Seventeen-year-old Groundling, Fennel, is Sightless. She's never been able to see her lush forest home, but she knows its secrets. She knows how the shadows shift when she passes under a canopy of trees. She knows how to hide in the cool, damp caves when the Scourge comes. She knows how devious and arrogant the Groundlings' tree-dwelling neighbors, the Lofties, can be.
And she's always known this day would come--the day she faces the Scourge alone.
The Sightless, like Fenn, are mysteriously protected from the Scourge, the gruesome creatures roaming the forests, reeking of festering flesh and consuming anything--and anyone--living. A Sightless Groundling must brave the Scourge and bring fresh water to the people of the forest. Today, that task becomes Fenn's.
Fenn will have a Lofty Keeper, Peree, as her companion. Everyone knows the Lofties wouldn't hesitate to shoot an arrow through the back of an unsuspecting Groundling like Fenn, but Peree seems different. A boy with warm, rough hands who smells like summer, he is surprisingly kind and thoughtful. Although Fenn knows his people are treacherous, she finds herself wanting to trust him.
As their forest community teeters on the brink of war, Fenn and Peree must learn to work together to survive the Scourge and ensure their people's survival. But when Fenn uncovers a secret that shatters her truths, she's forced to decide who and what to protect--her people, her growing love for Peree, or the elusive dream of lasting peace in the forest.
A tale of star-crossed lovers, strange creatures, and secretive, feuding factions, THE SCOURGE introduces readers to a rich and exciting new world where nothing is as it seems.
"Looking for a trenchant, imaginative, beautifully written novel to read? Look no further: it's The Scourge, by A.G. Henley."
-- Sarah Cloots, former editor at Greenwillow Books, imprint of HarperCollins Children's Books
"The prose flows smoothly and easily but there are much deeper issues lying beneath the surface of the story that are captivating and will hold the interest of readers of any age . . . I was quickly transported into the world of The Scourge and plummeted breathlessly toward the resolution. This is a very good book and a good look at just what science fiction can achieve when in the hands of a capable writer."
-- Josef Hernandez, Examiner
"From the moment I started reading this book I was hooked . . . The Scourge is not only a story of survival; it is also a story of awakening, love, family devotion."
-- ReadingDiva, blog review
"Lovable and relatable heroine? Check. Swoon-worthy, kick-butt hero? Check. Compelling romance that makes your heart melt and toes curl? Check. Captivating story and fascinating world? Check. Eagerly anticipating the next book? Check, check, check."
-- Refracted Light Reviews, blog review
"Are you ready, Fennel?” Aloe asks. I nod. She embraces me, and whispers in my ear. “Don’t forget—never forget—you are protected. The Scourge can’t harm you. Remember that when you’re afraid.”
“I’m afraid now.”
“Then remember it now.”
She leads me to the passage that will take me back to the mouth of the cave. People touch me as I walk, murmuring good luck. Eland clings to me, followed by Calli. Her tears moisten my cheek.
“Here, Fennel.” Bear’s voice is even rougher than usual. He presses something silky into my hand, his fingers lingering on mine. “The foot of a rabbit, for luck.” It’s a charm, left over from the old days, before the Fall.
Then his hand is gone, and everyone is gone, and I stand alone in the passageway.
I start walking, rehearsing in my mind what I’ll do when I leave the caves, as Aloe taught me. Take the path to the clearing. Walk along the edge of the clearing. Find the sled track, and follow it down to the water hole, where the sled waits. I go over the number of paces it should take to complete each part of my trip, repeating them to be sure I remember. Then I try to wipe my mind clean.
I try not to think of the cries of the creatures the night before. I try not to think of the many stories I’ve heard about the flesh-eaters tearing apart their victims, or the agonizing transformation into one of them—half human, half dead. Instead I focus on the cool, lumpy rock under my hand, or the musty smell of the passage, or how many steps I have left until I reach the mouth of the cave. Anything else.
But it’s impossible.
My heart is a desperate animal, smashing against my rib cage. My shivering now has nothing to do with the cold. I sing—another trick Aloe taught me—but the closer I get to the mouth of the cave, the slower I walk and the softer I sing. Then I stop walking and singing altogether, trying to work up the courage to take the last few steps necessary to reach the sunlight.
