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Review: A Wizard’s Forge by A.M. Justice (no spoilers)

Thank you Joana Duarte for this wonderful review of A Wizard’s Forge, and giving me another review to add to my favorite reviews page on my website.

Bookneeders

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A Wizard’s Forge by A.M. Justice

Published by Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction

Pages: 326

Format: Ebook

My Rating: 1464306995_star_full1464306995_star_full1464306995_star_full1464306995_star_full1464306995_star_full

Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

On a planet far from Earth, descendants of marooned space travelers fight a decades-long war. Shy scholar Victoria knows nothing of this conflict until pirates kidnap and sell her to the sadistic tyrant behind it. He keeps her naked and locked in a tower, subjecting her to months of psychological torture. After seizing an opportunity to escape, Vic joins the fight against her former captor and begins walking a bloody path toward revenge.

As the Blade, Vic gains glory raiding her enemy’s forces, but the ordeal in his tower haunts her. Bitter memories keep her from returning the love of the kindhearted Prince Ashel, whose family has fended off the tyrant’s invading army for a generation. When enemy soldiers capture Ashel, Vic embarks on…

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Knownearth vs Earth: Another Look at the World of A Wizard’s Forge

wizard's forgePeople seem to have a lot of questions about the world where A Wizard’s Forge takes place, so I’ve been hitting this topic a lot lately. A few weeks ago, I traced Vic’s path through her world, and last week I wrote a post on AutumnWriting about Knownearth’s native inhabitants (humans are the aliens on that planet). Lots of additional details about  Vic’s world can always be found on the Explore and FAQ pages of my website. But you may still wonder, what are some of the similarities and differences between the earth we know and Knownearth, Vic’s home.

Most of these details are mentioned, or at least hinted at, in A Wizard’s Forge, but in case readers missed them, here we go:

1. How are Earth and Knownearth alike?

Knownearth and our earth are pretty similar in atmosphere, climate, and ecology. I designed the planet this way because human survival in a marginal environment was not a story I was interested in telling. I wanted to write a revenge narrative involving a young woman, her tormentor, and a long-standing feud between her nemesis and her adoptive family, and I wanted to keep the focus there, without the distraction of a daily battle for food, water, or breathable air. Some readers have asked, why not make the ocean yellow or give the planet a couple of moons or something to make it seem “different” from earth?  To live well, humans need lots of liquid potable water, an oxygen-rich atmosphere that doesn’t have a lot of toxic gases, and arable soil. Knownearth has these things in abundance, and life there has evolved along an evolutionary path similar to life on earth. Hence, the skies are blue (and so is the ocean, since large bodies of water reflect the color of the sky); most organisms get their energy through the Krebs Cycle,  and plants use chlorophyll for respiration, and so tend to be green or blue or red, just like here on earth.

2. How does Knownearth differ from Earth?

There is no moon. The only notable night sky object is Elesendar, which looks like a very bright star but is the empty hulk of the spacecraft that brought human settlers to the planet three thousand years before the events depicted in A Wizard’s Forge. As noted in the book, Elesendar passes overhead two to three times per night.

The planet rotates in the opposite direction from earth. The book contains numerous references to Knownearth’s sun rising in the west or setting in the east.

The diurnal cycle is roughly 40 earth hours, which readers can deduce from Vic’s thoughts about how long she has for her night missions. The original settlers kept the earth hour as their main unit of time measurement, and redesigned their clocks to accommodate a  40-hour day. By the time A Wizard’s Forge takes place, the human circadian cycle has adapted to this long day, but readers may notice reference to “morning tea” and other meals beside breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The people of Knownearth can easily stay awake for 35 hours straight and sleep for 15, but they still like to eat every four or five hours.

Metal is relatively rare. Iron and copper are particularly uncommon, and a bronze belt-cum-dagger has totemic significance in the book’s plot.

