A Drop of Magic The Magicsmith Book 1
by L.R. Braden Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
The war isn’t over . . .
With the world clinging to a fragile peace forced on the Fae by humanity after the Faerie Wars, metalsmith Alex Blackwood is plunged into the world of the half-fae who traffick in illegal magical artifacts. Her best friend’s murder and his cryptic last message place her in the crosshairs of a scheme to reignite the decade-old war between humans and fae.
Worse, violent attacks against her and the arrival of a fae knight on a mission force Alex to face a devastating revelation of who and what she is. To catch a killer, retrieve a dangerous artifact, and stop a war, Alex will have to accept that she’s an unregistered fae “halfer” with a unique magical talent—a talent that would change everything she believes about her past, her art, and her future.
Her world is crumbling around her, and Alex will have to decide who to trust if she and the world are going to survive.
“A Drop of Magic is a damned fun and original read, with sass, action, hot men, and a whole lot of magic.” --Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of the Diamond City Magic, Magicfall, and Horngate Witches series
METAL DUST CLUNG to the sweat on my arms, glittering like shining scales. Even with the studio door propped open behind me, the uncommonly warm October air did little to temper the heat of the forge. A shower of sparks erupted as I plunged the carbon steel rod back into the annealing embers and dragged an arm across my forehead, taking care to avoid the bulky, blackened welding glove. I’d probably still end up with sooty streaks decorating my otherwise pale face. I always did.
Lost in the beat of my old MP3 player, I started belting out the lyrics of Robert DeLong’s Don’t Wait Up as I prepared the next rod. Then a touch settled—light and tentative—on my arm, and the bottom fell out of my stomach.
Tongs clutched in one hand, hammer in the other, I spun.
“Whoa, whoa.” His lips formed the words, though I couldn’t hear them over the music blaring through my headphones.
An inch shorter than I was, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, I had no reason to think the man was anything but human. But then, who could tell these days? He took a step back, hands raised, either to show he meant no harm or to ward off the blow he thought was coming.
Behind him, near the open door, stood a second man. He wore a rumpled brown suit that matched his hair and eyes. Average height, average build, average looks. Nothing remarkable about him.
Moving to put the anvil between us, I set the hammer down and pulled off my headphones, but kept a white-knuckled grip on the tongs. The higher-than-average number of violent crimes this summer had me on edge—along with everyone else—though none of the violence had come so far as my neck of the woods. It seemed unlikely a murderer would get my attention before attacking, but my heart raced a mile a minute as I faced the strangers. “Who are you?”
The man nearest me lowered his arms. “We announced ourselves, but it seems you didn’t hear.”
I scowled at his attempt to put the blame back on me. This was my studio, and they were uninvited guests.
“My apologies.” This came from Mr. Unremarkable. The monotone of his voice matched his appearance, revealing nothing. “You may call me Smith. My associate is Neil. Am I addressing Alyssandra Blackwood?”
A muscle under my right eye twitched. Most people only knew me as Alex. Alyssandra hadn’t existed anywhere but legal documents since I was twelve and traded the name in for something stronger, more
“We’ve come to purchase an item from you, an engraved silver box.”
My shoulders dropped as the tension in them eased a little. Customers didn’t often stop by the studio unannounced, but it wasn’t unheard of. People sometimes got my address from the Souled Art Gallery
in Boulder where I showed my work, or from previous customers, and came to commission pieces. Most were courteous enough to call ahead.
“I’m booked on orders right now. I could maybe get to it next month.”
“You misunderstand. We are looking for an object already in your possession.”
“Oh. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have an item like that in stock.”
“We know the box came your way. If you hand it over, we can make it worth your while.” Neil had the slick, sleazy tone of a used car salesman. Curious though I was about this box, and why they thought I had it, I’d had enough of the conversation. Even if they weren’t killers, they gave me the creeps. I shook my head. “You were misinformed.”
