By EW Staff
December 01, 2020 at 12:00 PM EST
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Credit: Lucas Passmore

We have a little bit of a confession, readers: There are a few pandemic-related cancellations we still haven't gotten over, and BookCon's blockbuster YA panel is one of them. This summer was supposed to bring together some of the genre's biggest (and most badass) writers to preview a 2021 lineup chock full of reasons to be hopeful about YA lit. But there's good news. Now the book news is spread out over multiple months, and today's is all about Victoria Aveyard's Realm BreakerThe No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of the Red Queen series is set to kick off her next series on May 4, 2021.

EW has the exclusive first look at the new tome, starting with the cover.

Credit: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Realm Breaker will continue Aveyard's legacy of page-turning fantasy fiction — but we'll let the official synopsis do the talking:

A strange darkness grows in Allward.

Even Corayne an-Amarat can feel it, tucked away in her small town at the edge of the sea.

She soon discovers the truth: She is the last of an ancient lineage — and the last hope to save the world from destruction. But she won’t be alone. Even as darkness falls, she is joined by a band of unlikely companions:

  • A squire, forced to choose between home and honor.
  • An immortal, avenging a broken promise.
  • An assassin, exiled and bloodthirsty.
  • An ancient sorceress, whose riddles hide an eerie foresight.
  • A forger with a secret past.
  • A bounty hunter with a score to settle.

Together they stand against a vicious opponent, invincible and determined to burn all kingdoms to ash, and an army unlike anything the realm has ever witnessed.

If you want to know more, we have good news: EW also has the very first excerpt from the book. Check it out below, and mark your calendars for May.

***

There was clear sight for miles. A good day for the end of a voyage.

And a good day to begin one.

Corayne loved the coast of Siscaria this time of year, in the mornings of early summer. No spring storms, no crackling thunderheads, no winter fog. No splendor of color, no beauty. No illusions. Nothing but the empty blue horizon of the Long Sea.

Her leather satchel bounced at her hip, her ledger safe inside. The book of charts and lists was worth its weight in gold, especially today. She eagerly walked the ancient Cor road along the cliffs, following the flat, paved stones into Lemarta. She knew the way like she knew her mother’s own face. Sand-colored and windcarved, not worn by the sun but gilded by it. The Long Sea crashed 50 feet below, kicking up spray in rhythm with the tide. Olive and cypress trees grew over the hills, and the wind blew kindly, smelling of salt and oranges.

A good day, she thought again, turning her face to the sun.

Her guardian, Kastio, walked at her side, his body weathered by decades on the waves. Gray-haired with furious black eyebrows, the old Siscarian sailor was darkly tanned from fingertips to toes. He walked at an odd pace, suffering from old knees and permanent sea legs.

“Any more dreams?” he asked, glancing at his charge sidelong. His vivid blue eyes searched her face with the focus of an eagle.

Corayne shook her head, blinking tired eyes. “Just excited,” she offered, forcing a thin smile to placate him. “You know I barely sleep before the ship returns.”

The old sailor was easily thrown off.

He doesn’t need to know about my dreams, nor does anyone. He would certainly tell Mother, who would make it all the more unbearable with her concern. But they still come every night. And, somehow, they’re getting worse.

White hands, shadowed faces. Something moving in the dark.

The memory of the dream chilled her even in broad daylight, and she sped up, as if she could outrun her own mind.

Ships made their way along the Empress Coast toward the Lemartan port. They had to sail up the gullet of the city’s natural harbor, in full sight of the road and the watchtowers of Siscaria. Most of the towers were relics of Old Cor, near ruins of stormwashed stone, named for emperors and empresses long gone. They stood out like teeth in a half-empty jaw. The towers still standing were manned by old soldiers or land-bound sailors, men in their twilight.

“What’s the count this morning, Reo?” Corayne asked as she passed the Tower of Balliscor. In the window stood its single keeper, a decaying old man.

He waggled a set of wrinkled fingers, his skin worn as old leather. “Only two in beyond the point. Blue-green sails.”

Aquamarine sails, she corrected in her head, marked with the golden mermaid of Tyriot. “You don’t miss a trick, do you?” she said, not breaking stride.

