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A Whisper in the Walls

Book #2 of Waxways
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About The Book

In this sequel to the New York Times bestselling, “pulse-pounding” (Publishers Weekly) A Door in the Dark, Ren’s intellect and cunning are stretched to the limit in her quest to take down the system that stole her father’s life.

Ren Monroe is one step closer to avenging her father's death. Bonding with Theo Brood has allowed her to infiltrate one of the oldest houses in Kathor. But Theo’s father is playing his own game. He exiles Theo, isolating Ren in an attempt to break the unwelcome grasp she has on his son. Ren might possess more resources than she ever imagined growing up, but her plans of revenge will vanish without allies.

Enter House Tin Vori.

Years ago, the Broods led an unprecedented raid to destroy one of the other ancient houses. Their only mistake was not finishing the job. A few of the Tin Vori siblings survived, and they haven’t forgotten the crimes committed against their family that fateful night. Quietly, they’ve plotted their own revenge, waiting for just the right moment to strike. And Ren Monroe might be their best chance.

Like fire, the Tin’Vori siblings are as dangerous as they are useful, both gifted in rare magics. Ren must decide how to unleash them against House Brood without hurting Theo in the process. Her feelings for Theo are growing past the boundaries of their bond, and Ren finds herself balanced on a knife’s edge, a breath away from immense power or utter ruin.

Excerpt

Chapter 1: Ren Monroe 1 REN MONROE
It was hard to feel like an honored guest when no one would speak to her.

Ren Monroe found herself at yet another party in the Heights. Tonight she was a guest of the Grand Emissary of Kathor. His handwritten invitation had possessed more warmth than all the conversations she’d attempted thus far. She’d arrived an hour ago. Theo had been stolen away to a private room for an arranged meeting with the viceroy himself. The other Broods sought out their own comfortable circles, leaving her completely alone.

Ren tried not to feel bitter about Theo’s absence. She knew tonight was important. The warden had announced his retirement. There were one hundred livestone statues scattered around the city, eagerly awaiting the command of a new master. It was possible the viceroy would even go as far as assigning Theo the post tonight. She remembered sitting by a fire, when they were lost in the mountains, and listening to Theo talk about this dream of his. He’d secretly been working toward it for years. And then she remembered who else had been sitting around that fire. Cora had been asleep. Timmons had been sitting close enough to Ren that their knees had been touching.

Before I let both of them die…

Ren shoved that thought back into a shadowed cage in the corner of her mind. She took a deep breath and tried once more to join the nearest conversation. Music danced in and out of their words. As she approached, however, the group fell silent. She received a polite nod, a quiet compliment on her dress, and then suddenly they had somewhere else to be. It was hard not to feel like this was an echo of the past. A year ago Timmons had forced Ren to attend another party in the Heights. A slightly wilder one. That night, Theo had been their host. Ren remembered sitting alone on a couch, sipping her drink and watching all the other students who’d already secured their bright futures. That version of her felt a world away. She’d gone through so much. Surviving in the wilderness. Escaping from a revenant. Bonding to a scion of a great house.

And yet here she was—alone once more.

As she watched the group depart, Ren spotted Landwin Brood. He was seated near the fireplace in the study across the hall. He caught her eye, raised his glass, and offered a satisfied smirk. Her social status was undoubtedly his doing. Similar obstacles had risen time and time again over the last few months. As she finished classes at Balmerick, she’d quietly probed for potential alliances. Classmates, teachers, anyone. But even the Broods’ staunchest rivals—the Shiverians—refused her offers to meet. It wasn’t exactly a problem that she could bring to Theo, either. After all, how would she explain the why behind her desire to make those new connections?

Well, I need someone powerful, who hates your family, to help me destroy your house. Any ideas?

It was already difficult enough for Ren to veil her feelings from him. Their bond offered emotional insight into each other. Brief slashes of raw feeling. Ren had gotten quite skillful at summoning new explanations whenever he sensed that slumbering rage that lived inside her.

Almost on cue, Theo came thundering up the steps. He nodded once to his father before turning to Ren, concern written on his face. “Everything all right?”

