Shahrukh Husain’s A Restless Wind: “A rare glimpse of what life may or may not be like for modern Indian royalty.”

Over at The Asian Writer Shahrukh Husain talks about the background to her novel A Restless Wind:

“The story had been gestating since I was a teenager fascinated by the family events of a close relative, the Sufism, a certain annual festival held in the grounds of the house that I’ve renamed Qila. That house and its backyard community played a massive part in the formation of my values. There was a solidarity there, a unity, that transcended barriers and survived all the tittle-tattle, minor resentments and disagreements to be expected in all normal communities…”

Accompanying the interview, there’s a lovely review:

“Husain deftly handles a feast of characters and twisting plots. This is a cleverly written, challenging novel which asks the question what does it mean to be happy and fulfilled? … A rare glimpse of what life may or may not be like for modern Indian royalty. A fascinating read.”

~

The book:

arestlesswind-fbgraphic

 

Zara Hamilton leads an apparently charmed life as a human rights lawyer in London – but she is haunted by questions about her past. Why did her mother disappear? What made her college sweetheart, the Maharaja of Trivikrampur, abandon her? Why did her husband renege on a plan to return to her native India? And why has she avoided visiting her much-loved family home in Qila, Trivikrampur? After ten years as a Muslim in Britain, bereft of a homeland, Zara finally seeks the answers. When she returns to Qila, her world is shatteringly different, her aristocratic family mired in complications and far-right politics on the rise. Amid the unrest of a changing nation, Zara seeks the key to her mother’s secret as contemporary resentments clash with a harmonious past.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon USAmazon UK

Buy this book in print (ISBN: 1515075699): Amazon USAmazon UKCreateSpace – and other booksellers
~

A Restless Wind piques the reader’s interest from the very beginning with fine details and a strong and engaging protagonist.” The Deccan Herald

“A fascinating emotional narrative of an expatriate, A Restless Wind intertwines the old with the new in modern India.” Muneeza Shamsie, Newsline (Pakistan)

“When India Exotic meets India Embattled a great new transcontinental heroine is born. Husain has put the characters together with great care. But it is Zara who is the novel’s anchor and her confusion over her identity propels the plot.” Kaveree Bamzai, India Today

“One intriguing trait of Husain’s narration is its delicately filigreed details. Her descriptions are graphic, colourful and semiotically nuanced. The semiotized narrative brings home to the reader the contrasted cultural set-ups, or, in phenomenological terms, the conflicting ‘lifeworlds’ that the different characters in the novel inhabit.” Arnab Bhattacharya, The Telegraph, India

~

Shahrukh Husain writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She has written four themed retellings of folklore and myth for Virago and worked on scripts commissioned by Merchant-Ivory and Buena Vista among others. Currently, she is developing TV projects for SKY, KUDOS and BENDIT FILMS while working on her second novel.

She is a practising analytical psychotherapist and has worked extensively with asylum-seekers and PTSD survivors.

She was born in Karachi, Pakistan and divides her time between northwest London and East Sussex.


New from infinity plus: No Grave for a Fox, and Muezzinland: the author’s edition

Following the success earlier this year of Beautiful Intelligence, Stephen Palmer’s fast-paced philosophical thriller exploring the emergence and nature of artificial sentience, infinity plus closes 2015 with two more titles from this author: No Grave for a Fox, a short novel set a few years after the close of Beautiful Intelligence; and a new edition of Muezzinland, the author’s preferred text of the third in this novel sequence.

No Grave for a Fox by Stephen Palmer

No Grave For A Fox by Stephen PalmerAvailable in print and ebook formats, 20 December 2015
http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/book.php?book=spngfaf

Ebook: Amazon US – Amazon UK – Barnes and Noble – Kobo – Apple – Smashwords

Print (ISBN: 1519390874): Amazon US – Amazon UK – CreateSpace – and other booksellers

In Beautiful Intelligence Stephen Palmer told a global story of artificial intelligence in a fractured, dangerous future, overseen by the eyes of the nexus. Now in No Grave For A Fox he continues the tale, returning to Kid Indigo, the mysterious AI last seen isolated and disorientated in the ruins of Seattle.

