Read an excerpt from BookTok sensation Alex Aster's YA fantasy novel, Lightlark
Alex Aster's new novel Lightlark tells the story of a mysterious island that appears every 100 years to host a dangerous game. The centennial contest offers the rulers of six realms the ultimate chance to break the curses that have afflicted their kingdoms for centuries.
After publishing two middle grade books, Curse of the Night Witch and Curse of the Forgotten City, Aster is making her young adult debut with this fantasy tale. But the road to landing a publishing deal for Lightlark wasn't free of obstacles. Aster faced several rejections from publishers before creating a 15-second, viral TikTok video detailing the plot of the novel. The overwhelmingly positive reaction from the BookTok community allowed Aster to finally land a publishing deal; there's now 42 million views under the hashtag #Lightlark on TikTok. Ahead of its release, Universal and Temple Hill have purchased the film rights to the novel, with Aster landing a role as an executive producer.
Exclusively read an excerpt from Lightlark and see the cover below.
Grim sat at one of the benches in the abbey, elbows on his knees. He watched her—she could feel his gaze on her but couldn't bring herself to look back.
In an instant, he was behind her. She felt his breath on her bare shoulder and tensed.
"When I left my chambers, everything was burning. And all of the rulers were dead." She turned and found his face drawn, more serious than she had ever seen it. "I was a ruler of realm. When all I had ever trained to be was a warrior."
Darkness billowed out of him in waves, snuffing out even the limited light creeping in from the window. A flash of lightning struck outside, but its light did not reach them.
Isla swallowed. Turned to face him fully. "I know what it's like to have responsibility you never wanted . . . and never thought you deserved."
Grim's hands were tightly wound by his sides. She tentatively reached out and opened one of them. Ran a finger across his palm and felt him tense in front of her.
"Will you show me?" she asked, knowing she shouldn't. He seemed to know she meant his powers. The extent of them, beyond the simple demonstration he had given weeks before. And she seemed to know that he needed a release.
Grim looked intently into her eyes. "Are you sure you want to see?" he asked.
She almost said yes immediately, then remembered the bite of dis appointment she'd felt at his answer the last time he had prefaced his response. He was warning her, she realized.
Warning her that she might see something she wouldn't like. Still, Isla nodded. She wanted to see it. Raw power. The thing she wanted more than ever.
He was so close his nose almost touched hers. "Not here." He glanced at the window. Isla heard the rain, still raging, but not as violently as before. "Do you mind going outside again?"
She shook her head and followed him back out of the abbey. Isla felt it all once more, the water in sheets, but she was already wet, already cold. Her eyes stayed glued on Grim as he walked to the cliff, to its very edge. His back was tense, his cape glued to his shoulders, and the muscles there rolled back.
Fast as lightning, he turned, hand shooting in front of him—and darkness erupted in a violent line, a wall of ink that rippled like water, peaked like flames. It whipped right past her, inches from her face. She stumbled back, the force of it almost making her fall over.
As quickly as it had struck, the darkness dissolved. Isla took an unsteady breath. In the places night had touched, life had been ripped away. The grass sat charred and matted; trees were reduced to hulls that decayed into ash right before her eyes.
If that power had been unleashed on a human, she could imagine their skin would melt right from their bones. And those bones would splinter and crack until they were fragments in the wind. This was worse than fire.
Grim's darkness left nothing behind.
He had turned back to the cliff, hand fisted at his side. A hand that wielded terrible, terrible power.
Grim went still when she trailed two fingers over the back of that hand, against her better judgment. When she said, "Show me more," he grinned.
And gripped her by the waist.
They shot off the cliff, to the sand below—and this time, Isla didn't scream. Because somehow, they had skipped the entire middle of the jump. The sea foamed and raged like a crazed animal in the storm, clouds bubbling and frothing above, melding together to form a gray gradient. She couldn't see where the ocean ended and the sky began. They both churned and eddied, desperate to touch.
Isla stood close enough to Grim that she heard him over the rain, over the wind that blew in from the sea, whipping against every inch of exposed skin and leaving it numb. She still had her crown in her hand and, for a moment, considered simply throwing it into the angry ocean, wondering if that would solve her problems.
"Hearteater," he said.
She looked up at him, only to see something peculiar in his expres sion. He looked worried. Devastated.
Worried that she would cower from his terrible display of ability? Hate him for what he was?
She remembered his words.
I am the monster.
Part of her was afraid of it.
But she wasn't afraid of him. Even though part of her screamed that she should be.
"Tell me how I'm feeling," she whispered. She could try her best to control her thoughts, her actions—but if the Nightshade had taught her anything, it was that her emotions were far more difficult to bridle. Rain fell from his hair and onto her cheeks.
He swallowed, reading her. "You're feeling . . . intrigued." She motioned toward their surroundings and shrugged. She had asked him to show her more. "Well?"
Instead of grinning again, Grim's expression darkened. The ocean curled with a giant wave that crested before them and collapsed into cliffs just feet away. His mouth was suddenly at her ear. "I could open a black hole that would swallow the beach. I could turn the sea dark as ink and kill everything inside of it. I could demolish the castle, brick by brick, from where we stand. I could take you back to Nightshade lands with me right now." His voice was deep as dreams, dark as nightmares. "I could do all of those things." His lips pressed against the top of her ear, for just a moment. "And I might—if I didn't think you would hate me for it."
Isla's shoulders and fingers shook—from the cold, or the rain, or his proximity, or his proclamations, she wasn't sure. She looked down at their bodies, pressed close. Just flimsy, drenched fabric between them. Red dress against black, a rose dipped in midnight. Like tea in boiling water, darkness still seeped from him, around him, ribbons of it that reached toward her before recoiling. "Why do you care what I think? You barely know me."
Grim's shadows flared, though his expression did not change. "I know enough," he said.
"What about staying away from me?"
His lips were right above hers now, his words practically pressed against the corner of her mouth. "I gave it an honest effort," he said. "But it turns out . . . I'm not that honest."