Exclusive Excerpt: Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen

Check out this sneak peek of Dark Shores, a Roman-inspired young adult fantasy from Danielle L. Jensen.

Dark Shores by Danielle Jensen Cover

From These Rebel Waves to The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, young adult fiction has really been diving into the world of piracy lately, and I am here for it. The latest example? The upcoming Dark Shores, by The Malediction Trilogy’s Danielle L. Jensen.

Dark Shores is a Roman-inspired fantasy that follows young pirate captain—yes, captain—Teriana as she tries to save the hidden world, aka the dark shores, from being conquered by an unstoppable empire. (But, hopefully, it’s stoppable, right?)

Here’s the full novel synopsis…

“Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense, a ship beholden to the Goddess of the Seas. Her people are born of the waves, and they alone know there is land beyond the Endless Sea. Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the mighty Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. When a power-hungry ruler captures Teriana’s crew and threatens to reveal Marcus’s secret unless they help him conquer the unknown West, the two are forced into an unlikely—and unwilling—alliance. Together they will face monstrous men and meddling gods, eyes and ambitions both set on the horizon of the Dark Shores.”

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And here’s our exclusive excerpt, which gives us greater insight into the character of Marcus and the city of Celendrial…

Chapter 5

Marcus

The Via Metelli was dry as old bone, and by the time Marcus walked through the sprawling gates of Celendrial his skin was coated with a fine layer of dust. From the direction of the harbor, he could make out the drums and shouts of political protestors, and he avoided going anywhere near the Forum, knowing that there’d be oratores on every corner shouting out the promises of the consular candidates. Not that you’d be able to hear them over the hecklers.

     Marcus strode through the streets, marking the changes in the city as he went. It seemed smaller than it had seven years ago, but perhaps, he thought, that was because he was larger. Or perhaps it was because now that he had seen so much of the world, Celendrial no longer seemed like the center of it.

     Breathing shallowly, he crossed the river Savio, the ripe stench of sewers thick on the nose, all the filth of a million people draining into its murky waters. It was another thing he had forgotten about the city of his birth—how much it stank like shit and piss. It was the same in all cities, he knew, but Celendrial always seemed worse for the fact that it looked so clean from a distance. Gleaming white buildings rising out of a blue sea disguised a core coated with physical and moral filth. He hated it here, and being back had put a permanent scowl on his face that had people leaping out of his path as he cut through one of the city’s many marketplaces.

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     Anything that could be found in the Empire was for sale in Celendrial, from spices to narcotics to fabrics to things he couldn’t even name. This market catered to jewels and metalwork, stall after stall of precious wares glittering in the sunlight. Marcus passed a pair of Maarin sailors examining the work of a silversmith, their skin like polished ebony, bright silk shirts tucked into leather trousers, voices rhythmic as they negotiated. There was little doubt in his mind that they’d come out ahead in the transaction.

     He wove around a group from Sibern who, despite the heat, wore robes trimmed with fur dyed in vibrant hues, both men and women wearing their hair cut chin length so that it danced around their cheekbones as they moved. They spoke Cel, but their voices all carried the lisping accent of their homeland, most of them carrying silken sunshades to protect skin so fair, it was nearly translucent.

     Beyond them, his eyes were drawn to a trio of Bardenese women, their dark fingers playing elongated stringed instruments that created a rippling music, their narrow forms swaying to the rhythm as they sang. The youngest of them was fairer than the other two, her skin a golden brown that suggested one of her parents was Cel, a not uncommon occurrence in Celendrial. A not uncommon occurrence across the Empire, which had been thoroughly colonized by retired legions.

     Exiting the market, Marcus climbed higher, his sandals clacking loudly against the stone walkways as he strode up side paths half-remembered from his childhood to the top of the hill overlooking the sea. All the wealth and power of Celendor resided on this villa-crusted slope, each plot of land fenced off from the next as though those men didn’t spend half their lives closeted together plotting the next steps of the Empire. As much as he disliked the city, his hatred for those toga-clad men eclipsed all else.

     The most powerful families had homes overlooking the sea, but Cassius’s villa faced the city, easy to find with the description Marcus had been given. Stopping at the gated entrance of a villa so large it dwarfed those on either side, he paused to give it a once-over. Most of the senatorial homes were ancient structures steeped in history, gardens lush from centuries of cultivation. Not this villa. Whatever had stood here before had been razed to the ground, and a monolithic monstrosity had been erected in its place. The grounds were nothing but stone and statuary, not so much as a blade of grass in sight.

