We’re so pleased to welcome author Hayden Thorne to TNA today to celebrate the release of her new novel, The Amaranth Maze. We have an exclusive excerpt to share with you, and there’s also the chance for two readers to win an e-copy of the book, so be sure to check out the Rafflecopter widget below for entry details.
A Note From the Author
The Amaranth Maze is the fifth and final book in my AU Victorian Europe non-series, i.e., all five books in the “collection” are standalones and can be read individually. In this historical fantasy world, Europe in the 19th century is filled with magic, and same-sex relationships are commonplace, including same-sex unions.
My philosophy is if something as wild as magic can be written in an AU historical setting, why not same-sex love? So I ran with it.
The Amaranth Maze is another love letter to Victorian ghost fiction, which is my favorite literary genre along with mysteries. As with my other self-published (and traditionally published) books, I drew a good deal of inspiration from music, art, and literature for this story’s atmosphere and gothic elements. The central conflict of a forced union between a dead person and a live one came to me after re-reading Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s ghost story, “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” for maybe the gazillionth time. Another ghost story (albeit a funnier one) that encouraged me to toy with the same idea was Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, which was based on Jewish folklore.
I love mazes and enjoy contriving a hundred and one different uses for them, entrapment for whatever purpose being my ultimate plotbunny feeder. See: The Shining. Also: the minotaur living in the labyrinth in Greek mythology. Working all of these elements into one cohesive novel was an absolute challenge, but I loved every minute of it and am very proud of the finished product.
I hope readers enjoy the book as I move forward to new gay gothic romances in new worlds for my future books.
About the Book
A legend of a long-dead murderer buried in a mysterious maze. A cruel, childish trick gone wrong. A dangerous vow made in trust by a shy and lonely young boy. And somewhere in the idyllic Swedish countryside, a centuries-old entity is summoned from its thorny grave.
Fourteen years later, twenty-two-year-old Fredrik Niequist returns from his travels, a brilliant financier who intends to break new ground in the Swedish agricultural industry by commercializing local nature magic. He is also newly engaged to a wealthy childhood friend in a cynical and loveless partnership.
Twenty-year-old Lauris Ahlberg, meanwhile, turns his mind to botany as a promising apprentice to an English botanic occultist. As he studies a flower species displaying marks of the night world, he realizes the tainted flowers’ sudden appearance near his home and the ominous pattern they form signify a terrifying presence coming from a familiar source.
When Fredrik and Lauris cross paths again, old wounds break open, and promises of forever after ring hollow as the two awkwardly rekindle their friendship. And in the meantime, a creeping threat takes physical shape, breaking past its prison of thorns in order to lay claim to what has long belonged to it.
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Excerpt from Chapter Five
The sun had already dipped past the horizon behind him, the residual light ensuring a somewhat feeble view of the flowers’ progress, but Lauris was quite certain they traversed the heath and vanished over the distant rise.
He fixed his gaze on that spot, the slight incline before the land dipped beyond. He knew what lay behind that line—the only place he’d avoided for years since his mishap, and as memories flared to life, Lauris felt his wrists tingle with a very, very faint current of something. All kinds of shapes filled that uneven line, with rocks and dead shrubs standing like silent, misshapen sentries guarding the land beyond. Dusk deepened around him, the shadows stretching and darkening further, and what at first appeared to be the distant silhouette of a large rock mixed in with the other shapes moved all of a sudden, and Lauris blinked in surprise as he watched.
Ever so slowly, it rose, moving as though it had just been roused from a centuries-long sleep, and every part of it sluggishly worked to find its strength. The rock—at first appearing like a slightly rounded shape—grew, rising from the ground and stretching up like a man getting on his feet, even taking a staggering step or two to the side as he struggled to find his balance.
“What the devil…”
Lauris, startled, continued to gape at the growing silhouette as it finally reached its full height, which appeared to be the height of an adult man. The sky darkened further, barely allowing Lauris much of a chance at making out the man’s full shape. He thought he spotted the head, the man’s shoulders hidden under what could be a cloak of some sort, judging from the bulkiness of the neck and shoulders, and the man stood rather crookedly on his feet, his arms swinging a little as they hung down.
For several seconds, nothing but the faint whistling of the evening breeze could be heard, and the two of them merely stood and stared at each other. Then the man moved, taking a few tottering steps forward and toward Lauris, who could only stagger back, lost in a grip of growing terror.
