A young woman is determined to choose her own destiny—even if that means going against everyone she loves…
We’re thrilled to reveal the cover and share an exclusive first-look excerpt from K. X. Song’s The Night Ends With Fire, a sweeping fantasy adventure inspired by the legend of Mulan—available July 2, 2024 from Ace, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
The Three Kingdoms are at war, but Meilin’s father refuses to answer the imperial draft. Trapped by his opium addiction, he plans to sell Meilin for her dowry. But when Meilin discovers her husband-to-be is another violent, ill-tempered man, she realizes that nothing will change for her unless she takes matters into her own hands.
The very next day, she disguises herself as a boy and enlists in her father’s place.
In the army, Meilin’s relentless hard work brings her recognition, friendship—and a growing closeness with Sky, a prince turned training partner. But has she simply exchanged one prison for another? As her kingdom barrels toward destruction, Meilin begins to have visions of a sea dragon spirit that offers her true power and freedom, but with a deadly price.
With the future of the Three Kingdoms hanging in the balance, Meilin will need to decide whom to trust—Sky, who inspires her loyalty and love; the sea dragon spirit, who has his own murky agenda; or an infuriating enemy prince who makes her question everything she once knew—about her kingdom and about her own heart.
A special First Edition of The Night Ends With Fire will include:
- A gorgeous, shimmering jacket with effects
- Brilliantly illustrated four-color endpapers
- Striking and detailed stained edges
- Beautiful foil-stamped case
K. X. Song is a diaspora writer with roots in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Raised between cultures and languages, she enjoys telling stories that explore the shifting nature of memory, translation, and history. She is the author of An Echo in the City and the forthcoming The Night Ends With Fire, her adult fantasy debut.
The first wagon exploded not ten yards from us. I sensed the hiss before the fuse caught and dived in front of Sky, shoving him to the ground. We both fell as debris sprayed everywhere.
For a breathless moment, our eyes locked, our faces mere inches from each other. I met his startled gaze, felt his hands tighten instinctively around me. Then the world returned. I jumped to my feet and Sky rolled off the ground as Luo Tao and a dozen other guards converged around him, guarding their commander. “Get the prince to safety!” Lieutenant Tong ordered. “Take him north–”
“No,” Sky said, his voice like steel. “I need to see Winter now.” Winter was his older brother, commander of Sixth Company, which was stationed west of ours.
“Now do you wish you’d listened to me?” Qinglong had returned.
“Don’t rub it in,” I said, flexing my ankle to make sure it wasn’t sprained. “What are they targeting? Is it just the food stores?”
“Oh, so you trust me now.”
“I don’t trust you, I’m just, gathering opinions,” I hedged.
I could’ve sworn I heard a snort. “Use your head and put out the fire before it spreads. And stop thinking about Prince Liu’s shirtless physique.”
I choked. “Stop reading my mind!”
I grabbed blankets to suffocate the fire, which had spread in small flames across the supply line. More people converged in the clearing with every passing moment. There were Anlai soldiers everywhere, and few bandits. But this couldn’t be the sole purpose of their attack, could it? I had estimated over fifty bandits earlier, when they had presumed themselves to be unwatched.
The dragon had told me to use my head. But it was hard to think with the fire crackling and hissing around me, soldiers running in every direction and horses spitting and rearing. I mulled over what Sky had told me days earlier. Ximing didn’t have a standing army. If I were the warlord of Ximing, and I suddenly declared war and drafted a handful of fishermen and sailors, what would I need? How could I send them off to fight?
First of all, teachers–to train them. But that was dispensable. They could learn on the job. What else? I recalled the poor quality of the bandit’s spear. It had been shoddily made, using cheap materials. If I lacked resources in my own kingdom, then I would steal. The armory!
I eyed the eastern quarter of camp, which was decidedly less on fire. Because the bandits didn’t need to steal our food stores, I thought, but they did need to take our weapons, intact.
