“Do you hear that? That’s the sound of bones breaking.”
Are you hooked yet? The line above comes from the first book in an upcoming YA duology from Amanda Foody (Ace of Shades) and Christine Lynn Herman (The Devouring Gray). It’s called All of Us Villains and, judging by the synopsis and excerpt below, the book seems to harness the clever plot mechanics of The Hunger Games and the thematic brilliance of V.E. Schwab’s Villans series, all in one YA duology package. Or, as Senior Editor at Tor Teen Ali Fisher puts it:
Foody and Herman have conjured a wicked little city built on blood. Their story is a brutal one: a death tournament that takes place in the long shadows cast by legacy. It’s survival-of-the-richest, where the wealth is measured in magick. Foody and Herman wield sharp critiques of power, inheritance, and the culture of competition.
To expand on that a bit more, All of Us Villains is set in the city of Ilvernath, where every generation seven families compete to the death for control of high magick (2020, amirite?). While the “powerful, villainous” Lowes have won almost every tournament, this year, the victory is up for grabs as a “salacious, tell-all book” has given each of the other six champions “a means to win.” Very Triwizard Tournament.
All of Us Villains Co-Writing Team
Herman and Foody met in 2016 during Pitch Wars, and have been friends ever since.
“Some friendships have this sense of inevitability about them—like, of course we’re going to be in each other’s lives now,” said Herman of the relationship. “That was how it felt from the first time we ‘met’ via Skype and wound up talking for three hours. After that, we became critique partners for our solo projects, bouncing ideas off one another, reading drafts, offering invaluable feedback. We understood one another’s creative processes so well that it sometimes felt like mind reading. Co-writing was an organic next step.”
Foody adds: “As two lifelong fans of fantasy books, when it came to writing a story together, we wanted to subvert readers’ expectations of the genre while still writing a novel YA fantasy readers will love. We achieved this by crafting a fully fantastical, second world setting that is modern-inspired. These teenagers go to high school. They support indie spellmaker shops. They buy brand name enchantments. Not only was doing this wildly fun, it also makes the reality of the death tournament seem all the more grim. It feels a lot closer to home.”
All of Us Villains Excerpt
“The Lowes shaped cruelty into a crown, and oh, they wear it well.”
A Tradition of Tragedy: The True Story of the Town that Sends Its Children to Die
The Lowe family had always been the undisputed villains of their town’s ancient, blood-stained story, and no one understood that better than the Lowe brothers.
The family lived on an isolated estate of centuries-worn stone, swathed in moss and shadowed in weeping trees. On mischief nights, children from Ilvernath sometimes crept up to its towering wrought iron fence, daring their friends to touch the famous padlock chained around the gate–the one engraved with a scythe.
Grins like goblins, the children murmured, because the children in Ilvernath loved fairy tales–especially real ones. Pale as plague and silent as spirits. They’ll tear your throat and drink your soul.
All these tales were deserved.
These days, the Lowe brothers knew better than to tempt the town’s wrath, but that didn’t stop them from sneaking over the fence in the throes of night, relishing the taste of some reckless thrill.
“Do you hear that?” The older one, Hendry Lowe, stood up, brushed the forest floor off his gray t-shirt, and cracked each of his knuckles, one by one. “That’s the sound of rules breaking.”
Hendry Lowe was too pretty to worry about rules. His nose was freckled from afternoons napping in sunshine. His soft curls kissed his ears and cheekbones, overgrown from months between haircuts. His clothes smelled sweet from morning pastries often stuffed in his pockets.
Hendry Lowe was also too charming to play a villain.
The younger brother, Alistair, leaped from the fence and crashed gracelessly to the ground. He didn’t like doing anything without magick, because he was never otherwise very good at it–even an action as simple as landing. But tonight he had no magick to waste.
“Do you hear that?” Alistair echoed, wincing as he rose to his feet. “That’s the sound of bones breaking.”
