After the discussion exploded on Twitter and Facebook yesterday, I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t include a more in-depth analysis of the issue here. I think there are some who are misunderstanding the complaint of the YA writers who feel the category has been underserved by its description.


The way the RITA award is structured is messed up is that you pay $50 to enter your book (and $150 if you aren’t an RWA member), and when you enter you pick the category you are entering your manuscript in. There are nine subject/subgenre categories, plus a “best first book” category that debut writers can check in addition to the category they are also entering. Most of the categories are subgenre related, such as “best historical romance” and “best paranormal romance”. (It would be like the Nebulas had a best space opera, best steampunk, best dystopian, etc. category. It would also be like the Nebulas was a pay to play award, but that’s a whole OTHER discussion.)

There are two length-based awards: “best novella” (romance doesn’t publish a whole lotta short stories), and “best short contemporary romance” (by which the denizens of romancelandia mostly mean category romance as published by Harlequin, though in this brave new world of ebooks, there are lots of titles that now fall into the “under 65k” rubric.

So basically, when you enter, you, the entrant, decide which category your book fits best into. Your historical paranormal romance could be entered into either category, for example.

In the decade or so I’ve been in RWA, they’ve rejiggered the categories and their descriptions several times. Like they used to have a category called “single title romance” by which everyone in the industry understood meant NON-Harlequin-category contemporary romance, but no one else understood the jargon, so they axed it. They had to change the descriptions of their “short contemporary” and “long contemporary” requirements every time Harlequin changed their word counts. They added in a “fiction with strong romantic elements” category at one point [read: women's fiction/chick lit]. Then, two years ago, in an attempt to rebrand RWA as being for ROMANCE writers, they axed that one and wrote new descriptions and judging guidelines and decided to focus heavily on the romance.

Which is fine. I cannot stress this enough. If RWA wants to be an organization that focuses solely on its mission of romance fiction, I think that’s GREAT. It doesn’t need to have women’s fiction in its organization just because some of its members also or mostly or even only write women’s fiction (raises hand). I published “women’s fiction” for years and I didn’t enter it in the RITA because I didn’t think it belonged and I’m fine with that. I don’t need RWA to cater to me when I’m not writing romances. But, you know, sometimes I write romances, too.

Now, in order for your category to “make it” into the contest, it needs to comprise 5% of the entries, which are capped at 2,000 (so, 100 entries in any given category). This year, YA didn’t “make it” which means that there weren’t 100 YA entries. YA entrants got the option of having their book switched to another category or having their entries and fees returned.


Here’s why I think that happened. If you look at the category descriptions of each category, they are far, FAR more restrictive for YA romance than for any other category of its nature. Because they are so restrictive, many people who would have entered their books in the RITA did not (I heard from nearly a dozen yesterday.)

Most of the subgenres of romance have crossovers. For instance, you can write a historical paranormal, or an inspirational [read: Christian] suspense, and you have to choose where your book best fits. When they redesigned the RITAs two years ago, due to a huge, years-long outcry by the erotic romance community about how they were being judged too harshly in their respective categories by judges who didn’t like sex, they chose to institute a special “erotic romance” category. Erotic romances can be any other subgenre of romance (historical, paranormal, etc.). Same with “inspirational romance” which also doesn’t always get a fair shake in say, the straight up historical category.

[Please note that in every single category of the RITA, the judging guidelines that appear below the category description require that "the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic." This appears in every single category, because it's a romance contest, and the books should be romances.]

So let’s play a game. Here are some category descriptions:

  • Paranormal Romance: Novels in which the future, a fantasy world or paranormal elements are an integral part of the plot.  
  • Romantic Suspense: Novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot. 
  • Historical Romance: Novels set in any historical time period.

Okay, fair enough, right? They focus on the specific elements that make those romance novels fit into those categories. Now, here’s the description for YA.

  • Young Adult Romance: Novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship between two adolescents. These novels are marketed to adolescents and young adults.

One of these things is not like the other. Compare that YA description to the description for the two “contemporary romance” categories:

  • Short Contemporary Romance: Novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and that are less than 65,000 words in length.
  • Contemporary Romance: Novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and that are greater than 65,000 words.

Gee, nearly identical, huh? Reading that, you’d think that “YA Romance” was just another kind of contemporary romance, wouldn’t you? Like “contemporary romances” (i.e., now-set romance novels with no strong paranormal, mystery, thriller, religious, etc. plotline) YA romances are required to “focus primarily on the romantic relationship.”

Star-sweptExcept, we all know that’s not what all YA romances are. Sometimes they are contemporary romances that focus primarily on a romantic relationship (Anna and the French Kiss, Eleanor and Park, Perfect Chemistry, etc.) Sometimes, in addition to the romance, there’s a lot of other stuff going on, like saving the world from a demon invasion (The Mortal Instruments), or running away from home and falling into a magical addiction (Valiant), or trying to survive on an alien planet after your spaceship crashed (the upcoming These Broken Stars).

