Soldiers, Sorcerers, and Monsters…
World War I like you’ve never imagined it!
Shami Stovall’s high-flying historical war fantasy novel The Ethereal Squadron: A Wartime Fantasy is a magical adventure set in World War I. Complete with pulse-pounding action, complex and relatable characters, and a wholly original magic system, this first entry in the Sorcerers of Verdun series is sure to captivate historical fantasy genre fans everywhere.
An Adventurous Historical Fantasy War Novel
The year is 1916, and in the midst of The War to End All Wars, the secret sorcerers of the ruling houses of Germany and Austria-Hungary wage a covert war of their own for control of the globe. In order to stop them, Florence Cavell—codenamed ‘Geist’ for her unique specter sorcery—disguises herself as a man and joins up with the legendary Ethereal Squadron, a joint task force of the allied powers’ mightiest mages dedicated to ending the war.
But when their enemy unleashes a deadly terror weapon called the Grave-Maker Gas, it costs Geist everything: her team, her friends, even the use of her shooting arm. Now she must lead a new team deep into hostile territory in a last-ditch effort to halt certain doom, knowing that if she fails, the Germans’ conquest will be assured … and the world will fall into the hands of a dangerous madman.
Packed with thrilling military battles, tight-wound suspense, and even a little battlefield romance, The Ethereal Squadron is not to be missed. Fans of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn, Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops: Control Point, and Emma Clayton’s The Roar will find much to enjoy within the pages of this thrilling magical adventure.
And now, TCK Publishing is proud to present this exclusive preview of The Ethereal Squadron. We hope you enjoy it.
An Exclusive Book Preview
Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from Shami Stovall’s The Ethereal Squadron:
“Kommandant,” Geist said, forcing her German out as masculine as she could muster. She saluted with her right fingertips against her eyebrow, attempting to mimic everything she had ever seen enemy soldiers do before.
The field officers wore their tassels and insignias in plain view—not the practice of officers ordered to the front lines. Geist recognized the rank on both men and tensed. One, the older with a thin mustache, wore the rank of feldwebel-leutnant, a warrant officer, while the other, a thicker, younger man with broad shoulders, wore the prom and frills of a colonel.
The harsh green against the bright colors of the officers’ uniforms clashed strikingly, further indication neither were meant for the heat of battle. Administrative types, Geist surmised as both men looked her over with hard gazes of scrutiny and suspicion.
To her surprise, Vergess saluted and then kept his gaze to the floor and his body turned away from the men. Did he fear recognition? If he had been with the Kaiser on more than one occasion, a colonel might remember his face. Fuck. I guess it’s up to me to get us out of this.
Although she couldn’t sense magic within the two men, killing them in the middle of the fort would be the same as putting a bullet in her head. No doubt there were Abomination Soldiers close by, and news of officers being assassinated would draw out all kinds of sorcerers Geist wasn’t prepared to handle. And while she and Vergess might be able to flee, Battery wouldn’t have such luck.
“Where’s your Stahlhelm, boy?” the colonel asked.
Stahlhelm? Ah, he means those coal scuttle helmets. Geist ran a slow hand over her curly brown hair. “I’m not on duty.”
“Do you think the enemy knows that?” the officer bellowed. “This is war. You’re always on duty.”
His reprimanding tone cut deep, despite her actual position. A small piece of her wanted to go back and get the helmet—but she pushed the foolish urge aside.
“I woke up not feeling well,” Geist said, struggling to find the correct German words. She spoke Austrian-German and knew it to be a dialect distinct from others. The last thing she wanted was more questions. Best to keep sentences short and sweet.
The warrant officer, calmer and more reserved than the colonel, narrowed his eyes. “Woke up not feeling well?”
“I keep needing to … relieve myself, sir.”
The man stroked his mustache. “Ah. That damned infection keeps spreading.”
“Get to the medics quick before you give it to the rest of the twenty-fourth,” the colonel said, waving her to continue. “We can’t have our men pissin’ themselves to death before the enemies arrive.”
