Book excerpt: Empress Unveiled by Jenna Morland

Fort St. John author Jenna Morland holds a pair of book launch events Saturday for her debut novel Empress Unveiled.

The young adult novel is billed for fans of fantastical adventures, unexplained magic, and deadly romance — but if you've never read much fantasy before, Morland says it's an easy read for newcomers to the genre.

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Empress Unveiled follows Swayzi, a 17-year-old teen sick from a mysterious illness her entire life, and sent home from the hospital to die at home. That's when she sees something she probably shouldn't have setting off a chain events that shows her who she truly is and why she's sick, and how the fate of a magical world depends on her survival.

Morland holds a book launch and signing at Coles Totem Mall on Saturday, Sept. 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., followed by a social at Browns Socialhouse from 4 to 6.

An excerpt from the first chapter follows.

I scribbled Swayzi on the frosted glass and peered through my name into the passing trees. The dusted yellow leaves were swaying in the breeze as the sunlight flitted through the empty spaces like tiny golden wings. It reminded me of how much time had passed since I’d last been outside.

My bare feet lay crossed on the dash. I wiggled my toes; the soft shade of lavender nail polish was still tacky from being painted only minutes before we left the hospital. Flashes from the setting sun illuminated the Tinkerbell tattoo on my ankle. With the news I had just received, her smile seemed out of place. I rolled down the window, and a cool breeze blew my blonde hair into my face, obscuring my view of the autumn colors. I didn’t mind. The fresh air was welcome.

Linda sang the wrong words to the song playing on the radio and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as she drove too fast down the narrow road. As usual, her messy auburn hair was stuffed into a clip with strands of wavy curls falling over her eyes. The tangled bracelets adorning her wrist clattered when she brushed her bangs aside in habit before making the final turn. A brief smile touched my lips. For the first time since the beginning of summer, we were headed home—together.

I ran my fingers over the goosebumps on my arm. I had almost forgotten what the wind felt like, I missed the feeling of the elements touching my skin. My summer was lost to the sterile hallways of James Bay Regional Hospital—the only moments out spent travelling to the Children’s Hospital in Anchorage to visit specialists, only to be sent back to Rowan with fewer answers. Doctor Cooper described one of my many unidentified illnesses as expedited organ aging, which meant that even though I was only seventeen, my organs were that of a ninety-year-old.

“You’re a medical anomaly,” Doctor Cooper had stumbled on his words. He encouraged Linda to sign a form saying I was to be released against medical advice. Technically, they had no advice at all.

They sent me home to die.

To be honest, it was a relief. At least I could enjoy my last days in the comfort of my own home. Still, Doctor Cooper sent me off with a prescription for a new experimental drug from Switzerland called Formalthinaxin, a last-ditch effort to inject some life into my fading organs. Like all the rest, it would probably fail.

As Linda parked the Wagoneer in our gravel driveway, I could tell she was fighting back tears. She always tried to be strong for me, and that hurt more than the fire burning in my throat from the breathing tube that had been my life source for most of the summer.

I opened the passenger door, gripped it tightly to keep my balance, and stepped out, scrunching my face to fight off the pain.

The poplar trees towering over our porch rustled in the breeze, and I closed my eyes remembering the familiar sound. I wanted to stop time, an urge I felt all the more frequently. Listening to the leaves dancing allegro in the wind was a sound I had taken for granted my entire life.

The sun shone through the trees like a spotlight onto our canary yellow Victorian house. It was one of the oldest on our street, and one of the smallest, but with its white shutters framing the windows and its roof covered in fallen leaves, it was adorable, and it was home. I smiled at the old porch swing swaying lazily in the autumn breeze.

Linda carried my hospital bags up the wooden steps, the white paint flaking from the harsh Alaskan weather. I paused at the bottom of the staircase, my chest rising and falling with quick breaths. To any healthy person, the act of climbing stairs was simple—second nature. For me, I had to gauge how high I needed to raise my leg, and if I was capable of doing so. I needed to prepare myself for the pressure of my body weight relying on one leg of weak muscles, and the pain that came with it.

I took a deep breath, gripped the railing tightly and lifted my right leg. My muscles strained against the pressure, and I grunted from the pain that twisted through my body as I pulled myself up.

Linda dropped the bags at the sound of my struggle and came to help.

The heavy red door creaked open before we could reach it, and my best friend, Penelope, stepped out holding it for us. Her umber eyes were red from crying. She forced a smile, pushing up her plump cheeks, hiding the dark circles under her puffy eyes.  

“Thank you,” I whispered to Linda, my voice weak and groggy as I stepped inside.

A freshly chopped pile of wood lay next to the fireplace ready for fall, giving the house a pleasant woodsy aroma. With Linda always at the café or the hospital, I grinned knowing exactly who had chopped and stacked the wood.

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