Spotlight, Excerpt, & Author Interview: Moroda + Giveaway

Cover - Moroda

Moroda
Series: World of Linaria
by L.L. MacRae
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: 14+
Pages: 534
Published: May 30, 2022
(Second Edition)
 Publisher: Self Published

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mild to moderate violence, Some swearing

In Linaria, dragons are revered as gods.

Airships command the skies.

And across the land, war is brewing.

Devastated by their father’s death, Moroda and her sister struggle to make ends meet. Things go from bad to worse when a rogue dragon destroys their city.

Fleeing on a sky pirate’s airship to escape the chaos, the sisters find themselves penned in by untrustworthy companions, a bloodthirsty warlord, and dragons on the rampage.

For Moroda, who would do anything to protect her sister, nowhere is safe. Not even the sky.

The balance of power in Linaria is tipping. Can one woman make a difference?

If you love dragons, airships, and sky pirates, you’ll love discovering THE WORLD OF LINARIA.

Do Not Meddle in Dragon Affairs • With Great Power • (Trying to) Do the Right Thing

Universal Link / Goodreads


Excerpt:

Morning dew flavoured her skin with the taste of autumn. Pale sunlight filtered in through the narrow, steel-barred window, and Moroda shivered in the cold cell of Rosecastle Dungeon.

She shifted her position to ease the cramp developing in her aching back and legs. She was not in chains, thank Rhea, but that didn’t bring much comfort to the fear and uncertainty which plagued her.

Surely the threat of beheading had been an idle one? Something to keep the crowd from retaliating at her sudden arrest?

Only murderers and traitors to the crown were beheaded.

She’d just voiced an opinion. She didn’t really believe they’d kill a woman for that.

Would they?

Before she could further consider her mortality, the door to the dungeon rattled and Moroda’s stomach tightened with an involuntary spasm as muffled shouts carried from the other side. Grunting and a shrieked curse pierced the air as the heavy oak door shook.

She backed away from her cell gate, the cold stone floor sending goosebumps rising on her arms and legs. She flinched, and something metallic jingled within the folds of her skirt. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out three silver coins, a set of scales emblazoned on each.

She’d forgotten about the florins—the only money she had left—and another stab of panic pierced her.

Eryn would be so angry with her if she lost them.

Desperate, Moroda looked for somewhere to hide her treasure. If she put the coins back in her pocket, they’d jingle when she moved. She considered the window, before realising they would be seen between the bars. Dragons above, what was she going to do?

She let out a distressed whimper, then she spotted a cracked floor slab.

Outside her cell, the steel hinges of the oak door creaked as it was heaved open, and she knew she had no time to look for an alternative hiding place. Shuffling over on her knees, one fist clenched around the coins, she wedged the fingers of her free hand under the stone slab. It was rough against her skin, but Moroda lifted it just high enough to slide the florins into the gap. The dungeon door slammed shut, the slab dropped into place, and the new prisoner entered the chamber.

The same guard who’d brought her to the cell barely an hour ago now wrestled with another woman—lowborn, from the rasp in her voice and the insults she hurled at him. She spat and kicked, even tried to bite the guard as she fought to free herself from his grasp.

Moroda pressed against the wall, equally terrified yet curious, and watched the guard frog-march the new prisoner towards her cell.

Pressing the woman against the bars, he took the keys from his belt, unlocked the gate, and threw her inside.

Blood spattered the floor from an open gash on the woman’s shoulder, bringing a splash of colour to the grey dungeon. She immediately whirled around and threw herself at the gate, reaching between the bars and scrabbling for the guard’s face with chipped nails. ‘You pig! Bastard! Get this gate open now or I swear to Rhea herself, you’ll pay!’

‘Amarah, you’re done. No threat will change that.’ He shrugged. Beyond the reach of her flailing hands, she was no threat.

She snarled at the guard, animalistic in her fury. ‘Morgen, I’ll kill you for this!’ She covered the wound on her left shoulder with one hand. Blood trickled through her fingers as she tried to stem the flow. ‘At least get me a medic! You don’t want me to bleed to death in here, do you?’ Amarah’s eyes narrowed as the young man glanced at her wound.

He sighed. ‘You aren’t going to die. Calm down and I’ll see what I can do, all right? Try not to cause too much trouble while I’m gone.’ Morgen walked towards the door.