Because of this description, a lot of people didn’t enter their YA romances. I still entered Across a Star-Swept Sea, though it also does not “focus primarily on the romantic relationship between two adolescents.” What it is is a futuristic spy thriller. Yes, there is a romantic relationship that is a “main focus” of the novel, but there’s also a revolution and genetic engineering and court politics and all kinds of stuff, much like there would be in an adult romantic suspense novel (i.e., they fall in love while also catching the serial killer). I mean, let’s be honest here. It’s inspired by the Scarlet Pimpernel, which is one of the ur-books of the romance genre and inspired countless of the romance novels published. It’s definitely a romance.


Since YA Romance, like erotic romance and inspirational romance, also exists in every other subgenre of romance, I feel the description of YA Romance should mimic that of those categories. Here’s the description of “erotic romance” in the RITA Awards:

Erotic Romance: Novels in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may contain elements of other romance subgenres (such as paranormal, historical, etc.).

Why can’t the YA description be similar? Something, perhaps, like this:

“Novels in which a romantic relationship between adolescents is an inherent part of the story. These novels are written for and marketed to adolescents and young adults and may contain elements of other romance subgenres (such as paranormal, historical, etc.).”

And then they can have your whole “love story must be a main focus of novel and ending must be satisfying and optimistic” bit in the judging guidelines, just as they do now and as they do for every single category in the entire contest.

What I’m not saying: That RWA should open up the YA category to books that aren’t romances. That’s silly. Of course not all YA novels are romances. Not all erotic novels are romances, either.

As for me, I chose to have my entry fee returned to me rather than choose an alternate category for Star-Swept. I did this because I didn’t feel like “paranormal romance” (where RWA lumps the tiny, tiny percentage of futuristic SF romance that is published along with a ton of vampire and werewolf books) was a suitable category for my story. Luckily, there are still other genre awards this book may be eligible for. There are lots of awards and other honors for young adult lit given out by librarians (hi, librarians!) And as a science fiction novel, it has options that my fellow disappointed entrants writing, say, historical YA, may not. If you are a SFWA member and liked Across a Star-Swept Sea, you can vote for it in the Nebula Awards (Norton). (Hi, SFWA folk!)

And, if you are an RWA member, please consider writing a letter to the board to ask them to revisit the YA descriptions, so what happened this year does not happen again.

For more excellent coverage on this issue, check out blog posts by Marni Bates, who discusses her disappointment in the category and why the awards are important (and there’s some great points in the comments section), and Bria Quinlan, who is posting covers of books that didn’t make it into the RITAs this year because of the cancellation.

Posted in industry, industry news, romance, writing industry, writing life, YA 4 Comments

This year, I published my most frockalicious book yet. Lady Persis Blake wears nearly twenty different amazing outfits over the course of Across a Star-Swept Sea, and she’s also a certified badass. Which is how I know she’d get on like a house on fire with Lilac LeRoux, who like Persis, is futuristic, rich, fashionable, and totally awesome.

And she manages all of this in a single gown. This one:


Altogether now: Oooooooooooooh. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

These Broken Stars is the first in an amazing new sci-fi series by authors Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Think Firefly meets shipwreck. You’re gonna love it.

Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner are longtime friends and sometime flatmates who have traveled the world (but not yet the galaxy), covering every continent between them. They are sure outer space is only a matter of time. Meagan, who is also the author of the Skylark trilogy, currently lives in Asheville, NC, while Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia. Although they currently live apart, they are united by their love of space opera, road trips, and second breakfasts.

Visit the These Broken Stars website for the latest news on the series and follow the authors on Twitter at @AmieKaufman and @MeaganSpooner. You may also sign up for their newsletter as well! These Broken Stars will be available in North America on December 10, 2013.

And here’s the coolest part. Lilac’s green gown is real, and it’s going on tour! The first stop, yesterday, was chilling with Marie Lu on the streets of LA. Today, the gown is hanging with me in our nation’s capital.

We took a little hike in Rock Creek Park. Ah, the fall color!


And by “we”, I mean me, the dress, and of course, Rio:



This one might be my favorite:


Nothing like a rock throne, amirite?

Thank you so much to Disney/Hyperion, Meagan, and Amie for letting me unleash my inner Lilac and go hiking through the wilderness in a fine green gown.

And that’s not all, folks!

TBSposterbanner_largeClick on this picture to enter the pre-order campaign.

And stay tuned for more adventures of the Traveling These Broken Stars Dress.

Posted in fabulosity, other writers 6 Comments

Tomorrow afternoon from 4:30-8, you can find me at the Annapolis Barnes & Noble, signing copies of all my books and chatting with fellow authors Lea Nolan (ALLURE), Jon Skovron (MAN MAD BOY), and Andria Buchanan (EVERLAST). Catch me there!


Posted in Uncategorized Comments Off

So I go off and be Viv for one week and look what happens!

ForDarknessShowsPB-small* For Darkness Shows the Stars is named to the 2014 Lone Star Reading List

* Across a Star-Swept Sea is named to the 2013-2014 Winter Indie Next List: “This novel has everything that I loved from Peterfreund’s previous book, For Darkness Shows the Stars, but with a story all its own: a fast-paced plot, a captivating post-apocalyptic setting, crazy-enough-to-be-plausible technology, and a simmering romance. Across the Star-Swept Sea is an enchanting amalgam of adventure, political espionage, romance, and science fiction, tinged with humor and wrapped in a sparkling futuristic world.” 

