The Steel Rose
(The Boar King’s Honor Trilogy, Book 2)
by Nancy Northcott
Publication Date: April 29, 2021
Publisher: Falstaff Books
Page Length: 370 Pages
Genre: Historical Fantasy/Romantic Fantasy
Amelia Mainwaring, a magically Gifted seer, is desperate to rescue the souls of her dead father and brother, who are trapped in a shadowy, wraith-filled land between life and death as the latest victims of their family curse. Lifting the curse requires clearing the name of King Richard III, who was wrongly accused of his nephews’ murder because of a mistake made by Amelia’s ancestor.
In London to seek help from a wizard scholar, Julian Winfield, Amelia has disturbing visions that warn of Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape from Elba and renewed war in Europe. A magical artifact fuels growing French support for Bonaparte. Can Amelia and Julian recover the artifact and deprive him of its power in time to avert the coming battles?
Their quest takes them from the crowded ballrooms of the London Season to the bloody field of Waterloo, demanding all of their courage, guile, and magical skill. Can they recover the artifact and stop Bonaparte? Or will all their hopes, along with Amanda’s father and brother, be doomed as a battle-weary Europe is once again engulfed in the flames of war?
The Steel Rose is the second book in the time-traveling, history-spanning fantasy series The Boar King’s Honor, from Nancy Northcott (Outcast Station, The Herald of Day).
This is the opening of the book. This scene is set in London on February 26, 1815.
“You’re thinking about murder again, aren’t you?”
The question jolted Amelia Basingstoke, Viscountess Buckton, out of her reverie and pulled her attention back to the crowded ballroom.
Her closest friend in London, Sophie Barton, Viscountess Whitestone, stood beside her. Concern glimmered in Sophie’s blue eyes.
Amelia pulled a wry smile. “How could you tell?”
She had been thinking of murder—two of them, actually—that’d happened more than three hundred years in the past.
“You looked distracted, and not in the way you do when you have a vision.”
“You know me too well.” Indeed, even another magically Gifted person couldn’t tell the difference between a seer’s vision and mere preoccupation unless that person knew the seer well.
On the dance floor, young ladies in pastel gowns and gentlemen in black-and-white evening dress of cutaway coats and knee breeches glided and wove through a quadrille. Here and there, dresses in deeper, richer colors marked out women who were married or, like Amelia, widowed. Amelia’s gown had the high waistline and round skirt of the current style, but she could never have worn this warm green, the color of new leaves, and its silver lace trim before her marriage.
Amelia linked her arm with Sophie’s. “Take a turn about the room with me, if you please.”
They fell into step, skirting the dance floor and other guests standing on the perimeter. When they reached a relatively clear space, Sophie asked, “Have you spoken to anyone with useful information?”
“No, alas.” Amelia sighed. She’d agreed to come to London in part so she could meet other Gifted, who were rare at her home in Yorkshire. Those with deeper knowledge of magic might have some idea how she could lift her family curse. Not that she was ever specific about her reasons for asking questions. Those were not for sharing with casual acquaintances. Sophie knew about it because her eldest brother, Robert Grayson—Viscount Yeavering to the world, but Robin to his friends and family—had been one of Amelia’s brother Adam’s closest friends.
Amelia added, “Mrs. Evanston professed to have a number of grimoires but hadn’t read any of them. Mr. Carruthers described himself as ‘the merest dabbler’ and recommended I apply to the realm’s foremost expert on magical Gifts, the Earl of Aysgarth.”
“Which you already did,” Sophie noted, her voice dry.
Amelia shrugged. Julian Winfield, Earl of Aysgarth, had also been one of Adam’s most trusted friends. When Adam and Papa died in a magical accident sixteen months ago, Julian had come to the funeral. She’d asked him then if he would help her find a way to release their souls from this curse. He’d promised to try, with a caveat. The war against Napoleon Bonaparte had still been raging, and Julian had been heavily involved. He not only worked for the Home Office but ran the Merlin Club, a group of Gifted dedicated to covertly serving Britain’s interests. Naturally that work had taken priority.
“I did hope, with the war over…but perhaps he has nothing and simply doesn’t wish to say so. To disappoint me.”
“Or to admit defeat. Julian hates to give up.” Sophie paused as they walked past another knot of people. “Just the other day, I overheard Robin tell Papa he’s worried about Julian, that the war and other things—he didn’t say what, and it seemed Papa knew—had taken a toll on him.”
“Adam said he liked to spend the winters either traveling in search of old books on magic or working with his horses. I suppose that’s what he’s doing. And honestly, Sophie, I can’t resent anyone who was involved in that conflict for needing time to recover.”
