Where Shadows Lie
by Allegra Pescatore
Series: The Last Gift, Book 1
Genre: Gaslamp/Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Adult
Published: March 1, 2022
Publisher: AO Collective Publishing
The Chosen One is Dead.
Disabled since childhood, his little sister never expected the weight of a crown. Now, she might lose it before ever sitting on the throne. Beset by rebels, scheming politicians, and cutthroat bankers, Elenor must choose between accepting her father’s despotic rule or risking everything for her late brother’s lofty ideals.
Meanwhile, from the rainy streets of Lirin to the scorching dunes of the Mondaer Desert, the ripples of her actions have inadvertently broken a chain of events five centuries in the making. Ancient forces move in the shadows, calling in debts and striking deals. A monster with a thousand faces fingers his knife, ready to kill, and a pair of fugitives run for their lives, unaware of the danger they carry with them.
Where Shadows Lie is a non-stop epic fantasy ride, featuring an lgbtq+ and disabled protagonist and filled with court intrigue, sizzling romance, and adorable baby dragons. Dive in and get swept away!
Mother Knows Best • “Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile.” • #CancelStudentLoans
Content/Trigger Warnings: The story takes place in 200 BC, as a result, attitudes toward various aspects of life may be drastically different than ours.
Shown on page: Ableism, Child abduction (described briefly, non-graphic), Drug use (medically necessary), Torture, including mild gore
Alluded to: Sexual assault (assumed, not actual), A culture with “mild” Sexism, Racism, Infidelity.
Wilam Lirion dressed in red on the day he planned to kill his father. The hue was not remarkable—crimson and gold were the colors of the royal household—but today, he wore it with hope and pride instead of his usual revulsion. As he waited for the afternoon audiences to begin, Wil studied his parents. His mother kept her vacant eyes cast down at the embroidery frame in her lap. She sat with a straight back on her throne, her silver-blond hair pulled up under a thin veil upon which rested the crown of the ruling Lirion monarch.
His father’s own circlet was smaller and less ornate, the gold stark against his graying black hair. The King was whispering to one of his advisors when he caught Wil staring. He met his son’s gaze with a tight-lipped frown.
“Where is your sister, Wilam? I’m tired of her being late. She is learning bad habits from you.”
“How should I know? Elenor and I don’t spend enough time together for her to learn anything from me,” Wil replied. Their father made sure of that, but why? Had he realized Wil sought to overthrow him? Did he want to avoid having his youngest become as stubborn and independent as his heir? Whatever the reason, Wil hoped she didn’t show up. Elenor did not need to see this.
“Well, go find her. I wish to start on time toda—”
“I’m here, father!”
Wil turned, his dark curls bouncing, and saw his sister waltz into the Throne Room with her doena on her heels.
“You’re late,” the King chided, but, as ever, his tone was gentler with her.
“Sorry. I lost track of time.”
Their mother sighed, and Wilam suppressed a snort. That wasn’t bloody likely. Elenor might not always pay attention to her schedule, but Paul, her doena, was as obsessive and punctual as they got. If his sister was late, she had been up to something, no doubt with some of her troublemaking friends. Indeed, Wil noticed there was a small grass stain on Elenor’s white dress, not quite hidden despite her efforts to bunch the fabric just so.
“Don’t berate her, dearest,” their mother said in her usual almost-whisper. “She’s here, and it’s not yet noon. Children, in your seats, please so we can begin.”
Wil sighed and closed his eyes as Elenor pressed a kiss to his forehead in greeting on her way to the other side of the dais. Paul followed but did not take his customary place behind his ward. The doena wore a cross expression as he bent to whisper in Elenor’s ear. She winced, but Wil was sure Paul would smooth whatever feathers she had ruffled. That was the oath of a doena, after all: to protect their charge, even from themselves. It was never an easy job, and Paul’s was more challenging than most. Elenor had a preternatural ability to get into trouble.
When everyone had taken their seats, the Herald of the Court called for silence. The attention of the gathered nobles shifted to the first group of petitioners entering the chamber. The hall expanded outwards from the double doors, the walls forming two sides of a perfect equilateral triangle. Along those walls, walkways and balconies allowed the milling nobility to gather, make deals, and share in the gossip which was the lifeblood of the Lirinian Court.
The floor was a remnant of the Empire and over five hundred years old. A kaleidoscope of marble and onyx stonework, interlocking triangles tightened to draw the eye to the third wall of the room, where a beam of sunlight fell upon the four thrones on the dais. They were visible from every point in the chamber to grand effect. Unfortunately, it didn’t make for a comfortable experience for the ruling family. The bright sunshine was already making his eyes ache, and sweat soaked his undershirt.
