Hi, I’m Lou Hoffmann, very glad to be a guest on the blog of Rhys Ford today for the penultimate stop on my tour celebrating the release of Wraith Queen’s Veil, book two in The Sun Child Chronicles. Thanks for the spot, Rhys, and thanks for stopping by, readers.
First, here’s the blurb for my Wraith Queen’s Veil. Read on down the page for today’s tour stop post, all about the Ethran game of Skies.
Wraith Queen’s Veil is book two of The Sun Child Chronicles Series, sequel to Key of Behliseth. In book one, Lucky has been living in California as a homeless teen when a wizard, a warrior, and a truly evil witch draw him into a war for his forgotten home world, Ethra.
When Lucky arrives in Ethra, the world of his birth and destiny, he expects a joyful reunion, but the first thing he notices when he reaches the Sisterhold—his home—is something false behind his mother’s smile. In a matter of weeks, the Sisterhold becomes agitated with worries and war plans. People he trusts—like the wizard Thurlock—frequently can’t be found. His mother seems angry, especially with Lucky. Even Han Shieth, the warrior uncle he has come to rely on and love above all others, maintains a sullen silence toward him.
When Lucky’s resentment builds to the breaking point, his bad decisions put him and his friends, L’Aria and Zhevi, in unthinkable danger. Han arrives to help, but he can’t claim invulnerability to the hazards and evils that threaten at every turn. Events launch Lucky, alone, on a quest for he knows not what, but every step brings him closer to his identity and full strength. Self-knowledge, trust, and strength lead to smarter choices, but even his best efforts might not render his world truly safe, now or for the future.
Find it at Harmony Ink Press and wherever books are sold online.
How to play the Ethran game of Skies:
Have you heard of the game of Skies? If not, it’s because you haven’t been to Ethra, protagonist Lucky’s home world. Here’s a brief excerpt from Wraith Queen’s Veil, where the game is introduced:
Full night had set and snow began falling once more—still light, but driven into spirals by a cantankerous wind. While Lucky hesitated, Zhevi looked out toward the way they’d come and said, “I don’t like this, Luccan. Let’s warm up, maybe eat a bite and have something hot to drink, let the horses rest, and then just head back.”
Lucky cast his eyes down, annoyed but not wanting to show that to Zhevi. He wanted to whine I thought we already had this debate! Instead he said, “It’s night—not the best time for riding, right?”
Zhevi seemed to be losing patience. “You’re right, Luc! Absolutely, it would be better if we didn’t have to ride through the woods on a night that would be pitch-black if it wasn’t for the snow. But I don’t trust this weather and if we stay, it might be worse in daylight tomorrow than in dark tonight.”
Lucky’s brain kept trying to get his attention: He’s right, it whispered. Listen to him! Unfortunately, his stubborn streak seemed to have direct access to his mouth. “Fine. You go on back, Zhev. I’m staying, but if I’m not back in a couple of days, you can come and rescue me.” He shot an insincere grin Zhevi’s way, but he could see by the thin set of Zhevi’s normally full and annoyingly attractive lips, and by the red flush rising on the young man’s neck, that the smile hadn’t fooled him a bit.
Zhevi looked away, shaking his head, and let out a sound that sounded something like a growl. He said nothing more, just pivoted and walked back out of the cave.
Lucky felt his heart race, afraid Zhevi was just going to saddle up and ride away. He really didn’t want to be left out here alone. He knew Zhevi was right. But now that he’d taken that stand, he also knew his pride would force him to stick to it. When he didn’t hear any commotion of horses and tack outside, Lucky dared hope. He stepped out to find Zhevi leaning against the sheer rock outside the cave. Not sure if he should, Lucky went to stand next to him. After a long moment, Zhevi turned his head and looked down at Lucky, lightly smacked his arm, and said, “Gods’ truth, you’re a pain in the ass.”
Lucky felt pretty certain he’d won, and he even thought Zhevi would forgive him. He tried a little more coaxing just for good measure. “It’ll be all right,” he insisted, keeping his voice soft. “We’ll be dry and warm, inside. We’ve got a good place for the horses, and plenty supplies.” Smiling, he produced from an inside pocket of his overtunic a set of well-used cards, each printed with a star, with lines showing how the star should connect with its neighbors to make a constellation. “Look, we can play a couple of games of Skies.”
“You mean I can kick your butt in a game of Skies.”
