Brigid Collins is a fantasy and science fiction writer living in Michigan. Her fantasy series The Songbird River Chronicles and Winter's Consort, her fun middle grade hijinks series The Sugimori Sisters, and her dark fairy tale novella Thorn and Thimble are available wherever books are sold. Her short stories have appeared in Fiction River, Feyland Tales, and Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar anthologies. Sign up for her newsletter at and get a free copy of Strength & Chaos, Mischief & Poise: Four Cat Tales, exclusively available to her subscribers!

Clockwork Princess by Brigid Collins

Automaton Queen of Clockwork Kingdom, Pretya, has one goal at heart: keep her copper-haired, steel-faced daughter, Princess Nilya, safe from the constant threat of the sky pirates. Pretya will do anything to ensure her stubborn daughter's safety, even marry her off to the prince of their more defensible neighboring nation, Maraland.

But Nilya is uncooperative, to say the least. She has her own ideas about defending herself, and she doesn't care how unladylike they might be. If she can convince her mother to let her try out her prototype defensive machines, Clockwork Kingdom might be able to defend themselves rather than rely on neighbors who don't have much respect for clockwork people.

It makes for a strained relationship between mother and daughter.

But their kingdom needs a solution now, and the sky pirates circle ever closer.


Amazing writer Brigid Collins gave us an exclusive: the first book in her brand-new series, The Clockwork Kingdom Saga. Brigid is one of the best writers working today, so a new series from her is always worth touting. We're lucky to see it first. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch




The crash of a cannonball striking the eastern tower cracked through the thick walls of Clockwork Kingdom Castle, and Queen Pretya choked back a whimper. She could not let the fear and mayhem descend on her like a stifling, paralyzing cloak. Instead, she turned that fear into a fuel to continue her unladylike sprint through the empty corridors.

Let the courtiers and her royal husband huddle in the cannon shelters if they could stomach their own wretched cowardice, but the thought of her sixteen-year-old daughter trapped in that tower, crying and scared as the sky pirates pelted the castle with cannonballs made Pretya's abdominal gears grind with sharp nausea.

Her breath sawed through her ventilation, rough with the gritty taste of smoke, too warm to properly cool her overheated system. Her heart pistoned so hard the vibration juddered through her entire chassis.

Both hands were slick with the condensation of cold fear.

One of her silver shoes, chosen to match her platinum gown, had come unscrewed in her dash from the council room. The bare copper of her left foot clanged painfully against the uncarpeted stone floor, but Pretya did not slow. If she ended up with dents in her heels, so be it.

The sky pirates had never attacked the castle directly before, a fact which Pretya tried not to think about as the tremors of another impact rattled through the floor. A fact which she had hoped would continue for at least another season, despite their foes' growth in confidence as their constant attacks on the Clockwork Kingdom were met with little resistance of any real effect.

And now the sky pirates had grown bold enough to attack openly, on a cloudless autumn afternoon, while the very council Clockwork Kingdom had convened to solve this problem was in session. A crushing wave of helpless despair followed close at Pretya's freshly dented heels, and it was all she could do to keep half a step ahead of it.

But keep ahead of it she did. Nilya needed her.

As she barreled around a corner and approached the bridgewalk that connected the eastern tower to the castle proper, the din of the attack increased threefold, and she fought the urge to cover her ringing ears and cower. Low whistles preceded the booming impacts of cannonballs near and far. The shouts and screams of the clockwork citizens, of Pretya's people, floated up to her from the streets below. Underscoring the entire soundscape was the distinctive whump-whump of the skyship engines.

The door to the bridgewalk stood open, and orange and yellow light flickered in the metalwork design. Heat rippled through the doorway, lapping at Pretya and bringing a sheen of condensation over her entire body. A twisted mass of metal lay slumped against the doorframe, smoldering and sparking.

The firelight glinted off a warped symbol on the metal wreckage, and Pretya swallowed against the scream that rose in her throat. That pile of twisted metal used to be one of the royal guards.

Blinking away the sting of tears, Pretya ignored the fire blazing beside her and squinted through the growing haze of smoke and ash and the dust of cracked stone. Across the bridgewalk, a mountain of rubble lay in the doorway of the eastern tower. A gaping hole yawned in the roof, opening into the upper room where the princess lived. Broken support beams and jagged fragments of stone bricks jutted like cruel teeth in the mouth of a giant beast.

The whump-whump grew louder, and a strong wind whipped across the bridgewalk, driving the smoke away.

A skyship drifted towards the new opening in the tower. Sky pirate crew members swarmed about on the deck suspended below the scarlet balloon, their human forms made visible against the billowing plumes of gray smoke by their stark black outfits.

They were coming for the princess.

Pretya's heart pistoned in her chest as she dashed across the expanse. The space between the castle and her daughter's tower had never stretched this wide before.

"Nilya!" she cried. The word tore away from her lips as soon as she said it, pulled by the howling wind of the skyship hovering over her head. "Nilya!"

She skidded to a stop as she reached the pile of rubble. It was taller than she'd thought, but the doorway behind it was still visible. The door stood open, and someone moved just inside the tower. One of the princess's handmaids cowered there, her joints rattling audibly.

"Your Highness," gasped the handmaid beyond the rubble. "They're coming through the roof!"

"Where is Nilya?" Pretya called. She clawed at the stones, not caring if her fingers got scratched to shreds. She had to get to her daughter before the pirates did.

"She is within, Highness. We came down here when the cannonball struck, but we couldn't get past these stones. Princess Nilya went back up to fetch one of her tools. But the pirates are coming in!"

"I know. Who is guarding her?"

"Dhural was standing guard at the door, Highness. Elsewise it was just me," the handmaid said with a sob.

Pretya swallowed once more. Dhural wouldn't be much help now that he was little more than a pile of scrap. Not that a royal guard could do much against the sky pirates' cannonballs, anyway.

But now Nilya had no one to protect her besides a terrified handmaid.