Although the two brothers looked alike, Alistair wore the Lowe features far differently than Hendry. Pale skin from a lifetime spent indoors, eyes the color of cigarette ashes, a widow’s peak as sharp as a blade. He wore a wool sweater in September because he was perpetually cold. He carried the Sunday crossword in his pocket because he was perpetually bored. He was two years younger than Hendry, a good deal more powerful, and a great deal more wicked.
Alistair Lowe played a perfect villain. Not because he was instinctively cruel or openly proud, but because, sometimes, he liked to. Many of the stories whispered by the children of Ilvernath came from him.
“This is a shitty idea,” Alistair told his brother. “You know that, right?”
“You say that every time.”
Alistair shivered and shoved his hands in his pockets. “This time it’s different.”
Two weeks ago, the moon in Ilvernath had turned crimson, piercing and bright like a fresh wound in the sky. It was called the Blood Moon, the sign that, after twenty years of peace, the tournament was approaching once more. Only a fortnight remained until the fall of the Blood Veil, and neither brother wanted to spend it in the hushed, sinister halls of their home.
The walk downtown was long–it was a waste of magick to drain a Here to There spellring, and they couldn’t drive. Both were lost in their thoughts. Hendry looked like he was fantasizing about meeting a cute girl, judging from how he kept fiddling with his curls and smoothing the wrinkles in his sleeves.
Alistair was thinking about death. More specifically, about causing it.
The gloomy stone architecture of Ilvernath had stood for over sixteen hundred years, but in the last few decades, it had been renovated with sleek glass storefronts and trendy outdoor restaurants. Despite its disorienting maze of cobbled, one-way streets, questionable amenities, and minimal parking, the small city was considered an up-and-coming spot for the art and magick scene.
Not that the seven cursed families of Ilvernath paid much attention to the modern world, even if the world had recently begun paying attention to them.
The Magpie was the boys’ favorite pub, although no one would guess that from how infrequently they visited. Determined to keep their identities concealed and their photographs out of the papers, Alistair insisted they vary the location for their night-time excursions. They couldn’t afford to become familiar faces–they’d been homeschooled for that very reason. The way their grandmother talked, one whisper of their names and the city would be raising their pitchforks.
Alistair looked grimly upon the Magpie, its sign a dark shadow in the red moonlight, and wondered if the trouble was worth it.
“You don’t have to come inside,” Hendry told him.
“Someone needs to watch out for you.”
Hendry reached underneath his t-shirt and revealed a piece of quartz dangling on a chain. The inside pulsed with scarlet light–the color of a spellstone fully charged with high magick.
Alistair grabbed Hendry by the wrist and shoved the stone back beneath his shirt before someone noticed. “You’re asking for trouble.”
Hendry only winked at him. “I’m asking for a drink.”
Magick was a valuable resource throughout the world–something to be found, collected, and then crafted into specific spells or curses. Once upon a time, there had been two types of magick: frighteningly powerful high magick; and plentiful, weaker common magick. Throughout history, empires had greedily warred for control of the high magick supply, and by the time humanity invented the telescope and learned to bottle beer, they had depleted it entirely.
Or so they’d believed.
Hundreds of years ago, seven families had clashed over who would control Ilvernath’s high magick. And so a terrible compromise was reached–a curse the families cast upon themselves. A curse that had remained a secret… until one year ago.
Every generation, each of the seven families was required to put forth a champion to compete in a tournament to the death. The victor would award their family exclusive claim over Ilvernath’s high magick, a claim that expired upon the beginning of the next cycle, at which point the tournament began anew.
Historically, the Lowes dominated. For every three tournaments, they won two. The last cycle, twenty years ago, Alistair’s aunt had murdered all the other competitors within four days.
Before they’d learned about the tournament, the rest of Ilvernath could only point to the Lowes’ wealth and cruelty as the reason an otherwise mysterious, reclusive family commanded such fearful respect from lawmakers and spellmakers. Now they knew exactly how dangerous that family truly was.
