W.P. Wiles was born in 1978 and is the author of three previous novels (all published by Fourth Estate); The Way Inn, Care of Wooden Floors and Plume. He is also a freelance journalist and has written on architecture and design for a wide variety of magazines and publications.

The Last Blade Priest by W.P. Wiles

Inar is Master Builder for the Kingdom of Mishig-Tenh. Life is hard after the Kingdom lost the war against the League of Free Cities. Doubly so since his father betrayed the King and paid the ultimate price. And now the King's terrifying chancellor and torturer in chief has arrived and instructed Inar to go and work for the League. And to spy for him. And any builder knows you don't put yourself between a rock and a hard place.

Far away Anton, Blade Priest for Craithe, the God Mountain, is about to be caught up in a vicious internal war that will tear his religion apart. Chosen from infancy to conduct human sacrifice, he is secretly relieved that the practice has been abruptly stopped. But an ancient enemy has returned, an occult conspiracy is unfolding, and he will struggle to keep his hands clean in a world engulfed by bloodshed.

In a series of constantly surprising twists and turns that take the reader through a vividly imagined and original world full of familiar tensions and surprising perspectives on old tropes, Inar and Anton find that others in their story may have more influence on their lives, on the future of the League and on their whole world than they, or the reader imagined.

CURATOR'S NOTE

I fell in love with Will Wiles' weird and wonderful The Way Inn a few years ago, and was delighted to discover he had turned his attention to fantasy fiction. The Last Blade Priest is complex, beautifully-written and exciting, as one could only expect! – Lavie Tidhar

 

REVIEWS

  • "A deft and intelligent, immaculately constructed epic fantasy with characters as human as the Mountain is cold. Absolutely recommended."

    – British Fantasy Society
  • "This gripping novel demonstrates the value of thoughtful, well-planned worldbuilding."

    – Publishers Weekly
  • "A novel of marvellous scope and inventiveness: fantasy is rarely as smart, immersive or scintillant as this."

    – Adam Roberts, author of┬áThe Thing Itself
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Stone was not alive, he knew. But it had moods, it had needs, it had desires. And it often wanted to kill him.

This morning it was a corbel that had murder in mind. It resembled a heavy stone beam, almost as tall as a man but only a couple of hand-breadths wide. Laid across the top of the wall with many others like it, it would help support a platform from where defenders could drop heavy objects and unpleasant substances on assaulting soldiers. This morning it was the heavy object that dropped, and Inar was playing the part of the unlucky soldier beneath.

The work team had been winching corbels to the top of the rebuilt wall since first light, and Inar's heart had never stopped pounding. The equipment was inadequate and the men would rather throw away their lives than listen to a simple instruction. Twice, someone had nearly fallen from the wall; it was the Mountain's work that they had not seen a dozen broken feet and two dozen smashed hands. What good is a mason whose hand is a bleeding bag of splinters? And men were so scarce.

Only half of these bastards could wield hammer and chisel with skill. But none of them, it appeared, could tie a straight knot. Long and heavy, the corbels needed to be lashed at both ends to avoid swinging dangerously on the rope or slipping from its grasp altogether. Halfway up the wall, one of the bindings on this corbel had slipped towards the middle of the stone, and it had begun to sag and swing. Inar ordered the man at the pulley-rope to raise his pace; he had to order Lott, standing atop the tower, to hold back, not to lean out into space to try to grab the swaying weight. Cursing had followed. The pulley creaked and groaned – a certain looseness had come into its actions over the course of the morning, and Inar now feared for its security.

Kneeling on the unfinished top of the wall thirty feet above Inar, Lott had managed to get his hand on one of the corbel's bindings and was guiding it closer to the wall. The pulley block shuddered. Inar shouted at him, again, that he should leave it alone until it was above the top of the wall. As he did so, unthinking, he moved closer to the bottom of the wall, beneath the winch arm. And then he realised that, if the pulley really was weakening, the last thing Lott should do was let go – that would cause the corbel to swing out, away from the wall, greatly adding to the stress on the ropes and wooden wheels that were allowing it to temporarily defy gravity.

Lott let go. He had taken his eyes off the stone, and his mind off the job, distracted by something behind Inar. The corbel swung away from him like a battering ram. He lunged for it, almost following it into space, then, fearing it might swing back and strike him, he scrambled backwards onto the scaffold.

The corbel never swung back. When it had swung as far from the wall as the rope would allow, the pulleys and the crane-arm supporting them shattered in a starburst of splinters.

It moved so slowly. The corbel executed a lazy turn in the cool morning air, hardly really falling at all as far as Inar could see. But it was falling, trailing loops of rope – falling towards Inar.

Inar leaped backwards, an action that came entirely from the darkness of instinct. His heel struck something hard and he sprawled onto a pile of rubble, left elbow twisting underneath him with an ugly pain, and a hard point jabbing into his right shoulder with the force of a battle blow. He cried out, without words. The corbel hit the ground point-on with a deep, solid boom, and for an idiotic instant Inar forgot his own safety and that of his men and instead hoped for the safety of the stone, issuing a prayer to the Mountain that this well-carved block should not break. It didn't, and instead impaled itself a hand's length deep into the soft earth, remaining drunkenly upright like an ancient menhir.

The pain from his shoulder snatched Inar back to attention, followed by the realisation that the danger was far from over. Again moving mysteriously slowly, the remnants of the pulleys and the crane-arm were breaking away from the scaffold, and for a leisurely moment of horror Inar feared that a chain of collapse might have been set in motion, that the whole structure atop the wall might simply unravel before his eyes, taking half a dozen men and at least a month of work with it. But it held as the timbers and ropes of the crane clattered noisily to the ground, planting a garden of broken timber around the fallen corbel.