The year is 2110. In Africa, water and food shortages force many people to exist hand-to-mouth, including a couple of itinerant street musicians, Ibrahim and Elodie. When a Japanese dog appears one evening at a gig, Elodie befriends it, but soon the lives of the couple are entangled with both the dog and enigmatic nexus wizard Zouhair Fox.

Soon the trio find themselves taking part in a nexus revolution that threatens to cover Africa, and perhaps the whole world.

The short novel, No Grave For A Fox, is a second fast-paced, philosophical thriller that takes the reader across the globe through a post-oil world of danger, surprise and possibility.

“…a thrilling chase across a ravaged Europe, a burgeoning North Africa and balkanised US, interleaving excellent action set-pieces with fascinating philosophising on the nature of consciousness. A gripping read to the poignant last line.” The Guardian, on Beautiful Intelligence

“A bracingly imaginative novel… a rich, complex vision of a relatively near future which in some ways is familiar, in others, startlingly alien… a work which looks to a diverse global future with excitement and verve.” Gary Dalkin, Amazing Stories, on Beautiful Intelligence

“Palmer is a writer of unique and remarkable imagination.” Teresa Edgerton, SFF Chronicles

 

Muezzinland: the author’s edition by Stephen Palmer

Muezzinland: the author's edition by Stephen PalmerAvailable in print and ebook formats, 20 December 2015
http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/book.php?book=spamuez

Ebook: : Amazon US – Amazon UK – Barnes and Noble – Kobo – Apple – Smashwords

Print (ISBN: 1519391862): Amazon US – Amazon UK – CreateSpace – and other booksellers

Two sisters on the run, both pursued by their mother. But when this mother is the Empress of Ghana and one of the most powerful people in the world, it is no ordinary chase. And life has changed in the mid twenty second century. The aether is a telepathic cyberspace. Biochips augment human brains. AIs, concepts, even symbols can be dangerous.

Mnada is heir to the Ghanaian throne, yet something has been done to her brain that has made her insane, something to send her fleeing north across jungle and desert towards the mysterious place called Muezzinland.

Nshalla is relegated to the status of puppet, ignored, yet also part of her mother’s plan; she follows her sister’s flight, determined to discover the truth behind Muezzinland.

And the Empress herself, possessing the most modern technology with which to recapture her daughters – androids, morphic tools, orbital stations, all powered by a ruthless will. But not even she can predict what might happen should the family be reunited, least of all if it is inside Muezzinland…

Set in a vivid and fascinating future, Muezzinland is a tour de force of the imagination from the author of Beautiful Intelligence and No Grave for a Fox.

An earlier version of this novel was first published in 2003. This 2015 edition is the author’s preferred text.

“…a tour de force in imagining possibilities that lie beyond our information age… If you enjoy the full immersion experience of neo-magic, you’ll [like] Muezzinland.” Gwyneth Jones, New York Review Of SF

“…succeeds when many other similar attempts to fuse the mythic and the modern fail… in Muezzinland, the hybrid thrives, creating a compelling and cohesive vision… It’s an unusual and successful combination.” Matrix

“While the plot can be read as a relatively straightforward thriller, the book as a whole is considerably more than this. It succeeds in integrating the elements of myth and high technology, producing something of a hybrid that feels right.” Vector

 

Details of all infinity plus books can be found at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/


Extract: Hell’s Ditch by Simon Bestwick

Hell's Ditch by Simon BestwickThe dream never changes: a moonless, starless night without end. The road she walks is black, bordered with round, white pebbles or nubs of polished bone; she can’t tell which but they’re the only white in the darkness, marking her way through the night.

In dreams and nightmares, Helen walks the Black Road. It leads her back from the grave, back from madness, back towards the man who caused the deaths of her family: Tereus Winterborn, Regional Commander for the Reapers, who rule the ruins of a devastated Britain.

On her journey, she gathers her allies: her old mentor Darrow, the cocky young fighter Danny, emotionally-scarred intelligence officer Alannah and Gevaudan Shoal, last of the genetically-engineered Grendelwolves.

Winterborn will stop at nothing to become the Reapers’ Supreme Commander; more than anything he seeks the advantage that will help him achieve that goal. And in the experiments of the obsessed scientist Dr Mordake, he thinks he has found it.