He chuckled weakly. “My hearing might be going, but my eye’s sharp as ever.”

“Sharp as ever!” Corayne echoed, fighting a smirk.

Indeed two Tyri galleys were past Antero Point, but a third ship crawled through the shallows, in the shadow of the cliffs. Difficult to spot, for those who did not know where to look. Or those paid to look elsewhere.

Corayne left no coin behind for the half-blind watchman of Balliscor, but she dropped the usual bribes at the towers of Macorras and Alcora. An alliance bought is still an alliance made, she thought, hearing her mother’s voice in her head.

She gave the same to the gatekeeper at the Lemarta walls, though the port city was small, the gate already open, Corayne and Kastio well known. Or at least my mother is well known, well liked, and well feared in equal measure.

The gatekeeper took the coin, waving them onto familiar streets overgrown with lilac and orange blossoms. They perfumed the air, hiding the smells of a crowded port, somewhere between small city and bustling town. Lemarta was a bright place, the stone buildings painted in the radiant colors of sunrise and sunset. On a summer morning, the market streets crowded with tradespeople and townsfolk alike.

Corayne offered smiles like her coin: an item to trade. Like always, she felt a barrier between herself and the throng of people, as if she were watching them through glass. Farmers drove their mules in from the cliffs, carting vegetables, fruits, and grain. Merchants shouted their wares in every language of the Long Sea. Dedicant priests walked in lines, their robes dyed in varying shades to note their orders. The blue-cloaked priests of Meira were always most numerous, praying to the goddess of the waters. Sailors waiting for a tide or a wind already idled in seden courtyards, drinking wine in the sunshine.

A port city was many things, but above all a crossroads. While Lemarta was insignificant in the scheme of the world, she was nothing to sneer at. She was a good place to drop anchor.

But not for me, Corayne thought as she quickened her pace. Not one second longer.

A maze of steps took them down to the docks, spitting Corayne and Kastio out onto the stone walkway edging the water. The climbing sun flashed brilliantly off the turquoise shallows. Lemarta stared down at the harbor, hunched against the cliffs like an audience in an amphitheater.

The ships from Tyriot were newly docked, anchored on either side of a longer pier jutting out into deeper water. A mess of crew crowded the galleys and the pier, spilling over the planks. Corayne caught snatches of Tyri and Kasan passed from deck to dock, but most spoke Paramount, the shared language of trade on both sides of the Long Sea. The crews unloaded crates and live animals for a pair of Siscarian harbor officers, who made a great show of taking notes for their tax records and dock duties. Half a dozen soldiers accompanied them, clad in rich purple tunics.

Nothing of spectacular quality or particular interest, Corayne noted, eyeing the haul.

Kastio followed her gaze, squinting out beneath his eyebrows. “Where from?” he asked.

Her smirk bloomed as quickly as an answer. “Salt from the Aegir mines,” Corayne said, all confidence. “And I bet you a cup of wine the olive oil is from the Orisi groves.”

The old sailor chuckled. “No bet — I’ve learned my lesson more than once,” he replied. “You’ve a head for this business, none can deny that.”

She faltered in her steps, her voice sharpening. “Let’s hope so.”

Another harbor officer waited at the end of the next pier, though the berth was empty. The soldiers with him looked halfasleep, wholly uninterested. Corayne fixed her lips into her best smile, one hand in her satchel with her fingers closed around the final and heaviest pouch. The weight was a comfort, as good as a knight’s shield.

Though she’d done this a dozen times, still her fingers trembled. A good day to begin a voyage, she told herself again. A good day to begin.

Over the officer’s shoulder, a ship came into harbor, sailing out of the cliff shadow. There was no mistaking the galley, its deep purple flag a beacon. Corayne’s heartbeat drummed.

“Officer Galeri,” she called, Kastio close behind her. Though neither wore fine clothes, clad in light summer tunics, leather leggings, and boots, they walked the pier like royalty. “Always a pleasure to see you.”

Galeri inclined his head. The officer was almost three times her age — nearing fifty years old — and spectacularly ugly. Still, Galeri was popular with the women of Lemarta, mostly because his pockets were well lined with bribes.

