Read an Excerpt From James Logan’s The Silverblood Promise


We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Silverblood Promise by James Logan, an epic fantasy debut publishing with Tor Books on May 28th.

Lukan Gardova is a cardsharp, academy dropout, and—thanks to a duel that ended badly—the disgraced heir to an ancient noble house. His days consist of cheap wine, rigged card games, and wondering how he might win back the life he threw away.

When Lukan discovers that his estranged father has been murdered in strange circumstances, he finds fresh purpose. Deprived of his chance to make amends for his mistakes, he vows to unravel the mystery behind his father’s death.

His search for answers leads him to Saphrona, fabled city of merchant princes, where anything can be bought if one has the coin. Lukan only seeks the truth, but instead he finds danger and secrets in every shadow.

For in Saphrona, everything has a price—and the price of truth is the deadliest of all.


A sharp rap at his cabin door jolted Lukan from sleep.

“Go away,” he said—or tried to say. His tongue was gummed to the top of his mouth. He worked it free, grimacing at the sour aftertaste. Another rum-filled night. There had been plenty of those during the second week of his voyage. The ship’s captain—a jovial bear of a man by the name of Graziano Grabulli—had taken to inviting Lukan to his cabin each night for a glass or two (or several) of rum. Like most men from the Talassian Isles, he liked to talk, mostly about himself and his various exploits and escapades— of which there were many. Lukan felt inclined to believe some of them (such as the captain’s encounter with a black shark; the man had the teeth marks on his forearm to prove it) but was sure that others (like his claim to have seen the fabled ghost ship the Pride of Prince Relair) were little more than tall tales. Still, a lack of truthfulness was to be expected from a man who had—courtesy of the Tamberlin Trading Company—a brand on his left wrist that marked him out as a former pirate. Fortunately Grabulli was even more generous with his rum than he was with his lies.

A second knock at the door, slower and more deliberate.

“Piss off,” Lukan shouted. He shifted in his hammock, not enjoying the way his stomach lurched. An ache was slowly building at his temples.

The door creaked open.

Lady’s mercy.

He opened his eyes, squinting against the sunlight that poured in through the solitary porthole, illuminating the tiny cabin that had been his home for the past two weeks. Grabulli had promised him quarters fit for a king, but the cabin was barely fit for the rats that lurked in its corners. Lukan had seen bigger broom cupboards. Cleaner ones too.

He blinked at the figure standing in the doorway, recognizing the slight figure of the ship’s cabin girl.

“Thought I told you to get lost,” he said.

The girl shrugged and made an I didn’t hear you gesture.

“Yeah, you did. You might be mute, but I know you’re not deaf.”

The girl ignored him and moved to his dresser, which along with a stool was the cabin’s only furniture. She picked up a dagger that Lukan had won from one of the crew, in the early days of the voyage before they had started refusing to play with him, and turned it over in her hands, staring at the garnet set in its pommel.

“Put that down.”

The girl obliged, placing the dagger back down on the dresser with exaggerated care.

“You’ve got some nerve, kid, I’ll give you that. What the hells do you want?”

The girl made a shape with her hands: thumbs pressed together, fingers steepled. Captain.

“Grabulli? What about him?”

She pointed at Lukan—you—and formed a beak with her right hand, opening and closing it. Talk.

“What, now?” Lukan winced as he rubbed a thumb against his right temple; his headache was growing worse, and the girl wasn’t helping. “Tell him I’ll be up in a bit… it’s too damned early.”

The girl traced a circle in the air, then held up nine fingers.

Ninth hour of the day.

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The Silverblood Promise
The Silverblood Promise

The Silverblood Promise

James Logan

“Yeah, well that’s early for me.” She made a cutting gesture. Now.

Lukan swore under his breath. “Fine, have it your way. Tell the bastard—uh, tell the captain—that I’ll be up shortly.”

The girl nodded and turned back to the dresser, a smile playing across her lips.

Lukan raised a finger. “Don’t you even think about—”

She snatched the dagger and darted through the door.

“You cheeky little…” Lukan managed to get one foot out of the hammock, only for his left leg to get tangled up as he tried to lunge forward. The room flipped and suddenly he was lying on his back, the hammock swinging above him as the patter of the girl’s feet disappeared down the passage. He tried to rise, only to abandon the attempt when the rum in his stomach gurgled a warning that it was considering making a swift, explosive exit. With a groan, Lukan sank back down to the floor and closed his eyes.

Grabulli could wait a little longer.

* * *

“Ah, friend Lekaan!” Grabulli called from where he stood at the Sunfish’s prow, butchering the pronunciation of Lukan’s name in his usual fashion. The captain was unmistakable in the red velvet coat that he claimed had been a gift from some prince or other, though Lukan suspected—judging by the faded stains and poor quality of the lacework—he’d actually picked it up at a flea market in some far-flung port. “So good of you to join us. A beautiful day, no?”