So with the foreboding Blood Moon gleaming overhead, tonight was a risky time for the only two Lowes of tournament age to crave live music and a pint of ale.
“It’s one drink,” Hendry said, giving Alistair a weak smile.
Although the Lowe family hadn’t formally chosen their champion yet, the boys had always known it would be Alistair. Tonight meant far more to either of them than a simple drink.
“Fine.” Alistair threw open the door.
The pub was a cramped, slovenly place. The air was thick from tobacco smoke; rock music blared from a jukebox in the corner. Red and white checkered cloths draped over every booth. For the sociable, there were two pool tables. For those keeping a lower profile, there was a pinball machine, its buttons sticky from whisky fingers.
The Magpie was flooded with cursechasers. They traveled the world to gawk at magickal anomalies like Ilvernath’s, such as the curse in Oxacota that left a whole town asleep for nearly a century, or the curse on the ruins in Môlier-sur-Olenne that doomed trespassers with a violent death in exactly nine days’ time. Now, the tourists clustered in groups, whispering over well-worn copies of A Tradition of Tragedy, the recent bestseller that had exposed the death tournament and Ilvernath’s surviving vein of high magick… and that had catapulted their remote city into the international spotlight.
“I didn’t believe that the Blood Moon was actually scarlet,” Alistair overheard one of them whispering. “I thought it was just a name.”
“The tournament is a high magick curse. High magick is always red,” another answered.
“Or maybe,” drawled a third voice, “it’s called the Blood Moon because a bunch of kids murder each other over it. Ever think of that?”
Alistair and Hendry avoided the tourists as they shuffled through the pub. “Do you think Grandma will start getting fan mail?” asked Hendry, snickering. “I heard there’s a photograph of our whole family in the first chapter. I hope I look good.”
“Sorry to break it to you, but that picture is from ten years ago,” Alistair said flatly.
Hendry looked momentarily disappointed, then delighted. “So the entire world knows you had a bowl cut?”
Alistair rolled his eyes and headed toward the bar. Even though he was a year younger than Hendry, his hollow stare always made him look older–old enough to avoid being carded.
After he ordered, Alistair found himself waiting beside a pair of girls bickering with one another.
“Did you honestly come here alone?” the first girl asked. She smelled strongly of cheap beer, and like all of the patrons here, she wore crystal spellrings on each finger, glowing white with common magick. Alistair guessed they were filled with simple spells: Hangover Cure, Zit Zapper, Matchstick… whatever suited a Friday night pub crawl.
“Of course not,” the second girl said haughtily. “My friends are over there.” She gestured vaguely at the entire bar.
“I thought so,” said the first girl smugly. “You’re famous now, you know. There’s a picture of you on the cover of one of my mum’s magazines. You’re wearing sweatpants.”
“It’s been known to happen on occasion,” the second girl grumbled.
“I heard the Darrows have chosen now, too. That makes three champions so far–Carbry Darrow, Elionor Payne, and you.” The first girl smiled viciously, in the kind of way that made Alistair guess the girls had once been friends. “But no one wants the Macaslans to win.”
Alistair realized it now–he recognized the second girl. She was the Macaslan who’d announced her selection as champion months and months before the Blood Moon appeared, and the paparazzi had branded her the face of the tournament ever since. Alistair wasn’t surprised that the Macaslans would stoop to such desperate grabs for attention–his grandmother had always described them as the bottom-feeders of the seven families, willing to use unsavory methods for even a taste of power. But the Macaslan girl’s designer handbag and freshly pressed blazer hardly made her seem like the lowlife he’d imagined her to be.
At their words, several of the cursechasers turned to stare, and the Macaslan girl cleared her throat and smoothed down her vibrantly red curls.
“Well, I don’t care what people think of me,” she said. But Alistair disagreed. No one wore heels to a dive bar if they didn’t care about their reputation. “The evening news already called me and the Lowe champion rivals. Because I’m the one who’s going to win.”
