Random House

EW has the exclusive cover and an excerpt for this anticipated upcoming nautical fantasy

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February 26, 2018 at 11:00 AM EST

Seafire is shaping up to be one of the year’s most anticipated new fantasies.

The beginning of a trilogy from author Natalie C. Parker, Seafire features elements of everything from Wonder Woman to Lord of the Rings to The Goonies. And yet the book is most directly inspired by the Oscar-winning action epic Mad Max: Fury Road: Parker says that watching the movie was a “religious experience” for her, indicating that she could write her own thrilling, wild story that still centered on female friendship and loyalty.

The book is about Caledonia Styx, whose family has been killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and the bloodthirsty Bullets, his army of vicious soldiers. Caledonia is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, who have lost their families and homes because of Aric and his men. The crew has to stay alive — and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.

Parker has drawn on her experience growing up as the daughter of a Navy doctor, which resulted in a lifelong fascination with the ocean. Seafire also reflects her interest in sustainable technology and passion for sci-fi and fantasy, which was seeded by authors like the late Ursula K. Le Guin in her childhood.

The epic fantasy hits shelves on Aug. 28. Pre-order Seafire here, and check out the exclusive cover as well as an excerpt below.

Random House

Excerpt from “Seafire,” by Natalie C. Parker

Just before dawn, Caledonia climbed into the aft rigging of her ship. The ropes were rough against her calloused palms as she scaled fifty feet of the mizzenmast, confident and sure, her hands and feet flying faster and faster, daring the sun to beat her to the top. The sky filled with the hazy blue glow of dawn, and Caledonia pushed harder, relishing the first kiss of sweat against her skin.

She’d scarcely reached her chosen perch when she yelled to the team of girls on deck below, “Haul!”

Eager voices repeated the command, and four sets of strong hands took hold of the lines and heaved. Along the mast, pulleys squealed and churned; Caledonia kept her eyes on the gaff beam moving toward her.

“Break!” She shouted as the gaff rose level with her chest. From it hung their treasured sun sail; hundreds of shiny black scales made to absorb solar energy and feed their engines.

The girls below began to secure the ropes while Caledonia moved to balance atop the beam. The morning wind that was so gentle on deck was bracing this far up, and a constant tension whirled in her stomach. Leaving one hand to grip the ropes, she stretched to retrieve the peak anchor and pull it down, snapping the cable in place.

The horizon was burning yellow now, and the approach of the sun brought a smile to Caledonia’s lips. Below, she could see Amina perched on the starboard railing, tracking her with shrewd eyes. It wasn’t necessary for the captain to secure the sail. Any one of Amina’s Knots could do this just as easily as Caledonia, but this moment was unlike any other aboard the Mors Navis, and Caledonia craved the feeling of the world at her feet.

“Trim to port!” she called.

The sail angled toward sunrise just as the first gentle rays slid across the surface of the ocean. Light climbed the hull to paint the girls in their boldest strokes for just a second before it reached the black plates of the sun sail.

It was like fire.

Light leaped from a hundred scales at once in vibrant yellows, oranges, and pinks; a cascade of momentary brilliance washed upward as the sun climbed higher in the sky, and at the top of it all stood Caledonia. Wind tugged at her sleeves and her hair, light washed over her from boot to brow, and she felt as alive as the ship beneath her feet, charged and powerful.

It lasted for only a moment, then that dazzling morning fire was gone.

Sunlight glittered calmly in the sail, creating fuel to power all the systems of the ship once known as the Ghost. Repaired and renamed Mors Navis, the large vessel was sharp and elegant, all of it skinned with dark, gray steel except for a few patches of wood and tar. Everything on the ship was a mixture of old-world tech and whatever natural resources they could find. And they made it work. The Mors Navis now carried a crew of fifty-three girls, six cats, and one goat. They’d made this ship both a weapon and a home.

Four years ago, this had been a fantasy. Trapped on a beach with nothing but a gut wound, her best friend, and this very ship in pieces, Caledonia could only dream of the day she had the means to stand up and fight. It had come sooner than she could have hoped, the morning Pisces looked at her square in the eyes and said she wanted revenge. It came as they bent their minds to the task of recovering their ship. It came one girl at a time. Caledonia and Pisces had stitched this ship and its crew together from odds and ends discarded by the world.

As Caledonia began her downward climb, she heard the bow boat drop from its hanging berth and hit the water. She saw it a moment later, pushing past the ship with five girls aboard and Redtooth at the helm, the red tips of her blonde braids visible against the bright blue morning. That team would scout a few miles ahead of the Mors Navis, looking for trouble or opportunity. Caledonia paused, watching as Redtooth raised her hand in salute to another dark shape in the water before speeding away.

Pisces. Some days it seemed the girl had been in the water since the attack on the Ghost. She’d risen before the sun that first, terrible day on the beach and walked straight into the ocean to drown her tears. When she came up for air, her sobs left jagged stitches in the hushed morning. Unable to move much on her own, Caledonia had no choice but to be still as her friend’s grief washed over her. That grief was like a fever, one Caledonia could feel burning in her own blood. As Pisces sought solace in the ocean, Caledonia hoisted her eyes to the sky and let her own tears drain into the hard sand.

