Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Blog Tour + #Giveaway: Firebrand by A.J. Hartley @authorajhartley @JeanBookNerd


New York Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley returns to his intriguing, 19th-century South African-inspired fantasy world in another adrenaline-pounding adventure

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.





          Willing house watched me, his face stern, while the man I had known as Detective Andrews— now Inspector Andrews, thanks to his part in the Beacon affair— motioned one of his men to replace the sopping blanket around my shoulders with another. 
          My left arm was dislocated, and they had strapped it in place till someone from Saint Auspice’s could tend to it properly. My face throbbed. Most of my left side was suffused with a deep and coloring bruise that made the slightest movement painful. More to the point, as Willing house’s very first question had made clear, I had neither the stolen plans nor any clue to the identity of who had orchestrated the theft. The police had recovered Darius’s body and were planning to put notices in the papers requesting assistance from the public to confirm the cat burglar’s real name. 
          I had described the man with the pick, but he was nondescript in everything but the strange detachment with which he had planned to kill me, and I couldn’t put that into words they understood. 
          “He was white,” I said. “Blond. Ordinary- looking but well dressed.” 
          Willinghouse, never a man to hide his disappointment in me, scowled and looked away across the river to where a thick smudge of smoke hung over the remains of what ever had burned the night before. I had drifted only a few hundred yards down the river, my barely conscious body pulled into a central channel too deep— mercifully—to run afoul of the nearby hippo pod. I had snagged upon a raft of driftwood on the central stanchion of the shifting and rickety Ridleford pontoon bridge and been spotted by Mahweni longshoremen on their morning ferry ride to work. They had alerted the coast guard, who were out in unusual numbers. 
          “What burned last night?” I asked, following Willinghouse’s green eyes. 
          “What?” he asked, as if just remembering I was there. “Oh. Nothing. An abandoned factory. It’s not relevant.” 
          And that was Willinghouse.  There was work— which was relevant— and there was everything else. I hopped from one category to the other like a secretary bird hunting snakes. 
          “Why all the coast guard boats?” I asked. I could see three this side of the Ridleford pontoons. They had armed men in their bows, and one seemed to be towing another vessel— actually more a raft bound together with rope and buoyed up unevenly on rusted barrels— crowded with people. Black people. Thin and ragged looking. Almost all women and children. 
          “Illegals,” said Andrews. “Trying to sneak into the economic paradise that is Bar-Selehm.”
          I watched the people on the raft as they gazed from one shouting officer to another, uncomprehending and scared, the children huddled around their  mothers, their  faces tear streaked. 
          “How are you feeling?” asked Andrews. He was a thin- faced, clean- shaven white man whose eyes had a predatory intensity, but his voice was soft, and his concern sounded genuine. 
          I reached for my injured shoulder with my right hand, but couldn’t grasp it before the pain became too much. I winced, and he nodded. 
          “Anything other than your shoulder?” he asked. “That was quite a fall.” 
          “Just my pride,” I said, still watching the children as they were lifted from their listing raft and into the arms of the police who clustered around in the thigh- deep water. One of the women— wearing a filthy and soaking orange sarong that stuck to her sticklike limbs— was nursing a tiny infant. 
          “Why did you jump?” asked Willinghouse, peering at me from behind his wire- rimmed spectacles. “You couldn’t have, I don’t know, fought them off or something?”
          “No,” I said. 
          “I thought you were more adept at this kind of thing.” He didn’t sound critical as much as curious, and when I glared at him, he shrugged. “What?” 
          “The one who came after me was too strong, all right? Too skilled.” 
          “And you saw nothing to identify either him or the gunman in the boat?” Willing house pressed. 
          I shook my head, feeling stupid and useless, looking back to the ragged immigrants, then caught myself. “ 
          There was something,” I said. “He lost a cuff link as we fought on the crane. It might have fallen in the river, but it might not.” 
          “Where?” asked Andrews. 
          “I’ll show you,” I said, getting to my feet with the inspector’s help. I scowled at Willinghouse, but he was watching the raft and seemed to have forgotten me entirely, so I led Andrews along the riverbank to the steps and the pier and the crane, a uniformed officer trailing us, uninterested. The hippo was still there, its back turned to the water, pinking in the sun. 
          “ There,” I said. “We were at the midpoint of that boom when he lost the cuff link. It went behind him and hit metal on the way down.” 
          I shrugged apologetically. It wasn’t much of a clue. 
          “Benson!” called Andrews to the uniformed officer, pointing. 
          “Down there, sir?” protested Benson. “ There’s a bloody  great hippo!” 
          “Well, keep your distance from it,” said Andrews, not very helpfully. 
          Benson gave me a baleful look. 
          “Was it luxorite?” said Willinghouse suddenly. 