“If you think so,” Lucky said, but his smile grew a little more sincere. He knew Zhevi loved the game, and at any time he’d have a hard time refusing the chance to play. When Zhevi chuckled and nodded, Lucky thought he’d won, but he kept silent. As he turned to gather the last of the supplies and carry them into the “living room,” as he’d dubbed the main room with the fire pit and comfy nooks, Zhevi stepped out to hang the oiled leather tarp, a rope laid over his shoulder for tying it to tree branches.
“This ought to block the wind,” Zhevi said. “Help keep the worst of the weather off the horses.” But then he turned and gave Lucky an intense, direct look. “I know you’re not going to listen to me, Luc. With this weather, I can’t leave you out here alone. Thurlock would turn me into something slimy, or at the very least Han would skin me alive if I let the Suth Chiell starve out here in the woods thanks to his own ignorance.”
Lucky lowered his gaze, feeling defiance rear its head and not trusting himself to speak. He needed Zhevi, though he didn’t want to admit it. And it angered him that a friend who felt… special, somehow would speak to him that way. Worse than anger, it hurt. Yet when Zhevi handed him a brush, he took it and looked up to meet Zhevi’s gaze.
“Since you’re out there, you might as well take care of Windy.”
In the time it took for Lucky to complete the job, Zhevi finished grooming the other horses, poured oats in three buckets, and sweet-talked the animals until they started eating. Then he cuffed Lucky not too softly on the shoulder. When Lucky turned, hands balled into fists and eyes narrowed, he smiled. “So do you want to fight, or do you want me to thump you good in a game of Skies?”
Lucky and Zhevi gamble on that game of Skies, and a very important decision is made on based on the outcome of that bet. It sets in motion adventures both terrible and wonderful. But that’s not always the case—usually it’s just a fun pastime. Later in the book, for instance Lucky teaches the game to a new friend named Rio, with whom he’s falling in love, and it’s just something to do while spending time together.
The game has no parallel in Ethra’s twin world Earth, which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising given the way the two worlds have moved apart from each other after the split thousands of years ago. But now, the portals are opening! (If you don’t know about that, read book one, Key of Behliseth; there you find out about the events that started the whole mess of people moving more and more freely between worlds.) With Ethrans among us—and some of them obviously keen gamblers—I think it best if we make the game known here. So here are the basics:
52 Skies cards, each divided into four quarters. Each quarter is a piece of one of thirteen constellations. No card has two pieces of the same constellation, but four cards have a “wild” quarter that can be used as a piece of any constellation except K’ormahk (which you more likely know of as Pegasus).
The game is played by collecting Skies cards to build constellations. Each card can be used for up to two constellations. Constellations played to the table (laid down) will count as positive points for the players score at the end of the hand. The value of the constellations varies, but K’ormahk/Pegasus trumps everything. If a player completes that constellation, they win the hand and other players do not score on that hand.
In addition to the Skies cards, the game includes 52 obstacle cards. Clouds, for instance, block one quarter of a card, while storms (only four in the deck) nullify an entire card. If a player draws the sun card (2 in the deck), that person must discard all cards they haven’t yet played, and draw an equal number of new cards.
A third set, 52 action cards, direct a player to pass a Skies card to a neighbor, take one from a neighbor, eliminate a constellation from play, exchange one card from their hand for one from the top of the draw pile, or exchange a card for the last one discarded.
A hand is won when one player empties his hand. The game can be played to a set number of hands, a set winning point score, or for a single hand. In single hand games, if the constellation K’ormahk/Pegasus is made, that player wins.
Here’s an example of a Skies card, using Earth names for constellations, and made from a set of cards called Urania’s Mirror, which was created around 1825 by Sydney Hall, and which are now in the public domain. (The game of Skies however, is my creation, and copyright applies, though it may never matter.)
And there you have it. If you ever want to know how Ethrans spend their game time, now you know. Of course, Lucky also taught them how to play basketball…
That’s it for my post today. The last stop, tomorrow, will be at Rainbow Gold Reviews. The tour has been fun, some facts to learn about the books along the way, some attempted character interviews, etc. If you haven’t been following and you’d like to find out where I visited and what I shared, take a look at this blog post on my Queerly YA blog.
The special super discount code for either Key of Behliseth or Wraith Queen’s Veil or both ends tomorrow: 35% off with code SUNCHILD2 at Harmony Ink or Dreamspinner Press.
(Pssst! There’s also a sneaky extra chance to win if you visit my post at Rainbow Gold Reviews tomorrow.)
Thanks again for stopping by. Happy reading!