“Robin wrote to him, asking when he planned to come to London for the Season, but he’s had no reply yet.”
They paused by one of the long windows, open to allow the winter air to cool the crowded room. Lowering her voice, Amelia added, “I now need his help on a different matter, one that might concern the Merlin Club. Several nights this past week, I’ve had a recurring dream of an eagle attacking a lion. The two of them fighting.”
Sophie frowned. “Bonaparte used the eagle as his emblem.”
“While Britain uses the lion. I know. I’ve consulted the ghosts of my many-times-great-grandparents. Grandmother Miranda agrees it’s a portent, but she and Grandfather Richard are no more certain than I am about its meaning. We do all agree it could presage renewed conflict between England and France.”
“That’s disturbing. Though I envy you being able to talk to them. One of my great aunts was shockingly scandalous in the reign of George I. I would love to talk to her.”
Since Sophie knew Amelia could converse with the ghosts only because she was their descendant and they were in a shadowy afterworld between the realms of the living and the dead, she must have meant to lighten the mood. Unfortunately, the effort failed.
Amelia said, “I could write to Julian.” They’d been friends, addressing each other by their given names for that reason as well as the custom of the Gifted, and she was no longer an unwed girl. A letter was entirely within social bounds. Even if it were not, he knew her well enough not to read anything untoward into it. “I’ve delayed, partly because I don’t want to seem impatient about Adam and partly because I hoped Julian would soon come to Town for the Season.”
She’d also delayed because he’d looked so weary when he came to the funeral, like a man carrying burdens that weighed on his soul. Sharing that with Sophie, though, felt wrong.
“This probably isn’t the sort of thing you want to put in a letter anyway,” Sophie pointed out. “Have you Seen him?”
In a seer’s vision, she meant.
“A few times, and I’ve scried him once or twice. He’s always riding through a town or the countryside or surrounded by books, never in the same place.”
Sophie wrinkled her nose. “Robin says Julian thinks the Gifted in the days of Merlin and Morgan had abilities we’ve lost. That’s partly why he seeks out antique books, especially old codices, grimoires, and monastic chronicles, anything that might contain lost magical lore. The older a book is, the fewer copies existed at all, let alone survived centuries passing. Such books must be extremely difficult to find.”
Based on Amelia’s conversations since coming to London, information on blood curses was also extremely difficult to find. More than three hundred years before, her ancestor Edmund Mainwaring, then Earl of Hawkstowe, had unwittingly helped murder Edward IV’s young sons, who had come to be known as the Princes in the Tower. He’d magically helped agents of his liege lord, the Duke of Buckingham, sneak into and out of the Tower of London’s royal apartments undetected. He’d had no idea that those agents would kill the two boys or that Buckingham intended to seize the throne and saw them as rival claimants.
When Edmund realized what he had done, he threw himself on the mercy of the boys’ uncle, King Richard III, who had installed them in the Tower apartments for their safety. The king ordered him to stay silent until the political situation improved. Unfortunately, King Richard died at Bosworth Field before giving Edmund leave to speak.
The accession of the Tudors, who blamed Richard III for the boys’ deaths and any other crime they could, had made revealing the truth dangerous. Any challenge to their version of events would’ve been punished as treason.
Unable to speak safely during his lifetime but tormented by guilt, Edmund had rashly cursed all his heirs to not rest in life or death until they proved the truth about the murders and cleared King Richard’s name. Now he and all the Mainwaring heirs, most recently Papa and Adam, were trapped in a shadowy, wraith-infested realm. Adam was having particular problems dealing with that ghastly place. She simply had to free him.
“You’re wool gathering,” Sophie murmured. “Smile.”
How incredibly tedious, but Sophie was right. It was never wise to give the ton, England’s social elite, anything to speculate about.
Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. She combines the emotion and high stakes, and sometimes the magic, she loves in the books she writes.
She has written freelance articles and taught at the college level. Her most popular course was on science fiction, fantasy, and society. She has also given presentations on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III to university classes studying Shakespeare’s play about Richard III. Reviewers have described her books as melding fantasy, romance, and suspense. Library Journal gave her debut novel, Renegade, a starred review, calling it “genre fiction at its best.”
In addition to the historical fantasy Boar King’s Honor trilogy, Nancy writes the Light Mage Wars paranormal romances, the Arachnid Files romantic suspense novellas, and the Lethal Webs romantic spy adventures. With Jeanne Adams, she cowrites the Outcast Station science fiction mysteries.
Married since 1987, Nancy and her husband have one son, a bossy dog, and a house full of books.