‘What about Khanna? You ain’t gonna destroy that ship are you? She’s faster than anything the Imperial fleet has!’ Amarah followed Morgen and walked along the bars, reaching through them at the edge of the cell. ‘Be of some use, won’t she?’

‘I don’t know. It isn’t my decision. She’s locked up safe and sound, just like you.’ Morgen ignored her glare as he left the dungeon, slamming the heavy door behind him.

As the sound of his footsteps faded, Moroda held her breath, keeping herself as still as possible. Amarah hadn’t noticed her, and she was keen to keep it that way until the other woman calmed down. She’d never coped well with conflict. Who knew who Amarah was, or what she had done to warrant being locked up.

Moroda slid down the wall, until she was half-crouched on the floor, heart racing as she watched the uncouth woman. Perhaps if she stayed quiet enough, Amarah wouldn’t spot her before Morgen returned to take one of them away.

After a moment, Amarah turned and looked around the cell, pausing to scowl immediately at Moroda. ‘What do you think you’re looking at, girl?’

Moroda was taken aback by the harshness in Amarah’s voice. ‘I—I didn’t mean—’

‘Good. Shut up and keep out of my fucking way.’ Amarah strode past Moroda, looking over the rest of the cell. Her scowl deepend. ‘Damned if I’m staying here long enough to be executed.’

Moroda watched her carefully and said nothing.

Amarah released her shoulder and grabbed the bars, giving each a short pull, leaving the metal slick with blood. ‘Damn.’ Amarah shook her head and leaned against the metal gate, her hand returning to cover the wound on her shoulder.

‘What happened?’ Moroda allowed her curiosity to get the better of her, and braced for another insult.

Amarah shrugged. ‘Too much haste. Got sloppy. Made a mistake. Never again, I tell you.’ She closed her eyes, allowing silence to fill the cell.

Moroda took the opportunity to study Amarah’s face. Her hair was short, dark, and roughly cut. She wore no powders on her face or oils in her hair. A thin scar lined her left cheek, just below her dark brown eyes, pale against her tanned skin. Mostly, she looked grubby, as though she hadn’t bathed in months.

She guessed the injured woman to be in her late thirties, but wounds and dirt did a lot to age a person, so she couldn’t be sure. Moroda kept herself small, hoping Amarah kept her distance while they were locked up together.

‘Morgen’s a fool. He ain’t fit to be in here. Neither are you,’ Amarah said, her sneer shifting into a lopsided grin. ‘I heard what you did this morning. Standing up to that foreign bastard.’

Moroda flinched as Amarah swore again, even as relief flooded her—her deed that morning had not gone unnoticed. Then again, she had been arrested publicly, so she supposed word of her actions—a Goldstone’s actions, no less—would spread like wildfire. Not that she was really a Goldstone anymore. Her heart sank as she thought back to the three florins she’d hidden. It was all that remained of a vast inheritance that should have ensured she and her sister were well kept until the end of their days.

Moroda had wanted to leave. Run away from the debtors.

Eryn had convinced her to stay. They could survive without their father and his money. They’d make it work. After all, Niversai was their home. Leaving the only place they’d ever lived was not only foolish, it was childish.

Moroda forced a smile, unwilling to show Amarah any vulnerability. ‘Thank you.’

‘That the only reason you get arrested? Or you do something else? Sleep with some other Goldstone you shouldn’t have, or something?’

‘What? No! N—nothing like that! I would never!’

Amarah’s cackle filled the dungeon, echoing off the stone. ‘Ah, you Goldstones are all the same, ain’t you? Little goody-goody rich girls who never get in trouble or do anything wrong.’

‘I’m not a Goldstone…not anymore.’ If only she’d left after her father had died…

‘Yes, well I can see that, can’t I?’ Amarah grinned, licking her lips. She shifted her hold on her injured shoulder. ‘Can’t buy yourself outta this one, can you?’

Heat flushed Moroda’s cheeks and her stomach roiled. ‘Do you want me to help with that?’ She nodded towards Amarah’s shoulder, eager to turn their conversation away from her shame. ‘I can use some cloth to stem the blood? Won’t be permanent, but it should hold until help comes?’

Amarah paused for a moment before dropping her hand from her shoulder. ‘Yeah, if you can.’

Moroda tore a strip of fabric from the thick, dark cotton at the bottom of her skirt and wrapped the length of it around Amarah’s wound as best she could, tying it off with a secure knot. ‘There. That should help.’ She wiped her bloodied hands on her skirt, satisfied she’d done something useful.

