A girl matches wits with a war god in this kaleidoscopic, thought-provoking tale of oppression and the cost of peace, where stories hide within other stories, and narrative has the power to heal — or to burn everything in its path — from World Fantasy Award–winning author Alaya Dawn Johnson.
A girl and a god, alone in communion …
In the winding underground tunnels of the Library, the great peacekeeper of the three systems, a heinous secret lies buried — and Freida is the only one who can uncover it. As the daughter of a Library god, Freida has spent her whole life exploring the Library’s ever-changing tunnels and communing with the gods. Her unparalleled access makes her unique — and dangerous.
When Freida meets Joshua, a Tierran boy desperate to save his people, and Nergüi, a disciple from a persecuted religious minority, Freida is compelled to help them. But in order to do so, she will have to venture deeper into the Library than she has ever known. There she will discover the atrocities of the past, the truth of her origins, and the impossibility of her future.
With the world at the brink of war, Freida embarks on a journey to fulfill her destiny, one that pits her against an ancient war god. Her mission is straightforward: Destroy the god before he can rain hellfire upon thousands of innocent lives — if he doesn’t destroy her first.
By the time Samlin left me three weeks later, I felt like a blindfolded animal: confused, disoriented, ready to bite. I cried for days and sent him increasingly desperate messages until I realized he would never respond to me again. Nadi told me I’d forget about him, that everyone had to fall in love for the first time, that it would get better. I wanted to believe zir. But I was shivering, growing into ice, drifting into an empty sea. I didn’t know how to say what I was feeling. I hardly knew how to feel it.
Nadi had little time for me in those days. Ze was sequestered at a diplomatic round table with the Mahām leadership to address recent protests about their Treaty-condemned occupation of the Miuri moon. I didn’t push. The thought of telling Nadi precisely what had happened or not happened in that nanodrop made my guts twist like wet rope and my head fill with cotton. Better Iemaja, I decided. Better a god who barely understands the minutiae of human affairs and only speaks in communion.
I walked inside her because I had seen myself in Samlin’s deep eyes and hated that reflection. Freida the sweet. Freida the beautiful. Freida, once an excellent find but now inconvenient, twitchy, withdrawn, and desperate. I was beginning to see myself as they did, all those who stared and stared and saw nothing behind my eyes but a dark mirror. What was my heart, what were my bones, what were my constellations of synapses firing, lighting up my soul? Nadi insisted I was human, but even so, I had been left to freeze out in the ocean because no one thought I was worth any more. I was afraid, Nameren, so very afraid that they were right.
I had begun in Kohru, the artery of childhood and discovery and, in some ways, rebellion. But I was now in unknown capillaries. Some passages were so narrow that I had to get on my belly to pass through, the stone warm against my exposed skin. Sometimes the crystal would crack and water would bubble through the seams and I would slurp it down. It tasted of moonlight and copal and stillness. I told Iemaja that I loved her. The water then bubbled with her laughter and tasted of rose petals. It grew thick and slow with sugar. I lay in that soft, sticky womb for a while. The sweetness had been made to balance the salt of my tears. She is kind like that, Iemaja.
I told her about Samlin. I told her how helpless he had made me feel, not in my body, which he’d left untouched, but in my spirit. My tongue was heavy, as though it belonged to someone else. But still I spoke, until I reached the end.
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About the Author
Alaya Dawn Johnson is an award-winning short story writer and the author of seven novels for adults and young adults. Her most recent novel for adults, Trouble the Saints, won the 2021 World Fantasy Award for best novel. Her debut short story collection, Reconstruction, was an Ignyte Award and a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist. Her debut YA novel The Summer Prince was longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and the follow-up Love Is the Drug was awarded the Andre Norton Nebula Award. Her short stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, most notably the title story in The Memory Librarian, in collaboration with Janelle Monáe. She lives in Oaxaca, Mexico.