Start Reading 'The Empire Of Gold' By S.A. Chakraborty

If you've found yourself hooked on S.A. Chakraborty’s story about a con-woman who accidentally summons a djinn warrior and teams up with him to save the magical kingdom of Daevabad from civil war, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news? A new book is coming out next year. The bad news? It's the final book in the trilogy. S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad series is coming to its conclusion in The Empire of Gold, out June 30, 2020. Bustle has an exclusive excerpt of the book below — and it's appropriately spooky, for your Halloween reading pleasure.

The Daevabad trilogy — which includes The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, and the forthcoming The Empire of Gold — is one of the few fantasy series available today written by a Muslim author and centering Muslim characters. A'isha Saleh wrote of the impact of reading about Muslim characters in a story for Bustle this year, "I was taken on a completely new and exhilarating fantastical adventure while still easily being able to recognize myself in the language of the characters, in the faith they took for granted as theirs, and in the cultures and people they found themselves surrounded by at all times."

At the beginning of book three, Daevabad has fallen and been stripped of its magic. Dara, the djinn prince, is trying to stabilize the region while dealing with the demons of his past and the loss of Nahri, who is safe in Cairo but haunted by memories of all those she left behind. Ali, the prince who dreamed of remaking his father's corrupt regime, is safe in Egypt with Nahri, but he is also determined to return and save his family and his people.

In the excerpt below, Nahri and Ali come face-to-face with a dangerous magical creature whose clutches they may not be able to escape — read it at your own risk and pre-order now.

Excerpt: The Empire of Gold

Nahri didn’t return until sundown and after a tense meal of stale bread and dates — they’d learned to mutual chagrin early in their journey that each assumed the other had more cooking experience — they returned to the boat, sailing until the day’s light was gone and then dropping anchor. Ali fell asleep fast, the pain from his marid magic taking a visible toll by the end of the day.

Nahri should have found a way to keep herself awake — ever the soldier, Ali had suggested they trade shifts. But it had been a long day, and she found it impossible to keep her eyes open as the warm velvet of the darkening sky and gentle rock of the boat lulled her into a drowsy spell.

The sounds of distant sobbing pulled her back to consciousness. Nahri blinked, momentarily forgetting where she was, and then another wail came. It sounded like a woman, somewhere upriver, ending in weeping that carried along the water.

And utterly, unnaturally silent — the usual drone of insects and creak of frogs gone.

A finger of ice brushed down Nahri’s spine, adrenaline banishing the remnants of her stupor. She must have been sleeping for some time, because it was now pitch-black, so dark she could barely see her own hand in front of her. And utterly, unnaturally silent — the usual drone of insects and creak of frogs gone.

The weeping came again. Nahri sat up and then nearly tumbled as the boat lurched in the water, rocking as though the sail had caught. Which was impossible because the sail was stowed away and the anchor let out.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a night like this. She crept forward. The moon was a bare sickle, its weak light scattered on the coursing water and the scrubby trees and reeds on either bank were impossibly black, the kind that seemed capable of swallowing one whole.

Her bearings lost, she stumbled directly into Ali’s sleeping body. He rocked upright like he was on a spring, the gleam of his khanjar already at hand. She opened her mouth to explain, but then the weeping came again, the plaintive cry nearly musical.

“Is that someone…singing?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she whispered back. The woman did seem to be singing now, though not in a language Nahri had ever heard. It cut through her, however, bone-deep, and goosebumps erupted over her arms. “It sounds like a funeral dirge.”

The glint of the khanjar disappeared as Ali re-sheathed it. “Maybe she needs help.”

“That’s unfortunate for her.” When Ali glanced at her, disapproval in his glimmering eyes, she spoke more firmly. “I don’t know what stories you heard growing up, but I’m not hunting after some mystery voice in the middle of the night.”

Light suddenly burst before them, fire flaring so brightly that Nahri drew a hand over her eyes. The scene came to her in starry pieces: the large pale lumps scattered across the choppy water, the rocky riverbank and spiky brush jutting up like teeth.

The woman swaying on the bank, fire gushing from her outstretched hands.

Tendrils of flames caressed her wrists and danced through her fingers, but her skin wasn’t blackened, nor did the air smell of charred flesh.