Amarah inspected the makeshift bandage for a moment before approving it with a sharp nod. She glanced at the dungeon door through the cell bars and sighed. ‘I ain’t sticking around here. Neither should you, if you know what’s good for you.’

Moroda knew the woman was right. She didn’t think she’d be executed, but she didn’t want to wait around to find out. She’d never been in trouble with the Imperial Guard before, let alone arrested, and she didn’t have the first idea how to get out of her situation. Would there be a trial? Would she be allowed to plead her case? Beg forgiveness?

She chewed on the inside of her cheek, trying to think. She’d never been any good at planning ahead. Her sister was the brains of their duo. Moroda just dreamt up the ideas.

She didn’t know how her sister managed.

‘Oh great, not a Varkain, too.’ Amarah’s harsh voice cut through Moroda’s thoughts.

‘But I’m not…?’ Moroda followed Amarah’s gaze to the back corner of their shadowed cell. Puzzled, she looked from Amarah to the corner, squinting in the darkness as she tried to make out what Amarah could see.

Her heart raced when she spotted the silhouette of another person sitting in the shadows. How hadn’t she noticed them after all this time? She’d been in the cell for almost an hour!

‘I do love the sound of a panicked heartbeat.’

The smooth voice from the shadows set every hair on edge, and Moroda was on her feet in an instant, breath quickening as Amarah’s words resounded: Varkain. Someone was there. Someone who was mocking her fear.

A Varkain was far more of a threat than Amarah could ever be.

She could have been attacked—killed!—at any moment. Had he just been playing with her?

Stumbling backwards, Moroda tried to put as much distance between herself and the Varkain as she could. She couldn’t even see him, yet her heart thrashed in her chest, as if desperate to flee.

‘Ah yes. And there is the accompanying scent of fear…such a nectar.’

‘Shut up you filthy creature.’ Amarah hadn’t moved, but she glared at the corner with such venom that Moroda thought she’d burn a hole through the stone floor. ‘Why are we in the same cell as you? What in Rhea’s name happened to enforced segregation?’

‘Perhaps they forgot. Being invisible is our speciality.’

Moroda’s heart thudded painfully. She couldn’t quite make out the Varkain’s features—the cell was too poorly lit and he was too still. She could have sworn she’d checked the cell over when she’d been thrown inside, and found it empty.

Then again, she’d never come across a Varkain before. She’d grown up on stories of brutal Varkain killings and had no desire to be in the centre of the next one. Moroda couldn’t even think straight, the fear gripped her so tightly. She was lucky he hadn’t slaughtered her while she’d panicked about being beheaded.

‘Come out from the shadows, Varkain. Show yourself,’ Amarah ordered, her hand returning to her wounded shoulder.

Moroda wanted to object, but her voice fled.

‘No. I am chained.’

Amarah’s shoulders relaxed and Moroda followed suit, happy to take the other woman’s lead. The Varkain’s chains had to explain why she hadn’t been attacked earlier.

She swallowed and tried to calm her breathing.

‘Ah, well you’re just a worm then, ain’t you?’ Amarah cackled, wandering to the edge of the shadow. ‘Tied up and left for dead. It’s all you’re worth.’

‘Be quiet.’

Amarah crouched and sneered. ‘I don’t think so. I don’t take orders from anyone, not least the likes of you. Tell me, Varkain, were you given a name at birth? Or just abandoned in a nest somewhere?’ She tilted her head to one side. ‘Dumped in a hole in the ground and left to rot like the maggots you are.’

Moroda didn’t know what might come of taunting such a dangerous creature, but Amarah clearly thought he posed no threat.

‘Sapora,’ he answered, voice barely more than a hiss. ‘I know you are a sky pirate and thief, Amarah. And a murderer, just as I am. The scent of blood runs deep in your skin.’

Amarah snorted and straightened. She ignored the Varkain and paced the cell, clearly shaken. With her good hand, she grabbed one of the bars on the gate and furiously shook it. ‘Morgen! Where is my medic?’

Silence answered.

Amarah grunted and paced again, fingers tapping against her arm. It didn’t take long for her to notice the cracked stone slab.

‘Oh? What’s this?’ She dropped to one knee and picked at the cracked stone. Within seconds, she’d lifted the slab and was rewarded with the glint of silver. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining.’ She snatched the coins and grinned. ‘Three florins. Perfect!’

Amarah pocketed them as quickly as she’d found them, and Moroda clenched her fists in response. She couldn’t bring herself to challenge Amarah, despite those coins being the only thing of worth she had left.