Perhaps, if you’re not hungover. As it was, the sun was a little too bright, the blue sky a little too vibrant. Still, the breeze that slapped at Lukan and ruffled his hair was proving effective at driving away his headache. He gave a lazy wave in response and picked his way across the deck, doing his best to avoid the crew as they hauled on ropes and called to each other in their peculiar singsong dialect that seemed comprised almost entirely of insults. The sailors of the Sunfish were a creative bunch when it came to invective, as they’d demonstrated when Lukan fleeced them at cards. He glanced around but didn’t see any sign of the cabin girl. No doubt she would reappear later—without the dagger, of course. Not that it matters, Lukan thought as he climbed the steps to the prow. Damned garnet was fake anyway…

“The morning’s sun to you, friend Lekaan,” Grabulli said, grinning through his black snarl of a beard.

“And the evening’s stars for yourself,” Lukan replied, completing the traditional Talassian greeting as he joined the older man at the railing. He still wasn’t sure when it was that he’d revealed his true identity to Grabulli—no doubt it had been during one of their late-night drinking sessions, the rum loosening his tongue and lowering his guard. Perhaps that’s what Grabulli had intended all along, his own tall tales merely serving as cover while the liquor did its work. Or maybe all the liquor is making me paranoid.

“You seem thoughtful,” Grabulli said, slapping the back of his left hand against Lukan’s chest. “And even paler than usual.” He frowned. “You are well, yes?”

“I’m fine.”

“Come, tell me what’s on your mind.”

I’ve told you too much already. “I’m just wondering what’s so important that you woke me up at this ungodly hour.”

The captain grinned and gestured at the horizon. “See for yourself.”

Lukan shielded his eyes against the sun and squinted at the expanse of ocean. Not just ocean, he realized—in the distance were the dark shapes of mountains.

“Land, friend Lekaan!” Grabulli clapped Lukan’s shoulder. “We’ll dock in Saphrona within the hour. And we’ve arrived two days ahead of schedule, just as I promised you.”

“You said three days.”

“I must beg your forgiveness, but I said two.”

“You said three and then banged the bottle of rum on the table three times, just in case I didn’t quite get your point. And then shouted it again when I didn’t look convinced.”

“Two days, three days… ” Grabulli puffed out his cheeks and shrugged. “What does it matter? There’s hardly any difference, no?”

Lukan smiled as he imagined the captain taking the same approach with customs officials. No wonder the Tamberlin Trading Company left their mark on him. “You,” he said, turning his gaze back to the horizon, “are a scoundrel.”

Grabulli barked a laugh. “Now that is something I can agree with!”

* * *

As the Sunfish’s captain prowled the deck, barking orders to his crew as they began final preparations for making port, Lukan remained at the prow and watched the distant mountains draw closer. A half hour passed before he finally caught sight of Saphrona’s famous Phaeron landmark. The tower rose from the sea in the middle of Saphrona’s bay, a dark edifice constructed from the mysterious black material that the Phaeron had used in all their architecture.

As the Sunfish drew closer, Lukan had to crane his neck to take in the tower’s full height, which must have exceeded two hundred feet. Its surfaces seemed smooth as glass, save for the uppermost stories, which had splayed outward like black, broken fingers, as if something within had exploded.

“The Ebon Hand,” Lukan murmured. “It’s more impressive than I imagined.”

“Best behave yourself in Saphrona, friend Lekaan.” Grabulli spat over the railing. “You don’t want to end up in that place.”

“What do you mean?”

The captain pointed. “See for yourself.”

As the Sunfish sailed past the tower, Lukan saw several rowing boats bobbing beside a ramshackle wooden jetty. Two figures in uniforms of black trimmed with silver were dragging a third figure between them—a man in a rough-spun tunic, his hands bound. He struggled as they climbed a flight of steps that rose from the end of the jetty, leading to an arched doorway. The man threw back his head, mouth wide, but his scream didn’t reach the Sunfish as he was dragged inside the tower. Lukan’s gaze moved to the banner that hung above the entrance, crossed silver keys on a black background.

“Whose symbol is that?” he asked.

“The Saphronan Inquisition,” Grabulli replied, his expression darkening. “Protectors of law and order in this fair city, or so they would have you believe.” He spat over the side again. “You do not want to tangle with them, friend Lekaan.”

“I don’t plan to. So they use the Ebon Hand as a prison?”

“Just so. And a nasty one it is, too. The stories I’ve heard… ” The Talassian shook his head. “Anyway,” he continued, his grin returning as he gestured to the approaching city. “Behold the Jewel of the South, the Mother of Cities!”