So much had changed in four years, but some things were very much the same. Pisces was in the water every morning as early as Caledonia was in the rigging. Just as Caledonia knew the surface of the ocean and her ship, Pisces knew what lay beneath.

Sunlight glinted off Pisces’s smooth head and shoulders before she dove once again, vanishing from sight. Caledonia recalled the moment Pisces had come to her with a razor in her hand and tears in her eyes. “I want it gone,” she’d said.

“You want what gone?” Caledonia asked as she cautiously reached for the razor, already afraid of whatever answer her friend was about to give.

“My hair,” Pisces said, voice quiet. Tears slipped down her cheeks. “It drags in the water. And I need to be faster.”

Caledonia began to cut, pausing every so often to blink away her own tears as she worked.

It had been the first of many sacrifices. But every one had made them stronger, brought them closer to the fight they ached for—to avenge their mothers and fathers and brothers and all the families aboard the Ghost. One day, they would take this fight all the way to Aric Athair himself.

“How’s the view this morning, Captain?” a voice called as Caledonia reached the deck.

Lace was always among the first to greet her, no matter how early Caledonia rose.

“As bright as your hair.” Caledonia faced the small girl, eyes appraising the pile of blonde curls that were as stubbornly cheerful as the girl who wore them. “What’s the news?” Caledonia asked, turning her steps toward the bridge.

Though on the younger side of her command crew, Lace had stepped into Caledonia’s trust almost as soon as she’d stepped aboard the ship. She was calm and competent, with a laugh as grizzly as Rhona’s had been. Her skin was pale as seafoam and her curls, while not rusted red, were defiant. It was strange to associate someone so young with her mother, but Caledonia found something comforting in their similarity of spirit, and she’d loved Lace immediately for it.

Lace matched Caledonia’s pace and began her morning brief of the day’s activities. She covered changes to the duty roster, maintenance issues, health concerns. Lace had a knack for reporting dismal situations without sounding dismal, a talent that was exceedingly rare. Most of it didn’t require Caledonia’s direct attention, but the last item on Lace’s list always landed heavy on the captain’s mind.

“And finally,” Lace began.

“And finally,” Caledonia repeated with a sigh.

“Vitals. Far says we’re down to beans and salt soup, and she can keep us running on that for five days at the outside.”

“It’s been five days for the past three, Lace. The soup is starting to look like water. Are you sure we can survive for five more days?”

Lace’s smile was as sturdy as the deck beneath their feet. “We’ve survived worse than thin soup, Captain.”

Five more days of meager fare would make for a weaker crew. Caledonia felt the pinch in her own stomach amplified fifty-two times. Beside her, Lace had grown unusually quiet. “There’s more?”

All around them, the deck buzzed with activity. Laundry lines were pulled taut and covered with clothes, the five Mary sisters were oiling the cable cutters and their clips beneath the railing, and Amina and the eleven girls who made up her sharpshooting team of Knots crawled through the rigging to polish the plates of the sun sail.

Lace’s smile drooped when she answered, “We lost Metalmouth.”

“Dammit.” Caledonia stopped in her tracks, hands settling on her hips.

“Far thinks she got into some rot. Must’ve been bad to kill her.”

That was an understatement. Goats were hardy in general, but Metalmouth had been named for the fact that she would have eaten the hull of their ship if she could. No goat meant no milk. Even less sustenance to go around. Finding a replacement wouldn’t be easy.

“Bright bits?” Lace asked, her smile resurfacing. “We’ll have meat for dinner.”

“Youngest first,” Caledonia spoke quietly. Her mind was already calculating the distance between them and the familiar waters of the Bone Mouth. If they changed course now, they could be there before they ran through their supply of beans. With any luck, they’d be able to forage on the islands and cast their lines for fish. “Gather the command crew. We’re changing course.”

Before Lace had a chance to comply, a whistle pierced the air. It was followed by a shout from Amina high in the rigging. “Bow boat on approach!”

“That was quick,” Lace mused, shielding her eyes to peer over the ocean. The boat cut a straight line across the water, moving with strict urgency. It meant it was time to do one of two things: run or fight.

Immediately, the Mary sisters mobilized the deck crew, readying the hooks that would latch the boat and raise it into its hanging berth. The maneuver hadn’t always been an easy one for such a young crew, but they hooked the boat on their first try and smoothly lifted the vessel from the water.

Redtooth was over the railing in an instant. Her blue eyes bulged like the muscles in her persistently burned arms as she made for Caledonia. “Captain,” she said, clamping one hand on Caledonia’s shoulder. “We found trouble.”

Caledonia could see the future in Redtooth’s eager expression. Trouble was code for a fight. Judging by the smile Redtooth couldn’t hide, this wasn’t just any fight. This was a chance to hurt Aric Athair, and that was impossible to walk away from.

“Can we eat it?” Caledonia asked.

Redtooth’s lips spread in a devilish grin. “Sure,” she answered. “We’re the crew of the Mors Navis. We eat Bullets for breakfast.”

 

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