A girl with wondrous, hidden powers must find the courage to confront her destiny in this breathtaking sequel to The Mapmaker’s War, which New York Times bestseller Deborah Harkness called “an otherworldly tale that charts the all-too-human territory between heartbreak and hope.”
To see is a trick of the mind, but to believe is a trick of the heart.
Born to brilliant parents one thousand years after a great conflict known as The Mapmaker’s War, Secret Riven is an uncanny child who can mysteriously communicate with plants and animals. When her knowledge of an esoteric symbol brings unwelcome attention, gentle, watchful Secret finds acceptance from Prince Nikolas, her best friend, and Old Woman, who lives in the distant woods.
When Secret is twelve, her mother, Zavet, receives an arcane manuscript to translate. Zavet begins to suffer nightmares and withdraws into herself. Secret sickens with a fever and awakens able to speak an ancient language, in which her mother is also fluent. Suddenly, Zavet dies—and the manuscript is missing. The only clue left is a cipher for Secret to find. Soon, she will have a choice to make: confront a destiny tied to an ancient past or deny it, never to know its whole truth.
“With the cadence of a fairy tale and the sweeping scope of an epic” (Amy Shearn, author of The Mermaid of Brooklyn), The Chronicle of Secret Riven is a spellbinding tale of love and adventure, myth and legend, fate and free will—and an introduction to an unforgettable heroine.
MOMENTS AFTER HER BIRTH, three birds swept into the room through an open window. The pigeon, the dove, and the sparrow circled the newborn three times, widdershins, lit upon the wooden sill, and settled their feathers. They turned to one another in conference, or so it seemed to the baby’s father, who saw their heads bob and heard them coo and chirp. He had respect for the uncanny and, believing the birds’ council to be that indeed, watched them come to their enigmatic conclusion.
The meeting adjourned. The sparrow fluttered toward the infant, snatched a wispy hair from her head, and guided the dove and the pigeon into the autumn twilight.
Her father would one day tell her this, and about how he walked to the window to decide what to name her. He hadn’t expected the dark tiny creature she turned out to be. She was third born but an only child. Two brothers, born blue, had preceded her. Her father looked to the sky at the crescent moon and the bright star rising at its side. She was named Evensong, for the time of her birth, but she would be called Eve, then become Secret soon enough.
She was an odd little thing with black hair, tawny skin, and eyes the colors of night and day. Except for the occasional cry or laugh, she would be mute until her seventh year, skilled with only one mother tongue until her fourteenth. From Secret’s first breaths, the girl was hushed with a silencing hiss, a sound of menace, not comfort, by her own mother.
The child became a watchful being.
Secret remembered the room where she spent the days of her first three years. The door to the room was always closed, and she was penned off by a guard of wooden slats with a soft pallet and toys on the floor. She occupied herself with colorful blocks, leather balls filled with sawdust, and dolls stuffed with wool. Secret took pleasure in the crawling things in her space. She wiped her hand through webs to watch the spiders build again. Beetles danced on their backs if knocked off their feet. Ants marched in lines to carry off crumbs she left for them. She was glad to have the insects to amuse her because they helped her feel less lonely.
Out of reach, in a corner of the same room where the windows faced east and south, sat her mother. There, Zavet bent over manuscripts and books, often muttering and burbling, caught in a rushing stream of words.
Zavet was gifted with the languages of the entire known and ancient worlds. She did not, and could not, explain the mystery of her many tongues. Whatever language she heard or read, she grasped instantly, as if she remembered rather than learned it. She spoke all of them like a native without the accent of her own. The words burbled out of her as if from a deep, hidden spring. She dammed them with her work as a translator, but the flood could only be slowed to a trickle.