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     A servant with a pinched expression appeared from behind the locked gate. He was tall and thin to the point of emaciation, as if he might disappear if turned sideways. The man waited for him to speak, but Marcus did not. His regalia was introduction enough.

     “The senator expected you some time ago, Legatus.

     The man stared at Marcus. Marcus stared back.

     “He is not accustomed to waiting.” The man’s face became even more pinched, an expression most would reserve for over-sour lemonade.

     The silence stretched as the man waited for an apology. Cracking his neck, Marcus squinted up at the sun to mark the time. He was overheated and wouldn’t have turned down a glass of water, but he was used to discomfort. The pinched-faced man, it seemed, was not. He sighed the sigh of one who had suffered a grave injustice, unlocked the gate, and motioned for Marcus to follow, leading him to a room filled with cushioned divans.

     “Legatus Marcus of the famous Thirty-Seventh Legion, it is an honor.” Lucius Cassius stood as Marcus entered, then motioned for his servant to leave. There was no one else present. The senator was a man of middling height and age, his golden skin oily, as if he had just come from a masseur. He wore his light brown hair clipped short and combed forward, and his blue eyes were too small for his narrow face.

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     “The undefeated Thirty-Seventh!” Cassius pumped his fist in the air. “We do not fall back. We do not fall back,” he repeated the legion’s motto. “Is it true that you’ve never retreated? Remarkable,” he continued, not waiting for an answer.

     Grasping Marcus’s hand, he shook it hard. Marcus withdrew his arm as soon as he could, wishing he could wipe the dampness from his palm. The senator smelled cloyingly of flowers, and his beady eyes were filled with a cunning at odds with his demeanor.

     “Who would’ve thought that the legion of twelve-year-olds we sent off to cut their teeth on the Sibalines would have come so far?” Cassius shook his head, eyes stretched wide with feigned awe.

     All legions went active when their youngest member turned twelve, departing Campus Lescendor for their first campaign. Given that every family living under the Empire’s control was required to give their second-born son to the military, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t know it.

     “From the Sibalines to Phera to Bardeen, and finally, to Chersome.” The senator shook his head. “Never has a nation been quelled quite so thoroughly, and so violently, as Chersome. The market for indentured servants is still down from the glut in supply.” He paused, looking Marcus up and down. “Your reputation precedes you, Legatus. I must confess, I felt something of a chill when you walked in, knowing all the atrocities you ordered your men to commit. Ohh.” Cassius shivered, his jowls swaying. “There it is again. Like having someone walk across your grave, pardon the pagan expression.”

     Marcus’s jaw clenched, but he said nothing. Some of the stories out of Chersome were just that, stories. However, much of it was true, and he didn’t care to be reminded of that fact. His dreams were troubled enough.

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     Cassius gestured for him to come deeper into the room, and Marcus reluctantly complied. There was something about the situation that wasn’t right. Why wasn’t he standing before the entire Senate?

     “I expected you to arrive somewhat earlier in the day,” Cassius said, settling gingerly on a silk-covered divan.

     “I walked.”

     “And he speaks.” The senator raised one amused eyebrow. “A horse would’ve been faster.”

     The truth was, horses made Marcus sneeze. That, combined with the dusty air of Celendrial, would be enough to set off one of his attacks, and he’d rather walk a thousand miles over hot coals than have a man like this see him so reduced. He raised one shoulder, then let it drop. “True.”

     Cassius’s brow creased ever so slightly. “And here I thought legionnaires were good at following orders.” His voice was hard, the polished veneer gone.

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     The corner of Marcus’s mouth turned up. “They are. And I’m good at giving them.”

     “You aren’t what I expected,” said Cassius. “And perhaps that’s a good thing.”

     “Why is that?”

     “Because I need a man with vision, not a follower.” Leaning forward, Cassius filled two glasses from the decanter sitting on the table, passing one to Marcus. “You’ll have heard that I’m running for consul in the next election.”

     “Yes.”

     “I want your assistance, Legatus, in ensuring that I’m successful in my bid.”

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     Marcus hadn’t expected him to say that. He could vote in the elections—all legionnaires were granted citizenship, the status of their birth and their original nationality wiped away when they left their families to begin training—but what was one vote? “What sort of assistance?”

     “All your men are nineteen, or will turn nineteen in the coming months. They are old enough to vote. I want you to ensure they vote for me.”

