Check out our exclusive look at the Ruinsong cover reveal, plus the prelude to Julia Ember’s novel, set in 1793, which is an LGBTQ+ fantasy.
Our voices can be a powerful tool, but Ruinsong by Julia Ember takes it one step further. This is a story about revolution and magic, but it’s also a story about love.
Check out the amazingly bold and striking cover for Ruinsong, followed by an exclusive look at the book’s prelude, as well as the synopsis and release date at the bottom.
‘Ruinsong’ cover reveal
Exclusive excerpt for ‘Ruinsong’
I sit in the corridor with my dog in my lap, singing him to sleep. My throat stings with magic as the words of the spellsong tumble from my lips. The puppy nuzzles closer, sleeping breath caressing the back of my hand as he snores. His russet ears are as soft as velvet, and he’s small enough that his warm body fits in the crook of my knee. His paws twitch, and I lower the key of my song, the way Madam has shown me, and coax him into gentler dreams.
Footsteps approach. I look up, hoping to see my friend Remi racing toward me. The sun is starting to dim, its low rays painting Cavalia’s white stone walls in brilliant shades of mulberry and vermillion. Remi’s lessons are usually finished by now, and if she doesn’t hurry, we’ll miss the winter daylight altogether. She hasn’t come in a few days, but this is our alcove—our place—and I’ll wait for her until the sun sets.
Instead, my singing tutor marches down the hall, her arms full of books and music sheets. I kneel and hurriedly adjust my skirt so it covers my legs. I’m not on the streets anymore, and it isn’t proper for a singer to show her ankles in public. Madam Guillard is strict about such things.
Madam stops in front of me and clicks her tongue at my dog. She sets her books on the bench beside the wall and bends down to scratch Nip’s white belly before taking him from my arms. One of his ears twitches, but he sleeps on, snug and sweetly oblivious under the blanket of my spell.
“You shouldn’t play with him in your nice clothes. You’re to meet the queen, and you’ll be all wrinkled,” Madam scolds.
Her golden hair, streaked with gray, is bound tightly in a coiled bun. She wears a brocade gown, the same shade of singer’s emerald as my skirt, though much more fine. It’s strange to see my tutor wear any color other than black. She never made such efforts for the old queen.
“Yes, Madam,” I murmur, and smooth my hand over the crumpled fabric of my skirt. My face reddens with shame as I try to brush away the short, white puppy hairs that cling to the taffeta.
As an orphan, my tuition at the mages’ academy is paid by the crown. If she likes me, the new queen could take me away from the school to live with her in the palace down the hill, with servants, a room to myself, and my own bathroom. I’ve never had such luxuries. But if she doesn’t, Queen Elene could have me expelled without a copper to my name.
Before I came to the academy, I lived at the city children’s home: a sunless warren infested with rats and fleas. I still have scars on my calves from bites picked raw. The new queen is a mage herself, young and eager to recruit new singers. In her household, I could earn a permanent place. I would never have to fear hunger or fleas again.
And in the palace, I’d be closer to Remi. Her mother, the Countess of Bordelain, has apartments in the eastern wing near the queen’s own. I could seek Remi out after her lessons, instead of always waiting, hoping that she will have time to come by. She’s not a mage, but she’s the best friend I’ve made since I came here.
I stand and put a bit more effort into brushing myself off.
“You’ll do fine,” Madam soothes. “Just do exactly as the queen asks and remember our practice.”
I trace the square of the divine quartet on my chest and touch the prayer stone around my neck for luck. The stone is the only thing of my ma’s I have: a blue lapis, chipped and unfinished, just like my fading memories of her.
Madam extends her hand, and I grasp it, folding my small hand into hers. She leads me down the corridor to our little replica of the great Opera Hall in Cannis. Inside, someone has lit the chandelier. The crystal light illuminates the stage and casts the rest of the room in shadow, golden muses glittering above. They’re usually covered in dust, but someone scrubbed them for the queen’s visit.
Our new queen sits in the front row of stalls. A footman perches beside her on the floor. She is a white woman who wears her raven hair piled atop her head and styled with silver pins. In place of a crown, she has painted a musical scale in gold dust, with notes depicting the first chords of a storm song. She wears a red velvet dress, trimmed with singer’s green along the hem.
My heart swells. She is a mage, Bordea’s first singer queen, and she proclaims it with such pride. She smiles at me, as if inviting me to be proud, too. I can’t help returning her grin with one of my own.
An opera mask of fine silver adorns her face, welded to look like lace. It covers her nose and most of her ivory cheeks, almost reminiscent of portraits I’ve seen of Odetta, the goddess of spring and renewal. Though I am sure she wears it only for fashion, since as mages we all serve Adela, the goddess of song.
I saw the old queen a handful of times at ceremonies, dances, and court banquets when the whole academy was invited to sing as an ensemble. And once, up close, when Remi dragged me along to play in the audience chamber, and we were forced to hide under the skirting of a clerk’s table when the court began its session. Queen Celeste had been frail and soft-spoken, with translucent pearl skin as thin as tracing paper. Not like a queen at all.
The footman stands and evaluates me with a hard gaze. I clutch Madam’s hand as he circles. His billowing black robes flutter like wings.
“She’s very small,” he says doubtfully. He pats my cheek as I shrink back behind my tutor.
“She’s only eight,” Madam Guillard says. “But her skill is unequaled. And as Your Majesty knows, we have only three novice corporeal chantrixes at present.”
The footman raises a skeptical eyebrow. “Still, she is very young. Her Majesty was hoping to take on a pupil who would be ready to perform in a few years. The uprisings in the north are already getting out of hand. The queen wishes to begin the demonstrations as soon as possible. Dame Ava is up to the task for now, but she is pushing seventy.”
