THE LAST DAYS OF HONG KONG
Book 3 in the Witch of Empire series
by G.D. Penman
RELEASE DATE: October 5, 2021
GENRE: Urban Fantasy / LGBT
In the aftermath of the war, Iona “Sully” Sullivan has lost everything; her job, her friends, her fiancé and even her magic. But when an old friend shows up on her doorstep, offering her the chance to undo one of her long litany of mistakes, there is still enough of the old Sully left to get her on the first boat to Hong Kong. A stranger in a strange land, Sully must navigate alien customs, werebear chefs, the blossoming criminal underworld, religious extremists, Mongol agents, vampire separatists, and every other freak, maniac or cosmic leftover with an iota of power as they all compete for a chance at the most valuable prize in all the world; a little sailor doll named Eugene, and the last wish on earth.
November 5, 2018
Ceejay had a bounce in his step as he moved among the shipping containers at the Jersey Docklands. There were few occasions when the Director of the IBI could walk around freely without an armed guard trailing after him, and he was enjoying every minute. Sure, he had to create an entirely illegal and unstable portal inside his own home and throw himself through it bodily before it could collapse, but that was a small price to pay for a little bit of freedom.
He wasn’t sure when the change had come about, when he went from being a man capable of protecting himself to being a coddled pen pusher. Perhaps it had been when he stopped staying later than the janitors in the office, or the first time that he ate a meal in a restaurant at lunchtime instead of grabbing takeaway to bring back to his desk. He was fairly confident that he could still blast apart any problem that crossed his path if it came to it. It wasn’t like he had forgotten the spells, or that his instincts had completely faded. That said, his three immediate predecessors in the job had exploded, been turned into a parrot, and been turned into another parrot, respectively, so perhaps some degree of caution was warranted.
The one thing that he still refused to surrender to was the glasses. His new wife told him that they made him look dignified and academic, not old, but he had more than enough reason to suspect that her opinions were biased. He had taken to casting a very minor enhancement spell on himself when he had to read things at work, but the constant drain on his reserves was too exhausting to carry it over outside of office hours. As he passed each container, he slowed, squinted and eventually leaned closer, his lips moving almost imperceptibly as he read the serial numbers stenciled onto the sides. He should have just worn the damn glasses.
When he was sure he had the right one, he took one last look around out of habit, then rapped his knuckles on the side. A moment later, something knocked back. He grinned. Snapping the locks was the work of a few quick spells, yet opening the doors was surprisingly difficult. Maybe he was out of shape. It was worth all of the effort when Sully came lunging out of the darkened interior of the container to wrap him in a one-armed hug. “Took you long enough, you lazy old bastard.”
“Lazy? I risk my life and freedom to come help you on this fool’s errand and this is the thanks that I get? Lazy?” He half-heartedly tried to shove her back into the box.
With a laugh she shoved him back. “You spend a week in one of these things, pissing in a chemical toilet and tell me I’m crazy for wanting out faster.”
“A chemical toilet? Your tastes have become so refined since you spent time in Europe.” He threw an arm around her shoulders and started walking her up toward the lights of the city. “Why, I remember when just a bucket was good enough for young Agent Sullivan, fresh off the boat.”
Sully cocked an eyebrow. “I have no idea if that is true, so I’m just going to assume you’re a filthy liar.”
His serious expression held for all of a moment before it collapsed and he let out a guffaw so loud it echoed all the way out of the stockyard. “That—that is always a good assumption. I’ve missed having you around, Sully.”
Her smile faltered. “Well, don’t get used to it. I’m just passing through.”
“I know.” Ceejay’s own perpetual good cheer had recovered much faster than hers. “I know! Off on your next grand adventure. No time for the little people like me.”
She squeezed him a bit tighter around the ribs. “I’ll always have time for you. You ever need me, you know you just have to say the word and I’ll come running. After everything that you’ve done for me . . .”
“Ah, this is when you segue into asking me about all the chores you left me before you vanished for years? Very smooth, Sully. Very subtle.”
She thumped him in the gut with her prosthetic hand. “I was saying thanks, you dick.”
“How many years did I watch you pulling this shit on suspects? You don’t get to talk circles around me, Sully. I know all your tricks.”
She laughed again, and it was enough to bring him to a halt. He’d never heard Sully laughing like this. He’d drawn more than a few chuckles out of her through the years, but she had never managed to laugh like there was nobody judging her for it. She continued, “All right, all right! Where is she?”
He untangled himself from her shoulders and moved off, forcing her to jog to keep up with his longer stride. “Where is who? I don’t know what you’re talking about. You left me so many jobs to do, Sully. Head of the IBI. Protector of the whole American Empire. It’s a nightmare. Before, I was just running out my years until I could retire, then you blew up the whole bloody thing and left me to clean it up. Zombies. Manhattan. Fairies. Wars. I just wanted to catch criminals.”
She caught him by the hood of his camouflage sweatshirt and jerked him to a halt. “You know who I’m talking about.”
“My charming new wife that you have not asked about yet?”
“Ceejay . . .” She carefully ungritted her teeth. “How’s the wife?”
“She is driving me insane.” Ceejay warmed to his subject. “She wants me to have babies and live in a big house and work regular office hours. She wants me to wear gray and be respectable. She wants me to eat family meals. I can’t do any of those things. I must be making her oh so miserable. Why do people get married Sully?”
She was trying very hard not to laugh. “Love?”
That was enough to draw out a snort before Sully got it under control. “Come on, you’re saying you didn’t love Christina before you married her?”
