Snippet – The Family Shame (The Zero Enigma 4 (Stand-Alone))

8 Apr

Family Shame Cover FOR WEB

Dear Reader

This story may require some explanation.

I was midway through writing The Zero Curse when it crossed my mind that I could write a handful of stand-alone stories set in the Zero universe. A number of ideas occurred to me, some of which I plotted out at once, but I had to put them aside while I finished the first trilogy. I was, in fact, writing The Zero Equation when it occurred to me that I could hang an entire story on Isabella Rubén, allowing me to show that she was a more complex character than she might have appeared and, perhaps more importantly, allowing me to explore different aspects of the universe. The story in front of you is the result.

If this is your first foray into the Zero universe, all you need to know is that twelve-year-old Isabella Rubén – manipulated by Stregheria Aguirre – betrayed her family to outside forces and, after the crisis was concluded, was summarily sentenced to exile. The story opens with her in a carriage, driving away from the only home she’s known …

… And making her way into an uncertain future.

(Check out the cover here –

As always, comments, spelling corrections, etc are warmly welcomed.

As this is primarily meant for younger readers, please could you also keep an eye out for things that might not be appropriate for them.

Now read on …

Thank you


PS – a couple of people were asking how to follow me. Just watch my blog <grin>.


It was a truth often acknowledged, Lord Carioca Rubén thought grimly, that House Rubén was the oldest Great House in Shallot. House Rubén could trace its linage all the way back to the Senatorial Families of the Golden City, a claim that none of the other Great Houses could make. Indeed, House Rubén was also the only Great House to cling to the customs and traditions of a long-vanished world that had, as far as the rest of the city was concerned, outlived their usefulness long ago. He’d seen it, once, as proof that they were different, as proof that they were born to eventually take supreme power.

Now, the traditions were a noose around his neck.

He stood in the centre of the Chamber of Judgement, his hands clasped behind his back as the arbiters took their places. Their faces were concealed behind black cloaks and powerful wards, their identities hidden even from the Patriarch himself. They would be men, of course, but beyond that …? Carioca understood the logic behind the tradition – he would have tried to bribe or threaten the arbiters, if he knew who they were – and at one point he would have supported it. Now … he would gladly throw tradition out of the window, if it would save his daughter’s life. He’d been very lucky that Isabella simply hadn’t been executed on the spot.

“We have discussed the matter of Isabella Rubén at great length,” the lead arbiter said. His voice was muffled by the wards. No one, not even the other arbiters, would know who he was. A friend, an enemy … or merely someone who’d lost confidence in Carioca’s leadership? “It is beyond doubt that she committed treason, against both the family and the kingdom itself. And that she acted without direction from a senior member of our family.”

Carioca felt his heart clench. Isabella wouldn’t have been expected to defy a senior member of the family, if he’d ordered her to follow his instructions. She was twelve. She wasn’t expected to make decisions for herself. If she had even a flimsy excuse to blame her actions on someone older, wiser and more powerful than herself …

“Worse, she chose to ally herself with Stregheria Aguirre,” the arbiter continued. “It is impossible to believe that she thought she was acting in the best interests of the family, or even that she was trying to secure the family’s future in the event of Crown Prince Henry’s coup suceeding. Isabella would have claimed power over the remainder of the Great Houses, assuming Stregheria Aguirre actually honoured her side of the agreement, but there would be little left to rule. House Rubén would be left broken in the wake of the coup.”

And the House War, Carioca thought. Stregheria Aguirre had laid her plans well. She’d played Isabella like a puppet. And, because she was an Aguirre, there was no way Isabella could be forgiven for allying with her. House Aguirre was the enemy. She thought she had no choice.

He winced, inwardly. Any father whose child turned against the family was a failure as a parent. That much was undeniable. How much of what had happened was his fault? Perhaps, if he’d been a stricter or a more attentive parent, Isabella would never have looked elsewhere for validation. Perhaps, if he’d fought for her right to succeed him as Patriarch, she wouldn’t have felt she needed to step outside the family line for power. Isabella was his daughter. How could she not be ambitious? But even he could not overturn centuries of tradition. He hadn’t even realised he needed to try until it was too late.

“If Isabella was a grown woman, she would have been executed by now,” the arbiter stated, flatly. “Treason is a serious offense. The king has already executed a number of Crown Prince Henry’s supporters, even members of the highest nobility. As it is, considering her age, we have decided to be merciful.”

