Hello friends and welcome to Color the Shelves!
I am so excited today to be hosting my first sneak peek of the series and it’s for none other than CONQUEST by Celeste Harte, the first installment in a Black Fantasy/Science-fiction series about a girl who wants to escape the ruler she’s meant to marry by spying on him for his enemies just to find out that the two of them share more than she ever imagined. This sounds like the angsty romance filled SFF to win my heart and I cannot wait to get my hands on it! And hopefully, you will be feeling the exact same as me once you read the first chapter of the novel. So, without any further delay or ramblings on my part, let’s get the goods and dive into this excerpt.
My heels clicked as I stomped the pavement on my way home, the sun beating down hard and making the dry air radiate with heat. Around me, the city buzzed with life—hover cars whizzed through the air above me and crowds of people milled about the street around me.
My eWatch vibrated.
Lora: Jashi, are you all right? What happ
The rest of the text didn’t fit on the watch’s tiny screen. I swiped at it to get rid of the message, not feeling like explaining how I lost another job. That could come later, after a large scoop of ice cream and several episodes of my favorite crime dramas.
When I finally reached my apartment, I swiped my keycard at the pad so quickly, it didn’t even read it properly and a red light declared my access was denied. Another more controlled swipe did the trick. The door opened and I didn’t even acknowledge the doorman on my way to the elevator, pushing the heck out of the button to the fifth floor.
I could imagine he saw that as rude. I disagreed. Whatever I might have said to him in my current state of mind would have been much worse than not saying anything at all. In my opinion, I was being remarkably considerate.
The elevator dinged and opened the door to my floor. When I reached my apartment, I kicked off my heels, threw my backpack down on the couch, and swung open the freezer. My ice cream waited for me on the bottom shelf.
I didn’t even bother getting out a bowl to scoop it into. I just grabbed a spoon from out the drawer, closed the freezer, and plopped down in front of the HoloScreen to watch crime dramas.
I needed to get involved in a drama that was not my own.
As my mouth filled with the creamy goodness that was strawberry-flavored ice cream, the theme song to “The City of Kohpal: Criminology” started up. The ice cream did me good on a hot day like today.
Actually, every day. Being hot was a fact of life for people living in the desert.
Just as I’d nearly forgotten about my troubles at the diner, Cobolt Falkner—local news broadcaster—replaced the image of the dreamy Detective Asher.
“Hey!” I objected, my protests muffled by the spoon sticking out of my mouth. “Thupid newth channelth interrupting videoth on demand. Thith hath to be thome violathon of righth!”
Colbolt Falkner didn’t respond to my accusations. The jerk. “Breaking news. A word from the great Faresh Kahmel of the Omah clan.”
I groaned. Not again.
The “great” Faresh appeared on the screen, cameras flashing all around him and his secretary of defense, Arusi Zuwei. The Faresh held himself with definite authority—a dark pair of sunglasses over his eyes, his pronounced jaw set in a firm line, expressionless. Both he and his secretary were of a dark complexion, being native K’sundii, though she was dwarfed in comparison to the Faresh.
The secretary was first to speak. “I’m here to announce that we have successfully claimed another province of the Omani region.” Her dark eyes trained on the camera. “It is now considered part of the Vishra region of K’sundi.”
The Faresh spoke, his cold, dark features like stone. “Yes, and my conquest isn’t over yet. You can expect new land for the Makril region soon as well. Let the Omanians beware. Stay out of my way or be forced to surrender.”
The news broadcast ended abruptly, returning me to my show. Detective Asher had just about wrapped up the case.
If they were going to interrupt video on demand, the least they could do was pause it.
Before I could reach for my remote to rewind my show, my eWatch rang. Groaning, I prepped my finger to swipe away Lora’s call when I froze, realizing I was about to deny the wrong person.
I took the spoon out my mouth, straightened my back, adjusted the curls in my hair that had been thrown askew by the wind, then answered.
“Hi, Nana,” I said as her face hovered in front of me, projected by the Holo emitter on my watch.
“Hey, Jashi. How have you been?” Nana’s flawless, brown skin wrinkled as she smiled. I could only hope to age as gracefully as Nana did when the time came for me. Her white, curly hair was still shiny and full. Her skin only showed the slightest wrinkles when she smiled. But the most ageless part of her were her sharp, dark eyes, quick to see through dishonesty and to catch little ones trying to steal cookies from the kitchen. The Holo emitter made her image from the torso up quiver every now and then as the projection glowed before me.