There are no indigenous mammals, but there are reptilian and insectoid creatures on land, and fishlike creatures in the sea, so it’s as if Knownearth never left its equivalent of the Permian period. Humans call the aquatic animals fish and the indigenous flying reptiles birds, but humans brought all the feathered fowl as well as cats, cows, and horses with them. There were dogs too, but the entire canine population had died off long before A Wizard’s Forge takes place.

3. Is A Wizard’s Forge science fiction or is it fantasy?

I’d say it’s both (you might even call it science fantasy), but readers will need to decide this question for themselves. Hardcore scifi readers may miss the tech–faster than light (FTL) space travel is alluded to, but in the 3000 years that have passed since Vic’s ancestors were marooned on Knownearth, postindustrial technology has all but disappeared, at least among the humans. Thus, people live in a vaguely medieval society without electricity or, in Knownearth’s poorer regions, indoor plumbing.

Fantasy readers, on the other hand, may miss a magic system that is the highlight of the book. Nevertheless, the cerrenils, Latha’s sacred trees, appear to have magical characteristics, and the power Vic gains at the end of the book is similar to a Jedi’s or an Aes Sedai’s in some respects. She’ll learn all about the source of her power, and how it connects to Knownearth’s sentient plants, in the next book, A Wizard’s Sacrifice. But that book won’t be all fantasy either–scifi lovers will get more intel on Vic’s ancestors as well as a glimpse of the technological revolution Knownearth will undergo before the third book in the series (A Wizard’s Legacy) begins.

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Guest Post: Author A.M. Justice Reflects On Her Literary Idol

Today the Genre Minx hosted my thoughts on my literary idol, Ursula K. LeGuin. Read on to find out why I love this author so much.

The Genre Minx Book Reviews

Author Ursula K. Le Guin, Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch Author Ursula K. Le Guin, Photo Credit: Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch

Every author has their literary idol; Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is mine. I discovered her work in high school, when I would prowl the science fiction/fantasy shelves at the mall bookstore. I still have the paperback edition of The Wizard of Earthsea that I bought because I liked the cover featuring a dragon curled around the ruins of an island city. I can’t remember if I bought only Wizard that day and went back later to get The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, or if I went all in and purchased the whole trilogy at once. I do know I fell in love with Ged, the titular wizard, as soon as I began reading. So began a lifelong admiration for Le Guin’s work.

Le Guin’s first novel, Rocannon’s World, appeared in 1966. When…

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More on Knownearth

themFans of A Wizard’s Forge and the world of Knownearth should check out my blog on the inspiration for the creatures appearing or mentioned in the book at Autumn B. Birt’s blog, AutumnWriting. There’s as much science fiction as fantasy in Vic’s world.

And for more information about Knownearth, don’t forget to check out my previous walk-through, or go explore it on my website.

Guest Post: Autumn M. Birt

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Myrrah

Autumn M. Birt is an author, educator, world traveler, conservationist, and dog lover. We met on Twitter, proving that one can make connections and form lasting friendships through that behemoth of a social network. Autumn graciously agreed to review my first novel, and later brought me into the fantasy authors collective Guild of Dreams. I’ve always admired her dedication to her craft, her discipline, and her imagination! Her fantasy series Rise of the Fifth Order follows Ria, a teen girl whose unique magic abilities threaten the Church of Four Orders–Water, Fire, Earth, and Air–and thus condemn Ria to death. She and her friends must flee across the breadth of their homeland Myrrah, and somehow secure Ria’s salvation.

 

Autumn and I have both constructed original fantasy worlds with unique creatures and races not found in standard epic fantasy, and we decided to trade blogs to talk about our creations. My post on the scifi creatures of the fantasy world of Knownearth will appear soon on her blog, Autumn Writing. In the meantime, here Autumn shares some of her thoughts behind her unique fantasy peoples!

Growing the Legacy of Fantasy

Autumn M. Birt

I grew up in the era of Dragonlance and the Elfstones of Shannara. Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey were two of the first author names I searched bookstores to find. I knew more about the lives and history of elves, dwarves, trolls, and ogres than I did tribes in Africa or the Mayan Civilization.