The tipsy girl rolled her eyes. “The Lowes haven’t even announced their champion yet. Whoever they are, they mustn’t be that impressive.”
As the bartender slid Alistair his drinks, Alistair fantasized about how quickly the Macaslan champion’s confident expression would fade when he held out his hand, a ring glowing on his knuckles and charged with a curse, and informed her exactly how impressive he was.
But there would be time for that, once the tournament began.
Still, as he turned around, pints in both hands, he met the Macaslan girl’s eyes. They held gazes for a moment, assessing one another. But not wanting to be recognized, he turned and walked away.
At the pinball machine, Hendry took the offered glass and shook his head. “I thought you’d start something.” A spell shimmered around his ears–a Listen In, probably. “I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Maybe I should’ve.” Alistair took a sip and smiled despite himself. He shouldn’t be excited for the tournament, but he’d been groomed for it since his childhood, and he was ready to win.
“No, definitely not. What is it you say about our family? ‘Grins like goblins. They’ll tear your throat and drink your soul?’ You can’t help yourself. You have no restraint.” Although it sounded like Hendry was scolding him, his smirk said otherwise.
“Says the one who brought a high magick spellstone to a dive bar,” Alistair countered.
“Someone has to watch out for you,” Hendry murmured, repeating Alistair’s exact words from earlier.
Alistair scoffed and turned his attention to the pinball machine. Its artwork resembled the fairy tales he’d grown up with: a prince rescuing a princess from a castle, a knight riding into battle, a witch laughing over a cauldron. And Alistair’s favorite, the dragon, its mouth open into a snarl–worth one hundred points if the pinball struck its fangs.
Hendry sighed and changed the subject. “I had a dream today–”
“Typically, one has them at night–”
“While napping in the graveyard.” Despite his charm and freckled nose, Hendry was still a Lowe. He had a little villain in him. The Lowe family graveyard was his favorite place, full of vague, unnerving epitaphs for those who’d died young–even beyond the tournament, their family had a surprisingly large amount of tragedy in its history. “In the dream, you really were a monster.”
Alistair smiled so wide he nearly spit out his drink. “What did I look like?”
“Oh, you looked the same.”
“Then what made me a monster?”
“You were collecting the spellrings of dead children and hiding them in your wardrobe, cackling and howling about souls trapped inside them.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Alistair said. “I’d do something like that now.”
“You know, you should take a page out of that Macaslan girl’s book and try to seem more likable. This tournament isn’t like all the other ones–the curse isn’t a secret anymore. I mean, look at all these tourists! In Ilvernath! If you plan to survive during the tournament, you’ll need alliances with other champions. Partnerships with spellmakers. You’ll need the world’s favor.”
Alistair looked at his brother intensely. Hendry was breaking their unspoken rule not to discuss the tournament, and it wasn’t like him to be so serious. Besides, it didn’t matter that A Tradition of Tragedy had turned Ilvernath’s peculiar red moon and its resulting bloodshed into a global scandal. The Lowes still had their pick of spellmakers lining up to give Alistair their wares. Misfortune had a way of finding those who defied the Lowe family–their grandmother’s notorious curses made certain of that.
“Are you worried about me?” Alistair asked.
“The family isn’t.”
“I’m your big brother. I have to worry about you.”
Alistair’s first instinct was, as always, to crack a joke. But confident or not, it was difficult to find humor in the tournament.
Kill or be killed. It was a somber affair.
Alistair’s fear wasn’t for his life, but for his mind. Even the most villainous Lowe victors left the tournament changed, broken. But Alistair refused to meet such a fate. No matter how brutal, how terrible he’d need to act, he couldn’t let himself care. Not about the other champions. Not about his soul.
He needed to become the most villainous of them all.
Used with permission from Tor Teen, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates; a trade division of Macmillan Publishers.
All of Us Villains is set to publish in fall 2021, with the concluding book in the duology coming in fall 2022.