Please join us in welcoming author Hayden Thorne today, to chat about and share an exclusive excerpt from her newest novel, Hell-Knights. Hayden is also offering the chance for two lucky readers to win an e-copy of the book, so be sure to check out the Rafflecopter widget below for entry details.
Hell-Knights was, like my other historical fantasy books, inspired by folklore and religion. The story takes place in the same AU nineteenth century Europe as both Guardian Angel and The Flowers of St. Aloysius before it. In this case, we’re now in a fantasy version of Venice, and as with the previous books, magic is an integral part of day-to-day life, and same-sex relationships (including marriage) are normal. The latter item is a detail that I chose not to explain at any point in any of the three books I’ve written so far, and it’s something that I strongly believe should simply be accepted by readers considering how heavily AU-ish the stories are.
Perhaps I’ll explore the history of that important yet mundane detail in a future book. We’ll see. As with magic, each country’s “brand” of magic differes from the others, with Italy’s magic strongly influenced by both the Catholic faith and mythology, hence the dominance of figures from legend such as the Parcae (or the Fates). It’s more supernatural in its source and a great deal more terrifying in that regard compared to the tamer, more storybook magic in England and the more bucolic (albeit shadowy), fairy tale-like kind in France.
Hell-Knights also explores my own take on vampires – though perhaps to an extent. As much as I’d have loved to have tackled the different commonly held beliefs from the distant past on how vampires come to be (suicide, for instance), I decided to simplify things by focusing on one rather obvious cause, and that involves demonic forces. As it stands, my vampires are more in line with those in folklore, which means resurrected corpses that are decaying and preying mindlessly on the living and not the more romantic version of beautiful, brooding immortals.
Nothing in that part of the church—the rear part—caught Gabriel’s attention, so he walked to the narrow wooden stairs leading to the balcony. The stairs, polished but crooked in places, groaned under his weight.
The organ was a massive pipe organ, and it was, indeed, flanked by two enormous statues carved into alcoves. The silence of the church wasn’t comforting at all despite the fact that it was mid-morning, and Gabriel wasn’t alone. All of those claims by the faithful of finding solace in the silence of a house of God didn’t seem to ring true—at least in that particular church. Perhaps it was because of the strange carvings he’d seen, or perhaps it was because Gabriel had never been really comfortable with so much intimidating reminders of mortality, immortality, and the battle for one’s soul bearing down on him from all sides.
After making sure Uncle Vincent was still there, lost in his work, Gabriel tried his hand in describing the pipe organ in as much detail as he could, this time trying his best to stick to written descriptions without the aid of visuals. It wasn’t a difficult task, thankfully, as the pipe organ seemed quite basic and simple in design, though its immense size made Gabriel light-headed.
He then walked toward one of the statues and observed it.
“How peculiar,” he murmured.
The statue was of an angel, judging from the large feathered wings, and it stared out serenely as most church statues or even paintings often depicted holy figures. Under the mass of shoulder-length curls, the angel’s features appeared relaxed and peaceful, an enigmatic smile curling its lips. Both hands were slightly raised from its body, the palms facing out, as though in welcome to worshippers.
As with the carvings in the baptismal font, the statue was quite worn down, many of its details indiscernible. If anything, this one looked like a half-erased drawing made into—as Gabriel reckoned—a fifteen-foot tall statue.
But there was definitely something not quite right about it, and Gabriel at first thought it was simply a trick of the shadows in the balcony. But as he moved a little away from the statue, inching backward until the balcony rail halted his progress, Gabriel still wasn’t sure if he was seeing things as they ought to be seen.
The angel, though smiling calmly and even sweetly, seemed to have two pointed teeth barely protruding past its upper lip. Gabriel had to shake his head, turn away, focus his gaze on something else for a moment, and then look again.
The pointed teeth were still there, but with the lack of windows in the balcony, Gabriel still couldn’t get himself to accept what he was seeing—or what he thought he was seeing. Gripping the journal and pencil tightly against his chest, he hurried over to the other statue and looked, but this one didn’t have its mouth open as it smiled. Its lips remained pressed though curved, and there were no teeth showing past the seam.