So when I wrote my first fantasy novel was full of these paragons of high fantasy? No.

In my epic fantasy novel Born of Water, when the four unlikely friends seek help and refuge with a group who live in a mysterious forest, I immediately thought of elves. And then I immediately thought of elfin politics and attitudes. I love them, but they are a little vainglorious, aren’t they? Individualistic and aloof, those are two other words I’d use to describe most elfin characters; even when they are helpful, they are rarely warm.

For my story, I wanted helpful, warm, and mysterious.

It was all that history of what had already been written that turned me away. So I created my first fantasy race, the Kith. They live in a vast forest of massive trees, but they aren’t elves or elf substitutes. What would the point be in that? They are something totally new. My little addition to the realm of fantasy creatures. Well one of them.

Once you start, it is rather fun to craft new races that fit your story, rather than crafting your story to fit existing fantasy races. I’d love to share a few of mine with you!

The Kith

In the northern forest of the world of Myrrah a vast forest of towering trees grows. It isn’t just any forest…

As Ria’s eyes adjusted, she could make out the aerial houses that looked like massive thickets of mistletoe lit from within. Between them, branches arched as living pathways, swooping slowly downward. Houses made from limbs and vines grew at all levels, even a few along the ground visible by their lights in the evening shadows between the tree trunks.

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A Kith woman

Living among the great trees, and soul-bound to them, are the Kith. When a Kith child is born, a seedling also sprouts. The two are inextricable. If the tree dies, so does the child, or vice versa. And he or she will live as long as her tree, for however long that may be. And these are very large, very slow growing trees. The bond marks them in other ways as well…

 

 

Lavinia waited, knowing someone was nearby. Slowly, she scanned the small woodland opening. Then he became clear to her.

A man who looked about her age stood in front of a wide tree trunk twenty feet from her. His skin was patterned and striped like bark. His hair, a russet brown, blended into the forest around them along with the browns and greens of his clothes. She blinked, finding his green eyes staring back into hers. Lavinia let her sword point waiver. She had finally found the Kith.

Those who meet the Kith mistake the natural, and individual, patterning on their skin as tattoos. But it is more than that. In a world of many races and people, the Kith stand apart. Because they are also Earth Elementals and more.

In a world where elemental magic occurs in about 20% of the population, the Kith are one of the few groups where every child is gifted. And unlike most Earth Elementals who can shape rock to create cities from bedrock, they can also control living plants because of their connection to the forest.

But that bond creates as many problems as benefits. You see, if a Kith leaves the forest, the longing to return to it, to his tree, is intense:

“Being Kith is not all wonder. I feel a call back to my tree in Lus na Sithchaine so deep it wakes me from sleep,” Laireag admitted. “There are times I need to see it more than I need to breathe.”

The Kith are not elves. They are not even close to being elfin, preferring simple clothing and shunning metal as too much metal can poison a tree. But that is just one race that peoples my world.

The Ishian

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An Ishian boy

The Ishian live in a vast grassland, but the surface of their home is water and not earth. The waters of the Marsh of Isha rise and fall with the strong tides of the Bay of Tiak to the west, but within the heart of the wetland there are only the reeds and the stilted houses of the Ishians.

 

The square platforms hold wide decks with overhanging roofs to protect them from storms, as well as to create more roof space for the gardens grown above the houses. Walkways of woven reed rope and bamboo trace pathways between the lofty platforms but usually the Ishian wander through their watery home on reed boats. Or they swim. They can swim very well thanks to fine webbing between fingers and toes.

The Nifail

The Nifail are a tribe of people who live on the vast steppes and whose native language consists of condensed whistles and clicks used to carry over the windswept miles of the grasslands. The scattered clans meet once annually in a great celebration where fights are held to determine tribe leadership for the year. Both men and women fight for the right to lead.

But all of those are cultural traits. What makes the Nifail different is their hair. There are very fine feathers in it. Why stems from a long story that involves a not-so-mythical large bird that nests in the grasslands. It is a creature they hunt … usually.