Star-swept* Across a Star-Swept Sea is given a starred review from VOYA. “Inspired by The Scarlet PimpernelAcross a Star-Swept Sea places the mysterious spy adventure in a lush and terrifying futuristic world. The Galatean use of Reduction, brain damage through medicine, is eerily realistic, as is the Darkening (DAR), a dementia that is acquired by the Helo cure for Reduction. Persis fears for her Darkened mother, while Justen tries valiantly to complete his grandmother’s research to reverse DAR. Their attempts to not fall in love have a sweetness caused by two very likable and well-developedcharacters. This imagining of Earth’s future is a fascinating stand-alone but also a solid companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars.”

* Across a Star-Swept Sea is nominated for the YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list.

Maybe I should take a split-personality vacation more often? I’m honored by these reviews and recommendations and so happy and grateful that people are enjoying my books. This series is especially close to my heart because I wrote it while pregnant and in the early years of life with my daughter, and I was so aware of the kind of characters I wanted to write for her. I just love Elliot and Persis so much.

Anyway, enough glamor for the week, I guess. I’ll be over here in the corner, in yoga pants and fluffy socks, drafting Viv’s next romance novel and plugging away on the revisions for Diana’s Omega City, which is so much fun, guys, I can’t even stand it. When is 2015 going to get here again?

Posted in fabulosity, PAP, series, star-swept, writing life, YA 1 Comment

I often get asked in interviews or on panels how I got an agent and a book deal. I think this is because of two reasons: 1) a lot of times, the people asking the questions are aspiring writers themselves, and 2) especially lately, the YA market has exploded and a LOT of the people being interviewed are debut writers. I feel kind of silly responding sometimes, because I got an agent in the days before social media, before these bizarre Twitter pitch-fests, and largely before even electronic submissions. (And it wasn’t even that long ago!) But some experiences are universal, and some advice doesn’t change.

From M:

I stumbled across your blog today while I was researching YA versus NA. I read a little more about you, and I just loved your attitude and personality.

I have written the first in a series of YA novels, and I’ve been seeking representation for approximately a year. I always knew it was a difficult market to tap, but I’m excited about my characters and their story, and the constant rejections is disheartening.

You don’t mention in your Q&A how long it took you to secure an agent… was that a difficult process? I am struggling to stay excited about my story (and write the next book in the series) when the feedback I get it all so negative. But I do understand that if it was easy, everyone would be published! Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

It took me four years and five manuscripts to get an agent and a book deal. I didn’t even start looking for an agent until I wrote manuscript #4, because before then I was writing category romance manuscripts which, at the time, I believed were of much less interest to an agent. The first time I looked for an agent was ten years ago. It was a very different industry then (plus I wasn’t querying YA). I had to send out snail mail packages with self-addressed, stamped envelopes in order to receive a reply. I sent out 20 submissions and got 18 passes over the course of about 6 months. Two agents still had manuscript number four when I started querying manuscript five. That one I queried to four agents. I got three offers (the fourth one didn’t respond in time) within a week. Then I sold it.

I say this because I think if you’ve been querying a single manuscript for a year, it is time to write and query your next book. The dirty little secret about submissions is that with the right book, getting an agent is a pretty straightforward process.

There are all kinds of reasons you can get passes that have nothing to do with the quality of the book. For instance, if the YA manuscript you are querying is a vampire novel or a dystopian, you should know that this is a very, very hard sell right now. Publishers and agents have lots of these on their lists already — they have some they can’t sell. They are unlikely to take on another.

You say in your email that you are writing a series. Stop. Do not write subsequent books in a series until you have movement on the first book. Your writing career is not about one book or one series. Even the writers of megabestselling series like JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer have written multiple different books. Suzanne Collins wrote many books and even TV shows before she wrote the Hunger Games. George R R Martin had a robust, award-winning, book and television career for several decades before he published A GAME OF THRONES.

(I said above I got an agent with the fifth manuscript I wrote. It was the first in what became a series. I have written and sold/published four other series since then. Your writing career will be many things.)

There is this fantasy now of the total newbie sitting down and pounding out some kind of lunatic bestseller. Meyer woke up from a dream and started typing. Veronica Roth was a college co-ed. It’s romantic, but it’s not the only story. Most writers have long paths, where many manuscripts fail to find a home, and many books get published without superstardom following.

You say the feedback you’re getting has all been negative. What do you mean by this? Do you mean you’re getting rejections on your queries and no requests at all? If you are getting zero requests from your query, it means there is a problem with your query. There are classes you can take, essays you can read, or you can find critique partners. There’s lots of good resources out there: Verla Kay’s Blue Boards might be a good choice if you’re writing YA. Having critique partners can also help keep your spirits up if you’re getting rejections.

And I want to reiterate again that my favorite cure to feeling like you are getting nowhere with your manuscript is to write a new manuscript. My friend and mentor Julie Leto wrote a great article about this. There are problems in early books that you cannot solve, but you can use what you learn to avoid making those mistakes again in later manuscripts.

I hope any of this is helpful to you. Good luck!


Posted in writing advice, writing industry, writing life 1 Comment

I’m so excited! Today marks the release of my tenth novel, ONE & ONLY. It’s also the debut of my romance-writing alter-ego, Viv Daniels, and my first leap into self-publishing.