To Winterborn, Project Tindalos is a means to ultimate power; to Mordake, it’s a means to roll back the devastation of the War and restore his beloved wife to the living. But neither Winterborn nor Mordake understand the true nature of the forces they are about to unleash. Forces that threaten to destroy everything that survived the War, unless Helen and her allies can find and stop Project Tindalos in time.

*

Extract: Hell’s Ditch by Simon Bestwick

No sound. Somehow that’s the worst part of it: the silence.

She can’t even hear her footsteps click on the Black Road’s cobbles. Normally, when she finds herself walking of nights, when she sleeps, that sound’s the one bit of company she has. Now even that’s gone.

Colour begins bleeding into the night. Or at least grey does. It fills up the space on either side of the road, then covers the road itself. She feels it, soft and cushioning, underfoot.

The sky lightens. The sky, too, is ash. Somewhere beyond it there might be a sun, but it’s no more than a rumour of light. In the distance, the City, or what’s left of it. It’s only recognisable because it breaks the horizon in the right spot.

She stops and looks about. All is ashes. Here and there, the crumbling remains of a tree, a body, a gun stick clear of the dead grey carpet. Then she sees motion. Things crawling. They’re people, she realises. Or they were. It’s hard to be sure what they are now. The ash coats them – their clothes, their skin. And many of them are incomplete, missing fingers, hands or entire limbs, sections of faces stripped away. She can’t tell where their flesh ends and the dust begins, especially as they crawl in it, flounder in it, sink into it, some vanishing from sight to never rise again. Their faces – their faces are wads of ash and dust, with black gaping holes for mouths and eyes.

And the worst thing, the worst, worst thing, is the absence of sound. When those faces lift and gape wider to howl their prayers and agony to the uncaring, dying sky, she sees chests and shoulders heave as they try to scream. But there’s nothing. One figure kneels and screams and screams as its hands dissolve into streams of ash, waving the diminishing stumps of its arms about as if to extinguish the invisible fires devouring it.  But there’s no sound. It tries to rise, trips and falls into the ash. A grey cloud billows up. When it settles, the figure has broken apart like a toppled statue, its fragments either crumbling into or being swallowed up by the soft blanket that is the end of everything. A couple of the pieces are still moving.

Darkness falling, over her and them; an end to this at last? But no, in the distance the sky is still grimily pale. And this darkness has its edge, its contours. A shape. It’s the shadow of something vast and alive.

Slowly she turns and stares upwards. She doesn’t want to, but, as is common in dreams, she can’t stop herself.  She looks up and sees something vast and hunched and black blotting out the sky, sees its huge head turn and tilt downwards, feels whatever serves it for eyes come to bear on her.

She wants to wake up. She wants to wake up. But she’s still there, staring up at it from the plain of ash as the black shape leans down towards her, a scream building in her throat she knows will go unheard.

And then there’s one sound. Just one. The hiss of a wind through stone; the great shape’s whisper of its name:

Tindalos.

*

Simon Bestwick is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned.

Website: www.simonbestwick.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Simon-Bestwick/373730462654091
Twitter: @GevaudanShoal


New: A Restless Wind by Shahrukh Husain

arestlesswind-fbgraphic

restlesswind-ebook-coverZara Hamilton leads an apparently charmed life as a human rights lawyer in London – but she is haunted by questions about her past. Why did her mother disappear? What made her college sweetheart, the Maharaja of Trivikrampur, abandon her? Why did her husband renege on a plan to return to her native India? And why has she avoided visiting her much-loved family home in Qila, Trivikrampur? After ten years as a Muslim in Britain, bereft of a homeland, Zara finally seeks the answers. When she returns to Qila, her world is shatteringly different, her aristocratic family mired in complications and far-right politics on the rise. Amid the unrest of a changing nation, Zara seeks the key to her mother’s secret as contemporary resentments clash with a harmonious past.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon Canada – FREE on Kindle Unlimited

Buy this book in print (ISBN: 1515075699): Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CanadaCreateSpace – and other booksellers
~
A Restless Wind piques the reader’s interest from the very beginning with fine details and a strong and engaging protagonist.” The Deccan Herald

“A fascinating emotional narrative of an expatriate, A Restless Wind intertwines the old with the new in modern India.” Muneeza Shamsie, Newsline (Pakistan)

