folded into her company.

That accomplished, Lada and her men passed through the slumbering, unprotected outer city of Sibiu, harming nothing and no one. Ahead of them rose the walls of the inner city, where only Transylvanian nobles—never Wallachians—were allowed to sleep. She imagined they dreamed deeply, pampered and protected by the sweat of Wallachian brows.

They had neither the time nor the numbers to launch an attack on inner Sibiu. And they were not here to conquer. They were here to destroy. As each volley of flaming arrows arced high over the walls and down into the maze of roofs, Lada’s smile grew simultaneously brighter and darker.

A few days later, they waited outside of Brasov for the sun to set. The city was set in a valley ringed with deep green growth. Towers stood at intervals along the inner city walls, each maintained by a different guild. If she were planning a siege, it would be a challenge.

But, as with Sibiu, they did not want to keep this city. They merely wanted to punish it.

At twilight, Nicolae returned from a scouting trip. “Terror spreads faster than any fire. Rumors are everywhere. You have taken Sibiu, you lead ten thousand Ottoman soldiers, you are the chosen servant of the devil.”

“Why must I always be a man’s servant?” Lada demanded. “If anything, I should be partners with the devil, not his servant.”

Bogdan scowled, crossing himself. He still clung to some bastard version of the religion they had been raised with. His mother—Lada and Radu’s nurse—had wielded Christianity like a switch, lashing out with whichever stories suited her needs at the time. Usually the ones about naughty children being eaten by bears. Lada and Radu had also attended church with Bogdan and his mother, but Lada remembered very little from those infinite suffocating hours.

Bogdan must have carried his religion with him through all his years with the Ottomans. Janissaries were converted to Islam. There were no other options. The rest of her men had dropped Islam like their Janissary caps, but they had not replaced it with anything else. Whatever faith they had had in their childhood had been trained out of them.

Lada wondered what it had cost Bogdan to hold on to Christianity in spite of so much opposition. Then again, he had always been stubborn both in grudges and loyalty. She was grateful for the latter, as his loyalty to her had been planted young and deep in the green forests and gray stones of their childhood in Wallachia. Before he had been taken from her by the Ottomans.

Impulsively she reached out and tugged on one of his ears like she had when they were children. An unexpected smile bloomed on his blocky features, and suddenly she was back with him, tormenting Radu, raiding the kitchens, sealing their bond with blood on dirty palms. Bogdan was her childhood. Bogdan was Wallachia. She had him back. She could get the rest.

“If you are working for the devil, can you tell him to pay us? Our purses are empty.” Matei held up a limp leather pouch to illustrate. Lada startled, turning away from Bogdan and the warmth in her chest. Matei was one of her original Janissaries, her oldest and most trusted men. They had followed her in Amasya, when she had had nothing to offer them. And they still followed her, with the same result.

Matei was older even than Stefan, with years of invaluable experience. Not many Janissaries lived to his age. When they had been surprised on the border, Matei took an arrow in the side protecting Lada. He was graying and gaunt, with a perpetually hungry look about him. That look had grown hungrier still during their sojourn in the mountain wildernesses of Transylvania. Lada valued that hunger in her men. It was what made them willing to follow her. But it was also what would drive them away if she did not do something more, soon. She needed to keep Matei on her side. She needed his sword and, in a less tangible but just as important way, she needed his respect. Bogdan, she had no matter what. Her other men she was determined to keep.

Lada kept her eyes fixed on the walls of the city beneath them, watching as lights appeared like tiny beacons. “When your work is done, Matei, take anything you wish.”

Brasov had sealed its gates, allowing no one in after dark. Matei and Petru led five men each to scale the walls under cover of darkness. After waiting for them to get where they needed to be, Lada lit the base of a bone-dry dead tree. It greeted the flames hungrily, pulling them so quickly to the top that she and her men had to run from the heat.

The bases of the two towers on the opposite end of the city were engulfed in a matching bright blaze. Lada watched as panicked guards ran around atop the tower nearest her and peered over the edge. “Are you Wallachian?” she called out in her native tongue.

One of them shot an arrow. Lada twisted to the side, and it glanced off the chain mail shirt she wore. Bogdan fired a return arrow. The man tipped silently over the tower’s edge.

“Are you hurt?” Bogdan said, voice desperate as his big hands searched for a wound . . . around her breasts.

“Bogdan!” She slapped his hands away. “If I were, it would certainly not be a wound for you to see to!”

“You need a woman, then?” he asked, looking around as though one would magically appear.

“I am fine!”

Another man waved a piece of cloth above the edge of the tower. “Yes, we are Wallachian!” he shouted, voice quavering.

Lada considered it. “Let us in and you can run. Or you can join us.”

She counted her heartbeats. It took only ten before the tower door opened and seven men filed out. Three skulked silently into the trees. Four stayed. She walked past them and climbed the stairs to the top of the tower. It was circular, with a thick stone railing that she leaned over to view the city.

Already, panic spread like disease within the walls. People flooded the streets, women screaming, men shouting directions. It was chaos.

It was perfect.

Three days later, stray remnants of smoke still wrote Lada’s anger across the sky above the crippled city. She and her men had camped brazenly close by, drunk on soot and revenge, secure in the knowledge that every man in the city was spent with the effort of saving what had not already been lost. They were also more than a little drunk on the cart full of wine that Matei had somehow managed to bring back.

It was there that Stefan slid in, silent and anonymous as a shadow. He, too, had been with Lada since the beginning. He had always been the best at gathering information: a blank and unremarkable face making him a half-forgotten memory even as he stood in front of someone. One day, Lada thought, the world would know she was deserving of an assassin such as him.

“What news from Tirgoviste?” she asked. Her throat was still raw from breathing in so much smoke, but her hoarseness did not disguise her excitement. “Did you kill the prince?”

“He was not there.”

Lada scowled, hopes of announcing her rival’s death to her men dashed. His death would not have meant the throne was hers—he had two heirs her own age, and she still needed the damnable boyars to support her claim as prince—but it would have been satisfying. “Then why have you returned?”

“Because he is in Edirne. At Mehmed’s invitation.”

Though Lada knew her internal fire should have blazed to white-hot fury at this information, she was filled instead with cold, bitter ashes. Her pride had not allowed her to ask Mehmed for help. But all this time she had held him tightly in her heart, knowing that somewhere out there, Mehmed and Radu still believed in her.

And now even that was taken from her.