“Ms. Blackwood,” Smith said. “Be reasonable. We’re willing to pay handsomely, and considering the other parties involved, you’re not likely to get a better offer. Surely it isn’t worth the risk?”
My breath caught as the thinly veiled threat hit me like a punch in the gut.
“You need to leave, now.” My voice trembled slightly. The studio only had one door, and they were between it and me. I was trapped. Shifting my stance, I tightened my grip on the tongs, willing them not to shake.
Smith raised his hands in a placating manner. “I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. You might not even realize you have the item we seek. It would look quite common, like a jewelry box.”
“I told you, I haven’t got anything like that. Now get out of here before I call the cops.” It was a bluff, of course, I’d left my cell phone in the house. Even if I could call, the police would never arrive in time to help. That was the downside of living so far from town. I was on my own.
“Enough of this.” Neil stepped around the anvil and reached for my arm.
I didn’t like to fight, I avoided confrontations when I could, but if he thought I was going to roll over, he was wrong. With a guttural howl, I twisted my wrist out of Neil’s grip and swung the tongs into his face. His skin split apart like newspaper peeling back from a fire, scorched black and crinkled around the edges. An unearthly shriek filled the studio, and I stumbled back, shocked at the damage I’d done.
Neil shimmered and seemed to melt. His skin became transparent, and a network of blue veins crawled beneath its surface. His nose spread and sank into his face, leaving two flared slits. Below that, the mouth emitting that horrible sound elongated until the gaping, needle-lined hole grew so large I could have put my whole fist in without scraping my knuckles. When he reached up to cover his face, his fingers had nearly doubled in length, the webbing between them connecting all the way to the tips. His fingernails stretched and thickened to claws. The creature before me was straight out of a horror movie, and I added my own scream to the cacophony.
Wielding my tongs like a baseball bat, I backed away from the writhing shape which had been the man Neil seconds before. Even at the best of times, my stomach cramped when someone mentioned the
fae. Seeing one in the flesh was like having a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. I shivered from head to toe, and fought the urge to throw up.
Smith crossed the space between himself and Neil in two steps and pulled Neil’s arms down to expose the hideous gash burned across his cheek. My stomach lurched at what I’d done. White glinted where bone showed beneath charred flesh. The eye above had swelled shut and was rapidly turning a sickly greenish color. Smith placed one palm against Neil’s forehead, and the horrible wail abruptly cut off as Neil sagged in Smith’s arms.
“It seems we were mistaken.” Smith spoke as he had before, without inflection or emotion. Nothing to show surprise or concern that he was holding an unconscious, injured faerie in his arms. “Good day, Ms. Blackwood.”
My mind went blank as I fumbled for words.
Smith took my stupefied silence in stride. Hefting Neil without visible effort, he gave a small parting nod and carried his companion out of the studio.
I remained where I was until the sound of car doors closing and the crunch of gravel told me I was alone. Then, still clutching my tongs, I inched to the door and took a deep breath of the outside air. The
driveway was empty, no cars in sight. No faerie goons either. My knees gave out under the weight of the panic I’d been keeping in check, and I sank to the ground, tongs still clutched in my shaking hands. The tea I’d had for breakfast felt like acid in my stomach, threatening to come back up.
A gray tabby with yellow-green eyes peeked around the corner of the shed with a questioning, “Meow?” Cat had appeared on my doorstep a few months back, begging for scraps, and I’d made the mistake of giving him some. He’d come around every day since. Despite the fact he’d already stuck around longer than most of the guys in my life, I’d steadfastly refused to name him.
“Fat lot of good you were.”
Lifting his nose, Cat swished his tail and stalked away.
It was silly to take my anxiety out on Cat, but it was easier than dealing with the panic and adrenaline threatening to overwhelm me. Anything to distract from the flesh seared to the tongs in my shaking
I couldn’t imagine forging more, so with a wary eye on the door I dampened the coals and stored my tools, each in its marked place on my pegboard. The gooey tongs went on a shelf, I’d throw them in an acid bath later.