The Torek

The Torek are one of two races considered myths in Myrrah. The other are the Aquinians, who are said to inhabit the islands, or the sea, in the far east of the Ocean of Illaiya. The Torek live in the Alin Mountains in deep caves they call hoves. Well they think the word hoves, because they are telepathic. Did I mention they are giant birds of prey? Actually, I’m pretty sure they are the legendary birds the Nifail hunt … and the reason the Nifail have a few feathers mixed with their hair because the Torek have some strange and amazing abilities!

The Aquinians

The only known reference to the Aquinians is from when the Temple of Incendia was destroyed by sea and earth. The island fell beneath the waves and all would have died but for the Aquinians, who came as dolphins and rescued many of the Fire Elementals from the water and trembling rock. Or so goes the story told by the survivors. Unless you believe sailor’s tales of naked women seen on island beaches, there one minute and gone into the waves the next. But who can believe sailors?

 

Those are a few of the people and races who inhabit my fantasy world of Myrrah, a world full of elemental magic and adventure. You can enter Myrrah for free! Born of Water is free on all platforms or you can pick it up here.

Born of Water

bofw-niri-5-2-15_250In the buried archives of the Temple of Dust may lie the secret to defeating the Curse, a creature which seeks to destroy 16-year old Ria for the forbidden gifts she possesses. But it is from among the ranks of those who control the Curse where Ria will find her best chance of success.

Only the Priestess Niri can save Ria from the forces that hunt her, if Niri doesn’t betray the girl first. Along with Ria comes Ty and his sister, Lavinia, both bound to defend Ria from the Church of Four Orders. However, Ty has been living a life less than honest and keeping it from his sister. To survive a journey that takes them across the breadth of their world, the four must learn to trust each other before pursuit from the Church and Ty’s troubled past find them.

Born of Water is the first book in the Rise of the Fifth Order Saga full of elemental magic and epic fantasy adventure. Welcome to the mythical world of Myrrah, ruled by the Church of Four Orders–Fire, Earth, Water, and Air.

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Interview with Author A.M. Justice

The lovely Genre Minx and I converse about writing, life, and who I’d like to see cast in the film version of A Wizard’s Forge. Kate Mara, Ricky Whittle, and Michael Fassbender, expect a call from your agent!

The Genre Minx Book Reviews

With her debut book just publishedI wanted to introduce you to up and coming author A.M. Justice. I enjoyed reading A Wizard’s Forgeand you can read my review here. I am truly looking forward to reading more of the Woern Saga series!

Author A.M. Justice

A Conversation with A.M. Justice

Q. Tell us a little about yourself?

I scuba dive and dance tango recreationally, though family life has tripped up the latter habit, and the cold, turbulent oceans of the East coast limit the former to an annual trip to warmer seas. My Brooklyn apartment holds the record for longest duration of residence: 12 years and counting. Before moving here, I’d lived in sixteen different homes in four states. I’m married, have one child, currently one cat, and watch too much TV.

Q. What started you on the path to writing for a living?

Growing up, I couldn’t decide whether I…

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A Walk Through Knownearth

A Wizard’s Forge is finally available!

On launch day, as the earthbound get their first look at Book One in the Woern Saga, I’ve decided to walk readers through Vic’s world, Knownearth.

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Line art by Steven Meyer-Rassow

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Oreseeker steppes

Vic’s journey begins in Ourtown, a small community of Oreseekers, a people who settled the far northern steppes of Knownearth, in an area so remote it’s called the Unknown by the world’s other societies. The Oreseekers began as a survey party sent out from a group of marooned spacefarers to find mineable metal ores on a planet where iron, copper, and other metals are rare. Thousands of years before Vic’s birth, the Oreseekers failed in their quest and settled lands so far from their shipmates that the rest of humanity forgot about their existence. In Vic’s time, only the Caleisbahnin–dreaded pirates and slavers who rule Knownearth’s seas–know where the Oreseekers live. A Wizard’s Forge begins when Vic falls prey to Caleisbahn greed.