The first few delegations and cases passed without note. Wil, as usual, was attentive but bored. His mother never took her eyes off her embroidery except to greet each new petitioner and bid them farewell, and the King just sat tapping his foot each time a case dragged on.
Elenor’s gaze kept moving toward a gaggle of her friends then up to the clock on the far wall, her foot tapping until their mother reached over to brush her knee. Elenor shot the Queen an apologetic look before relaxing back into her seat with a long-suffering sigh. Wil couldn’t blame her. He remembered how torturous it had been to sit through these audiences before he had gotten his Water Writ. Wilam now had the right to have his opinions heard. Elenor did not.
His musings halted as the door once again opened, and a flurry of colorful robes announced the delegation he had been waiting for. The disguiseson the five assassins were masterful. Wil had known and worked with these rebels for years, but even he hardly recognized them. Fay had her hair up in a bright green wrap with flowers sticking out of it. She wore an elegant but flamboyant yellow and blue robe that billowed around her feet as she walked.
The round, thick lenses and heavily painted frames of her spectacles hid her eyes, and there were colorful rings on her fingers wrapped around an ornate wooden box. Her companions wore equally vivid outfits. On her right, her second in command, Gabriel, shuffled with a hunched posture that fit with his oil-slicked hair, thin glasses, and a giant pile of dossiers. It made him look every inch an ordinary pencil-pushing lackey except for the beetle-green color of his coat and trousers. Another rebel, mirroring Gabriel’s position on Fay’s left, had on a jacket so pink it caused Wil’s eyes to water. Two trailed behind, one—Ian, if Wil’s memory served him—wore orange robes, and his eyes were covered by a bandage. The last was dressed in a more sedate dark blue aides uniform and was pretending to guide Ian. No one would look at this group and see criminals sneaking into the palace to kill their monarch. Assassins, after all, rarely attempted to be an eyesore.
Fay stopped before the dais and raised her eyes to the King. Wil took in a deep breath, his hand shifting to the hilt of his rapier in a casual gesture.
“Your Majesty, thank you for receiving us after our long journey.” She bowed low with a flourish of robes, the accent perfect for the Garendaren ambassador she pretended to be.
“Welcome to Hardor, Lady Ondai. What business do you bring before the
She straightened. “We have several matters to discuss, but first, may I present a gift to Your Majesty?” She held out the carved box and flipped the latch.
“A moment, please,” the King ordered, holding his palm toward her.
Wil’s heart thundered. “I am sure it is harmless, but as the rebel threat grows, we have had a retainer open all gifts, just in case.” With an imperious gesture, he called forward his chief advisor. “Eurieha, if you would.”
His father knew. There was no other explanation. None of the other offerings today had been scrutinized in this manner. Wil’s jaw tightened against the acid climbing up his throat as the retainer stepped towards Fay. His nails dug deep into his palms as he clenched his fists, but the pain didn’t even
1. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.
This particular book started with a hot glue gun. I was eight or so and my parents handed me a hot glue gun and all the cast-off pieces of picture framing matte board my heart could desire. So naturally, being a fantasy-loving child, I proceeded to build a castle. Once I had a whole host of set pieces for my playmobile figurines, my best friend Silvia and I would play out huge, sprawling stories. While the setting, dynamics, and plots changed, the characters were always the same. Elenor, Gabriel, Fedrik, Fay, Lilian, Mark, and a few others (though some had different names back then) got to have countless adventures.
Eventually, I decided to write one. It took twenty years to turn those games into a story, but a surprising amount is still accurate to those long-ago lazy Italian afternoons where we imagined while the rest of the world napped, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
Everything about writing. It was my workshop. I was already used to playing with plot and character, so I played fast and loose with both. There are drafts of this book that bare no resemblance at all with the finish product. In one, the characters are off on a road trip together. In another, the whole plot that became Where Shadows Lie happens in the first couple chapters.
When I started, I didn’t even know how to read and write in English. I taught myself the language by drafting novels and reading along to books I had in both physical and audio format. My early manuscript are thick with errors, with spelling so phonetic and atrocious they are illegible. Fortunately, I got better.
I also had to learn a lot of other tools. Plotting, character development, dialogue, and the rest all came little-by-little through creative writing classes, mentors, online forum role-play, and more. It wasn’t until I had written over a million words in this setting that I finally sat down and started getting serious. I knew the story I wanted to tell simply required me to become a better writer, so I only began considering publication once I had learned enough to actually convey what was in my head.
3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
I was used to my main cast. If anything, too used to them! I’d written Elenor in so many forms and situations over the years that drafting from her POV was as easy as breathing. But then came Paul, Claire, Kallen, Daemon, and half a dozen other people I certainly didn’t know. They’ve taken me for quite the adventure, and I still have no idea where they’re headed. All I’m certain of is that they are here to stay.