          “The cuff link your assailant dropped. Did it contain luxorite?” 
          “I don’t think so. It was bright but only by reflection. Why?” 
          “If it was luxorite, he would have had an easier time finding it in the dark,” Willing house said with a noncommittal shrug. “ Unless it fell into the river, in which case the point is rather moot.” 
          He said it sourly, the scar on his cheek tightening, as if where the item had fallen was somehow my fault. I talked to push away the sense of failure. 
          “Probably just crystal or enamel,” I said, “but large and blue.” 
          It took a moment for this to register in my employer’s face, but the transformation was marked. 
          “Blue?” snapped Willinghouse. “ You’re sure? What shape?” 
          “I didn’t get a good look at it—” 
          “Diamond shaped?” 
          I thought hard, sensing how much he needed me to remember more than I had seen. I shrugged, and my shoulder cried in protest. 
          “I don’t know for sure,” I said. “Could have been.”
          “On a white background?”
          “White or silver, yes,” I said. “You know it?” 
          “Oh yes,” said Willinghouse, and there was something more than plea sure in his face. His jaw was set in grim resolution. He hurried away and was soon poring over the ground behind Andrews and Benson, who was peering into the water below the crane’s piers, keeping a watchful eye on the hippo some thirty yards away. I joined the hunt, but only for a moment. Willing house suddenly straightened up with a cry of “Huzzah!” He held the cuff link aloft, and his face was full of grim triumph. 
          “What is it?” asked Andrews. 
          “Elitus,” said Willinghouse, holding out the cuff link for Andrews to inspect it. It was indeed a blue crystalline diamond on a silvery white enamel background. “A club. Very exclusive.” 
          “Never heard of it,” said Andrews. 
          “No,” Willing house answered. “You wouldn’t have. No offense meant. If it’s any consolation, they  wouldn’t have me as a member  either.” 
          Andrews raised his eyebrows. Willing house was only a junior member of Parliament, but he was a man of considerable means, which was how he was able to employ me. 
          “Excuse me!” 
          We all turned to look down to the shore, where Benson gazed up at us with a look of considerable unease. “Did you find what you  were looking for? Only, this hippo is eyeballing me something awful . . . ?” 
          “Oh, for crying out loud, man!” exclaimed Andrews. “Yes, we found it. Get up  here.” He turned back to Willinghouse irritably. “You were saying you wouldn’t be allowed to join this Elitus club. Why not?”
          Willinghouse smiled mirthlessly. 
          “Well, I’m not a member of the right party for one thing, but . . .” He hesitated. “Let’s just say that the cuff link’s white background is . . .  symbolic.” 
          Andrews looked taken aback, embarrassed even. He knew that Willinghouse was a quarter Lani, though it wasn’t clear from his appearance. His hair was jet- black like mine, but his eyes were green, and most people would assume he was merely a little tanned by the Feldesland sun. His socialite sister, Dahria, passed even more completely for white. 
          “Did he see your face? Your skin?” asked Willing house. 
          I bit back my irritation. 
          “Are you asking if he saw who I was or what I am?” I said. 
          “Both.  Either.” 
          I looked away. 
          “My face was masked,” I said. “He didn’t get a good look at me. Whether he could tell I was Lani . . .  I don’t know. Maybe.” 
          Willinghouse scowled, dissatisfied. 
          “ There’s no need for that, old fellow,” said Andrews. “Miss Sutonga has had a singularly trying experience—” 
          “I don’t dispute that,” Willing house shot back. “I’d just like to know whether our enemy realizes the government has a Lani agent working for them.”
          “Your concern is noted,” I said, frostily, “but I can look after myself.” 
          “My concern,” said Willinghouse, “is that if they do, in fact, know that the person who pursued their agent was Lani or, for that matter female, then your use value just went into a sharp decline, wouldn’t you say?” 
          Fury got the better of me. 
          “My use value?” I spat. 
          “Your function as a government operative.” 
          “ You’re not the government,” I said, swinging wildly now. “ You’re a member of Parliament in the opposition’s back benches.” 
          “Who serves the interests of the city with the means available to him,” Willing house retorted. 
          “Meaning me? I’m the means available to you?” 
          “Meaning . . .  no,” he said, stuttering to a frustrated halt. “I meant using my family’s fortune, a small part of which has been used to secure your services.” 
          “And excellent services they are too,” inserted Andrews, trying to keep the peace.
          We both glared at him.  There was a long silence. 
          “I’ll also remind you,” said Willing house pompously, “that while my party is not currently in power, this is an election year and the Brevard membership has high hopes of—” 
          “This Elitus place,” I said. “How do I get in?”  
          Andrews frowned. 
          “Miss Sutonga,” he said, “these people, whoever they are, have already demonstrated they are quite ruthless. Two people have already died trying to stop them. The documents are gone. The enemy have them, and nothing we do now  will change that.” 
          “What are they?” I asked. 
          “That is confidential information,” said Andrews. “Even I don’t know—” 
          “Plans for a new machine gun,” said Willinghouse. 