 

AWF_map_v3Trapped in a slave ship’s hold, Vic sails hundreds of miles south and east to the city of Traine, Knownearth’s grandest capital and home to the Citizens of Betheljin. Betheljin is ruled by a despot known as the Commissar, and Citizens are the wealthy elite of that land. Traine resembles ancient Rome with its high hills and a wide gulf between the fabulously rich and desperately poor. Vic hears about a slum full of thieves and brigands and escaped slaves–most of whom are Oreseekers, like her–but she never sees this place. All she knows is the home of her master, Lornk Korng, the Lord of Relm.

AWF_map_v3 – Version 2Although Lornk keeps a home in Traine, he rules Relm, a nation thousands of miles to the south, and he travels between the two lands via a transporter called the Device. No one knows who made the Device or whether it works by magic or some imperceivable technology, but the Korng palazzo was built on top of it, and it’s permitted the family to travel instantly to Relm and other places for generations.

Lornk tries very hard to make Vic his, body and soul, but before he succeeds, she escapes through the Device to Latha, a nation at war with Relm. The Lathan royals give Vic asylum from their common enemy and welcome her into their family.

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A cerrenil

They also send her on walkabout in Kiareinoll Fembrosh, a vast forest full of trees that are aware. Lathans do not believe that Knownearth’s humans arrived via spacecraft; instead they think people were born from cerrenils, a strange tree species that seems able to move as well as communicate to people through their dreams. While sojourning through the forest, Vic dreams of herself as a warrior, and so she joins Latha’s fight against Lornk.

 

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Kragnash

Years pass, and Vic’s prowess as a soldier grows but her memories of her time as Lornk’s slave fester, preventing her from accepting the love offered by the kindhearted Prince Ashel. When Lornk’s forces capture Ashel, however, Vic doesn’t hesitate to embark on his rescue. Aiming to attack Lornk’s Relman stronghold by surprise, she travels through Kragnash, a land of endless sand dunes occupied by a society of enormous intelligent insects. Their capital city, Direiellene, is a vast complex of hives normally forbidden to humans, but upon meeting Vic, the Kragnashians proclaim her the One–a figure from their mythology–and force her to drink the Waters of the Dead. These Waters contain the Woern, microscopic parasites that confer telekinetic abilities on those who survive being infected with them.

 

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Relman badlands

AWF_map_v3 – Version 2Vic survives, and leads her war party into the Relman badlands, a near impassable maze of box canyons and ravines. Desperate to reach Ashel, Vic makes a bad decision that will have lasting consequences for her and her companions.

Yet the choice permits them to move quickly through the badlands and up into the mountains surrounding Olmlablaire, an elaborate castle carved out of a mountain face and Lornk’s seat of power. To rescue Ashel, Vic will need to find not only a way into the castle but the strength to confront her old master without losing herself to him.

Readers can find more about Knownearth by checking out the Explore and FAQ pages on my website!

Many thanks to Steven Meyer-Rassow for the beautiful map of Knownearth.

Author Interview with A.M. Justice: Parallel Paths Redux

Last week author JL Gribble and I chatted about her Steel Victory series. This week, I answer her questions about The Woern Saga. Check it out for my thoughts on the science in my fantasy, an excerpt from Wizard’s Forge, and hints of things to come in the next volume!

J.L. Gribble

A few weeks ago, a lovely speculative fiction author contacted me out of the blue with an interesting proposal. She had stumbled across me on the Internet and thought it would be fun if we did a bit of cross-promotion since we had so much in common. She featured me with an interview on her blog and today I’m happy to return the favor! Check back here next Tuesday for my review of A.M. Justice’s excellent fantasy novel, A Wizard’s Forge.

How much do we have in common, exactly? Besides both being medical writer/editors and military brats, today we even discovered that we share the same wedding anniversary and are married to men with the same name!