Before I could take off running, I collided into Sparrow.
“Ren!” he exclaimed. He too was shirtless. Why had no one bothered to put on their clothes? “What’s going on? They told us to rally around the western supply line–”
“Forget that. We need to protect the armory.” I said. “Can you find Zilong? Bring Twelfth Squad. And Thirteenth, if you can manage it.”
“What about you?”
“Meet me at the armory. I need to confirm their intentions.”
“It’s dangerous, Ren! You can’t go alone.”
“I’m not alone,” I answered without thinking. Then I ran, before Sparrow could question my sanity.
“I would not advise such forthcoming speech,” said the dragon. “And I am not your chaperone.”
“I didn’t know you had a sense of humor,” I retorted aloud, zigzagging through camp. In the chaos, I figured no one would notice one soldier talking to himself.
“All spirits do. Or else we’d be subjected to an eternity of boredom.”
The armory was noticeably emptier than the western quarter. I heard the clink of metal and ducked behind a tree, just as a trio of bandits scurried out of a covered wagon with their arms full of small cloth bundles. Strange, I thought, for I’d imagined they would be stealing weapons. Spears and swords and bows would not be so small.
I waited a beat longer, then saw another few bandits emerging from a different wagon, also with what looked to be small parcels in their arms. By the way they carried them, the bundles appeared heavy. A third emerged, this one with a giant axe, which made more sense, but why take an axe and not a sword, which was probably the most expensive and prized weapon in the armory?
Bewildered, I waited until I was sure the coast was clear, then quickly darted inside the deserted wagon where the thieves had come from. And I wasn’t a moment too soon, for just as I entered the safety of the wagon, I heard more bandits converge in the clearing, entering a wagon directly behind mine. By the sound of their voices, there seemed to be over a dozen of them.
Careful not to make a single sound, I peered into the gloom, my eyes gradually adjusting to the dark. I saw the steel swords stored in their usual place, untouched. The longbows too, were arranged neatly in wooden racks, coils of bowstring still folded in oiled paper. Strange and stranger, I thought, before my gaze drifted to the spears and discovered most of the spearheads missing.
They’d taken the iron spearheads and left the bronze ones behind. So too with the axe; they’d taken only the iron axe head. Why were they stealing our iron?
Strident voices grew outside the wagon, until one voice, loud enough to be discernible above the rest, cut through the quarrel. “We have time–they haven’t even noticed us. Let’s do a final sweep through,” the bandit leader ordered. His Ximing accent was smoother and more tonal than our northern dialect, though still possible for me to comprehend. “Sima will have our heads if we miss anything.”
Belatedly, I realized what this meant for me. I shot to my feet just as the wagon flap lifted, and a bandit hopped inside without carefully inspecting its interior. He didn’t notice me until it was too late, and I struck him in the temple with the hilt of my blade.
The blow had been silent, but the sound of his body slumping to the floor was not. There was a dull thunk, and I swore under my breath; I should’ve thought to catch him.
“What was that?” The bandit leader’s voice was sharp. “Little Frog?”
The wagon flap lifted, and the sudden glare of the lamp blinded me. I recoiled, then tried to take advantage of their surprise and leap over them. I was too slow. As I jumped from the wagon, I felt a blade slash my sword arm and I cried out, dropping my blade. I rolled to my feet seconds before the bandit leader threw a knife where my head had just been. The knife landed in the dirt, and he chuckled, largely unworried.
Because they had me surrounded. I staggered back as bandits closed in from all sides, kicking my sword out of reach. There were over a dozen here. I wondered where the others had gone. Had they taken the iron and run? What were they planning to do with it?
I needed to tell Sky. I needed to warn him that Ximing was a threat, that something was terribly wrong. Something that we had not prepared for. But my throat closed as I realized I would never have the opportunity to tell him, because I was going to die here.
Excerpted from The Night Ends With Fire, copyright © 2023 by K. X. Song