          Andrews and I both gaped at him. I had seen a machine gun in use once before. I did not know how they could be made more lethal than they already were, but if someone had that knowledge, someone I had failed to stop . . .  
          “The documents were stolen from the War Office,” said Willinghouse. “I was in a meeting across the street when the alarm was raised, which is why I was able to alert you to what was  going on before the thief made his escape. The shadow secretary for defense spoke to me in the heat of the moment and was, you might say, unguarded in his speech. Something he now regrets. Anyway, yes, the plans are for a new machine gun, and word in government circles is that it’s the Grappoli who took them.” 
          “Of course,” said Andrews. “They always suspect the Grappoli.” 
          The Grappoli were the city’s colonial rivals, and they controlled considerably more of Feldesland, the continent of which Bar- Selehm was the jewel, than we did. Bar- Selehm had been established three centuries ago by King Gustav II of Belrand, a country on the northern continent of Panbroke: a process equal parts military conquest, barter, and legal sleight of hand. The city- state eventually became an industrial sprawl unrivaled in Feldesland, but pretty isolated from its neighbors. It had leeched parcels of land away from the indigenous Mahweni over the years, but Bar- Selehm’s total holdings still amounted to no more than a few thousand square miles. The Grappoli’s native lands were in southeast Panbroke, their people still white, but tending to darker hair and eyes than the Belrandians, and their expansion across the sea to Feldesland had been a more concerted effort to dominate the continent. They had taken over whole countries in the north and west and seemed to be perpetually looking to expand farther. It was one of those bitter colonial jokes that when anyone referred to the “Feldish,” they meant the white colonists from Belrand, not the Mahweni who had always lived on the continent and who had called the land something diff er ent. I didn’t know what. 
          Willing house nodded.
          “I know,” he said. “But this time . . .  the Grappoli are moving east, north of the Hagrab desert. They are claiming obscure legal precedent based on settlements made a century or more ago. Reports suggest that they are fuel ling tribal conflicts that are driving the locals off the land, and the only modern military resistance they are encountering comes from local warlords who are fighting only to protect their opium fields. The people who live there are caught in the middle. We don’t know for sure what is happening yet, and there is no suggestion that the conflict might expand south toward Bar- Selehm, but it’s a mess, and a bloody one. Trade routes are being watched; sanctions against the Grappoli are being drawn up. Potential deals between Bar- Selehm and the Grappoli that might in any way augment their military capacity are being debated even as we speak. Some of my more hawkish colleagues are suggesting we send troops north to support the cartels, while  others say that the drug lords are clearly the lowest of the very low, and that if we are to take sides at all, we are better lining up alongside the Grappoli. My party’s position is that the Grappoli’s current landgrab may not involve us at all, but we must ensure that Bar- Selehm does not support it, however indirectly. In the long term, the consequences could be dire.” 
          “The long term?” I said. “What about the northern tribes whose land is being taken now?” 
          “Miss Sutonga, let’s not make this a crusade, shall we?” he said. His eyes flashed to the now- empty raft surrounded by the coast guard, and I made the connection.
          “Them?” I demanded. “That’s what this is? You said they were illegal immigrants.”
          “They are!” said Willinghouse. 
          “But they are also refugees?” 
          “The lands north of the Hagrab desert are not Bar- Selehm’s concern,” said Willinghouse. “The people who live there have sovereignty over their own territory. Interference on our part would merely spark diplomatic discomfort. The results could easily escalate into trade sanctions, the closing of embassies, the collapse of international trade agreements—” 
          “We’re talking about the Quundu, yes?” I said. 
          “There are various tribal territories involved,” said Willinghouse wearily, “but yes, the Quundu, the Delfani, the Zagrel—” 
          “Who all have their own sovereignty,” said Andrews. 
          “Yes,” I said. “You know what else they have? Spears. Shields covered with buffalo hide. Knives. While the Grappoli have machine guns. But let’s be sure not to spark diplomatic discomfort.” 
          “You can’t take things like this personally,” said Willinghouse. “It impairs your judgment.” 
          I watched where the police and coast guard were gathering the weary huddle of women and children together on the shore. Some of them had collapsed. How long had they been at sea? Days? Weeks? There  were bodies on the raft that I had thought  were sleeping, but they had not moved  after the  others disembarked. One wailing woman splashed through the water toward a small body, while a policeman pulled her back. . . .
          “How do I get into Elitus?” I asked again, turning back to Willinghouse, my tone neutral. 
          “I really don’t think—” Andrews began, but I cut him off with a look. 
          “How do I get in?” 
          “If someone of my status can’t get into Elitus,” said Willinghouse, “how on earth am I going to get a full- blood Lani girl in?” 
          “I have no idea,” I said. “But I can’t wait to find out.”