Born and raised in Colorado, L. R. BRADEN makes her home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her wonderful husband, precocious daughter, and psychotic cat. With degrees in both English literature and metalsmithing, she splits her time between writing and art. A Drop of Magic is her first novel.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
According to most people I’ve met . . . pretty much everything.
One of the big ones that gets people to go “ooooh” is that I’m a metalsmith. (Yeah, that’s where I got the idea for Alex.) It was my first major in college, and I spent a lot of long hours in the studio learning how to forge, cast, enamel, solder, polish, and all the other skills necessary to work metal into pretty much any shape and style a person could want. Unlike Alex, I don’t make grand sculptures, but I have sold my work in a couple galleries and consignment shops, and I’ve done a few commissions.
I also make chainmail. That does NOT mean I write unwanted letters to people. It means I spend hours hooking tiny loops of metal together to form intricate patterns. Lots of people say I’m insane for staring at something so small and so complicated for so long, but I find it relaxing. If you want to see some of what I’ve made, you can check it out on my etsy site: https://www.etsy.com/shop/WimsiDesign .
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
When I was a kid (about 5 or 6), there was a huge snow storm. My brother and I built a big ramp in the area between our apartment building and the garages where the tenants parked. The ramp faced the driveway that let to the parking area, but the driveway itself was blocked from view by the apartment building. (I bet you can guess where this is going).
I laid on my stomach on a sled and my brother pushed me down the ramp. As I came in line with the corner of the building, I saw a car coming up the drive. Now, there’s not a lot a kid on a fast-moving sled can do to avoid an oncoming car, so I just held on tight. The front wheels of the car past right in front of my face. Then I was under the car. I remember looking up and thinking, “Huh, so that’s what the underside of a car looks like.”
I watched the back tire approach with dread, but I passed out the far side of the car right in front of it. I slammed into a snowbank on the other side of the driveway, totally untouched. The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than a couple seconds, but it was one of my first experiences with the phenomenon of time slowing down when something exciting or scary is happening.
I’m not sure what it says about me as a person, but I’ve experienced that sensation quite a lot over the course of my life.
What are you passionate about these days?
I’m a big believer in equal HUMAN rights, meaning everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual preference, age, religion, country of origin, or any other distinguishing factors you can pin on a person.
I’m a fan of renewable energy and finding alternate power sources that help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. I recently took a trip to Alaska where I saw the effects of global warming on glaciers first-hand.
Since becoming a parent, I’m pretty passionate about the quality of early education, literacy, and student support.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
When I was in my last year of college I had a roommate who loved to draw furries. For those who don’t know, a furry is an anthropomorphized animal character, an animal with human characteristics. Anyway, this roommate loved to create furries to represent all of her friends. One day, she presented me with a beautiful sketch of a fox-woman and explained why she thought a fox matched my personality. Foxes are shy, clever, agile, curious, resourceful, etc. Now, I’d never considered what animal might best represent me before that, but I fell in love with my fox picture that day. So, without a doubt, my avatar is a fox. :)
By the way, you can see some of Rea’s furries on deviant art at: https://www.deviantart.com/rea2mill/gallery/
What inspired you to write this book?
One day, I was sitting in my living room reading one of my Mercy Thompson books and I thought to myself, “I could do this.” Then I proceeded to daydream a story about a woman much like myself (people always say to write what you know) who learns she’s part of a magical world and has an amazing yet terrifying adventure. The story I imagined was way too long for a single book, so I decided it would have to be at least five. I sat down and started writing that very day.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Book 2 of The Magicsmith series, Courting Darkness, and Book 3, Faerie Forged, will be coming out back to back very soon.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
A couple, but I mostly have side stories about the world. I’ve created short stories of the creation myths of various species, and I wrote a story about a pair of sisters set during the time right after the fae came out, before the Faerie Wars. I also plan to write a short story about a demon-beset sorcerer and his paladin during the war. My intention is to eventually have all these stories available to read and/or download from my website.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters inA Drop of Magic?