Especially not if she was a murderer as the Varkain claimed.

All her fight had gone out of her earlier that morning.

Moroda didn’t even know why she’d got involved. She’d been berating herself about it since she’d been arrested, in between panicking about whether or not she’d actually be beheaded.

She’d been taken aback by the shift in behaviour of the townspeople after Aciel—a foreign dignitary—had arrived in Niversai some days previous. Even the Imperial Guard who’d been nothing but fair towards them had turned suddenly aggressive. Eryn had said it was simply a result of their ill fortune.

Moroda had been convinced that something else drove the shift in behaviour. The injustice.

Aciel’s speech that morning had been the last straw.

A guest of the city. Invited into Rosecastle. Given an address to the gathered townspeople. And yet she couldn’t accept the words Aciel spewed, the condescension in his tone, the disgust with which he’d stared at her and the people of her city.

As far as she was concerned, he was a pompous, arrogant bully who delighted in war-mongering, and she wouldn’t stand for it. Eryn had told her to leave it alone, but Moroda had lost too much too quickly to put up with more patronisation, and refused to be silenced. She hated conflict, had never learned how to deal with it properly, and she’d exploded.

Despite having his own soldiers, the city’s Imperial Guard had leapt to apprehend her when she’d spoken out.

Her immediate arrest only proved she’d touched a nerve.

Scare people enough, and no-one will stand against you.

The thought made her sick.

Closing her eyes, Moroda exhaled, resigning herself to her situation. An hour ago, she’d been worried about being beheaded. Now, she was stuck in a cell with two murderers. She shook her head, wondering which fate was worse.

It took only a few minutes before the dungeon door was forced open again with another loud creak, but it wasn’t Morgen who walked down the corridor. It was a young woman clutching a ring of bronze keys close to her chest as she tiptoed across the stone floor in soft leather shoes.

Moroda couldn’t believe her luck.

‘Eryn!’ She jumped to her feet and clutched at her sister’s hand through the bars. ‘What in Rhea’s name are you doing here? How did you get into the castle?’

‘Sshh, never mind that. I’m getting you out!’ Eryn glanced over her shoulder.

Amarah approached the gate and elbowed Moroda out of the way. ‘Get on with it, then. Hurry up!’

Eryn tried each key quickly, breathing a sigh of relief when the successful one clicked and the latch lifted off the lock.

Before Eryn could move, Amarah wrenched the door open and shoved past. ‘Get out now if you know what’s good for you!’ She raced down the corridor and disappeared from sight.

Clearly unfazed by Amarah’s brusqueness, Eryn turned to Moroda. ‘You heard her! Let’s go!’

Moroda faltered, peering back at the corner of the cell. She dreaded the Varkain’s wrath if he ever got out on his own and hunted her down. ‘Ryn? Do you have all the keys? There’s someone else back there…chained up.’

‘Moroda, this isn’t a jailbreak! I’m here to get you and get out!’ Eryn whispered through clenched teeth. ‘The guards’ll be here any minute, and I’ll be locked up too! Come on!’

‘I can’t. He’s a Varkain!’ Moroda grabbed the keys from her sister and ran to the dark corner, hesitating at the last moment. It was too late for second thoughts, now.

‘There’s a Varkain in there? We should be locking the gate, not letting him out!’ Eryn cried, incredulous.

Moroda felt it best to address him by the name he’d given to Amarah. She took a deep breath and ignored Eryn’s frantic whispers. ‘Sapora? You…you won’t attack me if I let you out?’ Her voice was as meek and small as she felt.


Author Interview:

1. What inspired you to write this book?
I had the idea for this story back when I was around sixteen, and it centred on being “the greatest dragon hunt ever” or something along those lines. It was only a rough concept at the time, but I knew dragons were going to feature prominently.

I wanted to create a fantasy world where dragons were not dying out or extinct. I didn’t want magic to be fading, from the past, or something hidden. I wanted the world to be full of life, magic, and adventure!

Although dragons are pretty central to both the world and story, I wanted to keep some mystery around them, too. They’re powerful, but they aren’t always accessible or approachable, so keeping the balance of wonder was definitely something I wanted to get in the book.

As for overall inspiration, I think playing video games, reading fantasy books, and encountering other stories always triggered the idea of: what would MY dragons be like? Or what would MY cities be like? If I had the chance to create my own?