“When India Exotic meets India Embattled a great new transcontinental heroine is born. Husain has put the characters together with great care. But it is Zara who is the novel’s anchor and her confusion over her identity propels the plot.” Kaveree Bamzai, India Today

“One intriguing trait of Husain’s narration is its delicately filigreed details. Her descriptions are graphic, colourful and semiotically nuanced. The semiotized narrative brings home to the reader the contrasted cultural set-ups, or, in phenomenological terms, the conflicting ‘lifeworlds’ that the different characters in the novel inhabit.” Arnab Bhattacharya, The Telegraph, India

~
Shahrukh Husain writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She has written four themed retellings of folklore and myth for Virago and worked on scripts commissioned by Merchant-Ivory and Buena Vista among others. Currently, she is developing TV projects for SKY, KUDOS and BENDIT FILMS while working on her second novel.

She is a practising analytical psychotherapist and has worked extensively with asylum-seekers and PTSD survivors.

She was born in Karachi, Pakistan and divides her time between northwest London and East Sussex.


Publication day for Robert Holdstock and Garry Kilworth’s The Ragthorn, winner of the World Fantasy Award

Published today in book form for the first time:
The Ragthorn by Robert Holdstock and Garry Kilworth

The Ragthorn by Robert Holdstock and Garry Kilworth

“I am placing this entry at the beginning of my edited journal for reasons that will become apparent. Time is very short for me now, the final part of the ritual draws near… I cannot pretend that I am not frightened.”

There were these two British writers, one lived in the country, the other in the city. The country writer loved to visit the city and partake of brandy and Greek kebabs in the local hostelry. The city writer liked to visit the country and guzzle ale and barbecued steak under the apple trees. The two writers needed an excuse for these indulgences, and so they invented one, and this excuse was called “collaborating on a story” … It soon emerged that the story was to be about a legendary tree, which they both vaguely recalled from the tales their grandfathers used to tell them of mystery and myth. Soon they were delving with suppressed excitement into old documents at the British Museum and began to come up with some frightening discoveries.

The first of these finds was in studying the original text, in Anglo-Saxon, of the Old English poem “The Dream of the Rood”. The marrying of the “tree” (crucifixion cross) and the “thorn” (a runic character) was too elaborately regular to be an accident of metre or alliterative language. Other discoveries followed, and the story gradually surfaced, like a dark secret from its burial mound.

The Ragthorn: a dark and unsettling World Fantasy Award-winning novella by Robert Holdstock and Garry Kilworth.

Also included in this volume, two bonus stories: “The Fabulous Beast” by Garry Kilworth, and “The Charisma Trees” by Robert Holdstock.

Buy this ebook from: Amazon USAmazon UKBarnes and NobleKoboApple – Smashwords

Buy this book in print (ISBN: 1512281255): Amazon USAmazon UKCreateSpace – and other booksellers

Robert Holdstock:
‘Britain’s best fantasist … these are the visions of a real artist.’ – The Times
‘Our finest living mythmaker. His narratives – intense, exuberant, earthy, passionate, dense with metaphor – are new trails through the ancient forest of our imaginations. An essential writer.’ – Stephen Baxter
‘No other author has so successfully captured the magic of the wildwood.’ – Michael Moorcock
‘A new expression of the British genius for true fantasy.’ – Alan Garner, on Mythago Wood

Garry Kilworth:
‘Garry Kilworth is arguably the finest writer of short fiction today, in any genre.’ – New Scientist
‘Kilworth is one of the most significant writers in the English language.’ – Fear Magazine
‘Probably one of the finest writers of short stories Britain has ever produced.’ – Bookstove Online
‘Kilworth is a master of his trade.’ – Punch Magazine


in the bundle: Little Sisters of the Apocalypse by Kit Reed

In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including Kit Reed’s Little Sisters of the Apocalypse. The deal is no longer available but Little Sisters of the Apocalypse will be available in September as a standalone book. 