Something—he didn’t know where it came from or who it might be—spoke, the voice sounding as though it was part of the breeze that continued to blow around him. It was distant, slightly echoing or giving Lauris’s terrified mind the impression it was echoing as though someone were calling from the depths of a well.
Do you honor your vow?
Lauris’s heart thundered, his breathing growing ragged as instinct told him to run. The man, who’d already vanished amid the shadows of the heath, continued to move toward him, and Lauris could even hear the faint crunching of loose soil, grass, and pebbles under the man’s feet.
Have you been loyal?
A sudden gust of icy winds buffeted him, and Lauris spun around and ran, yelping whenever he stepped on a hidden rut or a loose stone, and he’d stumble or almost trip. His eyesight had adjusted to the darkness by now, and he was able to spot the dirt road. Before long he was running along it, sure of his footing this time, thanks to a lifetime of usage.
He wanted to slow down and rest his screaming muscles, but he couldn’t. He could feel himself being followed on the road, the man—if it was, indeed, a man—somehow maintaining his pace as he steadily shadowed Lauris. Now and then he’d glance back, but his pace as well as the onset of night kept him from seeing anything. All the same, he sensed the man behind him, knew he was there.
And if anything, something told Lauris that the man followed him idly, as a parent would idly trail their child, monitoring the little one from a distance and ensuring the child’s safety that way, ready to jump in for immediate assistance. The very notion set off another wave of chills up and down Lauris’s person, and he increased his pace.
Thankfully enough, the final bend came, and when Lauris turned, the much-welcomed sight of his home’s well-lit interior piercing the darkness through open windows met his gaze. He slowed his pace to a jog and then a walk, the moon finally creeping along the skies and blanketing the area with unimpeded silver light. Thank heaven for clear skies, indeed.
By the time Lauris reached the front door, he was calm enough to begin wondering about his bizarre experience. Moonlight and the warm glow of his home’s windows emboldened him, and he looked back down the dirt road and saw nothing there—of course. He moved his gaze around, scanning the road and its immediate surroundings for shadows deeper than the night or for uneven movements hinting at a hidden watcher. He found neither, and he tried to direct his mind to the land beyond, tried to sharpen his senses in hopes of catching something, anything, that would tell him he hadn’t imagined things.
Still nothing, he told himself after another moment, and he had to take a deep, calming breath, filling his lungs with fresh night air, his spirits soothed by the familiar chirping of crickets and the soft whispering of the evening breeze.
He sighed and pulled his hat off his head, raking his fingers through his hair as he mentally berated himself for his surreal imagination. He’d been working far too hard, he told himself, a typical thing for him to do whenever he set out to impress his superiors, and heaven knew, he desperately wanted to ensure a permanent place in Dr. Hardwicke’s fledgling society of botanic occultists.
A good, hot meal should do him some good, and perhaps he should forego the usual post-dinner conversation with his father and sister and retire to his room early. Things ought to look a good deal better in the light of day following proper, restful sleep.
He unlocked the front door and swung it open.
Honor your vow.
Lauris gasped and looked back, startled, but the road behind him remained empty. “Who’s there?” he called. “Show yourself!”
Remember your promise.
He swallowed, stepped quickly inside, and bolted the door behind him, wishing the lock weren’t so old as the breeze picked up and rattled the doorknob, somehow making it turn back and forth as though someone outside were testing it. No, he told himself feebly as he released the doorknob and took a staggering step away, it wasn’t the breeze doing this. It was impossible. And just as suddenly as it started, the rattling and turning stopped, and Lauris stood before the door, staring in mute shock at the doorknob. It took Greta’s bemused call from the kitchen as she watched him behave as though he’d never seen a doorknob before to draw him out of his numbed state and join his family for dinner, pretending excessive fatigue for his strange behavior.
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6 thoughts on “Guest Post, Exclusive Excerpt, and Giveaway: The Amaranth Maze by Hayden Thorne”
Congrats, Hayden, and thanks for the excerpt. I love the sound of this – the gothic feel, all the elements that you’ve mixed in, the AU you’ve built.
Congratulations on the release, Hayden. I’ve read two of your books so far, and loved them both. So I’m sure I’m going to love this one too ;)
Hello and good luck on your release of ‘The Amaranth Maze.’ You’re a ‘new-to-me’ author and this sounds amazing. Since this is part of a series and includes magic and the occult I’ve got some catching up to do!
Congrats and good luck with your new book release! It sounds like an amazing read.
Congrats on the new release! It sounds good and I love the cover.
This sounds good — congratulations for your new release, Hayden