Geist saluted a second time. “Yes, sir.”
She stepped around the two officers and through the other soldiers, feeling the weight on their gaze upon her. Battery and Vergess shadowed her steps.
“Wait there, boy,” the warrant officer said, holding out a hand to stop Battery. “What’s that around your waist?”
Geist glanced back. Battery’s belt—it was the British uniform standard—nothing like the odd German belt she had fastened around her waist. She clenched her hands into fists, ready to ghost and fight the soldiers if needed. Damn. I should’ve paid more attention in the barracks!
Battery turned and motioned, not only to his belt, but to his British-standard boots as well. “Souvenirs,” he said. “It’s not like that island monkey was using them anymore.”
The Germans laughed.
Geist forced herself to smile, but she couldn’t believe Battery spoke such fluent—and crass—German. Even Vergess gave Battery a sideway glance, a slight smile on his face.
The colonel patted Battery on the shoulder. “If you’re all visiting the medics, bring this report. It’s for the doctor there, you understand? Now hurry up, soldier. You should be back in bed before the sun rises.”
One soldier among the retinue handed Battery a thick file of paperwork.
“Of course, sir.” Battery took the file and turned away without further incident.
The moment they rounded a corner, Geist shot Battery a half-smile. “I’m impressed.”
Battery scoffed and held his head a little higher. “I said I’d be useful, didn’t I?”
“Maybe. But I bet if Victory were here he would’ve somehow convinced the Germans to surrender the fort back to the French.”
With a look of indignation, Battery glowered. Geist responded with a chuckle. For a moment his anger persisted, but eventually he relaxed.
“Very funny,” he murmured. “At least I can properly conjugate German verbs. You sounded like a yokel back there.”
Geist and Battery shared another laugh. It reminded Geist of her old team.
Vergess stepped between them. “Is it wise to go around speaking English in a German-occupied fort?” he asked, his German so authentic that Geist understood why he tried hiding it around other squadron members.
“You’re right,” Geist replied.
Battery straightened himself. “Any idea where we should be going, Mr. American?”
The sarcasm caused Geist to chuckle again, but she knew Vergess wasn’t pleased. I’ll need to talk to Battery. This isn’t helping anything.
They stopped talking once a pair of soldiers passed them in the hall. Vergess motioned them to follow without a single word. Geist and Battery followed his lead. The remainder of the walk occurred in silence.
The gray walls and gray flooring blended together to create a bleak, drab atmosphere. The walls seemed to suck the heat out of the air, leaving only the chill of early spring. At the end of the main hall, Battery turned in the opposite direction. Geist stopped and lifted an eyebrow. He motioned to an open door—the medic’s ward—and then waved his file of paperwork. Geist cursed under her breath. Did they really need to follow the enemy colonel’s orders so exactly?
She shrugged, and the three walked to the infirmary.
No one was around. The room stood empty.
Although Geist’s intent had been to drop off the file and leave, she stopped and lost her train of thought the moment she spotted a caged deer in the corner of the large rectangular room. All at once the reality of the GH Gas in the woods hit her hard.
“A deer,” Battery whispered. He walked over to the tiny cage—not big enough for the animal to stand—and stared at its ears. “It’s tagged, just like the others.”
“Tagged?” Geist asked, nervous jitters coursing through her. “What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you notice how the other deer had tags on their ears? The ones out in the woods? Just like this one.”
Geist hadn’t seen—she had been too focused on fleeing.
Vergess nodded. “I saw the same. You’ve got keen eyes.”
Geist returned her attention to the room. The ward had boxes of supplies piled on beds and counter tops, and paperwork littered every surface. Several empty cages were piled in the corner next to a solid metal door.
And no injured soldiers.
Glancing at the paperwork, Geist gritted her teeth. In German, it read:
Verdun Testing Grounds
Test Site: Gamma
Two does, three yearling bucks and forty French POWs released into test site. Three shells detonated. All POWs with gasmasks. Ten-hour timeframe starting at 1700 hours.