 

 

Little Sisters of the Apocalypse

“Reed has a prose style that’s pure dry ice, displayed in dystopian stories that specialize in bitterness and dislocation.” – The New York Times Book Review

Kit Reed: Little Sisters of the ApocalypseA motorcycle gang of nuns rides out on a mysterious rescue mission in this dazzling work of metaphysical fiction by Kit Reed. This scarifying trip into the near future provides an extraordinary look at women in the contemporary world. Marooned on Schell Isle in a pre-apocalyptic near future, the women are waiting. The men have all gone to war – the ultimate sexist act. When he comes back will he be welcomed? It’s an open question. But today is the day everything begins to change. What unknown force is rushing towards the island? What do the women have to fear? Is it the murderous Outlaw family, riding their way and bent on revenge, or the men, or an enemy within? But the bikers are coming: sixteen in all, in black helmets emblazoned with a silver cross, metaphysical infonauts who run computer programs in a ceaseless search for the name of God. They pray for the dead and when they have to, they ride out on their bikes to defend the living. Until they lift the face plates you will not know who they are. Watch out for them. The Little Sisters of the Apocalypse.

“A touching tribute to the author’s mother, a bittersweet space-age tale on the nature of women and loss.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Her stories are sharp, transgressive and full of the unexpected, with enough keen social observations to launch a thousand dissertations. ” – Chelsea Cain in The New York Times Book Review

“The Story Until Now unleashes new and classic stories fired by a radiant imagination.” – Elissa Schappell in Vanity Fair

A personal note from bundle curator Keith Brooke

Of all the notes I’ve written on books in this bundle, this has been the hardest, with far too many false starts followed by deleting everything and starting again. As befits her ‘transgenred’ label, Kit Reed’s work defies categorisation and tags. Little Sisters of the Apocalypse raises all kinds of questions about society, women’s roles, and the political of the everyday, but above all, for me, it’s one of the most moving stories I’ve read in a long time. And there are biker nuns. This is its first ebook publication, exclusive to this bundle.

Extract

And in a ruined city so remote from Schell Isle that Chag has never heard its name, sixteen bikers roll out of an underground garage and into the cold morning. Their black helmets are bisected by sleek crosses in silver. Warm breath mists the smoked face plates. The leader raises her gloved hand.

Ready?

The sixteen dip their heads briefly and cross themselves. In ordinary times the bikers dazzle with new software at the top of the Pearson Tower in the blasted city, but today they have business elsewhere. In ordinary times the women are brilliant hackers, who market technology to support their mission to the homeless. They pray together four times a day and when circumstances permit, they meditate. In gentler times they would have been contemplatives.

But in this continuum the savage world demands more. When people are starving you can’t just turn your backs and pray for them. Right now life is uncertain and time is short. There’s too much to be done here.

The women pursue their God at lightspeed. Brilliant, driven, the bikers devise computer programs in an attempt to address the Almighty. Like divers they are poised for the ultimate leap. Let the computer vault everything that’s gone before, leapfrogging millennia of prayer and effort; let the analog mind pursue possibilities at speeds it’s impossible to comprehend; let it take them to the new jumping-off point. Then let it begin. For the gifted ones, who come closest to pure contemplation, time spent any other way is a necessary sacrifice. Love-struck and drawn, the women yearn only for the Presence, but even among themselves these bikers will not acknowledge which of them has come close, for fear God may hear them trying to describe what has been given and take it away.

They raise their own vegetables in the city park behind their office block. They celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist with the occasional transient priest; they try to do God’s will and they try not to resent the male hierarchy that tells them they are only women, and therefore not fit to be His priests.

They pray for the dead and when they have to, they ride out on their bikes to defend the living.

Their legend precedes them: crimes interrupted by the mysterious riders; lives saved at the last minute by bikers roaring to the rescue, robberies thwarted, murderers stopped; children rescued from floods or snatched from under the wheels of runaway cars at the last possible minute; householders saved from foreclosure by an astonishing gift of money; evildoers foiled and the helpless— helped. Picked up from the gutter and handed new lives, the blessed run to the door—too late—in an attempt to say thank you.

Before they can be identified, the mystery riders are on their bikes and gone, whisked away with a roar, disappearing in a cloud of oily exhaust.

Householders stand in the doorway, baffled. Who was that … What do we have to reckon with?

Riding with black scarves streaming, the bikers do not advertise. Surprise gives them the advantage. Mystery makes them powerful; they give their lives to it. Pressed to name the source of their strength, they can only partially explain, although they’ve spent a lifetime trying to comprehend it.

They are riding out for a reason, and if only the leader knows what it is and she only imperfectly, no matter.