He can feel my frustration. “Yes, of course. I just got the wrong name for one of the Jamison sisters. It’s nothing. I was just embarrassed. What about you? How was your meeting?”

“Confidential,” he replied, then winced at how haughty that sounded. “For now. I’m sorry. It was just a preemptive conversation. He wanted to know about… what happened to us.”

“In the mountains?”

It was a foolish question. That was all anyone wanted to know about her and Theo. The rumors surrounding their time in the mountains were many, a culmination of stories that were starting to edge into myth.

“Yes. More out of curiosity than anything. I… I think he might have been vetting my handling of Vega. Making sure I’d demonstrated clear skill…” He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Theo was biting his lip. She did her best to focus—ignoring his father looming in the background—and set her eyes on the uncertain boy she’d bonded with. The boy to whom her entire future was now tethered. “Who else would they consider for the role?”

Theo’s eyes darted nervously about the room. “The retiring warden has a nephew serving in the guard. He’s not from a major house, but he’s got plenty of actual experience. The Carrowynd family has a daughter—Zell—who has livestone training like me, but I’m not sure if they had the same intentions that I had when we commissioned Vega. Traditionally, the crown wants someone young who can fill the post for several decades. But what if they ignore tradition? There are generals from the War of Neighbors who would be very sensible choices.…”

“But you’re the best fit?”

He blushed slightly. “Yes, I am the best fit.”

That was good. Theo was already powerful, but she’d learned about the structure of his family over the past few months. He was a generation away from proper influence. If Ren wanted to destroy House Brood, she still had a lot of careful planning and waiting ahead of her. Being engaged to the new warden, however, would usher in a measure of influence that was not directly tied to House Brood. That might provide opportunities for Ren as well. She found herself nodding.

“Worrying won’t help,” she said. “Why don’t you refill my drink instead?”

That earned an unceremonious snort from him. But Theo accepted the invitation, leading her into the next room, where an open bar was waiting. Ren caught a final glimpse of Landwin Brood. He was deep in conversation, but that didn’t stop his eyes from flicking up as they passed. It was good to know that he at least thought she was worthy of his attention.

Theo procured a new drink for her. The weight of that cold glass in her hand brought on another echo of memory. Last year, she’d set down a glass just like it as Timmons drew her out to dance on the balcony. The revelry had paused when Theo took the stage. He’d performed his fateful party trick, which sent a massive instrument crashing recklessly down into the city. His worst hour had been an opportunity for Ren. A door opening in the dark. She had been brave enough to walk through it—and now she felt there was no turning back. She could only press on deeper into the shadows and hope there was some light waiting for her in the distance.

A dinner bell rang before they could take their first sips. Theo led them through the crowd, heading for the sprawling banquet table in the far corner. Ren paused at the threshold, eyeing the available seats, and was surprised when Theo tugged her on toward the staircase.

“… what are you doing?” she asked.

“We were asked to sit up here tonight.”

She raised a curious eyebrow. Theo grinned at her reaction. Clearly, he knew something was afoot. Ren felt a pulse of adrenaline. The upper floor was always reserved for the lords and ladies that ruled their city. At these obnoxious dinner parties, the heirs normally sat at a separate table, almost always a floor below. Ren and Theo had found themselves positioned that way at any number of parties this summer, fraternizing with the other young men and women who would one day be handed empires.

Now she allowed herself to be drawn up the stairs into the presence of true power. She had to remind herself that there was nothing special about the people in the room. No blood or magic that ran through their veins that made them any different—any better—than her father and mother. Still, it was hard not to feel the weight of their collective meaning to the city. Like entries from a history book that were stepping out of the pages, taking on flesh and bone before her.

There was Able Ockley, the most dangerous duelist in the city. He was lost in conversation with Ethel Shiverian—she and her sister had practically invented the levitation magic that was keeping them all afloat right now in the Heights. Not to mention a hundred other spells. Balmerick’s headmaster—Priory Woods—looked red-faced and drunk, though that did not stop the grand emissary from sweeping over to pour more wine in her cup. Other members of the ruling houses were present: the Graylantians, the Proctors, and the Winterses. At the head of the table, the viceroy sat like a golden seal confirming their power. All of them chatted amicably as servants glided ghostlike in the background.