Domiana Corayne, you know the pleasure is mine,” he replied, taking her outstretched hand with a flourish. The pouch passed from her fingers to his, disappearing into his coat. “And good morning to you, Domo Kastio,” he added, nodding at the old man. Kastio glowered in reply “More of the usual this morning? How fares the Tempestborn?”

“She fares well.” Corayne grinned truly, looking over the galley as she glided in.

The Tempestborn was bigger than the Tyri galleys, longer by half and twice as fine, with a ram better suited to battle than trade just below the waterline. She was a beautiful ship, her hull darkly painted for voyages in colder seas. With the turn of the season, warm-water camouflage would come: sea-green and sand stripes. But for now she was as shadow, flying the wine-dark purple of a Siscarian ship returning home. The crew was in good shape, Corayne knew, watching their oars move in perfect motion as they maneuvered the long, flat ship to the dock.

A silhouette stood at the stern, and warmth spread in Corayne’s chest.

She turned back to Galeri sharply, pulling a paper from her ledger, already stamped with the seal of a noble family. “The cargo listing, more of the usual.” For cargo not yet unloaded. “You’ll find accurate counts. Salt and honey, taken on in Aegironos.”

Galeri eyed the paper without interest. “Bound for?” he asked, opening his own ledger of notes. Behind him, one of the soldiers took to pissing off the dock.

Corayne wisely ignored him. “Lecorra,” she said. The Siscarian capital. Once the center of the known realm, now a shadow of its imperial glory. “To His Excellency, Duke Reccio—”

“That will suffice,” Galeri muttered. Noble shipments could not be taxed, and their seals were easy to replicate or steal, for those with the inclination, skill, and daring.

At the end of the pier, ropes were thrown, men leaping with them. Their voices were a tangle of languages: Paramount and Kasan and Treckish and even the lilting Rhashiran tongue. The patchwork of noise wove with the hiss of rope on wood, the splash of an anchor, the slap of a sail. Corayne could barely stand it, ready to jump out of her skin with excitement.

Galeri dropped into a shallow bow, grinning. Two of his teeth were brighter than the rest. Ivory, bought or bribed. “Very well, this is settled. We’ll stand watch, of course, to observe your shipment for His Excellency.”

It was the only invitation Corayne needed. She trotted by the officer and his soldiers, doing her best not to break into a run. In her younger years, she would have, sprinting to the Tempestborn with arms outstretched. But I am seventeen years old, nearly a woman, and the ship’s agent besides, she told herself. I must act like crew, and not a child clutching at skirts.

Not that I’ve ever seen my mother wear a skirt.

“Welcome back!” Corayne called, first in Paramount, then in the half-dozen other languages she knew, and the two more she could attempt. Rhashiran was still beyond her grasp, while the Jydi tongue was famously impossible for outsiders.

“You’ve been practicing,” said Ehjer, the first crew member to meet her. He was near seven feet tall, his white skin covered in tattoos and scars hard-won in the snows of the Jyd. She knew the stories of the worst of them — a bear, a skirmish, a lover, a particularly angry moose. Or perhaps the last two were the same? she wondered before he embraced her.

“Don’t patronize me, Ehjer; I sound haarblød,” she gasped, struggling to breathe in his grip. He laughed heartily.

The pier crowded with reunion, the planks a mess of crew and crates. Corayne passed through, careful to note any new recruits picked up on the voyage. There were always a few, easy to spot. Most had blistered hands and sunburns, unaccustomed to life on deck. The Tempestborn liked to train their own from the waves up.

Mother’s rule, like so many others.

Corayne found her where she always did, half perched on the railing.

Meliz an-Amarat was neither tall nor short, but her presence was vast, and commanded attention. A good quality for any ship’s captain to have. She scanned the dock with a hawk’s eye and a dragon’s pride, her task yet unfinished though the ship was safely in port. She was not a captain to laze in her cabin or flit off to the nearest seden to drink while the crew did the hard work. Every crate and burlap sack passed beneath her gaze, to be checked off on a mental tally.

“How fare the winds?” Corayne called, watching her mother rule over her galley kingdom.

From the deck, Meliz beamed, her hair free about her shoulders, black as a storm cloud. The faint smile lines around her mouth were well earned.

“Fine, for they bring me home,” she said, her voice like honey.

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