After her desert-transforming wish, Emel follows Saalim to Madinat Almulihi to reclaim all she has lost. But the seaside city is not what she expected. When she is tasked with assisting the palace healer, she is faced daily with the reminder that Saalim—focused only on seeking the revenge of those who killed his family—does not remember her at all.
Cursing the magic that destroyed her love and brought her to an unwelcoming city, Emel regrets her decision to leave her settlement. That is, until she meets Kas. Though inscrutable, he is the first person to help her forget her past, and the pull of finding happiness with him tempts her from the life she wished for with Saalim.
But darkness waits in the desert, and not all people in Madinat Almulihi are what they seem. When Emel understands she is entangled in the fate of the city—and of Saalim—she is faced with the realization that magic may be the most powerful card in her hand. It might be the only way to save all that she loves, but if she plays her hand wrong, it could destroy everything.
Excerpt: Leaning back onto my
hands, I pushed my feet into the cool water. My raw, blistered skin welcomed
“What do you think
they’re doing?” Firoz asked, nudging me with his own submerged foot.
Soldiers from Madinat
Almulihi stood across the large pool. I would have assumed they were cooling
themselves, too, but the longer I watched, the more I saw that there was a pattern—almost
a rhythm—to the way they dipped their hands into the water and pressed it to
their brows, wrists, and necks.
“Praying,” a voice
said from behind me. A voice so achingly familiar it took all of my strength
not to jump from the ground and rush to him.
Slowly, I turned to
In our few days of
travel, I had come to understand that he and his men behaved differently from
my father and his court. It still surprised me that their king—my king—could
appear so unlike a royal. His dark sirwal was rolled at his calves, his feet
bare. He wore no weapons, and the black tunic across his chest was dust-covered
and almost tattered at the edges; the guthra that loosely wrapped his face,
equally worn. Had Saalim himself not told me tales of the wealth and allure of
Madinat Almulihi, I would not believe that it was a city worth seeing at all.
“Eiqab will strain to
hear,” Firoz said.
Saalim looked away
from his soldiers down to Firoz. “We worship the giver, not the punisher.”
“Wahir,” I said. How
strange it was to see someone praying to the lesser god. How wrong.
Saalim’s gaze met
A rush of cold and hot, longing and
desperation, and . . . Sons, how didn’t he feel it? Couldn’t he see me as I saw
him? I felt as I had the first time he looked at me after he became human
again, when he had killed my father and his eyes locked on mine. I stared back,
willing him to feel, to remember as I did . . . the set of his jaw hard beneath
my fingers, his lips against my own, his breath warm as I pulled it into my
lungs. His hands so careful against my skin, his heart beating against my
breast, the tremor of his voice as he said my name.
“Emel, isn’t it?” he
scattered. I bent my head to the ground, not wanting him to see my grimace. He
felt nothing, remembered nothing. Sons, he did not know me at all.
Masira was a devious
goddess, giving so much but taking as much in return. Damn her magic that she
unfurled like a woven rug! Something beautiful to cover all of the ugly scars
and secrets, to distract from them. But that was all the magic did, wasn’t it?
What it tried to remove, it did so sloppily. Everything still lay underneath
“Yes, she is Emel,”
Firoz said loudly.
I looked back to
Saalim, brushing away my thoughts like sand on my palms.
“Today, you and . . .”
“Firoz,” he said.
Saalim paused at the
name, his brow pulling together slightly before he continued.
“Firoz. I am still
learning. You both will help with the cook-fires.” Then he turned from us and
continued around the water’s edge.
“Well, I at least
know food is cooked on a fire. What do you know about cooking?” Firoz chuckled.
His mother always cooked for his family, and I had had no business working in
the palace kitchens as an ahira.
I forced a laugh as I
watched Saalim walk away.
“What bothers you?”
I shook my head.
“He’s just a king,
Emel. Same heart that can be pierced by blade.” He stabbed the air with an
A. S. Thornton is the author of award-winning Daughter of the Salt King (CamCat Books, 2021), the first book in the Salt Chasers duology. She has evolved from book blogger to author with a particular fondness for writing forbidden love in ancient deserts. She lives with her family in Northern California. When not writing, she’s taking care of dogs and cats as a veterinarian. You’ll never find animals at the center of her writing, though. Those fictional worlds don’t have veterinarians and her literal brain can’t accept that the poor critters would be without parasite prevention.