One night they can’t forget…

Tess McMann lives her life according to the secrets she’s sworn to keep: the father who won’t acknowledge her, the sister who doesn’t know she exists, and the mother who’s content playing mistress to a prominent businessman. When she meets the distractingly cute Dylan Kingsley at a prestigious summer program and falls in love, Tess allows herself to imagine a life beyond these secrets.  But when summer ends, so does their relationship — Dylan heads off to Canton College while Tess enrolls at the state university.

One love they can’t ignore…

Two years later, a scholarship brings Tess to Canton and back into Dylan’s life.  Their attraction is as strong as ever, but Dylan has a girlfriend…who also happens to be Tess’s legitimate half-sister.  Tess refuses to follow in her mother’s footsteps, which leaves her only one choice: break the rules she’s always followed, or allow Dylan to slip away for a second time.

…And only one chance to get things right.

Buy Now:

To celebrate the release of One & Only, I’m taking off (virtually) on a weeklong blog tour with dozens of stops, I’m doing interviews, sharing teaser posters, and writing lots and lots of guest posts — everything from playlists and dream movie casts to glimpses into my past and the inspiration for the novel. Plus, an insane amount of giveaways. Every blog is doing its own unique giveaway plus there’s a tour-wide extravaganza. Here’s where you can find me:

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Book Goddess
Mostly YA Lit

Monday, November 11, 2013

Kimberly Faye Reads
Dark Faerie Tales
Book Jems
The Novel Hermit
Teen Readers’ Diary
The Starry-Eyed Revue

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Labyrinth
I Read to Relax

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nyx Book Reviews
The Word Nerds
The Reading Date
Tressa’s Wishful Endings
Tea For Three Books

Thursday, November 14, 2013

S.J. Pajonas
Bookish Treasures
The Last Chapter
Books Over Boys
Mary Had a Little Book Blog

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Perpetual Page-Turner
Novel Sounds
Library of a Book Witch
Scenes from a Chaotic Mind
Blogging by Liza
The Violet Hour

I love this book. Tess and Dylan wormed their way into my heart big time. They’re two really great kids and I adored having the chance to give them a happily ever after. I’m so glad everyone else gets to meet them now, too.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in fabulosity, giveaways, new adult, viv 2 Comments

I shall be in New York next week. If you want to see me and get copies of your books signed, here’s where you’ll find me.
I will also be stock signing and tweeting other places I might pop up. If you find me, I have SWAG.

New York November

Booksigning, Reading

Monday, November 4, 2013 
7 PM – 9 PM
Madame X
94 West Houston Street
New York, NY 10012
Click to view a Google Map

Hope Tarr takes off her Lady Jane’s Salon® co-founder hat–tiara–to read a sneak peak of HONEY (Fate Series Book #2) and sign copies of SUGAR. Also guesting: Mari Mancusi, Diana Peterfreund, Hanna Martine and Lise Horton.


Teen Author Reading Night

November 6, 2013
6-7:30 PM
Jefferson Market Branch of NYPL, corner of 6th Ave and 10th St

Sean Beaudoin, Wise Young Fool
Matt de la Pena, The Living
Carol Goodman, Blythewood
Adele Griffin, Loud Awake and Lost
Ellen Hopkins, Smoke
Alethea Kontis, Hero
Mari Mancusi, Scorched
Jacqueline Mitchard, What We Lost in the Dark
Diana Peterfreund, Across a Star-Swept Sea
Jordan Sonnenblick, Are You Experienced?
Sean Williams, Twinmaker

Posted in Uncategorized 1 Comment

headshot_Rori_ShayToday I’m so excited to reveal the cover for my pal Rori Shay‘s debut novel, THE ELECTED.

Rori and I met about a year ago when we realized we lived in the same neighborhood. She was agented and still chasing after that elusive first publishing contract, I was published and between agents, and we both had little girls almost precisely the same age. Playdate city! The kids took to the slides while we talked publishing for, like, hours. Now we occasionally ditch the kiddos with our understanding husbands and hit up a local bar for our marathon publishing-talk session. Because, priorities.

The Elected is a future-set dystopian novel, but the characters are what those kids are calling “new adult” these days. In this terrifying, war-torn world, a young woman, marked by birth to be a leader, is forced to pretend to be a boy.

As you might imagine, I’m all over that. And here’s the cover:

Elected- large

In the year 2185, Aloy must masquerade as a boy to claim her country’s presidential role and save her people.

Aloy’s father is the current Elected, the leader of the country, just as her grandfather and great-grandfather were before. Her older brother should fulfill the role, but he disappeared eighteen years ago. Without an Elected, East Country would fall into civil war. With no one else to take his place, Aloy’s parents cut her hair and told her that she could never be a girl again. To assume the role, she must conceal her gender at all costs. If discovered, she risks execution.

In two weeks, Aloy will turn eighteen and take her father’s place. She hopes to govern as he did, but she is inheriting a different country. The long concealed Technology Faction is boldly stepping out of the shadows and, as turmoil grows within East Country, cryptic threats arrive from beyond their borders. After generations of isolation, Aloy knows nothing about their only neighbor, Mid Country. And, East Country doesn’t have the resources to defend itself.