“How am I supposed to remember a thing like that? It’s been years.” They plodded along in silence for a long moment before he added. “I do love her now. If I did not, after she threw out all of my good suits she would have woken up inside a shark. She knows I love her; she’s banking on it. Me loving her is how she gets away with tormenting me!”
“Sounds like the two of you were made for each other.”
He grinned. “She is a very handsome woman. It’s a good match.”
When they got to the gates of the yard, Sully politely stood aside and let him melt the locks away with a spray of acid. “Ah, it feels good to be doing things again instead of just reading reports about other people doing things.”
“You could always quit.” Sully tried to shrug while pushing herself through the bars of the gate and nearly got stuck. “Go back to being just a regular agent.”
Ceejay scoffed. “And let one of those other idiots run the place? Let one of them be my boss? Can you imagine?”
They headed deeper into the city on the hunt for a taxi, and it was like Sully had never left. “I did some of my best work when I had to report to idiots.”
He nudged her with his shoulder. “Don’t think I don’t know you’re talking about me.”
“Don’t think I don’t know that you know I’m talking about you.” She nudged right back.
They came to a halt by a street just busy enough that they had some hope of catching a taxi sometime this week. He looked down at her with almost the same broad smile he’d been comforting her with for decades and she finally realized that something was wrong. “What happened?”
“I lost her, Sully.” His fake smile crumbled. “You asked me to move her out of the country, to hide her where Pratt and his spies couldn’t find her, but they are my spies, too. I couldn’t hide her from one and not the other. For a year she was collecting mail and wire transfers from the stockpile you’d left for her. For a year she stayed where I hid her in Morocco and waited patiently for your return, but then . . . I don’t know what happened to her after that. The more that I do to find her, the more suspicions that I raise. I was going to end up bringing the danger to her if I persisted, so . . . I gave up.”
Sully had her eyes closed. When she opened them, Ceejay was fairly certain that he was going to be vaporized, so he very briefly wished that he had spent more time at home with his wife and then readied a defensive shield. Her mouth opened before her eyes and he braced himself for the curse she was about to unleash. “You did the right thing. Thank you.”
When she looked at him, there was neither sadness nor betrayal on her face, only the first inkling of the determination that had always defined her. “There are people I can talk to. Resources that you can’t tap. Favors I can call in. If she’s out there, I’ll find her.”
“You seem very certain.”
She grinned. “I didn’t come all this way to turn back now.”
1. What inspired you to write this book?
Well, there was a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end of book two, and I didn’t really want my readers to descend on me like screaming hellions and tear me limb from limb, so I suppose that self-preservation was my inspiration. All joking aside, Film Noir has always been the biggest influence on this series and the “get the macguffin at all costs” plot of The Maltese Falcon was clearly where I was starting from.
2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
I learned that with enough coffee and whisky it is entirely possible to write a 90k word book in under two months if you have a deadline. The real learning experience for me was actually in comparing this book to the first, The Year of the Knife was one of the first full-length novels I’d ever written, and I think that it shows when you compare and contrast with the work that I’m doing now. I still love it, and Sully will forever be one of my favourite characters, but I imagine I would have written it quite differently if I were to do it now.
3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
Sully has been through the wringer in these books. She has suffered, she has lost, and now that the war is over, she is slowly putting herself back together again. What really surprised and intrigued me as I was writing this book was that she was picking and choosing which parts of herself that she wanted to keep. She’d changed and grown so much, that the old, angry version of her just didn’t make sense any more, so she left her behind.
4. What does the title mean?
By the time that Sully arrives in Hong Kong, the enemies are at the gates. The British Empire is crumbling, and all of her colonies have been abandoned to fend for themselves. While Hong Kong has been enjoying a brief period of freedom, there is no way that it can last unless they find some new patron to protect them.
5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people?
I drew inspiration from a variety of historical characters for the books, but the only one who is contemporary would have to be Robert. The possessed doll that served as inspiration for the character of Eugene. You could consider him to be the alternate universe version.
6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
I think that the moral lesson of The Last Days of Hong Kong is a very neoliberal one, because I wanted to reflect the direction that America took in the post-war period as much as Sully’s personal growth. By the end of it she is putting herself first instead of chasing her sense of duty. On the one hand, it is definitely growth, but I’m not sure that it really makes her a better person.
7. What is your favorite part of the book?
I really enjoyed writing a lot of the side characters that are new to this book, I really enjoyed the flashbacks as Sully pieced her memory back together, I even enjoyed writing Eugene again after so long. But if you ask me my favourite part of any book, the answer is always going to be “the dragon fight.”
8. Which character was most challenging to create?
Weirdly, the reconstituted Sully was probably the trickiest to manage. I’d go into a scene thinking that she was going to behave the same way as she would have in the previous books, but then she’d surprise me by treating enemies with empathy or friends with suspicion. It was weird.
9. What are your immediate future plans?
I have a lot of books to write. I’m just finishing up the Savage Dominion trilogy, The Last King trilogy will be out next year, and then I’ve got some new projects on the horizon that I’m not allowed to talk about yet! Then maybe a nap.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: G.D. Penman is the author of more books than you can shake a reasonably-sized stick at, including series like Witch of Empire, Savage Dominion, Deepest Dungeon and The Last King. Before finally realizing that the career advisor lied to them about making a living as an author, G.D. Penman worked as an editor, tabletop game designer, and literally every awful demeaning job that you can think of in-between. Nowadays they can mostly be found writing fantasy novels and smoking a pipe in the sunshine. They live in Dundee, Scotland with their partner, children, dog and cats. Just . . . so many cats.
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