Clashing empires, forbidden romance, and a long-forgotten queen destined to save her people—New York Times bestselling author Tahereh Mafi’s first novel in this epic, romantic fantasy series inspired by Persian mythology.
To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight.
The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can’t put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom – and the world.
Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Tomi Adeyemi, and Sabaa Tahir, this is the explosive first book in a new fantasy trilogy from the New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-nominated author, Tahereh Mafi.
“An original fantasy saga threaded through with Persian myths written by a queen of the genre. A* grade world-building” – The Times Best YA Books for Summer 2022
‘Forbidden love and Persian mythology are at the center of this new trilogy series, and it might be Mafi's best work yet.’ – Cosmopolitan, Best YA Books of 2022
‘Master of YA fantasy’ Pop Sugar
‘Gut-wrenchingly beautiful.’ – Kirkus Reviews
“In a tale as exquisitely crafted as one of Alizeh’s own garments, Mafi weaves a spell of destiny and danger, forbidden love and courtly intrigue, magic and revolution.”—Cassandra Clare, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Last Hours
‘This story is so magical and transportive that I fully expected the book would know the moment I'd finished – within hours, no less – and promptly unravel into a pile of jewels and silks in my hands. Mafi's diamond-bright lyrical voice weaves a tale that is gilded in magic, laced with subterfuge, adorned with the brocade of a tortuous romance, and richly embroidered with Persian mythology. I cannot wait for more.’ – Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Gilded Wolves
Release date: February 1, 2022
Print pages: 512
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This Woven Kingdom
ALIZEH STITCHED IN THE KITCHEN by the light of star and fire, sitting, as she often did, curled up inside the hearth. Soot stained her skin and skirts in haphazard streaks: smudges along the crest of a cheek, a dusting of yet more darkness above one eye. She didn’t seem to notice.
Alizeh was cold. No, she was freezing.
She often wished she were a body with hinges, that she might throw open a door in her chest and fill its cavity with coal, then kerosene. Strike a match.
She tugged up her skirts and shifted nearer the fire, careful lest she destroy the garment she still owed the illegitimate daughter of the Lojjan ambassador. The intricate, glittering piece was her only order this month, but Alizeh nursed a secret hope that the gown would conjure clients on its own, for such fashionable commissions were, after all, the direct result of an envy born only in a ballroom, around a dinner table. So long as the kingdom remained at peace, the royal elite—legitimate and illegitimate alike—would continue to host parties and incur debt, which meant Alizeh might yet find ways to extract coin from their embroidered pockets.
She shivered violently then, nearly missing a stitch, nearly toppling into the fire. As a toddling child Alizeh had once been so desperately cold she’d crawled onto the searing hearth on purpose. Of course it had never occurred to her that she might be consumed by the blaze; she’d been but a babe following an instinct to seek warmth. Alizeh couldn’t have known then the singularity of her affliction, for so rare was the frost that grew inside her body that she stood in stark relief even among her own people, who were thought to be strange indeed.
A miracle, then, that the fire had only disintegrated her clothes and clogged the small house with a smoke that singed her eyes. A subsequent scream, however, signaled to the snug tot that her scheme was at an end. Frustrated by a body that would not warm, she’d wept frigid tears as she was collected from the flames, her mother sustaining terrible burns in the process, the scars of which Alizeh would study for years to come.
“Her eyes,” the trembling woman had cried to her husband, who’d come running at the sounds of distress. “See what’s happened to her eyes— They will kill her for this—”
Alizeh rubbed her eyes now and coughed.
Surely she’d been too young to remember the precise words her parents had spoken; no doubt Alizeh’s was a memory merely of a story oft-repeated, one so thoroughly worn into her mind she only imagined she could recall her mother’s voice.
Soot had stuck in her throat. Her fingers had gone numb. Exhausted, she exhaled her worries into the hearth, the action disturbing to life another flurry of soot.
Alizeh coughed for the second time then, this time so hard she stabbed the stitching needle into her small finger. She absorbed the shock of pain with preternatural calm, carefully dislodging the bit before inspecting the injury.