As she struggles to lead, Aloy maintains her cover by marrying a woman, Vienne, but battles with feelings for Griffin, the boy who knows her secret – the boy who is somehow connected to East Country’s upheaval. When assassination attempts add to the turmoil, Aloy doesn’t know whom to trust.

Aloy knows leadership requires sacrifice. She just didn’t expect that the sacrifice might be her life.

Teaser Excerpt: One blonde curl is wrapped lusciously around my pointer finger. I gaze down at it and then force my eyes upward to drink in the image of my face. Long blonde hair trails past my shoulders and onto my back. In the cracked mirror, my eyes squint, trying to capture this one fleeting picture of myself as a girl.

This is what I could look like if I weren’t forced to masquerade as a boy.

Add it on Goodreads.
Visit her website.
Check her out on Twitter: @rorishaywrites
Enter the Giveaway: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in other writers 1 Comment

Star-sweptThe day I thought might never come, as I waited, lo, this long, long year (and more) for the time when my book, Across A Star-Swept Sea would finally be out in the world. And now it is! Go forth and read…

Some release day announcements:



“Retelling Classic Literature”
YA Panel and Signing
 Saturday, October 19, 2013, 3:30-5:00 pm
Who: Diana Peterfreund and Jon Skovron (MAN MADE BOY)
Where: Hooray for Books, 1555 King St.  Alexandria, Virginia 22314

ReadOn Spreecast
When: Saturday October 19, 2013, 1:30 PM
What: Live webcam show 

YAlit Writing Panel
When: Sunday, October 20, 2013, 2 p.m.
Who: Hannah Barnaby (Wonder Show), Diana Peterfreund (Across a Star-Swept Sea), Jon Skovron (Man Made Boy), Cristin Terrill (All Our Yesterdays)
What: a discussion on developing characters, building unique worlds and powerful plots, and creating impactful stories for teen readers.
Where: One More Page Books, 2200 N Westmoreland Street #101 Arlington, VA 22213

EXCERPT: You can now read the first 6 chapters of the book for free online.


PLAYLIST: Check out the Across A Star-Swept Sea playlist and read why each song was chosen on the Pitch Dark site here.

Posted in fabulosity, star-swept 4 Comments

In one more day, my ninth book, Across A Star-Swept Sea, will be out in the world! To celebrate, I’ve been posting chapters:

Read the latest below, enter the giveaway at the bottom of the page, and be sure to pick up your own copy this week!

indiebound amazon bn ibooks



Warm silk cradled her cheek, and sunlight dappled coral along the insides of her eyelids. Slowly, Persis emerged from sleep. Her limbs felt like washed-up seaweed, and her body ached as if she’d swum for miles. The soft sway of the hammock was her only comfort. She tried to open her eyes, and a dagger of pain sliced through her temples.

Memory flooded into the wound. The mission. The genetemps. The young Galatean on the docks. The one who’d said his name was—

Heedless of the pain, Persis forced her eyes open. Justen Helo. She’d been too out of it on the boat to question the Galatean’s claim. She’d been too out of it, even, to figure out a way to avoid giving him passage after he’d helped her.

Andrine should have known better than to let some stranger on the boat, even if his name was Helo. Persis must have been very sick, indeed, for her friend to have taken the risk. At least Andrine had brought her back home to Scintillans. But what had become of Justen Helo?

There was a soft chirp and the sound of claws against the polished bamboo floorboards. A tug on the silk of the hammock near her legs and then she felt the familiar weight and warmth of Slipstream wriggling up her body and curling into her arms. His whiskers tickled against her skin as he snuffled his otter-like face into the crook of her elbow. He blinked at her, his enormous, round eyes filled with concern.

“It’s all right, Slippy. I’m home,” she whispered.

“And awake,” said a voice beyond the folds of her hammock. Persis clutched Slipstream tightly. “That was sooner than I expected. You must have a great constitution.”

With effort, Persis sat up. The sea mink snuggled against her, his velvet fur sun-warmed and dry, which meant he hadn’t gone fishing yet this morning. Justen Helo stood by the steps leading to the garden, little more than a dark blotch against the sunlight. Her privacy screen hadn’t been drawn, which left the panoramic views of the Scintillans cliffs beyond the edge of the garden open wide before her. Though she’d woken to the sight nearly every morning of her life, Persis now blanched. She didn’t need a Galatean revolutionary—she didn’t need Justen Helo—to see how opulent her bedroom was.

“How long was I out?” she asked, hating the way her voice crackled over the words. Persis tried to recall anything specific about him, but the only thing that came to mind was a vague memory of a story from childhood about his parents dying in some sort of reg riot, leaving Justen and his sister orphans.

He’d clearly grown up since then.

“All day and night,” he said, his tone still formal, medical.

Which meant that he’d already been here in Scintillans for a day? How did she hope to explain that to her parents? Her father had forbidden visitors, lest anyone see her mother during one of her spells. Even Andrine knew not to come up anymore, thought she didn’t know the reason. What had her friend been thinking, to dump Justen here?

Probably that no one in New Pacifica would deny a Helo hospitality.

