"Ray Porter is the perfect book narrator. He submerges so completely into each character that they come alive as individuals. He allows the story to speak rather than making it his. He’s also fun to work with—and we have done a ton of projects together. It’s to the point that I hear his voice in my head when I’m writing. And even though he’s reading my work, his performance is so nuanced and entertaining that it allows me to listen to my own audiobooks as if they are brand new. It’s a fantastic working partnership." —Jonathan Maberry
Son of the Poison Rose marks the second installment of New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry's epic, swashbuckling Kagen the Damned series.
The Silver Empire is in ruins. War is in the wind. Kagen and his allies are on the run from the Witch-king. Wild magic is running rampant everywhere. Spies and secret cabals plot from the shadows of golden thrones.
Kagen Vale is the most wanted man in the world, with a death sentence on his head and a reward for him—dead or alive—that would tempt a saint.
The Witch-king has new allies who bring a terrible weapon—a cursed disease that drives people into a murderous rage. If the disease is allowed to spread, the whole of the West will tear itself apart.
In order to build an army of resistance fighters and unearth magical weapons of his own, Kagen and his friends have to survive attacks and storms at sea, brave the haunted wastelands of the snowy north, fight their way across the deadly Cathedral Mountains, and rediscover a lost city filled with cannibal warriors, old ghosts, and monsters from other worlds. Along with his reckless adventurer brothers, Kagen races against time to save more than the old empire… if he fails the world will be drenched in a tsunami of bloodshed and horror.
Son of the Poison Rose weaves politics and espionage, sorcery and swordplay, treachery and heroism as the damned outcast Kagen fights against the forces of ultimate darkness.
A Macmillan Audio production from St. Martin’s Press.
Release date: January 10, 2023
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 432
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Son of the Poison Rose
The cry rang through the ship, tearing Kagen from a dream of his family dining all together, the air filled with conversation and laughter and the smell of the Harvest feast. It ripped him out of the lie of peace and into the reality of horror.
He swung his legs out of his hammock, forgetting in his stupor that he was not on land, not in the palace, but aboard a ship. The deck tilted and he fell heavily and badly, hitting kneecaps and elbows on the oak planking.
It was only then that the words he heard all around him made any sense.
“Gods of the burning Pit,” he snarled, fumbling for his clothes and weapons. “He’s found me already.”
The image of his brother’s face with the yellow lace veil hanging in tatters as they dueled on the steps of the dais in the throne room of Argentium. In one terrible moment of clarity, the Hakkian Witch-king had become someone and something else. Impossibly, inexplicably, horribly, when that veil was torn it was not the face of some unknown Hakkian. No. It was the face of Herepath, his own brother. His favorite brother—the one he respected and trusted. That was a shock that nearly killed Kagen then, and as the cries rang out through the ship, he felt another pang, as sharp as a knife to the heart.
Herepath knows that I know, thought Kagen as he fumbled for clothes. He’ll stop at nothing to find me. To kill me. To silence me.
There were screams and yells above, and the thud-thud-thud of arrows striking the hull. That, and the heavy clang of steel on steel. Kagen had time only to pull on trousers and run barefoot for the companion ladder, buckling his knife belt as he ran. His pair of matched daggers rattled in their sheaths as if eager to be let out. His body ached still from the battle at the palace a few days before. He had a heavy bandage over a deep chest wound, and more wound around his blistered palms, but he shoved all those concerns away—they belonged to idle moments, and right now he needed to fight.
As he jerked open the cabin door the sounds of battle increased tenfold. Early morning sunlight slanted down through the hatch and as he looked up he could see arrows flitting through the air and steel flashing.
“Shit,” he growled as he leapt onto the ladder and began to climb. A piercing scream directly above gave him a half-second warning as a body toppled through the hatch and fell heavily toward him. Kagen leaned sideways off the ladder as the dying sailor dropped past him to smash onto the decking below. It was a Therian, one of the crew of Dagon’s Swan, and his chest had been slashed open. Blood and pieces of his sternum splattered everywhere.
Kagen swung back and climbed even faster.
