A stunning and timely debut from activist Dylan Farrow, Hush is a powerful feminist fantasy full of surprising insights, that casts a ray of light into the shadows of a society based on silencing and lies. Though Hush doesn’t come out until October 6th, you can go ahead and pre-order now!
We could all use more teenage heroines– seventeen-year-old Shae, has lived her entire life in awe of the Bards–and afraid of the Blot, a deadly disease spread by ink, which took the life of her younger brother five years ago. Ever since, Shae fears she’s cursed. But when tragedy strikes again, and her mother is found murdered with a golden dagger–a weapon used only by the Bards–Shae is forced to act. With a heart set on justice, Shae journeys to High House in search of answers. But when the kind, fatherly Cathal, the High Lord of Montane, makes Shae an undeniable offer to stay and train as a Bard, Shae can’t refuse. Through this twisty tale, Shae endures backbreaking training by a ruthless female Bard, tentative and highly-forbidden feelings for a male Bard with a dark past, and a castle filled with dangerous illusions bent on keeping its secrets buried. But sometimes, the truth is closer than we think. We just have to learn to listen.
And now, onto the excerpt!
It always starts the same: a deepening blue in the veins about the wrists. This much is common knowledge. What follows is shallowness of breath, coughing, fever, and muscle pain. Once contracted, one or two days may pass before the darkened veins spread throughout the body, at which point the sclera of the eye will become tinged and mottled. The coloration reaches the extremities next, turning the fingers and toes a dark, thundercloud blue. In the final stages, the veins become increasingly sensitive, pulsing and ready to explode.
In the most severe cases, they burst beneath the skin.
*Eventually, the pain becomes unbearable, accompanied by varying degrees of delirium and paranoia. As one Bard famously reported, “They are even more afraid than we are.” *
The current epoch has been irrevocably tainted by death and chaos; our streets, fields, and homes run thick with the foul, rotting stench of disease. A cloud of smoke rises above Montane from countless thousands of funeral pyres, from the homes we must burn to purge the affliction.
The means to end this tragedy lies in understanding its origins.
The disease, referred to as the “Indigo Death” or “Blot,” was first reported in a rural Manor in the southwest. As if contracted by mere word of mouth, no sooner had word reached a village than the outbreak would claim it. It spread so efficiently that, in only a few days, outbreaks had been reported in every corner of Montane. Anyone displaying the telltale symptoms was immediately quarantined, but isolating the afflicted did nothing to stem the tide of death. Riots ensued. Pandemonium reigned. We were a nation consumed by pain, fear, and chaos.
There are those alive today who still remember the grim processions of masked doctors through the countryside, leading caravans of blue corpses to their final fire.
It was only after careful dissemination that The Bards of High House discovered the nature of the enemy:
We had welcomed it willingly—in our stories, letters, and news. We had invited it into our homes, passed it along with our hands, and distributed it in our very warnings.
But together we shall rise above the ashes of our fallen and usher in a new era of peace in Montane. The time is come to join High House in ensuring this tragedy is never repeated. The tyranny of the Indigo Death can be overthrown. Our history shows that vigilance and caution are tantamount to survival. Burn the ink from the page. Turn away from forbidden words, toxic tales, and deadly symbols. Cleanse the country of this malignant blight.
Shae sat beneath the old tree outside the house where her brother lay dying.
Only the loudest, most keening wails of mourning could reach her there, and they had lessened as he grew weaker. He was not gone yet, but he would be soon.
Before her sat a basket of rags. She ran her fingers through them, tearing the fabric into long strands, grief seizing in her throat. Once Kieran’s death ribbons were hung from the tree, everyone would know the Blot had come for her family.
She thought about the blue veins crawling over her brother’s skin and shuddered. Her elders kept her from going near him, but she had seen the telltale signs of the plague worsening through a cracked bedroom door. She heard the sounds he made, mostly screams of pain and violent coughing.
He was only a child, younger than her by three years. It wasn’t fair.
A dark pull in the pit of her stomach swelled as she stood, preparing to ascend the tree, and another long, keening wail came from the house. The only sounds for miles were Kieran’s haunted cries and Ma’s soothing voice, carried away on the wind down the gray mountainside.
Shae shoved the ribbons she had darned in her pocket and began climbing. Finding a spot to sit, she reached up, beginning to tie the dark blue ribbons to the branches. The bleached winter sun peeked out from the clouds, throwing the gnarled shadows of tree branches over her cottage.
Shae shuddered. The shadows looked like plague veins.
From her high perch, Shae saw three men riding horses in the distance, swiftly making their way up the path. She had never seen such beautiful horses, though she’d heard about such creatures, so different from those of her village. Everyone in Montane knew the story of the First Rider: long ago, centuries before the plague came, he tamed a wild horse, a beast, they say, who was born from the sun. On its back, he galloped through the empty darkness of the unborn world, bringing forth life with the words that flowed from his lips. Where he trod, the land sprang into being and color.
These horses’ manes and tails flowed like they were underwater and seemed to glisten, even in the fading light. The beautiful animals could only come from one place: High House.
The Bards were coming to burn her home.
Though their faces were hooded, Shae swore she saw the Bards’ lips moving steadily in the shadows. The wind blew harder as they approached, and the wails rose to match its fevered pitch. The tree branch lurched beneath her, and Shae lost her balance. She slid, the branch above slipping through her grasp.
All she could see as she fell was a frenzy of ribbons, furious and wild, snapping in the wind.