Carioca wasn’t relieved. Mercy was a word with many meanings. Isabella was too young to be executed, perhaps, but there was no way she could be saved from punishment. He’d been lucky to escape being summarily stripped of his title himself. If he hadn’t been a war hero, if Caitlyn Aguirre hadn’t made her proposal to end the House War – and the endless feud – he might have lost everything. As it was, there was no guarantee that his son would be able to succeed him. The family council might choose to elect someone else in his place.

And the king will be demanding some punishment, he thought, grimly. Too many noblemen – and army officers – had backed Crown Prince Henry’s bid for the throne. It had been sheer luck that the original plan had had to be replaced at short notice. He cannot let a known traitor get away with it.

“Isabella will be sent into exile,” the arbiter informed him. “We have decided that Kirkhaven Hall will make a suitable home for her until we see fit to recall her from exile.”

“I protest,” Carioca said, immediately. “Kirkhaven Hall is no place for a young girl.”

“She will not be alone,” the arbiter said.

“But there will be no one of her age there,” Carioca said. He was all too aware that he was coming close to pleading. “She will …”

“She is being punished,” the arbiter said. “A few years in exile will teach her a lesson and satisfy the king. Should she comport herself in a manner that suggests she has learnt something from the experience, she will eventually be allowed to return to the city.”

But what she did will never be forgotten, Carioca thought, glumly. Too many people knew the truth for it to be forgotten, even if he bribed or threatened people into silence. House Rubén had enemies. They’d drag the matter up every time they needed to weaken the family’s reputation still further. Isabella will never live it down.

He stared into the arbiter’s hooded face and knew there was no point in arguing. The family demanded its pound of flesh. Isabella had betrayed them, a crime that could never be forgiven. Scheming to become Patriarch was one thing, but actually planning to ruin the entire family was quite another. There were few worse crimes. Carioca’s enemies might take pleasure in putting a knife in his back, while he was weak, but even his allies would agree that Isabella needed to be punished. Sending her into exile, cutting her off from the friends and family she’d need to make a name for herself, was harsh. Her future prospects would be utterly ruined.

As if they weren’t anyway, Carioca thought. Who would want her to marry into their family now?

“Isabella will leave tomorrow morning,” the arbiter said, firmly. “You will not be permitted to talk to her before her departure, nor will you write to her without the family council’s approval. Should you attempt to contact her secretly, her exile may be extended and your own position will be subject to examination.”

Carioca gritted his teeth, wondering – again – who was under the hood. One of his enemies, definitely. The list was a depressingly long one. He’d stood on too many toes during his rise to power. And now he was weak, someone had decided to have a go at him. If he didn’t try to contact Isabella, his fitness as a father – and Patriarch – would be called into question. But if he did try to contact his daughter, his enemies would have all the excuse they needed to strip him of his position. He could not win.

“I understand,” he said.

Isabella would not have an easy time of it. Kirkhaven Hall was in the highlands, right on the border with Galashiels. There were only a couple of people living there, both of whom had been sent into exile themselves long ago. Isabella would have books, of course, and plenty of room to practice her magic, but her education would suffer. And she would be unable to build the circle of patronage that any young person needed to make something of themselves in adult life. She would be alone, in a very real sense, for the rest of her life.

But at least she will be alive, he told himself. And, one day, she will return to us.

But he knew that day would be a very long time in coming.

Chapter One

It was cold, bitterly cold.

I muttered a heating incantation under my breath, although I knew it was useless. The bracelet the armsman had given me, before we left the hall five days ago, stopped me from performing even the simplest of spells. I could no more warm myself than I could look out of the shuttered windows, let alone cast a spell that might get me out of the carriage. The clothes I wore were too thin, the charms woven into the fabric nowhere near powerful enough to turn back the cold. I was going to freeze.

The carriage rattled, reminding me that we were a long way from the King’s Roads – and Shallot. I hadn’t seen much of the countryside – the armsman had kept the shutters down for most of the trip – but it was clear that we were travelling well into the hinterlands. The family estate, a mere fifty miles from Shallot, could be reached in a day on horseback, if one was prepared to ride hard. I didn’t think the carriage could move as fast as a horse, but still … we’d been travelling for a very long time.