Nahri wasn’t quite certain what she expected of the singer, but the burning woman before them was definitely not some lost farmgirl. Her skin was pale — too pale, the color of bone — and her black hair was uncovered, falling in glossy waves past her ankles to pool in the shallows at her feet. She was dressed simply — and sparsely — in a thin shift that clung wetly to her body, leaving little of its ample curves hidden.

Not to mention the fire. Nahri instinctively stood, the healer in her mind going to burns and salves… until she realized the woman wasn’t burning, not quite. Tendrils of flames caressed her wrists and danced through her fingers, but her skin wasn’t blackened, nor did the air smell of charred flesh.

And when she met Nahri’s gaze, there was no pain in it. There was…delight. The delight of one genuinely and wonderfully surprised.

"Oh, but you are the last person I expected in my net." The woman laughed, a mocking chill that carried across the water, her teeth gleaming in the firelight. “What a lovely and unexpected gift.”

Nahri gaped back at her. There was something about the woman’s leering smile and voice that she would swear…

Her stomach dropped. “Qandisha.”

The ifrit laughed. “Clever girl.” She snapped her fingers, and the fire rushed to embrace her, the human guise vanishing. “You’ll forgive the disguise. The fiery skin doesn’t lend itself to hunting.”

At the word “hunting,” Ali edged in front of her. The ifrit’s gleaming orange eyes locked on the prince, and he face instantly twisted, lips drawing back in a snarl.

“Suleiman’s mark.” Qandisha hissed. “Are you that djinn king then?” She regarded them with an almost hungry, amused curiosity—like a cat might watch an insect. “Oh Aeshma…” She chuckled. “Whatever has gone wrong with your grand plan?”

Ali drew his zulfiqar. “And what plan would that be?”

“One that should have ended with both of you dead.” Qandisha’s voice turned alluring. “There’s not much you can do with that blade all the way out there, little mortal. Why don’t you come closer? I have been aching for some company.”

Nahri stepped back, dread crawling up her chest. “Ali, I don’t care what magic you have to use. Get us out of here.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Qandisha warned. “We’ve not yet finished our conversation.” She snapped her fingers, making a beckoning motion at the water. “My friends will find you rude.” She spread her hands, illuminating the river.

Nahri let out a strangled gasp.

The pale humps floating in the water were not rocks. They were bodies, at least a score of them, in various states of decay. Slain human men who abruptly rose their heads from the water and stared at her with sightless eyes.

Qandisha dropped her hands, and the bodies fell back into the water with a sickening, unified splash. “Your countrymen are so welcoming,” she goaded. “Oh, sayyida, do you need help?” she mocked in Egyptian. “And so very eager to share their whispers of a boat reputed to fly across the Nile as though enchanted.” She tsked. “I’ve been roaming these lands for thousands of years in search of djinn slaves. You really should have taken better care to mask your presence.”

And they weren’t just ghouls. They were her countrymen.

Nahri swore under her breath, cursing herself for her misstep. That it was Qandisha who caught them made it even worse. She still remembered how easily Qandisha had overpowered Dara at the Gozan, nearly drowning him before the marid made the river rise. She and Ali might have been safe with the thick band of the Nile separating them from the ifrit, but Nahri didn’t like their odds should a mob of ghouls swarm the boat.

And they weren’t just ghouls. They were her countrymen. Innocent humans, Egyptians who shared her tongue and her land, killed to slake an ifrit’s curiosity.

Hatred rushed through her. “I take it Aeshma left you out of his plan if you’re out here murdering defenseless humans. Was your company so unbearable?”

The ifrit shrugged. “A concession to your Afshin. It’s a shame he’s so disinterested in recovering his memories of the time we spent together. He was glorious.” Cruelty flickered in her eyes. “He must be crushed to have lost you again. You were the first one he begged for, you know. No sooner dragged back to life than he was weeping ’Nahri! Where’s Nahri?’”

The words had been meant to cut deep and they did, memories of Dara’s pleas tumbling through her. Nahri fought for a response, angry denial coming first. “Dara serves my mother now. He’s a murderer--they both are.”

The ifrit laughed, but there was a new coldness in it. “So are you, but no matter. Darayavahoush clearly meant just as little to your ancestors. A shame, truly, to waste such loyalty and…talent.”

She licked her lips as she said it, but Nahri refused to indulge that line of goading. “I’m no murderer,” she said instead.