Theo guided Ren to where the other Broods were sitting. Landwin sat in gilded silence. His wife—Marquette—always seemed positioned slightly behind him, even when seated next to each other at the table. She kept her hair short, beautifully shaved on one side, and appeared to be uninterested in the conversations around them.

Ren’s attention was drawn by obnoxious laughter to the eldest son and heir to their house: Thugar Brood. She’d learned that his great vice was the flesh, which meant he rarely took notice of Ren. He kept himself in prime physical condition, nothing wasted, and his wife looked like she’d walked right out of a drunk’s fantasy. Ren thought if a single thread of her dress unraveled, she might come pouring out onto the table.

Beside them sat Tessa Brood. The girl waited, straight-backed with her hands folded neatly in front of her. Ren thought she was the most dangerous of the group. Quiet and intelligent. Tessa was a famous singer who had earned a permanent role in the city’s finest acting troupe. Ren had initially believed it the result of nepotism. Most of their positions were the result of nepotism. But then she’d heard Tessa sing. Her voice was threaded through with gold. It might have been more moving if she hadn’t heard Tessa use that same voice to skewer servants for even the slightest errors. She was tilted ever so slightly toward her mother, quietly commenting on something.

Theo and Ren took the two remaining seats. She felt a blush creep down her neck as their movement became some unspoken, final piece to the puzzle. As they sat—completing the table—the other conversations in the room fell quiet. Servants tucked away neatly into the corners of the room, nearly blending in with the wallpaper behind them.

The viceroy stood, tapping his glass with a spoon.

Delvean fairy tales were full of bumbling kings. They failed to do their duties and any number of wizards would arrive to save the day. The viceroy didn’t fit into those old stories. His ability with magic had been unrivaled at Balmerick—Ren knew some of his records there had endured the test of time. That felt like an important foundation for the man who existed as the primary check on the influence and power of the five major houses. His gray hair was thick and long, brushed back artfully. He had high cheekbones and a narrow jaw, covered over by a neat gray beard. He’d risen through the government—a second son from one of the minor houses—and Ren marveled at his calm as he addressed the wealthiest members of their society.

“Good evening,” he began. “I have several announcements that deserve your undivided attention—and then we will get back to the business of growing fat and happy. First, we’ve negotiated a new position with Ravinia. The recent sanctions against the freeport have been lifted. All of you may resume whatever trading you pretended to cease over the past three months. Everything can be out in the open again. Business as usual.”

There were a few nods, a few raised glasses.

“Next, I would ask Theo Brood to stand.”

A shiver ran down Ren’s spine. It felt like her name had been called too. She watched as her bond-mate took his feet. There was a lesson for her there, written in his posture. Power in the way he lifted his chin, set his shoulders, and stood before the closest thing they had to a king.

“As many of you know, the defense of our city—and its interests—is paramount. For all the petty rivalries that exist between the great houses, we have always been unified by that common interest. If war knocks on our door, we all answer. If a plague comes, we all share the antidote. It has always been this way between us. In peace, the best are allowed to thrive and survive. But in times of trial, the city’s livelihood is our greatest priority. Kathor comes first.

“As such, we take any appointment to the city’s defenses very seriously. It is no small task to be one of the shields that stands between Kathor and its enemies. After all, there are many who would take joy in seeing us fall. Any person appointed to such a role walks out into the world bearing our seal on behalf of our people. Theo Brood, do you think yourself worthy of such a calling?”

Ren could sense the emotions that question stirred in him. This was a moment that he’d patiently approached for many years. Now that it was here, he showed no signs of nervousness.

“I am ready and willing. My worth will be proven in time, Viceroy.”

She saw the viceroy’s eyes flick briefly to the right. When Ren followed his gaze, she caught the most subtle of nods from Landwin Brood. A silent confirmation between them. Then the viceroy’s attention swung back to Theo.