It’s enough to know something needs doing.

So it is over the lakebed that the motorcycles will come, pulverizing the cracked earth and raising a terrible dust. They will come in a roar of souped-up engines and a cloud like an approaching sandstorm. Until they thud to a halt in a tight half-circle and the whirlwind stills, you will not be able to see the riders clearly, and this is the way they want it. Until they lift the face plates you will not know who they are. Even then the riders’ features will be obscured, frosted with desert sand, so that until their leader speaks you will not know her, and the lettering on the helmets? Not yet clear.

Bikes start: HUDN-HUDN. RMMM RMMM RMMMM. The leader raises a gauntleted hand: everybody here? Fifteen other bikers raise their hands for the count. Ready.

RMMM RMMMM RMMMMMMM. Watch out for them. The Little Sisters of the Apocalypse.

(end of extract)


in the bundle: Hairy London by Stephen Palmer

In July 2015 infinity plus and Storybundle offered a special deal for a set of nine literary fantasy books, including Stephen Palmer’s Hairy London. The deal is no longer available but Hairy London can still be bought separately:

 

 

Hairy London

“Stephen Palmer is a find.”—Time Out

Hairy London by Stephen PalmerWhat is love?

One evening at the Suicide Club three gentlemen discuss this age-old problem, and thus a wager is made. Dissolute fop Sheremy Pantomile, veteran philosopher Kornukope Wetherbee and down-on-his-luck Velvene Orchardtide all bet their fortunes on finding the answer amidst the dark alleys of a phantasmagorical Edwardian London.

But then, overnight, London Town is covered in hair. How the trio of adventurers cope with this unusual plague, and what conclusions they come to regarding love is the subject of this surreal and fast-paced novel.

And always the East End threatens revolution…

“Stephen Palmer’s imagination is fecund…”—Interzone

“… (a) supremely odd yet deeply rewarding experience.”—CCLaP

“…a tour de force in imagining possibilities that lie beyond our information age… If you enjoy the full immersion experience of neo-magic, you’ll [like] Muezzinland.”–Gwyneth JonesNew York Review Of SF, on Muezzinland

Buy this ebook from: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CanadaBarnes and NobleKoboApple – SmashwordsGumroad

A personal note from bundle curator Keith Brooke

Although not an out-and-out comedy, I actually laughed out loud at some of the puns and witty observations in this satirical and incisive romp when I edited it for its first publication at infinity plus. Hairy London takes the known and twists it into odd shapes, an alternate-London fantasy that paints an extraordinary backdrop to an adventure story that puts love and society under the microscope in a novel quite unlike anything else you will have read before.

Extract

There were so many horseless carriages outside the Suicide Club that Sheremy Pantomile found himself pushing between lampblack-stained running boards, so that to his horror his trousers became blemished below the knee. He clicked his fingers at the doorman and shouted, “Gentleman! Find me a passage between these smoking wrecks, or I’ll have you cashiered.”

Gentleman Smyth adjusted his turban, glanced this way and that, then descended to street level. “My apologies, sir. There is talk of one of our explorers returning from furthest Oriental reaches. It seems news has spr––”

“Just find me away in, fellow. Then find me new trousers. I take a thirty four inch waist.”

Gentleman used his rear to nudge aside one of the horseless carriages, allowing Sheremy to squeeze through, then led him up the steps and inside the great marble edifice that was the hall of Bedwards House, Chancery Lane. Sheremy hurried into an ante-chamber, not wanting any of his peers to see his embarrassment. Gentleman followed. “I will go at once to the Trousery,” the doorman said, “then return with a fresh garment. What colour, sir?”

“Same as these. And don’t go, run.

Gentleman bowed. Sheremy waited, his annoyance fading as the sounds and smells of the Suicide Club calmed his mind. This was home. Here, he could be at peace, be free of the noise and stink of London; and here he could exercise his talents in the service of his fellow men. Damn, that Sikhish fellow was taking his time…

At last, as the Belladonna Clock struck nine, and then a few seconds later the great Tibetan dinner gong, Gentleman returned. Sheremy whipped off his trousers, adjusted his leather undergarment, then pulled on the clean trousers. “Excellent,” he said, “though they smell of lavender.”