The puncture was deep.
Slowly, almost one at a time, her fingers closed around the gown still clutched in her hand, the finest silk stanching the trickle of her blood. After a few moments—during which she stared blankly up, into the chimney, for the sixteenth time that night—she released the gown, cut the thread with her teeth, and tossed the gem-encrusted novelty onto a nearby chair.
Never fear; Alizeh knew her blood would not stain. Still, it was a good excuse to cede defeat, to set aside the gown. She appraised it now, sprawled as it was across the seat. The bodice had collapsed, bowing over the skirt much like a child might slump in a chair. Silk pooled around the wooden legs, beadwork catching the light. A weak breeze rattled a poorly latched window and a single candle blew out, taking with it the remaining composure of the commission. The gown slid farther down the chair, one heavy sleeve releasing itself with a hush, its glittering cuff grazing the sooty floor.
This gown, like all the others, was far from beautiful. She thought the design trite, the construction only passably good. She dreamed of unleashing her mind, of freeing her hands to create without hesitation—but the roar of Alizeh’s imagination was quieted, always, by an unfortunate need for self-preservation.
It was only during her grandmother’s lifetime that the Fire Accords had been established, unprecedented peace agreements that allowed Jinn and humans to mix freely for the first time in nearly a millennia. Though superficially identical, Jinn bodies had been forged from the essence of fire, imbuing in them certain physical advantages; while humans, whose beginnings were established in dirt and water, had long been labeled Clay. Jinn had conceded to the establishment of the Accords with a variegated relief, for the two races had been locked in bloodshed for eons, and though the enmity between them remained unresolved, all had tired of death.
The streets had been gilded with liquid sun to usher in the era of this tenuous peacetime, the empire’s flag and coin reimagined in triumph. Every royal article was stamped with the maxim of a new age:
May Equality Reign Always Supreme
Equality, as it turned out, had meant Jinn were to lower themselves to the weakness of humans, denying at all times the inherent powers of their race, the speed and strength and elective evanescence born unto their bodies. They were to cease at once what the king had declared “such supernatural operations” or face certain death, and Clay, who had exposed themselves as an insecure sort of creature, were only too willing to cry cheat no matter the context. Alizeh could still hear the screams, the riots in the streets—
She stared now at the mediocre gown.
Always she struggled not to design an article too exquisite, for extraordinary work came under harsher scrutiny, and was only too quickly denounced as the result of a preternatural trick.
Only once, having grown increasingly desperate to earn a decent living, had Alizeh thought to impress a customer not with style, but with craftsmanship. Not only was the quality of her work many orders of magnitude higher than that of the local modiste, but Alizeh could fashion an elegant morning gown in a quarter of the time, and had been willing to charge half as much.
The oversight had sent her to the gallows.
It had not been the happy customer, but the rival dressmaker who’d reported Alizeh to the magistrates. Miracle of miracles, she’d managed to evade their attempt to drag her away in the night, and fled the familiar countryside of her childhood for the anonymity of the city, hoping to be lost among the masses.
Would that she might slough off the burdens she carried with her always, but Alizeh knew an abundance of reasons to keep to the shadows, chief among them the reminder that her parents had forfeited their lives in the interest of her quiet survival, and to comport herself carelessly now would be to dishonor their efforts.
No, Alizeh had learned the hard way to relinquish her commissions long before she grew to love them.
She stood and a cloud of soot stood with her, billowing around her skirts. She’d need to clean the kitchen hearth before Mrs. Amina came down in the morning or she’d likely be out on the street again. Despite her best efforts, Alizeh had been turned out onto the street more times than she could count. She’d always supposed it took little encouragement to dispose of that which was already seen as disposable, but these thoughts had done little to calm her.
Alizeh collected a broom, flinching a little as the fire died. It was late; very late. The steady tick tick of the clock wound something in her heart, made her anxious. Alizeh had a natural aversion to the dark, a rooted fear she could not fully articulate. She’d have rather worked a needle and thread by the light of the sun, but she spent her days doing the work that really mattered: scrubbing the rooms and latrines of Baz House, the grand estate of Her Grace, the Duchess Jamilah of Fetrous.