Now and again, this strangeness happened in front of other people. With Secret comfortable in a little wagon, Zavet went to market or for afternoon walks, and sometimes Zavet would mutter aloud softly. Some people seemed to try to ignore her, but Secret observed the suspicious glances from others. She saw them lean close, eyes narrow, fingers pointing. She rarely heard what they said, but she could sense their scrutiny. This is how she knew her mother was not quite right, and perhaps neither was she. Zavet and Secret did not look like their neighbors and, between her mother’s muttering and her silence, did not sound like them either. Still, the other women were polite toward Zavet, and she was polite but cool toward them, and they allowed their children to play within view as they filled their baskets and remarked about the weather.
As for Secret’s father, Bren was often gone while it was light but home when it was dark. Now and then, Bren went away for long periods of time but always came back. When he returned, he brought presents. Secret remembered a set of thick cards marked with colors, shapes, images, and symbols. Glad for the attention, she sat on his lap as he named them. She learned quickly and delighted him with the deft accuracy of her pointing finger when he asked her to identify the images for the words he spoke.
Her mother was always surrounded by books, but her father was the one who filled her with stories. Zavet taught her respect for the texts, which Secret was allowed to look at but not touch. What Bren gave her she was allowed to handle, with care. She turned the pages and, with his voice, he guided her into other worlds, slowly reading with his finger under the symbols that became words, and the words became images. Many of the books had illustrations, but they couldn’t compare to what emerged in her mind as she listened.
Although she was very young, Secret discovered she, too, could divine the symbols again and conjure what they told. What marvelous tales of wonder, adventure, and possibility! Her father found her concentration unusual and tested to see whether she understood what she read on her own. He gave her books he had never read to her. He asked her questions to answer yes or no, which she did with nods and shakes of her dark head. My mute little prodigy, he called her.
Secret knew her mother possessed this magic as well, but Zavet was parsimonious with its use in regard to her daughter. Some of the books her father brought he couldn’t read and promised that her mother would. She rarely did. With those, Secret sat in silence—such a good, obedient child was she—and studied the mysterious marks on the pages. She wondered what they meant, what tales they told.
One ordinary day, Zavet gave her coloring sticks and used paper with which to draw. The little girl sat on the floor and marked the page with all manner of symbols like ones she had seen. As she wrote the unintelligible words, Secret’s heart pounded. Her tiny hand gripped the coloring stick as her head flooded with images. There, within her, was a story she could not yet tell. One she must reveal herself. All at once, she felt its burden, its danger, and its redemption.
Secret cried out with wonder and dread, unable to understand what had opened in her but fully able to feel its power.
From the sunny corner, her mother hissed long and harsh. The noise startled the girl, and she spilled a half-empty cup of water with a jolt of her hand. Her mother hissed again, louder. The girl felt a tight knot at her navel loosen into a heavy force, which spread through her belly and chest. She held her breath, kept her glare to the ground, and pushed the hot feeling deep into her body, coiling it back to where it lived. Secret struck the page with thick black marks, but quietly, quietly.
“This spill is but an accident, yes, little scourge,” Zavet said under her breath as she wiped the floor clean.
Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Chronicle of Secret Riven, The Mapmaker’s War, and The Mercy of Thin Air, which was published in ten languages. Her essays and short stories have appeared in several print and online publications, including New England Review, Shambhala Sun, and The Nervous Breakdown. Connect with her on RonlynDomingue.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
“The Chronicle of Secret Riven hypnotizes with the cadence of a fairy tale and the sweeping scope of an epic. I longed to linger in this world of eloquent animals, hidden forests, and magical libraries, and felt nearly heartbroken to turn the last page. Ronlyn Domingue, like her unforgettable heroine Secret Riven, has a knack for making us all see the wonder in what appears to be ordinary.”
– Amy Shearn, author of The Mermaid of Brooklyn and How Far Is the Ocean from Here
“Mysterious manuscripts, arcane languages, and sinister silences animate the wonderfully inventive realm of Secret Riven, a character so powerful that we are both startled and enchanted as we tumble headlong into her world.”
– Maria Tatar, author of Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood
“The Chronicle of Secret Riven is an extraordinary mix of a fresh voice and an Old World sensibility. With mesmerizing language, Ronlyn Domingue spins a tale of wonder, danger, and magic, taking the reader to a faraway world that helps us to see our own with more clarity. This is a book that reminds us of the power of silence, of paying attention, of intuition, and of protecting the most vulnerable among us.”