In a panic, I look at the queen again. If I don’t live up to her expectations, would she hesitate to get rid of me? Madam will not say much about the queen’s history in my presence, but I have heard the older students whisper about her. I know that she did not inherit the throne from Queen Celeste, like all our other queens before.
And I know that mages who displease her have started to disappear.
“I promise you,” says Madam. “She has been very well taught.”
“We’ll test her,” the queen says. Her voice is deeper than I expected, and raspy. But her words have a singer’s lilt and rhythm. She smiles at me again and flashes perfect teeth, straightened with magic and buffed to a porcelain white.
Queen Elene pivots and snaps her fingers at a guard half-hidden behind one of the chamber’s pillars. The guard wears a mask as well, tapered gold to match the queen’s emblem on his chest. He drags a young white boy from behind him into the light. Skinny and shaking, with smudges of dirt staining his cheeks, the boy stares at me with wide, frightened eyes.
Madam crouches beside me and brings her lips to my ear. In her arms, Nip’s eyes open a fraction. I hum a few bars of the sleeping song. He licks my cheek before slumping again.
“You know the heating song we practiced? With the bone stock?” Madam asks. “Her Majesty wants you to sing it for her.”
I glance around the chamber for a bowl of milk or duck’s blood. I can’t heat air or water. My magic doesn’t extend to the elements. I can only affect things that are alive, or have been: plants, animals, or . . .
“You will use him,” Madam says, pointing at the boy. Her hand trembles slightly in the air. “And you must not stop until the queen commands you to.”
“But you told me not to practice on other children,” I protest. Remi asks me all the time for demonstrations, but I have almost always obeyed Madam and refused.
“That’s right. You must never practice on other children when you are alone. But this is different. This isn’t practice. You are performing for Her Majesty.”
“Is he cold?” I ask.
“Very,” Madam whispers.
The boy starts to thrash in the guard’s hold. The idea of magic terrifies some. Madam has told me that many peasants fear our magic. They’ve never been taught or exposed to it. They don’t understand that magic can help them. I remember as much from before I came to Cavalia.
But it’s midwinter, and I remember the damp walls of the city home, too, the frosty nights when we all huddled together under shared, threadbare blankets and listened to the rats chatter under the floor. I still get cold here, when I forget my cloak or when the snow falls. But at the orphanage it was another kind of cold: a chill that permeated all the way to my bones and clung to my ribs. When the palace officials came for me, after learning of my summer birthday, I hadn’t been able to bring any of my friends. Sometimes, when I sit beside my fire in the room I share with Carinda, a bowl of warm stew cradled in my lap, I still think of them.
I can help this boy. For a time, I can make him feel as safe and comfortable as Nip, who dozes against Madam’s shoulder. I can give him the memory of warmth.
I climb onto the stage and stand in the center circle, right beneath the chandelier as I have been taught. I straighten my spine and look out into the space where the queen sits, though I can’t see her beyond the glare of the lights.
As soon as I begin to hum, magic lifts my senses. I don’t need to see the boy to sing for him. I can hear his breathing and the wild hammering of his heart. I feel the pull of his life calling to Adela’s magic inside me. He doesn’t have to be scared. I clear my throat and begin my warm-up.
“Well, at least she sounds like an angel,” says the footman as I ascend through the scales. “But is her magic strong? We don’t need a beautiful voice. We need power.”
“Give her a chance,” the queen urges, her smoky, regal voice cutting through the darkness.
I abandon the scales and begin the heat ballad. My song starts as a whisper. Madam and I have practiced this. I know that the temperature of a living boy is a delicate thing. If I sing too loudly, if I lose track of the melody, he will develop a fever or burns on his skin. I remember the bowl of milk Madam placed on her studio floor the first day she worked with me on the heat song. I bellowed out the words, and the liquid boiled to froth, spilling over the edges of the bowl like sea foam.
“Louder, dear, we can’t hear you,” the queen calls.
Madam Guillard takes my hand again. “You must do as your queen desires.” The corners of her mouth twitch down, and she winces as if in pain. She hums a low song and the chandelier dims, its fire quelled by her command. As a chantrix of elements, my tutor can direct the air. “Maybe Her Majesty will hear you better if she can see your lips.”
Spots of light dance in my vision. The queen and her footman flicker back into view. The guard stands beside the stage, holding the urchin with both arms. The boy does not look sleepy or comfortable. Hot tears mark tracks down his dirty cheeks. Scratches cover the guard’s burly forearms.
My chin starts to wobble.
“You will sing until Her Majesty begs you to stop. Else you will sing for your little dog, instead,” the footman snaps.
I look at the boy with his tattered clothes, his skinny limbs and sorrowful eyes, then at my puppy, now awake and whimpering under the crook of Madam’s free arm. Nip’s small brown ears perk, and he wags his tail at me.
If I had been born without magic, if I had stayed at the city home, a lone orphan among many, it could have been me in this boy’s place. If I fail the queen’s test, if I am expelled, I might still share his fate.
Tears pool in my eyes, and dread curdles in my stomach, because I know what the right thing to do is, and I can’t do it.
I start to sing again. The queen sits back in her chair and smiles. I sing and sing as the boy screams and buckles to his knees, as his skin cracks and blisters, as boiling blood begins to stream from his nostrils, from his sweet, round mouth and too-large ears. I don’t look away. My voice does not waver.
After all, I have been well taught.
About ‘Ruinsong’ by Julia Ember
Revolution, or silence?
In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence must choose between the two. For years, she has been forced to torture her country’s disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen’s bidding.
But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.
In this dark and lush LGBTQ+ romantic fantasy, two young women from rival factions must work together to reunite their country, as they wrestle with their feelings for each other.