Copyright 2017 by A.J. Hartley

Praise for FIREBRAND

“Hartley creates a world so analogous to our ownit hardly seems like a fantasy....Anglet has blossomed in this sequel, releasing her previously restrained sharp tongue and expanding her emotional range. Even as she learnsto put on a neutral face to be a more effective spy, her empathy for those whoare suffering and her relentless search for the truth are her most laudable attributes. Readers who come for the tightly plotted mystery will stay for the heroine who does all she can to resist.” ― Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The well-crafted adventures of this feisty, diverse protagonist continue in thisworthy sequel to Steeplejack (2016), evoking Sherlock Holmes with its Victorian-esquesetting, and James Bond in its espionage-laced plot. Hartley has composed another electrifying fantasy that buzzeswith intrigue and timely political and social issues, making this a must-have additionto any collection.” ― Booklist, starred review

“Expertly written, never preaching or pointing fingers, but subtly applying pressure toexamine race issues, gender inequalities, microaggressions, and socio-economicproblems in our culture…. Teens will see themselves in the tough, realistic, and fierce yet vulnerable protagonist. The multicultural worldbuilding will draw in readers of many ages and backgrounds, while the well-crafted mystery and action will keep them wanting more….A delightful follow-up to the explosive first novel from an established author who clearly knows his craft.” ―VOYA

“Hartley's story succeeds in building a detailed world of bothfamiliar (charging hippos) and unfamiliar (a precious mineral, luxorite, usedby the rich) elements while also tackling a wide range of complicated social issues....Most impressive is the genre-blending; the author adeptlymerges a political thriller with action, adventure, and mystery. Will have strong appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly those looking for complex novels that reflect a diverse world.”―School Library Journal


“A richly realized world, an intensely likable character, and a mystery to die for." ―Cory Doctorow, New York Times-bestselling author