I looked down at the cuff, feeling a bitter surge of helplessness. My life was over. My life was over and it was never going to end. The Arbiters had made it clear that I was going into exile, that I would not be allowed to return to Shallot for years, if at all. I was an exile, at twelve years old, and it was all my own stupid fault. There was no one else to blame for my fall from grace.

I should never have listened to that witch, I thought. I’d been told, more than once, that I should inform my father if an adult from a rival Great House tried to make contact with me. I hadn’t listened. I’d been hurting and depressed and Stregheria Aguirre had told me what I wanted to hear. If I hadn’t listened to her …

But I had listened to her, I had allowed her to talk me into treason against my family – against the entire city – and I was lucky to be alive. The Arbiters had told me that, too. If I’d been an adult, I would have been beheaded. But I couldn’t help thinking, as I stared at the carriage’s wooden walls – it was little more than a box on wheels – that I hadn’t really been lucky at all. I would have died quickly, then it would have been over. Now, my life would be turned into an object lesson for young children, a grim reminder of what not to do. I’d laughed at some of the stories of older family who’d transgressed and faced punishment. It wasn’t so funny now the boot was on the other foot.

I leaned back against the wooden wall and closed my eyes, trying to sleep. There was little else to do. The Arbiters had let me pack a few books – and a handful of possessions – but the armsman had put my trunks under the carriage, rather than letting me have anything in the passenger compartment itself. He wanted to make me miserable, I thought. Two weeks ago, I’d been one of the highest-ranking children in the family. Servants had jumped to my commands. Now, I was just an exile. My name had probably been struck from the family rolls. Mother was probably going around telling everyone that she had only ever had one child.

Not that anyone will believe her, I thought. And no one will ever let Mother and Father forget what I did either.

I scowled at the thought as I tried to concentrate on a meditation routine. People had been sent into exile before, but none of them – as far as I knew – had betrayed the family quite as spectacularly as I. The young men and women who had committed some indiscretion that was only spoken about in whispers would be welcomed back, after a decent interval. They might never regain their former prominence, but at least they would be part of the family again. I, on the other hand …

They’ll never forget what you did, a little voice whispered at the back of my mind. And they’ll never let you go home.

A surge of anger ran through me. My magic shuddered to life, pressing against the bracelet … then faded back into nothingness. I slumped, cursing the bracelet and its designer in words I’d never dared used in front of my parents. My magic was useless as long as I wore the wretched cuff. Had Caitlyn designed it? Or Akin? My brother had been quick to side with the Aguirre spawn, even though she was powerless. He’d liked her, I thought, long before her true nature became clear. He certainly hadn’t spoken out for me at the hearing. He’d been too busy with something else.

And now his sister is powerless, I thought, numbly. I might have been young, but I’d had power. I could walk the streets in perfect safety, trusting in my magic to protect me. But now I was defenceless, as helpless as a newborn babe. Is this how Cat feels all the time?

I must have fallen asleep, or slipped into a meditative trance, because I thought I saw and heard people surrounding me. Cat, speaking to me as though I was a friend; Akin, his face pinched and wan; a young boy with chocolate skin smiling at me … and a Hangchowese girl with almond eyes and enchanting smile. I had to be dreaming, I thought. My family didn’t know any Hangchowese girls, not socially. House Griffin was the only family with any Hangchowese blood and they were a minor house, barely able to pay their debts. People had been predicting their demise for years.

The girl was saying something to me. I turned my head, trying to hear, but her words just slipped away. They were words of wisdom, I thought, yet … they existed only at the corner of my mind. Maybe I was just imagining it. I was half-asleep …

A crashing sound echoed through the carriage. I jerked awake, looking from side to side. The shutters had opened, revealing a desolate wasteland. I stood, trying to ignore the increasingly urgent sounds from my stomach, and peered through the window, looking out onto a different world. We appeared to be in a valley, following a river as it poured down from the distant snow-capped mountains. The land appeared to be nothing, but scraggly grass and stones. I could see flecks of white on nearby hills, small copses of trees everywhere … I couldn’t see any sign of human life. The only sign that anyone had ever been in the valley was the road. A handful of birds flew through the air, some of them following us for a few moments before looping away into the sky. I felt a flicker of envy for their freedom. I wanted to fly too.

Cat flew, a treacherous part of my mind whispered. You could have flown too, if you’d befriended her instead.