Geist touched the page. The results were left blank, but she already knew the outcome. The pools of blood on the road? French soldiers. Even with their gasmasks. The doe and bucks? Fast enough to escape dying in the gas, but perhaps their fate was worse than death.
It can’t be … They’re testing the GH Gas here, of all places. They might’ve even been testing it when they used it against us on the battlefield …
She remembered the prisoners and how they were kept so close to the German frontlines. So close to the GH Gas shell. The purpose struck her, and Geist closed her eyes. They were using the prisoners as test subjects, just like the deer. The same thing would’ve happened to Vergess if I hadn’t arrived on time.
Geist opened her eyes and flew through the paperwork, throwing files out of the way in a haphazard manner and tearing through drawers to find more. Most medical records were on German head injuries and how the latest helmets alleviated the workload for most medics—nothing about the GH Gas. Frustration welled within her as she tore through the tenth drawer and came up empty-handed again.
She glanced up and saw Vergess standing by a far door. It was unlabeled, but Vergess inhaled deeply.
“They kept deer just beyond here,” he said.
What were they hiding? Geist jogged over, intent to find out. Using her magic, she ghosted through the metal and unlatched the lock. Vergess watched, silent, and waited for Geist to go in first.
With bated breath, Geist crossed the threshold into, anticlimactically, another hallway. She froze, confused by the four additional doors. She went to the first and found it unlocked. Vergess walked to the second and discovered the same. Battery joined them in the hall, his gaze flitting to each shadow.
Geist held up a hand. They all held still and waited. Nothing. No movement. They were alone in the small hall and adjourning rooms.
“Stay close,” Geist whispered, eyeing the terrible lights and thick shadows that crowded the corners. “But search quickly. We should get out of here as soon as we can.”
“Agreed,” Battery and Vergess replied in unison.
Battery disappeared into a room to search and Vergess slid further down the hall. Geist focused—harder than she needed to before—and became invisible. I wonder how long Battery can keep this up. We need to hurry. If his power gives out, we’ll be in a world of trouble.
She entered an odd medical room and froze. In the center, on a surgery table, sat a man covered in thin blankets. Geist held her breath and shut the door behind her, confident in her cloak of invisibility. The harsh click of the door betrayed her.
“Nurse?” the man rasped, his voice both grating and familiar.
Geist swallowed her breath as her mind raged with indecision. Would she have to kill a bedridden soldier? Could she?
When the man turned, she widened her eyes. His face was wrapped in crimson bandages, his eyes completely covered.
“Please,” the man continued. “I need water.”
A pitcher of water and a clean glass sat on the countertop nearby. Geist stared for a moment longer before walking over and pouring a glass. She stole glances back at the injured soldier. His blankets, pink with blood, were numerous. The only visible part of his body was his neck, chin, and mouth.
With the glass of water in hand, Geist drew close and narrowed her eyes. His face and neck had a waxy sheen. His lips had melted into the skin of his face, becoming smoothed and wide. His bleeding gums gave his teeth a sick blackish-red tint.
Geist brought the glass to his mouth and tilted it up. The soldier drank and coughed, spilling half the water onto his blankets. She waited and helped him again, patient despite the odd circumstance of their situation. Once finished, the man turned away. Geist placed the glass on the stand next to the medical table, her attention drawn his personnel file.
The soldier sighed. “Thank you.”
Geist leafed through the paperwork, her horror growing with each new sentence she read.
First Lieutenant Agustin Fechner. The same Abomination Soldier she had met on the GH Gas-ridden battlefield the night Cutter, Little Wick, and Buttons died.
Her hands shook as she read the accounts of the overseeing doctors.
First Lieutenant Fechner has stabilized. His body, while malformed, is still intact. It appears that brief exposures to the Grab-Hersteller Gas can result in permanent alteration. No theories yet on whether this can be reversed.