Something’s thrashing through the forest, coming closer. I hear shrieking, like the dying people of my imagination. I tuck the rabbit’s foot into my pocket, and tug a scarf Aloe gave me up over my mouth and nose, preparing for the stench. For a moment I wonder if my protection will hold, but I push the thought away. It’s the gift of our Sightlessness, as I’ve always been told.
I think of Eland huddled in the gloom of the caves, eating the salty dried meat, waiting for his water ration. That does it. I take a deep breath, and step outside.
The creatures surge around me. Their howls pierce me. Even through the barrier of the scarf, I can smell their putrid breath. Something brushes my sleeve and I cry out, wrapping my arms tightly around my body like a shroud.
What if I’m not protected? What if everything I’ve been told about my Sightlessness—everything I’ve believed about myself—isn’t true? The Scourge will consume me, as they have so many others. Or worse, I’ll become like one of them, only knowing hunger, thirst, and the yearning for flesh. I yank the scarf down; it’s suffocating. I wait, shuddering, for biting mouths and tearing hands to find me.
THE DEFIANCE (Brilliant Darkness, Book 2)
It hasn't been long since Fennel, a Sightless Groundling, and Peree, her Lofty Keeper, fell in love and learned the truth: the Scourge, and their world, are not what they seem.
Fenn and Peree are determined to guide their people to the protected village of Koolkuna, but first they must convince them that everything they believe is a lie. An impossible task, especially when someone seems hell-bent on trying anything--even animal sacrifice and arson--to destroy the couple's new bond and crush the frail truce between the Groundlings and the Lofties. Not everyone wants to uproot their lives in the forest, and those who stay behind will be left terribly vulnerable.
Fenn and Peree's resolve to be together, and the constant threat of the Scourge's return, push both groups to the breaking point. Unable to tell friend from foe, Fenn must again decide how much she's willing to sacrifice to ensure the future of the people of the forest.
Only this time, the price of peace may be too high to bear.
"Fans of The Scourge, you will not be disappointed with this sequel. The Defiance was thrilling, romantic, and full of surprises. Loved this book!"
-- Imagine a World, blog review
"I had very high hopes for this follow-up novel, and Henley DEFINITELY delivers in her sophomore release!"
-- Booking It With Hayley G, blog review
The morning passes quickly. There was more wood to move into the storeroom in the caves this morning, new stores of salt meat and dried beans to deliver, and our herbalist, Marjoram, told me she has some poultices and teas she wants me to bring in. Marj was underprepared for the accidents and illnesses resulting from such a long confinement last time. She won’t make the same mistake again.
There’s plenty of space in the storeroom—it was almost empty by the time we left the caves after the Reckoning. It’s an easy job to stow the supplies neatly along the natural stone shelves. My stomach rumbles, anticipating a midday meal, as I cross the cavern to the storeroom carrying the second-to-last load of wood. Even the lingering stench of crampberries doesn’t deter my appetite.
“Fennel.” The word whispers across the cave.
I freeze. “Who’s there?”
“Stay away from the Lofty. Groundlings and Lofties aren’t meant to be together. You’ve been warned.”
I can’t tell anything about the speaker—man, woman, their age. But quiet as the person’s words are, it’s hard to miss the implied threat. I drop most of the wood, keeping one thick log as a potential weapon. The person is between the passage out and me.
I hold the log firmly in front of me, trying to tame my wild breathing so I can hear. Fear strangles my thoughts. An indefinable amount of time passes. Finally wrestling the courage to move, I step forward, keeping the log at the ready.
And I cough.
The air is wrong, and not simply human-waste wrong. Something else. There’s light where there shouldn’t be, and . . . smoke. That’s what I’m tasting and smelling.
There’s a fire in the passageway, and it’s blocking my way out. Terror doesn’t steal through me. It rips my head off.
Author A.G. Henley
A.G. Henley is the author of the BRILLIANT DARKNESS series. The first book in the series, THE SCOURGE, was a finalist for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Award.
A.G. is also a clinical psychologist, which means people either tell her their life stories on airplanes, or avoid her at parties when they've had too much to drink. Neither of which she minds. When she's not writing fiction or shrinking heads, she can be found herding her children and their scruffy dog, Guapo, to various activities while trying to remember whatever she's inevitably forgotten to tell her husband. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
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