The carriage shuddered, again. The shutters slammed closed. I sighed and sat back on the bench, closing my eyes. The armsman was tormenting me, I was sure, and I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he’d managed to get under my skin. Maybe I’d been horrid to him, when I’d been a little girl. Or maybe he was just making my new position as the family’s latest exile clear.

I must have fallen asleep, again, for the next thing I knew was the carriage lurching to a halt and someone banging on the door. I jerked upright, hastily pulling my golden blonde hair into a braid. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do. Not, I supposed, that it mattered. A girl my age who went outside without braided hair would face the most astringent citizen from the Grande Dames of High Society, but in my case there was so much else to criticize. I smoothed my green dress with my hands, then stood and tapped on the door. It opened a moment later.

The coldness hit me like a physical blow. I’d thought it was cold inside the carriage, but outside … it was practically freezing. Water droplets hung in the air as if they were suspended, splashing against my body as I peered out of the door. Technically, the armsman should have provided steps – or helped me down to the ground – but he made no move to do either. I took a breath and jumped down, landing in a muddy puddle. Cold water started to seep into my boots. I glared at the armsman, daring him to laugh, then looked around. The estate – if indeed we were on an estate – was wreathed in mist. I stared, fascinated. I’d never seen mist – real mist – before. Visibility was down to a handful of metres. I thought I could see trees in the distance, but it was impossible to be sure. The world was silent, as if time itself had stopped. It felt, just for a moment, as though I was still dreaming.

A hand touched my shoulder. I jumped, then remembered the armsman. He motioned for me to walk around the carriage. I sighed, staring at his glamoured face in the hopes he’d think I could see through the spell, then did as I was told. The horses whinnied unhappily as I passed. Horses normally liked me, but I suspected they knew I was in disgrace. Or maybe they were just bonded to the armsman. They could have picked up their master’s feelings about me.

I sucked in my breath as the mansion came into view. It was a boxy stone structure, built to last; the walls were covered with gargoyles and carved with protective runes. There were six floors, I thought, judging by the windows. And yet, there was something shabby about the building. The runes looked faded, the gargoyles looked as though they’d been in the wars and a number of windows had been boarded up. The grassy lawn outside the door, what little I could see in the mist, looked unkempt, the grass fighting for dominance with a handful of wilder strains. Mother would have fired everyone involved with maintaining the lawn, I thought. She had always insisted the Great Houses had to look good, whatever the cost. It didn’t look as if whoever was responsible for the mansion cared one jot about appearance.

“Your new home,” the armsman said.

He snapped his fingers, casting a spell with casual ease. I looked away, not wanting to watch as the trunks were levitated out of the carriage and floated up towards the door. The Arbiters hadn’t said when the cuff would be removed, if indeed it would be removed at all. I shuddered at the thought of being powerless for the rest of my life, unless I managed to think of a way to remove the cuff for myself. It would probably be locked by magic, I guessed; anyone could unlock it, as long as they could use magic. I felt an uneasy moment of sympathy for Caitlyn, despite everything she’d done for me. She must have spent most of her life feeling as helpless as me.

“Stay here,” the armsman ordered.

He strode off, the trunks following him like obedient puppies. I stared after him for a long moment, then wrapped my arms around my chest. My dress was the height of fashion, but it was growing damper and colder by the second. I was uneasily aware of water pooling in my socks, no matter how much I squelched about. The ground was soft enough that the carriage seemed to be sinking into the mud. I wondered, nastily, if the armsman would be able to get it and the horses out when the time came for him to lead.

A gust of wind blew though the mist, bringing the promise of snow. I squeezed myself tighter, feeling water running down my back. Two weeks ago, I had been a little princess; my skin fair and unblemished, my dresses miniature versions of adult clothes, my hair perfectly coiffed by a small army of maids. Everyone had said I was a pretty girl, that I would grow up to be as stunning as my mother. Now, I was a straggly mess. My hair was threatening to come undone as it grew damp, but I was too cold to hold it in place. I wished, how I wished, that I’d thought to bring a coat! Even one of Great Aunt Gladys’s handmade jumpers would have been preferable. Ugly and lumpy they might have been, but at least they were warm.

The armsman returned, his boots squelching through the mud. “Come.”