He slowed for a heartbeat at the top of the ladder so he could peer out and get a sense of how much trouble he was in.
The ship was totally overrun.
Scores of Hakkian sailors and infantry swarmed the deck, and the crew was being forced back. Many were dressed as poorly as he, proof that the attack had been sudden. There was a bank of dark clouds rolling across the surface of the ocean, and he knew at once that the Hakkians had used it for cover. Nothing less would have fooled the sharp-eyed Therian crew.
He gripped the hatch frame and hauled himself up so he could leap out onto the deck. The ship was dancing drunkenly, and he saw there was no one at the wheel. The craft pitched and rolled and yawed as if it, too, was in panic. Grappling hooks connected it to a half dozen longboats, but the Hakkian ship was still invisible within the clouds. A boat action, then. Swift and silent and damned effective.
“There’s another one,” roared a Raven, pointing at Kagen with the tip of a cutlass. “Take him, lads.”
Five Ravens surged past him, all of them in leather armor and carrying swords or boarding axes.
Kagen drew his daggers and shifted to make sure the hatch was behind him. The soldiers grinned at his daggers, marking him as a fool and an easy kill. Kagen grinned, too.
The first man to reach him had a slender hangar—a curved junior officer’s sword—and he twirled it above his head before slashing down. It was a stylish move that Kagen had seen other Ravens do—something that symbolized the flutter of raven wings. But it was a damn-fool thing to do in a fight with someone who knew his trade.
Kagen stepped in and to one side, using his left dagger to check the sword at an angle that sloughed off much of its force, and whipped the tip of the other knife across the man’s throat. Blood geysered from the slashed arteries, but Kagen kicked the man’s right hip and the dying officer turned and sprayed the men behind him with red. Kagen did not pause but leapt forward, knocking the officer onto the point of another sword while using his own blades to slash and nick.
The movements seemed wrong, and he could tell that from the faces of the men he fought. Even in the heat of battle the Ravens were appraising his style and judging it as too little and too weak.
More fools, they, because Kagen fought with the matched daggers of the greatest artist of bladework of the last century—his mother, the Poison Rose. Her nickname came from those blades and how they were seasoned for combat. The deadly poison eitr, known as the god-killer, coated the steel. Within two heartbeats anyone cut by the weapons, no matter how shallowly, felt the sting. The poison exploded the hearts and darkened the minds, and the bodies fell around him. In any fight with one, two, or even three fighters, Kagen liked his odds with unseasoned blades. But this was a riot, and the Therians were badly outnumbered.
The men who rushed forward fell like chaff around him, leaving only their officer, the one with the cutlass, standing close. The whole thing was so fast, the officer was still smiling, but that grin leaked away to be replaced with a mingled expression of confusion and horror. Kagen gave him a wicked grin and then drove one dagger deep into the man’s groin. He let the screaming officer fall and turned away.
The invasion had settled down into dozens of personal duels—one to one, one to two, and more. He caught sight of Darch, the captain of Dagon’s Swan, a man with exceptionally dark skin and arms corded with muscle, wielding a boarding axe as he tried to fight his way to the untended wheel. Heads and limbs flew around him, but then a Hakkian threw a hatchet at his unprotected back. Darch staggered but did not fall and instead whirled with his axe high. The downward swing took off the Hakkian’s head and right arm and then the heavy blade buried itself in the deck. Then Darch reeled sideways and coughed dark blood down the front of his chest.
Another Therian caught the captain as he fell, and lowered him to the deck, then rose to stand above him. This man was taller than anyone else on the ship and had tattoos of tentacles reaching up from inside his tunic and wrapping around his throat and face. His eyes blazed with hatred and grief, and he swung a pair of heavy-bladed machetes. As the Hakkians rushed forward to try to capture the wheel, they encountered a storm of steel.
A knot of Ravens circled wide, clearly attempting to both take the wheel and ambush him from his blind side.
“Tuke,” cried Kagen. “Ware behind!”
But his friend did not hear him.