“Are you in pain?” he asked, his tone somehow containing both concern and command. Maybe Andrine hadn’t had a choice about leaving him here. Justen had insisted on caring for her on the boat. Maybe the medic—a Helo medic! The mind boggled—felt his duties were ongoing.

“Not as much as I probably should be,” she replied. “I’d been led to believe that genetemps sickness was more severe.” Tero had given her an earful about it before he’d handed over the drugs he’d concocted.

He should have spent a bit less time lecturing and a bit more coding.

“It usually is,” Justen said, drawing nearer. He was slim of build, this Galatean, with natural dark hair cut close to his head in proper revolutionary fashion. High, sharp cheekbones like spear points gave his face a severe, serious air—or maybe that was the glare he was shooting her from beneath his pointed black eyebrows. He’d be handsome—if he ever cracked a smile. His eyes were very dark and very keen, and he wore an expression that reminded Persis more than a little of the images she’d seen of his famous grandmother. He placed the back of his hand against her forehead. It was cool and dry. No wristlock. No palmport. His nails were short and neat but unpolished. “But I’m pretty good at what I do. I caught you early.”

Persis swallowed with a dry mouth. Caught?

“Next time you go to Galatea to party, Lady Blake, I suggest you stick to safer intoxicants than genetemps. And not just because of the risk of sickness. If the genetemps isn’t properly formatted for breakdown, you might get stuck with the code for life.”

She nodded, then gingerly maneuvered her legs over the side of the hammock. To party. She was safe, then. And grateful she’d had the wherewithal, even in the grips of genetemps sickness, to craft a believable excuse for her condition. If Justen thought she’d accidentally overaged herself, he’d be unlikely to connect her to the crone who’d just liberated his nation of an entire family of besieged children.

Though he was also certain to find her beneath his contempt.

Tero Finch was a dead man. She couldn’t wait to get her hands on the young gengineer, provided, of course, that there was anything left once his sister, Andrine, had her shot. She was surprised she couldn’t feel the tremors from whatever eruption must be going on at the Finch house down in the village. Bad coding? She had half a mind to send a strongly worded flutter to his old gengineering instructors. And she was done letting him fiddle with Slipstream’s code whenever he wanted. Her pet was a sea mink, not a guinea pig.

As she put weight on her aching legs, Justen turned his head to the side in an expression Persis recognized from her mother’s nurses. It was the gesture of a medic seeking to allow his patient some privacy. Justen Helo, the medic. A Helo. Standing in her bedroom.

Persis tugged at the thin fall of seafoam silk until it covered her upper thighs and stood. Slipstream slid from her lap and landed, light as a cat, on the floor. Her hair had been washed clean of the paint she’d used in her old-woman disguise, but she had yet to see if the genetemps had left any permanent damage to her face.

Wouldn’t that be a fun bit of news for the Albian court! The Lady Persis Blake, disfigured on an ill-advised pleasure trip to Galatea. She really would kill Tero if that was the case.

And more than seeing her reflection, Persis needed to find out what had happened to the Wild Poppy’s cargo. As soon as she reached her bathroom she engaged the privacy screen, closed her eyes against the pain still thrumming across her skull, and summoned her focus for a flutter.

The next thing she knew she was sprawled out on the smooth onyx floor, her cells screaming for mercy.

Above her, Justen’s voice sounded foggy, distant: “—idiot aristo.” She felt a pinprick against her arm, and the pain subsided. Persis blinked until her vision cleared.

“Hey,” he said. “Listen.” He waved her own left hand before her eyes. It was floppy, loose on her wrist, the bright golden disk of the palmport blurring against her skin. “You cannot use this thing until you fully recover. You hear me?”

Persis cringed. She’d ignored Isla’s warning, but the princess had been right. Genetemps was a bad idea. Forget what the drug might have done to her face. It apparently made her stupid, too. She knew the energy requirements of a palmport, and had been well aware that she didn’t possess them at the moment. She pasted her best “Persis Flake” face on and giggled. “I have to use my hand, silly.”

He dropped her hand like it was a piece of rotting fish and stalked out of the bathroom, grumbling something under his breath that sounded to Persis like “useless.”

Good. Useless was the impression she needed to make. Clearly, she was off to a good start convincing Justen Helo.

Shoving herself to her feet once more, she reengaged the screen and pulled the lever on her bath. A rush of hot mineral water flowed into the high-backed basin, and Persis tugged off her shift and slipped into the slightly sulfur-scented water. She didn’t even bother with perfumes. The obsidian wall above the bath was polished to a high sheen, and she checked out her reflection. Bloodshot, baggy eyes, but that was probably the sickness, not any lingering effects of the genetemps itself.

“By the way,” came Justen’s voice from the other side, “your friend gave me a message for you. The one with the blue hair?” His tone dripped with disdain. “She said she took your packages straight to your tailor.”

More good news. Persis slumped in her bath, allowing a small smirk at the thought of the league’s medic, Noemi, being called a tailor. Noemi would hate that. But she would know what to do for the children. Persis leaned her head back as the heat soaked into her aching muscles. “Thank you.”

Thank you, Justen Helo. Persis covered her face with her hands and groaned. Her whole life, she’d imagined what it would be like to meet a member of that famous family, perhaps when she went with Isla to one of Queen Gala’s parties. But it had never happened. Instead, this was what happened: Justen Helo had saved her life, and she’d thrown up on his shoes. So much for the elegant, charming Lady Persis Blake.