“A thought-provoking blend of action and intrigue, with a competent and ethical heroine in Ang and a fully imagined setting whose atmosphere and cultural cues also play important roles. The result is an unforgettable page-turner built on surprises and full of potential.”―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Skillful writing, masterful pacing, and a capable and quite likable female detective are just a few of the things to love about this fantasy-adventure....In addition to the detective angle, Hartley thoughtfully explores issues such as race relations, both inter- and intra-racial, as Anglet deals with the censure of her own community, and class issues, as she attempts to work outside the political system to solve the murder. This one won’t stay on the shelf for long.” ―Booklist, starred review

“Smart political intrigue wrapped in all the twists and turns of a good detective story makes for a rip-roaring series opener.” ― Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“With its unique South African-inspired setting, richly-drawn and diverse cast of characters, and unstoppable plot, readers of any age won't be able to put Steeplejack down!” ―Carrie Ryan, New York Times bestselling author

“With Steeplejack, A.J. Hartley introduces a dynamic, complex and likeable new heroine who combines wits, skill and courage to face deadly challenges in an exotic world. Teens and adults will love this book and want more, more, more!” ―Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and The Orphan Army.

“A.J. Hartley has created an exquisite, explosive, nail-biting, tear-rousing masterpiece, in a world so realistic it might be right around the corner.” ―Faith Hunter, New York Times bestselling author

“What a world Hartley has created! Enough twists and surprises to keep the pages turning long into the night.” ―R.L. Stine

“A unique epic adventure set in a richly imagined world; lush, exotic and masterfully written. It's Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, and Indiana Jones rolled into one.” ―Lissa Price, internationally bestselling author of Starters and Enders

“Smart and socially-aware, this fabulous debut adds to the growing library of multicultural fantasy and is a loudly resounding success.” ―Nisi Shawl, Tiptree Award-winning author of Everfair

“With Steeplejack, A.J. Hartley creates a world as complex as its heroine, and a mystery that spans class, race and geography. You can feel the grit and glory of Bar-Selehm, a many-spired city teetering on the edge of the savannah, and the verge of war. The perfect setting for a street-smart young woman who is caught between three cultures, yet refuses to be trapped by them.” ―Sherri L. Smith, award-winning author of Flygirls and Orleans

“Hartley has created a world so gritty and real I could taste the soot.” ―Maurice Broaddus, author of the Knights of Breton Court trilogy

“Steeplejack combines a lively and intelligent plot with an intriguing and well-drawn world, and caps all this goodness with a determined and indefatigable heroine.” ―Kate Elliott, author of Court of Fives and Black Wolves

“A rich, atmospheric tale of adventure, morality and consequence, Steeplejack will linger with you long after you read the last page.” ―Kady Cross, author of the Steampunk Chronicles and Sisters of Blood and Spirit series

“Elegant prose, a cracking good mystery, lots of action, and characters to fall in love with and root for. I read it cover to cover in no time at all. In fact, I did so twice! And I was on the edge of my seat both times.” ―D.B. Jackson, author of the Thieftaker series

“I was completely hooked from page one. Ang is a hero to cheer for heart and soul. A thrilling, clever, meaningful read.” ―Leanna Renee Hieber, award-winning author of Strangely Beautiful and The Eterna Files

“An exquisitely built mystery set in a lush, vibrant world. I was loath to leave Ang and Bar-Selehm behind at the end of it. Definitely a book to be revisited again and again.” ―Kat Zhang, author of What’s Left of Me


Author A.J. Hartley is the bestselling writer of mystery/thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, and young adult novels.

He was born in northern England, but has lived in many places including Japan, and is currently the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where he specializes in the performance history, theory and criticism of Renaissance English drama, and works as a director and dramaturg.

He has more hobbies than is good for anyone, all of which you can learn more about by friending him (odious word) on Facebook, by following his blog and by checking in on the What’s Going On blog page. He is represented by Stacey Glick of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management for books, and by Eddie Gamarra of the Gotham Group for film and television. And check out A.J.’s Amazon author page.

Photo Credit: Wade Bruton


--Giveaway is open to International. | Must be 13+ to Enter

- 2 Winners will receive a Set Copy of the Alternative Detective Series, Steeplejack and Firebrand by A.J. Hartley.