I followed him, wondering just what was on the far side of the heavy wooden door. I’d been told I was going to a family estate, but which one? I hadn’t been told anything about it, save for the simple fact that it was a long way from Shallot. I’d researched a number of the family’s properties, back when I’d still had hopes of becoming the Heir Primus, but I didn’t recall any of them looking like this. I was mildly surprised the building hadn’t been sold off long ago. We have a reputation for keeping what is ours, but still … this mansion looked worthless.

The wards brushed over me as I stepped through the door and into a dark lobby. A flight of stairs led upwards, into the darkness; two wooden doors led further into the building. The only light came from a single crystal, hanging down from the ceiling. Whoever was in charge of maintaining it clearly hadn’t bothered to renew the spells. It should have been bright, but instead it cast a dim and flickering light over the lobby. A pair of hunting trophies had been mounted on the walls; a dragon and a basilisk. I was relieved to note that the taxidermist had had the sense to remove the basilisk’s eyes. My trunks had been placed beside the stairs.

“Lady Isabella Rubén,” the armsman said, as if I was being announced at a ball. I don’t think I ever hated anyone so much as I hated him at that moment. “Disgraced.”

“Indeed,” a voice said.

Two people were standing by the stairs, watching me. I cringed inwardly, suddenly aware of just how terrible I looked. My clothes damp, my hair a mess … I felt my braid slowly start to come undone under their stares. I somehow managed to drop a curtsy, despite my wet dress, then put up my hands to fix the braid. I’d probably made a bad impression already.

I forced myself to make a show of lowering my eyes, while keeping an eye on them. One, an older man, looked frankly disinterested; the other, a woman who looked around ten to fifteen years older than me, looked as if she’d smelt something disgusting. She was tall and blonde, her hair bound up in a style that suggested she was married; she wore a brown dress that looked as though it was handmade. She would have been pretty, I thought, if she’d worn something more suitable and, perhaps, put a nicer expression on her lips. There was something oddly familiar about her patrician face, something that nagged at my mind until I placed it. She looked a lot like me.

She’s family, I thought. Almost everyone in my family has the same blonde hair. And she might be quite closely related to me.

“Ira Rubén and Morag Rubén,” the armsman said. He was enjoying himself a bit too much, I thought. “Please meet your new companion.”

Ira leaned forward. He was taller than I’d thought – there was something about him that made him look short – and he was old. His movements were slow and deliberate, his blond hair slowly turning grey … I’d automatically assumed that he and Morag were married, but it was starting to look as though there was a large age gap between them. The suit he wore was years out of date. And yet, his eyes were sharp, if disinterested. His face was dignified, with a neat little goatee; his hands were scarred, suggesting a series of accidents in a potions lab or a forge. He held a letter in one hand. I guessed it was the official orders from Shallot.

“Thank you,” Ira said. He took the wad of papers the armsman offered him without comment. “You may go now.”

The armsman blinked. “Senior, I …”

“You are not welcome here,” Ira told him, shortly. “Drive down to the town. They’ll have a place for you in the inn.”

I felt a flicker of amusement at the armsman’s agitation. No doubt he’d expected to be put up for the night. But Ira was chasing him out. It was a breach of etiquette, but not one the armsman could openly protest. I wondered if the townspeople really would have a place for him or if he’d have to sleep in the carriage. It was what he’d made me do. The bench had been bad enough for sitting, but worse for sleeping. I suspected I had bruises all over my body.

“Morag, take Isabella’s trunks to … I think the Blue Room,” Ira ordered, once the armsman had departed. “Put them in there, then come back to my office.”

“Yes, Senior,” Morag said. Her voice was hard, tinged with an accent I didn’t quite recognise. I didn’t think she was pleased to see me. “I’ll make the bed up for her too.”

Ira nodded, then looked at me. “Welcome to Kirkhaven Hall,” he said. He turned away, heading to the nearest door. “Come with me.”

“Yes, Senior,” I said.

39 Responses to “Snippet – The Family Shame (The Zero Enigma 4 (Stand-Alone))”

  1. Darryl April 8, 2018 at 1:48 pm #

    Not sure how I should notify you of a needed edit, but this one did jump off the page at me:

    “A girl my age who went outside without braided hair would face the most astringent citizen from the Grande Dames of High Society”. Presumably the work citizen was meant to be criticism.

    • Ihas April 10, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

      I recall Chris wrote elsewhere that he prefers to receive edits via email.