Kagen threw himself into the fray, slashing and slicing, but there seemed to be an ocean of Hakkian blades between him and his friend, Tuke, who was fending off a mob. Then a slim figure leapt down from the pilothouse, slashing with a curved Vahlycorian dueling knife. She dropped cat-footed, took the reaching hands of a Hakkian sailor off at the wrists, checked her downward swing, and on the upstroke split another back from chin to bridge of nose. The curved knife was heavy-bladed, ideal for cleaving through bone but short enough to allow her to wade into a crowd and do awful damage. Then she said something over her shoulder to Tuke, and he nodded. Together Tuke Brakson and Filia alden-Bok, Kagen’s two best friends, became the eye in a hurricane of bloody slaughter.
Then he saw a gray blur of movement as Filia’s great monster of a dog—whom she had named Horse to annoy people—launched himself through the air. Horse slammed his hundred-plus pounds of muscle and fangs at a Hakkian and dragged him down. Blood, hot and red, jetted into the air.
Tuke, who had his own set of bandaged injuries from the fight at the palace, yelled at the top of his voice, and it was a bull’s roar of a bellow as he rallied his countrymen. “Kill the bastards! These sons of whores killed our king!”
That was almost true. The Therian king had attended the coronation ceremony that was intended to legitimize the status of the Witch-king of Hakkia as the emperor of a new empire. Kagen’s play to assassinate the monarch in yellow had resulted in a terrible fight in the great hall of the palace in Argentium, and during that fight the king of Theria was killed. Kagen knew that death was an accident and that he was as much to blame as anyone for having started the fight. But the enemy, regardless of all else, was the Hakkian regime, and in that moment Tuke wanted to set fires in the hearts of his countrymen. The shocked and beleaguered Therians seemed to take heart from him, and they threw themselves into the battle with renewed vigor.
Kagen shouted Tuke’s name as he fought his way across the deck, leaving dead and dying in his wake.
However, it was not Hakkian sailors he was killing. Not in his heart. Barely in his conscious mind. One thrust of a dagger was to the heart of the Witch-king. A slash was across the throat of his traitor brother, Herepath. A crisscross slash that severed a head was the death of the usurper who killed his parents. An upward thrust into a groin was for the monster who ordered the deaths of the empress and her precious children.
Kagen saw Herepath in the faces of each enemy, but all around him he saw ghosts. Empress Gessalyn. The Seedlings—all except the twins, Alleyn and Desalyn, because they still lived, though their minds had been twisted into madness by the sorceries of the Witch-king.
He saw his father, his body crisscrossed with mortal wounds, his sword and the hand that clutched it cut off and bloody on the floor.
He saw his older brother, Hugh, headless and lifeless.
He saw his mother, the famed and feared Poison Rose, deadliest fighter of that age of the world. His mentor and tutor, whose knives he now carried.
He saw them all. Friends murdered on the Night of the Ravens. Friends and total strangers raped and desecrated and crucified in the days that followed.
Kagen saw those ghosts everywhere—on the deck, climbing over the rail, standing balanced on the rigging. His mother’s ghost stood on the bow, and instead of knives of steel, in each scarred fist she held blades of blazing fire.
These ghosts watched Kagen. Silent. Dead. Murdered.
The fury within his heart grew and grew as the sight of each specter threw fuel on the fire. Kagen fought like ten men. Like a pack of demons. He had barely recovered from the failed assassination attempt in the great hall of the palace of Argentium, but so much had built up inside him and needed—demanded—to be let out. There was a black joy in his heart for the opportunity to massacre anyone who marched or sailed under the yellow Hakkian flag.
As he stepped away from one dying man to face the next enemy, the face he saw on each attacker was that of his brother, Herepath Vale, former scholar and Gardener, and now masquerading as Gethon Heklan, rightful heir to the mantle of Witch-king of Hakkia. It made no sense and only proved to Kagen that the world was mad. And he, madder still.
The invading sailors had swarmed toward him, seeing a half-dressed man armed only with a pair of daggers and thinking that he was easy meat. But now, as he attacked them, they fell back, stumbling and skidding on the blood of their fellows. He was a madman, a demon, and every Hakkian who rushed him died because they served the man Kagen Vale hated more than anyone who ever lived.