Lukan turned his attention back to Saphrona. The city sprawled across the crescent-shaped bay and the foothills of the mountains beyond, a hazy tapestry of red-tiled roofs and countless bronze domes gleaming in the morning sunlight. Grabulli pointed to the largest dome, near the center of the city.

“The Lady’s House,” he said, adopting a tone of mock reverence. “Where the Lady of Seven Shadows judges us all.” He belched. “If you believe that sort of thing.”

“You’re not one of the faithful, then? Color me shocked.”

“I believe in the strength of steel, friend Lekaan! In the color of courage, in the—”

“Language of lies?”

Grabulli punched his arm, a little harder than necessary. “Just so! You’re a smart boy.”

Lukan winced as the liquor in his stomach churned another warning. Not so smart. “What’s that place?” he asked, pointing to a grand, turreted building that crowned a promontory at the eastern end of the bay, looming imposingly over the city.

“That’s the ducal palace atop Borja’s Bluff,” the captain replied. “But the Duke rules Saphrona in name only. You see those towers?” He pointed to seven stone towers rising from the foothills of the mountains behind the city. “They belong to the Silken Septet—the most powerful merchant princes. The Septet dominate the Gilded Council, which is the true political power in Saphrona.”

“So I’ve read,” Lukan replied, recalling Velleras Gellame’s Gentleman’s Guide to Saphrona. He’d managed to read nearly two-thirds of the booklet before hurling it across his cabin after one flowery metaphor too many, and had no intention of picking it up again. Grabulli was still talking, but Lukan wasn’t listening, staring instead at Saphrona’s sprawling expanse. Somewhere in there lay the answer to the question of who, or what, Zandrusa was. And why my father wrote that name in his own blood.

“You have gone quiet, friend Lekaan,” Grabulli said, scratching at his black beard. “You are lost for words, I think.”

“It’s an impressive sight,” Lukan admitted.

Velleras Gellame claimed that Saphrona was the greatest center of commerce in the Old Empire, and, while the buffoon had written his treatise nearly fifty years prior, the number of vessels crowding the waters of the bay suggested his claim still rang true. As they drew closer to the city’s docks, Lukan saw trade ships from various cities of the Old Empire—Deladrin, where he himself had sailed from, Tamberlin, and even distant Korslakov. There were also dhows from the Southern Queendoms, most of which bore the flag of Zar-Ghosa, three silver circles on a pale blue background. He even caught a glimpse of a sleek, crimson-sailed vessel from one of the ports of the Mourning Sea, its black, lacquered hull bearing intricate carvings. Countless flags and banners rippled in the breeze as gulls wheeled overhead.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many ships,” Lukan said.

“I have,” Grabulli replied nonchalantly. “Though half of them were on fire. Including my own.” He shrugged. “No doubt most of these are here for the celebrations. Just like us, eh?”

“What celebrations?”

The man threw him a sharp look. “The Grand Restoration, of course.” His dark eyes narrowed at Lukan’s blank expression. “The symbolic exchange of the Silver Spear… Truly, you don’t know of what I speak?”

Lukan grinned. “I don’t have a clue.”

“Then what brings you to Saphrona, friend Lekaan?”

“Personal business,” he replied, determined not to give anything else away. “But I never say no to a good knees-up. What are we celebrating?”

“You surely know of the great war between Saphrona and Zar-Ghosa, yes?”

“Uh, vaguely  ”

“A naval conflict like nothing the world has ever seen!” the captain continued, quickly warming to his subject. “Hundreds of ships destroyed, thousands of gallant sailors lost on both sides! And then, during what promised to be the decisive battle—”

“The Corsair Lord of the Shattered Isles arrived with his fleet, hoping to kill two enemies with one stone,” Lukan said, recalling one of the few lectures he’d bothered attending at the Academy. “And so the Saphronans and Zar-Ghosans joined forces to defeat the corsairs. An act that ended the war.”

“And forged a newfound peace between the cities that has lasted forty years,” Grabulli finished, making a sweeping gesture. “A grand story, don’t you think?”

“Very,” Lukan agreed. “And so these celebrations…  they’re to mark the anniversary of the war’s end?”

“Just so. And to mark the renewal of friendship between the cities.”

“Right. You said something about a spear?”

“The Silver Spear!” Grabulli’s eyes lit up. “A Phaeron weapon of savage beauty that once belonged to the Corsair Lord himself, and which he wielded in the final battle. The Zar-Ghosan admiral is said to have offered the spear to his Saphronan counterpart at the battle’s end as a gesture of comradeship, and so the two cities have exchanged it every decade since, when they renew their vow of peace. This time it’s Saphrona’s turn to host the celebration, hence…” He gestured to the multitude of ships in the bay.

“So the spear is handed over, someone makes a speech, and then everyone gets drunk?”

“Just so, friend Lekaan! The ceremony is in a few days. Enough time for you to conclude your business and join the party, eh?”