    • chrishanger April 15, 2018 at 8:04 am #

      DOH! Thank you!


  2. Darryl April 8, 2018 at 2:00 pm #

    “I felt an uneasy moment of sympathy for Caitlyn, despite everything she’d done for me”. Should be “done to me”.

    “I wondered, nastily, if the armsman would be able to get it and the horses out when the time came for him to lead.” Should be to leave, not to lead.

    And, of course, my own last post had a typo, work instead of word, in only five lines.

    I like this series and look forward to the ebook being available.

  3. Gardner Friedlander April 8, 2018 at 3:15 pm #

    Wrong word. As the armsman walls away into the estate. “…and the time came for him to lead”. Should be “…and the time came for him to leave”.

    Gardner Friedlander Sent from my iPad


  4. Yanai Personal April 8, 2018 at 5:06 pm #


    I wondered, nastily, if the armsman would be able to get it and the horses out when the time came for him to lead.

    Should that be “leave?”

    Excellent snippet. Looking forward to reading more!

    Yanai Siegel

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. WilliamP April 8, 2018 at 8:06 pm #

    Looking forward to the book and reading how Isabella adapts to her new situation.

  6. Jensebaum April 9, 2018 at 4:36 pm #

    I’m looking forward to the book, the beginning is promising!

    One thing that stood out to me: Whats with the “Senior”? The meaning is clear, but I can’t remember it ever being said in the main series.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 9, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

      IIRC it wasn’t used in the main series but IMO it is a reasonable “title” for a young family member to use in reference to an older family member that the younger doesn’t know the exact relationship between the two.

      The only “Senior” member of Cat’s family that we met was the Great-Aunt and Cat used the term Great-Aunt because Cat knew the relationship.

      Of course, Family Customs can vary so Isabella’s family may require the use of Senior until the senior family member says otherwise.

  7. William Ameling April 10, 2018 at 3:07 am #

    Or it may be a way of referring to the MOST Senior Family Member in charge of things in the area and who gives orders to other Family Members and staff and servants on behave of the rest of the (Great) Family located elsewhere. I doubt that Isabella would call Morag Senior, unless Ira died or was no longer there and in charge of things. It might also be a way that members of a subsidiary or lesser family of a Great House referred to the Head of that branch of the Great House, even when they were in Shallot inside the Great House, i.e. to the person who has the right to give them orders inside their branch, while the Head of the Great House would be referred to as Patriarch or Matriarch. I am not sure if they would refer to Heads of other branches (families) of the Great House in the same way (Senior), there might be a different title (of respect) used. These Heads would be the primary members of the Family Council. I suspect that different Great Houses handled who else were members of the Family Council in somewhat different ways. In particular, I wonder about the status of spouses who married into the House regarding membership on the Family Council.

    Now if Cat was living in Great Aunt S’s household in the Capital City, she might call her Senior.

  8. William Ameling April 10, 2018 at 3:12 am #

    Gaining membership in the Family Council has to be a significant step in anyone’s life and rise to real power in the (Great) Family (House).

  9. William Ameling April 10, 2018 at 3:21 am #

    Perhaps Senior might be a way of referring to anyone on the Family Council, by anyone inside the Family who was not on the Family Council.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 10, 2018 at 4:01 am #

      That’s unlikely in this case as Ira (and apparently Morag) are also “in exile”

    • William Ameling April 11, 2018 at 7:18 pm #

      There probably is some other title used for Family Council members. All we can say at the moment is that Senior seems to indicate some kind of position of authority or power, at least locally at Kirkhaven Hall that extends to the guardsman delivering Isabella there.

      • chrishanger April 14, 2018 at 10:04 am #

        It’s a honorific offered to older members of the family (i.e. a decade or so between you and them) when there isn’t a direct relationship or they haven’t said something like ‘call me uncle’.


  10. Darryl April 10, 2018 at 4:15 am #

    I look forward to finding out!

  11. Dan April 10, 2018 at 5:05 am #

    When is this coming out on kindle?

  12. Bewildered April 10, 2018 at 11:31 am #

    I’m wondering whether this might not be better third person. Perhaps it’s just me but it feels a tad odd for some reason. Not sure why.

    • Darryl April 10, 2018 at 12:20 pm #

      I don’t see it myself …. Any others?