– Susan Henderson, author of Up From the Blue
“An epic fairy tale for a new age; Ronlyn Domingue has created a mythos all her own. The Chronicle of Secret Riven deftly braids the story of love, loss, magic, myth, and ancestry together into a hauntingly beautiful tale. The book also possesses a secret itself. If you know how to look for it, if you know how to listen, you’ll risk being inspired by the powerful message that glimmers beyond the pages of this shimmering story.”
– Signe Pike, author of Faery Tale
“Domingue lushly layers Secret’s hopes, dreams and visions…[the] tale will charm…lovers of fantasy.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“In Secret's world, anything can happen.”
– Publishers Weekly
Praise for The Mapmaker's War:
“Journey to the heart of a fairy-tale land with doomed queens, epic quests, and enemy kingdoms in The Mapmaker’s War. Ronlyn Domingue’s jewel of a book has a big canvas, memorable characters, and intimate storytelling. You will be swept away by this otherworldly tale that charts the all-too-human territory between heartbreak and hope.”
– Deborah Harkness, New York Times bestselling author of A Discovery of Witches
“A map can make sense out of the seen world. But it can also evoke greed. And what of a map of the heart? Legend, allegory, fantasy—this second novel by Domingue entwines genres to cast a spell upon its reader.... A curious, thought-provoking story about how the heart’s terrain bears charting, too.”
– Kirkus Reviews on The Mapmaker's War
“What a stunning, original book this is—restrained and sensual, cerebral and lush, always blazingly intelligent, epic and expansive, yet filled with the most precisely and lovingly observed details. This is one of the best books I've read in years. Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's best work and yet wholly its own, The Mapmaker’s War evokes one of its heroine’s fantastic, world-defining maps: giving lines to human landscapes as old as myth, seemingly for the first time. You won’t be able to put this book down, and it will take you somewhere you've never been, leaving you transformed.”
– Carolyn Turgeon, author of Mermaid and The Fairest of Them All
“Domingue deftly explores themes of motherhood, gender equality, and the powerful ties that bind us to our roots, while at the same time mesmerizing the reader with the story of a mythical land struggling to protect itself from the greed and jealousy of the slowly encroaching outside world.”
– Booklist on The Mapmaker's War
“The Mapmaker's War is an extraordinary tale of a woman's courage in an ancient Utopian world. Domingue has taken on the herculean task of inventing a new legend, and the result is a remarkable novel at once absorbing and heart wrenching, but above all mesmerizing!”
– M.J. Rose, internationally bestselling author of Seduction
“The Mapmaker's War evokes not mere fantasy, but the real magic I found as a child, reading by flashlight under a blanket. As then, the story takes me by the hand to exotic lands and noble people. As it proceeds, I'm reminded of myself as a teen-age girl, chafing under the restrictions of an established order. Further on, I'm lead into adulthood. The story keeps me under its spell, but it fills with adult contradictions, with experiences of betrayal and regret, with sex and self-knowledge, with the reality of evil, and all the while, yes, the same old magic. But the magic has matured, now, redeemed by love and wisdom.”
– Ava Leavell Haymon, author of Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread: Poems, Winner of the MIAL 2011 Prize for Poetry
“With an original voice, Ronlyn Domingue takes us into a land of strange truths and raw beauty. Writing against contemporary norms, she dares to forge into new territory even as she takes us into an ancient world. To the place of a red dragon and warm desire. A world full of love, and hate, and recompense. Domingue has a rare eye for the honest word and a heart willing to travel where the story leads. The Mapmaker’s War offers us the chance to reflect on both our sins and saving graces and to believe in the possibility of a future that holds kindness and understanding as key. This novel is a celebration of brave women and men, of expansive vision, and ultimately, of a humanity not easily denied.”
– River Jordan, nationally bestselling author of Praying for Strangers and The Miracle of Mercy Land
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