Alizeh had never met the duchess, only seen the glittering older woman from afar. Alizeh’s meetings were with Mrs. Amina, the housekeeper, who’d hired Alizeh on a trial basis only, as she’d arrived with no references. As a result, Alizeh was not yet permitted to interact with the other servants, nor was she allotted a proper room in the servants’ wing. Instead, she’d been given a rotting closet in the attic, wherein she’d discovered a cot, its moth-eaten mattress, and half a candle.
Alizeh had lain awake in her narrow bed that first night, so overcome she could hardly breathe. She minded neither the rotting attic nor its moth-eaten mattress, for Alizeh knew herself to be in possession of great fortune. That any grand house was willing to employ a Jinn was shocking enough, but that she’d been given a room—a respite from the winter streets—
True, Alizeh had found stretches of work since her parents’ deaths, and often she’d been granted leave to sleep indoors, or in the hayloft; but never had she been given a space of her own. This was the first time in years she had privacy, a door she might close; and Alizeh had felt so thoroughly saturated with happiness she feared she might sink through the floor. Her body shook as she stared up at the wooden beams that night, at the thicket of cobwebs that crowded her head. A large spider had unspooled a length of thread, lowering itself to look her in the eye, and Alizeh had only smiled, clutching a skin of water to her chest.
The water had been her single request.
“A skin of water?” Mrs. Amina had frowned at her, frowned as if she’d asked to eat the woman’s child. “You can fetch your own water, girl.”
“Forgive me, I would,” Alizeh had said, eyes on her shoes, on the torn leather around the toe she’d not yet mended. “But I’m still new to the city, and I’ve found it difficult to access fresh water so far from home. There’s no reliable cistern nearby, and I cannot yet afford the glass water in the market—”
Mrs. Amina roared with laughter.
Alizeh went silent, heat rising up her neck. She did not know why the woman laughed at her.
“Can you read, child?”
Alizeh looked up without meaning to, registering the familiar, fearful gasp before she’d even locked eyes with the woman. Mrs. Amina stepped back, lost her smile.
“Yes,” said Alizeh. “I can read.”
“Then you must try to forget.”
Alizeh started. “I beg your pardon?”
“Don’t be daft.” Mrs. Amina’s eyes narrowed. “No one wants a servant who can read. You ruin your own prospects with that tongue. Where did you say you were from?”
Alizeh had frozen solid.
She couldn’t tell whether this woman was being cruel or kind. It was the first time anyone had suggested her intelligence might present a problem to the position, and Alizeh wondered then whether it wasn’t true: perhaps it had been her head, too full as it was, that kept landing her in the street. Perhaps, if she was careful, she might finally manage to keep a position for longer than a few weeks. No doubt she could feign stupidity in exchange for safety.
“I’m from the north, ma’am,” she’d said quietly.
“Your accent isn’t northern.”
Alizeh nearly admitted aloud that she’d been raised in relative isolation, that she’d learned to speak as her tutors had taught her; but then she remembered herself, remembered her station, and said nothing.
“As I suspected,” Mrs. Amina had said into the silence. “Rid yourself of that ridiculous accent. You sound like an idiot, pretending to be some kind of toff. Better yet, say nothing at all. If you can manage that, you may prove useful to me. I’ve heard your kind don’t tire out so easily, and I expect your work to satisfy such rumors, else I’ll not scruple to toss you back into the street. Have I made myself clear?”
“You may have your skin of water.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Alizeh curtsied, turned to go.
“Oh—and one more thing—”
Alizeh turned back. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Get yourself a snoda as soon as possible. I never want to see your face again.”
ALIZEH HAD ONLY JUST PULLED open the door to her closet when she felt it, felt him as if she’d pushed her arms through the sleeves of a winter coat. She hesitated, heart pounding, and stood framed in the doorway.