    • dichroic April 12, 2018 at 8:57 pm #

      I disagree. Isabella is already more likable than I’d expected her to be at the beginning of the book, and that would have been more difficult, I think, in 3rd person. For instance, the brief flashes of sympathy for Cat make her more rounded than the one-dimensional antagonist Cat saw in her. (Only question is whether she’d have really felt that way yet, and been taking on responsibility as she does here, or if she’d still be too busy feeling wronged.)

      It looks like someone else already found the typo I caught: “I felt an uneasy moment of sympathy for Caitlyn, despite everything she’d done for me,” where it should be “done to me”.

      • chrishanger April 14, 2018 at 10:03 am #

        Cat has no way to look inside Isabella’s head


  13. Aleisha April 10, 2018 at 6:23 pm #

    Not going to bother to edit, just wanted to let you know that I’m very much looking forward to this book coming out. Something about this series… I just love it! At first I wasn’t certain about reading a book from Isabella’s POV, but you’ve sold me and now I’m greatly anticipating it. (Especially after the most recent book I read, not one of yours, was such a disappointment. You always look forward to something you know is going to be enjoyable after a let-down.) Anyway, it’s funny to me that I keep wanting to red your word “Kirkhaven” as Kirkwall, but that’s because I’m a Dragon Age fan. It’s nice to see the awakening beginnings of empathy in Isabella with her wondering whether her helplessness is something that Cat feels all the time so I’m anticipating reading further growth in her character. Like I said, I was a bit on the fence about Isabella, but I’m always a sucker for a good redemption arc. Was her vision a refference to the we’ll call it an Alternate Universe story written by the author of the Rachel Griffon Series?

    And not to change the subject, but I just wanted to float something out there about Cat, Akin and the rest of the gang back in Shallot. I feel like they would be called to the capitol by the king… Hear me out, I have three good cannonical reasons why this would be so.

    Reason the first: There was just not only a major House War in one of the country’s great primary ports started by House Augerre and House Ruben but that same House War was used to stage a major Coup by the Crown Prince. If nothing else, the king would have a very vested interest in summoning the major powers before him, both as a way to display his own power to reassure any dissidents within his own court and as a way to assert his kingly dominance over what might one day become an O’ermighty Subject. Also very important… there is a House Alliance forged with the betrothal between Akin and Cat. I don’t think the importance of that can be overlooked, esp. by the king. It might have ended the House War, but there’s no way that the Powers That Be wouldn’t find the alliance of 2 Great Houses to be a potential threat to his power. Especially since one of those houses killed his son. Which brings me to

    Point, the second: One of those same subjects, Akin Ruben, essentially executed the Crown Prince. He fulfilled the duty which possibly should have belonged to king and court. The king would want to make a display of his magnanimous forgiveness after the fact, seeing as Akin probably saved him from a very distasteful duty indeed. That would be the official story anyway, what the king would really be up to would be getting in front of the alliance and usurping its momentum for his own ends. At the least, the king would want to very publicly renew the Oaths of Fealty that the Houses owe him, and personally exert his authority over the Houses to show that they might be powerful but he was still the king.

    Point the Third: Ser Griffon’s Sword. Kings rely a lot of personal loyalty, on oaths and on “ring-giving” as it were, to cement their power. Kingsmen or the Royal Guard or whatever they are have special Object of Power armor, probably passed down from knight to squire, though it doesn’t say so, that the king probably appoints to his chosen knights. Ditto for a Kingsmen’s Sword, and now Ser Griffon has come back from Shallot with his own Object of Power sword. I would bet you anything you want that the king would leap all over that to secure the only known person who could forge Objects of Power. He could have her forge magic swords and power armor on behalf of the Crown, and for the first time not be relegated to only those few he has on hand but be able to appoint new kingsmen and reward them with new swords and armor thus growing his power-base as well as his military advantage. His prize potential sword-producer is under the protection of 2 Great Houses, who would not be much interested in handing her over to him (which makes things interesting), so summoning the Great Houses to the capitol makes sense not only from a power-display perspective, but also so that he can cast his eyes over Cat to see if he can’t find some way to entice her away from her family and into his own power. It would be very interesting to see the power struggle that would happen between the interests of the Crown, and the 2 Great Houses closing ranks to protect thier own. It would be very interesting.