A voice directly behind him whispered, “Kagen! Ware!”
He whirled, but there was no one there. The voice echoed in his head. A woman’s voice.
“Mother…?” he murmured, confused and frightened.
Then a darkness suddenly covered much of the deck, and he risked a glance upward to see that the sky was filling with black shapes. At first his heart lifted, thinking it was the flock of ragged nightbirds that had been following him since the fall of Argon.
But he was wrong.
They were birds, sure enough, but not crows or starlings, grackles or cormorants.
The sky was filled with thousands upon thousands of ravens. The sacred bird of Hakkia. Servants of the will of the Witch-king, and as one they shot downward like arrows to attack the crew with razor-sharp beaks and talons.
Kagen spun and began slashing at the birds as they attacked.
Creatures of the Witch-king or not, the god-killer poison slew them with the slightest nick.
But there were so many of them.
Beaks and claws slashed at him, painting his limbs and torso with his own bright blood. He saw sailors fall beneath clouds of them, thrashing and screaming, killing some of the birds that killed them. The Hakkians had paused in their attack, though, every bit as startled as the Therians by the swarm of ravens.
That shock vanished, though, as it became clear the ravens were only attacking the crew of Dagon’s Swan.
Kagen kept fighting, kept killing, but now his own confidence was waning. With so many enemies, and now these birds … hope itself seemed to crumple beneath the weight of reality.
A man with a boarding pike lunged at him, and Kagen had to focus on the moment as he twisted away, feeling the point rip a shallow, burning line along his side. He chopped a blade across the back of the man’s hand, but although the man hissed and lost his grip, he did not fall. Kagen’s heart sank even more, realizing that the poison was spent and the blades were merely steel.
He kicked the man in the balls, and as the fellow canted forward over the explosion of pain, Kagen slashed him across the eyes.
As that man fell, Kagen battled on, slashing wildly at birds and men. Twice, his blades parted a rope, sending sails flapping out of control. A big hand grabbed his shoulder and turned him for what should have been a mortal stab to the belly, but as he spun, Kagen chopped across his stomach with his elbow, bashing the incoming blade aside. He felt the sword’s bite, but he was already bleeding from a score of wounds. He took the pain, though, and let it drive his counterattack as he drove a dagger into the Hakkian’s throat in a corkscrew motion that tore a gaping hole. Kagen ripped his knife free and turned, parrying a hatchet swing and cutting another throat.
A pair of Hakkians, both armed with pikes, rushed him, and Kagen crouched, ready to spring to one side or the other, but he was hemmed in. He braced for the incoming weight of men and steel, but something whipped by his face and slammed into the men. It was a large brown bird, a pelican, and it struck both men with its outstretched wings. Kagen heard the fragile bones within those wings break, but even crippled, the bird struck with its long beak, plucking an eye from one Hakkian even as the other stabbed it.
Then another bird hit. A gull this time, white with black on its wings. It impaled the second Hakkian’s eye socket, dying of a broken neck as it maimed the man.
Kagen reeled back as the complexion of the day changed again. The ravens wheeled and cried in panic as flight after flight of seabirds dove down and attacked them. And with them were smaller, darker birds.
His nightbirds, his strange friends, attacking in vicious squadrons. In flights. In legions.
They slammed into the ravens, three, four, or five striking at once, even unto their own destruction. The ravens fell, and in those first few moments of the counterattack, the invading Hakkians made the most basic, the most crucial and unforgivable mistake. They looked.
At the birds.
Not the Therians.
“At them!” roared Kagen, and instantly Tuke took up the shout. Then Filia uttered a high, ululating screech that would have terrified a banshee, and the tide of carnage on that ship changed. The aerial battle swirled like fury above the deck as the melee below turned into a slaughter. Horse leapt at any raven that flew too low, and soon the deck around the big hound was littered with torn and shattered birds.
A big man with a fierce black beard seemed to materialize out of the chaos directly in front of Kagen. He held a cutlass in one hand and a dagger in the other. The gold braid on his black and yellow uniform marked him as the Hakkian captain, and he attacked with incredible ferocity.
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