There was silence for several minutes on the other side of the screen, long enough for Persis to contemplate falling asleep again. But Justen couldn’t leave well enough alone. “Lady Blake? Do you plan to be very long in there?”

“Am I keeping you from an appointment, Citizen Helo?” She knew the Scintillans servants would have seen to all Justen’s needs, not only because he was Persis’s guest but because of his famous name. Regs would do anything for a descendant of the Helos. Justen was no doubt considered a model citizen back home.

And that’s why letting him wander around out there unattended might not be the best idea. With a groan, Persis pulled herself up to a sitting position in the warm, soothing water. She’d soak her bones later. For now, she needed to deal with the Galatean revolutionary standing in her bedroom.

She dialed in the instructions to her bath, which promptly responded with a flow of frangipani-scented water. Rinsed and perfumed, she emerged, dried off, and garbed herself in an ocean blue kimono that covered her from neck to foot. Properly armed, she exited the bathroom only to be greeted by an empty space. She looked around in confusion, and spotted Justen outside in the garden, near a table set with breakfast for two. He was kneeling on the vibrant, manicured lawn, while Slipstream balanced on his hind legs, his long neck stretched up as he begged for the bit of manguava cake Justen dangled over the sea mink’s glossy black nose.

“He’ll balance treats on his nose if you want,” she said from the steps, squinting as the full sunlight hit her face.

Justen tried it and sat back on his heels, impressed. “Very well-trained pet you have.”

“That’s what my father paid the gengineers for.” Persis turned her attention to the sea mink. “Slippy, end!” Slipstream flipped the cake off his snout and caught it in midair as Persis stepped off the stairs and onto the soft, loamy earth of the lawn. “Ever seen a sea mink before?”

“We don’t use gengineering for personal pets in Galatea,” Justen said, rising to his feet. “just for stock animals, guard beasts, stuff like that.”

Stuff like mini-orcas to feed your enemies to. But she wouldn’t dwell on that now. Not when Justen had been so kind as to save her life. Not when she had so much shallow socialite to convince him of.

“Slipstream is an excellent guard beast,” she replied as the animal scurried to her side. “I’ve never had my yacht stolen even once.” A servant had set out a breakfast she wasn’t quite prepared to tackle until the tsunami in her gut died down. Instead, she poured herself a cup of jasmine tea and sank into the cushioned chair. “So, Citizen Helo, have you been enjoying my estate?”

“Justen is fine, Lady Blake.”

She smiled at him over the cup. “So is Persis. After all, we’re good friends now that you’ve spent the night at my place.”

His gaze flickered away from her then, and Persis’s smile grew wider. She’d have answers from him yet. He might be handsome and famous and smart, but she was Persis Blake.

“So, what brings you to Albion . . . Justen?”

“Just a vacation.” He shrugged, but he still wasn’t quite meeting her eyes. “You visited my country for fun.”

“I can’t imagine your wanting to leave Galatea when things are going so well for you back home.” Persis crossed her legs, allowing the silk of her robe to part to her knees as Justen did his best to ignore the sight and busy himself with the teapot. The Galatean was hiding something.

Justen poured himself his own cup of tea, then took a long draft. After a moment, he looked at Persis again. “No, not really. No true patriot of my homeland would relish the violence happening now. I am a regular, I am a Helo, but I do not condone what is being done to Galatean aristos.”

His words hit hard. Persis swallowed and fought the urge to pull her robe closed. Maybe he wasn’t hiding so much as seriously disturbed by the horrors in Galatea. “I’m happy to hear that,” she managed.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting the hospitality of any aristo without explaining my objections to my government’s tactics.”

Persis longed to ask him why, then, if he was a Helo, he didn’t use his influence to stop them? Why was he not fighting to help his countrymen, the way his grandmother had when she’d invented the cure? Persis was fighting. What was wrong with the rest of the world?

But that wasn’t the sort of thing Persis Blake asked anyone anymore. Not the Persis Blake who’d spent the better part of the year convincing everyone that she was empty-headed and ornamental and absolutely indispensable to the glittering court of Princess Isla. Those sorts of questions were reserved solely for the Wild Poppy these days, and the Wild Poppy was out of commission—at least until Persis recovered from Tero’s mistake.

“What is it you wish to do while you’re here?” she asked instead. “I must say, you’ve fallen into excellent hands—though you might not think so after yesterday. I’m rather popular at court. I’m sure I could get you an invite to a party there.” In truth, the entire court—aristo and reg—would salivate for a glimpse at a Helo. Bringing him would only cement her ranking at court.

But somehow, Persis had trouble imagining Justen would enjoy it.

“I’d like that, thank you,” he surprised her by saying. “Do you know the Princess Isla at all?”

What did he think “popular at court” meant? “I’m her chief lady-in-waiting.”

Justen looked nonplussed. “Like a maid?”

Persis smiled indulgently. “It’s how royals say ‘She’s one of my best friends.’”

Justen blinked. “Really? Oh . . . good. Because I’ve come to Albion to meet her.”

Was that disappointment he was not quite able to hide? Why would he be disappointed to have fallen in with such a well-connected aristo? And what did he want with Isla? Persis narrowed her eyes. This required further observation.