     Which entirely undermines the purpose of voting in the first place, thought Marcus. The consul led the Senate—he controlled the entire Empire, and he was chosen by the citizens of Celendor. Forcing individuals to vote one way or another happened, but it was illegal. Forcing an entire legion? They’d hang him for it.           

     “No.”

     Cassius’s face turned sour, but only for an instant. “Don’t be so hasty, Legatus. There are those campaigning for consul who do not have the legions’ best interest in mind. Those who no longer see your necessity and would see your wages cut, your ranks dismantled and dispatched to the provinces to make babies who’ll amount to nothing. Who’d turn the blades of the Empire into farmers and tradesmen, leaving you to toil and struggle like common men.”

     Over half of Marcus’s men had been born in the Empire’s provinces, and many—regardless of where they’d been born—would leap at the chance to be common, but that wasn’t something he necessarily wanted a senator knowing. “Even if every one of them voted for you, it wouldn’t be enough. You need the Optimates.”

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     Cassius was not popular among the moderates who’d held power for the last decade—he was too power hungry for their tastes. They called him a warmonger. His chances of winning the consulship were not strong.

     Yet if Marcus’s words angered him, Cassius didn’t show it. “You know of Senator Valerius?”

     “Of course.” Valerius had been consul when Marcus was a child—he was an Optimate, a scholar, and known as the voice of peace. He also lived at the very top of the Hill.

     “He has an adopted daughter of questionable heritage who he is most fond of and keen to see well placed. I’ve agreed to marry her—for a price.”

     Marcus set down his glass. “Then you do not need us,” he said, turning to the door. “Good day to you, Senator. We await instructions from the Senate on our next mission.”

     “You will do what I say!”

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     Marcus turned to face him. “I will not order them to vote for you—they have little enough freedom as it is. I won’t take this.”

     “That’s surprisingly moralistic, coming from you.”

     “Do not presume to know me.”

     “I know you well enough,” Cassius said. “Unless you show your solidarity, I’ll make sure to send you and yours to the worst hole in the Empire and leave you there for the next twenty years to rot.”

     “You’re threatening the wrong man.” Marcus’s hand went reflexively to his gladius, and the senator’s eyes went with it. He took a step back, glancing at the walls. Of course they were being watched. Men like Cassius didn’t put their lives in danger. Spinning on his heel, Marcus reached for the door, but the senator’s next words stopped him in his tracks.

     “I think I’m threatening precisely the right man, Domitius.”

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     Marcus hadn’t been called by his family name since he was eight years old. Since he had lived on the top of this very hill. Family names were struck when boys were sent to Campus Lescendor to begin their training. The Empire was their father and their mother. Their fellow legionnaires their brothers.

     “I’m well acquainted with your family,” Cassius said, coming up behind him. “Of course, you would know that.”

     “The Thirty-Seventh is my family,” Marcus replied, but he had to force the words out of his tight throat. “I know no other.”

     “Please, Legatus. If you were from some obscure plebeian family, I might believe that.”

     Marcus could feel the man’s presence behind him, smell the sweet stink of flowers and oil. “Believe what you will. It is the truth.”

     Cassius chuckled. “As you like. Though you might find it interesting to learn that your elder brother stopped suffering from his fits after you left for the legions. As I understand it, he hasn’t had one since. Don’t you find that fascinating?”

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     Ice ran through Marcus’s veins. The compulsion to pull his blade and silence the man standing behind him was overwhelming. An almost unbearable need to stem the tide of words coming from Cassius’s mouth that threatened everything he cared for.

     “I see your brother often, and I find it fascinating how you, the younger, seem so much more mature. Perhaps it’s your reputation. Perhaps it’s the gravitas of your rank and its accoutrements. Then again,” he continued, “perhaps it’s not.”

     “My legion is my family.” Clenching his teeth, Marcus reached for the door, forcing his legs to take him out of the room and down the hall.

     “Succeed in convincing your men to vote for me, Legatus, and I’ll ensure you’re rewarded,” Cassius called, his voice bouncing off the empty corridor. “Fail, and your . . . family pays the ultimate price.”

      The words sounded hollow and distant, drowned out by the scream inside Marcus’s head. He knows.

      He knows.

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This excerpt was used with Permission from Tor Teen, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates. Copyright (c) 2019 Danielle L. Jensen.

Dark Shores is set to be released on May 7th, but is available for pre-order now. To find out more about Jensen and her work, check out her website, or head over to Twitter where she tweets under the handle @dljensen_.

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.