    Anyway, even if that doesn’t happen, I’m still very much looking forward to reading Isabella’s story!! I have you on author alerts and I stalk you blog regularly even if I don;t always reveiw.

    • chrishanger April 26, 2018 at 12:02 pm #

      Well, I just finished the draft, so I hope you enjoy it.

      Yes, Isabella’s vision was a reference to the AU story. (Which may have happened, in one timeline, but things moved back to TZE once Rachel was gone.)

      I’m not quite sure what will happen to Cat and Akin in the weeks after TZE. As you say, the king will have good reason to want to reassert his authority. (And deal with the prospect of a major alliance, although that’s not as big a problem as you might think.) He’s also going to be torn about Akin killing the Crown Prince .

      But that’s something to address in Cat’s next story.


  14. Ihas April 11, 2018 at 4:06 am #

    I’m not sure yet. I find it difficult to sympathize with Isabella. I think she needs some kind of “save the cat” moment early on to become more redeemable in the reader’s eyes.

    • Darryl April 11, 2018 at 4:48 am #

      I know where I think Chris is going with this one but of course he has surprised me before. The Isabella character is 12 years old. Unlike some instances in our own real history, she has escaped execution for treason because of her youth. This is interesting in one of Chris’s books. Chris is very aware that a cosseted childhood and adolescence are relatively modern creations, and this is often reflected in his books. Children are sometimes given great responsibilities based on their capabilities rather then their age, and are held responsible for their actions. Sometimes they face very harsh punishments for their mistakes, including mistakes due to youth and inexperience. Isabella has made a huge mistake and luckily escaped with her life. Already in this brief snippet she has shown the first glimpses of insight into her behaviour and even the first stirrings of empathy.

      If you have no sympathy for Isabella now I expect that you may get a good way through the book before developing any. I don’t expect that her redemption is going to come in the first few chapters, and I don’t expect it will take the form of saving Cat. It may well be that the book ends with only partial redemption coupled with hope for the future to be played out in future books. I will be interested to see. I expect the dream sequence does foreshadow eventual redemption for Isabella and perhaps her role in future books. After all, if she does return from exile, be it quickly or after many years, her and Cat can hardly be strangers to each other.

      • Ihas April 13, 2018 at 10:15 pm #

        “Save the Cat” is a term of art in writing, especially screen writing. One of the best known how to books on screen writing is titled Save the Cat. It just means some small act of kindness early on to win the audience over to the side of the protagonist.

      • chrishanger April 14, 2018 at 10:02 am #

        I wish I’d known that – I could have made a terrible pun .


      • Darryl April 15, 2018 at 12:01 pm #

        @Ihas. I also must confess my ignorance on this point. Thanks. That knowledge casts your comment in an entirely new light. Thank you.

  15. George Phillies April 15, 2018 at 11:33 pm #

    You procured the cover first. Interesting and different.

    • chrishanger April 16, 2018 at 5:27 pm #

      They take some time to produce, so I normally try to order them a month or two in advance.


      • Ihas April 17, 2018 at 6:08 am #

        I just realized the cover advertises it as The Zero Enigma IV. I thought it was going to be a side novel. Do you have plans for further novels in this chronology?

      • chrishanger April 18, 2018 at 3:19 pm #

        Yes, but they’ll all be relatively stand-alone until we get back to Cat.


  16. George Phillies April 19, 2018 at 5:09 am #

    Isabella has an astonishing talent for making bad decisions. Did someone plant a compulsion on her, more like SiM subtle magic?

    • Ihas April 20, 2018 at 4:04 am #

      I think Isabella is in the unfortunate situation of being far more talented and competent than her brother, but also in a highly patriarchal family that will never allow a female to become heir. So she went a bit mad, and others took advantage. Now that there is a legitimate reason for her to be passed over for promotion, she may find a new, more lucid, center from which she thrives. But I hope she is offered a return to grace in the family and tells them to stuff it.

    • chrishanger April 26, 2018 at 12:03 pm #

      It’s more a case of her having grown up in an environment where she was treated as a princess, even though she had little prospect of formal power. It took some time for her to realise, at an emotional level, that that was no longer true.


  17. doug lake sr May 21, 2018 at 5:48 am #

    two things. where is Cat’s school? And WOW for the book.

    • chrishanger May 23, 2018 at 2:57 pm #

      The school will be shown soon.

      (And please say ‘wow’ on the review.)


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