The fine hairs on the back of Gabriel’s neck stood on end, and he resolved then to put together a hasty sketch of the first statue. He hurried back, unmindful of the noise of his stamping feet on old, wooden floorboards, and positioned himself again before the first statue. A chill enveloped him at the sight, the surreal nature of an optical illusion complicating things further and not at all helping ease the unnerving quality of this church.
After a quick sketch and even quicker notes clarifying it, Gabriel hastened downstairs, glad to be away from that bizarre statue.
He hurried down the nave, making sure to stay in the main aisle, and took his place on one of the pews as he waited for his uncle to finish his task for the day. In the meantime, Gabriel tried to clear his mind of what he’d seen and the accompanying unease, but there were a few other things in the church that forced him back to glancing over his shoulder nervously despite the dulled light filtering through the windows along the sides.
Now that he was idle, and his nervousness began to abate, he allowed himself a chance to calm himself a little and be more receptive to the spiritual nature of the church, hoping to make use of that time for some contemplation. He sought the silence and realized it hadn’t really been as quiet as he’d first thought. There were sounds seemingly coming from everywhere and yet not. Insistent sounds. How long had they been going on, anyway? Since the dawn of that day? Since he and his uncle stepped through the door? He thought he’d been paying attention when not focusing on his work, but apparently not.
Voices? Yes, there seemed to be voices—disembodied, distant, hollow, and faintly echoing. The church was completely shut up from the rest of the city, as far as he knew, which meant what Gabriel was hearing had nothing to do with outside noise somehow coming in through open windows or anything. He swallowed when he thought he heard a thin, faint voice laughing from some unseen point in the church.
“Signore? It’s time, I’m afraid,” another voice suddenly piped up—real and human—and made Gabriel jump where he sat with a startled yelp.
His heart thundering, Gabriel turned around and found the sacristan, a Signor Necchi, standing at the entrance, looking curiously around him as though he needed to discover for himself if any of the church furniture or decorations had been touched. Stolen, perhaps?
“Very well, sir. Thank you for accommodating us,” Uncle Vincent replied, and Gabriel stood up just as his uncle stuffed his journal back inside his satchel and strode down the nave. “Come along, young man. Let’s eat. I’m famished.”
Of course, that was it. That had to be it, Gabriel told himself in some relief. Illusions caused by growing hunger—judging from the quiet growling of his stomach, which he tried to hide by pressing his journal tightly against his belly, it was quite likely fading energy had given way to daytime hallucinations, however light they might be.
They followed Signor Necchi out, standing by and waiting for the old man to lock the church doors behind them.
About the Book
Decima is a centuries-old Italian city on the water, a vanity project meant to be a fairy tale escape for the titled and the privileged. But something in the distant past had turned it into a murky, putrid dreamscape instead, a crumbling city haunted by a scourge of revenants whose origins and purpose now seem destined to be hidden in the shadows forever. Not even the brave, dogged attempts at fighting midnight creatures by the descendants of a select bloodline can rid the city of the near-daily threat.
Michele De Santis is a young minor sorcerer, a reluctant champion who, along with his twin sister and his cousin, has lost too much through the years and has resigned himself to a life of endless midnight hunts while selling healing and protection spells and artifacts during the day. A life of loneliness, of a forced solitude in a desperate bid at keeping collateral damage at a minimum appears to be his only future.
When long-dead corpses suddenly turn without vampire bites, logical patterns no longer hold true, leaving the weary hunters baffled and unsure for the first time. Decima’s bronze guardians fall silent for no reason, a dark, binding spell muting their warnings. A long-abandoned church shows signs of life in the most grotesque ways imaginable. And everything seems to point to an unknown threat, one that’s long lain dormant but has been awakened by the arrival of a young English heir and his amateur antiquarian uncle.
Romance and the gothic layer ‘Hell-Knights’ with the dark, rich textures of an alternate universe Europe, a nineteenth century world where magic reigns supreme, and love knows no gender.
About the Author
I’ve lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area though I wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). I’m married with no kids and three cats and am a cycling nut.
I started off as a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. My books ranged from a superhero fantasy series to reworked and original folktales to Victorian ghost fiction.
I’ve since expanded to New Adult fiction, which reflects similar themes as my YA books and varies considerably in terms of romantic and sexual content.
While I’ve published with a small press in the past, I now self-publish my books.