The main character, Alex, is an independent, reclusive artist in her twenties with trust and abandonment issues. Her father left to fight in the Faerie Wars and never came back. Her mother died shortly after, leaving her an orphaned teenager. Alex has since made a couple good friends, and that’s all she needs or wants. She avoids politics, especially involving the fae, and enjoys the solitude of her mountain home. At least, until the book starts…
The next biggest character, the one who becomes Alex’s sidekick and advisor in all things fae, is a man named Kai (short for Malakai). He’s a knight from the Realm of Enchantment, one of several faerie worlds that brush up against the mortal realm. He’s out to prove his worth by completing his mission, no matter what, but he can’t do that without Alex’s help.
There are many side characters to flesh out both the world and Alex’s life, including her small circle of close friends (one of whom is murdered to kick off the story), a sexy but enigmatic gallery owner, and a handful of coworkers and regulars at the bookstore where Alex works part-time. I’ve been making character sketches and short bios for the characters and posting them online, so you can see my basic concepts for Alex and her friends on the bonus features section of my website: https://www.lrbraden.com/p/magicsmith-character-sketches.html .
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
Alex was easy. She was a shadowy version of me shaped by different life experiences --- someone who shared many of my personality traits so I could make her feel authentic, but living in different circumstances.
As for the concept, at the time I thought of this story I’d just read a whole bunch of urban fantasy books where the main characters already knew who they were and what they could do. Yes, they still grew and changed over the course of the books, but these were people confident in their powers. I wanted to create a similar story, but from the beginning, about a person who wasn’t quite sure who they were or what they could do. I wanted Alex to experience the discovery of a new reality, and share that with readers.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I actually really enjoyed the revision process. Even though it was sometimes painful to cut out lines or scenes I liked, every time I tweaked something I felt like my book was getting better.
How did you come up with the titlefor this book?
A Drop of Magic was originally called Crossroads when I started writing it, an echo of the fae bar with the same name. This was because the mortal realm, where the story takes place, is considered a crossroads world to the fae, a place where they can pass easily from one realm to another. However, the title Crossroads was a little vague to provoke the right image in a reader's imagination and has been used many times. So I wrote down a list of all the prominent ideas in the book and started checking them to see how they sounded and if they’d been used. At one point in the story, Kai tells Alex a single drop of magic is all it takes to make someone fae. I really liked that line, and I was happy to find that a title search for A Drop of Magic yielded no results. Thus, A Drop of Magic.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Yes and no. I’m a perfectionist, so even if I love something I will always find something to change. This was never more clear than when I had to approve the page proofs for A Drop of Magic, meaning I had to read through the whole book but I wasn’t allowed to change anything. Not move a comma, not change a word, nothing. It drove me insane.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
Maybe it’s because I don’t like being told what to do, but I don’t think any book is a must read. I think of books as get to read and supposed to read. A get to read book is one that I pick up because it looks fun or intriguing, and I keep turning the pages because it holds my interest. But not all people will be pulled in by the same books. Some people hate reading drama. Some people hate reading fantasy. Some people hate reading historical fiction. So to say a book must be read feels like pushing it into the supposed to read category. What I can say is that if you like fun, fast, fantasy stories, I think you will want to keep turning pages in A Drop of Magic.
Behind the Scenes:
When I’m working at my computer, my cat likes to lay on my arms so I can’t move them. A lot of my work has been typed in this awkwardly restricted position because I just don’t have the heart to chase the little fuzzball off. Similarly, my daughter likes to snuggle in my lap while I work, so I end up typing with one hand off to the side because I can’t have my computer in front of me. Honestly, it’s amazing there aren’t more typos…
When I finished the first draft of A Drop of Magic (then titled Crossroads) it was 120,000 words long. The final word count was only 85,000.
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