4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
It’s a line from the litany of the God my protagonist worships. I loved the litany against fear from Dune as a child, and really wanted to bring some of that tangible wisdom that mantras create into my world. As such, each of the Gods has a litany, which their followers try to live up to. In Elenor’s case it is:
“I will walk in the light, alone and unafraid. In shadows I will find no fear, for they are fleeting, and when darkness blocks my path I will not stop, for only challenged will I grow. It is mine to walk the troubled road where others dare not tread, and speak the truth where shadows lie.”
I particularly like titles that have multiple meanings. Where Shadows Lie can mean where they are cast, or where they deceive. This series, at its core, deals with deception and moral relativity. What is and isn’t true (from multiple conflicting points of view) is the mystery spanning multiple books and tying them together. The characters struggle with separating lies from truth, and have some very dark roads to walk down before the end.
5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
Only one is really inspired by a real person. One of my dear friends from high school, Jack, was one of the first people to fall in love with my writing. He helped me craft a lot of the lore of the world, and geeked out with me about characters, plot, and worldbuilding.
A few years after graduation, he died. Before he did, he had asked me to write him in as a villain. One of his favorite characters from fiction was called Daemon, so to honor his wishes, I based the character of Daemon Indigo (formally called Jac), off of my friend. Hopefully he would have enjoyed the dark and twisty past I gave him, though I hope he’ll forgive me for making Dameon more of a villainous anti-hero than a true baddie.
6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
I think this book is an exploration of the process of choosing one’s morality, not having it foisted upon you. My protagonist is caught between two opposing versions of ‘the right thing to do’, each with merit and drawbacks. While I hope that readers like the conclusion she comes to, the act of soul-searching is personal.
7. What is your favorite part of the book?
I loved writing baby dragon shenanigans. They are what I live for. But apart from that easy answer, I think my favorite part was getting to write a disabled character based on my own experiences. When I started writing, I didn’t yet have a diagnosis for why I was in pain, dizzy, and sick all the time. Elenor’s condition very much grew up with me, evolving as I better understood what it was like to be disabled and fought with my own internalized ableism. The catharsis of being able to write a protagonist in the kind of books I’ve always read who hurt and struggled the way I did was liberating.
8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
Lilian Lirion. The Queen of Lirin and Elenor’s mother is the most complex and difficult character to get through. While she isn’t a major player in the first book, I am now finishing up book three and can say with utter certainty that she will surprise you. I have yet to get through one of her chapters without sobbing. She is dark, twisty, eaten up by guilt and insecurity. Deeply bitter, yet also equally committed to doing her best by those she loves. Her story is one of generational abuse and gaslighting that started before she was born and that her daughter (the protagonist of the story) has to deal with the repercussions of. Trauma as a whole is a huge theme in this series, and Lilian is at the heart of most of it. It’s hard writing, but a character I’m proud to have brought to life. Though, truth be told, the fact that I did makes me think I might need as much therapy as my characters do.
9. What are your immediate future plans?
The Last Gift series is completing it’s first of 5 arcs this summer. While Elenor’s story is far from over, I am hoping to take a few months to work on some stand-alone concepts I’ve had bouncing around in my head for some time. In general, though, I look forward to pushing Project Ao forward. The Last Gift is just one prong of a multiverse spanning multiple authors and series. They’re all going to be colliding as they progress, so it’s important to keep momentum going on all the different branches. My dream is that over the next decade more talented authors join us, more worlds get developed and launched, and my dream of seeing a collaborative indie multiverse starts picking up steam.
About the Author:
Allegra grew up in a small village in northern Tuscany as the daughter of two artists. She was raised on the works of J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, Frank Herbert, and many others, all read aloud to her while she drew and played make-believe. She began to write at the age of eight and hasn’t stopped since.
After many moves and dozens of countries visited, she now lives in a cozy cottage in Western PA. She is accompanied in her current adventures by husband Job, co-conspirator and long-time writing partner Tobias, and a small army of furry and scaly pets. When not writing or daydreaming, Allegra rules her kitchen with an iron first and feeds everyone who walks through her door. She also gardens, dabbles in various art forms, and spins stories for her tabletop gaming group.
As a disabled woman and staunch LGBTQ ally, Allegra hopes to write engaging, diverse, and representative Fantasy and Science Fiction, where people who do not often see themselves center stage get the chance to shine.
Her debut book, Where Shadows Lie, was an SPFBO Semi-Finalist and is a CIBA award finalist. It is the first book of The Last Gift series, and the first title of Project Ao, by Ao Collective Publishing. Other titles in Project Ao include NACL: Eye of the Storm (2021 SPFBO Semi-Finalist) and A Bond of Thread.
Starts: May 12, 2022 at 12:00am EST Ends: May18, 2022 at 11:59pm