“No? You killed Sakhr in cold blood.” When Nahri frowned, the name confusing her, genuine anger flashed in Qandisha’s eyes. “You don’t even remember his name, do you? A man you blood poisoned and left for his brother to find.”

Blood poisoned. Sakhr… the ifrit who’d attacked her at the Gozan, of course — years ago.

Nahri shook her head, still defiant. “He was no man, he was an ifrit. A monster.”

Qandisha growled. “Who are you to decide who is a monster? You are a slip of time, a little mortal girl foul with the taint of humanity and descended from a traitor. Sakhr was worshipped as a god. He battled with prophets and roamed the northern winds. He was my friend,” she snapped, all trace of humor gone. “A companion during these long centuries.”

“Nahri…” Ali moved towards her, a warning in his voice.

“Interrupt again, djinn, and I will have you dragged beneath the waves.” Qandisha’s gaze was for Nahri alone. “How very Nahid of you to flit between djinn and Daeva, disregarding your allies and friends however the winds blow. A shame your poor Dara had to learn that lesson again.”

Nahri picked up the remaining oar. She was not going to wait around and let this creature bait her. For all they knew, Qandisha was stalling while she worked some unseen magic to call the other ifrit. “Get us out of here, Ali,” she said, hefting the oar like a baton. “I’d rather take my chances with ghouls than listen to her lies.”

“No lies, Nahid. I had hoped to take a djinn soul for company tonight, but I don’t go near Nahid blood and I suspect Suleiman’s accursed seal will make any efforts towards your newest consort useless.

“So, it will be vengeance for Sakhr instead.”

Qandisha had no sooner spoken than a boulder rose in the air, dripping with mud. She threw out her hand and it flew towards them.

And then even faster, a glistening wave erupted from the Nile like a wet shield. The momentum of the water was enough to slow the boulder and it landed in the river just before smashing their boat, the splash drenching them.

Ali.

The djinn prince held out his hands. He was gasping, his face pained with the effort the marid magic must have cost him.

“You talk too much,” he grunted and then, sweating and shivering, he jerked his hands down. The water around the ifrit’s ankles dashed up, pulling her into the shallows.

Ali hissed in pain, clutching his chest, but the boat was already moving.

Qandisha recovered quicker than Nahri would have expected, however, climbing back to her feet.

“Another time that might intrigue me,” the ifrit said, fire rasping in her mouth. “But I did warn you not to interfere.”

Qandisha snapped her fingers and the sail burst into flames, fire rushing down the mast with malicious, unnatural speed.

And then the bodies in the river jerked back to life.

If Nahri thought Vizaresh’s control of ghouls was powerful, the other ifrit had nothing on Qandisha. The murdered human men, their eyes veiled in ashen grey, moved in fast, spasmodic motions, swarming the boat in seconds.

But they didn’t go for Nahri. They went for Ali, so quickly that he’d barely gotten his blades free when he went down, vanishing beneath the mass of hungry dead flesh.

Ali!” Nahri lunged for him, but she’d only taken a step when the burning mast cracked. The weight of the sail dragged it down, smashing across the deck and ripping their boat open.

Nahri didn’t even get a last gulp of air. The ghouls seized her and dragged her down, the river closing over her head again.

In an instant the water was at her chest, ropes tangling around her legs. Nahri wrenched them away, kicking madly as the felucca fell apart beneath her. Debris snagged her dress, dragging her under.

She ripped it away and resurfaced, spluttering. “Ali!” Nahri could see nothing but fiery debris and choking smoke. There was no response from Ali save the wet grunting of ghouls and a horrible crunching.

“Oh, wouldn’t Anahid be proud of your spirit.” Qandisha laughed. “But she chose mortality for you all, and well… that only ends one way.”

From the haze obscuring the river, came three murky shapes, bloated and gray.

Ghouls.

Nahri didn’t even get a last gulp of air. The ghouls seized her and dragged her down, the river closing over her head again.

NO. She fought wildly, kicking and scratching at dead flesh, writhing against their arms. It made no difference. In seconds, they were at the bottom, Nahri pinned against the murky mud, terrified out of her wits. Her chest throbbed, aching for air.

Focus, Nahri! She was the con artist of Cairo, the stealthily thief. This couldn’t be how things ended for her, drowned beneath the Nile. She had to have a plan, a quick turn of hand.

But this time, Nahri had nothing.

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty is being published on June 30, 2020 by HarperVoyager, an imprint of HarperCollins.