“Fine, fine.” I bit my tongue, not feeling very fine at all, but no need to worry her. The poor woman put everything into me. She had her own life to be concerned with. Maybe she’d eventually get the message that my moving out meant she didn’t have to take care of me anymore. I was eighteen. I didn’t need these regular “checkups” to make sure I was all right.
Though, thinking about what happened only a few hours ago at the diner, I had to concede that her “checkups” weren’t without reason.
“How have you been, Nana? Have you been keeping up on your medication?” I decided to try to twist the situation into a checkup on her. She was an older woman. She was the one that needed taking care of now.
She sighed, shaking her head. “I hate my medication, but yes. Can’t rightly own an orphanage if I’m not in good health, so you don’t have to worry about that.”
Good. I was worrying about her, not the other way around. “That’s good. How are the kids there?”
“They’re just fine. Tobi asks about you, though. I think he misses you.”
“Aw, give him a hug for me.”
She chuckled. “How’s the job?”
“Oh, you know.” I couldn’t bring myself to lie to Nana, so my mind raced for another topic to talk about so she wouldn’t ask any more questions. Anything.
Glancing at the HoloScreen, the news broadcast came to mind. “Did you see what the Faresh said on the news?”
“No, what happened?”
The news always got to her. Nana was an old-fashioned patriot and even went to every ceremony of Prosperity for the nation on weekends. Mentioning the Faresh was sure to deviate her attention.
Careful to hide the smirk that tugged at my lips, I continued, “He’s officially conquered more territory for the Vishra region. And he mentioned getting more territory for the Makril region.”
“Oh, is that all?”
I frowned at her quicker than I could stop myself. “What do you mean, ‘oh, is that all?’ This is ridiculous! Faresh Kahmel defended us when the Omanians tried to take over, but once the Omanians surrendered, there was no need for this mission of conquest! How can you just act like this man looking for trouble is fine?”
Her face turned stern, and only then did I realize how high my voice had gotten. “What happened to this nation over the last two years is not to be taken lightly, Jashi,” she said. “The Omanians would have destroyed us. Kahmel coming into office was the only thing that saved us from ruin, so don’t act like he was unprovoked.”
I winced, humbled. Part of me wanted to write off her opinion as just her undying loyalty to K’sundi, but I knew better than that. The Omanians did play foul when they tried to take us over during our weakest hour. “I just don’t trust this new Faresh, Nana,” I confessed. “I mean, what do we know about him, really? He’s from a little-known clan, he has strange politics, and he seems hellbent on taking over Omani for trying to take over us. But other than that, we don’t know anything. He has no political background, no deep connections as far as we know. And the Courts, the only people in the nation that have more power than the Faresh, are doing nothing about it.”
“Sounds like you have more of a problem with how he got in office than his actual campaign. You’ve always been against the more traditional side of K’sundi.”
I bit my lip, once again, exposed. But I was older now and had a firmer understanding of our world, mature enough to have an opinion on it and challenge her thinking.
She was right that I didn’t like how Kahmel got into office. Our nation was without a leader for eight years following the assassination of our last Faresh. I still remembered coming home one day from school to find Nana so distraught, she could barely tell me what was wrong with her. She was just shaking, staring at the HoloScreen. The Faresh at that time and his entire family clan had been killed. Even though I was only nine, I was still just as shocked as she was. I’d never heard of it happening before, not even in my history texts.
The case remained unsolved, even to this day. Rebels were suspected to have been involved, though.
The Courts were forced to select a new Faresh from one of the branch families, and the decision-making process took a long time. It seemed like every time the Courts nearly reached a decision, another royal clan family would rise out of nowhere and demand they restart the process in consideration for that clan’s right to the throne. Anyone with enough royal blood in their family lineage had a claim. Normally, the Faresh reserved the right to choose an heir from his clan, though he typically chose his first-born. But the whole clan being slaughtered in a mysterious attack that came and went like a thief in the night was unprecedented.
Then came Kahmel and his unexpected claim to the throne.
Nana pegged me. “I don’t like our nation’s politics,” I said. “The rest of the world has democracy, Nana, not kings and queens. Their leaders have to work for their positions. And now we have this new Faresh who, for all we know, could be a snake-oil salesman! But because he’s blue-blooded and cited some ancient law no one even remembers, he now controls our whole nation.”