“Well spoken,” the viceroy said. “It is my honor then, on behalf of House Brood, to approve you as the next watcher of the valley. I am sure you’re familiar with this position. After all, a Brood has held the post—or a version of it—for nearly a century.…”

Ren might have missed what had happened if she didn’t feel pain sear a path across their bond. Her stomach turned and it took all her self-control to not react to that sudden rush of emotion. Theo’s pain dripped into her. His disappointment flooded her mind. She finally saw the error. He was not being named warden. The viceroy had used some other term.

“… the watcher might be a family title—and the mountain castle might belong to the Broods—but it also acts as a functional piece in the armor that Kathor wears. Thus, it falls to me to give final approval for the man or woman who should claim one of the most time-honored posts in our city’s long history.…”

She noted the others’ reactions just as Theo’s emotions honed into a fine-pointed shame. All around the table, smiles like daggers. The worst were offered by his own family. Thugar looked like he was barely keeping himself from laughing. His sister wore a condemning smirk. His mother’s eyes were downcast. Landwin Brood did not bother with the effort it took to smile. He simply watched his son take in the weight of what was happening. Ren could not help admiring the way Theo kept his face neutral. Even as the entire table enjoyed some joke at his expense, he stood his ground and pretended indifference. Ren felt a fierce sense of loyalty to him at that moment. Completely separate from their bond. Her fingers itched to reach for her wand and wipe the smiles off their faces. She’d never heard of that specific title, but the expressions around the table made it clear: this was no desirable fate.

“… you will take a few days, gather your possessions, and make your way to Nostra. You go with the full commendation of this city, the full support of your house, as well as the faith of your people. Everyone, raise a glass to Kathor’s newest watcher of the valley.”

A raucous cheer rang out, followed by the clinking of glasses. Those sounds could not fully hide the curious whispers around the room. Theo didn’t react the way Ren might have. He simply bowed his head, rather than thundering angrily out of the room. She felt that pitted dread in his stomach begin to roil. It was burning a path toward something Ren found far more useful: anger.

Theo took his seat and refused to look at any of his other family members. She waited to ask him until the servants hustled out the first course, distracting those seated nearby.

“What just happened, Theo? Where is Nostra?”

She had a vague inkling of an idea. A memory from some corner of a map.

“Exile,” he whispered back. “My father has exiled me.”

As a plate appeared in front of her, Ren heard the unspoken words at the end of that sentence. Words Theo would never say aloud, because he cared too much for her, even if they were true.

My father has exiled me… because of you.

Ren didn’t understand all the implications. She lacked context. Was it a true exile? Something else? For a while, the two of them sat there in silence, hating Landwin Brood in equal measure. They ate their food without a word, chewing like it was their only duty left in the world.

Topics that normally would have fascinated Ren made their way around the table. Magical theory and state secrets, all of it tangled with the light tinkling of silverware and glasses and laughter. Landwin Brood caught Ren’s eye as the entrées were served. He raised his glass, ever so slightly. A clear taunt. She’d imagined her bond with Theo would open an entirely new world. A rush of resources and power and influence. Her chance to begin setting an empire on fire.

But now Theo was leaving. Would Ren be expected to go with him? Or would she be abandoned here—as she was earlier tonight—in this glittering circle of wolves? She could only imagine the strain of being separated in that way from someone she was bonded to. Maybe that was the point: to break them. Rather than show weakness, Ren met Landwin Brood’s appraising stare. She lifted her own glass and offered a lifeless smile.

It turned out to be one of the best meals she’d ever eaten.

About The Author

Photograph © York Wilson

Scott Reintgen is a former public school teacher from North Carolina. When he’s not writing, he uses his imagination to entertain his wife, Katie, and their three children. Scott is the New York Times bestselling author of the Waxways series, the Nyxia trilogy, the Dragonships series, and the Celia Cleary series for younger readers. You can find him on Instagram @Reintgen, on X (previously known as Twitter) @Scott_Thought, or on his website at ItsPronouncedRankin.com.

Why We Love It

“This is the fantasy/thriller mash-up I never knew I needed! It’s the perfect pairing of satisfyingly rich world-building and edge-of-your-seat tension that also features a main character I can only describe as Hermione Granger meets Kaz Brekker. Need I say more?”

—Nicole F., Editor, on A Whisper in the Walls

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (April 23, 2024)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665930468
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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