Alizeh shook her head to clear it. She was imagining things, and no surprise: she was in desperate need of sleep. After sweeping the hearth, she’d had to scrub clean her sooty hands and face, too, and it had all taken much longer than she’d hoped; her weary mind could hardly be held responsible for its delirious thoughts at this hour.
With a sigh, Alizeh dipped a single foot into the inky depths of her room, feeling blindly for the match and candle she kept always near the door. Mrs. Amina had not allowed Alizeh a second taper to carry upstairs in the evenings, for she could neither fathom the indulgence nor the possibility that the girl might still be working long after the gas lamps had been extinguished. Even so, the housekeeper’s lack of imagination did nothing to alter the facts as they were: this high up in so large an estate it was near impossible for distant light to penetrate. Save the occasional slant of the moon through a mingy corridor window, the attic presented opaque in the night; black as tar.
Were it not for the glimmer of the night sky to help her navigate the many flights to her closet, Alizeh might not have found her way, for she experienced a fear so paralyzing in the company of perfect darkness that, when faced with such a fate, she held an illogical preference for death.
Her single candle quickly found, the sought after match was promptly struck, a tear of air and the wick lit. A warm glow illuminated a sphere in the center of her room, and for the first time that day, Alizeh relaxed.
Quietly she pulled closed the closet door behind her, stepping fully into a room hardly big enough to hold her cot.
Just so, she loved it.
She’d scrubbed the filthy closet until her knuckles had bled, until her knees had throbbed. In these ancient, beautiful estates, most everything was once built to perfection, and buried under layers of mold, cobwebs, and caked-on grime, Alizeh had discovered elegant herringbone floors, solid wood beams in the ceiling. When she’d finished with it, the room positively gleamed.
Mrs. Amina had not, naturally, been to visit the old storage closet since it’d been handed over to the help, but Alizeh often wondered what the housekeeper might say if she saw the space now, for the room was unrecognizable. But then, Alizeh had long ago learned to be resourceful.
She removed her snoda, unwinding the delicate sheet of tulle from around her eyes. The silk was required of all those who worked in service, the mask marking its wearer as a member of the lower classes. The textile was designed for hard work, woven loosely enough to blur her features without obscuring necessary vision. Alizeh had chosen this profession with great forethought, and clung every day to the anonymity her position provided, rarely removing her snoda even outside of her room; for though most people did not understand the strangeness they saw in her eyes, she feared that one day the wrong person might.
She breathed deeply now, pressing the tips of her fingers against her cheeks and temples, gently massaging the face she’d not seen in what felt like years. Alizeh did not own a looking glass, and her occasional glances at the mirrors in Baz House revealed only the bottom third of her face: lips, chin, the column of her neck. She was otherwise a faceless servant, one of dozens, and had only vague memories of what she looked like—or what she’d once been told she looked like. It was the whisper of her mother’s voice in her ear, the feel of her father’s calloused hand against her cheek.
You are the finest of us all, he’d once said.
Alizeh closed her mind to the memory as she took off her shoes, set the boots in their corner. Over the years, Alizeh had collected enough scraps from old commissions to stitch herself the quilt and matching pillow currently laid atop her mattress. Her clothes she hung from old nails wrapped meticulously in colorful thread; all other personal affects she’d arranged inside an apple crate she’d found discarded in one of the chicken coops.
She rolled off her stockings now and hung them—to air them out—from a taut bit of twine. Her dress went to one of the colorful hooks, her corset to another, her snoda to the last. Everything Alizeh owned, everything she touched, was clean and orderly, for she had learned long ago that when a home was not found, it was forged; indeed it could be fashioned even from nothing.
Clad only in her shift, she yawned, yawned as she sat on her cot, as the mattress sank, as she pulled the pins from her hair. The day—and her long, heavy curls—crashed down around her shoulders.
Her thoughts had begun to slur.