As did Justen Helo.


By the time the aristo had done her hair, her clothes, and her makeup, Justen had gone through the entire catalog of her gengineered rodent’s parlor tricks and wandered around the grounds of her sprawling estate twice. No one could deny the place was as beautiful as the girl who lived here. Perched on a high cliff at the southernmost edge of Albion’s western peninsula, the house seemed like a cliff flower itself, blossoming in shades of brown and black from the earth. Most of its rooms lay open to the sea air, covered only by vast, petal-shaped roofs that swept overhead, supported by thin, translucent columns of onyx or crystal. Justen could see slits in the external walls, hinting at screens that could be drawn to protect the interior during the rainy season.

The water surrounded them on three sides, vast and glittering beneath the sun-drenched sky. From up here, you could barely hear the surf, and the sharp, living smell of the water faded into a simple salty freshness. Justen paused at the western cliff edge and stared at the endless ocean. Once, long ago before the Reduction and the wars that had broken the very heart of the world, there’d been other lands, other people. People who lived and breathed democracies, people who’d accomplished their goals without spilling a single drop of blood. The Galateans had failed at this. Justen had failed.

All he’d ever wanted was to help people, like his grandmother had done. And now, when things had gone so wrong he had no choice but to escape, the only place left to go was Albion. The only mercy he could hope to get was from another monarch.

That was, if Persis Blake ever finished getting ready.

Everywhere he went, he felt the eyes of the estate servants on him. He grew tired of their obsequious attempts to bring him things—snacks, perfumes, changes of clothes in monstrously garish colors. Most of all, he hated the way every last one of them called him Citizen Helo. They probably meant it as a mark of respect, or even support of the Galatean revolution, but if anything, that made him feel worse.

“Citizen Helo, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you—to thank your family—for their gift to the world.”

“Citizen Helo, both my parents were born of the cure. Bless you and yours.”

“I hate to bother you, Citizen Helo, but I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t say it. It is such an honor to be in the presence of someone descended from Persistence Helo. Everyone here at Scintillans is overwhelmed. Is there anything I can get you?”

This last one planted a notion in his head, and he stopped the servant, a blue-haired butler. “Pardon me, but the lady of the house . . .”

“Lady Heloise Blake? She and Lord Blake are away at the moment.” The servant eyed him. “Oh, you mean Persis.”

But Justen already had the information he needed. He snapped his jaw shut. Heloise. Persis. He should have seen it before. Those names were no accident. And yet, why would aristos bear them?

“Citizen?” the servant prompted.

Justen shook his head. “I was just wondering how long she’d be.”

The older man laughed. “Yes, she does like her clothes, our girl. These days, it’s all she seems to care about.”

Our girl. Now, Justen examined the estate with new eyes. He’d been too concerned for his patient’s welfare when he’d arrived yesterday afternoon, and last night and this morning he’d been busy trying to make a plan for the future, but now he finally began to take in the details of this aristo estate. The little fishing village nestled at the base of the cliffs was filled with neat, tidy houses, not ramshackle cabins like one often saw on the plantations in Galatea. Happy, plump children ran about the lawns of the estate itself. The servants practically whistled while they worked. Were things so very different in Albion?

He knew that the Reduction’s end had been handled differently in the two nations of New Pacifica. In Albion, mandatory education for regs and fair wage laws had been passed. There’d been reg representatives on the Royal Council for more than a generation. But that couldn’t have made a true difference, could it? As Uncle Damos said, they still had a king calling the shots. One only had to look at the way they treated the women of Albion, the way aristos like Persis led such decadent, useless lives, to see how rotten the system must be.

But then again, those names . . . something was strange about Scintillans.

“Are you ready to go?” came a voice at his back. He turned to find Persis in a sari the color of sunset. Jewels sparkled along the hem and neckline. Her hair was piled on top of her head again, in a fashion he was sure was exceedingly intricate but looked to him like nothing more than an osprey nest. On top of it all perched a ridiculous fascinator shaped like a bird of paradise and made entirely from real feathers. Her skin was clear and golden, glowing with a vitality one would never have guessed possible for a girl so recently recovered from genetemps sickness. Her light-colored eyes were winged with kohl, and her wide cheekbones and full lips were the same sparkly rose color. Perhaps her complexion was being helped along by a good deal of Albian cosmetics, then.

The sea mink, its glossy red coat set off by a jeweled coral collar, frolicked at her feet.

The aristo frowned at him, as her gaze traveled down his body and over his simple black shirt and pants. “Oh, you didn’t change, I see.”

“Where did you get your name?” he blurted.

Her eyes snapped back to his face. “Where do you think?”

“From my grandmother.”

“Well,” she said, with a tilt of her head that sent the feathers shaking. “I see you have at least some of her smarts.”

“Your mother—”

“Is a reg, yes,” she said, her tone clipped. Was she . . . embarrassed by that fact? Justen couldn’t tell. He had never known a half aristo before. Not a legitimate one, anyway. Not one who was friends with royalty.

Persis tapped at her gloved left hand, then seemed to remember she was still recovering. “Well, let’s go. The royal court of Albion awaits.”

And now Justen realized he had no idea what to expect.


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