“We use it to drive away moon moths,” Gentleman explained.

“What’s on the menu tonight?”

“A deviled tartar of yak, sir.”

Sheremy departed, hurrying up the stairs that led to the dining room. Before entering it he checked his appearance in the mirror held upright by the statue of Turkman Hi retrieved from the ruins of Constantinople by Pharaday Lemmington. Aha… tall, dark eyed, black hair slicked down, a subtle moustache on his upper lip. No wonder the girls loved him.

He walked into the dining room and at once saw several of his associates seated at a pentagonal table; one chair free. He strode forward.

“Friends!” he said, allowing a servant to pull back the vacant seat.

“You are a minute late,” said Velvene Orchardtide, examining a gold chronospiel that hung from his waistcoat spigot.

“An unpleasantness outside the building,” Sheremy explained, “caused by news of some import – or so I believe.”

Sheremy glanced at the other two diners: Sir Hoseley Fain, white-bearded Treasurer of the Suicide Club, and Lord Blackanore of Highgate, the Secretary. He enjoyed exalted company tonight. “Frankly,” he said, lighting a cigaroon, “I’m getting rather tired of dear Lemmington’s comings and goings. Can’t we find a higher calling than shooting exotic animals and returning them to London?”

A few embarrassed titters rose from the table. Sir Hoseley sniffed, then said, “What did you have in mind, mon ami?”

“Oh… just something better, I suppose.”

“Then you must think of something,” said Velvene, glancing again at his chronospiel. “Where is that soup, eh? It is Arctic onion, and if they do not bring it in soon it will go warm.”

“This place goes to hell if Pharaday’s around,” Sheremy muttered. “It’s just not good enough.”

Sir Hoseley shrugged, the ghost of a smirk on his face. “Complain to Juinefere,” he said.

Sheremy scowled. All here knew of his feelings for Lady Bedwards, though he had done his utmost over the years to conceal them. Sir Hoseley was an impudent weasel. “Very good,” he said. “Meanwhile, perhaps you should comb your beard before the birds start nesting in it.”

“Now, now,” said Lord Blackanore. “The soup arrives.”

As he cracked the surface of the soup and began cutting it up, Sheremy’s mind turned to the situation he found himself in, which some might call unfortunate, though he termed it unjust. “You see,” he explained, “I didn’t know she was married. I swear I didn’t know. How could I? She was just a freed slave, little more than a maid. Who’d have thought her husband would be so… well connected?”

“It seems you protest too much,” Sir Hoseley observed.

Yes, they all knew the tales here. He hated that. When people discovered his failings, he hated it. He loathed being talked about. Pushing aside his empty bowl he said, “You all think you know me, don’t you? You don’t. Only a lover truly knows their lover.”

There came laughs from the other four. “Well, we certainly all know you, Pantomile,” said Velvene.

“Alas rather too well,” Sir Hoseley added. ”Tu me décois.”

Sheremy felt his face flush. He had gone too far; spoken out of turn. “You are buffoons,” he said.

“Rather a buffoon than a lovestruck bumpkin,” said Sir Hoseley.

Sheremy felt his embarrassment turn to anger. “You’ve never married, have you?” he said, staring across the table. “Perhaps that is because you prefer the monocled post–”–”

“Enough!” Lord Blackanore cried. “Enough, please, all of you. We diminish ourselves with this horse banter.”

Sheremy nodded at his associate. “Thank you,” he said. “But you will admit it’s true. Nobody here knows love. Mankind does not know love, it doesn’t even have an explanation yet. We live in pandemonium because of that lack.”

“Then you have your higher calling,” Velvene said.

“What do you mean?”

“Explaining the inexplicable.”

“My dear fellow,” Sheremy said, “those long mornings you spend bathing have done something to your mind.”

Velvene shrugged. “Explain it for us and you will both solve the inequities of your life and do mankind a service.”

Sheremy felt he was being mocked by the urbane Orchardtide, whose family were well known eccentrics. “I won’t humour you,” he said.

“I mean it.”

Sheremy sat back. The deviled yak supper was approaching. “Then we’ll have a wager,” he declared, “all of us sitting here at this table. If, one season from today, one of us returns to the Suicide Club with an explanation of human love that mankind – from East to West – can accept, they will take the pot.”

(end of extract)

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