With all of the incredible fantasy books coming out this year, it’s fun to see different takes on old themes – like hereditary royalty. In Kaitlyn Sage Patterson’s The Diminished, that theme finds new flavor within the very idea of who can inherit – in this case, those rare people without a twin.
In the Alskad Empire, nearly all are born with a twin, but the rare singleborn in each generation are given the right to rule by the gods and goddesses. Bo Trousillion is one of these few, and though he has been chosen to succeed his great-aunt as the leader of the Alskad Empire, Bo has never felt equal to the grand future before him. Vi Abernathy, whose twin sister died in infancy, was raised by the anchorites of the temple after her family cast her off and has spent her whole life scheming for a way to escape and live out what’s left of her life in peace.
As their sixteenth birthdays approach, Bo and Vi face very different futures—one a life of luxury as the heir to the throne, the other years of backbreaking work as a temple servant. But a long-held secret and the fate of the empire are destined to bring them together in a way they never could have imagined.
The Diminished releases from Harlequin Teen on April 10th. Read the first chapter below!
“Those who lose their twins to death shall join them in death, that they are never without their other half. Some may cling to unnatural life, and those shall be called the diminished—for in their grief, they become less, and their violent breaking shall scourge this land.”
—from the Book of Dzallie, the Warrior
“Like the goddesses and gods, who are complete without a twin, a blessed few shall be singleborn. You shall know them as our chosen ones, for our divinity runs undiluted through their veins. Raise them up, and let the wisdom that is their birthright illuminate this world.”
—from the Book of Magritte, the Educator
The first queen built the Alskad Empire from scorched earth and ash after the goddess Dzallie split the moon and rained fire from the sky. The god Hamil called the sea to wash away most of what was left of humanity, but the people who managed to survive gathered in the wild, unforgiving north, calling on Rayleane the Builder to help them shape an idyllic community that would be home and haven to the descendants of the cataclysm.
I came up feared and hated for a thing I had no control over in a world divided. My childhood wasn’t the kind of unpleasant that most brats endure when their ma won’t let them spend all their pocket money on spun sugar or fried bread filled with jam. No. My days coming up in the temple ranged from lean and uncertain to hungry and brutal with shockingly little variation.
There were bright moments among the terrible ones, sure, and my best friend, Sawny, was there for most of them. But even the shiniest days as a dimmy ward of the temple were tarnished. It had to do, I think, with the endless reminders of how unwanted I really was. Even Sawny and Lily, whose ma’d given them up, enjoyed a little more kindness than any of the anchorites ever managed to show a dimmy like me.
One night, a month before I turned sixteen, I waited in my room, boots in hand, for Sawny’s knock on my door. It had been about an hour since our hall’s anchorite called for lights out. She was a rich merchant’s daughter who’d recently committed to the religious life, and she slept sounder than a great gray bear. Though we’d be hard pressed to find an anchorite who cared that two brats nearly old enough to be booted out of the temple were sneaking out in the middle of the night, Sawny and I were still careful. Neither of us had the patience to endure even one more tongue lashing, halfhearted or not.
Keep them sleeping, Pru, I thought.
While I’d stopped praying to the gods and goddesses years ago, I kept up a sort of conversation with my dead twin, Prudence. Ridiculous as it sometimes felt, a part of me wanted to believe that she was looking out for me—that she was the reason I’d been able to keep myself from slipping into the violent grief of the other diminished for all these years. All Ma’d ever told me was her name and that she’d died a couple months after we were born. After that, it didn’t take long for my ma to dump me at the temple in Penby, unwilling to raise a dimmy. Ma and Pa visited from time to time, bringing my new sisters and brothers to see me when they were born, but we never got close. Getting close to a dimmy’s about as smart as cuddling up with an eel. Not even my ma was that dumb.
There was a soft tap on the door. I slipped out of my room and padded down the dim hall after Sawny.
We raced up the narrow staircase, our hushed giggles echoing through the stillness. Even the adulations were silent at this hour; the anchorites chanting over the altars of their chosen deities were tucked away in their rooms under piles of blankets and furs. At the top of the stairs, I jammed my feet into my boots and slid open the casement window, letting a shock of brisk night wind whine down the stairwell. Once I’d shimmied out onto the slate-tiled roof, Sawny passed me his knapsack and climbed through the window with practiced ease.
“Lily’s asleep?” I asked, flicking my thick, dark braid over my shoulder.
“Snoring like a walrus,” Sawny confirmed. “I put some of Bethea’s sleep herb in her tea. No chance she’ll wake up and rat us out.”
It wasn’t that Sawny’s twin was a tattler—not exactly. Or that she hated me. She didn’t. Not quite all the way to hate, anyway. But when you spend half your life being lectured about dimmys and how dangerous and unpredictable we are, you tend to not want your twin to go clambering across rooftops with one of us. Especially a dimmy whose twin’s been dead as long as mine. Lily would’ve been a lot happier if Sawny would do as she asked, and stop speaking to me. She didn’t want to become one of us, after all, and every minute Sawny spent with me increased the odds that Sawny’d be around when I finally lost myself to the grief. Frankly, I didn’t disagree with her. But she knew—as did I—that Sawny would never turn his back on our friendship. Not after all this time.
So Lily ran to the anchorites every time she caught us breaking the rules. It was all she could do, and I didn’t blame her. But that didn’t mean I wanted to get caught.
We scrambled from one rooftop to the next until we were well away from the temple’s residential wing. Our favorite spot was next to a window tucked between two slopes of roof over a rarely used attic next to the temple’s tall spire. It was safe, for one, but the view didn’t hurt, either.
Though only a sliver of one of the moon’s halves was visible, the early summer sky—even at midnight—wasn’t black, but the same dark, cloudy gray as my eyes. I settled in, my back against the wall of the spire, and drew my layers of sweaters in tight around me. Summers in Alskad were merely chilly, not the biting, aching cold that sank into your very bones the rest of the year. But even though I hated the cold, I found myself wishing for winter, when Sawny and Lily and I’d nestle in close under a blanket and watch the great, colorful strands of the northern lights play across the sky.
“What’d you nick for us?”
“Couldn’t get much, what with the kitchen buzzing with folks getting ready for tomorrow, but I managed a bit.”
Sawny closed his eyes, smiled and stretched out next to me on his back, his long black lashes smudged against his dark olive skin. He was all heavy muscles and broad shoulders. Sawny’s easy good looks drew appreciative glances from anyone able to see past the overly mended hand-me-downs we temple brats wore—which, to be perfectly honest, was a fairly small group. My pale, freckled skin and dark, unruly curls might’ve been considered pretty at one point, but my twice-broken nose, combined with a face that rested somewhere between furious and disgusted, made folks’ eyes slip right past me. I couldn’t say I minded. Being a dimmy brought me attention enough.
“Well?” I held out a hand expectantly. “I’m ravenous.”
Sawny put his hand in mine and squeezed. “I’m going to miss you, Vi.”
“Shut up. You’ll find work,” I said, but the lie felt sharp on my tongue even as I spoke the words. “You and Lily both. Though Dzallie protect whoever hires her.”
“Vi,” Sawny cautioned.
I threw my hands up defensively. “I didn’t mean anything by it. You know as well as I do that your sister can be prickly. That doesn’t mean you won’t find work here in Penby.”
“We’ve been looking for months now, and there’s nothing. Nothing that pays enough to afford a room, anyway.”