Very often I would see something in media that would spark my own imagination, and over the years I jotted down enough notes and ideas that I could pull a whole novel from it!

Also, the sky pirate character of Amarah was perhaps one of the earliest characters that I created. I knew I wanted a confident, somewhat devil-may-care woman who avoided paying air taxes at all costs. It was a tiny nugget of information, but her character grew from that seed.

2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
It’s hard to say, because I originally wrote it over six years ago, and the re-write to launch the second edition wasn’t a learning experience in the same way writing a debut book is.

I think returning to a book where you’re familiar with the characters already, the journey they go on, the impact they have on the story in later books allows an element of hindsight, which is fun to explore. It’s very nice to learn where these characters have gone and how you can add that in – because I had no idea where they were going when I first wrote it!

And I also learned it’s a bad idea to ever re-write your books, so that’s something I won’t be doing again!

3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
That writing the same book for a second time is almost harder than writing it for the first time!

This is the second edition of my debut novel, originally published in 2017. Since then, I’ve published over one million words across three series, so I thought rewriting my first book would be simple.

That definitely was not the case.

It actually took three times longer than I’d planned to get the rewrite complete, and even then, it was a push to hit the deadline! It’s difficult to look back at your earlier work, because you have changed so much and learned so much that something you used to be proud of actually makes you cringe inside.
I knew it was a bit rougher than my current books, but it really surprised me how much I disliked re-reading it, and re-writing it. It was a far bigger and harder challenge than I thought it would be, and had definitely not thought that would be the case!

Thankfully I am VERY happy with the second edition, and all that love and passion and enthusiasm has come roaring back!

4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
The title is the main protagonist’s first name.

5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
There are parts of people I know in each of the characters, as well as bits of myself! But no, I haven’t specifically told anyone who has inspired a character. It’s all so much of a blur now that I’d struggle to pick out which characteristics or personalities of real people went into which characters!

6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
I wouldn’t say it’s a lesson as such, but there is a definite theme of people trying to do the right thing – even when that’s hard. Making the best of what you have is a powerful mindset, and an often difficult one, but it’s definitely something that pretty much all my main characters try and achieve – with varying levels of success!

As cliché as it sounds, not giving up is also important to many characters, as well as knowing when to change course and adapt. There’s also a bit of a flavour of turning biases and judgemental thoughts on its head. What you expect from people isn’t always what you get, whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

7. What is your favorite part of the book?
This is super tricky, as I enjoy many parts of the book for different reasons!
The opening four or five chapters are pretty fun. Everything kicks off pretty quickly – there’s a jailbreak, a dragon attack, and an introduction to some of the world’s major races in quick succession.

I also love the parts where our group is just flying on the airship, getting to know each other and starting to have some personal biases challenged.
Also, the heist sequence is pretty fun! Especially when you get to see more of the “compulsion” magic that the main antagonist has.

Sorry, that’s a kind of cheat answer!

8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
Probably Moroda herself! She isn’t a super confident, outgoing extrovert. She has a lot of self-doubt and insecurity, but she had a great support system growing up, so balancing her traits to make her likeable and sympathetic (rather than annoying, frustrating, or bland) was tricky.

It took a while before she felt fleshed out and real – having enough of the “weaker” character traits but not so much that she was either a complete pushover, or totally outshone by the other side characters who have stronger personalities.

I think the balance is good, and while her morals don’t change throughout the book (if anything, they strengthen!), you can definitely see her confidence grow as her overall character develops and some of her misbeliefs are corrected.

9. What are your immediate future plans?
Now I’ve republished the World of Linaria series under my new author name, I’m going to be writing The Shadow Gate, which is the sequel to my novel, The Iron Crown. I hope to get that published before the end of 2022!

Then, it’ll be back to Linaria, writing the fifth (penultimate!) novel in the series.
Additionally, I have a Patreon where I write a monthly fantasy serial called Shadowlight! Think phoenixes, dragons, and magic in a blighted world. It’s ongoing, so there’s always a few more chapters of that to write at any given time!


About the Author:

Author Photo - LL MacRae and BorisLauren is a fantasy author of character-driven stories and epic adventure. Her books usually contain dragons, eclectic characters, and are typically fun and hopeful.

She lives in a tiny village in the UK, has a degree in Psychology, and was a professional copywriter before going full-time as an author—swapping corporate copy for magic and dragons!

She has previously published under the name L.L. McNeil.

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Starts: June 27, 2022 at 12:00am EST
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