“Perhaps.”

Grabulli coughed into his fist. “Ah, speaking of business…” He turned and snapped his fingers. The Sunfish’s quartermaster joined them at the railing, the jaunty angle of her three-cornered hat completely at odds with the scowl on her face. She held a sack, the bottom of which was stained with what could have been wine, but Lukan suspected was something else entirely. Two other crew members—hulking brutes who looked like they’d seen their fair share of tavern fights—stood behind her, eyes alert, postures tense. As if expecting trouble.

“What’s this, Grabulli?” Lukan asked warily, wishing he’d buckled his sword on before staggering out of his cabin.

“We need to discuss the matter of payment, friend Lekaan. As you can see, I have delivered you to Saphrona, safe and sound.”

“You’ll get your seven silvers. I gave you my word.”

“Yes, well…” The captain grinned wide, gold tooth flashing. “The price just went up.”

“We agreed on seven silvers,” Lukan replied, his tone hardening. “We shook on seven silvers, though of course I should have known that means little to a pirate.”

One of the sailors stepped forward, only to freeze as Grabulli raised a hand. “We also agreed,” the captain said, “that you would keep your hands off the cargo in my hold. And yet, just the other day, Sandria here noticed that a crate had been tampered with, and that it seemed to contain a little less tobacco than when we left Deladrin.”

“A lot less,” the quartermaster put in, speaking around her scowl.

“So you see,” Grabulli continued, spreading his hands, “we have something of a problem.”

“No problem,” Lukan replied, with a sigh. He’d snuck into the hold in search of a bottle of something, anything that was better than the coarse rum he’d been drinking. Instead he’d found a cache of Purple Dragon, premium Parvan pipeweed, and… well. One cheeky smoke had turned into several dozen. “What can I say?” he continued, offering Grabulli a rueful smile. “I guess I just fancied a taste of home.”

The captain frowned. “You said you were from a town near Deladrin.”

“Ah…”

“You stole from us,” Sandria hissed, her scowl deepening.

“Lady’s mercy, you’re pirates.

“Careful, friend Lekaan,” Grabulli warned, with no trace of his usual humor.

“All right,” Lukan said, raising his hands. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken the pipeweed. Let me make amends. I’ll pay for the amount I took.”

“Fourteen silvers.”

Lukan blinked. “I… What?”

“Fourteen silvers,” the captain repeated. “The price of your voyage just doubled, friend Lekaan.”

“I don’t have that sort of money.”

“We both know that’s not true.”

“Been spying on me in my cabin, Grabulli?”

The man’s grin returned, flashing gold. “There’s no secrets aboard my ship.”

“And if I refuse to pay?”

“We’ll toss you over the side. Nothing personal, of course.” “Of course.” Lukan glanced at the distant waterfront. Not so distant now… “Doesn’t seem too bad,” he said, with more bravado than he felt. “I can swim that.”

“You think, eh?” Grabulli snapped his fingers again.

Sandria reached into her sack and pulled out a hunk of raw meat, blood oozing between her fingers. She stepped up to the rail and hurled it out across the water. The meat struck the waves with barely a splash. A moment later a mottled, sandy-colored snout broke the surface, and Lukan caught a glimpse of a black eye and a grinning maw of needlelike teeth, ringed by a peculiar, loose fold of skin that almost had the appearance of a mane.

The creature disappeared back beneath the waves, taking the meat with it.

“Lion shark,” Grabulli said, a glint in his eye. “The bay is full of them. Must be the guts from the fisheries that attracts them, though no doubt the Kindred sometimes throw them a tastier morsel.”

“The Kindred?”

“The criminal underworld of Saphrona.” Grabulli clapped Lukan on the back. “You still fancy a swim, friend Lekaan?”

“Not as much as I fancy keeping all my limbs.”

“Ha! Then fourteen silvers seems like a fair price for that privilege, no?”

“Fine,” Lukan said, meeting the captain’s gaze. “Fourteen silvers and you forget all about me. If anyone asks the name of the passenger you picked up in Deladrin, you tell them he was called… Dubois. Bastien Dubois.” He held out his hand. “Do we have a deal?”

“I don’t know, friend Lekaan,” Grabulli mused, tugging at his black beard. “I am renowned for my long memory.”

“Enough bullshit,” Lukan replied, with far more conviction than he felt. “If you try to screw me any further I’ll take my chances with the sharks.”

Grabulli and Sandria exchanged a look. One of the brutes behind them cracked his tattooed knuckles.

For a moment Lukan thought he’d pushed it too far.

Then Grabulli laughed and seized his hand, crushing it in an iron grip as he shook vigorously. “Welcome to Saphrona, Master Dubois.”

Excerpted from The Silverblood Promise, copyright © 2024 by James Logan.



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