Dust rose, and there was a beat of quiet. Inar tried to raise himself from the heap he had fallen into, wincing again at the pain – but he was not bleeding, and nothing was broken. Just pain, which Inar now felt the need to spread around.

"Lott!" he screamed. "What are you thinking?! You could have killed us!"

But Lott still wasn't paying attention. Instead he was gawping out over the fields beyond the city, where the lane that led to the Lowgate wound between broken dry-stone walls and farm-folk tending to spring planting. Inar turned to look.

There were horsemen approaching, not in any hurry. At the head of the small, sedate procession was a League knight, who, Inar noted with surprise, was also a woman. Flanking her were a younger girl and an older man, and following them were four more League knights in armour, one bearing a standardfrom which fluttered a pennant: three cascades, in white, on a blue background.

Inar had never hated a symbol more.

"I didn't think the League had a Queen," Falde said. He had arrived at Inar's side unseen.

"They've got classy whores," Lott shouted from the top of the wall, and a few of the Stull men laughed, not hiding their nervousness.

"Mountain's silent, Lott!" Inar barked. But he did not take his eyes from the Leaguer woman, and she did not take her eyes from his. Hopefully, she did not speak Mishigo. She wore the padded leather armour traditional to the lowlands, but worked to a much higher quality than Inar had seen in battle-dress: shaped subtly to her form, covered in embossed decorations, highlighted with hints of silver thread. Such armour of this kind that Inar had seen before was brown, its colour chosen by the cow, but this was deep midnight blue. It was an outfit that spoke of the highest rank or the most unimaginable wealth, but the woman's dark brown hair was cut short, like a peasant's. The girl beside her was pale and distracted, like a noble's poorly daughter dragged from her sickbed for an afternoon's ride. The older man was stout, dressed in plain city clothing all in black, and he frowned up at the wall.

"Inar?" the armoured woman asked in practised Mirolingua. "Inar, the son of Astar?"

Inar straightened, in an instant painfully aware that the visitor must have witnessed the deadly farce of breaking timber and falling stone seconds earlier. He was reluctant to lay ownership to this shambles, but the truth could not be averted.

"I am Inar," he said. "May I ask…?"

The woman smiled. "I am merite Anzola Stiyitta, surveyor general of the League of Free Cities. We are in the same trade, Inar."

A woman, dressed as a warrior, who claimed to be a builder. Inar found he had little to say. "Oh?"

Merite Anzola dismounted from her horse in a single smooth movement, and walked across the rough ground of the filled in moat towards Inar's works.

"I saw the accident. What do you suppose went wrong?"

Inar bristled. He had no desire to chitchat with a Leaguer of any kind, but for this chameleon of a woman to start to advise him on his business was intolerable. "Well, what happened is, this gang of leather-wearing arseholes from the mudflats came and knocked down this wall, and we're trying to rebuild it. Only we're short on men, and money, and keep getting interrupted while we're trying to work." This raised a grunt of mirth from Falde, and from the wall Lott shouted agreement. Inar turned to glare at the apprentice, who suddenly found a reason to get his head down and start dismantling the wrecked crane.

"I know you don't have any reason to love the League," merite Anzola said. She did not appear to be offended by his words, maintaining an expression of sunny enthusiasm. But Inar could also see the rest of her party: the miserable girl, the surly man in black, the stern-faced knights. "You or any of your men," Anzola continued. "The war was an awful affair, awful – one we did not seek, remember. But our nations are friends now, and this friend would like to assist you."

Friends? Master and servant was more like it, Inar thought, or perhaps landlord and serf. He said nothing.

"I saw the mechanism you had set up," Anzola said. She had passed Inar and was inspecting the tangled wreckage at the foot of the wall. "Multiple pulleys, so a single man can lift a great weight – it's very intelligent. Your design?"

Inar felt trapped, or at least as if he was standing at the edge of a trap and a wrong step might trigger it. For all her cordiality, this woman was dangerous. He was dealing with a puzzle made out of snakes. They all had to smile and agree with the League, the whole land, but he knew how the King's court felt about anyone who might harbour actual loyalty towards their conquerors, especially if that anyone was already under suspicion. "No. I read about it in a book. Nothing clever."

"It was intelligent to look for a better way of doing things, and it was intelligent to apply this design," Anzola said kindly.

"We think alike, Inar. As it happens we use something similar on the docks at Pallestra."

Think alike? That sounded neither accurate nor praiseful to Inar. "It would work better if I could forge iron parts. But iron is in short supply around here."

Anzola shrugged. Nothing appeared to alter her pleasant mood, not even mention of the high price the League had asked in exchange for peace. "The demands of war, sadly."

"War's over."

"One war is over," Anzola said. "The next…" Still smiling, she turned away from Inar and began to walk back to her entourage. "Delightful to meet you, Inar. I look forward to seeing you again."

If a party of Leaguer knights had ridden up and cursed at him, Inar would have been less concerned. It would fit in with how he saw the world. But for them to compliment and encourage him – that left him unmoored, and troubled in ways he could not describe. He watched as the noblewoman mounted her horse and spurred it back down the road, followed by the rest of her party, as grand a display as they had made when they approached. None of them looked back at him, apart from the pale young girl. She was frowning, mirroring his own furrowed brow, as if he presented a puzzle, or a disappointment. Disturbed by her silent attention, Inar broke his gaze and turned back to his men.

"Show's over," he said. "Let's get on with it."