As someone who also writes crazy genre-bending speculative fiction, I’m always interested in other author’s perspectives. What made you decide to introduce elements of science fiction in a story that could easily…

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A Wizard’s Forge by A.M. Justice

Many thanks to the Genre Minx for her thorough and thoughtful review of A Wizard’s Forge. I’m thrilled to share it today!

The Genre Minx Book Reviews

Title: A Wizard’s Forge (The Woern Saga #1)

Author: A.M. Justice

Author Website: http://www.amjusticeauthor.com

Release Date: September 19, 2016

Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Format: e-book

Source: NetGalley

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ of 5 stars

This review is based on an eARC I received from NetGalley. It is an honest review and the advanced receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.


“We do not seek to understand” the Master Logkeeper always reminded her, “only to preserve.”

Setting: Three thousand years ago a crew of mineral miners set out on a mission from Earth to the planet of Gomorrah but due to sabotage were not able to make it to their destination. With the mission a failure Captain Wong of the shuttle Elesendar was forced to make an emergency stop in the orbit of what is now referred to “Knownearth.” The crew came down to the planet to…

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A Remembrance

img_4180A couple days ago, a beautiful article about the 9/11 jumpers appeared in Esquire. To me, the jumpers epitomized the terrible human struggle that went on that day. When you think about it, choice is probably the thing all of us want most out of life, and when facing certain death, perhaps choosing the manner of death is all we have left.

A few years ago, I wrote a short story about the choice made by some fictional 9/11 jumpers. I realize this is a painful subject for many, but as the Esquire article says, the jumpers’ experience wasn’t a lurid side show but a central element of the horror. Nevertheless, I imagine at least some of the jumpers did not take the leap out of despair, but hope. That is an important element of this story, and in that spirit I share it once a year, on this day.

September Blues

 

“Misery is my middle name,” I mutter, putting the handset back in its cradle. Fear wraps around my chest, squeezing like a python. All that keeps me breathing is the forced intake of air that comes after a fit of coughing.

“What did they say?”

My heart is a butterfly, erratic, doomed. “They’re not coming.” The gaping mouths demand more. “They can’t land on the roof. There’s too much smoke. They said something about the heat making the air too unstable for the rotors.”

Hunkered down under the conference table, we feel that heat. The floor as warm as a caldera, bland, beige office carpeting acts as a potholder, protecting skin from searing. The stench of burned plastic thickens the air, tickling alive the memory of that camping trip when Tim swiped the Barbie out of my hand and tossed her into the middle of our fire. Underneath my butterfly fear boils the same rage: what kind of monster would do such a thing? I want to scream now as I did then, watching Barbie’s hair glow and crisp, her pink lips and blue eyes melt into smoke.

“Do we just wait here?”

I shrug, shake my head. A pair of loafers retreat through the doorway, appearing and vanishing in the smoke billowing across the floor. Two red high heels follow, glossy and bright amidst the swirling black plumes, their owner crawling, her sobbing broken by coughing. When Nora was dying, she went missing for a day and a half—we thought she’d gotten out somehow, looked in the stairwell, the basement laundry, at the bodega beneath us and the hardware store next door. We finally found her under our bed, behind the storage bins where we keep our heaviest sweaters. She was hunkered under the mattress, breath labored, waiting to die, just like we’re huddled under this table.

“I think we should jump.”

Eyes snap to Omar. The IT guy, the office geek, the one who proudly displays a statue of Jar Jar Binks on his computer monitor and who, when asked to fix broken email, yanks away the keyboard with such bored contempt.

“We should jump,” he repeats. “The odds are better.”

“Better?” squeaks Julie. Mascara smeared and broken around her eyes, dirt and sweat streak through her foundation.

“Why don’t I go get the gun in my desk drawer?” Doom hasn’t killed Geoff’s sarcasm.

“Miller’s got a fifth of single malt in his.” I have a fit of longing for that hot scalding smooth smokiness.

“That wouldn’t be enough to kill us,” Todd chokes. Maybe he’s crying, maybe it’s just the dense air.