With great reluctance she blew out the candle, pulled her legs against her chest, and fell over like a poorly weighted insect. The illogic of her phobia was consistent only in perplexing her, for when she was abed and her eyes closed, Alizeh imagined she could more easily conquer the dark, and even as she trembled with a familiar chill, she succumbed quickly to sleep. She reached for her soft quilt and drew it up over her shoulders, trying not to think about how cold she was, trying not to think at all. In fact she shivered so violently she hardly noticed when he sat down, his weight depressing the mattress at the foot of her bed.
Alizeh bit back a scream.
Her eyes flew open, tired pupils fighting to widen their aperture. Frantically, Alizeh patted down her quilt, her pillow, her threadbare mattress. There was no body on her bed. No one in her room.
Had she been hallucinating? She fumbled for her candle and dropped it, her hands shaking.
Surely, she’d been dreaming.
The mattress groaned—the weight shifting—and Alizeh experienced a fear so violent she saw sparks. She pushed backward, knocking her head against the wall, and somehow the pain focused her panic.
A sharp snap and a flame caught between his barely there fingers, illuminated the contours of his face.
Alizeh dared not breathe.
Even in silhouette she couldn’t see him, not properly, but then—it was not his face, but his voice, that had made the devil notorious.
Alizeh knew this better than most.
Seldom did the devil present himself in some approximation of flesh; rare were his clear and memorable communications. Indeed, the creature was not as powerful as his legacy insisted, for he’d been denied the right to speak as another might, doomed forever to hold forth in riddles, and allowed permission only to persuade a person to ruin, never to command.
It was not usual, then, for one to claim an acquaintance with the devil, nor was it with any conviction that a person might speak of his methods, for the presence of such evil was experienced most often only through a provoking of sensation.
Alizeh did not like to be the exception.
Indeed it was with some pain that she acknowledged the circumstances of her birth: that it had been the devil to first offer congratulations at her cradle, his unwelcome ciphers as inescapable as the wet of rain. Alizeh’s parents had tried, desperately, to banish such a beast from their home, but he had returned again and again, forever embroidering the tapestry of her life with ominous forebodings, in what seemed a promise of destruction she could not outmaneuver.
Even now she felt the devil’s voice, felt it like a breath loosed inside her body, an exhale against her bones.
There once was a man, he whispered.
“No,” she nearly shouted, panicking. “Not another riddle—please—”
There once was a man, he whispered, who bore a snake on each shoulder.
Alizeh clapped both hands over her ears and shook her head; she’d never wanted so badly to cry.
“Please,” she said, “please don’t—”
There once was a man
who bore a snake on each shoulder.
If the snakes were well fed
their master ceased growing older.
Alizeh squeezed her eyes shut, pulled her knees to her chest. He wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t shut him out.
What they ate no one knew, even as the children—
“Please,” she said, begging now. “Please, I don’t want to know—”
What they ate no one knew,
even as the children were found
with brains shucked from their skulls,
bodies splayed on the ground.
She inhaled sharply and he was gone, gone, the devil’s voice torn free from her bones. The room suddenly shuddered around her, shadows lifting and stretching—and in the warped light a strange, hazy face peered back at her. Alizeh bit her lip so hard she tasted blood.
It was a young man staring at her now, one she did not recognize.
That he was human, Alizeh had no doubt—but something about him seemed different from the others. In the dim light the young man seemed carved not from clay, but marble, his face trapped in hard lines, centered by a soft mouth. The longer she stared at him the harder her heart raced. Was this the man with the snakes? Why did it even matter? Why would she ever believe a single word spoken by the devil?
Ah, but she already knew the answer to the latter.
Alizeh was losing her calm. Her mind screamed at her to look away from the conjured face, screamed that this was all madness—and yet.
Heat crept up her neck.
Alizeh was unaccustomed to staring too long at any face, and this one was violently handsome. He had noble features, all straight lines and hollows, easy arrogance at rest. He tilted his head as he took her in, unflinching as he studied her eyes. All his unwavering attention stoked a forgotten flame inside her, startling her tired mind.
And then, a hand.
His hand, conjured from a curl of darkness. He was looking straight into her eyes when he dragged a vanishing finger across her lips.
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