Geist leafed through further reports, struggling to keep her breathing even.
First Lieutenant Fechner is in a great deal of pain. Surgeries have been done to deaden the nerves. This seems to have helped. He can sleep now.
First Lieutenant Fechner’s sorcery is unstable. It no longer functions like it should. Attempts have been made to help him focus. The abilities he displays are unlike the ones he wielded previously.
First Lieutenant Fechner complains of blurry vision, but his eyes were liquefied during his exposure to the Grab-Hersteller Gas. Will need to conduct further tests to ascertain what he is complaining about. The current recommendation is to open the eye socket and check the status of the retina. Further testing at the frontline command facility Oberste Heeresleitung would be preferred.
“How is it?” Fechner asked in a quiet voice.
Geist fumbled with the paperwork, startled by the soft question.
“Are the treatments working?”
She took a breath and relaxed her throat. “The treatments … yes. They appear to be helping.” It felt strange using her normal voice after purposefully deepening it for so long. Geist’s natural speech, gruffer than most women’s, still held a feminine twang that sounded foreign to her ears.
“I’m in pain.”
Geist said nothing. Fechner had been the Abomination Soldier responsible for her old team’s death. Then again, he was a shadow of his former self now. Weak and mewling—she could kill him with little effort. But did he deserve to suffer? Did he deserve to become a twisted monster like the deer in the woods? He was a soldier, just like her, following orders and fighting the enemy. He hadn’t even been the one to order the GH Gas.
Geist lifted the thin blankets and regretted her action the moment she caught sight of his disfigured form. His left arm, tucked close to his side and resting on his stomach, had fused with the flesh of his torso, creating a deformed mass. Shattered opals had been stitched into his waxy skin and muscles. Open sores, weeping blood, littered his discolored body. She threw down the blanket, unwilling to stare any longer.
There would be no fixing what had been done. Perhaps the Germans could find a way to save him—perhaps they could alter him to become useful once more—but he would never again be a man.
Geist’s gaze fell on a scalpel sitting on the side medical table.
“You don’t have to suffer,” she whispered. “I could end this for you, if you wanted.”
Fechner grunted as she shifted around the table. “End this … ?”
“I’ll make it quick.”
“Is that what you would do, if you were me?”
There had been a single instant in which Geist had contemplated such an act herself. A moment so powerful she could never forget—the night she escaped her home and made her plans to join the Ethereal Squadron. Death would have been an easier escape from her suffering, but giving up, especially when others would have taken delight from seeing her fail, lit inside her a passion hotter than any other emotion she had experienced in her life.
Living was the greatest defiance of all.
“What happened to the other sorcerers under your command?” Geist asked, ignoring Fechner’s question. “The ones on the battlefield with you when the gas was released?”
He took in a ragged breath. “They didn’t make it.”
Geist touched her disfigured wrist. She refused to pity him—he had still taken the lives of her teammates—but what anger she had melted away.
Geist turned her attention to the bottles scattered around the countertops. She picked up a half-empty container of barbitone and returned to Fechner’s side. “Here,” she said. “This will help you sleep.”
He took the medication without fuss. Geist gave him another sip of water before gathering up the paperwork in the room. Records of the GH Gas, mention of the effects on sorcerers, even the history of the test sites, were all within her grasp. She took everything and turned to leave.
“You’re beautiful,” Fechner murmured. “I hope … you get assigned to this ward again.”
“I sound beautiful,” Geist corrected, her hand frozen on the doorknob. Could he see? She chuckled under her breath. No. Obviously not—or else he wouldn’t be saying I’m beautiful. I’m disguised as a man, for fuck’s sake.
Fechner groaned and shifted. “Your colors are so … vibrant.”
“You’re delirious. Get some rest.”
He fell quiet. Geist fled the room before he could speak again.
Can’t wait to find out what happens next? Buy your copy of The Ethereal Squadron today, and let the magic continue!