“I am not committing suicide.” Julie’s chipper voice cuts ice-hard.

Muttered agreement ripples around the group. Heads shake, foreheads press to knees, lips murmur prayers.

“We should jump.” Omar gazes at the thumbnail-sized display on his phone. “Look, I found the odds. About a tenth of a percent of people who fall from over a thousand feet survive the fall. It’s documented—skydivers and such.”

“A tenth of one percent?” Geoff’s sneer is ruined by hacking. “That’s way too high.”

“If it’s a thousandth of one percent, it’s more than zero,” I say. The air burns as we swallow it into our lungs. It feels like breathing Miller’s whiskey.

With a screeching groan, the floor shifts and tilts. The room echoes with yelps and screams, then tears. I never saw The Towering Inferno, but I wonder if they got the sounds right. There’s no way they captured this terror and this awful grief. That argument we had last night, the silence in the kitchen this morning, the slam of the door. I shut my eyes, pray you’ll find some solace, pray you’ll remember the bright sunshine of other Septembers and not this one day with its horrible cloudless blue clarity.

“I’m going for the gun in my desk,” Geoff says, crawling for the door.

“What’s that mean?” Julie asks. “He doesn’t really have one?”

I feel my shoulders shrug, glance at Omar and find him studying the windows. “I think he’s right—the glass, we won’t be able to break it.”

“The heat could be weakening it—surely the blast weakened it.” I speak with my usual authority, but I don’t know anything about glass curtain walls.

Roaring like a linebacker, Todd scrambles out from under the table, picks up a conference chair, and hurls it at the window. The chair smacks the glass, bounces off and tumbles to the floor. The pane unmarred, the chair’s wheeled pedestal lies next to the seat, and next to that Todd is doubled over with wheezing, hacking breaths.

“I hope Geoff really has a gun,” Omar says.

“I hope he’s bringing it back here,” I add.

We wait, shirts and blouses pulled up over our noses and mouths, crouched over in child’s pose, postures humble before fate, noses searching for those few inches of air not saturated with smoke. Are we waiting to die or for one slim chance of life? Even if one of us lived through the fall, how much would he or she be alive afterward? Paraplegic, quadraplegic, amputee, vegetable. Maybe the loafers and the red shoes made the right choice, to go find a dark hidden corner and wait alone for death. A hand slips around mine, fingers clamping as tight as a vice, and I find Julie’s eyes on me, beseeching. “Will you do it?”

I nod, my cheek rubbing against the carpet. I wonder if the pattern of my tears mirrors hers. “If Geoff comes back with a gun, yes.” The slimmest chance is better than no chance.

The gun’s report strikes the glass, a noise louder than the explosion that ripped a hole in this building. A second shot, and glass nuggets cascade and bounce across the carpet like blue garnets. Wind howls inside, sweeping out the smoke. Geoff shuts the conference room door and we are pulling clean air into our lungs in deep gasping breaths. Omar climbs to his feet. “We should jump.”

Todd and Geoff stand beside him, and Julie and I crawl out from our hiding spot. Wind whipping hair around faces, we hug, crying, like the last episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, when my brother and I got to stay up and watch it because it was television history, and Mom and Dad were out that night and the babysitter wore the same belted wool pantsuit as Mary. When that show ended, Tim’s hand was in mine, and for once we didn’t repel affection with insults and shoving.

“Julie?” Todd clears his throat. “Will you go out with me?” Glancing at me, she nods and takes his hand, showing her teeth. Without hesitation the pair steps up onto the air conditioner and out into the blue.

Omar and I turn to Geoff, but he backs away, holding up his gun. “I’d rather go for quick surety than those long odds.” He barks half a laugh. “Plus I’m terrified of heights.”

Omar holds out his hand, his eyes shining. “We should jump.”

I nod, and we step up to the window frame and look into the perfect clarity of blue. The sky is a sapphire today, no degrees of color, just one solid field as deep as the ocean. The python loosens from my chest, and I can breathe again.