She shook her head. “You complain that our Fareshes don’t earn their positions, so I would think you’d commemorate Kahmel’s rise to the throne. He didn’t just quote a law and walk into the palace. He unearthed our most ancient traditions, stopped the Omanians from their invasion attempt, and claimed what was rightfully his by law. You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth, and I suggest you close both of them if you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I gritted my teeth, once again put back in my place. Would I always be pushed back into this circle where Nana didn’t take me seriously, where I was still being treated like a kid?
But then I realized that maybe this was Nana acknowledging my maturity. I forgot that while I was now able to defend my opinions and my ways of thinking, that also meant she could use her sharp tongue to defend hers.
Knowing that made me feel a little better.
And it was true that Kahmel had to go through a lot to get to where he was. The Omanians tried to invade us while our nation was submerged in confusion. The Courts weren’t made to lead the country, only pass laws. They had no power to militarize the country or set up defenses to protect us from the coming invasion.
Kahmel Omah changed the game when he took a band of men to the borders and overtook one of the major Omanian air fortresses overnight. No one knew how he did it.
Not only that, but he had taken control of the air fortress, slaughtered all of the enemies on it, and had taken all of the data available on its computers to the Courts—a modern-day version of bringing the head of a war general. Kahmel then did the unthinkable, claiming his right to the throne as a hero of war. Eons ago, K’sundi was a country that valued warriors above anything else and, according to the ancient scripts, he had proven his merit as a warrior more than the other clans did by claiming the fortress.
What he was doing was unprecedented, but technically, no one could refuse him. The way I understood it, the laws were so antiquated, no one even remembered they existed. And yet, since there had been no laws made to refute or abolish them, the laws still held. While the other clans had been fighting for years to take the throne, this man had blown all of them out of the water overnight, becoming Faresh in a matter of months.
After that, he proceeded to militarize our armies and defend our territory from the enemy. It didn’t take long for them to surrender. But Kahmel didn’t accept it. He started two years ago, and he was still claiming their territory as his own today.
I didn’t like Kahmel. Everything he did was too mysterious. The rumors about him stated he was ruthless and, above all, paranoid. He had dozens of members of his administration executed for treason against the throne. No one ever saw him out in public unless he made an announcement, like today. And when he was seen, he was always wearing sunglasses. He was just too strange for me.
And potentially dangerous. Defending us from the Omanians was one thing. Destroying them was another.
Seeing that my silence was already admitting she was right, I said, “All right, Nana. But I don’t like the idea of warring with Omani just because they did it to us. That’s not going to bring peace.”
Nana sighed. “I don’t blame you. You’re young. You have a very modern way of thinking. But when you get to be my age, you learn that you don’t get peace by just sitting around waiting for it. You have to fight for it. Kahmel knows that. One day, you’ll see.” Her eyes drifted off, looking toward me but not at me, and I got the feeling there was more to her words than she was letting on. Just as I was about to say something, she said, “I’ve got to go. My shows are coming on. I’ll talk to you later, Jashi.”
Her face disappeared.
Strange. It wasn’t like Nana to hide things from me.
Shaking it off, I decided to just watch my show. Pressing rewind on the HoloScreen remote, I continued the show from where I left off, shoving another big scoop of strawberry ice cream in my mouth as I browsed the Internet on my phone for job offers.
About the author
Celeste Harte is a Black American fantasy and sci-fi writer living abroad in Spain. She loves learning languages, and speaks Spanish, French, and is currently learning Korean. When she’s not buried in her own fantasy worlds, she’s either dancing, studying another language, or making homemade candies!
About the book
Publication date : February 4th, 2020
Publisher : Immortal Works
Genre : Young Adult | Science-fiction / Fantasy
Page Count: 300
Synopsis : Jashi Anyua has been arranged to be married to the leader of her nation, the Great Faresh. To help her escape her engagement, her future husband’s enemies offer her an out; become their spy and they’ll give her a new name and identity somewhere the Faresh will never find her.
But Jashi gets to know the Faresh, she starts to wonder if she put her loyalties in the right place. Even moreso when she realizes that the Faresh shares the abilities she’s had to keep secret her whole life, and he might be the only one that can train her to use them.
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.